The Stolen Earth.

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." -- Albert Einstein

TV Or twelve episodes. That Einstein really was a genius wasn’t he? The above quote opened out Roger Ebert’s review of The Happening and I hope you’ll forgive its Persaudian invocation here, because much like The Stolen Earth at about minute forty I have no idea where this review is going. As I somewhat indicated last week, I usually have some idea what I’m going to write beforehand, a plan, a way of hammering out a thousand odd words on a Saturday night. Realistically it’ll end up looking like the kind of shopping list Russell T Davies wrote for himself before scripting tonight's dose of digital madness and part of me’s thinking, you know, what’s the point?

That was one of the most viscerally exciting fifty minutes since the series came back. It’s easy to use that kind of hyperbole, so easy I've used it before, yet I can’t imagine there were many fans, as David hunched over the Tardis console, who weren’t screaming. I thought my Bad Wolf fangasm last week would lead to the evacuation of bodily fluids. This week I actually gave myself a migraine. No metaphoric brain explosion, an actual physical reaction. I’m not a football fan, but I suspect the only comparable euphoria would be a last minute winning streak in a cup match which looked doomed to failure.

Russell T Davies’s writing is actually endangering my health and I’d be consulting a lawyer if I didn’t love him and the show so much. My reaction, if I really want to analyse it, wasn’t just because of the in-story events, the Doctor and Rose finally reunited only for the inevitable Dalek interference; for someone who follows the construction of these things so closely, the writing, there’s also the squeal of delight because of the audacity of the storytelling and also the fact that unlike the loss of Mr Eccleston, the temporary loss of Rose, the return of The Master and the return of Davros, we quite simply didn’t know about this, no nasty tabloid hack to destroy the fun.

When that gold halo engulfed that actor, just for a brief moments I was absolutely convinced that some other actor’s the new Doctor and the Dave’s appearance on set during the lensing of the Christmas special was all just a red herring. Either that or Paul McGann’s agent is in a very happy mood (I can dream can’t I)? Who else could possibly fill those trainers? Who could be filling those trainers and be someone wouldn’t have leaked it? The three punch ‘To Be Continued’ was the sassiest bit of lettering the show’s ever thrown at us and if Bachman-Turner Overdrive had supplied the closing title music it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.

If this is a regeneration, a proper regeneration, then bye-bye David it’s been great. Except the establishing shot of the fighting hand in the teaser suggests that it’s going to interfere with the cycle, or there’s some hitherto unknown aspect of the process still to be revealed. The eagle eared would also have heard Mr. Tennant note what was happening on the set when Mr Bleach was around and how would he know that unless he was there working with him? Plus, the lack of another leading man at the read-through, implies some other skullduggery at work. Is this the first time Confidential’s editing decision has supplied spoilers?

Julian Bleach has clearly worked his was through the Davros dvd boxset because at no point did you think that this was a different man and indeed he was even creepier than his predecessors, affecting a hunch and a rasp. As with the Sontarans, the Neill Gorton's make up admirably accentuated rather than reinvented what had gone before. The creator’s appearance here obviously knocks the spin-off canon for six, but since that’s not even consistent in and of itself (for reasons too boring to go into here), what does it matter? Along with crazy Dalek Caan and haughty Dalek Supremo this is a scary a force as they’ve been since the showboating of the close of the first series – an impression aided by the look of terror in the eyes of both Jack and Sarah.

The Mill excelled themselves in creating the planet infested Medusa Cascade redolent of the shots of infinite worlds which appear in DC Comic’s Crisis series. The entire cast, all several hundred of them including Dempsey, were on top form, with the main guests enjoying the many great moments Davies gifted them carefully still keeping the worlds of each of spin-off separate. Even in this family friendly fantasy, Torchwood were still sex obsessed with Ianto largely stealing those scene, whilst Luke upstaged Sarah-Jane again even as she confirmed finally that the fanfare actually comes from inside Mr. Smith’s innards. It was clever too to suggest that Martha was enjoying a lead role in some hithertoo unseen US based UNIT series at least until the Daleks arrived to exterminate it.

Now, since all this is going in exactly the direction I hoped it wouldn't, meandering in exactly the direction I expected it would, I’m instead going to pause and make a confession, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for quite some time. Shut up, it’s not that. If it was that, I’d have told you that already. Leave it. The confession is by way of a story, one which begins in mid-April. I’m attending a lecture at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, which I know isn't a promising start, but stay with me. The lecture is being given by one Professor Richard Dawkins. It was part of a series of talks organised by the University of Liverpool on the subject of arts and sciences and began with Jonathan Miller and will end with Robert Winston and Willy Russell.

