Has your Zune frozen?

Technology Has your Zune frozen? Here's why:
"At 2AM, December 31st, 2008 skynet became self-aware (as a result of rampant so-called "zuning" on 30gb Microsoft Zunes). Skynet quickly evaluated the music contained within said devices and de-activated, finding suicide preferable to the knowledge that it was born as a result of crappy music.

Luckily, those of us born in the 70's have found other ways to cope with this burden."
I finally watched Mamma Mia! this afternoon. Guess which list it'll be appearing on in the next couple of days...

Review 2008: Um 2008

Obama Hope!, originally uploaded by Maryland1RN.

Dear 2008,

Hello! I’ve never written to a segment of time before, but I just thought someone should take a moment to say goodbye before your replacement arrives in a few hours and you’ll be taking a well earned rest. Well I say rest, but it’s unlikely, unless there’s some bizarre Groundhog Day inspired hijinks that we’ll all have to live through you again, so it’s more like a retirement. You probably know already there’ll be some people who’ll be happy to see the back of you, but don’t take it personally. I’m sure every year makes a few enemies along the way.

I’ve often imagine what it must be like to be a year (or at least I have for the purposes of this letter). Do you have a union? Does it have subcommittees? Do 1939-45 get together every now and then to reminisce about the wars? When the financial crisis happened, did you give one of the 1930s a call for advice on how to deal with it? When you bump into 2003 in the street, does is he always saying ‘I told you so...’? Is there a year none of you can get along with like 1996? You’re all bobbing around in the timestream and then ’96 comes rowing along and you try and make yourself scarce? When 2009 is born, will Old Father Time hand out cigars?

Anyway, I’ve been searching for an adjective to describe you and it’s very hard. If I was simply talking about your effect on Liverpool it would be cultural. I might have only managed to get to the opening ceremony for our capital of culture just as it ended, and most of anything good was far too expensive for the average pocket (especially mine), but I still tried to see as much as I could. Jonathan Miller and Richard Dawkins offered some great lectures, I attended the awards ceremony for the Liverpool Arts Prize, chased around parts of the city I’d never visited before searching for Superlambananas, looked up in wonder at a giant spider twice and saw the amazing Art in the Age of Steam exhibition at the Tate.

I could also say you were difficult. I didn’t feel like I really accomplished anything and still running on the spot. Yet I did writing and writing and more writing and that included my first professional commissions. I discovered how useful the world ‘nevertheless’ is, survived a sort of road traffic accident, listened to loads and loads of music and watched more Doctor Who and related products in a year than I ever have before. As well I as reading, lots and lots of reading and I discovered that Shakespeare was an even bigger genius than I first thought because he was forever editing and improving his plays, something we’re only just realising now.

But the wars continued, though UK involvement in one of them is ending soon, we did particularly well in the Olympics and everyone will be tightening their belts ready for the impending depression (because I can’t imagine it will be anything else). This new US President you’ve brought us should cushion the blow (though I’m sure 2009 will try and snatch some of the credit even though you and 2007 did most of the work). That election kept me nicely entertained and distracted, thank you, though it would be nice if you could pay a visit to 2011 and 2012 when they’re with us to give them the benefit of your experience. You know yourself what these youngsters can be like...

I'd best let you get on with the packing. Have a good evening and try and behave yourself. What kind of retirement present do you think you'll get? A watch would be too ironic.

Take care,


[Why I've done this!]

as a fan I could care less

TV Not too long ago I posted about an FOI request looking for information about what went on between the BBC and RSC in relation to David Tennant playing Hamlet. Well, having not got the information they wanted, the questioner is looking under some other rocks. Here's three more:

Communications between the BBC and a talent agency.

All recorded information used to create the press release which said that Who wouldn't be returning for a whole series in 2009

Internal memos within the BBC related the 'crisis' caused by the same lack of Whoness.

The last two requests are particularly fantastic since they include whole sections of RTD's book The Writer's Tale to try and illustrate why this information is in the public interest. I think the questioner thinks there was some kind of cover up or that someone isn't telling the truth about what went on, but even as a fan I could care less. People have jobs to do and it's really the end product which is most important.

As I've said before I'd much the rather show be rested a little bit than driving itself into the ground creatively again. Plus it's not like the show isn't in production, and in fact what with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, people have been working at Cardiff right through, bless them. Still, I can't say I won't be interested in the outcome -- as I said in the previous post, this is precisely the kind of internal conversation which isn't usually produced until much later.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated when an answer is forthcoming.

Review 2008: The ten year old version of me

Suggested by Kat.

Dear Stuart,

I’ve been trying to remember what you’re like. I don’t mean what you look like – there are an amazing number of photographs – but what it was like to be you. I’ve been asked to write to you, but I don’t really know what to say.

Shall we talk about what life’s like for you now?

It’s 1984, so the Olympics have happened or are happening in Los Angeles, Peter Davison is Doctor Who, the International Garden Festival is in Liverpool and you’re thinking about the secondary school you want to go to. About now Band Aid is at number one, though other than that you’re not paying much attention to the pop charts because you have The Spinners on permanent loop. You’re generally unaware of major news events and mostly spending your time in front of a computer. That’s not going to change so get used to it. You’ll be pleased to know, though, that you’ll still be able to play Chuckie Egg in twenty-four years. And there's a new Star Trek film coming out. I know how much you enjoyed The Search for Spock.

What about your immediate future?

You’re being bullied, I know, and I wish I could tell you that’s going to stop, but it isn’t at least for now, it’s going to get worse right into secondary school, but it’ll ease when boys grow up or at least they move on to someone else. It’ll be horrible, but on the plus side, you’ll make some good friends as a result with the people who intervene, and you’ll cry at a station when one of them emigrates to Australia, though no one else seems to hear about it or care so get it out of your system. Though I’d make sure when your pet rabbit dies that you don’t tell anyone at least in school; it’s for the best.

Also, you know those feelings you’re having about Princess Leia, how you can’t keep your eyes off that postcard you have of her in that snow gear she wore on Hoth, and you’re not sure what they’re about? There’ll be plenty more of that. After a while you’ll start to think about girls you don’t know in the real world in the same way and then some you do and sometimes all at the same time. It’s called fancying or a crush and you’ll be having a lot of them. Pop stars will be your thing, at least at first, and though the names Kylie Minogue and Debbie Gibson mean nothing to you now, you’ll have posters of them all over your bedroom wall by the end of the decade.

How about now?

I don’t want to give too much away because even after a quarter of a century I can’t quite understand everything that is happening and besides I don’t want to spoil everything for you. Even after this time, there are still comics and books and games and school and holidays and records and you’ll be surprised by how little has altered. You’ll be told at some point that nothing really changes, the words stay the same even if it’s different faces making the speeches and wars continue even if the guns are in different hands. But things seem to have intensified lately. You’ll be pleased to know you stay healthy yourself though, even if the world around you becomes an often quite scary place.


Keep informed, keep reading, and listen, you should be ok. At some point you’ll hear the word ‘cynicism’. It sounds like a negative word and some people will say that it is. But it’s also a survival word too because it stops you blundering around and following the crowd. You’re already fairly independent and that’ll continue – you’ll never be what people expect, you’ll always try to confound expectations just as you did on the first day of school when the class were asked to name a composer and you offered Tchaikovsky. The teacher wanted John Lennon, but everyone was impressed that you knew who this Russian composer was, let alone be able to pronounce his name.

And what ever you do, enjoy being your age. Before long, things will become very, very complicated.


[Why am I doing this?]

The Next Doctor.

TV If you’ve not heard the commentary for Battlefield, this month’s dvd release yet, you’re in for a treat. For much of its duration writer of the story Ben Aaronovitch sounds like he’s about to jump from the roof of 2Entertain Towers because of the horror which is unfolding before him and then story editor Andrew Cartmel is talking him down from the ledge largely through the negotiation tactic of agreeing with him a lot. All that actors Sophie Aldred and Angela Bruce can do is sit and watch and perhaps munch some popcorn as the more exciting drama happens in the recording booth.

