Wishing Well.

TV At what point does a spin-off novel become a missing adventure? In the dark decade such things were carefully delineated. Missing adventures usually featured a previous Doctor in a story which could be slotted into old television era, with a sister series featuring the current incumbent, Seventh or Eighth Doctors which weren’t really missing because they wouldn’t have fitted anywhere. Now we have a group of releases which feature the current Doctor but which are supposed to have happened during a gap in the previous series – in that foggy area around Blink when we didn’t really know what our hero was up to apart from being trapped in the past and going all Robin Hood on something. So they really are missing adventures but don’t really seem like it. Perplexing isn’t it. That said Nick Brown from Kasterborous thinks that we fans are cool now. After rereading this paragraph I’m not so sure at least about myself.

So when you pick up something like Trevor Baxendale’s Wishing Well, you’re filling in a gap in the previous series, finding out exactly what happened before the time travellers stopped off in Cardiff for a recharge, accidentally picked up Captain Jack and from a certain point of view inadvertently doomed the future of the human race. There is the opportunity to provide a different kind of entertainment to the television show, situations sometimes that simply aren’t very Saturday night, action that only really works in a textual context. That’s probably why often, these novels sometimes have quite an old school flavour and Wishing Well is a good example of that featuring as it does ‘something dark and sinister lurking in a country village’ – it’s The Daemons, K9 and Company, The Stones of Blood and that great bit in Lance Parkin’s novel The Dying Days when the red death permeates Adisham.

The set up then: after a warning from the local homeless man not to, The Doctor and Martha pitch up in the Derbyshire village of Crighton Mere and become mixed up in a war of words between some students, the local gentry and restoration committee over the titular water source which may or not have buried treasure at the bottom. The Doctor’s convinced that something darker is going on and it slowly becomes apparent that a far more malevolent force than the real ale at the local pub. Baxendale has become something of an old hand when it comes to spin-off fiction with a clutch of Eighth Doctor novels and the odd Big Finish audio to his credit. He’s always been a technically very proficient writer even if his work hasn’t ever been lauded with the likes of Parkin and Cornell. His magnum opus though are his cherishable kid orientated comic strips for Doctor Who Adventures -- short, colourful and always fun journeys full of character (which is what apparently led him to getting a commission here).

This is pretty much the opposite of that. There’s a palpable atmosphere of dread throughout, Baxendale clearly enjoying the chance to do some of the omnipresent darkness that might not be appreciated sandwiched between the mazes and word searches of DWA. Until the final forty or so pages too it’s not particularly pacey, choosing instead to let our heroes get lost in the mystery and the red herrings, attempting to cover the truth about the well amongst the old wives tales and urban legends. That said is isn’t a particularly complex tale – most of the scenes happen around the mouth of the well, in the tunnels underneath and at the local manor and just now and then you do wish that it was a more complex story which is tricky with this number of pages and potential audience, but some of the scenes are rather stagey considering that they’re being rendered in prose.

Apart from the oh so typical students, there’s an admirable lack of younglings amongst the characters. Baxendale instead concentrates on Sadie and Angela, two witty local pensioners (‘I’m 83’ the latter muses at some point) and Henry Gaskin the local land owner. It’s the cast of the Christmas To The Manor Born, probably, which adds that different tone to the proceedings and teaches kids the valuable lesson that the older you are, the wiser you generally are too (the Doctor is 903 or thereabouts after all). There’s a gentle animosity between Angela and Henry after he apparently let her husband die in a climbing accident that adds an extra thematic layer about the frailty of human life which pays off at the very end. The Doctor and Martha are very well evoked too with the timelord in particularly making a couple of big speeches and getting very excited about something his companion’s suggested.

The book just lacks ambition, an extra zing. Since it is in prose and there is an unlimited budget it’s baffling that Baxendale would choose such a mundane setting and small scale story. The latest Doctor Who Magazine reveals that he didn’t – he’s writing to a remit the ‘something dark and sinister lurking in a country village’ idea coming from series editor Justin Richards. Presumably the plan, like the old fashioned BBC Missing Adventures is to produce something which is indistinguishable from its given era and it certainly carries that off (particularly the villain of the week and the resolution which will both be familiar to fans of a certain tv episode and oddly enough readers of one of this quarter’s other releases Peacemaker). If that’s what you’re look for then there’s much to enjoy and plenty of humour amid the gloom; otherwise seek out the author’s strips for Doctor Who Adventures. They’re ace and totally unlike anything else you’ll ever read.

Wishing Well, by Trevor Baxendale, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073489.

Review 2007: Home

O. Dear on the Chicago Suburbs

Dear Stacy Peterson,

I never met you. Although, I don't know, I might still have a chance. The problem is, no one knows where you are. I mean, you do. You know where you are. But there are a lot of people wondering about you. How does a young mother go missing? How does someone leave their house and never come back?

