Spooks: Code 9.

TV The announcement of Spooks: Code 9 was greeted with the kind of collective internet sigh last heard through every episode of ’90s flop Attachments. The trailers looked like something someone might have knocked up for YouTube using clips from that failure to tap into the web zeitgeist, the main complaint being that this spin-off (then called Threat Level) made a nonsense of the parent programme because it showed everyone in London being wiped out, making the actions of the more familiar characters entirely pointless.

The first episode didn’t open well – the too swift description of the catastrophe, then smash straight into spy craft with lots of quick cutting and shouting and pop culture references was particularly dated and Joanne Froggatt seemed unsure how to pitch her performance as leader Hannah, to the point of being irresistibly annoying. Once she got the bullet (the unexpected death carrying on a well worn Spooks tradition begun in fine style when Lisa Faulkner saw the wrong end of a chip pan in the second episode of the parent series), the mis-en-scene calmed down and set about defining the real ensemble and telling a proper story with long scenes full of acting.

On reflection, establishing the status-quo up front rather than having an apocalyptic Survivors-lite first episode added a much needed sense of mystery as the audience attempted to catch up on the intervening history. The plots are typical Spooks fare except, presumably for budget reasons, on a smaller scale – discover who the shooter/bomber/traitor is and stop them. If it’s possible, the series seems to have an even stronger political agenda than the main channel version, speculating on the lengths the security services would go to in protecting society, with civil libertarians becoming terrorists to get their point across.

Doctor Who fans tuning in to see what Georgia Moffat did next after playing the Doctor’s daughter would be disappointed – saddled with a horrifyingly unconvincing character name (Kylie Roman) and bizarre red wig (that can’t possibly be her natural hair colour) she’s yet to really shine. Better was the decision to have the maths geek Charlie (Liam Boyle) in charge rather than at the bottom of the pecking order trying to prove to his boss how clever he is, and even smarter to make him the opposite of the omnipotent Harry Pearce. He’s forever asking his longer serving deputy Rachel (Ruta Gedmintas) for advice, offering her in turn the opportunity to be far more ruthless than her exterior would suggest.

Having these generally less knowledgeable agents also neatly sidesteps the perennial problem of the parent series where the apparently very experienced adults drop a hundred IQ points in order for the plot to move forward. Setting the series in a fiction city and blurring the geography also means the audience is on the back foot even if the place is clearly being filmed in the oh so real Leeds. It’s actually easy enough to assume too that all this is happening in a different timeline to the other show, simply trading on the name, and format. Despite it’s bastard origins this is turning out to be a neat bit of Orwell-lite, Whedon-lite entertainment.

links for 2008-08-02

Haiti: Mud cakes become staple diet as cost of food soars beyond a family's reach
My Dad says his Mum, my Gran used to say that a little bit of dirt won't hurt. But this is a bit ridiculous.

Spooks: Code 9 preview
I've various problems with this new BBC Three series but the main one is -- if it's set in the same universe as the other Spooks yet in the future and shows that every thing is going to be blasted to buggery then, doesn't that make the work of Harry and the team in the 'contemporary' show dramatically pointless since we know whatever they do everything is going to be broken anyway? Now I've another one. What exactly is going on with Georgia Moffet's hair?

What happens when you pour liquid nitrogen into a swimming pool?

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer: Animated -- The Unseen Pilot/Presentation
Brilliant, just brilliant. And funny and everything you'd expect. Why did this not go to series? Why? Why!?! Much what something else animated now. Ooh -- Transformers: The Movie.

"Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better."


links for 2008-08-01

Review: Swing Vote @ Cinematical
Sounds like a fine piece of Capracorn; it it had been made fifty years ago it would have featured Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur

Classics of everyday design No 48: The View-Master
Jonathan Glancey offers a slightly more knowledgeable version of a pub conversation. "I had the Buck Rogers one!" etc.

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended
"Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples."

Again? Really?
You'll have to read it. But I will say that people rarely know were I'm from. I think I've a slight Liverpool twang, but my fellow city people often think from outside the area and southerners sometimes take me as being one of their own. I've even had Australian, though the person was very drunk, I think.