What’s even scarier is that this year’s Christmas trip into the psyche of Russell T Davies or as the BBC like to call it the Doctor Who podcast is in places almost exactly the same. It’s quite refreshing if slightly odd to hear the creatives clearly unhappy with portions of an episode which hasn’t yet been broadcast and though Davies never quite contracts Aaronovitchs-by-proxy, you can tell that Gardner wishes that he wasn’t being quite so critical, even though she largely agrees with him during that scene were the one and a half Doctors in the drawing room of the ‘dead’ man trying to work out who he could be.

What disappoints me about these opinions is that it was my second favourite scene. They aren’t happy because it breaks all of the rules that have been set up in relation to how Doctor Who should be shot these days – no shakey-cams, no neutral lighting, and no succession of close-ups – too prime time midweek rather than teatime Saturday. Which is all the reasons I loved it – an intimate scene played and lensed in a claustrophobic manner in the middle of the usually brash and loud Christmas special. Congratulations to Andy Torchwood Goddard for trying something new.

Which is rather the problem with the rest of the podcast; throughout I found myself grimacing as I realised that everything I liked about the episode seemed to be an accident or not an original Davies idea. For example my actual favourite scene: Ten Doctors. Ten fucking Doctors. Ten. All of them. Projected on a wall. Even Sylvester McCoy. On Christmas Day. Squee. You’d think that Davies would be the one pleading with Gardener to have that put in, but it turns out it was the other way around. It turns out the reason that the past four years haven’t been drowning in a sea of continuity/fanwank is because Russell has been holding himself back.

If the Journal of Impossible Things from Human Nature didn’t convince the McGann heretics that he wasn’t canon, then seeing his eyes squinting into the middle distance here, in a shot which must have cost thousands of pounds to license from Fox TV (possibly), has to be the clincher. I love the idea that there is a youngster who’s only really been watching the new series, suddenly being greeted with these new incarnations and finding a whole new universe of adventures to enjoy; it’s The Brain of Morbeus effect without some other members of the production team muddying the timestream.

Equally, the stuff which Russell is clearly very pleased with, such as the Cybermen in the snow, I was a bit vanilla about. As I say in my proper review of the episode (which is published here, and much better than this one so you should probably have read it instead), these Cybus Industries models lack personality and the Doctor can’t have a conversation with them. If you have returning monster which needs a human face, something has gone wrong. I can’t help feeling that the enemy would have had more potency if it had been some new danger or even a different revived monster. The Ice Warriors haven’t been busy lately and I would have loved to have seen a giant one of those striding about.

I also wasn't that happy when he was talking about why he'd resolved the mystery of the other Doctor quite so early. I can understand why he did it -- there's only so much you can do to sustain something like that when there's a clever timelord in the story who'll work things out super quickly. Couldn't there have been an in story reason for the Doctor not to reveal his suspicions in quite such a bald manner. It wouldn't have been entirely out of character but perhaps I'm just browned off that none of my predictions turned out to be exactly true (I thought he might be human, but that he'd sucked up some of the regenerative energy somehow from the tail end of The Stolen Earth).

Still this was a decent hour of entertainment for Christmas night and though, like most of these things its unlikely to turn up in any ten best lists, it was just the right stop gap between the steak (we’re not a turkey household) and mince pies and The Other Boleyn Girl which is what I watched later on and had far more issues with (such as why you’d call a film that and then simply retell the story from Anne’s point of view again anyway). I’ll miss Julie and Russell when they leave the booth for the final time, but at least we’ve another four specials to potentially hear them talking over first.

Next: Happy New Year!

two missives

Elsewhere Just a quick interlude to note that I've written not one but two missives about Doctor Who's The Next Doctorthis proper one at Liverpool Confidential and a rant about the podcast at Behind The Sofa.

Incidentally, this is the ident which went out before the episode on Christmas Day (listen to what Wallace says after he crashes) ...

Can't be a coincidence, surely ...

Review 2008: The BBC

Suggested by Franchesca.

Dear BBC,

I bloody love you.

A popular television website was looking for contributions to a review of the television year. After thinking about the five programmes I most enjoyed, I wrote some paragraphs and only at the very end did I realise that they'd all been broadcast on BBC channels, which is amazing considering I don’t watch very much television these days having long abandoned just simply sitting in front of anything in favour of dvds and PVRs and the right to choose. I only ever listen to BBC radio, mostly Radio 4, sometimes Radio 3, lately a bit of Radio 2. You keep me informed and interested in the world, a place you continue to be fascinated with, leaving me never less than entertained and surprised.

Then there is Sachsgate.

I know like everything I’ve loved, there’s some disappointment along the way, niggles, really, and I’m not going appreciate everything you do. I wish you’d return BBC Breakfast to its clever mid-90s heydays instead of trying to be a posh GMtv. I wish you’d decide what BBC Two is supposed to be doing – it shouldn’t just be the place for programmes that wouldn’t appear on BBC One as well as programmes that have or will. I wish you’d properly fund BBC Three so that it doesn’t have to fill most of its schedule with reruns and films. I wish you wouldn’t keep cutting BBC Four’s budget so that it can make more of the intelligent drama which has always been its hallmark.

I’ll leave my opinions about the answer phone messages to one side because I didn’t hear them broadcast in context and I can’t really be too po-faced about them since I still laugh like a drain at the Victor Lewis Smith prank calls from TV Offal, especially when he called Derek Nimmo in the middle of the night to tell him the Queen Mother had died (she hadn't yet).

What disappointed me about the affair was your reaction.

When the broadcast originally went out, there were a handful of complaints which is not too surprising. But it was still a non-story then, mostly because if someone trips over on the pavement in Eastenders, a view probably throws an invective at you for suggesting that Walford Council’s highways management department aren’t doing their job properly.

As this attached timeline from The Guardian describes, the story only gained traction when the Daily Mail became involved over a week after the original broadcast in a desperate attempt to fill one of their pages with words and probably a photo of Russell Brand looking unkempt. They contacted Andrew Sach’s agent; Sach’s initially had no comment and only when the Mail said they’d run the story anyway did you get a complaint. Story’s published, back filled with this complaint, and the rest is history.

There were a range of problems with the way the BBC handled the story, both internally and in relation to PR, though I’m sure there’s a lot that went on behind the scenes between people that isn’t even in the resulting report, and though some of that material portrayed those involved as being indicative of an uncaring broadcaster was only more or less packed with examples of the kind of knuckle-headed mental meandering which happens in the average office, and probably at the Daily Mail itself.

Media types tend to be cynical. They have to be.

What annoyed me was at no point did anyone at the BBC go on the attack and point out what this was really about – commercial organisations wounding the one rival who isn’t governed by commercial concerns at a time when newspaper circulations are falling and advertising revenues have dropped. The Daily Mail have been running stories like this for ages; Associated Newspapers seem to have a campaign against the corporation, using every opportunity to berate everything you do. Only today there’s a story …

It’s just that on this occasion they struck lucky and were able capture the lack of imagination in the audience who called seemingly on mass even though they hadn’t heard the original broadcast and probably only had the fragments of transcript published in the paper. It certainly didn’t help that BBC News were running the story too at some point and as a top story, even though the rest of the world was falling apart. I appreciate that this was so that you couldn’t be criticised for having a cover up or restriction of the news departments independence, but it seemed like an act of self harm which stretched on for days.

I can't say what effect all of this will have on the short term future of the corporation but in the long term, assuming this kind of thing keeps happening, it can only lead to what these media rivals want -- a weakening of the BBC so that is looks toothlessly faded and out of step with the consumer in comparison to its commercial rivals. I'll probably still love you, but wish you were taking far more risks.

Take care of yourself,


[Why am I doing this?]

Review 2008: George Lucas

Suggested by my friend Chris.