I'll be honest, when I first heard about you, I was watching the local news and I didn't think much of it. You were just someone I never met, who had just up and disappeared. Let's be honest, alright? There's no use pussy-footing around here. We have very little in common; we would not have been friends. We wouldn't have been in the same classes in high school, nor the same extended group of friends. I would have said mean things about you being white trash; if there had been a rumor about you and a married man, I would have called you a slut.

When the news trucks started coming off the highway and settling on your quiet suburban street, I was confused. A local mother had gone missing, newsworthy, sure, but what is Fox News doing here? I can practically hear the hum of the generators from my house. Generators powering the trucks, helping spew speculation across the globe. There is a smell in the air from it; the unending stench of a nation so plugged in, so connected, that constant, renewing information is an absolute necessity.

And to chase you, they have come here. They have trampled your neighbors' lawns. To dissect ever moment of your life, every second of your marriage they have clogged the streets with satellite trucks. They are fascinated with you, your last seconds before vanishing off of the end of the Earth. They feign troubled expressions while describing your husband. They want to talk about him, him, him.

And I wonder about you. The things I fished out of the moving river of information disseminated about you doesn't paint a pretty picture. It shows me a little girl who's parents were unreliable caretakers, who grew up to be a rebellious teenager, fooling around with a married man 30 years older. I see dark eye liner and low self-esteem. I see endless days of cashier jobs. I see someone who wasn't ever loved by the people who were suppose to love her, who latched onto a lecherous man because he meant the holiest of holy things: stability. No, no, I'm not insinuating that you were lured. Or that you couldn't think for yourself. I believe that even at 17 you could make decisions for yourself - you'd been apparently doing it for a while. I just don't think you even had a chance to make a good decision. To you, this man, this life you had with him, was a good decision for you and the baby that was swelling your stomach. Your life had been full of houses, this was your chance to have a home.

The newsmen can prattle on and blaze up the snowy Chicago sky with their flood lights. They can theorize and broadcast and theorize and broadcast and Back to you, Tom to infinity. They are missing the point: You were always missing, and now, you're gone.

O. Dear writes To Whom It May Concern.

Click here to find out more about this review of 2007, read previous posts and learn about contributing yourself.

"Both, however, would be appropriately shown at 1.37." -- David Bordwell

Film Typically fascinating article from David Bordwell about how films are cropped for dvd and projection with emphasis on Godard: "Even if you’re not that interested in Godard, everybody should be aware of what video cropping can do to the film image. I’m not talking about panning and scanning, that process which begins with a widescreen film, typically one of an aspect ratio 1:2.40, and extracts a 1.37 frame out of it for video purposes. This is deplorable, but most of us are alert to it. What’s more interesting is the sort of thing that happened when a film is cropped inaccurately, either in projection or for DVD."

"Every Christmas it's the same. I always end up playing a shepherd." - Shermy, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

TV Every year the Christmas Radio Times is last to appear on the news stands. This year it was published on Saturday but didn't make its way up north until at least Wednesday, which in its own way added to the excitement of discovering whether the networks had got their act together this year. There is still some very good stuff on but really I've no idea what ITV1 are thinking and overall it just seems a little bit less exciting year on year, a downward trend which can only continue. But with all the various digital stations and the extra movie reviews, the RT this year is so fat there's no way the staples are going to be able to hold the cover in place so it's bound, as usual, to fall off before new year. In the absence a new Review 2007 post (more promised soon), I thought I'd offer some recommendations -- one per day -- based on what I've seen so far (with apologies to the far more brilliant TV Cream Digest emails ...):

Saturday 22nd December, Channel 4, 16:35.
A Christmas Carol (2001)
The RT grants this a single star which may well be fair -- I haven't seen it -- but I do wish it was live action what with Nic Cage playing Jacob Marley opposite Simon Callow's Scrooge ('No, nah look Ebenasaa, hn, you reaaally need to listen to what aaahm saying now...focusss'). No the reason it's on this list is for the theme song, What If, given by one Kate Winslet who plays Belle in the movie. Frankly, I should hate every second of this, what with it being a ballad and having been written by Julian Knott and produced by Steve Mac who usually spend their time giving the likes of Westlife something to sing about from their stools. But Kate can really carry a tune and she looks absolutely yummy in the video. So actually you could bypass the film altogether and see if you can spot the promo on Freeview music channel TMF's Christmas Turkeys compilation show (which has been on twice already).

Sunday 23rd December, BBC Four, 23:20
Trade Secrets
For much of the late nineties this was a useful BBC Two schedule standby in the days when dramas used to run fifty minutes and weren't uselessly padded out to an hour. Experts in a given domestic subject (who generally looked like your auntie or uncle) would give useful hints as to how to do things around the house, what we younglings (?) tend to be called life hacks. It's great to see its return if only late on a BBC Four, which over the Christmas period, is becoming interestingly mainstream, tonight with a range of cookery programmes featuring the Two Fat Ladies and Nigella.

