Elsewhere Tonight's Doctor Who is posted. I can't imagine there are many other series that could rationize the hero killing twenty thousand people on purpose.

The Fires of Pompeii.

"Hello, and on The South Bank Show tonight we'll be discussing the Doctor Who episode The Fires of Pompeii and consider its wider implications within the mythology of the series."

TV One of the first jokes I ever read/heard/not sure about the new series was via a trailer which was shown in the weeks leading up to the broadcast of Rose which was filled with special effects and explosions and which fans were terribly excited about until they realised it was for a docu-drama called Supervolcano about a supervolcano. I was hoodwinked for the first few seconds but then more impressed by the proper trailer because Billie Piper was in it and she was (still is) nice. At that point though I didn't ever expect that Doctor Who would even be able to afford an exploding mountain episode set in Roman times, despite what Verity and co were ambitious enough to attempt in the 60s.

But here we are four years later, that mountain has indeed exploded and Russell and co have produced yet another really, really exciting episode. Taking full advantage of their time on the set of the defunct HBO series Rome, this was an episode that unlike Daleks in Manhattan had depth of field and actually managed to feel as though it was recreating a historical point in time, of a society in peril. This was aided by some great performances from the likes of Peter Capaldi and the always underrated Phil Davis (if only North Square had been a hit) and fantastic special effects from The Mill, stretching once again what you'd think was possible in television drama,this was the most convincing blast we've yet seen on screen. About the only disappointment was that this didn't turn out to be the pure historical I'd hoped for, but those magma monsters were really rather good, about how you'd hope the similar shapes from Shada would have looked given a larger budget and a lack of labour disputes.

Brilliantly, though, what might have got by on being a simple runaround with a bit black humour and old school threat in relation to whether the regulars will be able to find the TARDIS and disappear back into the vortex before hell rained on Pompeii, was given a far greater philosophical depth by the introduction of the franchise's perennial question about the extent to which the Doctor is allowed to change history. One of the first ever stories, The Aztecs, wrestled with this issue, albeit at a more sedate pace, and it's kept returning ever since, through the Charley Pollard arc in the Big Finish audios and reaching its more recent apogee in Father's Day in which we saw the grotesque results of history being deliberately changed.

My impression has always been that the Doctor can change only the history that he's aware of. In other words, since he knows the outcome of Hitler's rise to power he can't meet the young artist he was before and try and convince him to follow that career path instead of entering politics (for a version of what that might look like though, look no further than the John Cusack's failed attempt in the film Max). On the other hand he could quiet happily start a revolution against the Company in The Sunmakers because he didn't have a bloody clue what was happening on Pluto in our far future. Having already rationalised that for myself, as you can imagined it rendered that rather long political discussion in Lawrence Miles's Eighth Doctor novel Interference, in which the Doctor's harangued for choosing his revolutions a bit of a slog.

Thankfully, the episode didn't contradict what I thought; the Doctor did give that glorious speech about having an awareness of what's flexible and isn't in time but as we saw, his awareness of events is still mutable. He didn't know that he would, as in the nostalgically referenced The Romans (dvd release for that shortly then) and The Visitation, become part of the established events, or importantly the motivation behind them, inadvertent in those cases, premeditatedly (to an extent) here. It confirmed my other theory that for all the timey-wimey stuff we Ahistorians look to in order to rationalise multiple versions of Human Nature and how the audio The Fires of Vulcan can still be part of the Whoniverse, in terms of how historical events are played out, the timelords are already a part of history (in much the same way as The Master was already in London for Smith & Jones and Scaroth in Paris for City of Death). We're just watching/reading/hearing how that became so. Which is why perhaps he could allow Caecilius's family to survive; he was meant to, and Donna made him understand that. Plus, who else was going to live to invent the 'volcano' word?

To make this the thematic core of the episode, the emotional stick with which to smack Tennant and Tate over the head, and then throw it out on a Saturday night after John Barrowman's odd-ball new gameshow, was really, really brave. Within that too, to drop in all of that talk of soothsayers, nature of cults (that c-u-l-t-s) and the passing into of your offspring thereof was just so very impressive. True, the series has annexed this territory before in The Pirate Planet of all things and the implications of joining a sisterhood were discussed by Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, but then it was one of Douglas Adams' sideshow ideas, here it was at the very centre of the story and expecting the audience to think. Just as the series was getting a reputation for being an empty sparkly run-around (something I didn't countenance myself), once again it was producing a piece of apposite superior excitement.