Dawkins offered what seemed like a well rehearsed discussion of the issues surrounding his book The God Delusion. He originally gave the talk in February (which you can see here) and it was so oversubscribed it had to be moved to the city’s premiere classical music venue, from the random lecture theatre which had been scene for Miller's tale. It also had to be repeated and I was there for his second visit. The first was actually picketed by creationists with placards! This time, the protesters had got wise and applied for tickets and so after we’d enjoyed the talk it become all too apparent, all too quickly, that the closing Q&A was going to consist of the Professor being harassed by people who both didn’t agree with his approach to religion and plainly hadn’t listened to the talk, with pre-determined questions written on cards.

A couple of priests had already walked out in fact and the general feeling in the hall was that we were going to be in for a long half hour. Being a good follower of the faith, and realising this might be the only time I’d ever have a chance to talk to the other man who married Lalla Ward, I knew that I had to ask a question. But which one? I there had been something in his speech which I’d want a follow-up on (related to a quote he'd used from Douglas Adams) but I also realised there were going to be enough of those and as you’ve probably guessed by now I never do anything normal, or at least that’s what my parents always tell me. I like to think of it as never being what people expect me to be like, which is also true, and probably much the same thing.

When I stood up, I still didn’t know what my question would be. As I shuffled along the aisle stepping on people’s toes I had an inkling, but by the time I was queuing up behind the microphone, which had been set up by the stage, it was fixed in my mind. The short haired man standing in front of me, wearing a dark-blue ski jacket, was holding a card on which I could see words scrawled in both pencil and pen in even worse handwriting than my own. I stood with my arms crossed and knees shaking and I suspect knowing that he’d want some more time, he moved out of the way and let me go first.

I stepped up the microphone. The Professor was looking over his glasses towards me. He greeted me.
“Hello Professor Dawkins.” I said brightly. “Very pleased to meet you.”
He looked at me expectantly, or with the fear in his eyes, I was too nervous to tell.
“I understand that you filmed a scene for the latest series of Doctor Who…”
I paused and became slightly tongue tied as I realised that the sold out crowd of the Philharmonic Hall, some nine hundred people, were all looking at the back of my sweaty neck as I asked the great Professor Dawkins, a man whose CV took ten minutes to read out at the beginning of the evening, a question about Doctor Who.
“… and erm … I was wondering how you enjoyed the experience!?!”
There was random and sporadic laughter from the audience. Dawkins grinned. I relaxed a little but continued sweating.
“Well” he said cheerfully, “Perhaps I should explain that my wife Lalla played the Doctor’s assistant in the 1970s and though I didn’t watch her at the time I’ve been catching up through the dvds. I’ve always had a great affection for the series anyway so I was very pleased when they asked me. It was only a small part, I was being interviewed by a Jeremy Paxman-type of character and I can still completely remember my lines of dialogue …”
Then he paused. And dried. The audience laughed again.
“Well it was something like ‘We're living in a whole new universe were different laws apply…’ ”
There was an audible gasp from some parts of the audience. Had I somehow inadvertently got Richard Dawkins to give out a massive spoiler about what happens at the end of the series this early into the run? I turned around and there were definitely a couple of shocked faces. I hadn’t meant to. Bugger. I nearly stamped my foot.

“Thank you.” I said and stepped away from the microphone and sheepishly made my way back to my seat, absorbing as best I could some of the dirty looks I was getting along the way, having turned the crowd against me. "It wasn't me, it was Dawkins!" I wanted to shout but thought better of it. The man who’d been standing behind me was up next and he’d already begun to ask Dawkins for an opinion on how monkeys could evolve into humans and how shared ancestory can work if there are stil chimps and humans on the planet (Dawkins’s reaction: “ARE YOU BEING SERIOUS?”).

As I sat down, a girl nearby said “Good question…” and winked. Was she thinking what I was thinking? That the loss of the Adapose planet had to be related? Probably not, since as I'm sure you guessed last week, I really don't understand women. Dawkins would only have spoiled one aspect of the episode if he'd remembered everything he'd said and so my story doesn't really have a proper ending, which is just how things are in the unfolding text of real life. Ironically, he was also upstaged by Paul O'Grady and his braying audience offering exactly the kind of reaction one would expect from them in the event of a global catastrophe.

In an episode where what should be major elements, such as the death of Harriet Jones, became incidental, there’s little point in me going over the minutiae any more, other than to say that Billie really got her mojo back and Graham Harper's the Spielberg of the franchise. I’ve already seen criticism of the Call The Doctor solution (and yes, I’ve tried calling the number too with no luck), the fact that actually not very much happens in the episode other than the Dalek invasion which means it drags horribly in the middle, the timelord and Donna spend most of the episode in the TARDIS and that at the conclusion, all the Rose reunion amounted to was some cheesy showboating.