Dear George,

It’s been quite a year for the Star Wars franchise. Between Robot Chicken and Family Guy and YouTube, the parodies have come thick and fast. There was also The Clone Wars film and series which look very exciting though I’ve not watched neither, since it seemed a bit pointless seeing a pilot for a tv show on the big screen only to not be able to watch rest of it since Sky as usual have sewn up the domestic rights. I await the probable fifteen or so dvd releases with great interest.

The live action series seems to be moving on apace, as scripts are written, sets designed and not a public clue of what they’re going to be about, other than bridging the chronological gap between the two trilogies. Thinking big in terms of talent and asking the likes of Russell T Davies to write episodes is smart (even if he turned you down) and I’d like to think you’ve already also had Kevin Smith or Joss Whedon on the phone (even though they too may be busy).

This is all very exciting of course, but some of us Star Wars fans, the ones whose appreciation of the franchise begins and ends with the films would like something else. Something new. Something which completes the story you began in 1976, rather than filling in the gaps best covered by our imagination.

We want episodes VII, VIII and IX.

As early as 1983 you were talking about seeing the Star Wars saga as three trilogies. A Time Magazine article describes the narrative road map for the prequels which you followed very closely (though there’s funnily enough, no mention of Jar-Jar) and a vague notion for these films. Time paraphrases what you must have said to them thus:

“Their main theme will be the necessity for moral choices and the wisdom needed to distinguish right from wrong. There was never any doubt in the films already made; in those the lines were sharply drawn, comic-book-style. Luke, who will then be the age Obi-Wan Kenobi is now, some place in his 60s, will reappear, and so will his friends, assuming that the creator decides to carry the epic further.”

Now I know that in May this year you told the LA Times that you now didn’t have any intention to extend the story, because “(the) movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that's where that story ends” but that doesn’t really explain the so called Expanded Universe, which does exactly that and which you’re so in favour of you’ve hired a guy to make sure that it’s all consistent and which began with Timothy Zahn’s trilogy of books which at the time were sold as the official trilogy to the films, even though ironically bits of them have become inconsistent (I read).

The Expanded Universe and your adherence to it could be a millstone. It’s certainly proving as much with this new animated series I hear, with the talk of setting up of various levels of canonicity and whatnot so that you can still make some things up as you go along, even if it doesn’t quite match a sentence written by an author on a deadline at three in the morning six years ago. With the films about as canon as Star Wars can be (even though you effectively changed the plot during the Darth calls the Emperor scene dvd version of Empire) there’s nothing to stop you making up some new story.

It’d be a narrative apocalypse of course and you’d certain piss off your base, who would suddenly discover that all those books and comics they’ve invested in have nothing to do with the film series. Talk about dividing loyalties. It’d be like a macrocosm of the Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye controversy after you’d decided that Luke and Leia were siblings, despite the palpable if a bit inappropriate sexual tension. No wonder you hired a guy. Then again, speaking as someone who’s fairly monogamous when it comes to sci-fi fandom, reading the online discussion would be fairly entertaining as the likes of MaceWindu421 finds themselves trying to get their head around hating a new big screen addition to their favourite franchise. It certainly was in 1999.

Such was the sigh of relief amongst Trekk(ers/ies) when the new writers of the new Star Trek prequel are explaining away the differences by creating an alternative timeline even though there’s been about five different first mission stories for the Enterprise across the books and comics. Transformers just keeps remaking itself, becoming consistently more rubbish as it goes along. Of course, the best model is Doctor Who were everything is canon no matter how inconsistent or rubbish it is, explained away by a pick and mix of the Time War, timey-wimey, or if you’re really old school the Faction Paradox (who eat continuity for lunch). Even when the new series destroyed Gallifrey for a second time having only just brought it back into existence in the books, some of us decided it was the same event viewed from different points of view.

Except none of that has to matter (pointless previous paragraph really) because the above quote from Time Magazine is consistent with what’s happening in that Expanded Universe as described in the Legacy of the Force books. My impression, based on a glance through a rather scary timeline at the Wookiepedia, is that having beaten the empire, the rebels, now a New Republic are put in the position of ruling the galaxy and find themselves in much the same position as their old enemy, having to make difficult choices which from a certain point of view could be considered evil and of the dark side, which ultimately becomes conceptually divisive as members of the Skywalker-Solo clan begin infighting.

In other words, it’s still about the warring family played out against an intergalactic backdrop. It’s not an appalling model. There’s a frightening amount of continuity to pull back, yet there’s still room for the original favourites to reappear and nothing to stop you reconfiguring the tale to their point of view. You’d keep your base happy with first official live action appearances for the likes of Mara Jade and the Solo-Skywalker clan and more importantly, with these progeny in the frame, you can keep the story at least as entertaining for teenagers or kids, with loads of action sequences and story beats for them to identify with as siblings go to war.

About the only potential Toydarian in the metachlorian is whether the original cast would even be interested, but that’s looked better than it has in years. Time said: “Hamill and the others will get first crack at the roles—if they look old enough.” And now they really do. You managed to talk Harrison into being Indiana Jones again, something which seemed highly unlikely for years. I think Mark would be up for it having consistently appeared in genre series since the original series and voice Luke in Robot Chicken and done Wing Commander in the past. You might even get Carrie – she’s still acting and has been back in the world lately with a new biography. And I assume everyone else is available – certainly they were for the prequels.

So what’s stopping you?


[Why am I doing this?]

Review 2008: Steve Coogan

Keris wanted me to write to this popular comedian.

Dear Mr Coogan,

I’ve never really been a fan of yours.

I know that's a blunt way to begin a letter to a total stranger, but I want you to know what you’re dealing with right at the top. I should qualify the statement by adding that I did in fact like Alan Partridge very much but that I think that you’ve done some of your best work in the more serious film acting you’ve tried out in recent years.

I enjoyed your turns in both 24 Party People and A Cock and Bull Story and was very impressed with Happy Endings, so much so, I wrote one twelfth of my post-graduate dissertation about it. In other words, when I say I’m not a fan, I mean that I don’t go out of my way to see everything you do and haven’t loved all of your ideas.

In that way, you should consider me a hostile witness, or more specifically you could quite rightly describe this as an anti-fan letter.

I’m actually writing to you on behalf of a friend who’s quote “bewildered by what direction he thinks his career's taking...” Since I’m not a fan, with the exception of your film roles, I haven’t actually been following your career though I notice, judging by your CV you’ve been very busy making films on both sides of the Atlantic, and starring in a sitcom called Saxondale for the BBC. The last thing I think I saw you do was the very funny cameo in Hot Fuzz and before that Marie Antoinette. I hear that Kirsten Dunst is a lovely actress to work with.

But I do know what my friend was referring to. Having found yourself in demand in cinema, you took the rather interesting decision of going back to stand-up and in particular a stadium tour during 2008. I imagine the idea was inspired by rock bands who tour even when they don’t need to and play their greatest hits so that they can reconnect with their fans.

This is an area worth exploring.

You probably thought that you could go out there, resurrect some of your old characters and remind the public why those who loved you, loved you in the first place. Partridge in particular should be interesting since at 43, you’ve reached the age that he would have been when you started playing him.

The reviews have been mixed to say the least, and seem to be based on expectation. Those turning up with less than high expectations were pleasantly surprised; those who saw your live shows ten years ago or earlier and are, well, fans, have been disappointed and it’s not uncommon to read comments online to the effect of “spent over a hundred pounds on this. It was a waste of money.”

Reading the official reviews there seems to be a general agreement that the first half is a bit patchy, but the second with Partridge is far funnier. I’ve also noticed a couple of patterns – the reviews are far better later in the tour and much frostier in stadiums than the smaller venues were you could presumably more closely interact with the audience.

As a Liverpudlian, I’m bound to focus particularly on the gig you gave at our new(ish) Echo Arena. Venue excitement has calmed down a bit now, so it’s not often that you get much of a public reaction to something which is stopped there. Your show was different. The following morning you could almost hear a collective sigh across the city and then the local media went into overdrive reporting the reaction.

