Elsewhere Another fucking good episode of Doctor Who this week. Here's my review, although John's is better. Meanwhile I listened to Michael Sheen's Hamlet earlier, not that the two are connected.


TV When I mentioned to my parents that Russell T Davies had been handed an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, my Dad (who hasn’t seen an episode since School Reunion) said “Was it for services to Doctor Who?” To which I replied “Yes, because he resurrected the Macra.” I really did, cause I’m that funny. But if the reason had been that specific (the honour was actually for drama in general) it wouldn’t have been too surprising. I’ve said it before, and I'll repeat myself. Though we’re all looking forward to seeing where Steven Moffat takes the Doctor next (with apologies to Neil then Damon then Neil and Damon and John) if it wasn’t for Russell this weblog might not have existed either. The man brought our favourite show back to television, didn’t totally fuck it up, made it a success and gave us something to write about and for that he deserves all the awards he gets.

All of which accepted, you really don’t ever know what you’re going to get when the man scripts an episode. Looking back through previous reviews, I’ve generally been very positive about his work, though even I have to admit that sometimes I wished he’d reign his ambition in just a little bit, drop the mythology and tell a bloody good story. Because every classic bit of writing we’ve seen from him has either been the character based fun of Love & Monsters or the grand adventure told in confined space. Arguably (and controversially) his best episode in the first season, Boom Town, actually had the Doctor battling an alien over a dinner table! I’d throw Tooth & Claw onto this list, which basically takes place in a couple of rooms and a corridor, Gridlock, which is one room pretending to be a bunch of others and now we have Midnight which trumps the lot.

As close as Nu-Who can get to theatre without anyone bursting into song, Davies somehow managed to craft what’s probably been the tensest and most economic forty-minutes the new programme has been use a single cabin, a dozen cast members. He said himself it was a reaction to Voyage of the Damned, to an extent it’s the same story, another group of tourists on the brink of death and indeed as he also identified in Confidential (as usual nicking everything I wanted to write here), he wanted to see what happened when humanity actually acted realistically in the face of the Doctor’s platitudes. Having been on coach trips and in train carriages when something goes wrong, I can tell you that the way this lot turned on each other was absolutely realistic, even if I don’t actually remember anyone wanted to randomly chuck someone through the doors (presumably because they’d only really sustain a few bruises from the road or railway tracks).

In point of fact, Moonlight was the total opposite of Damned, even down to the sacrificial hostess not being resurrected at the climax and we didn’t even find out her name. Were that space spectacular offered empty pyrotechnics and pointedly black and white two dimensional characterisation, this had the impressive verbal sparring and shades of grey; no one actually evil, just trying to survive even if it meant letting a bit of their judgment and humanity seep away. No beslippered monarch to wave the timelord on here; instead he’s rooted the ground, helpless, requiring someone else again to make the supreme sacrifice and save everyone. Which is becoming a trend by the way – the Doctor hasn’t properly saved the day once yet this season – think about it – most of the time he’s been mopping up afterwards.

Yes, there really is something far more exciting about unknown thumping sounds hitting the hull of a ship rather than three CGI missiles, prosthetics are all well and good for creating a scary alien but naught in comparison to well respected actress presenting crazy eye syndrome and an intense way about her, and nothing creepier in having your words repeated back to you either afterwards or in sync. Never mind the staring contest from the sketch show Big Train – synchronous recitation would be just the thing for us less sporty types who took the Bridge option during Games lessons at school, the textual difficulty increasing with each round. Though both David Tennant and Lesley Sharp are clearly in which a chance for Silver medal at least having demonstrated the ability to repeat pi to dozens of places.

Tennant was on top form here, offering yet another iteration of his performance. Desperation. We can now add to the list of reasons the Doctor needs a companion, she’s the honey trap or convincer. Like the improbably sexy Jess in The Real Hustle, Rose and even Donna are all there to persuades the norms that her friend is brilliant and will save the day. Martha spent a whole year walking around a planet telling people that. We’ve seen loss and loneliness from Tennant before, but we’ve never seen it mixed with panic and genuine despair. As desperation set in, the character realised that nothing he could say would convince anyone and Tennant sold that perfectly. Oh you’re clever. Yes, and? Arrogant bastard. Out you go. Intelligent stuff.

But this was a great little cast. Including the emo posterboy, most of them seemed selected because of their normality rather than, again unlike Damned, their distinctiveness. Even last minute replacement David Troughton had the look of a university professor who’d been at the job for years, much of them full of bluster and academic subterfuge. But all of the voices were controlled, a genuine chemistry building across the episode, though clearly Sharp’s was the most difficult and so compelling. At some point I’d wondered if she’d be the interesting choice for a companion and it’s a shame that she’s been blown through an airlock door. Though the death one characters hardly kept actresses out of the running before.