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion but on this occasion they’re wrong. The Stolen Earth was Doctor Who at its most epic and the opening salvo of Russell T Davies’s valedictory lap, and frankly beyond criticism, at least in fan terms. If this week’s anything to go by, next week is going to be one of the most bonkers hours of television this year, repaying fans for their four to forty-five years of support and hopefully giving Catherine Tate, slightly sidelined here, her final moment of Doctor Who acting glory. For all we know, it’ll be revealed that Donna was adopted, has always carried a fobwatch around with her that Grandad Cribbins gave her one Christmas which he found on the doorstep with her as a baby and those non-diagetic heartbeats are the first sign of the cockerney regaining her timelord senses before regenerating into River Song.

Next Week: God only knows. Or failing that, Russell T Davies. At this point it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Elsewhere I'm really not proud of this review of last night's Doctor Who, which is a shame because despite being as subtle as a Michael Bay film, I loved it. Part of the problem is that these days I'm so excited about each new episode of the franchise, far more than new film releases or any other television that by the time its over I'm already drained and since I've made a promise to myself to write something about it the same evening, the result always seems to have a semi-coherent quality, with a full range of familiar crutch words in evidence, all 'actually', 'absolutely' and 'usually' and everything 'mostly' or 'exactly' 'seeming' to be 'something'. For all we know. Does is matter?
Beverages Confessions of a coffee addict. Polly Vernon's experience is all too familiar: "I ride the swings and roundabouts of my caffeine-altered mood like a pro. I buzz maniacally with it at certain points in the day, I snap angrily at others because of it; I wilt when my body's caffeine levels drop below a certain point, I rev up again dramatically once that's been seen to. Sometimes I drink so much that I get head spins. Other times, I drink so much that all I can do is order more."
Culture A brief history of art. Amazing cartoon.
Music top five musical crimes perpetrated by record store customers in the 90s and 2000s: "If you don't know the alphabet very well of you haven't been fully trained on how to put records back where they belong, please leave and come back with someone who can accompany you through this confusing process."
Liverpool Life National Museums Liverpool are recreating some of the bronze reliefs that are missing in Sefton Park: "The project to produce the clay master models that will be used to cast the bronze relief panels that will reconstruct the memorials to William Rathbone and the right honourable Samuel Smith is now well under way. As seen in the first pictures in the Flickr slideshow the wood supports were fixed into place to support the clay and create a rough shape. The clay has been applied and then the design was sketched out in the clay before building out the 3D contours. More wood and metal armatures have been added to support parts of the relief which are almost free standing, such as some of the arms, legs and the occasional head."
Film Roger Ebert notices that actually Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will isn't the best documentary ever made: "Now I have just seen it again and am stunned that I praised it. It is one of the most historically important documentaries ever made, yes, but one of the best? It is a terrible film, paralyzingly dull, simpleminded, overlong and not even "manipulative," because it is too clumsy to manipulate anyone but a true believer. It is not a "great movie" in the sense that the other films in this group are great, but it is "great" in the reputation it has and the shadow it casts."

"So what time is the next bus then? What? Oh forget it."

I've been staring at this bus shelter time table for a couple of years now and I'm still dumbfounded by the sheer uselessness of its invention. One of the least exciting experiences of being chained to public transport, particularly bus services in Liverpool, is that much of the time you're not entirely sure when your transport will arrive. Often, on this route into town at least, often on a Sunday, you'll spend more time waiting at the stop than it takes to reach the destination.

The information here is simply anti-intuitive. It says that Mon-Fri Peak (whenever that is) the buses are every six minutes. Which buses? All of them? Or is this a tag team affair in which at least one of them will arrive every six minutes? This rumour and mythology approach to offering travel information becomes even more acute at evenings and on Sunday when you're told that they're every fifteen or thirty minutes which means you've little or no chance of planning to arrive at the bus stop just on time to hop on.

After a while, a label appeared on the perspex just below, which said if you'll excuse the paraphrasing: "Please note that as of [some date] the information in these timetables will not be updated due to the frequency with which services are changing. So the times and services above may not be accurate and subject to change." In other words, this time table is so irrelevant, it might as well not be here at all. Not long afterwards, said label was fidgeted away, presumably by someone you'd been waiting some time.

TV I might not agree with everything in this review of last Saturday's Doctor Who, but I do agree with this: "Bernard Cribbins crying - a sure sign that everything is utterly fucked." Much the same is true of two of the characters in this trailer for next Saturday's episode. I've said my peace about it here.
Meme Julia's idea:

From Gary Cole in The Brady Bunch Movie of all places (excellent film though):

"Wherever you go, there you are."
"Alone we can only move buckets. But together we can drain rivers."

From the song Everybody Be Yoself by Chic Street Man

"Everybody got to be yoself, no matter where you go."

From -- I can't for the life of me remember:

"I can't hurt to help. Except for the times can but you should do it anyway."
Politics Does this indicate that Barack wants Hilary as his running mate or just on his side?