Not even a pre-show, droning Ofcom telling off could bring down this bird. And hanging in its claws were Dave and Catherine (Cathy?), the former offering his usual note perfect performance and the latter demonstrating that you know, you people who thought that casting in her in the series and bringing back the runaway bride was a mistake, you're all fools, the lot of you. These characters are great double act, equals in so many ways, Donna doing everything a companion should do and just a little bit more. (Many great lines: "You just defended us using a water pistol? I bloody love you!" So say we all). Granted Rose defied those clockwork men, but largely through threatening them with the Doctor's wrath. Here it was Donna's own strength that was the menace and you have to imagine that even if the Doctor hadn't happened along, she still would have found a way to avoid the sharp end of the blade. That scene was hilarious.

But also in series drama you don't write and then hand a scene like the one in the TARDIS in which Donna pleads with the Doctor to save someone, anyone to an actress unless you're completely sure that she can carry it off. You protect them. At least you do these days. How often has a companion become derided simply because the actor didn't have the experience to deal with the material. Yet, here Tate was sobbing, giving the very human reaction we all would have to the horrific events that were unfolding looking at the one man who could change the outcome not doing anything. Tate proved that Andy, Russell and Julie all knew what they were doing in casting her, and simply you should have had more faith. You fools, again I say, you fools. Not naming any names.

A The Fires of Pompeii should be a fairly standard stand alone episode but like Tooth & Claw which introduced (god help us) Torchwood, through the words of the soothsayers, the potential arc threads of the fourth season were thrown wide open. What has Donna on her back? "She is coming back" is potentially a reference to Rose (although I wouldn't be surprised if there's a double meaning)? What is the Doctor's real name? Could it be The Other one? What is The Medusa Cascade? What's with all the rifts in space and time (another once cropped up here when Pompeii went bye-bye)? And just to make you really shudder have you noticed how the Doctor's suddenly mentioning the Shadow Proclamation again and how like planets are disappearing like the Nestenes both things we haven't come across since that very first episode.

Also, what if the image of record time held in Gallifreyan Matrix, clearly taking a break in some pocket universe somewhere, shows that the Cambridge family reference should have died and that in saving them the Doctor's stretching the web of time? Like the random dropping of the sonic-pen in the bin in the opening episode, all of these little changes to the timeline, when he lets his humanised nature get the better of him are finally going to catch up with him, as with the aforementioned Charley-arc, a range of subtle changes in the timeline, creating enough breaks for something horrific to break through. When that episode didn't end with the TARDIS back in the vortex, but six month's later as the family were making waves in their new adopted society, I thought like poor old Lucy in the audio Seasons of Fear, that horror would appear and eat them up. Instead, we were presented with something that could simply be a commemoration of the power that saved them, or a ripple which could have similarly grave implications as the seasons develops. See this post at The Doctor Who Forum for a range of other crackpot interesting theories, some more likely than others ("the Doctor walks with stardust in his wake... Astrid must be coming back and she's a TARDIS..." etc).

Next time on The South Bank Show: Ood no you don't.
Comics Garfield Minus Garfield:
"Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb."
Even funnier but also scarier than the real thing. [via]
Life I've been on holiday this week. The problem with working two different jobs, though, is that although I get the weekdays off, I'm back in work tomorrow and the time seems to go far too quickly. Despite the trip to Kendal on Tuesday, I always feel as though I should have accomplished more with my time, when really all I needed to do was rest and just not think about all the things I could be doing.