Christmas Eve, BBC Radio 3, 22:20
BBC Proms 2007
Radio 3 are rerunning many of this year's Proms on a nightly bases and hooray, here's the one that really sent me over the edge and made me want to listen to all of them. It's Prom 6, the one in which the BBC Singers and Tallis Scholars along with conductor Davitt Moroney reintroduced a Striggio choral work which hadn't been heard by the world for four hundred years. You can read me waxing lyrical about it here and noting my disappointment at not having recorded it but in short it’s amazing, as perfect example of polyphony as you’re likely to hear.

Christmas Day, BBC One, 18:50
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned
Well clearly. The facetious choice would have been not to add this to the list, selecting instead the rerun of Stargate Atlantis Five are putting out at midnight (as well as umpteen episodes of Everybody Hates Chris), but what would be the point? It’s Kylie in Doctor Who on a space Titanic. To set that into perspective, celebrity casting on the show when Kylie was recording with S/A/W looked like Ken Dodd and Hale and Pace and not in an ironic way. According to the cast list in the RT, Royal Correspondent Nick Witchell will be playing himself which seems like perfect casting especially if Charles Dance wasn’t available – let’s just hope he’s not saddled with the kind of script that Huw Edwards endured during Season Two’s episode Fear Hear – "It's much more than a torch now, it's a beacon. It's a beacon of hope and fortitude and courage. And it's a beacon of love. " Oh purlease.

Boxing Day, BBC Two, 19:00
The Terminal
Good lord there’s a lot of films on through Boxing Day. BBC One turns itself into a film channel from ten am through to tea time and all of the other channels average out at about five each – so although there’s the battle of the quality dramas after 8:30 – Ballet Shoes vs. The Old Curiosity Shop – it seems wrong not to pick something and this, despite the *** RT gives it, is as good as most things. It’s not classic Spielberg, but there’s something to be said for this edgy romantic comedy which takes place almost entirely in an airport between an refugee and someone in the service industries – it’s like Mannequin with air miles. Tom Hanks, is, well, Tom Hanks with a cod-East European accent (and a hint of Monsieur Hulot), but I do think it’s one of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s best performances and Stanley Tucci is at his most reptilian. If that’s not your bag, Galaxy Quest is on just before midnight – I wonder how they deal with the weird ratio thing at the beginning.

Thursday 27th December, BBC Four, 0:35
About the only Shakespeare on television this Christmas is a nightowl showing of Olivier’s Henry V with in-vision signing which might just be worth a punt to see how the little man or woman in the corner deals with iambic pentameter. I think the most attractive prospect for the day is probably this episode of Omnibus even though RT have declined to mention what it’s about. There used to be a useful equilibrium on BBCtv – Omnibus did the arts, Horizon did science and Arena did what it damn well felt like. Sadly, Omnibus is the one which hasn’t survived (although arguably Horizon hasn’t either after all the various rebrandings its endured) which is a shame because it was always consistently interesting in that way on BBC arts programmes used to be. One of BBC Four’s many strands throughout the period is about dance with various films and documentaries so it’ll more than likely have something to do with that and since Billy Elliot’s on before it, perhaps that means something about boys who do ballet.

Friday 28th December, BBC Three, 20:00
The Real Hustle: the 12 Scams of Christmas Special
Like Trade Secrets, The Real Hustle is shockingly addictive, perhaps because it relates to something which could realistically have some bearing on your life, unlike 99% of the rest of television. The trick is that it’s essentially a Candid Camera remade under the banner of information. Typical set-up: a bloke in a bar (the mark) will think he’s being chatted up by presenter (and former playboy model) Jess (clearly the honey trap). Whilst he’s salivating at the prospect of spending a night with her, one of the other two blokes Alex or Paul who also present the show will steal his wallet/his bag/his wife. And then we’ll see how it was accomplished and the mark will be shown looking slightly embarrassed and saying things like ‘I’ll be more careful in future’. Much of the time though it’s an evisceration of the general public as it demonstrates the raw stupidity that most of us spend our lives exhibiting, believing anything some total stranger tells us because they look alright. In a recently repeated episode, one of the blokes turned up at a car park in a florescent tabard carry some change and clip board, and after putting an out of order sign on the perfectly fine ticket machine and asks people to pay him instead which they duly do. After an hour he’d made three hundred pounds. Amazing.

Saturday 29th December, BBC Two, 21:30
The Funny Side of the News
This sounds like the kind of old fashioned talking heads show which went out in the early naughties. According the RT, we’ll see a ‘selection of bloopers demonstrating the many different ways in which news gaffes can occur and how the style of news presentation has changed’, and that’s the Reithian ethic right there – to entertain and inform. It highlights the appearance of Fiona Bruce and Angela Rippon which is odd considering they seem like the only two news readers in living memory who haven’t made any big mistakes live on air. As for everyone else – if BBC Breakfast’s Bill Turnbull or Susanna Reid could get through a link without a fumble, cracking some idiotic joke or looking smug it’d be a blessing. About the only presenter I can stand in the mornings when she’s on is Kate Silverton and now she’s been lost to us now to a ninety-minute slot in the evening. And much as I love Today on Radio 4, it’d be nice just once if John Humphries didn’t talk about the internet and blogging in particular as though someone had farted.