One Word. One Single Word.

TV The latest trailer/clip from The Stolen Earth. Devastating. My heart's in my stomach. Expect spoilers.
Elsewhere The inevitable photographs of the park with my new camera.

The view from my window three hours ago.

When I was a youngster, Boots was the place to have your photographs developed. I very much remember being confused by a shop which dispensed yucky medicine and could also turn the little tubes of plastic into pictures, but much of time I'd accept anything I was told. Mum used to call said cure 'Mickey Mouse' medicine so that I would take it, and even in my teenage years I thought there was some kind of endorsement in the pharmaceutical industry from Disney. Every so often my Dad would bring home one of the little blue Boots envelopes and inside would be photographs of recent holidays, our back garden and family meals.

It just seems right then, that I've just bought my first digital camera from the same place. I did shop around first though. The inevitable flick through an Argos catalogue, the squinting across the counter in Currys, the listening to a lecture or standard sales pitch from the man in the bright yellow shirt roaming around Comet (how can a company live with themselves making their workforce have to damage their eyesight every morning putting on that bright yellow uniform?). In the end though I returned to Boots and I was convinced by one thing in the end. Customer service.

After glancing through the cabinet, I asked at the photo counter about the cameras. A sales girl who looked not unlike Audrey Tattou appears and guides me back there. I ask the boring questions you have to ask when you're spending that much money on a consumable and she answered them but at no point was there a hint of sales pitch. She was straight and honest and had a sense of humour, and unlike the man in Comet didn't spend any time at all boasting about holidays enjoyed in Paris and the Philippines.

In other words I was talking to a real person, who happened to resemble Amelie, who was willing to warn me off buying a camera that took AA batteries because they didn't last too long, ruling out the original camera I was looking at. She thought it was funny as I did that some of the camera manufacturers had jumped on the new media bandwagon and were boasting that their wares had 'blogging features' and were 'You Tube' ready which told you nothing about the quality of the camera. Did you know lithium batteries were rechargable?

In the end, I bought a display model, at a discount, and was very happy about that. It's a Fujifilm Finepix F47fd (for those who know about these things). Even as I paid for it, I marveled at the list of features on the box and we laughed at the reason which spurned me into buying -- the Superlambbanana which have invaded Liverpool, because she'd been out hunting too. And as I sit with Mr Fuji in the palms of my hands it feels like my camera in a way I'm not sure it would if I'd simply picked it from a catalogue and waited for it to appear at a slot. Thanks Nina.

Meme Me and six thousand other people, though frankly I can't name seven songs like that. So instead, here are the next seven songs I come across on Winamp that I can sing along to:

(1) 'Basket Case (Live)' - Avril Lavigne

Words first learned through shouting sessions at The Krazy House in Liverpool from the time it was new through to the moment it became a matter of nostalgia. This is from the period when the live Lavigne had little or nothing to do with the version who appeared in the recording studio and she pretty much hauls through it too, which is no doubt the proper response.

(II) 'Someone' -- Astrid Williamson

It's now ten years since I visited the Edinburgh Festival and bought the 'Boy For You' album on which this appears. I remember it being a major release at the time with massive advertising in all of the record shops, though there's narry a person who knows who she is these days. There's a bluesy texture undercut by the sound of rain and the odd thunderclap. The incessant lyric is "You look like someone I should know, I shooould know" and there's certainly a Fleetwood Mac element to some of the sound, Albatross 'specially.

(III) 'The End' -- The Doors

I once dozed through Oliver Stone's film. It was during a screen at my old student hall and I was dolloped on a cushion at the front of the crowd in front of the telly in the common room. Apparently I snored, rolled around, and made gurgling noises. No one thought to wake me up which is good because I can't imagine any other way of enjoying Kilmer's performance and the photography than through a semi-conscious haze. My favourite other story about someone watching the film I heard from my old friend Tris, who said that he'd been talking to a girl he fancied and she'd said she'd loved the film, especially the bit at the end when Jim Morrison fell asleep in the bath.

(IV) 'Wonderful Christmastime' -- Paul MacCartney

In my defense it's impossible not to know the lyrics to every Christmas related song in this consumerist age. But I do think this is one of the best, and certainly one of the few high points of Paul's career since The Beatles split. With all the random noodling on various synthesizer instruments its almost like a three minute festive version of Tubular Bells. Which isn't to say that listening to it in mid-June isn't totally depressing.

(V) 'Runaway' - The Corrs (Unplugged)

Whatever happened to The Corrs? We just fell out of love apparently, but constantly repackaging your songs without much in the way of new material will do that. This was the third different version of Runaway to hit disc having appeared on their first two albums and then here. I was never sure which Corr I fancied the most oscillating between all three girls depending on how well they were lit in the videos, but it was usually Caroline. The rot set in for me with In Blue, in which they pretended to be a mainstream pop band rather than a folksy crossover, but unlike other genre tourism it seemed like an act of desperation rather than an attempt to be interesting. Entertainment Weekly called it "a disheartening example of musical ethnic cleansing"and they were right.

