"Women love him, men want to have a beer with him. It's just not clear that it would occur to anybody to vote for him." -- Joey Lucas, 'The West Wing'

TV Keith notes the similarities between the closing couple of seasons of The West Wing and the current primary season in the US: "Its prescience most notably lies in the casting of Jimmy Smits as Congressman Matt Santos, a Latino from Texas - the first Latino to run for President. Sure, he was also a Catholic - just like President Bartlett and JFK - but he was also "the brown candidate". He didn't want to play the race card - but it was an issue in the fictional media. It was an issue for his opponent. It was an issue for his campaign - does he play to that or away from it."

"I don’t love it, but I accept it as a reasonable alternative given the constraints." -- John August

Film John August (with surprising honesty) talks us through the process of designing the cover and extras for the Region One dvd release of his film The Nines and how in relation to the image everything is about compromise.

"I think I was wrong, I think you were right..." -- Sheryl Crow, 'The Difficult Kind'

Music Sheryl Crow also has a new album finally forthcoming and this time it's a protest record of sorts. It's got to be better than bloody Wildflower in which sounded like a Celine Dion tribute album. And not in a good way.

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” -- Groucho Marx

Humour A missed opportunity in our year of culture would have been the opportunity to recreate the Grand Central Station dance sequence from The Fisher King on the concourse at Lime Street. It lacks context sure but how impressive would it have been? There will be a Viennese Ball at St George's Hall which should be picturesque but not quite as -- post-modern.

Back at the Grand Central, a group of volunteers have staged the opposite. Two hundred and seven of them infiltrated the crowds then stopped still altogether in whatever position they were in at a predetermined time. Predictably the reactions of the crowd are the best bit of this video, although watch out for the frozen girl eating the banana whose willpower is clearly stronger than most humans. How's it possible to stand with a smell such as that just inches from your nose for five minutes?
Nature The Best: Extinct Animals, From an Elephant Bird to a 10-Foot-Long, Four-Eyed Spider

"That's not how you pronounce my name, Adrian, " -- Christine Bleakley

TV I stopped being able to watch the mainstream of BBC Breakfast months ago. Once I've watched the 8am news headlines it's off to the 8:10 shouting match, sorry interview on Radio 4's Today. It's simply because with the exception of the sadly rarely appearing Kate Silverton, the standard of presentation is appaulling, I mean just awful. A typical example is offered by Suw who gives a blow by blow on a particularly poor interview with Dr Brian Cox on the occasion of his Horizon programme in which they completely fail to ask a single intelligent question and manage to spend much of the time off topic.

It used to be that even in this Breakfast slot there would be an attempt to entertain and educate but apparently thats no longer the imperative, and in cases such as this it doesn't seem as though a researcher has been anywhere near the presenters before the slot leaving Bill and Sian to proceed on their wits with predictable results. The contrast is pretty clear when one of the correspondents, be it weather, sport or business take over with Declan Curry in particular not afraid to ask difficult questions of whichever poor business spokesman has been sent to excuse their company's massive profits. His only missteps have been in relation to internet related companies, but then the whole of the mainstream media is still having difficult catching up to that.

A fair contrast can be found at the other end of the day. The One Show's content isn't all that different and yet Adrian and Christine manage to carry it off proceeding with wit and always seem engaged with the subject, treating it with the requisite seriousness when required. The other night when Beadle's death broke during the programme they were able to break off briefly from script to discuss the subject intelligently something BBC Breakfast always seem to find difficult, even though they're supposed to be amongst other things a news programme. Why should it be up to radio to provide intelligent discussion in the morning or should I just give it all up and listen to Chris Moyles like the rest of the country?

"When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye, she's trouble, in a word get closer to the fire." -- Madonna, 'Who's That Girl?'

Art Some of the best exhibitions I've visited have featured but one painting. Manchester Art Gallery once displayed David Hockney's Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy and Leeds Art Gallery offered the chance to see Henri Rousseau's famous Tiger in a Tropical Storm. Both appeared in their own sections or rooms and it is a completely different way of spending time with a masterpiece than in a large room filled with distractions such as other visitors.