Sunday 30th December, BBC Radio 4, 12:04
The Best of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
When I was younger than I am now and still at school, one of my English teachers gave an impassioned speech – as was his want – he often gave impassioned speeches that were generally off-topic – about a panel game on the radio which had been going for ever and was the funniest thing you’ll ever here. He then attempted to describe the rules of Mornington Crescent, the context of which failed to make an impression on this sixteen year old, whose brain was split between dealing with untranslated Chaucer and working out whether it was even worth working up a crush on Verity Jones since all the others had gone so well. Anyway, five or so years later I was driving somewhere with friend Chris and he put on a tape of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and I laughed like a drainpipe for two hours, so much so he actually swerved the car in surprise (I laugh loud). This is the best bits of the last year plus deleted scenes. Also, on Radio 3 at eight o’clock is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well which I would have recommended if I hadn’t already written most of this paragraph before spotting it. Emma Fielding, Sian Philips, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Griffiths, George Baker and Simon Russell Beale are in it and you don’t get much more RSC than that.

New Year’s Eve, Film4, 23:20
For a brief period there was always something to watch on the Eve as Channel 4 gave a run down of the best bits of tv from over the previous year, which was a chance to see what you’d missed (in case your wondering and I’m chuckling as I say/write this – I gave up going out on New Years Eve years ago). Now there’s pretty much nothing but movies, reruns and reruns of theme nights and a bunch of prerecorded 'as live' music shows. The limit is probably ITV’s Countdown to Midnight: Take That and Guests at the O2 Arena (the guests being the Sugababes) which we’re informed ‘includes a live countdown to the arrival of 2008’ which is about as ambiguous a phrase as these things can get (do they really expect us to believe that Gary and friends at the O2 gigging and not with their families?). Taking all that into account and the fact I’ve got The Third Man and the accompanying documentary (BBC Four) on dvd already, I think I’ll be seeing in the new year with Kevin Smith’s post-Clerks studio stumble, the underrated Mallrats which is still one of his funniest films and features one of the best opening monologues of any movie ever: ‘One time my cousin Walter got this cat stuck in his ass. True story. He bought it at our local mall, so the whole fiasco wound up on the news. It was embarrassing for my relatives and all, but the next week, he did it again. Different cat, same results, complete with another trip to the emergency room. So, I run into him a week later in the mall and he's buying another cat. And I says to him, "Jesus, Walt ! You know you're gonna get this cat stuck in your ass too. Why don't you knock it off ?" And he said to me, "Brodie, how the hell else am I supposed to get the gerbil out ?" My cousin was a weird guy.’ Wouldn’t you rather see that than Katie Melua ruining What A Wonderful World at Somerset House on BBC One?

New Year’s Day, Five, 09:00
O Thou Transcendent: the Life of Ralph Vaughn Williams
You’ve got to love Five (the channel not the defunct pop group). At one end of their schedule you can still find Disorderly Conduct featuring 'real-life car accidents and drugs raids' narrated by T2’s T-1000 Robert Patrick whilst at the other they’re seeing in 2008 with a three hour documentary about Vaughn Williams. As a recent convert to classical, I’ve learnt that the director Tony Palmer has made many successful films about composers and directed a famous series with Richard Burton playing Wagner. Probably because of its length and timeslot, Palmer has been trying to drum up a bit of interest by implying that he pitched this to the BBC a few years ago who sent him back a letter which said that this isn’t the kind of thing which fits into their vision, but they would be interested when Mr. V. Williams premieres his first work. Ho ho, except the commissioning department at the beeb has no record of the approach and Palmer wasn’t prepared to produce the letter. Either way, I’ll be there – or rather my dvd recorder will be since I’ll still be sleeping off the kryptonite condom scene from the previous selection.

Wednesday 2nd January, More4, 20:30
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Because it means that the US writer’s strike has been resolved amicably and we can all get back to the job of laughing at President Bush. It’s great that RT is still optimistically listing the show in the schedule even though there hasn’t been new episodes in weeks and More4’s been showing documentaries such as Unreported World in the gap. Since The West Wing stopped, or stopped being written by Aaron Sorkin at least, this has been my primary source of information about US politics, except for the two-ways which are hardly ever funny because the timing’s usually off – not even the mighty Dave Gorman could get those things to work. But as it stands, this boy’s not going to be returning any time soon. Still whatever More4 sees fit to replace it with will probably be infinitely more interesting than most of anything else playing during the post chrimbo hangover.