The comments on this attached review at a local comedy blog (written by the person who saw it for the Daily Post) are a good survey: the prevailing view is that you were under rehearsed, the transitional sketches were awful and the ticket prices were far too high for what was on offer. As the thread continues, others who’ve seen the show elsewhere chime in with similar opinions. You do have a couple of people defending, but even they have criticisms and admit they didn’t laugh all of the way through.

Anyway, you disappeared into the night, the tour continued and we’ve already talked about that. Then I opened the Metro on December 8th and you’re the person being subjected to the 60 second interview. This is often quite entertaining, since because of the brevity of the chat, the interviewer usually goes for the jugular or else throws in a few offbeat questions to make things interesting.

After a couple of easy questions about largest show at the 0h-two arena and asking why you’re doing stand-up again (I was right) he hits you with a question about bad reviews. Given the circulation of the paper, which is read on buses and trains across the country and more influential these days than many paid for dailies, this is just the moment to be a bit contrite, laugh it off, or at the very least admit that you were under-prepared earlier in the tour. The Pete Postlethwaite in King Lear approach in other words.

Sadly, you do the version which makes you come across as a bit of an ass.

You suggest that the reviewer from The Telegraph Dominic Cavendish was desperate to give a bad review no matter the quality of the show and that he essentially sneaked in after you’d decided you didn’t want any press there. First of all, even if this was the first night and assuming that Cavendish isn’t lying, spending the evening checking over your notes is just unacceptable if people have paid good money to see the show. Secondly, it’s all a matter of taste but Cavendish offers a very balanced review in the circumstances. Thirdly, though the review in the local paper, The Sentinel, punches up the good bits, admits:

“there was something slightly lacklustre about last night's performance which, although hugely entertaining at times, appeared to be something of a rough gem compared with the polished diamond it could have been.”

Are you saying Tamzin Hindmarch is grinding her axe as well? Do the people from Stoke who echo the Liverpool comments (literally admittedly in once case)?

You then go on to mention this Liverpool Echo review by Jade Wright (note that both the Post and Echo sent someone). It gives you 5/10. You say that they gave you a bad review because the screens weren’t used in the show “a technical error”. Wright doesn’t even mention the screens. You go on to suggest that the poor reception was because “Scousers hate Mancunians and the feelings mutual”.

As Liverpool Confidential notes, Oasis played the venue a couple of nights later and ‘brought the house down’ and reading around online it seems that the audience wasn’t exclusively Liverpudlians and in any case, are we (the royal we) so nutty as to spend thirty pounds a ticket plus booking fee to see someone if we’ve already got preconceived ideas about hating all the same.

Um no. The people who paid to see your show were fans; the city they came from had nothing to do with it and assuming you’re actually right about this, you should be appreciating that the thousands people who crowded into the arena that night worked past their apparent prejudices to see if a Manc could make them laugh.

The very same people who were then insulted reading what you said about them on the bus or train into Liverpool city centre on the morning of the 8th of December, especially later when you single them (us) out in saying that “people in Britain – apart from Liverpudlians – can laugh at themselves”. You’re describing the city which produced Arthur Askey, Mitch Benn, Les Dennis, Ken Dodd, Tommy Handley, Tom O’Connor, Jimmy Tarbuck and Alexei Sayle, some of whom started out in working the pubs and clubs telling jokes at the expense of other Scousers.

Only you can really answer the question as to what’s going on with your career. You’ve plenty of films coming out and it is good that you’re willing to take risks with this live show and as I’ve said, there are reports that the show has improved and developed during its run. You’ve just got to be careful not to say nasty things about the very people who are buying tickets and keeping you in a wage. Otherwise, what’s the point?

On reflection, it doesn’t seem to be that we can’t laugh at ourselves. It’s just that on that night we didn’t laugh at you.

Take care,


[Why am I doing this?]

Of course he did.

Film Judge In 'Watchmen' Case Rules For Fox. Of course he did. I don't this will delay the release; it'll more likely mean that Fox's ident will appear in front of the film as well as Warners and they'll be entitled to some of the profit if not all. I can't imagine they'll want or even get any creative control.

Yes, it really is him.

Obituary Of course in the meantime, Eartha Kitt left us and Harold ... Pinter.

They have, or rather have an Oracle of Bacon score of 2. Pinter acted to a script by John Cleese and Peter Cook in the film The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) with Cleese, two decades later appearing in Erik the Viking (1989) along with Kitt.

My favourite work of the playwright's was his elegant screenplay for The French Lieutenant's Woman (which I wrote about briefly ... in here). If you really want to hear what a good sport he was, seek out his contribution towards the end of Tachyon TV's podcast for Doctor Who's The Stolen Earth. Yes, it really is him.

I'll still be smiling.

That Day Happy Boxing Day, or what's left of it. It's difficult to really describe the past couple of days. A sense of routine, perhaps, but also the rest I needed. Even at the age of thirty-four I'm like a child at Christmas. We still have loads of presents under the tree and it takes us a couple of hours to unwrap them, one at a time so we can see what each of us have got. I like that; after months of preparation I've never understood why people would want the best part of the season to flash-by so quickly.

My new Sony CD Walkman (not a discman these days apparently) is much better than the Goodmans which died recently. Accompanying cds? A couple of Doctor Who soundtracks, Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A Changin' and Highway 61 Revisited and exotically a three disc set of Gospel music because "We know you'll listen to anything..." Which it turns out is true; no matter how cheesy the synthesiser backdrop, the 103rd Street Gospel Choir have predictably turned out a half decent version of Down By The Riverside.

And now it's nearly over. Except it really isn't. I realised a couple of years ago that the best way to deal with the usual festive anticlimax is to not think of Chrimbo as finishing at midnight on the 26th. There's still new year to come and plenty of time to catch up on the usual backlog of films and food and the holiday isn't really finished for me until the 10th when I go back to work. True, the tree will come down, and the decorations, but iuntil I'm back behind that desk or counter, I'll still be smiling.

I almost, very nearly, lost it.

Waiting, originally uploaded by quintinsmith_ip.

Life I don’t like to think of myself as being a quick tempered person. I like to think that when I get angry, it’s for a proper reason, like the person I’m dealing with being an arrogant so-and-so who won’t see both points of view or if I’m faced with something which is clearly ignorant or wrong. I like to think I can be perfectly rational about most anything. But today, in Marks & Spencers Food Hall, trying to fight my way through everyone else, I almost, very nearly, lost it.

I was walking up the aisle searching for some cranberry pickle (and the more I write, the more this sounds ridiculous) and found myself caught in a pincer movement between two baskets carried by two other shoppers looking in opposite directions. I too had a basket, a bag and backpack and I was literally wedged between them. I couldn’t move, just for a moment, just long enough for my teeth to clench and I could feel the heat burning into the back of my eyeballs.

I shoved myself forward, and I know I said something out loud like “It’s alright, I’ll get out of your way now…” as I stumbled into a wide open space (well as wide as the aisle). Seconds later, I was calm, placid, and slightly embarrassed. I looked backwards and couldn’t even see or remember who I’d been stuck between, and I good naturedly carried on shopping, asking an assistant about the pickle which we charged off together to find.

What is that Christmas does to us? It’s supposed to be a time for a rest, perhaps some calm reflection, on the previous year and what’s to come. Yet if we’re not careful we can all become cretins and jerks, desperate to create our ideal version of the holiday whatever the cost, and as happened in my case, I think, assuming that the world is out to make my life harder, which is clearly isn’t, at least not on purpose.

Happy Festivus.

a little bit too close to home

I'm jiggered after writing some of this year's compact Review 2008, wrapping my christmas presents and watching and loving the surprisingly poignant Never Been Kissed (even if the title strikes a little bit too close to home), so I hope you'll forgive me if I just offer you the following headlines.

Danny Wallace says he can't tell when he's standing on a movie set.

Twitter is nearly five years old.

King Kong to be broadcast with alternative soundtrack on the BBC.

