"We told the advertiser not to repeat the ad.” -- ASA

Advertising Of the many hundreds of news feeds I follow one of the most entertaining and illuminating is the one for the Advertising Standards Authority, the organisation that helps to regulate the approaches that can and can't be used by companies to sell their wares. Personally I think there should be an option for you to complain if you think the advert is simply substandard but they’d probably never get any work done then.

Complaints usually fall into two categories. Either someone has contacted them because they believe that the information in an advert is inaccurate or misleading – which is good because it means that a company can’t make outrageous claims about their product or with increasing regularity on the basis of morality which isn’t necessarily such a good thing because it leads to things like censorship.

What the ASA’s feed shows is that there’s a whole story behind every advert that has been pulled or re-edited. And that even the most depressingly obvious commercial can lead to a mini-version of the Lady Chatterley trial which considers the power of advertising and how thirty seconds of shouting about a product can contribute to the ills of society, leading to the breakdown of our morality. A typical example of a morality complaint is this one from a concerned citizen about a television commercial for the compilation cd, Clubland 11.

What’s annoying about this one is that the complaints themselves are rather perplexing, overlook potentially more dangerous issues and perhaps most seriously you have to wonder that with everything that’s happening in the world, why someone would decide to complain about an advert on a music channel for a compilation cd. Here’s the synopsis of the ad as it appears as the ASA’s website:
“showed images of night clubs and beach scenes interspersed with young holiday makers talking directly to camera in the Clubland camper van. The voice-over stated "Clubland 11 is finally here, 42 massive new tracks ... so what are your Clubland confessions?" A young woman said "Morning, woke up, did not have a clue what his name was." A young man said "Snogged her last night " and pointed at the young woman sitting next to him. His friend countered "I snogged her last night." A young man said "I've been here for six weeks and I've been with 39 girls and she's the 40th." A young woman said "We actually flash to get free drinks, no problem, nothing".
Seems that times have moved on since the animated pig from the Now That's What I Call Music 4 advert. Having not seen this advert or at least being unable to remember the advert I'm simply going to reserve my comments for what's in that synopsis and the adjudication. But just remember this whole discussion is about an commercial for some regurgitated dance music.

This advert attracted two quoted complaints (the first from a viewer the second from the ASA itself perhaps after it was highlighted to them). The first issue then:
”A viewer complained that the ad was potentially harmful because it could encourage promiscuity among young people.”
I do have a feeling I’ve seen this advert, but like most television advertising it passed me by. I matured in the 1990s, and in their book alt.culture, Steven Daly and Nathaniel Wise identify it as trait of those of us from that generation – it takes much subtler forms of persuasion to get us to randomly put our hand in our pockets (like a box full of the product next to a shop till with is why I’ve munched down a Wispa a week since it re-launched).

What’s more than a little curious is that this complainant has not only paid attention to the advert enough to read the content in a way which would make some media studies students envious, it has been evaluated against their own moral code and decided they didn’t like it enough to put finger to keyboard or pen to paper.

The problem is I’m not sure anyone watching – particular the ‘young people’ will consider the words of the actors in this advert for a cd and then think ‘I know – I’m going to go out and have sex more and with a greater variety of people!’ It doesn’t sound like something ‘young people’ these days need much in the way of encouragement to do.

The old argument considers if you show violence or promiscuous sex are you reflecting or perpetuating it? My answer has always been contextual or encapsulated in the word ‘depends’. And on this occasion, you have to believe that promiscuity amongst young people will happen anyway whether this advert exists or not and considering what it is it’s hardly going to be

In addition the complaint doesn’t extrapolate as to why ‘promiscuity among young people’ is a bad thing it just flatly implies that it is. It lacks a social conscience and doesn’t mention the other things the advert is doing which is skirting around the issue of safe sex and everything that was being taught about sexually transmitted diseases during and after the AIDS epidemic began. That’s something which is worth complaining about.

Except that why would you need to? It’s an advert for a music cd -- and how many of the viewers in the target demographic of which I'm in the upper reaches will like be paying that much attention? Won't it just pass most of us by? In addition, aren't a percentage of the promos on the same channel doing much the same thing and in even less ambiguous terms?

Understand, I’m not defending the advert, it sounds dreadful, fulfilling all of the clich├ęs of that kind of advertising, portraying its target demographic stereotypically with a leaden script. When I had more time on my hands I used to always do the surveys carried out by those women in the street with the clipboards and every now and then I’d be asked to evaluate adverts and more often than not they seemed to be showing what the ad firm thought that real people where like as looked down at them from their high office window in the city.