Thursday 3rd January, BBC Four, from 19:30
Irwin Allen Night
Episodes of The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and Land of the Giants all make an appearance here, besides a documentary profile of the producer of all these shows Mr. Allen and one of his big screen opuses Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (giant rubber squid included). In the good old days when I couldn’t tell the difference and Channel 4 were stacking out their schedules with the things I think I watched every episode of all of these, even though most of them were all the same. Still there wasn’t anything more exciting at the time than suddenly seeing LiS in colour at the opening of the second series, the Jupitor ship finally taking off from one planet … only to crash land on another. Despite the appearance of the at no point having starred in Charmed Lacey Chabert, the 1998 film was a crime. Matt LeBlanc seemed to play his role as though he was playing Joey from Friends playing Major Don West and the essence of the show (Space Family Robinson) was generally ignored. A later tv movie idea which would have seen the surviving members of the cast, older, finally reaching home sounds infinitely more appealing.

Friday 4th December, Channel 4, 21:00
Greatest Comedy Catchphrases
‘Is ‘e avin’ a laff? Is ‘e avin’ a laff?’ Ricky Gervais seemed to make a rod for his own back by creating an example of something in order to be satirical about it, especially since precisely the kind of viewer he was taking the piss out of has unwittingly absorbed the thing and thrown it back in his face. It’s not mentioned in the RT's synopsis of this show but things like ‘Loadsamoney’ and ‘Don’t Mention The War’ are. I haven’t really got on with this kind of comedy for over a decade – since The Fast Show ended at least – so this sounds like utter torture. But it is on for three hours so someone’s bound to say something interesting about the phenomena and I might be able to pick up a few key phrases that I may have missed which means that when something like ‘The computers says no’ in my face I might finally have a chance to work out what the hell they’re saying and not projecting my usual blank air of blankness…

And alas no sign of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Festival television really isn't as good as it used to be is it?

Review 2007: Home

Jacque Baptiste on Sables d’Olonne

I live now in a small town called Sables d’Olonne, after spending some years in Paris and in the UK as part of furthering my life adventures as well as my educational studies. I have done many exciting things and met many amazing people along the way. As you will recall, the towering pinnacle of my life thus far was the time I parachuted from La Tour Eiffel - but this was covered in an end of year "blog" not too many years ago!

There were, of course, other memorable encounters for me as well - the fracas involving myself and Bob Carolgees while working in a Parisian patisserie, and most remarkably, the time I was mistaken for your fellow Englishman Darius Danesh and was mobbed on a London tube station platform by many a lady, young and old. Clothes were torn, and charges eventually dropped, but as we as we say here in France, that is a story "pour une autre fois"!

Disregarding these incidents in my past - why me I always ask myself ?! - what happened this year on my very doorstep is just as memorable, if not once again, un "touche bizarre" !

It was a sunny morning in mid-June. The sun had just begun to shine through my bedroom curtains, and I awoke looking forward to an entire week of vacation. I lay in bed thinking to myself what productive things I could spend my week doing, when all of a sudden I heard an almighty crashing noise coming from what seemed to be my back garden ! I jumped out of my bed, my eyes still closed, I pulled back the curtains, to see for certain, what I thought had happened in my back garden. To my astonishment I opened my eyes to see something I did not expect to see - a wild beast eating its way through my marrow and courgette vegetable plot! There now was a huge hole in my back passage fence! "Sacre Blue" I exclaimed. My astonishment turning now to rage - I was an irate man! How dare this creature be munching his way through my prize winning marrow!

Not thinking, I ran downstairs and out of the house to confront the beast. I was not thinking ! As soon as I entered my garden, the beast raised its head and had spotted me. I suddenly realised I was making as we say in France, a "faux pas" ! I looked at the beast, the beast looked at me and began to make a loud grunting type of noises - the beast, not me of course ! I realised that returning to the safety of my house was now looking to be a sensible move. I turned and ran back in before the beast could charge me. I picked up my cellular phone and dialled the emergency services, I explained my predicament to the police, and they said they had just received reports of a missing Gnu from the local wildlife park! Good grief, a Gnu in my back garden! I now realised leaving the garden had been a good idea.

Anyway, a few minutes later the authorities arrived and my garden looked like something out of some mad Hollywood film. There were men with nets, others with cages, and even a man with what I presumed was some kind of gun to tranquilise the beast should anything get out of hand. I decided to watch from my bedroom window so as not to get involved with anything dangerous. The man with the gun took aim at the beast, as two other men approached with a large net. The beast could obviously sense trouble, and as the man with the gun took aim the beast made a run for it, straight past the men with the net. There was a lot of confusion and what seemed to have happened was that the tranquilliser dart had not struck the beast, but had in fact shot one of the men holding the net! He was holding his "derriere" and blaspheming loudly. Meanwhile the beast had bolted and crashed through another part of my back passage fence, on to the fields behind my house. The authorities pursued it, leaving my garden looking like a right mess. There were half eaten, half trampled vegetables everywhere, muddy footprints all over my grass, as well as an unconscious man being tended to by the paramedics. At least the beast was now gone and I could take stock for a moment.