The rather wonderful looking Frick Collection in New York are currently displaying Francesco Mazzola Parmigianino's Antea in similar circumstances and it's gorgeous. The Economist has a review and they're awed by it:
"Hanging on a temporary, free-standing wall in the middle of the Frick's Oval Room, a glowing “Antea” beckons to visitors from across the museum's sepulchral Garden Court. Quite who the sitter was remains a mystery. The catalogue, by Christina Neilson, a Renaissance specialist and Frick fellow, reads like a detective story; though not so much a “whodunit” as a “who is it”."
It is a pretty extraordinary work (here's a rather crusty image). At both of the above linked articles there's much about the speculation about the sitter's identity and while that might be of interest to Parmigianino's biographers, some paintings undoubtedly gain from the viewer now knowing its history and intent; thriving on the mystery. Like an unrequited one sided love affair the reality can't possibly live up to our imagination.

"I'm still trying to figure out what the right line is between myself and the people I play." -- Maggie Gyllenhaal

Film Maggie Gyllenhaal is the new Gwyneth Paltrow in that there is a law, or at least should be, that we should all watch every movie she's in. Even the turkeys. More often than not the best thing about the thing. So that you can keep your quota and not fall foul of the film police here's another one, created as part of an online protest connected with the writers strike. It's called Speechless and has some lovely noirish lighting.

"The subject being copied is terminated." -- T-800, 'T2: Judgement Day'

Communication Steve Tilly is in a spin over really accurate voice mail to text conversion: "What blows my mind is that the technology properly parses, punctuates and capitalizes text, and usually distinguishes names from sound-alike words. I called my own voicemail and left the message, "Hi Don this is Bill. I'm calling about that bill that's due before dawn" and it texted me back with EXACTLY THAT MESSAGE, with the proper punctuation and spelling and whatnot! How is this even possible? What kind of SkyNet A.I. is at work here? Do we need to call Sarah Connor?"

To the Last Man.

TV Sometimes high-brow culture channel BBC Four broadcast Spice World: The Movie last week as part of their season investigating pop music. Having not seen the film since it was released (a sentence which sees me admitting to seeing the thing at least twice in this lifetime) I noticed across the gulf of years that the girls' pregnant non-singing best friend is actually played by our very own Naoko Mori.

According to the imdb and wikipedia, it was only her third screen role but prior to that she appeared in Miss Saigon opposite one John Barrowman, which goes to show what a twisty-turny thing life can be. Of course the first time many of us noticed her was during Doctor Who's Aliens in London. She seemed oh so cool then and turning to a certain discussion board her agency portrait was already being circulated and some of us really wanted to know more about this two scene character, sanguine in the face of a porcine alien threat.

Of course that meant that when it was announced the character of Toshiko would be transferring to Torchwood it was one of the reasons to be excited. She looked oh so cool in those early publicity photos, chique-geek behind her bifocals. Alas, as with so many things wrong with that first series it totally failed to take advantage of the actress or the character largely relegating her to the background save to be insulted by Owen, left her out of the story altogether or most unforgivably having her play second fiddle to the guest star (but what a guest star) in, Greeks Bearing Gifts, the one episode which was supposed to focus upon her. They didn’t know what to do with her and only a few late series heroics allowed her to make any kind of a mark, to suggest she was fated to be anything more than a victim and vulnerable, writing messages in blood and whatnot.

New series, new focus episode and finally they’ve got it right. Whilst the main story in To the Last Man, (superficially similar to Doctor Who’s The Girl In The Fireplace and a few episodes from last year) principally took the usual approach to temporal anomalies that we expect from the series – not so much timey-wimey as utterly bollocksy - writer Helen Raynor was clearly more interested in the character beats and on that basis the episode really delivered, offering a very sweet, usefully problematic take on the impossible love affair, with Tosh finally being given the chance to save the world.

From the opening post-titles burst of energy in which Tosh made herself loverly onwards she seemed like a far more rounded character, not simply a one note stuttering nerd. Slow-way time traveler Tommy Brockless was basically just an ordinary lad, not more or less special that the many tens of thousands of young soldiers who died in those trenches. Beautifully played by Anthony Lewis, there was a perceptiveness though, an understanding of time passing. Despite the personally tragedy of outliving his parents he was clearly enjoying the chance of seeing years passing on a daily basis.

As with sleeper alien Beth’s plight last week, your appreciation of this episode probably depended upon the extent to which you bought this stuttering relationship. Some have already said that they thought the two lack chemistry but actually it’s probably that all too well they captured the desperation of the coupling, the strange inevitability of two people who understand each other but can never be together, nervously skipping a few bases because they simply don’t have time for them.

There’s undoubtedly some similarity with how the Doctor greeted a century of festive seasons in Paul Cornell’s short story The Hopes and Fears of All the Years, but each of Tommy’s new days were like Christmas even though he’d simply been seeing the price of beer shoot up within days and become one of the few people alive able to explain to Richard Griffiths that the films don’t ‘just keep getting better and better’ (how annoying is that advert for the showbiz slot on News 24?). As he spun about in Cardiff Bay he wanted to experience everything, and by the end of the episode he probably had.