Now the second issue levelled by the ASA itself:
”The ASA challenged whether the ad encouraged immoderate drinking and linked alcohol with sexual activity and success.”
Again, reflection, perpetuation and context. This complaint is slightly more complex because actually what it seems to be doing is holding the advert up to the same standards as a drinks commercial, which it isn’t – its for a compilation music cd. Should it be held to the same standard? Perhaps it should, but what’s equally curious is that in fact the encouragement to immoderate drinking is implied not explicit.

Despite the night club scenes, arguably you would need to know the vital context and have already had experiences in that area in order to understand the meaning of what is being said. There’s no doubting that excessive drinking is an issue in society, but like the first complaint, is it possible that this advert for a cd on its own has the power to perpetuate it and would encourage people to do more of it. I’m not sure that it would since they would need to know what the advert is about in order for that to happen which means they’d be doing it already.

The response. Universal, the company publishing the cd isn’t using the advert anymore anyway and will only be using an approved ad in the future for the Clubland albums and so it’s the broadcaster, Hits TV which is being brought to account. Predictably their first defence is that “they did not believe the ad contained anti-social or dangerous behaviour and merely portrayed a light-hearted vision of the holiday experience of their 16- to 34-year-old audience”. Actually, it probably portrays a rather sunny version of that experience judging by the stories that are constantly being filtered back from resorts.

Sadly, Hits TV then neuter their case by suggesting that suggestion that the context of the "we actually flash to get free drinks" quip isn’t what it clearly is – that the ‘drinks’ might not be alcoholic and that we’re not sure what was flashed – which makes them look like they know they’ve done wrong and they’re just skirting around the issue. And this is why its entertaining – there’s always a moment as you read through like a good courtroom drama when someone makes a strategic mistake and you can see what the outcome is going to be. It actually looks like they’re capitulating which is a shame because I think they would have had quite a strong case.

Both complaints were upheld. The first was for reasons that had nothing to do with the advert and indeed the complaint itself. The advert was broadcast during the day when kids could be watching. The word ‘likely’ is used. What’s odd about that is that the ASA don’t actually know that kids will be watching, they’re just assuming they must be.

Except you can actually find out if children are watching if the channel is getting enough viewers to warrant a mention on the BARB or ratings figures which now include a breakdown of proportions of viewers in each demographic. Marry the times the advert was broadcast with the ratings for the group you’re worried about and you’d know for sure whether these impressionable youngsters are watching.

If they were, well fine. But I would still refer to my previous comments that this advert isn’t going to be telling some ‘young people’ anything which they don’t already know. Which is sad but true. There is something to be said for the advert adding to the death of childhood but that’s perhaps a separate argument to what’s being considered here.

The second, the ASA’s own is upheld too and for the reasons I expected. The ASA say: “We considered that the phrase "We actually flash to get free drinks, no problem ... " would be understood by viewers to refer to alcoholic drinks, and encouraged immoderate drinking.” In other words, the viewers who know what the phrase means, the drinkers, would be encouraged to drink, which they probably do already.

There’s no denying that there are things to complain about in the advert but the problem is that the way the complaint is handled and the assessment is made it's as though this single spot has the potential to turn young minds throughout the country to more sex and drink which in a lot of ways elevates it and suggests it has an even greater potential than it actual has considering what it is, what it’s for and when it is being broadcast.

Actually what you should find alarming is that it’s encouraging young women to flash in public as a way of getting free alcohol which might be an age old tradition but is certainly a grey area from a feminists perspective and could potentially be rather dangerous if drunken men are involved which they presumably are. This could be the ‘sexual activity’ suggested in the adjudication, but again it all seems like a bit vague to me.

Except would an advert for a music cd really have the power to do that?


“Action – We told the advertiser not to repeat the ad.”

And I bet they did too.

Review 2007: A Call For Entries

Before regular readers (and contributors) run to their calenders wondering where three weeks went to, I know I’m starting early this year. But if the lights can already be up in city centres and shops can already be selling their Christmas wares, I think it’s just about ok to be writing about this just under a week before Halloween, especially since posting usually starts on the first of December and that is only five weeks away. Plus, this isn’t about Christmas, but rounding out our year with a collective sigh.

