links for 2008-07-26

France's first lady also first in record sales
Carla Bruni's album tops French album chart. Quelle suprise.

Insurrection at the Proms?
Mark Mardell on the clapping between movements which has been happening at the Proms lately. There has been some sushing too here and there, but he's right, in some cases the process he offers is bang on. Personally I'm more annoyed by the rampant cough which can be heard throughout the movements, which totally ruined the Debussy the other night. Perhaps there should be taps installed on the back of every seat. But then of course, people would be rushing to the toilet.

The balcony is closed
Roger Ebert on leaving At The Movies though apparently they're taking their thumbs elsewhere. It's a pity that the brief experiment in the nineties to bring to show to these shores wasn't perceived with -- it was certainly useful to get the perspective of critics from the US on films from their own shores which flood our market.

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order." --M. C. Escher

Life Living up here surveying the city, there's not much winning in the summer. Its still windy, so opening a window isn't much of an option because the gusts howl through the flat slamming doors left and right. So the windows stay closed the heat stultifies. It's in today's humid conditions I decided to try reorganise my stuff, cds, books, kipple. After my life laundry, I've somehow managed to refill the gap with collections of things, on shelves, in bags, in boxes. I know that at some point, the mass of videos which sit unwatched will have to go the way of everything else, especially since even a duff transfer on dvd is better than the best that tape has to offer.

I managed to fill a bin bag in the end, nothing important, nothing I'll miss, but also in its taped from UK Gold quality not something I can do anything else with. Books were moved around, cds reshelved. CD pop singles ripped to computer now, shifted to less accessible places to make way for classical music which doesn't sound quite right from mp3. Shakespeare volumes moved too, complete works packed away since they're largely left unread. Room made for paperbacks, handy and light. Rest. More moving, more sweating. Then, finally at five o'clock I downed tools and surveyed my work and realised. After four hours work, I've managed to find an empty shelf. A single, lonely, empty shelf. Desperate for me to fill it ...

links for 2008-07-25

Stylish sleeve for the R1 dvd release of the 60s Casino Royale.
Awful film but look at the curves.

Square Peggy
Interview with Elizabeth Moss from Mad Men: “She’s Jack Lemmon, she’s Ernest Borgnine in Marty, the one who is stepped on a little bit and has a really good heart,” Moss tells me. “You want her to succeed, you want her to do well. She’s definitely very ambitious, the way a lot of us are, but the last thing she would do is trample anyone to get to the top.”

The X-Files: I Want To Believe: 4% @ Metacritic
General consensus seems to be that's its essentially an overextended, terribly average episode of the tv show, though I'm keeping the faith. After all, Ebert likes it.

The Dateable Dork realises she fancies other dorks.
Oh the humanity.

Breaking the Modernist Mold
In Norway, modernist architecture is something which is venerated rather than demolished: "One must remember that for centuries the Nordic countries have had one big difference from most other European countries, and that is the use of wood as building material. All architectural ways of thinking, whether it is the Baroque, neoclassicism, or modernism, have been interpreted in the wooden architecture."

A Dog Called Faith
Bipedal canine. Expect large feature in the Metro next week.

Go Superlambanana, go.
I've posted about them at Mefi. Gosh, they're snarky in those parts these days. Good puns though.

This is an ad for LA Natural History Museum
Amazing footage of a dinosaur loose in the entrance area [related].

Stormtroopers on the underground

Obama woos Europe
Mark Mardell's commentary on last night's speech, which was simply captivating. I'd be interested to know what US readers thought. Like this.

links for 2008-07-24

Why we buy
Excellent piece of self analysis from Penguin Books. Exactly why are their classics more popular than other, even cheaper versions?

Lost In Showbiz: Is Mayfair Really In The "Heart Of Theatreland"?
A geographically unrealistic press release for a restaurant at 'Lost In Showbiz'

New Scientist: Overactive bladders play with the mind
"THE urge to pee too frequently might literally mess with your mind. Experiments in rats show that an overactive bladder changes brain activity. If the same is true in humans, it could in part explain the disrupted sleep, reduced ability to concentrate and confusion that often accompany ageing."

Media Matters for America: CBS splices McCain interview clip, expunging his false claim on surge timeline and falsely suggesting he gave different answer
If you've never read Media Matters, it's a litany of horrifying examples of narrative reimagining and editing on US television. "On the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric aired portions of an interview she conducted with Sen. John McCain, removing a part of a response in which he falsely asserted that the 2007 U.S. troop surge "began the Anbar awakening." Couric gave no indication that McCain's comments had been edited in any manner, nor did she otherwise note his falsehood."