None of which is to say we didn’t miss Catherine Tate’s presence, though the prologue and coda which seemed to distill the character Donna to her essence worked well, especially as part of the opening which chucked out a bunch of comedy before going bad, right down to the ironic into-titles cliffhanger. She’s back next episode though in what looks like, in mythology terms yang to Midnight’s ying. Not that the arcish threads of the series weren't worked incongruously in here somewhere, what with the lipservice given to the Medusa Cascade, the Doctor’s inability to repeat his own real name, the recap on who Who’s companions have been and one of them shouting without much luck through a computer screen. The surprise of Rose’s appearance was perhaps purposefully spoiled by the cast list in Radio Times but it still made me giddy. One week to go…

Next Week: Squees are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the whoniverse …

Enemy of the State

TV The Restoration Team's discussion board went into meltdown the other night when it was revealed that the latest dvd release K9 Tales, is faulty and contains an authoring error on The Invisible Enemy which transposes a couple of the scenes at the end of episode three or something.

Expletive deleted from this end, and yours by the sound of it. But help is at hand. Dan Hall, producer of the discs, has released the following information at Doctor Who Online describing how you can get this thing sorted out:

"Many apologies for the authoring error on THE INVISIBLE ENEMY. For a replacement disc, please email dvdsupport@bbc.co.uk or call 020 7612 3186. Instructions on what to do are on the voicemail of the phone line and on the auto reply from the email.

These contacts will go live on Monday (16th June).


So that's alright then. Isn't it?

19 Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen as Hamlet
Directed by Jeremy Mortimer

At the dawn of the new millennium, the BBC decided to commemorate the occasion with a series of radio productions of Shakespeare's plays. Some were critical of the project since the bard has hardly been ignored by Radio 3 and in the announcement there didn’t seem to be anything to suggest that these would be doing anything too out of the ordinary. When broadcast most were well received, especially since the casting suggested that the producers were looking to attract the young audience seeking accessible productions after the film cycle which ran in the late 90s beginning with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

The risk in the inevitable Hamlet was the casting of Michael Sheen who though respected for his stage work had yet to the hit the mainstream and define his career playing real people – Kenneth Williams, Brian Clough and of course Tony Blair. Anyone expecting that distinctive impression offering the famous lines will be disappointed. Sheen here as a much deeper cadence with a Welsh lilt, far more actorly and perhaps slightly mannered.

In his interpretation, Hamlet is already directionless at the opening of the play, apparently going back to college because there’s not much for him in Elsinore. His instability is given purpose by the visitation of the ghost (an understandably bitter, angry presence) the revenge for the bloody deed offering a course of action, almost a career. In carrying out his plan, he’s efficient but flamboyant and very much not mad. There’s a logic to his actions and it's only in the central soliloquy that the fear returns (and oddly this about as Blair as Sheen becomes).

All of which said, I’m not sure Sheen really wins here. His approach to what’s one of the most familiar scripts in drama is to ride over the famous lines, which he should of course, but he also doesn’t seem to be enjoying the language or the poetry. He’s more relaxed in the prose sections, certainly, and when Hamlet is in his best humours. But unlike Simon Russell-Beale, whose audio performance I loved, I found myself unable to empathise with him, or really believe in what he’s saying. I do suspect that he loses a lot of his presence in audio and I'd love to see what he'd do with it on stage. There’s no denying he settles down towards the end – he’s especially good in the gravedigger scene and the ‘Readiness is all is’ is heartbreaking.

Except that by then the rest of the production has begun to drag. This is the full text from the second Quarto and it certainly feels it. It's perhaps too accessible, designed to be as inoffensive as possible so as not to alienate a general and educational audience (it's a co-production with the Open University). At best, the production is doing some interesting things with the private and public face. David Bradley’s delicious Polonius is a different, more vital figure in his office sending Reynaldo to spy on his son than addressing Claudius (Kenneth Cranham) and Gertrude (Juliet Stephenson).

Elsewhere, the producers are largely leaving the interpretation up to the listener, and my taste has always been for directors and actors with a clear agenda, but this doesn't seem to have one. It also can't quite tell how epic it wants to be. Kenneth Cranham spends much of the time regally declaring the text whilst the likes of Stephenson and (the very young sounding Ophelia) Ellie Beaven are enjoying the chance to intimately address the audience and often in the same scene.