Meanwhile, I've updated the filmlog a bit. Has anyone else noticed the similarity between the opening scene of Michael Clayton with its voiceover on the spaces which will be most important in the ensuing film and Kevin Smith's Mallrats? Imagine if Americanised Tom Wilkinson had been telling the cousin Walter story instead: "One time my cousin Walter got this cat stuck in his ass. Michael, are you listening to me? This is not a relapse. This is a true story ..."
Journalism Kristine wonders whether journalists can make good bloggers:
"Should journalists blog? I'm sure I've covered this before (well, actually I have) but a recent interview about teaching blogging to journalists spurred an interesting response from an editor who hated the idea but happened to be a pretty decent blogger himself, so here we go again."
I think that if you're a journalist who can write good, interesting, entertaining copy, you can be a blogger. You should also constantly keep reminding yourself that you don't need to cater for a wide audience in quite the same way; with millions of these things around the biggest selling point is yourself.

"The windows are the wrong size..."

TV School wins TARDIS:

"The TARDIS was created by the technical team of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) to promote the recent Doctor Who Up-Close exhibition. [...] From April 9 2008 it became a permanent fixture at Newall Green Primary School after the school won first prize in competition to win it organised by MOSI."

There's a great moment in the article where the writer takes time out to describe (accurately) what a TARDIS actually is.

"Winning bidder can ask me to add the "new and improved" mouth details"

TV Bootleg Adipose are already available on ebay. There are badges, flannels and knitted beasties. This one looks more like an owl and this knitter has made an attempt even before see the episode.

Perhaps more scary is this tea which is supposed to have much the same effect as the tablets -- "The tea helps losing 4 kg of weight over a month. It regulates the digestive tract functions, lessens your body fat and cholesterol, lowers blood pressure." -- although obviously without the small deposits with legs [via].

[All original links broken now.]

Puccini for Beginners.

Music Nigel Kennedy playing the Doctor Who theme at a BBC Prom in July dedicated to the series which will also feature a mini-episode that should presumably be somehow music related. I don't suppose they'll sneak in something from Madame Butterfly ...
Music Having read Digital Spy's version, After Ellen offers their own better version rightly pointing out that actually Fiona Apple's When The Pawn... has a fabulous title for an album (both sites reproduce the whole thing) and mentions Natalie Imbruglia's White Lillies Island. Off the top of my head:

'The Tomato Collection' -- Nina Simone
'The Score' -- Fugees
'God Shuffled His Feet' -- Crash Test Dummies
'Tuesday Night Music Club' -- Sheryl Crowe
'The Magnificent Tree' -- Hooverphonic
'A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed' -- The Audience
Technology Panasonic announce 32gb SDHC card. Costs more than my desktop computer. I think I'll wait.
Health Tom comes up against the Ambulance Service's sickness policy: "I do rotating shift work - there is plenty of research that points to this having an effect on your immune system as well as making you much more likely to get various cancers (mostly breast, prostate and colon) and increasing your chance of heart disease. I also have the pleasure of sitting in the back of the ambulance with infectious patients who insist on coughing, sneezing, spluttering and sneezing all over me. "Eat well and do some exercise" was the advice I was given."
Journalism(ish) Taurus(?) thinks he met Charlie Brooker at Glastonbury last year:
"it was dawning on me that this guy’s strange face was sort of familiar. Anyway, there I was, drinking my very important beer, trying not to embarrass this guy with my celebrity, when he sort of half shouted, “HELLO, DO I KNOW YOU? I FEEL LIKE I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE.” The weird thing about that is that he shouted it in such a way as to imply I’d been staring at him first, as if I thought I knew him, and as if he was humouring me, when, of course, I’d been minding my own business and my very important beer."
Well, he didn't mention you...
TV Jane reveals that the Frasier series bible was constantly updated -- it sounds like the Wikipedia entry in book form: "it was a wonderful and meticulous document that was scrupulously maintained to reflect everything known about the characters and their history. If something was established on air -- the name of Frasier's mother, Niles' favorite professor, Martin's favorite bar, it was reflected in the bible which then served as a resource for the writers to keep everything consistent. I remember with particular delight a list of Maris' food allergies that must have been fifty items long."