It’s the fifth anniversary of these reviews and each year they’ve become more ambitious and interesting. Last year, over thirty of you were kind enough to send in questions which I was happy to answer. The most popular answer or article was the one about Torchwood, which was linked all over the place, and the Keira Knightley question was second, presumably because she's been a bit busy this year.

2007 is hopefully going to be somewhat similar to what we did in 2005. Then I invited people to describe a moment when they succeeded in doing something they've always wanted to do that year, which led some amazing writing on topics as diverse as getting a book published, karoke, visiting Ireland and New York, being invisible and having a baby. Keeping the overall subject seems to work so with that in mind, here is the title for Review 2007.

Review 2007: Home.

I’m asking people to write about what they thought was the most significant thing to that happened in the place where they live this year. This could be something that’s effected an entire city or town or village or just your street and it might be something whose effect only you seem to have noticed or everyone you know was talking about and even the rest of the world. The important thing is that you give it a local slant and how it felt to someone who actually lives there making the rest of us understand what it was like.

Here’s how I decided upon the idea: this year was Liverpool’s 800th birthday and next year the city has been chosen to be the European Capital of Culture. My original idea was to have commemorated that by asking people to write about my home town and what they thought of it as an outsider and from within, but then it occurred to me that Liverpool isn’t at the centre of the known universe and that asking everyone to write about that was just a bit too … what’s the word?

Wherever we’re living and working is the centre of our own universe and that we are actually looking out at that universe through the windows and screens that are there but the look isn’t often returned. I realised it would be far more interesting to offer people the chance to make the world look at the place where they live and what happened to it this year, hopefully producing a review of the tear which is both global and local, that stretches, for example, from El Paso to Baltimore to Freiburg to Brighton and back to Liverpool.

If this does sound like something you’d like to be involved in, please email me at feelinglistless@btopenworld.com at least to say that you'd like to write something and then try and get your submission in by the end of November if you can. There will be a prize for any that are shown (or at the very least a link back to your own website if you have one). Don’t worry if you think the place where you live has already ‘gone’. Five people who’ve actually found somewhere to live in London aren’t going to look at the place in exactly the same way are they?

"I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts." -- Orson Welles

TV Time to admit something, although it may not necessarily be a bad thing depending upon your point of view. Here is a list of all the television I'm watching currently, week in and out (those marked with an asterisk are finishing this week):

The Sarah Jane Adventures (Mondays, BBC One)
Screenwipe (Tuesdays, BBC Four) *
Heroes (Wednesdays, BBC Two)
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (Thursdays, More4)
The Peter Serafinowicz Show (Thursdays, BBC Two)
Have I Got News For You (Fridays, BBC One)
The Culture Show (Saturdays, BBC Two)
The West Wing (Sundays, More4)

And um, that's it. I am also recording Robin Hood (Saturday et al, BBC One), Michael Palin's New Europe (Sunday, BBC One) and Diary of a London Call Girl (Thursdays, ITV2) to watch in the future, but that's it. Of course there's the news in the morning and at tea time, and the odd themed season on BBC Four or documentary here and there, but in terms of make-a-date programming that's the sum total of my viewing pleasure which seems awfully low in comparison to what I'm assuming other people are spending time with.

Which should explain why I haven't been writing much for Off The Telly lately. I know there's a lot worth seeing. Flight of the Concordes is probably a missed treat and I somehow totally forgot about the second series of Not Going Out. I've heard good things about Californication. But somewhere along the line, a couple of years ago, I simply stopped being able to just sit and watch television no matter what's on and spending much of the late summer listening to The Proms drew me even further away.

I've also got into the habit of simply putting the 'must-see' series on the LoveFilm list and waiting for them to turn up through the letter box so that I can gorge on them three or four episodes at a time, even uk programmes like Spooks. I'm part of the demographic which has turned away from television, not as a medium but as a process. I'm just watching a lot of films on dvd, reading, listening to music, and doing this. I'm working too. But the point is that I'm televisually disaffected and the only reason I can think of is that it's because there's too much of the stuff. In supplying too many choices, television has turned me off, because I can never decide what to watch.

Partly it's to do with my own approach to life. I don't like choice. I like to be surprised. My mp3 player is almost permanently on random. With Lovefilm you just watch whatever they send you from your list and my list currently stands at seven hundred odd. And if I can't be surprised I'll stick to one thing. Given the many hundreds of flavoured beverage on offer in Starbucks I tend to just drink black coffee. I'm sure people must notice that all I ever seem to wear is a white t-shirt and jeans. It's a surpise, the same thing, or nothing at all. The best restaurants are the ones that have a specials board. I don't suspect that everyone who's turned away from television has these oh so very special eccentricities.