Nineteen tips for cheering yourself up -- from two hundred years ago.
"Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence."

There's a lot of excitement in Twitterville about a new Apple store opening at Liverpool One on Saturday. Which I don't really understand since there's been one at the Albert Dock for years.

The 7 Most Worthless DVD & Blu-Ray Special Features
Which I almost one hundred percent disagree with -- except for DVD-ROM features. How many of these actually work? Well, apart from the .pdfs of old annuals which appear on the Doctor Who releases of course.

Bella Hardy on the BBC Proms Folk Day
"... from the enthusiasm of all involved, I've high hopes for something more regular, hopefully with a bigger range of British acts (the line up is, it has to be said, very English for a titled British day). In fact, Roger Wright, Proms Director, just popped into the dressing room to congratulate us all on kicking off "...the start of a folk proms tradition..."

I had to tell someone I was a working girl.
I've heard people admit worse things. Really.

Superlambanana-on-and-on #5

Lovemedoodle, originally uploaded by feelinglistless.

This is brilliant. A local cub scout group set themselves the challenge of visiting all of the Superlambananas as quickly as possible and managed to work through them in nineteen hours, including Lovemedoodle, lost in London at Euston Station. They were sponsored and are now trying to get it ratified as a world record at Guinness (though I'm not sure that's possible since after they're gone no one else can try and beat them -- but who'd want to).

The Burning.

BurningBooks  Let’s begin with a quick recap, by way of a reminder and an introduction for newer readers.  In the off season I’ve taken to reading my way through the Eighth Doctor novels published by BBC Books between the broadcast of the TV Movie with the Pertwee logo and the new series with the whooshing taxi-cab sign and then publishing reviews up here in the style of Doctor Who Magazine’s Time Team.  Since this is, and I know it's hard to believe, the first time since last September that there hasn’t been some iteration of the franchise on television, I’m returning to them again, a junkie reaching for his methadone.

It’s 2000 AD and the chance of a new television series is looking even less likely than ever.  Paul McGann is in his second series of adventures for Big Finish, but potential readers of the novels are weary of jumping onboard the literary TARDIS because of the perceived amount of continuity that has built up over previous years.  Having read said books, I can see what they mean.  The range needed a relaunch, a way for newbies to join and be able to follow the story without having read the previous few dozen books, to make this corner of the franchise accessible.  So having tied up as many loose ends as possible in The Ancestor Cell, The Burning brought a reboot of sorts, heralded with an article in the party newsletter and some exciting in-store advertising.

The Doctor has destroyed his home planet in an effort to save the cosmos from an intractable enemy during a time war.  The apparent last of the timelords, he’s travelling alone, attempting to find a place in the world, an anomaly falling into myth.  It’s unsurprising in hindsight that series editor and opening novel writer Justin Richards would take much the same approach as Russell T Davies.  Making the Doctor the last of his race automatically throws out a range of baggage and adds bags of pathos, though you couldn’t have offered The Burning or something similar as the opening episode of the new series, simply because with the exception of the Doctor all of the icons are gone.  Imagine the nation sitting down for Rose and finding instead the period Torchwood with considerably less featherbed jigging (the title perhaps referring to a side effect of some particularly worrying STD).

The author & editor’s deviation here is to drop the Doctor in late nineteenth century, without his memories or experience, making him a wanderer not in the fourth dimension but rural England.  The reader knows far more about the hero than he himself does, and the title of the series becomes a question it’s main character is asking rather than the reader – he knows that his name but he’s not entirely sure why.  One of the motives Richards gave for removing continuity from the Doctor as well as the series was to place him in the same position as readers new to the series of forever being one step behind, of not knowing how to kill a Cyberman or Dalek straight away, of not being able to walk into a situation and have an answer having been there a hundred times before. 