The simple soundscape lacks atmosphere and is a touch confused. Inconsistently, in the aforementioned (often cut) Reynaldo scene, typewriters clatter away in the background, yet everything else is clearly taking place in an echoing castle and other characters are transported by horse drawn carriage. Which should be interesting, I suppose, but acts as distractions stopping you from being taken in by the drama. The music is boring too – opening with a bit of plain song then drifting into something akin to electronic lounge music but again without a clear direction. The only truly great moment is when the mime before The Mousetrap is presented mickey mousing on a plonky piano of the kind synonymous with silent film; if only the rest of Mortimer's presentation was that distinctive.
Travel Is Jon's experience typical of air travel? Sounds awful...
TV Something's not quite right with The Guardian's RSS feed system and now and then it's passing through links to articles published months sometimes years ago. Every now and then there's a gem, such as this old column by Grace Dent on being addicted to Digital Television from 2006:
"Sadly, though, you don't get any praise for being a digital TV junkie. This is when Friday has suddenly slipped into Sunday watching A Round with Hale (Gareth Hale of Hale and Pace fame's golfing show) on Majestic TV (Channel 238), or Kevin's Spanish Capers! (Curly Watts off Corrie's travel show). Or Tommy Walsh's Space Invaders on the Discovery Home and Leisure Channel. No, nobody thinks you have hidden depths then. Nobody begs you to appear on The Late Show and bicker with Ekow Eshun about Derek Acorah's Ghost Towns (Living TV). It's almost as if people think you're a bit, ahem, thick."
These days, Dent can be found blogging about Big Brother at their official website. And before you ask, no I'm not.
Politics Having watched many series of Spooks, Alias and whatnot, why am I the only one who seems to think that this was a 'drop' that went horribly wrong? For a start, the documents were being carried in what looked a very old folder of the kind which would be bashed and overused by students and the like, thereby obscuring the nature of the contents. Isn't possible then that member of the security services left it on the seat for some other member of the security services to collect, only for a member of the British public to intercept it before the pick up could take place?

I'm suddenly very nervous and wondering whether I should post that deduction. Hum. What the hell. Either way, judging by the linked post at the BBC's Editor's blog, it sounds as though the scene in which Frank and Fran discussed next wasn't a million miles from the Drop The Dead Donkey episode Sex, Lies and Audiotape in which the gang have to decide whether to run a controversial story, popularly remembered as being the one in which Dave accidentally recorded Sally have sex with a "viking" or "norse warror".
Music More on Carla Bruni's new album: "Le Figaro yesterday obtained a sneak copy of Carla Bruni's pop-folk album. On one track she sings: "You are my drug; more lethal than heroin from Afghanistan, and more dangerous than Colombian cocaine."[...] It is perhaps not the most apposite of metaphors to evoke just before Paris hosts an Afghan donors' conference and the president attempts to influence Colombia over its jungle guerrilla groups holding a Frenchwoman hostage. But Bruni's manager has insisted the ditty was written before the ex-model had met Sarkozy."
Life So that's Bolton polished off and Blackburn actually but I'm far too tired to write that up tonight having walked around the place for hours today. There are three other things I wanted to say about the visit to Bolton though, which I couldn't shoehorn into yesterday's agenda:

One I actually had to think about the destination when I bought a train ticket that morning. That's because of the way I first heard about Bolton a few decades ago:
"C: I understand this IS Bolton.
O: (still with the fake mustache) Yes?
C: You told me it was Ipswitch!
O: ...It was a pun.
C: (pause) A PUN?!?
O: No, no...not a pun...What's that thing that spells the same backwards as forwards?
C: (Long pause) A palindrome...?
O: Yeah, that's it!
C: It's not a palindrome! The palindrome of "Bolton" would be "Notlob"!! It don't work!!
O: Well, what do you want?
C: I'm not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly!
Sergeant-Major: Quite agree, quite agree, too silly, far too silly..."
Which is obviously the tail end of Monty Python's the Parrot Sketch. I've been calling it Notlob ever since, even after it had long since stopped being amusing and became a habit. So took everything not to say it to the rail employee as well. It's pleasing to see that the sketch gets due attention on Bolton's Wikipedia page.

Two There was a really nice Laura Knight painting called either The Mirror or Lady At Her Dressing Table, which is an incredibly sensual impressionistic work in which the yellow glow of a light reflects from a mirror onto a woman's face as she made herself up for the evening. If I had to interpret her emotion it was one of having to fulfill an obligation as though she doesn't have choice in how she spends the evening. There is a thorough website dedicate to Knight, with thumbnail examples of her work, though sadly not that one. The image of the Ballet is one which I've had on my wall for years.

Three On mistakingly sitting down in the first class compartment on the train home from Bolton, I found radio's Stuart Maconie sitting almost opposite. He was tapping away on a laptop, presumably his column for the Radio Times. He smiled at me, presumably the same smile he uses when he realises people are looking at him who've clearly recognised who he is but don't want to say. When the ticket person came through I asked if First Class was actually in use (which it wasn't on the journey there) and she said no. As I got up to move, Maconie frowned at me. I'd garnered the disapproval of a pop culture god. I haven't felt that embarassed since the last time I felt embarrassed which is more often than I should be admitting. I bowed my head deferentially as I shuffled past on my way to Second Class.