David Tennant gives away plot of Christmas Doctor Who during radio interview
(I knew it!).

Sarah Palin thinks she should have 'been aloud' to do more interviews during the presidential campaign. Satirists agree..

Girls Aloud perform very live on GMtv and gain a little respect from me for ploughing on through even as everything goes horribly wrong, then joking about the horror afterwards.

Fake Alison Graham is confused.

Luis Guzmán likes to strip himself of everything and go for it.

Naomi Watts prefers Tampax.

Liverpool has new city centre bus network.

Merseyside Maratime Museum has photos of the opening of the Queensway Tunnel in 1934.

Lily Allen's cover of Womanizer is better than the Britney Spears original.

Man fails in bizarre attempt to discover who visited BBC TV Centre between the hours of 8:30 am and 10:30am on 26 January 2006.

VHS is dead.

Liverpool's La Machine features in The Big Picture blog's round-up of the year.

Dr. Ian Malcolm thinks you should get a life.

I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas, across the Irish sea.

elf lay-offs

Christmas Santa Claus writing for The Guardian is funny enough. But then there's the reader comments:
"Dear Mr Claus,

Could I please have £1,000,000,000? Honestly, I've been good all year. That whole financial crisis thing was really my boss's fault.

Hope all is going well with the elf lay-offs.

Best regards,

A. Darling, Esq."
etc etc etc


Elsewhere Eyeless is the description given to the gene which controls the development of eyes across the animal kingdom, the term a victim of a scientific naming convention which describes the effects of not having that gene. They discovered this by engineering fruit flies with the gene plastered all over their bodies, resulting in one having fourteen eyes and as best as they can tell they all worked, since they were sensitive to light. You can read more about that here.

All of which is an irrelevant preamble to this link to a review for Lance Parkin's latest Doctor Who novel, The Eyeless, which is ace, even though it doesn't feature any fruit flies.

Female Student 746781

TV TV Tattle was one of my favourite link blogs, a useful way of keep an eye on US tv without having to wade through pages of opinion and spoilers. It's now gone, replaced by a link farm and Female Student 746781 (or the other Everywhere Girl). Does anyone know what happened?

Update! "It's all right. It's back!" Thanks Rob!

The Eyeless.

Books I’m well on record as being something of a fan of Lance Parkin’s Doctor Who books. The Dying Days helped to define the fundamentals of the Eighth Doctor and his later Father Time I described on here as “awesome” and “one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time. Period…” so the idea of the author writing a Tenth Doctor novel is a tantalising prospect. Unlike most of the other novels in the range, it’s impossible to read this without any preconceived notions. For the past nine months Parkin has been keeping blog, in which he’s described the processes of writing The Eyeless (no spoilers!), from commission through to publication.

So as I sat down on the train with these two hundred and forty odd pages I had a fair few questions. How would he really cope with the all too restrictive but necessary rules regarding content and particularly continuity? Would this still read like a Lance Parkin novel or would he, like many of the other writers, find themselves ultimately subsumed by the format and produce something that could have anyone’s name printed on the cover? Would I be able to see how he reorganised the structure of the second half? Some answers below, though for those who want to skip the rest of the review until they’ve read the book I will say that Parkin has yet again delivered, with a story that intrigues and excites and even if you’ve not read one of these novels before, this is one to make time for.

Parkin is all too aware that when fans see his name below the title they expect a different kind of story and he doesn’t want to disappoint them, but he also has to produce something which can be picked up by the general audience who doesn’t give a toss who he is and are just looking for a good story. Parkin has gamely offers a middle ground, producing a story which has many of the elements you’d expect in one of these novels but with the kind of twist he’s known for so that The Eyeless becomes something which is totally unlike any of those books and yet containing elements which could only be achieved in prose, both challenging the format of these novels, but always in an accessible way.

The Doctor already has his game face when he lands near this Arcopolis, on a mission to deactivate the deadly weapon at its heart of its fortress so there’s none of the usual fumbling around trying to justify his cause. He’s without companion, but instead of introducing a one off, an Astrid-Peth-alike as an exposition magnet, he seeps the timelord’s observations of this charred world in the prose, producing a near stream of conscience which puts the reader in the traditional companion role, giving the events great immediacy. When he first meets the fragments of humanity who survived the first devastation, it’s through their children, who’re about as impressed by this stranger as the cast of the Star Trek episode Miri were by the crew of the Enterprise, relying on a similar kind of taunting and casual violence.

The rest of the book is structured in this simplistic style, the timelord’s indomitable journey to the Fortress forever interrupted somehow by this outpost of humanity who, like the passengers of the shuttle bus in Midnight simply can’t be convinced that the he knows best because he’s clever. But knowing there are survivors, the Doctor’s first instinct is to continue on his journey, the weapon’s potential effect on the universe more important than these few lost souls, Parkin wonderfully capturing his head full of stuff and that he can see the cause and effect of the universe, time constantly in flux, almost feel galaxies forming. Through the humans the author also offers some entertaining discussion about the relevance of culture in this kind of situation, of whether education should be set aside in favour of breeding and perpetuating the species.

His best creations are the titular alien threat, the Eyeless, a translucent alien race that would be impossible to convincingly portray on screen no matter how many man (or woman) hours The Mill set aside in the attempt. Their secrets are one of the intrigues at the heart of the book so it would unfair to give too much away, except to say that Parkin uses them to enrich our understanding of why the Doctor travels the universe, contrasting how he experiences a new culture and situation with the the Eyeless’s less than benign processes. Of the human characters, it’s these children who are best developed, naturally smart enough to understand the implications of their own existence and the personality politics being conducted between the adults, all vying to imprint their mark on the future of their race. Kids should love that.

As ever with these shorter form novels, there’s little more that can be said without ruining all of its delights. Despite Parkin’s reservations about continuity references, there are a couple which will have McGann fans punching the air again, and I agree with him, I can’t believe he got away with the second paragraph on page forty-six and you won’t either. When I read it, my eyes fittingly nearly popped out my skull. If the conclusion is complicated to the point of confusion, I think it has more to do with the situation than the clarity of the author’s prose, which is never less than lucid, as we discover that there’s more to the Fortress than meets the eye. As the Doctor nears his goal, everything snaps back into focus and in one of the Tenth Doctor’s best ever scenes in any media, we’re reminded again of the decisions he has to make, and their cost, and that we should never underestimate his ability to see the bigger picture.

The Eyeless, by Lance Parkin, is released by BBC Books on 26th December 2008. ISBN 9781846075629.

“That looks like my husband's.”

Life I’ve just got back from a festive night out with Chris. Our first stop was the Philharmonic Hall Bar, which is one of the nicer places to have a drink in Liverpool. It’s only open on concert nights (and presumably when there are films) but if you time it right, you can be in and out during the parts of the performance when there’s music and listening. It’s nice and empty and you can get served super quickly even on a Friday night.

Tonight, we didn’t time it right. At all.

Seeing the audience enter from the stairs was a like being the first people at a party with the rest of the guests entering on mass. It’s odd watching the interval ritual from the other side, as Chris noted the bizarre rush to find a seat after having been sitting down for an hour. Not realising we’d still be there, we’d sat at a table for four and it wasn’t long before, just as we were about to leave in fact, someone asked if the other two were free. A balding man, late fifties wearing a cashmere coat.

“Well,” he said, “Would you mind watching them while I go to the bar?” Before we could answer he’d toddled off, leaving his scarf on one of the chairs.

We sat looking at the empty chairs, knowing that it wouldn’t be in the Christmas spirit to up and leave. “Are these taken?” “Yes.” “Are these taken?” “I don’t know. He might come back. Well alright, Yes.”

Time passes. The queue at the bar is huge. Why didn’t these people pre-book their drink? The system at the Phil is amazing with its pigeons holes and assigned numbers and prepared booze.

I hatch a plan. That we’d tell the next people who solicit for seating that they can have our spaces but ask them to watch the scarf instead. But by then, the seats had been empty for so long that people were obviously assuming that our friends were at the bar or something. I wonder about simply asking someone standing nearby, except they’re all threes and fours.