Eventually I managed to repair the damage the beast had made, and the paramedics had revived the poor man who had been accidentally tranquilised. We shared a well deserved coffee together and tried to take in just what had happened in the whirlwind of the last thirty minutes.

I received a phone call later that afternoon to inform me that they had eventually managed to catch the escaped Gnu. Whilst perusing it for over two hours, the beast eventually came a cropper whilst cavorting across a dual carriageway and was hit by an ice cream truck. Luckily the beast was only stunned - probably not as much as the ice cream truck driver I imagine!

Since then, I have visited the beast in his natural habitat, safely enclosed in the Gnu pen at the local wildlife park. I think he remembered me when our eyes met, and I could sense a feeling of mutual respect between us. As I walked on by to the next enclose - The Tigers - I thought to myself, I guess there are a lot more dangerous animals that could have escaped than a Gnu!

Click here to find out more about this review of 2007, read previous posts and learn about contributing yourself.

"Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone..." -- Madeleine Peyroux,, 'Dance Me To The End Of Love'

Film At the box office buying a ticket for director André Téchiné’s new film I entirely forgot what the title was.
‘One for … I’ve forgotten the title …’ I said as the clerk looked up puzzled, ‘Erm … it’s the French AIDS drama …’ I continued throwing genre in her face.
The Witnesses?’ She said thinly.
‘That’s it.’
Someone wiser than I am has said that French cinema essentially contains two genres – the so-called heritage films (corsets and revolutions) and everything else. Oddly enough that works pretty well, although it has to be said there are still sub-genres within that which despite the best efforts of the film makers still manage to fit in with pre-existing Hollywood genres one of which on the basis of And The Band Played On, Philadelphia, Angels in America and RENT is the AIDS drama.

AIDS dramas tend to be set in the early to mid-eighties just as the virus spread throughout the western world and depending upon the date it’s given a name. One of the main characters will to some extent experience prejudice which stems both from their condition and from the sexual orientation and they will more than likely die during the course of the film while their friends and family look on helplessly and hopelessly. Before death though they’ll appear to have put their lives in order and proven to someone who once mistrusted them that they’re a real human being really.

The Witnesses
does all of these things. A young gay man, Manu (Johan Libéreau), moves to Paris and shares a hotel room in what transpires to be a brothel with his opera singing sister, Julie (Julie Depardieu). Cruising in a local park he meets Adrien (Michel Blanc), a medical doctor and they become inseparable and he’s then introduced to a middle class couple, Emmanuelle Béart’s Sarah, a writer and her husband Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a local policeman. His appearance in all their lives disrupts the status quo particularly when he develops the virus and we watch his slow death, as those around him try and get on with things as best they can.

The film is indeed set in the 80s although there isn’t too much in the way of period detail – some of the fashions perhaps and some god-awful pop music. Téchiné is clearly wanting to show that the opening of the epidemic afflicted gay communities in the whole of the western world and it’s useful that Adrien is a doctor since it allows him to show the first hopeless steps in the research of the virus as it becomes clear that it’s nothing like anything that they’ve tackled before. Mehdi is a vice-cop and becomes part of what governments thought was the solution at the time of shutting down dens of iniquity. The director uses a very small ensemble which pays dividends as we can see the characters change during the two or three years that the film is set.

They’re the real reason for seeing this and there’s not really a weak link between them, the particular surprise being Bouajila whose initial one-note bullishness rapidly gives way as the story evolves and we find out that Béart has the strongest position in their marriage. Libéreau sparkles as Manu and deserves some recognition for bringing some shades to what’s otherwise a thankless role. Blanc (looking disconcertingly like a bald Woody Allen) is equally strong but the best performance of the lot is probably from Depardieu (daughter of Gerard) since despite having less to do than anyone seems just as prominent, this dignified woman whose somehow managed to find the niche in life that’s been denied to everyone else.

If there’s a problem it’s that in the end despite the cast and material everything is just a touch underdeveloped. Between the surprisingly abrupt opening and climax there’s enough interesting drama going on, but it never seems to get under the skin of the characters and worse you often the same emotional beats keep repeating which might be true to life but give the impression of a film which isn’t going anywhere fast. The screen is certainly filled with emotion, but it lacks the warmth of something like The Barbarian Invasions or the bite of Harry, He’s Here To Help. There is a structure – the opening Act is rather sunny, then the darkness and the return to a positive outlook (there are even captions) – but you do wonder if the film might have gained some reality and depth if these brackets had been less stringently adhered to giving the characters breathing space.

"I take it you're yet another member of the UNIT team?" "Yes. Depressing, isn't it?" -- Doctor Who and the Silurians

TV I love restoration stories -- those explanations by technicians about cleaning up films for dvd release. The documentary in the Blade Runner: Final Cut boxset which explained just how Ridley Scott's film manages to look quite so amazing after all these years. I'll write some more on that when I've finished this week of Christmas shopping.