Except, and this is were the real thematic weight of the episode descended, he was also able to see that men just like war even though history keeps reminding them that it doesn’t work in the long run. It’s a message which has been repeated time and again across the franchise and although Human Nature/The Family of Blood still has the edge in terms of sheer poignancy, isn’t it just refreshing to see Torchwood looking at these ideas and actually spending time over them rather than simply giving them lip service between some shouting and snogging?

After all, what we were seeing here was Tommy being given the opportunity to get his rocks off before returning to the front and certain death. Captain Jack Harkness covered similar territory last year, but then it was largely wrapped up in our Jack’s past life and the events which would lead up to him taking his identity, here the treatment was raw and Reithian with the material about shell shock underling how even the apparent ‘good guys’ did some very bad things when provoked.

You could potentially argue that some of this was undermined by the fact that through another odd bit of business that didn’t quite make sense (it’s a drug which taking advantage of anomalies allows someone to travel back in time and into a particular human’s mind or some other jibberish) future Tommy forgot his future history lesson after stepping back in time, but that meant that for once Tosh could finally shine, convincing her lover to do the right thing, despite the very real cost which had been laid out to her.

Elsewhere, there were certainly chills as the Torchwood crew investigated the hospital their impression becoming ghosts of the past and vice versa, perfectly pitched by director Andy Goddard (clearly relishing a decent script after Countrycide and Combat) with composer Ben Foster in full Bernard Hermann mode. The rehabilitation of the main cast continued apace with Owen showing (shudder) empathy and happy Ianto clearly having dealt with loss of his girlfriend by snogging his boss, despite the fact that Torchwood, as this episode illustrated again, is the one place were Hub-based romances never end well.

There were hopefully intentional laughs too, Gerald and Harriet of Torchwood yesterday clearly demanding a spin-off scripted by Mark Gattis, the kind of Georgian X-Files facing the fantastic with a stiff upper lip, steampunk technology in hand. The other highlight was the trailer for next week, Meat already looking like a classic bit of black comedy with only the potentially poor treatment of Rhys discovering the details of his wife’s day job to by the kybosh on things.

On the basis of this early run of episode though, that doesn’t look likely. Whilst the approach the series takes to time travel and some fantasy leaves a lot to be desired, it seems far more capable of looking at the real strength of an idea and making the most of it dramatically and in the case of Tosh finally allowing a character to fulfill their potential. I said some very nasty things about the series last year so it seems only fair to be redressing the balance here. Torchwood has turned into the kind of series that's a pleasure to watch rather than because you feel the need to since you’re incessantly reviewing it on a website.

"Being good isnt always easy, no matter how hard I try..." -- Dusty Springfield

Music Wow. Shelby Lynne's new album features a range of Dusty Springfield covers: "Lynne, who was five albums into her career before she even discovered Springfield, has reinterpreted some of the British legend's classics like "Breakfast in Bed," Tony Joe White's "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" and Randy Newman's, "I Don't Want to Hear About It Anymore." Which song didn't she do? "You don't sing 'Son of a Preacher Man,'" Lynne explains between sips of red wine. "It's her song. You don't cut certain songs. The record's been made. If you can't make it your own or better, then fucking stay home."
TV Jack Kibble-White, co-author of The Encyclopedia of Classic Saturday Night Telly (reviewed here) offers his memories of Jeremy Beadle: "An untapped national treasure." That's what Jeremy Beadle once called me. In print too. Better than that, it was in a book I'd co-written. A book that Jeremy enthusiastically supported, and once purported in an email to me to have "gobbled up at a sitting".
TV Crikey, Torchwood was good last night. You can read my effusive review here.

"I want to be an artist that everyone can relate to, that's young, happy and fun." -- Britney Spears

Music Pop Justice: What are the people of America listening to? "America is too busy taking Britney's photo to be buying her music, evidently."
Obituary Out On Blue Six remembers Jeremy Beadle: "those legendary LBC radio shows, especially the famous one where he pretended to be making his way around London on foot and challenged listeners to find him (hundreds did, literally stopping the traffic at some points), yet was in the studio all the time and just talking over sound effects. Let's hope some of these finally resurface soon"

"Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends." -- Woody Allen

Film Woody Allen's typography: fetish or brand identity? "White type on black opening titles rolling on old jazz or classical music became a part of Woody Allen brand."