If I pause my dvd player on that moment in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky and sit looking at it for just over an hour, can I count this film as well? It seems pointless buying the Region One edition just to get, as DVD Verdict says: "an hour of a white screen with no sound or change."
Film Errol Morris lifts the lid on the implications of re-enactments in documentaries (and a whole lot else): "Critics don’t like re-enactments in documentary films – perhaps because they think that documentary images should come from the present, that the director should be hands-off. But a story in the past has to be re-enacted. Here’s my method. I reconstruct the past through interviews (retrospective accounts), documents and other scraps of evidence. I tell a story about how the police and the newspapers got it wrong. I try to explain (1) what I believe is the real story and (2) why they got it wrong. I take the pieces of the false narrative, rearrange them, emphasize new details, and construct a new narrative."

"Hey, stop laughing, it's quality not quantity that matters."

Art After something of a gap, I’m back on the trail of the Public Art Collections in North-West England. Edward Morris’s book covers a wide area, and having been through nearly all of the relatively local galleries, I’m now heading further afield. The Abbots Hall Gallery in Kendal is two hours and some walking distance from Liverpool. It’s somewhat in the mould of Sudley House, a small town house filled with paintings, but the rather good introduction by the director of the gallery Edward King in their latest catalogue demonstrates that the similarities are cosmetic.

The hall was built in 1759 by a Colonel George Watson (architect unknown) but he didn’t live there long and after marrying, almost immediately went to York and the house was inhabited by a range of families over the following few centuries before dropping into the ownership of a back at the close of the 1800s and thence to the local borough council, who despite turning the grounds into a park for Kendal residents left the building to rot to the point that in the 1950s it was ready to collapse.

Luckily, the newly formed Lake District Art Gallery Trust saw an opportunity and after some lengthy fundraising activities were able to renovate the building and open it as an art gallery in 1962. Only then, and this is a crucial difference, was the current collection begun (much of the art in Sudley House was bought by the Holt family), with acquisitions based on what would fit within the house and would reflect local artists. As King notes in that introduction:
“Abbot Hall’s collection is almost entirely devoid of what might called high Victorian Art. There are no Pre-Raphaelites, no Landseers, no paintings of deer-stalking, railways stations, historical scenes, sentimental moments or languid naked nymphs totally without body hair waiting to be rescued by heroes! And this generally in contrast to most regional galleries, particularly in the north.”
Meow. In other words, (almost) no filler. He goes on to explain because most galleries began their collections during the Victorian era, that tends to be what they’re ‘stuck with’ (his words). Abbots Hall, then, far choosier in what it gathers, not really seeing a need to reflect the epic sweep of art history these other galleries have. It’s more of a private gallery then, and this is reflected in the fact that it charges an entrance fee -- £4.50 – and it’s just about worth that, despite only really having work in about five sections.

Behind a rather ominous black curtain is the watercolour room and its here that you first get an idea of what this choosier policy means. Larger galleries tend to mix the more ‘interesting’ works in with the ‘less interesting’ works (I’ve written before about how cack-handed that distinction can be sometimes so I’ll not dwell on it here). In this room, every piece is by named artist, either through popular acclaim or through perennial appearances on the Antiques Roadshow.

There’s an Edward Lear, a Turner, a Frederick Nash and a couple of Ruskins, the best of which is ‘Beavais, Bishop’s Palace (1854)’ a painting that really captures some old architecture in its prime, so that even though the trees in the garden are simply washed in, the features of the house are carefully detailed in. The other works are of a similar quality and you begin to understand how this policy works. Metropolitan galleries have tended to buy everything, good and ‘bad’. At Abbots Hall its about quality rather than quantity. That’s a pattern repeated throughout the gallery’s relatively few rooms.

In the next room is what’s clearly seen as the highlight of the collection The Great Picture, a secular triptych describing the life of Lady Anne Clifford an Elizabethan/Jacobian noblewoman. It’s a visual biography of her life in three paintings, firstly as young girl learning music and about her head books of latin and Chaucer and French and lastly as an older woman close to death, her texts in disarray, with one hand on the bible.

In the first she’s joined by paintings of her tutor and governess in the last its her two husbands. They’re painting in a style very much of the period, very formally and with a slightly skewed perspective, and scrolls with her life story actually written upon them. Sadly, there isn’t room in the gallery to show the central section, a massive work featuring one of those husbands and her children. Brought together they must be have an astounding presence and it would be a shame if the gallery's plan -- to create an extra area especially for showing this piece -- doesn't happen.