But that seems as nothing to the ingenuity which has gone into a forthcoming release of Doctor Who in which the job was to restore colour to Jon Pertwee's cheeks after the original tapes were wiped and the only copies available were a b/w film and a recording of the show on VHS tape made by a fan when it was shown on US television:
"In the end, to maximise flexibility, it was decided to start with a one-light ungraded Spirit transfer of the film, and a DVNRed, "ball-park graded" colour videotape copy for the basic clean up. This work was undertaken by Jonathan Wood at BBC Resources, then the tapes handed on to our cleanup team at SVS in Manchester. They tackled the video defects in the usual way, with frame-by-frame deblobbing on each episode. Although this meant that 14 episodes had to be worked on in this way, it meant that the peculiar problems inherent to the different source formats could be tackled independently."
I have only a vague idea of what any of that means but it all sounds very complicated but the results speak for themselves. Now about the CG lizards for Invasion of the Dinosaurs...


TV Take that Terry Nation's estate! The Out of the Blue Six Blog spends its Christmas with a Dalek:

"As if that wasn't enough, there are also the truly ridiculous lyrics penned by someone who had clearly neither seen nor heard of the Daleks, making reference to them having a 'foam inflated head' and a 'big red toe' from which festive stockings can be hung. There are also, for no apparent reason, some bleep-festooned 'blanked out' bits that sound worryingly like an attempt to cover up some stray bad language. And what does the young narrator want with this malevolent mutant in metal casing? Only to "say hi to mum and frighten daddy out of his bed", that's what."

It does have to be heard to be believed. And indeed until I heard it I wondered what the likes of Belinda Carlisle and Jane Weidlin were doing singing about the pepperpots. Clearly a different The Go-Gos. Last available on the currently deleted Who Is Dr Who? which also includes fragments of the fledgling (some would say cash-in) pop careers of Frazer Hines, Jon Pertwee and little Roberta Tovey.

The Unconstant Gardner.

TV A new executive producer's been announced for Doctor Who, taking over from Julie when she leaves the post in time for the fifth series. In future, podcasts and dvd commentaries will be begin with 'Hello faithful viewer, I'm Piers Wenger.' I hadn't realised that her role on the series and as Head of BBC Wales Drama were so inextricably linked and it will be a shame to see her go.

"A sign spoke to me, said I was in trouble." "If you're talking to signs, you are in trouble." -- Harris & Trudi, 'LA Story'

Life A new traffic sign has appeared on Princes Avenue in Liverpool (well actually it could have been there for weeks but I wasn’t reading on the bus this morning for a change). It’s large, and red and in white Helvetica across the middle it says:
”Changed Priorities Ahead”
Being in the kind of philosophical mood that usually descends just before Christmas I burst out laughing and wondered if it was talking directly to me, in much the same way that the electronic signs were imparting advice to mid-life crisis victim Steve Martin in LA Story.

I’ve seen these kinds of signs before, in which it seems as though the planner has thought about the words he’s using and deliberately imparted a double meaning. On a coach trip to Dublin (this one if you must know) we passed at a turn-off where a sign simply said ‘You’re going the wrong way. Turn back.’ which was the most sensible advice I’d heard from anyone up until that point in my life. As I sat on that bus this morning I began to wonder if we’d be better off as a society someone spread similar signs throughout the place imparting these little ideas.

These would be uplifting phrases, shorter even than a haiku, just enough to make you think, undiluted by the superstition of horror-scopes. That it shouldn’t be state owned either – reading Orwell explains why that would be a bad idea – there’s quite enough government bought advertising telling us what not to do for the good of our health, and it’d probably be spoilt because the lunkhead who was given the job of running the project would sign some sponsorship deal and the sign would essentially be shilling for Coke.

Three distractions broke my reverie. Firstly, someone had noticed me laughing to myself and her eyes sparkled. Secondly, that I lack the imagination to even begin to design one of these uplifting phrases, at least not ones which wouldn’t become intensely irritating the twentieth time you’d seen them that month and thirdly I realised that churches have been doing this for years anyway on the signs outside their doors, either through some pun or bible verse and they clearly have only been of sporadic help.

Clearly, as we sat in traffic for a very long time at the lights the words on this particular sign really meant that the cars heading across town would have more time to move than those heading inwards. But are ‘changed priorities ahead’? Will I at some point in the next couple of months have some massive change in my life which means that writing this blog or watching quite so many movies and all the things I do to get by will become less important?

Of course not – at least not on the strength of a traffic sign – if I believed that than my priorities really will have changed and not necessarily for the better. But the point is for the first time in ages I considered the possibility, I’m not, to use an obvious cliché, stuck on this particularly road forever; and that’s pretty valuable.

