Int. Bedroom. Night.

STUART, a rather handsome thirtysomething with cropped hair in a white t-shirt is sitting at a disconcertingly large dining table glowering at his computer monitor. He moves his mouse cursor across the screen, double clicks a small lime-coloured icon and opens his email software. After the new emails have arduously downloaded, STUART clicks and opens the top one.

Stuart Ian Burns,

I'd like to invite you to be a guest author on my TypePad weblog, Waiting for Christopher. Just follow the instructions in this email message, and you'll be able to quickly sign up for the service and post within minutes.

STUART grins then clicks on the accompanying link.

TV And that’s how I ended up writing here, an invite from Neil, which is rather less exciting than having your fiancĂ©’s brain turned into an incubation chamber for an alien but like working for Torchwood it’s been a fine line between pleasure and pain ever since. I’ve said this before but it's worth repeating, sometimes I’ll sit here at the keyboard after an episode of the many series we’ve covered and not had the first idea what to say. Sometimes that results in experiments like this, but more often than not I’ll literally bang my head against the keyboard (which is why it’s a good thing that they’re cheaper than they used to be – keyboards, not heads). Like Douglas Adams, I find it very difficult to write anything, specifically anything sensible and yet here I am day in and out, week in and out cheating myself into the conviction that one day I could be a writer.

But then I look at an episode like Fragments and suddenly my fingers are fluid and those words just keep coming. That was, screaming out the window, dashing round the park if it wasn’t quite so cold, scrotum tensingly brilliant. It was the kind of episode which almost makes sitting through the rubbish end of the first series worth it, which proved that actually the production team do have the ability to turn out work which you do want to watch over and over (unlike, as I indicated last week, most episodes). I can’t imagine ever wanting to see Adrift again. But I’m already trying to work out when I can sneak another look, a copy of Ahistory in hand with a pencil to fill in some of Lance's more arduous blanks.

Everyone put in a good performance, Chris Chibnall’s writing was measured and clever and the direction was top notch with Jonathan Fox Bassett (a man whose name is just a consonant and a vowel away from infringing the BBC’s guidelines on product placement) suggesting that his earlier work on From Out Of The Rain was an aberration brought on by an incomprehensible script. Believe me that it’s a complement when I say that this was the kind of work Whedon’s Mutant Enemy would be proud of, and yet still with a very British, very Cardiffy flavour.

I’ve gushed already about episodes this series, mostly out of surprise, but as things have progressed there’s no denying there’s been a drop off and a bit of uncertainty. In point of fact, in hindsight the first episode since the first episode which seemed as though it was made with the same joy as the parent series or The Sarah Jane Adventures, in which everyone seemed to know what they were doing. For once. When the only criticism I can really think of is that the ending wasn’t too much of a surprise because this week’s Radio Times rather gave the game away, I don’t know how much more praise I can heap on it.

One of the problems I’ve had with this series is its boring attempts to divorce itself from the parent show. In Fragments that all went out of the window and it’s not really a surprise that continuity king Gary Russell was the script editor, as each flashback was clad with a thick layer of squee. A certain timelord was name checked properly for the first time – not just a doctor, but The Doctor, a man very much on the minds of the We newly created Victorian Torchwood. We were introduced to the new baddaass edition of UNIT who probably use the pulling of naval hair as part of their arsenal let alone solitary confinement and this 'appearance' no doubt foreshadowed their appearance in The Sontaran Stratagem. Martha works for these guys? And look Ianto's talking Torchwood One! No explanation as to how Ianto managed to get Lisa into the basement! But confirmation that Jack had cut Torchwood 3 off from the lot of them!

All this and the reveal that Natasha Kaplinsky was already working for the BBC at the millennium in the Whoniverse and not only just finding her feet on the Sky News version of breakfast telly – in a section which was entirely consistent with Gary’s own recent novel The Twilight Streets. About the only thing this scene lacked was a break down of the molecular structure of the planet, an alert that some Autons were attempting to take over a company, a computer on the Thames was trying to change the laws of physics and that Prime Minister Brooks was attempting to declare martial law despite the power cuts hitting most of the country. What – you thought I was joking about Ahistory? I’ve got it in my left hand already and I don’t think I should say what I’m doing with the right one. Typing obviously.