The other display they seem particularly proud of is a room dedicated to the work of George Romney who saw out his apprenticeship in Kendal before moving to London. Their professed jewel is ‘The Gower Family: The Children of Granville, 2nd Earl Gower’ (which is in all of the leaflets and guidebooks) a carefully drafted image of the kids dancing (ominously it looks like ‘Ring a Ring of Rose’ which developed out of the black death) a couple of which look out at the viewer like characters in a film breaking the fourth wall.

More impressive to these eyes though were some smaller works, clearly sketched much faster, in which the artist is experimenting with light. In one, the face of his brother James is illuminated by nothing but a candle which throws an arresting orange glow on his face and blasts light through his fingers (yes, just like a torch does when you’re camping). The other shows the moment in King Lear when the old man has completely taken leave of his sense and is pulling off his robes. This too has a single candle as a light source, but is more technically interesting because it’s a group and is painted in a very angular, impressionistic style, a wild contrast to the care brush strokes of the large painting of the children.

The first floor is inhabited by the contemporary artwork, which demonstrates that again, unlike a lot of regional galleries, the collection is still being added too. There’s a pencil sketch from Lucien Freud, a Hepworth, Paula Rego, Hockney prints and a really gorgeous Lowry (on loan admittedly) depicting the sea using subtle shades of grey – it’s cold, wet and seems as though it should be tempestuous but totally serene. The best of the bunch though is probably the abstract Wall of Light, Red Summer by Sean Scully, in which a rectangular canvas is covered in boxes filled with autumnal colours laid on using massive brush strokes. He was apparently stimulated by the changes in light on the derelict stone walls of the ancienct Yucatan ruins.

It seems fitting that a painting inspired by one set of ruins should appear in a building which was also a set of ruins until some art lovers were inspired to save it.
Blogging You might remember this rant about how the tv ads for Belle De Jour confused the terms 'blogs' and 'blog posts' (and the ensuing comments were accused me of misusing the words book and novel terminology -- good times). Now, in writing about the new House of Lords blog, The Guardian's Stephen Moss is at it in this piece from the Shortcuts section of today's G2.

Moss begins by using the term 'blog' as a label for both the (rather good it turns out) Lords of the Blogs and an individual post and then continues to describe a range of different posts by different peers as blogs throughout the rest of what otherwise would be a neat piece of writing. I don't think I'm being hypersensitive about this. You'd hardly call a keyboard a typewriter. Once more with feeling: This is a blog. What I have published here is a blog post.

Film I've received a more coherent answer on the BBC aspect ratio question from someone called Pinback at AskMe:
"They've purchased the right to show a particular version N times, where N is a number between 1 and infinity. (I say "version" quite specifically because, depending on the distributor and the deal, they may not be allowed to hold the print in their library). [...] Regardless, the rights they've purchased will be specifically for, say, "3 broadcasts of the 1996 UK M-rated TV edit 4:3 version". They can purchase different rights at any time, e.g. for the 16:9 or 2.35:1 version, but it'll cost money - of course, it's cheaper to buy more playings of the version they already hold than for a different version, even if they don't hold a copy in their library.
That is surprising but certainly explains a lot about the quality of the 'prints' which keep turning up on the main channels for popular films. In the original BBC email, the answerer from BBC Information talks about how "the BBC has undertaken a commitment to reduce its running costs to secure its future in the digital age." Surely part of the process of maintaining the tv wing's security in the digital age is to show films -- one of the mainstays of the schedule -- in the best form possible -- otherwise people will look for that type of entertainment elsewhere.

I'll shut up about this now. For now.
Art We dream of being superheroes ...

That's right -- it's a comic book in which Spider-man teams up with the 70s cast of Saturday Night Live with many of them just on the cusp of film stardom. In case you can't read it on your monitor, that's Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray. Also starring Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner and Lorne Michaels all as themselves. In a metafictional move, Stan Lee himself is the presenter for the week!

In the story, such as it is, Belushi is sent an oriental ring by a fan, and some mean guys, the samurai included, turn up looking for it. But really, that's just an excuse to give everyone in the cast a cameo, with many of them wearing superhero costumers including Dazzler and Thor, their plan being to bambuzzle the baddies by doing lots of crazy things all at the same time.