I think probably the only thing which would get me to return to watching more television would be a channel which didn't actually have a proper schedule and were you'd never know exactly what was going to be on. There might be themed zones and types of programmes at different parts of the day and you could tune in and be surprised by whatever was being presented to you. Since they'd need to have something to print in the Radio Times, Surprise TV's evening programme list would look like this:

6:00 Old drama
7:00 A documentary
7:30 Comedy
8:00 Another documentary
9:00 New drama
10:00 Film
12:00(ish) Music
1:00 Repeat of something from earlier in the night
2:00 One of the dramas again too

Oddly enough, that does look not unlike the schedule for BBC Four, but even that has some serials. This wouldn't even have those. It might repeat episodes of things and in the right order, but there could be weeks in between. Long running storylines aren't going to work on this channel, but one off and stand-alone dramas would be perfect. The documentaries would be about anything. And the point is that it wouldn't be appointment tv on purpose. But the schedulers would just make sure that whatever was on would be damn good so when the viewer pitched up at nine o'clock, for example, they'd be sure to find an amazing film.

Of course this anarchic approach to scheduling would never work -- and I can't imagine what the business model would look like since there would have to be some commercials and how do you sell time on a channel which doesn't release its programme list? It's barmy but I still think it would work. But then, I once had the barnstormer of an idea of a radio station that tossed out genre concerns and simply played great music throughout the day no matter where in the world it was from and when. Which in todays money would mean Cornel Pewewardy & The Alliance West Singers next to Oasis next to Beethoven next to Bob Seger next to Nikka Costa next to The Specials. Essentially my mp3 player on random again but with a presenter. Which would never work.

“We place no reliance on virgin or pidgeon. Our method is science, our aim is religion.” -- Aleister Crowley

Environment I've spent the day in Chester beginning the preliminary round of my Christmas shopping which as you know can take many days and many hours of thought. I did manage to buy a few things, although as the years pass it is becoming more and more difficult to find the right thing and more importantly something which will actually be seen out after December 25th.

As I was passing through the Virgin Megastore nostalgically buying a copy of Betty Blue (Version very, very int├ęgrale) the sales clerk asked me if I wanted a bag -- up until this point they've automatically put the goods into one. I nodded the affirmative and he put it into a brown recyclable paper bag (as opposed to the landfill friendly plastic). It's a small step towards helping the environment, but as I was walking out of the shop I considered why I needed a bag in the first place.

The dvd is already wrapped in plastic. I had my backpack with me which would have been a perfectly safe place to put it. Also, I visited a couple of charity shops on my way around town today also and bought a couple of cds and on both occasions the clerks were automatically going to put them in bags and I said 'I don't need a bag' which means I've been using a bizarre double standard that says 'New = bag' 'Second hand = doesn't deserve a bag'. Next time then, when I'm in a Virgin, I'll be letting my purchase go natural. So to speak.

And just while I'm here. It's always the quite, slightly sonorous, sycophantic ones, isn't it?

Warriors of Kudlak (Part One)

TV In point of fact I was probably a bit too critical of laser tag in my late review last night but one. I do remember enjoying it quite a lot whilst I was at university even though I wasn’t very good at it and largely a sitting duck. There were a couple of staff members who just seemed to play the game all day. Personally, I’d be quiet if that were my job. Oh and there was that time when I met a girl at the Laser Quest in Edinburgh. Our eyes met over the laser sighting and we killed each other many, many times. And laughed. Then killed each other some more. And then her boyfriend arrived and he killed me too. It was like a mini-version of the love triangle at the heart of Starship Troopers and I was Dina Meyer. Except clearly not. She has bigger biceps.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Warriors of Kudlak: Part One

In fact the appearance of laser tag in this was generally accurate, although in my experience the participants were at least six years older and clearly lifers, becoming experts at these fictional war games at a time when there wasn’t anything in the real world to keep them occupied (how times change). I can empathize with Luke, who before going into battle didn’t see the attraction but soon found himself blasting away. There is an adrenaline rush that kicks in, although in some arenas it’s possible to select a spot high up and pick your opponents off which isn’t as fun as it sounds. You want to be running and jumping as happened in the episode; assassinations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, even if, as in the film Grosse Pointe Blank, there’s an American version of Minnie Driver somewhere along the line trying to change your ways. But I have to agree with Neil – is anyone playing this stuff any more?