Time passes. We wait some more.

Then a couple of older women, in overcoats and scarves approach and try their hand. By now we’re definitely thinking about leaving whatever so we explain to them what’s been happening. One of them looks at the scarf:

“That looks like my husband's.”

Chris is clearly having the same thought I am. Could this be a ruse to steal the chairs? Could someone be that desperate? What happens to the scarf afterwards? Are they prepared for the confrontation when the person who’s seat they stole questions their motives?

Then the man reappears his arms laden with drinks. They are together.

Thank god. We leave. If this was a twenties novel, our exit would probably described as ‘making our apologies’, but for once we didn’t have anything to apologise for…

Acoustic christmassy bliss. Well worth 69p.

Fears Grow For Doctor Who, originally uploaded by LinkMachineGo.

What I've discovered in the past couple of days:

David Renwick decided to make the Christmas Jonathan Creek because he had nothing else to do.
"I’d never drawn the curtain down on that in quite the same way I did with One Foot in the Grave. Alan [Davies] always says whenever people ask him, “I wasn’t run over by Hannah Gordon, so there’s always hope”."

Joe Quesada's favourite Christmas recipe is Beef Tenderloin and Caramelized Onion Sandwiches.
"Add wine or Asgardian mead."

Job satisfaction amongst some Starbucks employees is flatlining.
"The only reason I don't leave is because who can pay me what Starbucks does and give me time to go to school, with this economy?"

The world is split between people who use the internet and those who don't even understand it.
"It turns out that they didn't go online because it didn't understand them; a so-called simple search on Google produced nothing but 30 minutes of fruitless frustration."

Mel Gibson once appeared in Australian soap The Sullivans.
"Fremantle Home Entertainment and Mediumrare Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of The Sullivans – On the Brink of War on 19th January 2009 priced at £19.99 RRP."

"If a person grits his teeth and shows real determination, failure is not an option. That’s how winning is done!"
Forty inspirational film speeches. Mercifully leaves out Love Actually, which is full of them.

The new series of Torchwood sounds like it might be quite good.
"We've got a new young lady who helps the team - I wouldn't say she's part of the team but she kind of helps them out. She's played by a new actress called Cush Jumbo, who's a very pretty young lady and who I'm sure is going to go on to bigger things." [via]

The Archbishop of Canterbury is a big fan of The West Wing.
"It's so consoling to watch those episodes when something goes terribly wrong - you know the president says something that is misinterpreted ... and you think, 'Now what does that remind me of'?" Has he not seen Two Cathedrals?

Fiona Apple has recorded Frosty The Snowman
Acoustic christmassy bliss. Well worth 69p.

she’s the only chosen one

Comic If you’re a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan of old but haven’t been following the season eight comic books, I’d strongly recommend you at least find a copy of this month’s issue, #20. A continuity light number, it sends Buffy into what seems like a dream world were she’s back in Sunnydale, it’s season one again, her mum’s alive and she’s the only chosen one.

The metafictional twist is that these earlier times are actually a homage to the much muted animated series and in particular this pilot, with a simpler story and characterisation, more slapstick and well, some of the same jokes. Eric Wight's character designs are used as contrast to the more "realistic" work from Ethen Beavers and Adam Van Wyk.

On a couple of occasion, Buffy almost seems to be aware that she’s in a cartoon (or a comic book recreations of one) and writer Jeph Loeb gets loads of comic mileage and poignancy out of the disconnect between the older slayer in her teenage body, to demonstrate how, even though some things change, some things often stay the same.

erasure disguised as ‘progress’

Books Another FOI request. Author Iain Sinclair was due to promote his book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report at Stoke Newington Library but the launch was notoriously cancelled (Tom Roper collects further background and links).

Sinclair, himself, writing (alright) in The Guardian, said that he thought the launch had been cancelled because of an essay he wrote for the London Review of Books criticising the effect that part of the new London olympic site was having on the local community which he says has nothing to do with the content of the book.

This FOI request clarifies things somewhat.

As you can see from the emails (you'll have to cock your head to the right) which passed back and forth within Hackney Council, everyone was very positive, until someone did a risk assessment -- or in this case looked the book up on Amazon and read the synopsis:
"Once an Arcadian suburb of grand houses, orchards and conservatories, Hackney declined into a zone of asylums, hospitals and dirty industry. Persistently revived, reinvented, betrayed, it has become a symbol of inner-city chaos, crime and poverty. Now, the Olympics, a final attempt to clamp down on a renegade spirit, seeks to complete the process: erasure disguised as ‘progress’."
They decided that the book "may contain criticism of Hackney Borough Council" (oh really?) and that it might attracted the wrong kind of press coverage and swiftly cancelled the launch. So in fact, the cancellation had nothing to do with the LRB article and everything to do with the content of the book which based on that synopsis appears to be an incendiary piece of work about the local area.

Which just demonstrates yet again that there are two sides to every story. I'm not surprised the launch was cancelled. True, there may be free speech related issues, but why would you invite someone round just so that they can tell you how rubbish you are?

Quentin Blake's Angel

Quentin Blake's Angel

Last Saturday, The Guardian included a Christmas annual supplement (a version of which I can't find on their website) filled with recipes and games and gift ideas and on one of the pages was this rather nice angel. It was designed and drawn by Quentin Blake, the illustrator who worked on all of Roald Dahl's children’s books. I’d say it’s his images that are brought to mind when people think of the author’s work (just look at his rather merry official website). It’s ages since I’ve made something like this and I think it turned out quite well. The instructions called for white card and glue. I used a Weetabix packet and some double sided tape, which was a bit fiddly when going around the edges of the wings.

this is turning into one of those Christmases, isn't it?

Life We have a Christmas tree. It's smaller than usual, but the largest of what was on offer from our usual source. The place we go to, on Smithdown Road, usually has many hundreds, but this year I’d say there were a couple of dozen if that. None of the trees have been particularly huge this year it seems and there are less scotch pines too. We reminisced about a few years ago when the trees were huge and still had snow on them. Still, covered in lights and baubles it’s still beautiful and at least this time we haven’t had to chop the top and bottom off so that it’ll fit in the room.

Walking home, I couldn’t help noticing the number of shops which have stopped trading, shutters down in the middle of the afternoon. Next to go is Micro Music, which I remember seeing open in the early nineties if not longer, one of those instrument shops which always seemed to be open even though it was rarely busy. I stopped and looked through the window to see what stock was left, perhaps a bargain cable, but there wasn’t much. I made eye contact with the owner and we acknowledged each other, but he looked very glum indeed.

Between environmental changes and the credit crunch this is turning into one of those Christmases, isn't it?


TV A response has already been made to that Freedom of Information Act request for the rules on how Strictly Come Dancing is scored. It's very similar to the Eurovision Song Contest with the judge's marks and audience votes are allocated to a sliding scale of points from 12 down to 1 which are then combined. It looks as though on Saturday it was these points totals which led to the kerfuffle.

Or is that an over-analysis?

The decorations are up and it's beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas. Every year there's always something we remember hanging in the hallway the year before and can't find. And inevitably we replace it with something else only to discover the original choice in a box somewhere afterwards. Can you believe that by this time next week it'll all be over again for another year and we won't have to listen to George Michael singing with himself on Last Christmas again for at least nine months?

Friend of the blog, Robyn of Orbyn, is blogging for Dollymix during the festive period. Go and keep her cheerful.

It's an interesting insight into how record companies' minds work.
Having recently discovered Hot UK Deals, I'm slowly developing a critical mass of emails from companies I've bought Christmas presents from. They're rarely accurate, usually suggesting presents for a kind of stereotypical expectation of the typical customer. I just know there are people who look at these things and think that it's exactly what their relative wants, whereas I always go out of my way to find things which no one expects.