But setting aside its somewhat accurate approach the nu-Whoniverse, the episode did exactly what it set out to do – rationalise exactly how the regulars found themselves working for this organisation (oh and give Eve Myles little to do so she could be off filming Adrift, probably). So what if each of the sections resembled some other genre pieces – it’s a flashback scene from Angel, it’s the interrogation scene from the Alias pilot, it’s the solitary confinement from V For Vendetta, it’s La Femme Nikita, it’s a gay The X-Files, it's Primeval, it’s House, MD (sort of -- but considering that man’s abilities with deductive reasoning I’m surprised he hasn’t put at least one illness down to alien influences). It homaged from the best (with one notable exception) and for once it didn’t feel like kleptomania.

Of course the freewheeling Jack wouldn’t volunteer to work for Torchwood, despite the enticement of Cardiff’s equivalent of Dru and Darla (sorry I can’t be more original comparison than that but Damon’s already used my Tipping The Velvet line. Tipping The Velvet indeed), but with the thirteen thousand odd deaths which ensued, the constant loss of work colleagues probably hardly ever through natural causes, the fact that being stuck in that basement usually sent them insane and an apparent lack of promotional prospects, no wonder he was a crabby bastard by the time we met him in the opening episode of Torchwood. As I think Mr. T Davies said in Torchwood Declassified afterwards, there are so many holes in Jack’s past which would be worth filling, although I hope this doesn’t herald a propensity for him to look far off and for a Highlander-style flashback to come crashing in (speaking of which – can Jack be beheaded? Would that sort him out? Or would he simply grow a new head? Ewe!).

Solitary confinement explains why Tosh always seemed so nervous and eager to please and decided that a character like broken Owen should be the object of her affections. We were promised an explanation as to why she would turn up pretending to be a doctor in Aliens of London, but perhaps that’ll happen next week. Similarly, no wonder Owen’s attitude to women could best be described as disposable when his fiancĂ© died in such a horrific manner – why commit to a proper relationship if there’s always the possibility that the quasi-Dalek that’s latched onto her cranium could kill all the surgeons. About the only inconsistent character was Ianto who seemed far more in-keeping with the new version with added bounce than the rather dower winger we encountered last series. But then as he walked away, those tears signaled that actually he wasn’t quite right in the head, a breath of relief suggesting to him that he might be able to help his cyber-girlfriend.

Next Week: Jack deals with some unresolved issues and Cardiff Council have a reason to bid for EC funding so that they can remodel parts of the city centre. Again.
Elsewhere Torchwood gave us its best episode ever on Friday night.

"Commit! Just listen to that word, it's what they do in insane asylums!" -- Allegra, 'Puccini for Beginners'

Film Remember I was writing the other day about how the narrative form in The Jungle Book is as simply as these things can be -- and isn't Martin Scorcese's After Hours essentially a remake without the animals, songs and set at night?

This morning I watched the very sweet, Puccini for Beginners, a New York digital indie from writer/director Maria Maggenti (who a decade ago presented us with the quirky The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love) which has a narrative structure which like The Jungle Book seems very simple but is ultimately fasinatingly complex.

I'm not giving too much if I explain that in the prologue to Puccini, its revealed that the protagonist Allegra is a lesbian who's been dating and sleeping with both sides of a couple who've split up to be with her. There's a freeze frame and we don't know much else, but there's enough action to imply that the ensuing moments aren't going to go well.

But then, rather than continuing from that point, the action doubles back nearly a year and then over the course of three captioned acts (meant to mimic an opera) it's explained how this state of affairs developed, but and this is important, it's not a flashback, it's the kind of break in the temporal order that you find in a Tarantino film. It's not Allegra reflecting back on all the horrible things she's done.

We watch her going through the motions, making the discoveries, and feeling sorry for her all along the way, because we know the result. That isn't usual in romantic comedies -- an average episode of Columbo perhaps were we know who the killer is and we're hoping the detective discovers it first, but certainly not in this kind of film. It's intoxicating.

Well, yes, we already know in romantic comedies that the couples will get together, but what's interesting here is that we basically know that the couple, whatever the configuration, won't stay together. It's funny and bittersweet right from the opening few minutes. We do discover that there's more to the underlying emotions though but I'll not spoil that at least because it's a film well worth seeing and a real antidote to the rather rubbish romances which have drifted out of Hollywood lately.

"Time and again I tell myself I'll stay clean tonight..." -- David Bowie, 'Ashes To Ashes'

TV What to make of tonight’s final episode of Ashes To Ashes? Eight weeks ago I wrote that this was “a far clever, far more complex prospect than the earlier series” and whilst I stand by that, whether it was as entertaining is another matter. As with Life On Mars, the problem the series has perennially faced is being a high-concept fantasy series and a cop show, never quite able to commit to either and ultimately falling through the cracks. In some of the worst episodes, we’ve seen a detective story peppered with random dream sequences and reminders of the clown, but in the best, Alex’s predicament has come to the fore along with attempts at building momentum for tonight’s climax.