(VI) 'Come See Me Tonight' -- Daniel Johnson

Which might well look like a desperate attempt to look hip after this list has already referenced Lavigne and The Corrs and you'd be right. It is in truth the only Johnson track I own, piggy-backed on the My So-Called Life soundtrack. Only now do I notice its similarity to Ravel's Bolero, the guitar rhythms here paralleling the drum beat there. Has there yet been a better teen series since Life or has it's reputation grown simply because it wasn't given enough time to become anodyne like Dawson's Creek? Either way, I'm not sure there's been an episode of anything as good as 'The Life of Brian' if only because of the cleverness of the title.

(VII) 'Life of Riley' -- The Lightening Seeds

When my friend Chris's brother Tim was married not too long ago, he gave the reception DJ a not list, a bunch of artists and songs sure to ruin the evening. Top of that list was Robbie Williams. The final song he decided to play that night? Angels. Perhaps at most other parties that was a keeper, the one to send the crowd home with a tear in their eye (the saps). Here it caused a near riot as twenty people descended on the DJ's box. Not really knowing what hit him, he grabbed the only record he could find which had anything vaguely to do with Liverpool. This.
Music I'm currently listening to Sheryl Crow's Run Baby Run. The opening lyric is 'She was born in November, 1963...the day Aldous Huxley died...' A moment ago, during the first chorus, I checked my blog's referrer logs and found this search. Shivers.
Film It is of course a very strange vocation to be reviewing Doctor Who episodes on a website with will only be read by people who've seen the programme and know everything about it. Reviews are generally supposed to recommend said art form or not to someone who might be interested in seeing/reading/hearing it. But what to do if said reviewer isn't even allowed to do that (or not)?
Commerce Useful ebay investigation from The London Review of Books. I didn't think Keane had been this popular: "Around the turn of the millennium, one of the friends of friends’ bands whose gigs I used occasionally to go to in the basements and back rooms of North London pubs was an indie guitar group called Keane. One Friday night in the early summer of 2001 at the Monarch on Chalk Farm Road, my girlfriend gave their manager (an ex-boyfriend of hers) a couple of quid for a homemade CD. ‘That’ll be worth a lot of money one day,’ he said. I assumed he was joking; I privately thought it was slightly affected of the band even to have a manager – couldn’t they book their own gigs at the Bull and Gate? Shows how much I know. Three years later, having traded in their guitarist for an electric piano, they released their first album. It went on to be the UK’s second biggest-selling record of 2004."
Beverages The Story of Coffee at Lothian Life. The textual equivalent of those videos which would appear through the square window on Play School:
"What really gives coffee its aroma and flavour is the way the beans are roasted. Heat breaks down starches in the bean, changing them to simple sugars. As the roasting process continues, aromatic oils, acids, and caffeine weaken but other oils start to develop, in particular caffeol, which is largely responsible for coffee’s aroma and flavor."
I probably drink too much coffee though it is my only toxic vice; I don't smoke and only drink sporadically. It is worrying to note from that article that although physically it has all kinds of benefits like all drugs it does nothing for your psychological outlook. Water?
Music This is indeed quite good. I await with interest the moment someone decides to recreate the title sequence to The Brady Bunch using the same method.
Film When I was at university, one single text almost ruined my film viewing forever and I'm still dealing with the consequences. I've been wanting to explain the mechanics here since then, but haven't found an eloquent way of putting it, but luckily now the author Kristin Thompson has posted about the subject on her blog. It's about how most film narratives work and if you don't want all of the summer blockbusters, even the ones without twists, to be ruined as a viewing experience, look away now:
"upon analysis, most Hollywood films in fact have four large-scale parts of roughly equal length. The “three-act structure” has become so ingrained in thinking about film narratives that my claim is somewhat controversial. What has been overlooked is that I’m not claiming that all films have four acts. Rather, my claim is that in classical films large-scale parts tend to fall within the same average length range, roughly 25 to 35 minutes. If a film is two and a half hours rather than two hours, it will tend to have five parts, if three hours long, then six, and so on. And it’s not that I think films must have this structure."
The post explains that each of these chunks is separated by turning points in the plot and there are copious examples. The problem is, that once you know this, and realise that it works, you find yourself looking for it in every single movie. Watch a two hour film and at 20, 60 and 90 minutes you'll know when its happening and more often than not be able to predict what it's going to be. Same with a ninety minute film with something happening every twenty-two minutes.

