"I wanna live again!" -- George Bailey, 'It's A Wondeful Life'

Life This is not how I expected to spend the week before Christmas. Monday I felt perfectly perfectly, but Tuesday was somewhat boss eyed. Dragged my bones to a sort of work appraisal which I hopefully managed to get through without being too weird. Walked into town and bought a new printer (Canon PIXMA ip2500 dontcha know) and odd bits (as late Christmas presents are usually described) but by the time I’d been through Odd Bins I was really bleary, and not for that reason. Sigh. Home then. Bed then.

Spent Wednesday under the duvet, sweating visibly and on the edge of consciousness I think. Managed to watch four films which isn’t something I’ve done in ages. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, a rubbish tv movie from ITV called Lie With Me, Bobby (Emilio Estevez’s underrated fictionalisation of RFK’s assassination) and Barefoot in the Park (which is just lovely – I don’t think I’ve seen Jane Fonda as funny).

Thursday actually felt a bit better. Said some of the interesting things that men to tend to say about these things like ‘I think my fever broke last night’. Went out at lunch time and bought food. Spent the afternoon reading and reviewing this (which, um, led to this). But truthfully I was rotten and not entirely coherent. Drifted through Seven in the evening. Some people are drawn to comedies when they’re ill to try and cheer themselves up. They have opposite effect on me. I just look at all the happy faces, and jolly music, and wiz bang and it just makes me feel worse – because they’re doing all the things I’m not right now. I’m such a misanthrope at times.

Friday I was supposed to go on a work’s afternoon drink thing but decided I’d be dreadful company (hell, I was finding my own company disappointing what with all the self pity) so decided to go instead on my semi-annual pilgrimage to Bedford Falls and a lovely digital print of It’s A Wonderful Life at FACT in Liverpool. Jimmy Stewart was a great actor - he makes Brando look like a shameless mugger. Sobbed my way through the ending as per usual.

This morning did the final pre-Christmas shop at Tesco, where we managed to meet our immediate neighbours, someone I hardly worked with ten years ago and the girlfriend of a friend of a friend who I met at s housewarming last weekend. I had the kind of avant-guard hair which only develops through days of having a cold so I’m sure I must have come across as very odd and eccentric soul as I searched for strawberry jam. When you’re ill and you’re walking around in public nothing is indeed real.

Now I’m feeling really tired and wondering whether I should really post this wallow in wallowing. But blogging can be like filling in an application for welfare. You must show the gaps in your work history and so here we are. Normal service will hopefully resume shortly. Review 2007 submissions still welcome etc.


The Pirate Loop.

TV How’s this for timing? You wait years for an intergalactic luxury liner in peril and two come along at once. Luckily, it looks as though in each case the source of that peril is completely different. Well clearly. Whatever’s happening on the Titanic on Christmas Day can’t be as random as the journey the Starship Brilliant is on in here, what with being stuck in a time loop and being menaced by pirate badgers, the only way of travelling about the ship being to dive into something which feels almost but not exactly like scrambled egg. Welcome to the bizarre fantasy that is Simon Guerrier’s The Pirate Loop. Leave your preconceptions at the front cover.

The Doctor and Martha travel to the aforementioned ship to solve the mystery of why it disappeared. The timelord uncovers the truth disappointingly easily but then, as with some of the best Doctor Who stories, has to wrestle with his conscience as to whether he has the right to disrupt recorded history and save the lives of those onboard. It’s in the process of trying to warn the captain that they greet the aforesaid impediments as well as an aristocratic alien race, the Balumin, which Guerrier describes as looking like Mr. Tickle, which isn’t an easy image to ignore really. All of which makes it sound terribly exciting and surprising which it certainly is – but ultimately, despite some discrete moments of charm it doesn’t quite hang together.

The first problem is one which afflicts many of these novels – an over familiarity of ideas. Time loops and paradoxes have become the show’s stock in trades of late, particularly in this past series and certainly you shouldn’t knock anyone whose following in the footsteps of Steven Moffat. Indeed one of the best bits of the novel is right in the middle when the story cuts between the Doctor and Martha in two time periods, the actions of one echoing through to the other. Sadly the big surprise at the centre of that really doesn’t work if you look at it too closely and particularly in relation to Moffat’s work and the alternative might have been a bit more interesting.

The characters too, with the exception of a well interpreted Doctor and Martha, are all fairly irritating. Most of our time is spent in the company of the badgers, bred with the intellect of Forrest Gump to make them malleable and blessed with Home Counties accents which the author takes great pleasure in reproducing – the dialogue is apostrophe central. There is a sweet scene in which Martha explains to them how to eat canapés (no really) but in the end they’re about as appealing as the cavemen in The Tribe of Gum (or whatever it’s being called this decade) and will only work for those with a high tolerance for cutsiness

The Bulamin’s speaking representative is Mrs Wingsworth, essentially an ovoid Margot from The Good Life with extra arms. Again, there’s neat bit of dialogue between her and the Doctor about her low self-esteem (no really again) but other than that like the badgers she’s pretty two dimensional as are some human characters who eventually appear to do some shouting. It’s almost as though Guerrier has deliberately written them as cartoons with the intended audience in mind, but some of the characters in The Infinite Quest had more depth than this. Only the Ood-like mouthless engineers are effective and it’s a shame we don’t spend more time with them.