"The palindrome of "Bolton" would be "Notlob"!! It don't work!!" -- Monty Python

Art Much as I can’t contain my delight about visiting some of the museums listed in Edward Morris’s Public Art Collection in North-West England, there’s no denying that Bolton Museum was a disappointment. The outside is an architectural feast, a massive edifice opened next to the town hall in 1939 which looks like it could contain all of the world’s great art treasures. Not as huge as some national galleries perhaps, but certainly big enough to get the heart racing about what might be within. Edward says that this “was the last of the great Lancashire public art galleries and certainly one of the finest” and least in terms of the exterior he’s right. It’s pity then that my expectation where dashed within minutes as I realised that the mass of the interior was given over to the library and offices.

The museum and art gallery fill a couple of albeit large rooms on the first floor, and even then much of the space it taken up by the entrance hall. It lacks intimacy. Even in some of the major national galleries, its possible to spend time with the paintings, enjoy the connection. Not so easy here, where every sound echoes and there’s a general sense of hustle and bustle akin to a railway station, especially on the day I visited during half term, and we’ve already talked about how intolerant I am to noise in art galleries. I spent the whole visit with a cd swirling through my ears trying to concentrate. At what point did it become acceptable in these spaces to take mobile phone calls or to be screaming and shouting so loudly you can hear it over your own headphones which must also be on too loud?

All of which said, I still managed to fill five pages in my notebook. I wonder if it’s possible to assess the quality of a collection like this. “Oh it’s a three pager” or “It’s a five pager. Yeah!” There are two rooms, both refurbished and redisplayed in 2006, one for the permanent collection, the other for temporary displays. The first thing you notice is a giant ornate mirror which takes up much of one of the walls of the kind which picks out all of your flaws, especially my case were there are several hundred. The second is that ringing the room just above the skirting board on every wall are large slabs of marble of varying colours, the work of Thomas Hershaw.

My favourite piece here is predictably the smallest, Oscar Wilson’s Idling (1887). This depicts a young girl in pink dress during a quiet moment in an antique shop or interior of an art school surrounded by ancient statues and busts of Greco-Roman origin as well as pottery in a variety of muted colours. There's a stillness in her demeanor as she reads her book, enjoying her own company in a way seems lost now at a time when kids are assault by a barrage of noise and colours. Opposite is a much larger canvas Robert Gemmell Hutchkinson’s chocolate boxy Seagulls and Sapphire Shells (1912). More children relaxing, this time on the edge of a cliff watching the gulls or dozing. It’s also a romantic image of times past, with strong brush strokes in the landscape, the sea and sky, giving way to deliberate work within the figures, but allowing the canvas to provide some of the textures.

Lord Leverhulme was a major benefactor in Bolton Museum department’s fortunes. He bought and refurbished the local Hall i' th' Wood before presenting it to the council in 1902 as a folk museum illustrating British life in the seventeenth century. Similarly, he gave the art collection a range of paintings, and most of them are on display, incongruous Dutch 17th century portraits; the best of which is of Oliver Cromwell, produced by a follower of Rover Walker, through whose eyes you can see the life lived, and the challenges ahead. Most of the rest seem fairly anonymous, their stories obscured. In contrast, John Downton’s Madonna across the wall is a statement of post-modern intent. Though painted in 1958, the artist has mingled together several centuries worth of art history to produce a small tempera work on a mahogany panel, and though as the gallery information says it has an early Renaissance and Flemish influence, it’s also the work of someone who’s seen and loved art deco and wondered what a devotional piece with that movement’s deliberate lines and shapes might look.

The centrepieces of that room are Thomas Moran’s three landscape paintings, The Coast of Florida, Nearing camp, Evening on the Upper Colorado River Wyoming and Sunset, Pueblo del Walper. As befits paintings with titles that monumental, Moran isn’t afraid to use colour and each glows with a Technicolor not seen often outside of the old movie houses, Florida enveloped by green, peach coloured rocks in Wyoming and bright orange hues for the Arizona sunset. This is the old west of Aaron Copland’s Billy The Kid and in fact Billy The Kid himself and like similar works appearing as part of the current Age of Steam exhibition at the Walker, they’re building towards the myth which would inspire film directors not too many decades later. All have tiny human figures underscoring the scale of the landscape and it’s just right that other versions of the work can be found in the States – the Smithsonian has a variation on the Wyoming image.