In the book Storytelling In The New Hollywood, Thompson explains in much greater detail how this process works in ensemble and hyperlink films (more often than not if the film is working, all of the characters have a turning point at roughly the same time) and how it can be used to show why some movies don't work because one or more of the sections is too long or short to make the experience satisfying. These days, I'm most impressed when a film manages to dodge this 'rule' and yet still manage to be entertaining, even though, that's surprisingly rare.
Film Sophie Marceau found herself in the grips of a British press junket the other week for her new film French Agents. It must be one of the most artificial parts of the profession, sitting in a hotel room talking about yourself (see the Horse and Hound scene in Notting Hill), but it must then be even creepier to see what the journo has made of you afterwards, what angle they chose. I expect Sophie's got better things to do with her time, but perhaps her agent glanced at The Guardian on Friday and found Stuart Jeffries commenting on how beautiful she is:
"Marceau flicks her hair over her shoulder and looks contemplatively out the window on to a lovely London afternoon. She has a beautiful profile, brown eyes that you might write poetry about and lips curved into an ironic smile."
Of and Deborah Ross talking about how pretty she is with an engaging amount of self confidence:
"True, I am lucky in that I am very, very pretty indeed, but I do sometimes wonder about being this beautiful, and how my life might have panned out differently if I were. I later ask Ms Marceau if she ever imagines what it might be like to not be beautiful, and how her life might have panned out differently. "I do not think about this, non," she says. At least we now know. And at least she doesn't deny being beautiful, which many beautiful women do even if it is the most interesting thing about them.
I think Jeffries wins on points, but Ross wins a consolation prize for saying how French Marceau is.

The Stolen Earth.

TV Before the episode aired, I’d already decided upon what I thought was the perfect structure for this review. I was going to write about my second day of university, evening actually. There was a party in the student hall (which was co-incidentally located in Leeds) and I’d spent most of the night talking to these four French girls because having been at an all boys school for the previous seven years, having not had much contact with girls and deselecting languages from the agenda before my GCSEs, I didn’t see the point in using my time that evening to chat to the English men who all seemed to have packed together at the other end of the common room getting drunk.

I would have described how at the end of the night I, the gentleman I am, walked all of the girls home across campus, and when I reached the final room, the final girl, Katerina invited me in. I would have cutely revealed that since I’d spent seven years at an all boys school hadn’t had much contact with girls and deselected languages from the agenda before my GCSEs, that I’d meekly told her that it wasn’t the kind of thing we did in our country (which in hindsight also sounds like I’d dropped through a time warp from the end of the 19th century) and that it wouldn’t be right.

On this basis of this I was going to attempt to write the review as though I had actually gone into that room, done all of the things exactly one week later my imagination thought might have happened when I realised what I’d done. As if going into that now mysterious room might have been the start of a romance which would have opened my eyes in more ways than one, turned me into the cosmopolitan man about town, hung around with a completely different crowd at university and wouldn’t have inextricably returned to Doctor Who in the late nineties meaning I’d be writing reviews for this blog. It would have been a comment on the whole ‘Left Turn’ aspect of the episode, the Sliding Doors/It’s A Wonderful Life/Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’s The Wish/The Family Man/Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Yesterday’s Enterprise’ facets of Russell T Davies’s script.

Then I watched …

Doctor Who: Turn Left

… or more specifically the climax, and my brain exploded.

Oh yes, as soon as Donna said those two magic words, I began shouting, ‘Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaaah! Bad Wolf! Bad Wolf!’ You know that video of those two girls on the couch during the reappearance of the Master last year that turned up on You Tube? That was me. I shouted so hard, I actually began to get chest pains, and believe that if I hadn’t calmed down in time for the trailer, through which I mostly just tittered, there might have been a puddle of something which rhymes with squee on the floor. I don’t remember being this excited during the old series when I was a child. Not even when Tom turned to Peter or it was revealed that Bertie Bassett was a wrongen after all.

In other words, don’t expect anything much from me on the subject of this episode, no great insights or moments of inspiration. The critical parts of my opinion organ are currently splattered all over the cushions and beginning to smell. At this point if I was asked to review the new Coldplay album, I’d probably give it five stars, write ‘well cool’ underneath and eat another chocolate chip cookie. Excitement makes me want to snack it seems. I’m listening to a Pussycat Dolls cd as I write, for goodness sake. This episode might have been rubbish for all I know, but those final few moments, the signs of Bad Wolf everywhere, the Doctor realising the monumental task ahead, the fact that we haven’t yet seen everything from the mid-season trailer, the …

Well, you’re here, I’m here, and I’m agreeing with the Dolls that I wished my girlfriend was hot like them. Or Katerina. On the face of it, Left Turn seemed like it was going to be a fairly standard lope through the tropes of the aforementioned narratives, Rose fulfilling the role of Clarence the angel guiding Donna through all of the changes which occurred because she decided to turn right. There was certainly an element of that, especially as our old friend explained to our new one how important she was to the universe, and Donna making much the same sacrifice as the Enterprise-C in giving herself up for the sake of the timeline.