Sunday Times subeditors reply to Giles Coren
"None of this, however, can excuse your nasty, bullying, "know your place, you insignificant little fuckwit" e-mail. Yes, it's funny, in a way that pieces that use "fuck", "shit" and "cunt" so liberally often can be, but, please - someone made a mistake. They surely had no intention of sabotaging your deathless prose. So you don't like what happened to your piece - have a word with your editor. The hapless sub will no doubt already have been soundly thrashed and had their dictionary privileges removed."

Interviews: Edgar Wright @ AV Club
Very thoughtful interview. Always odd hearing about Spaced, something I've grown with being experienced by a new audience. I'd love to see a new series, but I suspect the coda at the close of the documentary on the dvd is probably the best we can hope for, and may be enough.

A Memoir - Nonnuendo
Robyn's blogging again. Properly this time. Hopefully.

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” -- Mahatma Gandhi

Life Sorry about that. Hope no one else is still on dial-up and had issues with the massive download that was the last post. I'm now a customer of the 3 network with a 5Gb, £15 per month mobile broadband contract and so far, so good. Admittedly, the apparent connection of 3.6 mbps looks like a bit of a fantasy and the most of reached is about 1 mbps, but then you have spent the best part of a decade watching some webpages download even slower than it took to multiload an 8-bit computer game from cassette, this seems very speedy indeed.

Not having had anything to do with mobile phone companies much other than speaking to a certain recorded lady on my pay as you go Orange phone I didn't really know what to expect when I walked into the 3 shop on Church Street in Liverpool. I was served by a girl who seemed very tired, very Friday afternoon, but she answered all of my questions patiently and was able to tell me that it didn't really matter which of the free modems to pick -- they all worked well enough -- so I might as well have the really expensive one, the sleek black number which currently sits atop my table on the cable.

I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that if I want to go visit, for example, starwars.com I don't have find something to do for twenty minutes while it finds its feet (actually it's not instantaneous still, but it is a lot faster). I just need to keep an eye on usage. Five gigs seems like a lot at the beginning of the month, but there's a lot of hours and days and podcasts and videos between now and then and the last thing I need to is get to the twenty-fifth and not be able to check my email because I was spending too much time on the fourth watching some new Doctor Who trailer over and over and over and over again. Or this video which only make sense to people I went to school with:

Or if you've read this post from Mystery Music March/April/May. Glad to know it still happens, though the blazers are far bluer than they were in my day.
Music Here's my birthday meme, rendered gratuitously with the help of YouTube:

That's right kids, I'm on broadband. Won't be doing that again. Promise.

"there is no such thing as Shakespeare's Hamlet ... there are as many Hamlets as there are melancholies"

Some obligatory posts from The Guardian related to David Tennant's Hamlet. Some photos & Michael Billington picks his ten best including some screen versions in with the stage.
Letters From Annette in the comments: "I had no idea you were an Amy Grant fan. And weren't you a little young to be listening to the thirtysomething soundtrack?"

Amy Grant: At least the crossover album listed though I do have some of her other lps somewhere. There was a concert on Radio One at the time which sounded less synthetic and that's probably the thing I really liked. It wasn't until I was some way into the obsession that I realised I was listening to Christian pop, which just goes to prove I've never really followed any particular genre rules. Imagine my surprise when Baby, Baby turned up on the soundtracks of both Mr & Mrs Smith and Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies/Go To White Castle.

thirtysomething: I was seventeen. I first heard it at my friend Tris's house, loved it and been listening to it on and off ever since despite having only watched the tail end of the final series, The track titles are fairly self explanatory and it's one of those rare occasions were the music works just as well away from the real thing. The whole piece rightly has a nostalgic, wistful quality but also a sense of fun and I just wish more of WG Snuffy Walden's score music was available (his soundtrack to mini-series adaptation of The Stand is breathtaking). Plus there's Ricky Lee Jones's rendition of It Must Be Love which has to be one of my favourite songs on the subject simply because of its matter of factness. I can't wait for the inevitable dvd release so that I can see where all of this music fitted in finally.

And from John: "I don't know exactly when I started reading your site, but I first borrowed a link from you back on 25 August 2001." Which as I pointed out to him wasn't even a month from when the blog started. I think he's the oldest reader. Unless you know different.

links for 2008-07-31

Waiter Rant revealed.
Hey Steve!