It’s perfectly reasonable approach except, as fellow author Lance Parkin noted in a recent interview, it also saves the Doctor from having to deal with what he’s done, which in story and character terms is a horrendous missed opportunity.  Compare and contrast with how Davies began the first series of nu-Who in which we met a timelord dealing very specifically with survivor guilt, often impotent to act in case he went too far again, the fog of war still bubbling under.  Imagine if we were instead witnessing an intact Doctor experiencing a century stuck on Earth, unable to change history and also having to deal with the history he himself has destroyed.  As Parkin says:  ““In retrospect […] the problem with destroying Gallifrey wasn’t destroying Gallifrey, it was that the Doctor wasn’t forced to live with the consequences. The new show does that so beautifully. Often, watching the telly series is a bit like peeking at the answers to a test I sat years ago … ‘oh, that’s how you do it “

The familiar figure in The Burning, then, both is and isn’t the Doctor.  He’s very similar to John Smith, the humanised timelord from tv’s Human Nature.  Having spent some time wondering Britain, he’s absorbed the local culture and idiom and become the kind of Victorian gentlemen his image has always suggested – in his turn of phrase and action he’s proudly British.  Yet, he still retains that spark of brilliance, confidence and arrogance even, that sets him apart from that human counterparts.  He clearly knows that he is unlike his fellow countrymen, despite not knowing who he is, mainly because he still retains his vast reservoirs of knowledge which seem to surface when needed (cf, Sam Beckett’s swiss cheese memory in Quantum Leap).  This makes his most Doctorish moments quite poignant because we’re not sure if he’s acting to try and fill a space.

It’s wonder considering the job that Richards gave himself rejigging the premise that the novels turns out to be as entertaining as it is and still retain a tone which is inescapably Doctor Who.  A fissure appears near a small mining town on its uppers, attracting the attentions of a range of liggers including the Doctor and the man who develops into his nemesis for the two hundred odd pages the ghastly Roger Nepath, the Delgado Master with sibling issues.  Nepath has discovered that a malevolent magma lives underground and hopes to use its fiery properties to resurrect his lost sister, even though it’ll destroy the planet in the process.  Like many of these Eighth Doctor novels it prefigures the new series in many ways -- there’s budget saving transmogrification, a walking army of fire monsters and lots of running though he’s without his sonic screwdriver so has to use his wits and powers of persuasion in the end.

Structurally, it’s also a 70s Pertwee with a touch of angst, including a small army who won’t act until it’s too late because the Doctor can’t provide clear evidence only a hunch, and a couple of Brigadier substitutes, the genial Professor Dobbs from The Society of Psychical Research (which might as well be period Torchwood) and local Reverend Stobbold whose debates about how the world is oscillating between reason and industrialisation provide the thematic backbone to the story.  Significantly both of these men also fill in the companion gap, and the Doctor exposes himself – sorry – reveals his lack of memory to them both at various points.  Both are beautifully conceived and dimensional and both their fates are heartbreaking and shocking, particularly since as has become a theme in the new series they might have carried on as they were had the Doctor not stumbled into their lives.

Richards offers a slightly more complex writing style than Terrance Dicks, never losing himself in a description and understands how to pace the action.  He’s also aware of the benefits of the medium – he milks the first appearance of the Doctor in the book by playing about with the readers expectations and memory of how he’s been described in previous books and will withhold information to heighten the mystery.  If there’s any problem at all with the book, it’s the story is slightly too simple for the pagination but that’s clearly an editorial choice, like Bob Holmes in Spearhead from Space and Rusty in Rose not wanting to swamp the reader in too much plot given the amount of interest that’s already being generated by the reintroduction of a much love character.  Welcome back Doctor, whoever you are.

Next:  A century spent dodging wars in the twentieth century with an amnesiac Doctor.  Who's with me?
Elsewhere Here's tonight's chunk of writing: "Since this is, and I know it's hard to believe, the first time since last September that there hasn’t been some iteration of the franchise on television, I’m returning to them again, a junkie reaching for his methadone."

links for 2008-07-23

April's Fools Day...Everyday
Office prank fun."Post-its covering every single nook and cranny of a corner office!"

Flash Minesweeper.
Nope, still can't play it. Even with the help of others.

Enough is Enough! One Woman Takes a Stand Against Coffee Shops That Play Really Loud Music
"To be sure, coffee shops in Brooklyn and beyond have long been known for the lively and unpredictable music played—an idiosyncratic soundtrack that may run contrary to the time of day or personal tastes of many of its clientele. But Atkinson decided the day was too important to her and she needed to take measures into her own hands. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. I just walked over to the guy behind the counter with the plaid shirt and discs in his ears,” she says, referring to Irwin. “And I asked him if I could give him $20 to turn it off.”

al gore knows

I knew the moment she stepped onto the metro, she was going to sit right next to me.
This happens to me almost every day. I really need a haircut.

Advertising loses some of its voice
"Ad breaks may no longer be louder than the transmissions in which they appear."