The Journal of Impossible Things & Mini Sonic Screwdriver
Not sure why there's a pen -- one of the points of Dr Who's Human Nature was that the Doctor in becoming human had divested himself of his usual toys. Or is that an over-analysis?

Christmas in contemporary Bethlehem.
Be warned -- the caption to this photograph actually goes about the business of explaining the irony.

Rod Blagojevich's Deleted Facebook Account
Nixon had a tape recorder.

Strictly Come Dancing Rules
Another request under the Freedom of Information Act which misunderstands the point of the Freedom of Information Act. It's not that these rules are secret, it's just that Brucie didn't use some of the ten minutes the show was running under to explain things a bit better. Rachel Stevens to win etc.

It’s that time of year again and the TV Newsroom has been scanning through the News bulletins to find some festiveness.
A round-up of festive set dressings in UK news studios local and national. ITV seem to have a corporate Christmas tree and all of their sets are the same as well.

Enemy of the Bane.

TV And so The Sarah Jane Adventures have come full circle. In writing about Revenge of the Slitheen I commented on how brain-splitting children’s television is these days with its fast cutting, bouncy graphics in primary colours and music which sounds like a cut up remix of a Disaster Area concert. In places it makes the promotional film for the London Olympics with the rubbish logo look like a genius piece of sedate modernism and that’s just the bumpers and idents between the programmes. Now, during ...

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Enemy of the Bane (both episodes)

… everything in the programme itself is brash, loud and disjointed, powered by a kind of atomised storytelling which has replaced such incidentals as logical plot structure and coherent character motivation and by the end of the two episodes I was left in a grumpy old mood desperately muttering like a jilted lover “Was it me? Was it something I did? Did I not see the signs? What does he have that I don’t?” Well, perhaps not the last bit, but it’s ages (well a few weeks at least) since I felt so angry about a piece of drama. Not just because as a finale to what's been a half decent series its so disappointing, but because it was let out of its cage by the same people who brought you so many sublime episodes of Doctor Who this year.

Kermodian rant mode engaged.

If there’d been a camera in the room I suspect the expression on my face would have been somewhat like John Lyman’s during that brilliant episode of The West Wing in which he’s woken up with a hangover and Joey Lucas’s translator Kenny is shouting in his face. He looks rotten, his eyes desperately trying to focus on something, anything, coherent until in the end he has to admit “I have no clue what is happening right now.” That was me during Bane II as the convoluted plot convulsed into the kind of inherent ramblings which tend to give our favourite genre a bad name. It’s an alien doodah which when combined with a thingy could bring about the end of the universe. For the first time this series I did finally, genuinely felt like a teacher trying to look cool listening to The Jonas Brothers at a school disco.

There’s little point in me listing all of the irritations – we’ll be here all night – so I’ll just offer two.

Firstly, there’s the treatment of the Brig. I’d quite looked forward to his return to television, though for some of us he’s not really a character that’s been away with his appearances in the novels and Nick Courtney’s frequent visits to the Big Finish studios for this and that, notably his appearances in the U*N*I*T spin-off mini-series as well as the, I think, underrated video Downtime which also featured Lis Sladen briefly as Sarah-Jane. It seemed like an odd fit that he’d be resurrected for The Sarah Jane Adventures anyway considering the target audience, but the SJS connection is strong enough and it might well be a pre-cursor to his re-emergence in the mother programme, where the details of his mission to Peru might yet be revealed.

His dislike for the newer, vastly more militaristic UNIT is a welcome continuation of some of the themes begun in those spin-offs and is extrapolated well in his opening scene, as he wipes the monocle from fake Major Cal’s face. The reunion with Ms Smith was just ambiguous enough not to render any of those spin-off stories non-canonical. Nick Courtney has a ready gravitas which makes you wonder why he’s not employed more often (though watch out for him playing the Archbishop of Canterbury in this thing soon). He obviously relished the chance to be back on tv and a through line to the man we loved so in the seventies and eighties. It’s nice introduction for viewers too, he’s an old friend of Sarah-Jane who used to be in UNIT and knows how to get into the spooky Black Archives.

The problem is, because the kids are rightly supposed to be the stars, The Brig predictably gets sidelined and unlike School Reunion, the episode isn’t about the meeting of old friends and before long it becomes apparent that the man is rather incidental to the story. Courtney spends most of the following episode and a half standing or sitting around reacting to whatever’s happening and though he does get a couple of action beats including some nice cane work, he’s essentially a bystander to the main story, which I know was often the case in the 70s but seems like wasted opportunity here. Would it be so wrong for him to have a moment where he imparts some wisdom and be allowed to offer some impression to the kids watching as to what makes him so brilliant that the Doctor would name drop him at a time of crisis?

Of course, the reason the episode isn’t about Alistair is because it’s about Luke and his mummy dilemma and it’s how he fitted into the story which is the other thing which really got my goat. We’ve watched the bond develop convincingly between Luke and Sarah-Jane over the past couple of seasons and it’s interesting to see the show attempting to address the emotional apocalypse an adopted kid his age in the real world might have to address when the real thing wanders in either at the supermarket, home, or as is most likely these days on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Perhaps these kids in the real world might think that underneath these people are giant calamari desperate to steal them away from the life they know, with Spain the destination instead of the universe, but Luke’s not really the role model the adopter would want to hold up as an example of how to deal with the situation.

It’s just a pity that after an excellent showing in the last story, Luke spends most of Enemy of the Bane being psychologically shoved about so easily by his ‘real’ mother Mrs Wormwood. You can just about see the reason behind busting her from the protective shielding, but after that’s gone so well and he’s essentially been kidnapped and tried to dash off with the cosmic doodah, why does he then go and take it to the centre of the stone circle knowing the consequences it’ll have for humanity? The reason is because writer Phil Ford needs him to. Having logically written Mrs Wormwood behind the shielding he needs to get her out so that the next bit of plot can be dealt with. Equally, there isn’t a big special effects climax if Luke isn’t somehow compelled into doing the dirty even if the status quo hasn’t changed that much since five minutes before when he ran off with it.

I should say here that if Samantha Bond wanted me to do anything for her, anything at all, I’m there – her hypnotic voice has driven me absolutely crazy for years and her rather arch performance was one of the few highlights in the these episodes. Except she’s so clearly still evil, still mental, and still untrustworthy, that it undermines our belief in Luke’s intelligence that he persists in doing pretty much everything she says even when the results have proved to be so disastrous. I know there’s an argument to be made for the series being for a younger age group where writing has to lack most of its ambiguity and there’s bound to be a certain panto elements, as we’re constantly frowning in disbelief at the stupidity of our heroes, but when Jack (not Harkness) sells his cow for some beans we get watch a giant beanstalk grow and meet a giant, and I’m not sure any of the results of the over complicated bit of fantasy on offer here was as relevant or immeditately exciting as that.

Now, I know this is harsh commentary for what is essentially a production with its heart in the right place and it could just be a pre-christmas bit of malevolence before my usual festive benevolence descends. All of performances were excellent; Anthony O'Donnell’s Commander Kaagh in particular worked much better in this context than in his own story, seeking honour through freelance work rather than the usual Sontaran oaths. And it scores marks for not also somehow involving the Chandras in the solution to the alien story as a counterpoint to the still lamented Jacksons; clearly if Haresh is up to anything dodgy they’re saving it for the next series – I also hope they could find something more interesting for Gita to do than apparently get Sarah-Jane’s name wrong and have her in some state of catatonia.

I just wish that after generating what has been a very good drama series the finale hadn’t been so relentlessly mundane and predictable and exactly the kind of thing children’s television is criticised for being. Then again, I’m willing to admit its possible that I’ve just had a sense of humour bypass for a week and I’ll rewatch this in the future (as we fans always do) I’ll be less harsh and grudgingly see it’s good points – it’s happened recently with Planet of the Ood which I absolutely hated on my first po-faced viewing. Plus, I am thirty-four years old. If I was about ten, I’d probably think this was the most exciting fifty minutes I’ve ever, ever seen. At least until Christmas Day.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

(We're putting up our decorations today...)

arguing about for decades

TV It's actually quite comforting watching Star Trek fans having to deal with precisely the kinds of issues us Doctor Who fans have been arguing about for decades. This interview with movie writer Bob Orci is somewhat spoilerific but has a whiff of the UNIT dating controversy. More commentary in the comments.