Despite my reservations after seeing the trailer this was another wonderfully enjoyable half hour. Time and again in The Sarah Jane Adventures you can see how horribly wrong everything could be, yet time and again it consistently surprises and delights. The story isn’t a completely new one of course – recruiting humans for an alien war was the backbone of The Last Starfighter (‘Greetings Starfighter … you have been recruited by the star league to defend the frontier … etc’) and also to an extent the Eighth Doctor BBC7 play Human Resources. What lifted this was the portrayal of the management of the project, Mr. Grantham, doing the Kudlak’s dirty work who in turn is also answering to a manager and the ineffectiveness of what they’re doing – the inability to find decent recruits is trickling up and down the hierarchy making everyone cross. Plus, could the phrase, ‘I want more children! Give me more children!’ be any more disturbing? (Yes, actually. According to The Guardian at the weekend, Jonathan King has a new album out).

After his initial appearance, Clyde might have become an intensely annoying smart arse of a character. Instead he’s generally warm and empathic, his conversations with Luke about what it is to be a tweenage human often a highlight. A lot of this has to do with cast and in fact now that Kelsey’s been rubbed from history (at least until series four when she returns as a villain) all of the young leads are quite charming in that way that the cast of the Harry Potter films are – and also with an unexpected range ... comedy … tragedy … comedy … tragedy … comedy … tragedy … You genuinely felt for Luke when he realised his one moment of feeling accepted by his peers led to pain for someone else – not really understanding why, in the main, kids tend to find cruelty strangely reassuring.

Similarly where other recent kids shows (admittedly from the US) have a tendency to go for the empty spectacle, there are some truly magical moments here of the sort which I remember from the classics of the Eighties. As Sarah Jane and Maria led the cloudbusting machine which looked as if to have been borrowed from the Kate Bush video with Donald Sutherland up the hill and switched it on and let the gold lights fill the sky, I wondered if younger viewers would have had the same thrill I did on seeing Hurne the Hunter in The Box of Delights (which is high praise indeed). Then golden beans fell from the sky!

And instead of simply being a way of getting someone from a to b, it motivated the story and showed that Sarah-Jane has become much more than a journalist over the years. There’s a useful feminist thread running through the series – in the past there would have been a cut to Maria’s Dad scratching his head over what this contraption could possibly be; now Sarah-Jane had to science bit covered. This was a great episode for her overall, seen to be genuinely investigating for herself and significantly fighting her way out of tricky situations herself.

There’s also a pleasing injection of whimsy of the kind that Douglas Adams would probably approve of – and genuinely funny. Sarah Jane and Maria turning up at the counter of the Combat 3000 looking to speak to the manager could have been dull as dishwater, a perfunctory bit of arguing. Writer Phil Gladwin offered in its place the business with the incongruous sales clerk having to do the introductory monologue for every customer and Sarah-Jane using youth patter and being told not to by Maria. The look of Dentian disappointment on Clyde’s face when he realised that Luke had beaten him on his first attempt and then trying to clunk-headedly show off to the villain of the peace. Oh and the concurrent irritation that Mr. Smith isn’t quite as good as he could be (which I’m sure is a background plot to be resolved in the final story – I think he’s holding back vital information).

If I wanted to be clearly unfair and look for flaws, it would be the over convenience that Clyde and Luke just happened to be visiting the Combat 3000 just as Sarah-Jane and Maria realised that it’s at the epicentre of their investigation. Mr. Grantham's office looked rather dark and drab and grey which was either a clever piece of design or some costs had been cut there to make way for the cloudbusting. I’m also a bit confused about the time frame – how long after the previous story was this set, and when? Shouldn’t these kids be at school, doing homework or what have you? Also, and perhaps this’ll be answered next time, why exactly is Grantham working for them? The money? The power? The girls? The machismo? Oddly enough, I didn’t have a problem with that arcade machine in the chippy – coin-ops in chippys are rarely newer than twenty years old – assuming they’re working at all.

Next week: I just know that something good is going to happen.

"It's times like this I wish I still had my scarf."

[spoiler] Well that's rather confirmed that then.