What really made the visit worthwhile was the Face To Face Exhibition which is running to September. The plan here is to investigate the changing styles of portraiture and how our mugs appear in paint, pencil and photography. There are the Two Polaroids by Andy Warhol. I’ve never been a fan to be honest, understand the philosophy, enjoying the stories of the studio but never really wanting to spend time over something which can be mass produced which is a paradox in an age with everything is being endlessly reproduced, which is what he was saying, probably. There is however something quite special about these shots of artist Joseph Beuys and Liza Minelli, both in the kinds of poses you’d find in a fashion magazine running counter to the idea of the Polaroid offering instant visual gratification. Liza looks so young in this; she’s wearing a red sequined dress and scarlet lipstick, her face shot from an angle which makes it seems like a perfect circle, the colour of her skin matching the wall behind her, making the whole composition seem like a comic book drawing, or poster.

Thomas Edward Martyn’s The Green Gown is the other treat, a jaw dropping image of a young dark haired woman wearing a long flowing emerald costume which just shimmers. There’s an amazing use of light and shade and shadow which highlights something very noble and gorgeous in her which is either down to the woman’s natural beauty, whoever she is, or the painters ability, or a mix of the two. You know I wouldn’t say this unless I meant it, but this may well be one of the best portraits I’ve ever seen and the postcard simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s good to know my head can still be turned in this way, even if its fairly predictable that it would be a pretty girl, decently painted. Lately I’ve been watching the BBC's The Private Life of the Masterpiece documentaries which tend to cover major works that changed the course of art history. Martyn’s painting isn’t one of those and is probably all too tradition for some tastes. But it is magical in its own way.

Sorry I was so cranky at the top of this. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I was just browned off that the one piece I was looking forward to seeing Millais’s The Somnabulist was on loan to this. Perhaps I was expecting something akin to a Disneyworld for art and not a place where what looks like a major collection of Jacob Epstein sculptures, the largest I’ve seen anyway, are strewn to the edge of the entrance hall and through one of the ethnographic display spaces seemingly unloved and lacking respect. I expect that there’s probably a very passionate curator working behind the scenes in these cases, trying the best they can in desperate circumstances, as council funding for the arts is cut as the credit crunch constricts. The quality of the Face to Face exhibition proves this must be the case and that perhaps I just need to be a bit more understanding, less stolid and far breezier when I sit down to write about these visits...
Blog! Some stories:

chain wallet saves the day
Really, I should have known better
The amusement arcade's most frustrating game
The heat wave isn't just affecting my water intake
turns out this post is all about stand by me
Science Is Google Making Us Stupid? Nicholas Carr wonders if the Internet has ruined our ability to concentrate whilst reading.
"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle." [via]
Ironically, the article is of the length that Carr suggest we don't have the capacity read any more. It is a phenomena I've noticed in myself but I've actually put it down to the fact that my brain has become used to the way that different types of writing are structured. I rarely read a newspaper article from top to bottom since the point is usually made in the first quarter to half and everything else is background.

But I can still read books when I have the chance, and I'll be looking forward to that once I've finished working my way through more than a decades worth of BBC Music Magazines. I've reached February 1997, at which point in the real world, the panic that I'd ever work again had really set in. Reading about classical music in this all but random manner fits the way my brain works. I've tried to read histories of the genre from cover to cover and my retention is low.

In small chunks, jigsaw like pieces of knowledge I'm remembering more. Even if, earlier on tonight I decided that Nielson composed The Rite of Spring not Stravinsky. Obviously. Though considering that this time last year I'd heard of neither them or the piece I shouldn't be too hard on myself and it's still a step up and I'll be able to remember next time.

Meanwhile: Porn star golf for charity.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is.”

Liverpool Life On Sunday lunchtime I finally got around to visiting Williamson's Tunnels, one of Liverpool’s great follies, for the first time. The tunnels, an underground network which stretches beneath large sections of Liverpool’s suburbs were constructed for no readily apparent reason. Actually, the reasons could have been related to 19th century philanthropist, Joseph Williamson, wanting to help the people of Liverpool back on their feet after the Napoleonic War by providing work and an on the job training scheme for people wanting to learn such crafts as stone masonry and brick laying.

But beyond that, they're a mystery. Some say they Williamson was predicting an apocalypse or wanted an network which could be used to traverse the city in private or inclement weather. Parts definitely shift between particular addresses, from churches to pubs, but its all a mess, incomplete and without a clear architectural philosophy. Whatever happened, it's another kink in Liverpool's chain; what city wouldn't be improved by an apparently pointless network of tunnels for people to scratch their heads over.

The interior looks like some lost Egyptian tombs, albeit constructed using technology advanced of that time. It’s how you’d expect the original Victorian underground railways looked, with the same interior archways and porous properties in the brickwork. It’s certainly atmospheric and you can imagine the workforce, hundreds of men working collectively in the endeavour even if the purpose of their work wasn’t clear. They were probably just happy for a wage and a way to feed their families.