Here's Dan Ackroyd meeting Spiderman ...

And the promised fight between Belushi and real samurai ...

What interesting is how young everyone looks in the drawings. It wasn't like this on Studio 60 ... although some might say that show might have benefited from a visiting superhero mid-season.

Partners in Crime.

TV Bless the BBC for their co-operative cross network scheduling. On the evening that the new series premieres, BBC Four are broadcasting a night of programmes in tribute to Verity Lambert which included the first three episodes of The Mutants/The Daleks/Whatever it is in this new century. I think of the kids, who having had their eyes blasted into their skulls by the sensory overload that was Partners In Crime, talking their parents into letting them watch these old episode, perhaps having been reminded that they were on at the end of Doctor Who Confidential.

I’ve just turned the telly back on at the start of The Dead Planet (I'm writing this on Saturday night). The first thought that went through my head was ‘Is that vid-fired?’; the second was ‘Are the kids still watching?’ The four leads were stood in line, in a single camera frame as the Doctor held up a prop and said something like ‘Hmmm. A petrified forest. We should investigate this further.’ Cue conversation where they discuss whether they should investigate this further. All in the same shot, which seems to drift on forever. I’m gripped and then remember that (a) I have the restored copy from the dvd and (b) that I want to write this review.

I’m 33 years old and I can’t actually remember if I was sophisticated enough as a pre-teen to make allowances for the fact I was watching something made forty-odd years ago. I’d like to think that the prospect of enjoying the first ever Dalek story would have seen me through the longers also having read somewhere that this was the last time the Daleks meet the Time Lords, but the first time the Time Lords met the Daleks, an idea which is replete with cosmic romance. What I do hope is that the old series wouldn’t seem like an irrelevance to me, and entertaining for its historical content, not in terms of tv history but also because I was seeing an earlier part of the life of a character I hold so dear.

I’ve heard many people, online and in something called the real world saying things like ‘Well the new series is better. It’s got proper characters and emotion and the special effects are amazing!!!! ;)’ But I just can’t agree. It’s not better. It’s just different, made at a different time, for a different audience (it’s true, we’ve changed, we all expect different things from our drama, we’ve grown, some of us, may be not me perhaps, but some of us) in a different idiom. It’s the flexible format, flexing its muscles again. Which is why when TateGate got underway and the ming-mongs (a term I don’t admire, by the way, but it has stuck) said ‘I’ll never watch it again’, I just thought ‘Well don’t’. Enjoy the kind of Doctor Who you like because it’s still out there, in books and on shiny discs. But you’ll be missing a treat.

And they did. Catherine was, to coin a phrase (more of a word actually) marvelous. I too was cautious about the shouting in The Runaway Bride but was won over or as I said then: “Watching her crumpled at the realization that the last six months of her life were sham was really heartbreaking and by the end as she disappeared into the snow, although I wouldn't say I would have like to have seen the Doctor carrying her around the galaxy, shouting at everything that moved, my heart had certainly softened to her.” By the time I wrote my third year’s review I was converted and what “I wasn’t prepared for is how good David Tennant and Catherine Tate (were) together; to some extent this is because I’ve a feeling that if Tennant was forced to spend an episode interacting with a goal post it would still be entertaining, but there’s a magic to the bruskness between these two.”

Some people clearly thought Tate would show up, work through her catchphrases (even though she’s not even writing the script), shout a lot and generally get in the way of whatever magical adventure the Doctor was mixed up in. Well, alright there was some broad and very funny humour and some shouting (wouldn’t you if you were dangling off the side of building?) but she hardly got in the way. Donna is just as remarkable in her own way as the previous companions, with the right tool, for the right job, at the right time. At the risk of simply regurgitating the copy from Doctor Who Magazine, she's going to challenge the Doctor in ways that make the Martha chair moment in Gridlock look like someone forgetting to put down a toilet seat.