"When angry, count four; when very angry, swear." -- Mark Twain

Language I've never considered myself as being a great swearer. I can be profain, but there are just certain words which sound wrong coming from my lips -- my accent isn't strong enough in one direction probably, which means that sometimes when I do [expletive deleted] I do it in a put on accent, often Yorkshire or Mancunian (my scouse accent is too bizarre even though I'm from here).

Last night, when I came in from work, absolutely banjexed, I could smell dinner being made. My Dad asked me to make the mint sauce. So I duly went into the kitchen, put a few spoonfuls of the Colman's concentrated into a bowl, added too much vinegar so slowly mixed in some sugar to flatten it out a bit. It was a work of art worthy for the dinner table. Even though we were having roast chicken. He was joking and in fact I'd actually been looking at the chicken on the side whilst I was make the usual tasty accompaniment to lamb.

That was a fairly swear worthy moment. And I did. A bit.

The work place is different though and in fact, I've thoroughly cultivated the use of the word 'Twunk' for momentary mental lapses there. But some researchers in East Anglia have found that actually, real swearing at work can be a useful therapy:
"...In many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Allowing an official 'no swearing' policy to be informally ignored in some contexts may be a sensible outcome," the researchers say."
I've chosen to link that article because it reveals something I didn't know -- that in Jamaica swearing or as they call them 'bad words' are illegal. Far be it from me to pass judgment on the laws of another society, but how do you regulate a percentage of people's self expression? But then again, I've seen enough of those late night fly-on-the-wall shows which follow the police during kicking out time on a Friday night in a town centre to know that even over here if you swear at a police officer who's been on shift for twelve hours you'll be spending the night in a cell. It's not big or clever, especially after eight pints.

Eye of the Gorgon (Part Two)

TV All told this hasn’t been a good week for television. There was the ITV phone scandal, the fallout from which was fairly delicious for those of us who remember the channel wars a couple of years ago when Doctor Who was head-to-head with Ant & Dec in the ratings – their executive producer credits were apparently ‘vanity positions’ which must have caused the two of them to blow the cherryade through their noses when they heard Michael Grade say it on the Today programme (assuming they weren’t listening to the commercial alternative). Oh and obviously seeing Grade being harangued even if none of it happened on his watch. Some of us never forget.

Over on the BBC of course there was the announcement of job losses and the making of less programmes as a way of plugging the gap in the license fees. It was inevitable that a statement would be made to explain that Doctor Who would not being one of the shows to be axed and indeed whenever I heard one of these pronouncements I almost expected them to be made by Jim Bowen in his Bullseye voice: “Right, you’ve got Spooks, Casualty, Eastenders, costume dramas and Doctor Who … they’re safe….” Some of the grumbling from viewers and commentators surrounded the admittance that there would be an increase in repeats, but specifically what they calling ‘rolling’ repeats or another chance to see programmes again during their broadcast run.

And hooray for that. In the bad old days, even with video recorders, if you forgot something was being broadcast or the video was confused and recorded the other side, you were stuffed. I have a tape somewhere which has ten minutes of some television movie about a boating disaster were the first half of Dimensions in Time is supposed to be – and that’s never going to be repeated. Which, after finally seeing it online about ten years later is not such a bad thing. Now we have rolling repeats and there are very few shows that you can actually miss even without access the magic Sky+ box or Tivo. It’s because of rolling repeats that a week later than planned I can quite comfortably say:

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Eye of the Gorgon: Episode Two

A mirror. I love that. One of my favourite ideas in all of Greek mythology is that Medusa could be destroyed by her own reflection – it’s an unsubtle reminder that the one talent that we have, the one thing that we’re really good at is probably a curse and could eventually destroy us if we take it too far. It’s redolent of rock stars living fast and dying young and writers whose first novel is a work of genius and they spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture the magic. It’s also been seen before in Doctor Who – Dalek Sec for example, but I think this is the first time that it’s appeared in its most literal form.

And it’s important that Bea was the one to pass on the advice to the youngster and not Maria working it out for herself. It’s the show passing on a salient lesson (without being too preachy) to younger viewers – that pensioners, even those suffering from a debilitating mental illness, are not worthless and do have one or two things they can teach you, even if it is how to beat an alien gorgon who wants to take over the world. For all the running around and being captured this time, the core of this episode was those scenes between Phyllida and Yasmin and it’s pretty heartening to see that the production team, despite the shorter running time, are still giving some room for their cast to just act, that character is just as central to the show as plot (which I know runs rather contrary to what I said last week about the soapier elements but the difference here is that they were working in service of the narrative).