And yet in the end, producers Kudos fumbled. On the one hand, the visit from Lord Scarman (deliciously played by Geoffrey Palmer) was well handled and as funny as anything we’ve seen before, the hero polemic from the Gene genie instantly clappable. Except, having waited eight weeks to see Alex fighting a life and death battle to stop her parents from dying, there was no urgency, the character and programme pottering about the subject in a series of disjointed scenes. Clearly the idea was not to do the expected thing of having a proper investigation, Alex box ticking much as she did in the first episode.

The two storylines simply didn’t mesh, rather like those episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Enterprise found yet another special spacial anomaly whilst Data learned a lesson about humanity. Scarman deserved a whole running time to himself as did the resolution of the ongoing story; instead they stole from each other and ultimately came out the weaker for it.

Plus – how much more interesting would it have been if Alex’s mother had lived but the officer from the future hadn’t returned home, suggesting something much wilder? I did gasp when it was revealed that her father had been the clown all of these weeks, but mostly because I'd not been able to make the connect between two images that have been right in front of me. Oh yes, explosions are lovely as were the scenes between young Alex and Gene, this seemed as usually to be looking at things from a moment to moment basis rather than the larger picture.

Perhaps I’m just disappointed that Sam Tyler didn’t make a late appearance as I predicted. But really there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Again I ask – if this all is in Alex’s head, why do we keep getting scenes from other character’s point of view? At first I thought it was part of some larger scheme, but I’m actually starting to conclude that it’s the producers not really thinking about their concept as much as they should and simply working to the needs of production and giving their cast something to do.

But then I look at the enigmatic dialogue, the times in which Gene seems to be totally aware of Alex’s predicament but unable to say and I wonder if in fact there really is something more interesting going on which is yet to be revealed as they take advantage of knowing that a second series is in the offering. Something I’ll definitely still be watching, if only because Keeley Hawes is still a rose and looks great in red.

Slipping backwards

Radio Torchwood to make radio debut on Radio 4. This Broadcast story is behind a free registration wall but they say:

"The network has commissioned a 45-minute standalone episode of the Doctor Who spin-off for its Afternoon Play slot. The episode is timed to coincide with R4's news and documentary coverage of the launch of the world's largest particle accelerator at the Cern physics laboratory in Switzerland."

To be written by Joseph Lidster and Mr. Barrowman et al have signed to appear. Wacky -- Torchwood in an afternoon timeslot when everyone's at work. Luckily, a podcast and cd will be available later.

But is it canon? [via]
Monuments Another Lisa pours scorn on the reporting of frankly bizarre plan to increase the size of the viewing platform at the top of the Eiffel Tower: "The problem with this report is that it may be completely false. Either the Times got their information wrong (from the Guardian or other sources they may have used), or the powers that be at the Eiffel are trying to hide this decision for the moment, because since the initial report came out, several updates were posted at the Times web site as they back-pedaled to say that (1) the design had not been officially confirmed, (2) the Eiffel officials denied the Guardian's entire report, (3) the architectural firm took back their official announcement but maintained they were still a candidate even while the Eiffel people claim no such competition exists!"
Comics More on the cultural vandalism front: artist Brian Bolland has recoloured his artwork for The Killing Joke, Alan Moore's classic Batman graphic novel and the edition will be the only version available. Bolland says that he's creating his original intentions but I can't see much difference between this colourising Citizen Kane.

True, the new version looks more realistic (whatever that means) and in keeping with the latest methods in comic art, but I always thought the point of the book was that it looked like the comic books of the time, bright colours included, but had a much starker, darker level of storytelling, particularly in the portrayal of The Joker. To my eyes, that loses its impact in the new imagery. I wonder what Alan thinks about this.
Life Lisa notices the brain freeze which also seems to have infected me lately. Another under-graduate reference, but during a course on Information and Society, the lecturer predicted that as computers and specifically the internet became more sophisticated (this was in 1995) people would begin to rely less on their own brain capacity and instead on the systems around them. In effect, people would stop retaining information because it would instantaneously be available anyway.

Which is of course exactly what's happened. Everyone who uses the internet for research is effectively a librarian, doing the very subject searches which information specialists used to train years for (and I did). I don't imagine the brain drain will stop soon either. Within a few years, everyone'll be able to afford a PDA (or similar) and have the Wikipedia (or similar) in their pocket ready to answer any or all questions.