A lifetime of lost playlists
Martin Belam has offers a personal history of music formats and describing how he made playlists with each of them. I'd love for his conclusion to become a reality.

Last night I saw ‘An Education’ for the first time…
Nick Hornby on the latest film adaptation of his work. Translation for us clued in Doctor Who fans: 'Look it's Carey Mulligan!'

American Teen: The Downside of "Reality"
Thoughtful review of the new documentary about kids at a Louisiana school: "Apparently there was a bidding war at Sundance for "American Teen" and I can't blame director Nanette Burstein (who also made the excellent "On the Ropes" and "The Kid Stays in the Picture") for wanting her film to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. After spending a few million for the American rights, I'm sure Paramount had their marketing wunderkinds working overtime to come up with a plan that would get the film into the multiplexes. But is pitching it as a modern-day "Breakfast Club" the best they could do?"

BT (Hello Geoff) & More BT
Customer service fun: "Somewhere there's a team of experts who are meant to be called in whenever a case reaches 48 hours... but as not one of the less qualified staff I spoke to decided to escalate my case even after 96 hours (and I think that includes speaking to 4 managers) it's impossible to imagine this crack squad of engineers actually doing anything. They have their best people sitting on their thumbs while an army of less qualified people sit feeling harassed and exhibiting various blends of disruptive/incompetent and dishonest behaviour."

Radio Leads to Riches, But Only If It's Country
Jewel goes some way to explaining her change in direction. I'm still looking forward to hearing this, but the import copies I've seen have been horrendously expensive. Ooh, ebay!

Right place, wrong time
Simon Waldman on how the BBC failed to have much on the Weston-super-Mare pier fire whilst you could watch the whole thing on other channels: "We watched the fire raging - live - on a...err...rival news channel, who had the good fortune to have a cameraman/sat-truck operator living not far from the town. And boy, did they make the most of that stroke of luck! It was an uncomfortable hour, to be frank."

Russian to the rescue
Canadian interview with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra's Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko. They play the BBC Proms tomorrow night.

Hollywood Has Finally Figured Out How to Make Web Video Pay
I'd wondered what Rosario Dawson had been up to lately. Though buried in there is a description of one of her forthcoming projects: "soon she'll start rehearsals for Seven Pounds, a Sony film in which she plays a desperately ill heart patient Will Smith falls in love with". I suspect if it was any other actress that would be hideous.
Film I had hoped to bring you some impressions on The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan’s latest Batman epic. I mean I can – as it stands I think despite the length a good twenty minute’s worth of pacing has been cut out that it suffers from much the same problems as the dreaded Spiderman 3 in that there’s too many characters, too many incidents and the storyline meanders terribly leading to a lack of focus. I also think that despite all of that it’s still one of the best comic book movies ever made, on the strength of the performances (yes indeed give Heath a posthumous Oscar), the action sequences and the general sense of moral ambiguity that pervades the whole production. I can’t help thinking though, that in putting aside some of his usual elements of style, particularly playing with story order, Nolan’s subsumed himself too much and lost some of his magic in the process.

The problem is that I know my opinion’s tainted, I know that because once again a seeing a film at the multiplex was spoiled by all the reasons I give these days for not seeing a film at the cinema. The film was being projected at a low candle level, which made this darkest of films even more difficult to watch. Despite this being a multiplex, the sound levels were chronically low rendering some of the dialogue, in a film were half the cast lisps and whispers often unintelligible. But more than anything else it was the audience.I sat at the front of the cinema so that I wouldn’t have anyone in front of me. But it filled up behind with people shouting at each other across rows and shouting into mobile phones and though this calmed down slightly as the film started, as soon as the Joker appeared, the mirth began and continued throughout the presentation.

One particular group found every scene hilarious and in particular enjoyed any moment when someone was shot, knifed and particularly when the Joker was on screen, even when we’re supposed to be shocked, this bunch were laughing and one particular member thought himself a comedian and hurled monosyllabic comments which everyone could hear but no one but his peers thought amusing. You know that scene when Harvey Two Face is revealed? I don’t know what emotion I was supposed to have at that point, but I’m sure Chris Nolan wasn’t looking for comedy. In a film which is all about mood, to have your mood wrecked by these kinds of goons is catastrophic. I’d eventually had enough. I got up out of my seat, went out of the door and across the foyer and complained to the staff who called security.