As a project without a goal, there was a completion date and when Williamson died in 1840 work simply ceased and the tunnels were actually forgotten, a Liverpool legend. The construction was secret enough even during its manufacture that when George Stevenson was laying out his railway, at a certain point his craftsmen cut so far into the ground they broke through into the tunnels and as they looked down and saw Williamson’s workers scattering, presumably dirty and running out the light, they were superstitious enough to think they were interfering with hell itself.

The tour lasts about three quarters of an hour though it only takes in a very small percentage of the system, which having been rediscovered in the past decade have yet to be completely mapped out. The guide we had was one of site's current apprentices, an engineer tasked with clearing the tunnels of the debris and detritus which have dropped gather throughout in the intervening centuries. There are display tables filled with glass bottles and china and even a toy car and the tunnels are strewn with the impressions the outside world made on this interior.

As the tunnels became part of history, new houses and streets were built above and the residents of the shops and houses, discovering a void beneath their home, simply began to deposit their rubbish and waste down there. In constructing the foundations of a house, builders tipped concrete into the hope, not realising its extent – though two trucks full are usually required, seven trucks were required to do the job. But eventually, what caused the survey which found the tunnels was the smell. Decades upon decades of household waste had begun to pong and the locals had called the council to complain about it.

The Williamson Tunnels are the kind of curiosity of which a city should be proud and actually the endeavour of making the area accessible is perhaps as much of a folly as its original construction, man and woman hours spent just discovering exactly what this man was up to, down there in the dark. It's a privilege to see the work in progress even if the tour feels remarkably short. Perhaps, as more sections are opened up in future years, we'll be able to see the extent of Williamson's vision, rather than having to imagine it from the map we're shown and the tour guide's descriptions.

As with all of these types of tourist attraction, your enjoyment is largely based on who you’re on the tour with and we agreed that there were a couple too many on our trip, that it just demanded a more intimate atmosphere. What spoiled it for me though were the mass of photographers with their massive camera lenses, filling the space with lights from a flash at every opportunity, distracting us from the stories of the tour guide and well everything else basically. The burly man who followed me around had the kind of snapper which played a tune each time it was turned on and threw laser beams across the subject as he took each photo (presumably for focal length or some such), hardly considering whether we were also be looking at the thing. Not once did it seem as though they were hearing what the tour guide was saying, which means when they finally get to see their pictures they’ll lack the context which gives them a point.

I pity the friends who'll have to sit through that slide show. "This is the tunnel... and this is another part of the tunnel...."

Oh well. At least I got to wear a hard hat.
TV The BBC have the rights to the third series of Heroes and just for fun, they'll be showing it almost simultaneously with the US broadcast which means that for the first time we'll all be in it together. I remember once in the nineties, Channel 4 showing episodes of e.r. ahead of their US premiere because of the gaps in their schedule. Is there a potential for that to happen here if the US broadcast is preempted for special events or issues with the production schedule?
Politics The BBC's Justin Webb offers his reasons why Hilary failed:
"5. She failed to speak at all to the BBC."
He mentioned similar in this Guardian interview last week too and unsurprisingly I'd agree with him. US readers can feel free to correct me, but I get the impression that some Americans, tired with the lack of detail and the bias in the coverage of the likes of Fox and CNN are turning to the BBC and other UK press for their news.

An interview with the BBC would have been a classy move on Clinton's part, showing that she understands how the some people are increasingly receiving their news in her country and especially since that media didn't seem to like her too much. It might not have been the one thing to save her campaign, but it would have offered a different impression. But then, everything I know about American politics I learned from Aaron Sorkin.

Forest of the Dead.

TV During Doctor Who Confidential tonight I was largely distracted during Steven Moffat’s interview by three things. Firstly, the sudden random exposition in the middle about the mechanic of the nu-Whoniverse with interuptions from Russell T like “Although Sarah-Jane is aware of Torchwood – as we shall see” all clearly there to foreshadow some mega team up at the end of the series. Secondly, the rather precarious mound of paper in Moffats in-tray, perhaps letters and manuscripts from old Doctor Who writers hard on their luck and looking for a job. Finally, the collection of spin-off novels on the shelf behind him.

Like a pensioner trying to name old friends on a faded school photo I found myself trying to identify which books I could see. At one end, usually obscured by Steven’s head was Vampire Science, the first really good Eighth Doctor novel published by BBC Books. On the other side, I could see the Big Finish published Bernice Summerfield anthology The Dead Men Diaries (for which The Moff wrote about The Least Important Man), a Virgin New Adventure which could well be Ben Aaaronovitch’s Transit, Decalog 3 in which Moffat’s story Character Pieces was published, what I’m sure is Jonathan Morris’s Festival of Death, Paul Leonard’s Genocide and (he’s going to love this) Lawrence Miles’s Interference Book II.