"People who lead a lonely existence always have something on their minds that they are eager to talk about." -- Anton Checkov

Theatre Tracey-Ann Obermann on relocation Checkov's Three Sisters to Hope Street, Liverpool: "More than anyone, Chekhov and Woody Allen understand that humour is a highly sophisticated defence mechanism (check out the similarities between Zelig and Dr Chebutykin in Three Sisters)."

“Errors of taste are very often the outward sign of a deep fault of sensibility.” -- Jonathan Miller

Liverpool Life I’ve always wondered what the polymath Jonathan Miller was doing before he joined Beyond The Fringe and introduced Peter Cook to Dudley Moore. Not enough that I’d read a biography of the man or even look for it online though because there isn’t a substitute for hearing about someone’s life from the person who’s lived it and I’ve always suspected that at some point I’d finally get to see Miller give one of his lectures and learn the truth live. This is exactly what happened tonight at Liverpool University as part of a series connected to our culture year. The title of the lecture was ‘Under The Influence’ and structured some quite complex science around a listing all of the different people who’d influenced him across his life at university and beyond.

It turns out that up until his friend John Barrett wondered into A&E one night to be treated by Miller and suggest that he might be interesting the Edinburgh Festival with a show for a few weeks, the director/writer was going to be a neurosurgeon. From an early age his father had fostered an interested in biology and he was intensely interested in how the brain worked and how we reacted to stimulus. The book which got him on the path was actually by the same Charles Scott Sherrington who gave his name to building we were all sitting in. As he explained, how brilliant is biological development that it would put all of the things which we need to react to oncoming trouble such as noses, ears, eyes and mouth at the front of our bodies?

What’s perhaps most fascinating is that in changing his career from science to performance, Miller was still able to apply pretty much everything he’d learned about the human brain to theatre direction, something he says he picked up as he went along. He talked about the influence of John Searle’s book Speech Acts in which the Professor of Philosophy explains that human communication revolves not only around what we say but what we actually mean when we say those things. In other words, when an estate agent walking about a property and saying ‘This room needs painting’ what they’re actually saying is ‘I want you to imagine what this room will look like when you’ve bought it and it has been painted’.

In theatre direction, what you’re doing is trying to bring the actors to a point in which they’re not simply saying the words but understanding and trying to communicate what the character is really thinking through those words. I suppose in film and television some of these things can be cheated through editing and music and lighting and mise en scene but in theatre with the audience watching every word and action, insincerity is magnified. This presumably becomes even harder with material such as Shakespeare which is way out of its contemporary setting and which isn’t being derived between the writers and performers.

In the Q&A afterwards, Miller (I’m paraphrasing) said that it was a curious quirk of the past hundred years that we’ve become obsessed with the writing of dead people, work that’s in its ‘after life’ at the expense of contemporary work, exactly what this material was back when it was originally written. He said that we shouldn’t be precious about contemporising material either, especially if it wasn’t specifically of its period when it was originally written (making the distinction with ‘updating’ work – rewriting Shakespeare in modern English perhaps). I asked him about working on the BBC Shakepeare productions during the early 80s (he seemed pleased that I remembered them) and said that he simply couldn’t be too experimental there because over half the money came from US investors who were expecting ‘traditional’ settings all doublets and hoes.

Miller (looking disconcertingly in real life like Animal Magic’s Johnny Morris) has presumably told his story a few times before but he managed to keep it fresh and there were plenty of anecdotes about his proto-career in science and how he ended up switching over to the other side. There were injections of poetry by Robert Frost and sections of the writings of Searle and Sherrington, the latter touchingly from the very volume that very volume his Dad had passed down to Miller after using it himself at university, both of their name inscriptions from 1913 and 1955 still visible inside. At the close, when asked if he had an infinite budget what his next project would be, he poignantly suggested that since he would be able to support his family that he would like to take up an unpaid position and complete the training and research which he’d left behind all those years ago.

Updated: The lecture is already available to watch online so you can hear his answer to my question in full.
About If anyone's that way inclined I'm selling some old Doctor Who novels on ebay -- the very ones I wrote about here in fact.
Elsewhere I began watching a dvd of the BBC Shakespeare adaptation at quarter past seven tonight and since it doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon, here for your entertainment is a review of the new Torchwood Magazine. Ugh!

"Contents subject to change!"