Paul Westerberg Sells 44-Minute MP3 for 49 Cents
"Westerberg played everything on 49:00 himself, according to Billboard, which asked his manager Darren Hill about the offer. "It's just wonderful that you can actually do this," said Hill. "The freedom an artist can enjoy these days is fantastic. Can you imagine me pitching this idea to a label?"

"On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy." -- Kevin Flynn, 'Tron'

TV I don't much like Messian then. Huh. Last night's Prom 5 brought his L'Ascension and Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (which sounds like the spell Harry Potter uses to summon Voldemort). We've spoken before about how my tin ears can't work their drums around atonality, and here again though I could intellectually understand what the composer was attempting and I especially liked the specification that there had to be two minutes between movements allowing plenty of time for people to clear their throats, it was mostly a trial. Saint-Saens Symphony No 3 was predictably my musical highlight for the evening, with the organ and pianos dueling like the two banjos in the film Deliverance.

The camera work was pretty impressive during the BBC Four broadcast of L'Ascension, which has to be the longest live continual broadcast of an organ solo outside of Christmas. It began with a long, slow zoom in from the outer edge of the hall to the organist's box which actually must be the longest shot that has appeared on television in quite some time. A man sitting at an organ is it seems even less televisual than a piano solo, but this still managed to be a visual feast due to the director's willingness to show off the architecture of the pipes, organist Olivier Latry's fingering and the acoustic adjusters in the ceiling.

Back on the balcony (the studio's only to be utilised on BBC Two, thank goodness) Charles Hazlewood was refereeing a passive aggressive battle to be heard between his experts, composer Stevie Wishart and Gillian Moore (from the South Bank Art Centre). The routine would go something like this: Hazlewood asked Moore a question about Messian or whoever, which Moore answered in detail and at great depth, then Hazlewood turned to Wishart who attempted to offer more background but somewhere in the middle of sentence would be interrupted by Moore who then talked in some more in detail and at great depth. Wishart would be suitably perturbed and take to looking into the auditorium, at the sky, everywhere in fact but Hazlewood or Moore. This happened a few times, and throughout I was willing Wishart to interrupt back but to no avail. And the one moment when Wishart was allowed to get into a flow -- on Saint-Saens, Moore continued by repeating almost everything she'd already said. They did seem to be getting on by the climax though.

During the interval: Zeb Soames completed the introduction to an interview with conductor Myung-Whun Chung and Latry only to turn and discover them in heated conversation in French. Just at it seemed that Soames had attracted their attention, Chung began to sing. Soames allowed this to carry on for what seemed like an eternity (but was in truth probably only seconds) before stepping forward and interrupting. Chung and Latry looked at him in much the same way as two businessman striking a deal at a lunch meeting in a restaurant might after a waiter's approached them mid flow to ask them if they'd like to order desert. Soames well redeemed himself later though by offering a useful potted history of the Royal Albert's organ and working in a Tron reference -- the instrument appears on the cult film's soundtrack.

links for 2008-07-22

"Tom Baker will never play the Dane."

Theatre Matthew Sweet offers a pleasingly Who aware piece in The Independent about the influences Hamlet may have had on the series:

"Dr Wiggins is equally crushing when I pitch him my theory that "The Invasion of Time" (1978) – in which the Doctor feigns madness to prevent his home planet falling to a race of aliens with thick Ulster accents – is another version of Shakespeare's story. If you must go truffling for Hamlet in pre-2005 Doctor Who, he suggests, better to try "The Masque of Mandragora" (1976), in which a fizzing alien entity arrives in Italy to stop the Renaissance from happening. It has an inexperienced, intellectual prince, a usurping duke, and a debate about the conflict between science and religion that recalls Hamlet's musings on the nature of the supernatural world."

Plus there was the original series bible for the 1996 revival in which Borusa was revealed to be the Doctor's father or something.

Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who. Edited by David Butler.

Books This book is amazing.

Before going some way to explaining that hyperbole, I should first admit my vested interests. The editor, Dr. Butler, a lecturer in Screen Studies at Manchester University, was the man who taught me everything I know about Propp, Said, Tarkovsky and Kurosawa, marked my dissertation and is a good friend (which makes it of course horrifying that I haven’t been in touch lately). He’s been in the news lately because he’s in aiding the project of cataloging the contents of Delia Derbyshire’s attic. He spoke about pulling this volume together whilst I was there and I’m listed in the acknowledgments as well as, I think, being a statistic in his own fabulous essay about audience reactions to An Unearthly Child and the TV Movie. Do not, then, expect the most balanced of reviews.