“We stick to the same guidelines as the television series"

TV Just in case you missed it, here's a link to the excellent article from The Times last week [paywall] about Doctor Who novels and the publishing thereof. There are some amazingly business sensitive details, such as how much the novelists are paid and more of exactly the kind of information you wished would turn up in an average Doctor Who Magazine interview:

"In one of this year’s stories, Revenge of the Judoon, the Doctor originally fought to save Balmoral and Edward VII with the help of Winston Churchill. Unfortunately the TV people liked the idea, and thought they might keep Winston in reserve for a future episode. So the author, Terrance Dicks, had to make do with a cameo from Arthur Conan Doyle instead."
From BBC Doctor Who News: [original link broken]

"We're delighted to officially announce that Series Four of Doctor Who will commence with Partners In Crime at 6.20pm on Saturday 05 April 2008, BBC One."

That seems very early -- but remember when the series was on at that time anyway? Also, turns out that first episode title is also an Agatha Christie title reference. If she'd also written a novel called The Sontaran Stratagem it would look like a was pattern forming.
Liverpool Life Yes indeed, Sefton Park does look like an asteroid has hit it. Walking past the work area a fortnight ago, I was creeped out by the very sinister dark blue wall which is currently ringing the area which reminded me of photographs I've seen of the various similar constructions which have divided other areas for political reasons. At least ours seems to be for a nice reason.
Politics I'm currently listening to the Carla Bruni back catalogue (both albums) since she's in the country and having dinner with the Queen. What? Her husband's with her? Rats. The Guardian have live blogged events but the coverage has been far wilder than I think there's ever been for a state visit from a French President. Clearly this has something to do with it but it's really not often that an international politician visits these parts with a spouse quite this pretty.

Previously: Mystery Music March: Carla Bruni’s quelqu'un m'a dit
TV A Spooks spin-off's been announced and it's post-apocalyptic: "Spooks: Code 9 has just started filming, and is set in the year 2013. London has been evacuated following a nuclear bomb, and the country's power base has shifted north. In the wake of the attack, MI5 must restructure and establish new field offices all over the UK, working to gather info from the heart of local communities."

Assuming the two series are set in the same universe, doesn't that mean, in the unlikely event that the parent series lasts for another five years the two will have to join up? Also, having understandably ignored Spooks for years despite the futuristic technology, surely SFX Magazine will have to cover this? It is set in an alternate future ...
Film I read a fairly horrifying statistic today and I’m going to reproduce the relevant passages in full hoping that the publishers of The Movie: An Illustrated Guide don’t use their time travelling lawyers to sue me from the past. Italics are mine for emphasis:
“The end of the war found Japan, the last Axis enemy, in a desperate situation. Most cinemas were closed, and though the studios had remained theoretically open, the shortage of materials and equipment was acute. The whole country was place under the regulations of the Supreme Command Allied Forces in the Pacific (SCAP) whose officers drafted and implemented rules about which films should and should not be made.


Meanwhile the SCAP authorities industriously burned negative and prints of some 225 forbidden films, which included works by outstanding directors like Kinoshita, Ichikawa and Kurosawa.”
The statistic is repeated with greater detail in an article specifically about Japanese cinema from the period:
“Japan had tended to depict its long tradition of a highly structured, feudalistic society very firmly in its films. Prior to the war many films had been made which roused and reinforced the people’s loyalty to the Emperor and the ideals of the nation. During the war such movies had become more overtly propagandist, and it was these to which the new American censors turned their attention. Of the 554 films from the war years, 225 were judged to be feudal or anti-democratic and were ordered to be destroyed. The Occupation forces not only censored complete films, but also kept a watchful eye on new scripts, Kon Ichikawa’s puppet film Museme Dojiji (1946, Girl at the Dojo Temple) was burned simply because he had not submitted the script for approval.”
Isn’t that horrifying? That’s cultural vandalism, plain and simple, and ironically of the kind with the allied forces were supposed to be fighting against in other parts of the world. It’s not unheard of for an occupying force to take control of the local media; it’s quite another thing to go around burning negatives of pieces of art simply because you ideologically disagree with them. Propagandist or not, these films were still important historical documents and lets not forget the work of directors who would go on to become part of the classic cinema canon. You burnt Kurosawa? How would you like it if someone took a torch to John Ford’s Stagecoach, made at roughly the same time. Unthinkable.