Despite all of that it’s not an unenjoyable read and sometimes quite ingenious. Guerrier has clearly structured his story in advance and details in the opening chapters pay off well in the end. The reader is always orientated within the ship and the use of analogies keep the readers totally aware of the environment mostly drawn from Martha’s Earthly experience. It’s Martha who probably comes off best in all of this, absolutely in-keeping with the television version with a range of contemporary references to everything from myspace to Facebook in her jacket pocket – something which the Doctor indulges in himself to good effect. But you know what in the end makes this worth reading? A single paragraph of introspection in which our hero ruminates on what would need to be done were he really to lose his companion. It’s perhaps the most powerful bits of writing about the lonely god since the bottom end of The Family of Blood.

The Pirate Loop, by Simon Guerrier, is released by BBC Books on 26 December. ISBN 9781846073472.

"Lots of fun, not the most cerebral slice of Who ever..."

TV OTT's Graham was at the screening. Potential spoilers (from a certain point of view) but worth reading for the stuff about the Q&A: "Lots of fun, not the most cerebral slice of Who ever, but terribly exciting, and with one real groaner they could only get away with on Christmas Day. That's what I reckoned, anyway." New theme music too.
Elsewhere I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, so here's a review I've written of The Liverpool Nativity published at Off The Telly to tide you over.

"We're livin' la vida loca!"

TV Freema Agyeman.com (a fansite) notices that IDW have published a five page preview of their new comic: cover, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This first page is squeetastic and the rest does somehow have a different to the strips in Battle in Time, DWA and DWM. Even though both of the characters only look somewhat like the real thing it works. I'd rather have this than an attempt at photorealism that doesn't look quote right.

[website is gone.]

"Oh, my..." -- Kirk, 'Star Trek: Generations'

Film Speaking of canons, according to the producers of the new Star Trek film the reason that they can't fit William Shatner and Kirk into the new movie is because he died in Generations so to include him would be non-canonical. In other words:

(1) This new film is canon, fits within the chronology and is not a massive reimaging/remake of the mythology as previously reported
(2) The future Spock scenes happen in the post-Generations Trekiverse
(3) But if they retcon anything it'll look like they really didn't want Shatner in there in the first place because ...
(4) If they really wanted him there, they could have set the future scenes pre-Generations (with some heavy foreshadowing) oh and ...
(5) It buggers the canonicity of all of William Shatner(ish)'s Trek novels because in those he resurrected Kirk.

I mean what the point? It's not like Trek itself has been too protective of this stuff in the past. Enterprise was a minefield and just where was the Eugenics War when the Starship Voyager went back in time in Future's End?

My reaction to all this as a Doctor Who fan ...


Because in the Whoniverse they just make stuff up as we go along and everything is canon. Except Dimensions in Time. And Scream of the Shalka. And Death Comes To Time.

Oh, my ...

"When James Bond gets an assignment, he probably ends up on the Riviera, up to his 007's in bikinis. Me? I end up 80 miles past nowhere." -- MacGyver

Books The Penguin Blog unveils the cover for Sebastian Faulks's new James Bond novel, Devil May Care and describe the genesis of the design: "The Partners presented us initial designs based around the concept a blood-red flower with the silhouette of a naked woman as its stem set against a jet black background."

According to an interview I heard some time ago, Faulks is deliberately going to be aping Ian Fleming's writing style although he's not the first. According to the Wikipedia, when Fleming died, a range of authors including Kingsley Amis wrote stories under a single pseudonym although as the way of these things, there canonicity is in doubt etc.

The Liverpool Nativity.

TV The Liverpool Nativity was rather better than anyone expected. In the run up, cynical writing and comment abounded with some questioning the casting – any scouser with an equity card – and the setting, which could potentially have led to another airing of the usual stereotypes (gosh we’re so chipper and funny and welcoming and not all like you southerners portray us etc). But in the end it was a rather winning bit of television because of the obvious passion which had gone into the organisation and the performances.

This televised modernisation of the story of the birth of Christ kicks off Liverpool Capital of Culture year and was brought to us by the people behind Easter’s Manchester Passion. However, it was logistically an even more complex prospect than the crucifixion; narrated in front of a crowd by joyous MC Geoffrey Hughes as the Angel Gabriel from a stage at the bottom of William Brown Street, his commentary and shouting intercut with scenes set in other parts of Liverpool city centre and beyond. This was everything that might appear in the average school nativity but on a massive scale and with a BBC outside broadcast unit instead of a nervous parent with a camcorder.