There may have been others, but what’s striking about this selection is that most of them aren’t simply alien invasion or historical stories but deal specifically with time travel and the effects it has on the Doctor, his companions and acquaintances and the fabric of the universe, themes which have become Moffat’s signature across all of his stories and reached their apogee in the Forest of the Dead. Whether Moffat planted them there as an in-joke to see if there was a fan sad enough to try and identify them or this is just a coincidence we might never know.

But as well as showing that our future leader was there for the dark times along with us reading the same novels, he absorbed that writing, some of which was the most experimental in the history of the franchise and essentially shaped it for Saturday night telly. Forest of the Dead was the most challenging, most surprising, most intelligent piece of Doctor Who we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy since the series returned and was the first episode this year to have me bouncing up and down, applauding and roaring at the television in a consistent state of giddiness.

Excited about 2010 yet?

At the risk of attracting the ire of Stephen Fry because he hates that sort of thing (I’ve no doubt he reads this blog) my excitement worked on two, no three, no four, oh alright, multiple levels. Firstly, at the risk of also sounding like Phil Collinson, it was the sheer cleverness of the writing; at no point in the past forty-eight episodes did I think that one day I’d be shouting “It’s a metaphoric construct!” at the screen, swiftly followed by “No metaphysical, no, oh fuck that’s good…” I found myself searching through the recesses of my brain trying to remember everything I’d forgotten about Baudrillard, Barth, Jameson, Jung and Lyotard (and I don’t mean as in Georgia Moffet’s gymnastics).

Some of that had to do with the possibility that Donna’s b-story was somewhat like The Matrix as if it had been written by Charlie Kaufman, but also that Moffat was willing to attempt that kind of thing, again I’m repeating, on Saturday night television. It hopes that it will find an attentive audience looking for drama which doesn’t talk down to them and is willing to accept big philosophical and psychological ideas, drama written for everyone and no one at the same time. The reviewer in the Radio Times apparently couldn’t follow what was going on which as far as I can see is a step in the right direction -- as is the fact the episode clashed with an opera on BBC Two (Harrison Birtwistle’s reworking of The Horns of Nimon), which I’m sure hasn’t happened since the 1970s.

There was a wonderful moment during last week’s podcast in which Euros Lynn asked Phil Collinson what he thought was the biggest difference between Steven’s writing and Russell’s. Collinson simply didn’t have an answer. He spluttered, and said they were very different and muttered something about Davies’s scripts being faster and Moffat’s being slower. Lynn had the right answer; he said that Moffat’s writing was more intricate whereas Davies’s use broad strokes. But it’s more fundamental even than that – the current lead writer often attempts to make the show all things to all people and have as many of the expected elements in as possible, whereas his successor isn’t afraid to be experimental and risk alienating some of the audience (just as a side question did anyone else get the impression from this week's podcast that David really is sticking around for the whole of series five?).

Name another recent British drama series for whatever demographic that would use such intertextual stuff as the natural scene changes of television to show the passage of time in Donna’s collective dream world and have her aware of the locations shifts or having parts of the library location appear on television, Murray Gold’s themes changing with each flick of the channel. Then not content with that there is a character who it turns out really is from the Doctor’s future, which means that when he meets her at some unspecified time already knows her fate, something he must keep from her throughout their adventures, the secret he can never tell her (yes, Charlie Pollard’s in much the same predicament at the moment at Big Finish, but this is the television series actually doing it and on a more emotionally charged level because the implications tragic rather than just intriguing).

Then there was the finesse of each scene, the transitions from moment to moment. The re-emergence of Miss Evanglista, her face looking like a Francis Bacon portrait, aware that she’s more intelligent than she was and why and that she’s the exact opposite of that person and that she’s in nothing but the whisper of an experience. Revealing that in reality everyone is the villain, since we cut down the trees to make the books which transported the Vashta Nerada to The Library, and in the process making kids not only afraid of the dark but also paper, which should put a dent in the profits of publishers. The Doctor defending himself just by telling them who he is and suggesting they look him up. River gaining his trust just by repeating back to him the one thing he doesn’t tell anyone, his real name. And I’m glad she didn’t turn out to be just another timelord…

It’s difficult, not to mention unfair, to compare everything which is going on in here with the workmanlike efforts of other writers who tend to gather the elements of what they think should be in a Doctor Who episode and string them together with a scribe who knows what they are then chucks them out. In the hands of another writer, I’m sure the Doctor’s tumble through miles of space before reappearing clutching to a girder would have become the big action sequence in the middle of the episode. Here it was just an incidental incident, with a cut to Cal doing what I imagine most kids do during similar sequences (a veiled criticism from the writer?). Yes, everyone, I’m reviewing a Moffat episode again, and allowing my sycophancy to run riot. But what else can you do when you’re faced with writing that has a quality far beyond what generally accept from the show?