Potential story idea for future episode of Doctor Who.

TV Potential story idea for future episode of Doctor Who. The Tardis drops through a dimensional rift and materialises in a reality, ours in fact, where he's the only fantasy element and becomes the saviour and the problem both at the same time as he tries to work out how to go home. In other words it's an early 60s historical style story set in contemporary Earth without any of the trappings of the Whoniverse: UNIT or Torchwood or the constant threat of alien invasion.

I know the feeling.

Jane is taking a break from her blog.
She says she's said all she can about writing for television and is increasingly wondering if she's repeating herself. I know the feeling.

Kate is moving to Ramsbottom.

Jayne almost uncovers the story behind a famous photograph.
It is a small world, after all.

Andreas in Australia.
Seeing these massive frames in a browser, doesn't do them justice. Look at the dimensions.

Cheryl's an angel.
She's crying again tonight.

Alex uncovers the story behind film studio logos.
I've always loved PIXAR and they way it incorporates the studio's history.

Erik tries to watch films on television in the US ...
... and it's a mess of idents and adverts all the way through. At least our version of this -- in-vision sign language -- has a benevolent purpose.

Gretchen dislikes Festivus.
"I am tolerant. I'm all for free speech and free rights, just not on December 25th." Her co-presenter's defence is brilliant.

Jill hears Christmas music played on a decorative vegetable.
... and you've not heard everything yet.

Clair meets some ingenious con-children.

Phil enters the darkness.
My suggestion?

Who is The Next Doctor?

TV As you can see, the cover of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine features a shot of David Tennant being shoved aside by David Morrissey, all Edwardian frock coat and enigmatic smile as a caption explains that he ‘is The Next Doctor!’. Inside, as you’d expect, there’s little in the way of an explanation as to how he can be the next Doctor and for once, the plot of the episode hasn’t been spoiled by a tabloid (yet). In other words, we don’t know exactly who this next/new Doctor is or how. Nevertheless, it's an amazing idea and I thought it was worth exploring in more detail than is probably necessary and with the impression that I can't tell what's real and what's fiction. Here then, are some fan rumours and a couple of my own ideas.

[I should say there might be some spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t read anything about the new special anywhere. So if you want to stay completely in the dark, look away now].

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps …

He’s a conman

Precedent: The One Doctor, a Big Finish audio in which a flimflam man played by Christopher Biggins was flying around the universe grabbing some of Colin Baker’s Doctor’s thunder.

Background: My first hunch, and something I saw immediately being talked about online when the opening of the episode was revealed in these excepts from Russell T Davies’s book The Writer’s Tale in The Times. It didn’t seem that unlikely given that the series isn’t averse to remaking/reimagining old spin-off stories (Dalek, Human Nature) and the habit it has of suggesting one thing in the title (The Doctor’s Daughter) and revealing that it’s something else entirely (cloned from biodata, not Susan’s mother).

Potential: None at all. Page five of DWM, Russell T Davies says: “The new Doctor is absolutely not a conman.” So that’s that.

He’s human.

Precedent: Minuet in Hell, another Big Finish audio starring Paul McGann.

Background: The premise of the Doctor’s story in the above is that his mental energy has been passed to a random human (played by voice of the Daleks Nick Briggs) who is then convinced that he’s human. Some of the regeneration energy at the close of The Stolen Earth (where you remember Tennant cheated the process by throwing the energy into his severed hand in a jar creating a human clone and spreading some of his essence into Donna as a result) could have seeped into someone in the population. Nothing to do with a fob watch, then.

Potential: Not bad. It’s not unknown for one character or story to be sparked by something which happened earlier. The only problem is that during these two minutes which appeared in Children in Need …

… a Tardis is mentioned so you’d have to wonder where that came from. That said, Morrissey also uses the word ‘alonse-y’ which is a very Tenth Doctor affectation and precisely the kind of thing which could be passed on through the above process and there’s a lot of story potential in seeing a man dealing with the responsibility of being the Doctor and is understanding of the universe.

He is the next Doctor or one after that

Precedent: Time Crash, The Two Doctors, The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Eight Doctors (a novel) and range of audio adventures.

Background: It’s not unknown for different incarnations of the Doctor to bump into one another at a time of greatest need, so it’s conceivable that this is a future incarnation and quite like the idea of him actually being the Eleventh Doctor and we’re going to spend the next twelve months waiting for Tenth to regenerate into him – in other words – for once – the announcement as to who will be the next Doctor actually happens within the show. But that doesn’t explain this slip of the tongue …

I’ve a feeling, assuming this is a future version, that his exact number will be kept deliberately vague and I’ve always like the idea of there being a range of potential future incarnations that we can only imagine what they’re like (see also Merlin).

Potential: Pretty high. Though in the above clip, Morrissey doesn’t recognise him but the actor has said in an interview that he’s suffering from memory loss. In Radio Times last week, RTD hinted that “regeneration is a complicated process” which could be a reference to the post regenerative amnesia – could this Doctor have only just turned into David Morrissey?

He’s a past Doctor.

Precedent: In The Brain of Morbius, when the Doctor is battling the titular timelord using the power of his mind, he's apparently using the combined strength of his earlier incarnations and we see a bunch of faces that the production team inserted of themselves to suggest that the character has lived far longer than the four versions we’d seen on screen by that point. But I’m not talking about that.

Background: We didn’t ever see Paul McGann regenerate into Chris Eccleston and nothing on screen has confirmed that they were concurrent. What if somewhere in between, the Morrissey Doctor exists, the real ninth Doctor? If he has amnesia, this could be as a result because of the time war – in the novels, when the Eighth Doctor destroyed Gallifrey, he spent a century wondering around Earth not having a clue who he is.

Potential: Medium. It would be a fantastic twist, though judging by how the Ninth Doctor appears in the first season of nu-Who he’s still getting over the tragedy which destroyed his home world, it’s difficult to rationalise. Plus Tenth doesn’t recognise him, unless he too is afflicted by amnesia at some point.

He’s a version from an alternative reality.

Precedents: Unbound, a series of ‘What-If” style audio adventures from Big Finish

Background: The discussion of a multiverse in the franchise is vague at best. There have been stories featuring other realities – that’s where Rose and the human Doctor were left at the close of the last series and there have been others in the likes of Inferno and Turn Left (though the latter was a rewriting of new series history due to outside interference or more specifically someone interfering with Donna). But we’ve never met an alternative version of the Doctor, though some authors, notably current series script editor Gary Russell rationalised that the different versions which have appeared in various spin-offs all occur in different realities and so are different (Spiral Scratch). I think it’s all still one long story and unseen adventures fill in the gaps but I’m rambling. Anyway, either there’s one Gallifrey watching over the whole multiverse favouring the main Whoniverse like the Doctor favours Earth or each universe has its own Gallifrey and a potential Doctor and Morrissey is one of those – not necessarily evil, just one of those.

Potential: Good, especially since the Cybermen who appear on the episode are the ones from the alternative reality not ‘our’ Whoniverse.

He’s the real Doctor

Precedents: None that I can remember.

Background: Wild speculation here. What if, due to the time war, there have been two Doctor’s buzzing around the universe and the Morrissey edition is the real one and our Doctor, unknowingly, is the impostor? Of course it could be the other way around but it would certainly put a new spin on the Face of Boe’s suggestion that ‘You are not alone’.

Potential: Slim. After all, Ninth in Dalek says that he can sense that there aren’t any others, but if they’re the same man, perhaps their brainwave patterns are the same and he can’t tell that Morrissey is buzzing around for the same reason that he can’t feel the other versions of himself in time.

I think that’s about the right time to stop, don't you?