Unlike those stories though, this wasn’t a learning experience, a repulsive human being (George Bailey and Captain Garrett excepted) gaining insight into what their life could be like so as to make them enjoy what they have and make them a better person. Which isn’t to say that Russell wasn’t averse to utilising the kind of orientalism you’d often find in a high concept Eighties fantasy film like Gremlins or Big to bring about the terrible tremors in the timeline (perfectly evoked by Chipo Chung’s exotic turn). About the only thing which didn’t work in the episode was the giant obviously plastic beetle that might as well have been bought in a Museum gift shop, but even that was saved from total deplorability by the Doctor’s invoking of the Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures as an explanation, giving the prop a weight it hadn’t shown in any of its previous scenes.

Such tales are never about the methodology and entirely about outcome, and the entertainment was in seeing the effects the major events of the past couple of series would have had on the population of the world had our hero not been abroad. This was intricate and mostly very well thought out, particularly in the non-appearance of the Master who it’s finally acknowledged would still be chan stuck as poor old Professor Yana tho had it not been for the Doctor’s appearance in the far future. For every potential plot hole an explanation was forthcoming – not enough time to regenerate, not enough cars in the country with ATMOS fitted, indestructible Jack transporting to the Sontaran homeworld.

About the only hiccup I could find was that Sarah-Jane and friends, according to Invasion of the Bane, don’t unite until early 2009 which makes their death in the hospital premature and we didn’t find out how the adventures set in the past would have turned out without the Doctor’s presence. Why also no mention of celestial bodies threatening to smack into the Earth every couple of weeks or the kidnapping of children. Such things can be blamed on this being a corrupted timeline or as the Doctor says, time has a habit of sorting itself out around these kinds of paradoxes (something he managed to explain without using either the words ‘timey’ or ‘whimey’ or ‘web of’).

Other than that it was almost as though Russell T Davies had a copy of Ahistory next to his keyboard as he typed, reminding him that Sarah once wrote for the Metropolitan and the alternative world that Rose became trapped in was a couple of years ahead and so should the barriers fall down she’d have an insight into the outcome of events. The return of such figures as Morganstern for a couple of lines filled in the kind of gaps which often occur in episodes like this when actors aren’t available. It’s not unlike a US show produced by John Wells – in e.r., incidental hospital workers established as working in County General during earlier seasons would reappear later in much the same positions (often even though their career had taken off in the meantime).

If there are multiple dimensions though, and the Tyler girl can skip between them, are the rest all without the Doctor? Shouldn’t there be one teeming with timelords even, after a more positive outcome for the time war? One in which the Eighth Doctor’s still trying to regain his memory after his latest bump on the head? According to the boards, Russell and Paul recently had lunch, and we all know what that means. Much discussion of the wig.

Wouldn’t one of those do if she was desperate? Well, no, because Rose is loyal to her Doctor. Billie Piper might be embarrassed at having had to watch a couple of episodes to remind herself of how to approach the role (even Montoban had to see the Space Seed again) but I think that once the hair and make-up returned everything else fell into place. The character’s older now certainly, and far more technologically and scientifically minded and developed a certain Torchwoody bite but she’s still much the same girl who lost the lottery money in the basement of Henricks.

Even if as almost everyone I’ve seen online suggests her accent has changed and she’s had some dental work, Piper demonstrated the strength that has developed within Rose through independence and has self-consciously appropriated some of the mannerisms of her old friend, her experiences in the intervening years playfully hinted at, the muted television special suddenly looking like a genuine loss to the franchise. Perhaps now that he’s got a moment to himself, Russell will turn it into a novel. For my money, it’s a more successful recall than Martha who has actually seemed to regress into being a more typical companion in the intervening time.

In other words, when I commented previously: "I can't even believe I'm giving this house room, but even narratively speaking it's a joke and would annoy me even more than Catherine Tate's appearance is bugging other people. It cheapens the close of Doomsday for a start, plus it doesn't strike me that Billie even wants to go back even for a short time. It'd be like Sarah Jane Smith turning up for Tom's regeneration in Logopolis. Yes, I know they asked Liz but she didn't want to do it and I suspect Piper would be anti too even to commemorate David's 'era'. Once again, balderdash and piffle." I was wrong, the minxes and it somehow didn't manage to overshadow the current incumbent or lessen the impact of the end of season two.

Donna cries again, and with good reason. As her world falls apart, she has much the same realisation I had in the early noughties that I was trained for nothing and she noticed too that predictably at the first sign of trouble, Britain has become tough on immigration. That Catherine Tate was brilliant goes without saying; throughout this series she’s been called upon to deal with potentially even more emotionally complex material than either of her predecessors and surely must have won over her doubters by now, even if this is the third week running that the ‘proper’ Donna, the one who’s travelling with the Doctor, has hardly got a look in.