Thank you, Keith or Lucy or Andy (or whatever the name of the sign writer is).


TV Considering he has a space and time ship, the Doctor has opened the TARDIS doors in the old wild west surprisingly little. There’s only really been the 60s story The Gunfighters, what would now be described as a celebrity historical in which the then crew were mixed up with the gunfight at the OK Coral (referenced herein as the reason for the time lord’s reluctance to pay the era a visit) and a smattering of short stories, particularly Lance Parkin & Mark Clapham’s A Town Called Eternity from the BBC anthology Short Trips and Sidesteps which was more Wild Wild West than High Noon.

But then science fiction and westerns have never tended to mix that overtly, never quite working out how to balance the recipe – you either copy the tropes of the genre but not the icons (Star Wars) or appropriate them and make them a twist (Westworld). Only really Joss Whedon's Firefly has got it completely right, at least in its television incarnation; the film Serenity went more in the space opera direction apparently because the studio noted that the public might not be too comfortable with seeing these two genres existing side-by-side (even though the sight of a spaceship scaring the hell out of horses in a desert is rather nifty).

James Swallow’s Peacemaker hopes to redress the balance and for the most part succeeds, mixing the tropes of the western genre into the Doctor Who horse trough and although predictably in the end the phasers outgun colt 45s there’s enough here to convince you that a television revisit would not be an unappalling idea. The Doctor and Martha roll into the town of Redwater, Colorado just as its getting over the effects of a small pox epidemic, apparently cured by a travelling flim flam man with clearly no medical training and a medicine which obviously isn’t. Not long afterwards two outlaws enter town with murderous intent looking for the fake medic and all hell breaks loose.

As well as a range of Star Trek novels and a few Big Finish short stories, Swallow also has the Sundowners series of steampunk western novels in his holster so he's comfortable in this cross genre teritory. Clearly and rightly one of the author's main influences in Back To The Future III, with the appearance of a Mary Steenburgen-like teacher and this Doc getting on the wrong side of the local gambler and said outlaws.

As with that film, all of the characters feel as though they’re passing through from a western movie or novel, rather than the actual period in history which is understandable given the audience for the book (and indeed when it’s suggested that they visit Deadwood, the Doctor remarks that it’s a bit rude). If anything the author seems a bit more comfortable in these earlier scene setting chapters, and the reader gets a great sense of the town and its people, particularly said teacher Jenny, a rich invention whose a romantic potential might have flourished even more given a greater word length.

It’s a pity then that as the book goes on and the science fiction begins to intrude that the story becomes more derivative with many of the repetitive elements we’ve seen from the new series making an appearance. To describe what they are would perhaps spoil one or two of the few surprises, except to say that what’s done as a money saving measure on screen needn’t happen quite so much in the prose versions. Unless Swallow is making some meta-reference to how genre works tend to be pretty lacking in originality anyway.

That said, he nails this alien presence which is particularly epic and creepy, especially because of their knowledge of who the Doctor is and what’s he’s capable of if pushed. The concluding battle of wits takes full advantage of being in prose and would be really difficult to recreate on film without resorting the kind of thing some us endured during the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Night Terrors. They really bring out the lonely god's potential darkness and we even learn a bit more about what he was like during the time war, the suggestion being that he deliberately tossed out some of his fundamental beliefs in order to claim victory something hinted at but never confirmed before.

Despite all of this, the book is always entertaining. The central relationship is brilliantly captured (on his own website he says 'I really liked the chemistry between David Tennant's manic-dynamic Doctor and the competent and smart Martha Jones' and this is one of those rare occasions in the spin-off fiction that the story feels part of the tissue of the television programme, with some of the concerns of the third series making an appearance including Martha’s mother’s Saxon fueled disapproval of their friendship, the unrequited love she has for the time lord and her building confidence.

Most of the major monsters are name-checked and it’s because she’s been able to face down the Daleks and The Family of Blood that she’s able to do some of the things she does here. If the Doctor just now and then becomes a bit generic, most of the time he’s very much the Tennant model, jumping about, repeat repeat repeating words and phrases and dropping pop culture references. But significantly in a charming rather than annoying way, which again is something other authors have never seemed to get quite right. It’s this duo and their infectious humour which ultimately makes the novel so engaging and one of the best of spin-off range so far.

Peacemaker, by James Swallow, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073496.

"A Christmas shopper's complaint is one of long-standing." - Unknown

Life After booking some annual leave, with the exception of next weekend, I'm now all finished with work work until just after the new year, which is pretty fascinating considering it's only the ninth of December and I'm feeling entirely Christmassy which makes a change. I suppose the big project of December is present buying which I always try to make the most of even though there's only a few of us to buy for. Over compensating perhaps, but after all the build up I've never seen the point of the Blue Peter kind of situation of having just one present each to open. Each year we agree -- this is the last year we'll be doing this -- and the following year it looks as though there are a hundred people in our immediate family and not just three.