But really, this book is amazing.

There’s been a flurry of activity in the academic community and beyond in the wake of the new series, with countless volumes attempting to apply complex critical theory to the franchise building on the early work of Tulloch and Alvarado in The Unfolding Text, the first attempt at looking at the series from an academic point of view. Many of them are quoted in here, but from what I’ve seen, with the exception of Kim Newman’s BFI edition, they’re sometimes so fixated on trying to treat the programme as a serious text, they commit the habitual academic crime of deconstructing the target into a series of ‘signs’ and forgetting exactly what it is that drew them to write about it in the first place. Doctor Who above all else is a fun, diverting sci-fi adventure serial, sometimes for all the family or as Dale Smith’s essay about the Virgin New Adventures notes, sometimes not and it’s ok to acknowledge that whilst trying to roll it through the academic rigger.

This book of David and his colleagues treads that fine line superbly. As the brilliant title itself symbolically suggests each of the writers betrays a fannish knowledge of the programme, but at the same time when required (and importantly only when required) pull in relevant academic standards as way of illuminating the show and its place within the cultural mythology. There are varying degrees of discourse; essays such as David Rafer’s investigation into the mythic identity in Doctor Who mention everyone from Laura Mulvey to Jean Baudrillard and are like revisiting my university course in small doses in relation to my favourite television programme. Alan McKee’s fun demonstration of why City of Death is obviously the best Doctor Who story relies more heavily on the programme itself.

Also, unlike certain other academic tomes there’s never a sense of padding, of letting in material to make up the page length and justify the price. There are four sections, mirroring the classic structure of a Doctor Who story. The first looks at the origins of the series, the second how the stories are told -- narrative structure and their mythic and allegorical qualities, the third notes how the production facilities effected what appeared on screen with special emphasis on music and the final part is perhaps the most fan orientated, looking at questions of canonicity, who actually created the series and our appreciation of spin-off media. There also a rather lovely afterword by Paul Magrs on why he loves the series that is as touching, nostalgic and batty as you’d expect.

It’s difficult to select highlights since there’s narry a disappointment, but if you’re wondering through a university library and they’ve only got a single copy on three hour short loan, I’d go directly to the aforementioned piece on audience reaction which wittily runs through the TV movie's exposition failures with some wonderful quotes from fellow students who’ve never seen the programme before and note that for all the crackle and pop of the American cutaway, it’s the first episode and its inherent sense of mystery which is the most compelling. Then I’d skip to the back and find Lance Parkin’s exploration of canonicity which succinctly underscores the reason I love the franchise, that there’s no definitive version and no Lucasfilm style department telling me that the story can’t begin on Barnes Common because that’s not what we saw on screen (something which the Eighth Doctor Adventures turned into a plot point).

From there, bounce forwards through the pagination vortex to Tat Wood’s barmy attempt to work out who represents the viewer’s point of view in the series, making comparisons with everything from wildlife documentaries to film musicals. Then there’s Ian Potter demonstrating that by the close of the series, despite the best efforts of Andrew Cartmell and others, the production was still following the antiquated grammar of the sixties even though the rest of television had moved on around it and Matt Hills taking that a stage further to show that Big Finish were largely tweaking that grammar for audio and presenting the fan listener with a product which captures the magical essence of what they remember the show to be like in their memory rather than what’s being revealed on dvd. By then, your three hours should be up, but its worth risking the exorbitant fines to take in Magrs’s afterword if only to discover where his novel The Scarlet Empress sprouted from.

By then though, you’ll probably have decided to buy a copy and you’d be right to, because these are pages to be savoured. It’s weighty yet accessible, it’s intelligent and sardonic. In recent months, the essays about the contributions of John Nathan Turner and Robert Holmes have become even more relevant since both underscore that the show is not and never can be the vision of a single man, though until Moffat takes over we’ll not find out how much of the essence of the new iteration is due to the producer or the needs of production. It’s not afraid to spend ten or so pages explaining what’s so good about City of Death or why Paul Cornell’s contribution to the recent version of the franchise is all too easily overlooked. There’s a compelling sense of getting away with something – challenging received authority – rather like the Doctor himself.

Like I said, Amazing.

Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who edited by David Butler
ISBN: 978-0719076824
RRP: £15.99
Release date: Out Now!
Elsewhere I've posted a review of David Butler's Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who at Behind The Sofa. It's as I say there and often, amazing.