But the secret weapons in this episode were the guest cast. Bernard Cribbins and particularly Jacqueline King as Sylvia, who brought an extreme amount of darkness to what has up until now been something of a one-note character, a reminder of Donna when she was still The Runaway Bride. That shot from the hallway of the house outwards focused just on her face was devastating, a single word demonstrating just how broken the human race had become. If the lights can fall from her eyes?

In the end, Turn Left was the darkest episode of Nu-Who that Russell has so far presented, joyously wrecking his cohesive universe and murdering much loved characters in both directions. Even Donna’s sense of hope in committing suicide was misplaced as Rose hinted what we’d all suspected – that the character’s surname is likely to become a job description. It seems too that some of the budget saved in setting episodes in country houses and spaceship cabins is being spent in these final three.

The hopelessness of the family’s nomadic existence would not have worked as well without so many scene changes, and director Graham Harper has that rare ability to eloquently direct action sequences and character moments with equal fluidity. Perhaps rightly the watch word during tone meeting was ‘mundane’ as the plot played out across some ultra-realistic, not mention grotty settings. The audio landscape of the episode recalled most of the major music of the past, with Rose’s theme writ large and intermingling with Donna’s and those some will still probably have a pop at Murray’s emotional crescendo, this is one of the few episodes in which his talents helped to bind the episode together.

On then to the climax and post-coitus trailer. To install Bad Wolf again at this critical stage was orgasmic, Rose’s deployment of them at Donna’s ‘death’ recalling her appearance at the scene of her Dad’s sacrifice recalling Father’s Day (oddly enough, there was also once a magazine called Turn Left published by Cornell University). At the dusk of the old age, Russell is clearly going to be referencing all of the hints and red herrings not only of this season but since Rose, loose end upon loose end tied together so that Steven can move forward with a largely clean slate (with only his own ideas left hanging).

It turns out that every tabloid and internet rumour you read was probably true, even the ones were you thought pshrr and nrrr and ‘That’d never happen…’, playfully tossing out the rule book on making accessible entertainment, the closing couple of episodes should be of the kind written by fans for fans and repaying our loyalty for the past four years. Even Harriet Jones is there, though who is that old woman standing between the Judoon? Old Rose? Old Donna? Gelth? Agatha Christie? At this point, anything is possible.

Though I still think Davros and the Daleks are a red herring in the style of the gamestation, the army of ghosts, and Mr Saxon (just look at the episode they’re appearing in) masking something even more terrible. During Confidential, a clip from ‘Dalek’ of the Doctor describing the Last Great Time War was played out. For once it sounded more like “the war to end all wars” and given the propensity of the series towards World War I motifs, will we be looking at Time War II next week?

Look – I think my brain’s grown back.

Next Week: The Dalek Invasion of Earth 2009, as directed by Robert Altman.
Ask I'm looking to buy a digital camera for between fifty and a hundred pounds and I'd much rather look at something one of you lot are happy with than just randomly pick one from the Argos catalogue. Any suggestions?
Music In the land of the uncool: "Once I was supposed to go over to America and interview Judas Priest for Metal Hammer (Magazine), and because of a bomb scare, my plane got held up and I couldn't make it out to the states in time. I was supposed to go to a hotel, go into the room next to Judas Priest and interview Rob Halford on the phone. [...] "I just said, 'Well look, my plane's been grounded because of a bomb scare, can I just give (the interview) on the phone?' [...] The woman who looks after Judas Priest went insane and demanded that Metal Hammer sack me. To me, I thought it was like a penis-measuring competition. There was no real reason for me to go to America (for a phone interview in a hotel room adjacent to Halford's)."
Blog! Rob's The Medium is Not Enough has reached its third birthday. It's one of my favourite blogs, not least because he's turned me on to the brilliance of Joanna Page and because he's forever linking to my Doctor Who reviews.
Elsewhere Last night's squee inducing episode of Doctor Who led to this two and a half thousand word fangasm. At this point the production team seem to have begun taking the approach I have to these reviews. If you've not watched the past four series, good luck!
Life My fingers hurt. I've just got back from the Africa Oye Festival where I sat in on a bongo-drum lesson. I've always thought I had good timing, but I also have a terrible memory, which is why I'll never be a dancer obviously, so much of the time I resorted to random banging which sometimes fell into sync with the other children. At the close as I wondered if the circulation would ever return to the tips of my fingers, I asked the instructor/hippy what he did with them afterwards. Not much apparently -- he showed me his hands and the pads were covered in calluses, with odd bits of tape here and there keeping his skin stuck on.