Credit the rest of the team. Congratulations to the set designers for perfectly judging the world within a world, making it look just slightly wrong. I can’t think of many directors other than Euros Lynn who have taken such ambitious ideas and been able to present them in a manner which didn’t muddle them and actually made them accessible – he also deserves a lot of credit simply for making the episode feel like it was part of the fabric of the series and yet also very special. I didn’t talk much about the production last week, but this had depth and an epic quality despite the somewhat mundane settings in places. Gold too offered some of his best orchestration of the series, particular in his monumental reworking of the Doctor’s theme. When does the season four soundtrack get released?

Another great week for the ensemble. It was quite outrageous to see that footage in Confidential of Alex Kingston unsure if her performance was any good. She was pitched just right, as though she’d been a fan of the series from the get go (although whether she’d actually seen Doctor Who before taking the job is open to conjecture, c.f. last weeks podcast). She was sweet and likeable and you absolutely believed that she already knew the Doctor each time she looked at him. Steve Pemberton got to give the big emotional Doctor Who speech he’s probably waited his whole life for, and nailed it. Catherine Tate’s luminance goes without saying; she cried again true, but comparing this performance with her first shoot of the series for The Unicorn and the Wasp is like chalk and cheese, as though at some point she realised ‘So that’s it!’ Tennant too seemed to step up a gear; I suggested a few weeks ago he looked a bit tired, but here that was working to his adventures as the pressure of being him took its toll.

Despite all of this I’ve already seen criticism elsewhere online, but they're wrong. They've said things like that its another story in which no one properly dies and someone’s sort of saved at the last minute by the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (see also Ursula and Astrid), even though like Jenny it offers another likeable character that Moffat could resurrect should he want to in the next new age. That the cliffhanger resolution was perfunctory as though every other one and as we discussed last week, aren’t why people would be tuning in this week. That most of the episode was simply resolving issues set up the week before as though satisfying drama is about tell half a story and then starting all over again. That Moffat keeps returning to the same ideas such as the solution to a puzzle being passed down through the years but isn’t it better to have a writer that keeps returning to formulas that work rather than a writer who doesn’t have a formula in the first place and keeps turning out something rotten?

Next week: The Doctor parks the TARDIS so that he can take an excursion, demonstrating in the process that it really is the journey which counts.

Interview: David Tennant talks Hamlet.

TV David Tennant appeared on The Andrew Marr show this morning to talk about playing Hamlet amongst other things and here's a transcript. Believe me, it was as excruciating to watch as it is to read:
"ANDREW MARR: Yeah. You're, you're a Shakespearian actor, have been for some time. But Hamlet is the big one.

DAVID TENNANT: I suppose. I'm trying not to look at it that way at the moment. Just another play isn't it Andrew?

ANDREW MARR: You're going to, well you're going to bring - yeah except you - and just another audience will be a, probably the RSC will get audiences it doesn't normally have for its productions because you're doing Hamlet I would have thought. Lots of Trekkies in there ... Who'ees, Who'ees.

DAVID TENNANT: Well there will be Trekkies cos we've got Patrick Stewart in the cast as well. But I don't know. I think, I mean I think Ian McKellan was there last year doing King Lear.


DAVID TENNANT: So I guess he probably has an audience from ..


DAVID TENNANT: .. Lord of the Rings that maybe ..

ANDREW MARR: But it's, I mean every, I mean, I mean people will be watching to see - I've got an Olivier, a little clip of Olivier's Hamlet which is ..


ANDREW MARR: .. yeah let's just have a quick look at that.

VT: Olivier in Hamlet.
[editor's note: which by the way amounted to a photograph and audio from the film of Larry saying 'To be or not to be, That is the question."]

DAVID TENNANT: I'll do it like that then.

ANDREW MARR: You'll do it like that?


ANDREW MARR: So we've got it sorted?

DAVID TENNANT: Yeah, that's fine.
You can see the weird chemistry for the next on the BBC's iPlayer if you're in the UK. Spot the moment also when Marr, having called Doctor Who fans Trekkies he forgets the name of The Doctor's current assistant. [via]
Elsewhere Excited about 2010 yet? Also, this week's podcast for the show features the A-List -- RTD, SM and DT and is absolutely hilarious, as they rib each other something rotten like old mates down the pub. Best moment? When Tennant suggests that Moffat's version of the title sequence will be James Nesbitt's head flying through a tunnel. Oh and Davies describing the time he met Princess Diana.