The former (lets not forget) Royal Shakespeare Company actress Tate is giving a proper performance, as lovable and touching as both of the previous incumbents and without the dopey romanticism. The Doctor Who Forum/Outpost Gallifrey/Splot is unobtainable as I write so I don’t know what they’re saying but I hope they’ve looked at that scene between Donna and her Granddad (a gleeful Bernard Cribbins) and their heart’s melted, because mine did. I suspect that most of them are really only talking about one thing, sorry two things, but we’ll get to that later. She was aided though by some very clever scripting which as I’d hoped keyed down some of the earlier excesses – and Donna believes in it all now and has been to Cardiff apparently. Somebody somewhere is already writing the fan fiction.

This was a vividly thought out re-introduction with some brilliantly handled screwball farce of never bumping into one another despite breathing the same air (shades of Steven Moffat's sitcom Joking Apart too). The reunion was just hilarious and surprising and a first for Doctor Who – mime! You couldn’t imagine even Lalla and Tom attempting that (although I’m sure someone’s going to leave a comment to the effect that they did indeed attempt that). By now you’d expect Tennant to be on autopilot, but he’s still just as compelling as in the Pudsey Cutaway, all of those bursts of energy, everything’s still bwilliant!

It’s also a performance that has matured and you can see how in some moments which would have triggered a manic episode, he’s become much more relaxed – this probably has as much to do with the ever developing characterisation as anything else, having clearly worked through the fear that Christopher Eccleston voiced of find himself saying something in the same way over and over, he knows that there can still be many choices within that. Even if there’s still only so many ways you can use a sonic screwdriver, its perennial over use to get out of a scrape one of the few low points of the episode.

Oddly, the episode trod through the formula of the ‘re-marriage comedy’ a genre of film which developed in Hollywood era around the time of the depression – It Happened One Night with Clark Gable in Claudette Colbert is an example in which polar opposites but previous paramours somehow find a common ground and go off together at the end, having spent the intermediate time developing a grudging respect. There’s clearly to be no sex, Donna’s made that abundantly clear. Plus, and I mean this as no disrespect to Catherine Tate (even though she’ll never read this) it’s refreshing to have a companion, for once, that I don’t fancy. It means I can pay more attention to the story.

Which is a shame because the story wasn’t necessarily the best thing about Partners In Crime. I think the reason it didn’t quite work is because in this spin-off rich time, I’m not sure that there was anything particularly ‘Doctor Who’ about it. With very few changes it might have worked just as well in both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures (more twisted in the former, even cutesier (if that's possible) in the latter). What made the story at all convincing was Sarah Lancashire’s arch and slightly camp (and dare I saw sexy?) performance as their nanny (I can’t be the only one who thought – as she pulled out her Sonic Screwdriver – it’s the Rani! Nice misdirect that). It’s a scripting issue, but Russell’s clearly never worked in a call centre – at no point does a manager stride in and tell us to stop work so that she can talk to us about productivity. Customers tend to hang up on you if you’re not talking to them.

At least the gang attempted to create in the Adipose an alien that wasn’t big and stompy and instead attempted to replicate the cute overload of the Dozers in Fraggle Rock and the rubber aliens in Toy Story ('Ooooh I have been chosen'). They chirruped, they danced, they waved as they were returned to the mothership, they did the opposite in fact of everything a Doctor Who monster usually does which is make us wet the bed. Even on mass, they were more of a curiosity and as Tate, Tennant and Collinson agreed on the podcast commentary, are a clear merchandising opportunity, despite their colour, dictated by their origin (you’d think they would be somewhat flesh coloured considering what had been absorbed).

Brilliantly directed episode too from James Strong, despite what's been said on that podcast. I’d be interested to know whether that shot in the kitchen in which Donna endured her mother’s nagging was scripted that way or a directorial choice, but it was just one of a range of interesting set pieces which weren’t of the kind you’d usually expect in an episode that wasn’t bending the formula (c.f. Love & Monsters). It’s the show don’t tell philosophy which is one of the innovations of the new series. But the pacing of the show was spot on, the handling of the main action sequences exquisite. Despite being a relatively low key episode in some ways, it still managed to be BIG and probably the most entertaining of all the season openers -- and I know I said that last year. But nothing we've seen this early in the season was as audacious as ...