My first university dissertation discussed art censorship and I wrote about Heroic Realism in Nazi Germany. These are generally giant kitsch canvases of very Aryan gentlemen standing in fields with hoes or at war, the very model of the super race. They’re rubbish and creepy, but the last thing I’d suggest would be their destruction; store them in a deep bunker somewhere perhaps but they’re a perfect way of revealing the worst excesses of an ideology developed by a very small man (with potentially just one testicle) and did when they were displayed alongside the work of Jewish painters from the period at an exhibition in the mid-90s.

Inevitably, the wikipedia offers some idea of the Kurosawa material which was lost.
“After his directorial debut with Sanshiro Sugata, his next few films were made under the watchful eye of the wartime Japanese government and sometimes contained nationalistic themes. For instance, The Most Beautiful is a propaganda film about Japanese women working in a military optics factory. Judo Saga 2 portrays Japanese judo as superior to western (American) boxing,”
Which don’t exactly sound as though they would stand alongside Rashomon in terms of significance, but they would still have some scholarly interest, in the same way that you can’t completely disregard Hitchcock’s early work, before he discovered the thriller genre.

We were supposed to be the good guys. But then there was the nuclear bomb too.
Food Chez pim endures the worst meal of her young life: "Finally installed at our table, I was more than ready for some serious nourishing. The table was quite precious, each place setting with its own directed light, illuminating the plate as though it was artwork. Beautiful plates they were, and I was ever so hopeful of beautiful food that would soon fill those plates, and my belly. Alas it wasn't to be, at least not yet. Instead we were presented with a manifesto. Don't ask me what's in it. I just couldn't be arsed to pay attention. It began with some absurd notions about god and creation and whatnot. I put it aside, thinking I'd read it when I got back, perhaps after some food and drinks, a lot of drinks."

"Don't know much about history..." -- Sam Cooke, 'Wonderful World'

Politics Whilst the fact that Suzanne Shaw didn't know who the US Presidential candidates were is shocking (as Keris says "But that surely means she hasn't read a newspaper, watched the news or looked at a news website for - what? - three months? Six months?") what's even less impressive is that she thought it ok to actually admit to not knowing. Something I learnt from an early age is that, with the exception of conversations in education establishments, if you don't know something and it seems like something you really should know, do not, that is DO NOT admit to not knowing it.

Depending on how the question was phrased, Suzanne could have said "Well I've been too busy with the ice dance to keep up with the policies" or "I was always brought up on the premise that you shouldn't talk about religion or politics" or if she was in a particularly smart mood "since it's in the US, my opinion doesn't mean that much anyway..." all of which would have hidden the fact that really she had no idea what the interviewer was talking about. Besides, I probably have more of an idea about global politics than British at the moment. Don't dare ask me to name anyone in our cabinet... oops ...

"Look for the bare necessities...." -- Baloo, 'The Jungle Book'

Film Watching The Jungle Book today for the first time in about twenty-five years I was surprised by how simple the narrative structure actually is. After the prologue in which Mowgli is brought up by the wolves (after the implied death of his parents, the background painting of the broken boat as economic a bit of storytelling as you’re likely to see anywhere) it’s largely just about his passage from the jungle to the man village. Almost like a variety show, each of the different animals shows up and does their turn, perhaps with a song, before shuffling off ready for the next one, sometimes collaborating on various tunes. Disney dumped Kipling and the work of original adaptor Bill Peet (who had in mind an adventure film) in favour of a concoction which he thought should favour character over plot.

Usually I get quite annoyed by episodic film structures because done badly they tend to drag; much as I love Time Bandits, it can seem at times like a bunch of television episodes strung together. Film review maverick Mark Kermode jokes that the likes of The Ice Age represent ‘the death of narrative cinema', and it is fairly amazing how many recent releases do set off their characters and premise, noodle about for an hour of incidents before desperate grabbing for a conclusion twenty minutes before the end. Arguably, for all of its innovations, There Will Be Blood does exactly that, with vignettes such as the introduction of his ‘brother’ eminently droppable from the story, no matter how much it apparently says about the main character.

What saves The Jungle Book is the quality of the songs, all of which I know word for word anyway after listening to the record hundreds of times as a kid, and the quality of the character animation – as one contributor notes on the dvd it’s amazing how something drawn can have that much weight and can be giving such a loose and colourful performance. But the story has a metaphoric significance too -- it’s about our own journey from childhood to adulthood, Mowgli leaving the talking animals to join his own people. The girl he meets at the end, sweet and romantic as she is, represents the introduction of responsibility and that makes the climax very sad indeed. Except, since composer George Bruns layers her song, ‘My Own Home’ on the soundtrack right from the beginning, it was inevitable from the opening moments, the music arguably tying the film together more than the script.