I can only echo what I’ve written previously about all of these actors and their characters. There is another valuable moment though when Sarah-Jane suggests at the climax that she’s found a Doctor substitute in these kids; that’s not too far from the truth. On each occasion so far, it is the children who in the end have saved the day which is to be expected in a kids show, but it does rather put Sarah-Jane in the position of still being rescued by someone and the writers do have to be careful not to make her appear too weak. Now and then you do feel as though she’s being held back, or not making the deductions you might have expected her to in the past – knowing the Medusa myth, why didn’t she work out what would hold back her adversary?

To an extent it feels like the same approach to the hero as cropped up in the opening series of the new Doctor Who when everyone but the timelord in the end seemed to beat the bad person and it would be gratifying if once or twice Sarah was the one to save the kids or the world. I’m guessing that on this occasion that mirror had occurred to her but not having one to hand and being held in bondage by the nuns she couldn’t do anything about it so hoped that Maria would have put two and two together and for us to see the thought process would have spoiled the ending.

You could also argue that we were also seeing a repeat of some of the elements of nu-Who – threat of bodily possession, the religious imagery and the nuns being at the top of the list. I’m glad they didn’t decided to let Sarah Jane be possessed – that would have been a horrific step too far as 42 & Human Nature demonstrated. My conclusion on this is that that kids like repetition – see Teletubbies ('Again! Again!'). They like to see variations of a formula rather than something totally new. Like the Blink-style statues, they could potentially pick up on the similarities and the fear will be carried over, at least a bit subconsciously. And wasn’t that an amazing shot, of the garden filled with statues of people in a range of positions of shock and awe, presumably as the gorgon’s gaze fell upon them? As Damon said in his review of the first episode earlier in the week, this is a great looking series and should not be overlooked when people write about dropping standards of children’s television. The talent is there if you give people the money and the space to do wonders.

I suppose the only real disappointment is that didn’t make more of Cardiff Castle (which is actually more of a mansion now); there are many more painted rooms just like that library which could have been worked into a more elaborate story about the power of myths – and indeed the history that Luke explained about how the convent was created evoked the original story of the mansion. But as the mirror demonstrates, the production are trying to keep things as simple as possible and perhaps they didn’t want to waste some of those other locations if the story didn’t really demand it. Plus that stone room was suitably gloomy and perfect for the kind of ritual being performed by those nuns. It’s ironic that The Daemons was shown on BBC Four tonight not long after this CBBC repeat, since the ritual being performed by the sister was certainly reminiscent of the Master’s chanting in that story.

But I suppose the greatest complement I can give the show is that even if you going in one end in a fairly grumpy mood (which I did) you’ll come out the other end smiling. It has enough moments of charm and calm and excitement and humour which the best of Doctor Who and children’s television should have, spooky when it needs to be and also incredibly literate and layered – when Bea offers “What are they teaching you youngsters at school these days” it confirms that it’s playing to two audiences, both kids and the adults who are watching it with them (which would please Tom). A character like Maria’s mother might be horrendously irritating if you’re not in the right mood but I think we’ve all known the type and actually it’s probably the type that might be horrendously irritating if you’re not in the right mood. I just hope we’re not seeing Donna-lite and that we’ve got thirteen episodes of something similar coming up.

Next week (well tomorrow night): It’s the laser tag story which looks utterly pants, probably because unless you were a pint-sized Andy McNabb, laser tag was pants when you were a kid.

“Television is more interesting than people. If it were not we should have people standing in the corner of our room.” -- Alan Coren

Obituary Alan Coren was another of those unique voices which always seemed to be speaking somewhere on television, radio and in print to the extent that it didn't ever occur to you that he would at some point not be there any more. The News Quiz won't ever be the same again.

"When you see the films of certain young directors, you get the impression that film history begins for them around 1980. " -- Jacques Rivette

Film I think this got rather less coverage than it deserves. The UK Government are donating £25 million to the UK Film Council to help preserve films being held in archives throughout the country, although mostly at the BFI. This is amazing news, since by a strange co-incidence it's almost the amount quoted during this BBC Four discussion from the summer as to how much funding would be required to save the archives -- or at least keep it in a state of grace. Many of the oldest films are on nitrate film stock which has a very limited shelf life (because when they were created it wasn't thought they would have a shelf life) and even newer material degrades. Now there's a chance it won't be lost -- which means we'll still have this window into the past in the future.