The appearance of Rose, which made me gape even more than The Master's reappearance in Utopia. Suddenly those dodgy camera phone shots, which gave the game away so early in the shoot make sense. The scene apparently didn't appear in any of the previews, so all of the reviews appearing online from some publications, clearly written before the broadcast. are failing to mention one of the most exciting moments. I wonder how many of those writers didn't bother to watch it tonight and are suddenly getting text messages from colleagues? Some readers should certainly be scratching their heads over the tv reviews in the papers in the morning. If only they could have gotten away with something like this in the aforementioned squee fest.

But it was still a surprise and slightly haunting; like the Doctor she looks older and having run the moment back (a few times), I’ve decided that’s sadness and regret in her eyes, the look of someone who knows that there’s far greater dangers ahead and that it’s not time for her reunion with the Doctor just yet. It’s the kind of moment which simply didn’t happen in the earlier series – Mawdryn Undead did not look forward or lay seeds for The Five Doctors – and to be honest previously in these new series. Where once a name or word would thread through the series, here it's ghosts from the past, which is far more compelling.

Next Week: "Oh no, I forgot about him. Donna, meet me and Melanie Bush." "Red head's pattern with you are they?"
Journalism William Goldman calls this kind of thing a Hollywood moment:
"Having filmed a good number of Polish shops and recruitment agencies, we finally hit the jackpot. My producer, Steven Duke, spots a cluster of 'For Sale' and 'To Let' signs bunched together at the side of the road. This is already good news - you'd be amazed how difficult it is to find lots of property signs in one place for illustrating housing market stories. Then a miracle happens. A man with a truck-full of signs pulls up and lets us film him actually putting up another 'For Sale' sign. In TV economics coverage this is about as close to a Bafta-winning action sequence as you're likely to get."
Stephanie Flanders on her first week as the BBC's new economics correspondent.
Film And now a letter to the BBC ...
To: The BBC
From: Me
"Now that Channel 4 have instituted a policy of showing films in their correct aspect ratio if a print is available -- particularly in letterbox -- it seems a shame that the BBC as a public service broadcaster hasn't followed suit. Are there plans to change the BBC's overall policy on this so that we can see all films in the form that the director intended and not 'cropped' down to 16:9 as is so often the case."

From: The BBC
To: Me
"Thank you for your e-mail.

"I appreciate you would like to view all films broadcast on the BBC in their original aspect ratio. As a public service broadcaster the BBC attempts to transmit films with an aspect ratio that ensures the majority of viewers are able to enjoy the programming whether viewing on a 4:3 or widescreen television. To keep its costs low and to provide the majority of the public with a suitable viewing picture this may on occasion result in some films being broadcast in the 4:3 aspect ratio as this is the source currently available to the Corporation.

"To purchase films in their widescreen format will require film rights to be negotiated as new (even if we currently hold a 4:3 copy of the film) and this will result in increased costs. As you may be aware the BBC has undertaken a commitment to reduce its running costs to secure its future in the digital age.

"There is every chance that once broadcasting rights to individual films expires, the BBC will look to the possibility of purchasing a widescreen format if available.

"To this end please be assured your comments have been registered on our Reception Advice log which is made available to senior BBC management. We do welcome feedback about the technical quality of our programming output and thank you again for taking the time to send us your views."
Well that answers that question, the kind of question only a Sight & Sound reading cineaste can get bothered about, I know. You've got to love that there's a department at the BBC whose job it is to answer these questions, no matter how nerdy.

I am bit confused about how the licensing of films for television works now though. What this implies is that the BBC don't just purchase the ability to show a film but also a copy of that film and then can't get a different copy to broadcast until the licensing deal is up and they have to renegotiate. Is that how it works throughout the industry? FilmFour once presented a cropped version of 'The Fifth Element' and then a 2.35:1 copy only a week or too later. I've Ask'd Metafilter to see if anyone there knows, but do you have any ideas?
Film Have they not seen Timecode? Surely that should prove that Time-Toilet is a terrible idea for a movie.
Elsewhere My Doctor Who review from last night (look down) has been quotes in this article at the Coventry Telegraph by Sci-fi space cadet David Bentley.
Elsewhere A Rose-tinted Spectacle. Excellent Doctor Who season opener -- funny, exciting and clever. And cute, oh so cute.