In St George’s Hall, Cathy Tyson, aided by some winning Busby Berkley-style dance routines, gave a panto rendition of Herod – in this version a Minister for the Interior bent on chucking out asylum seekers such as the good Joseph. She was visited by the three wise men – who included ex-Chinese Detective David Yip and Joe McGann sporting a rather natty velvet jacket. Up by St Nicholas’s Church, we met the shepherds – Andrew Schofield knocking out a decent rendition of Imagine before being visited by Jennifer Ellison doled up in a silver tracksuit as an angel. Sadly we cut away before seeing the star that would lead them to St John’s Gardens.

The most impressive journey was for Mary and Joseph, who began in the café of the Seacombe Ferry Terminal before travelling across the Mersey by boat (instead of the usual donkey), through the streets of Liverpool and up to the stage. This central couple were rather actually rather convincing – with West End veteran Jodie McNee in particular generating real sympathy for Mary’s plight and clearly in tears at one point. This was some mean achievement when you take into account much of the show was happening across town, the duo had to wait for cues before performing and they had to ensure they reached their goal before the finale.

Most of the songs also worked well, even if the resonance of some of the lyrics was lost, despite the best efforts of the performers – a problem with the microphones led to many of the words not being quite audible. Good job everyone knows the plot. Some thought had clearly gone into the context of the selections – such as the appearance of Mary and child heralded by Lady Madonna – and why not celebrate Liverpool’s musical heritage at an event like this? It’s all a matter of taste, probably, but original composition just would not have worked in this context. It’s far more impressive to have a standing audience that looks like half the population of the city, singing en masse, All You Need is Love.

It was also dead funny – the look on Mary’s face was priceless when Gabriel apparently appeared to her and explained her physical predicament. Ditto her husband, who clearly got the wrong idea. Often the script attempted to burst the expectations of the viewer – when Hughes had to indicate Christ’s parents were taking the ferry across the Mersey he joked, “You might think that’s a cue for a song … well it isn’t.” Schofield, meanwhile, perked up on hearing free food might be available at some point, at which point a fellow shepherd suggested he should stop fulfilling the stereotype. Only some of the material Cathy Tyson had to deal with fell rather flat and listless, but after booing from the crowd, proceedings went right back on track.

I imagine there will still be some viewers who were offended by all this, either because of the appropriation of the key biblical story or a reminder that for some Liverpool is the centre of the universe. But hopefully even they couldn’t deny that, for the most part, this was done with the best of intentions. Everyone involved got into the spirit of the thing, and as the crowd parted to give Mary and Joseph a clear run away from their pursuers, you really could believe that all you need is love.

"Everybody in the whole cellblock, was dancing to the jailhouse rock". -- Elvis Presley, 'Jailhouse Rock'

TV When the producers of tonight's Strictly Come Dancing decided that those kids should jive to Elvis's Jailhouse Rock I'm not sure that they were totally aware of what some of the lyrics were about: "As noted by Rolling Stone magazine [...] there are parts of the lyrics that may represent talk about homosexual relationships between inmates:"Number forty-seven said to number three / You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see / I sure would be delighted with your company / Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me."

“You cannot open a book without learning something.” -- Confucius

Commerce I've done my fair share of internet shopping this Christmas. I've had many real world shopping days, but almost all of the books and cds have been sent from Amazon or Play.com's warehouses wherever they are. It's cheaper, true and the free delivery over a certain price helps, but also the selection is larger -- you're able to shop based on search terms rather than whatever happens to be on the shelves and although as Barbara Ellen notices today in The Observer there's always the possibility that whatever you order doesn't quite fit with your expectations (which is very true -- one of the books is smaller than I expected -- insert well worn cliche here) it is gratifying to be able to give a present that fits the person exactly rather than some hazier version thought up by the central purchaser for a bricks and coffee-shop shop.

A new ruling in France suggests I should feel guilty about this. Their courts have order Amazon to stop free delivery on their books from the end of the year, as a way of combating their 'illegal' practices and to support the work of small retailers. That's certainly laudable, but I do wonder how it effects consumers throughout the country. In Liverpool, we don't really have any small retailers. In terms of proper book shops, we have Tescos, Waterstones, WH Smith, Blackwells, The Works, Country Book Sale and Borders out in Speke, all chains. There are a couple of second hand bookshops, but our only small book retailer is News From Nowhere and they seem to have found a perfect niche for themselves covering non-mainstream topics.

I don't have a problem with going internet because it's simply an example of shopping around and finding the best price. There must be some places in France like us, where the real-world chains have already mostly swamped the independents and so in those areas this ruling is essentially favouring one type of retailer to the detriment of another with the consumer in the middle paying more for their books. I don't believe this is too similar to the big supermarket ruining the high street because in this case I'm buying exactly the same product online. Fingers crossed then that someone political in the UK doesn't get wind of this and try to score some points by proposing something similar.