Magazines Since the first series of Torchwood was such a success (at least in the ratings) and with a long running title which has followed the mother series in good times and bad it seems the next logical step to produce a tie-in magazine dedicated to the basement dwellers of Cardiff and perfectly reasonable that Panini, current publishers of Doctor Who Magazine should be the publishers. Unfortunately the license went to Titan; if there’s a half successful genre import, the Titan production line has produced a magazine about it; Star Trek, Buffy, Angel, Charmed, 24, Alias, Lost, Supernatural, Heroes even the CSIs and Prison Break, the company has a vast portfolio of official magazines (most of which seem to be advertised inside this one) and as expected this is another of their perfectly functional, well designed but ultimately soulless publications.

All of the regular sections and articles that crop up in these things are present and correct. There’s a news page called The Hub (‘The latest on the shows, the stars, the stories') with material about the official website, the US launch, the comic strip printed in its own pages and John Barrowman’s autobiography. There are interviews with Barrowman, James Marsters, Nikki Amuka-bird & Dyfed Potter (from the episode Sleeper) and Naoko Mori along with a photographic visit to the Hub set with interjections from the designers and a play-by-play on creating the blow-fish make up. The magazine closes with a diary by Chris Chibnall in which the whole process of making the series boils down to six entries, four of which are about jollies he's gone on to sell the series. There’s even a comic strip by former DWM editor and Transformer fan god Simon Furman.

None of which is uninteresting; the interview with Marsters throws up some useful tit-bits, including that he wanted to make a prequel series to Star Trek and that he wished Spike had been more evil for longer, and there’s far more information in the making of features than usually turns up in Declassified and detailed enough to be of interest to design students. It’s also admirable that there’s such an emphasis on the series writers and the process of putting the scripts together, particular considering the production problems which dogged the first series in that regard.

The highlight is probably the comic strip, a tight narrative about a scientist from Torchwood One whose experiments have gone a bit awry. Decent artwork from DL Gallant with an old-school Roy of the Rovers influence manages to convey the look of the series and Furman captures the characterization (such as it is) really well. It's the kind of mythology story it would be good to see in the new series, especially after all those hints offered by Captain Jack in his explanation to Gwen in Everything Changes.

The problem is, with that notable exception, nothing has a particular authorial voice. Oddly, none of the articles are credited to a writer (a comment I made the Facebook group for the magazine – they deleted the point rather than answered it). It’s impossible not to compare and probably unfair, but in Doctor Who Magazine we’ve got to know the likes of Ben Cook and David Darlington and the other writers, even hoping that the former wasn’t overworking when it became apparent he was authoring most of each issue during the early days of the new series. The writers in DWM and SFX clearly have a passion for their subject and always sound excited and privileged to be doing their job. They’re enthusiasts and it shows in every word and sentence.

The copy in Torchwood Magazine reads like it has been put together by advertisers, used to punch up the text, almost every sentence completed by an exclamation mark! There's no sense of fun or more importantly the kind of authority which comes from knowing the subject, of the writers doing anything but a job of work, a commission to pay the rent before moving on to something more 'credible'! There isn't even an editor's note at the front to introduce readers to this new magazine! In the interviews you never get a sense of being in the same room as the interviewee and the questioning lacks bite as though the writer was afraid they’d get kicked off set – c’mon, it’s John Barrowman, he can take it! Says John: "We're very like a family. We kept in touch when we weren't filming at the start of the year, even if it was only over the phone." Hooray!

Some of this is to be expected – this is only the first issue after all, everyone’s yet to find their groove, and the series only has a single series under its utility belt so there's precious little history to write about (although there are some rather bland character profiles which have all the wit of a wikipedia entry). But if you compare what happens here with the chat with the cast in this month’s DWM, Ben Cook’s questions coax some rather more complex and analytical answers. Essentially as ever Titan have taken the ‘official magazine’ label to the hilt, sapping any hint of criticism, and producing the magazine equivalent of those extended film trailers which turn up on Sky Movies. Bottom line: you certainly wouldn’t imagine them publishing anything like the infamous Clive Swift interview…

"Anyway: it's a bit hard to describe our bear solution." -- Grumblebee

Theatre Grumblebee comments at Metafilter on staging the bear in Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale: "But that does make stuff like the "Winter's Tale" bear challenging. How do you create a bear with no bear costume, no special effects, etc? Sure, you can have an actor act like a bear, and it is a comic moment in the play, but I wanted the audience to laugh with us, not at us."

"On Discord Arising From Excessive Love of a Hat" -- Michael Chabon, 'Gentlemen of the Road' (chapter title)

Books In a similar spirit to yesterday's endevour, Adrian has collected together links to the various chapters of Michael Chabon's new book, Gentlemen of the Road already published on the New York Times website and readable for free.