Security consisted of a short man who bore an unlikely resemblance to Burgess Meredith in Rocky (which is sort of in keeping I suppose for a cinema). He was silent and deadly and there was some calming down in the last quarter of the film. The climax though heralded some more unprovoked laughter and the guard appeared and walked directly in front of the screen during that final scene in the place with the thing where thingy decides that the best way would be to do the thing, which was a bit distracting. So on the whole, I simply couldn’t concentrate on the film as much as I’d like to so I can’t really tell you what I thought because I really don’t know. But when I say that there’s no point in seeing Hollywood films in multiplexes anymore, I mean there’s really no point in seeing Hollywood films in multiplexes anymore. Still, at least there’s the dvd to look forward to and possibly a re-assessment.


WolfsbaneWolfsbane was published at an interesting time for the BBC Books.  Though it was 2003, the new series was yet to be announced and interest had waned to the point that the Eight Doctor novels and those featuring past Doctors were dancing a by-monthly publication waltz.  In addition, it was felt that Eighth’s adventures had reached their narrative limit (something I’m aware of through reputation, rumour and reviews in the party newsletter) and some thought was being put into how stories could continue with the character but set within the existing chronology, fitting in to story arcs which had already been established, the lost- Sam arc, the Faction Paradox shuffle and Time War One.

This Earth bound arc too (or whatever its called) was seen as fertile ground, since the original underlying linking idea of setting each of the stories during the period of a major conflict still left gaps in the timelord’s story, plenty of hints but nothing definitive.  Since the main story was still ongoing, the decision was made to produce a past Doctor novel, but have the characters interact with this earlier version of Eighth to see if reader interest was that solid.  With the commissioning of the new series and the curtailing of this version of the book series, it all became a mute point and the only other past Eighth Doctor novel ended up being Nick Wallace’s Fear Itself, which I’ll be reading in the new order soon.

At the weekend, Steven Moffat, our incumbent president was fielding the usual questions about whether he’d bring back the Daleks, if David was doing the fifth series, who River Song is and what his vision will be and in the middle there was the inevitable question about a multiple Doctor story.  He said that the problem with writing these stories is that beyond eight minutes of bickering it’s very difficult to write a coherent story and that the best way to do it would be to have one Doctor dealing with the consequences of another’s actions.  I can't seem to find a link to where I'd read he said that but in any case, he’s right (again) even if he didn't say it in those terms. 

Looking at just the television stories, you either end up telling the same story five times or render one of the Doctors, usually the guest star, insensible.  Jac Raynor’s Wolfsbane takes parts of each of these approaches in order to collect the Fourth and Eighth Doctors together in the same tale and how much you enjoy the results, rather like EJEST and colonic irrigation depends on what mood you’re in.  And since we do have this innovative spoiler shield and because I want to be horrendously spoilerish and do that thing I usually find really annoying in reviews of basically writing a synopsis, you can carry on reading below either if you’ve already enjoyed the adventure or don’t care too much and just want to see what a big chunk of prose looks like.

Raynor presents a thrilling set up and actually it's very similar in energy to the question presented in his past series with Donna.  We know from the beginning that Harry Sullivan will die – it says so on the back of the book.  The question that then presents itself is how.  In answering, the author splits her narrative in two; Harry is accidentally left in late 1936 and gets into all sorts of adventures with the amnesiac Eighth Doctor which will ultimately lead to him being an ex-Harry and then the Fourth Doctor and Sarah land a couple of weeks later and attempt to figure out if he is indeed dead (just resting?) and if its safe for them to take the TARDIS to a couple of week’s earlier and scoop him up without breaking the laws of time.

It’s much the same basic idea that we’ve seen in such classics and the Big Finish audio Time Works and Mawdryn Undead.  Except for reasons which I suspect have something to do with some future EDA story arc which was going on at the time of publication (in reading this I’ve jumped a time track three years) Raynor lays in a mass of other unexpected complications.  Early in the book, we discover that Eighth, rather like John Smith in Human Nature, has been receiving dim notions and memories of his former self and is writing them up as short fiction.  He’s submitted them to Amazing Stories in the US, only to be rejected on the grounds that there’s so many ideas that it borders on the incoherent.  That’s exactly what we find in Wolfsbane, and its utterly, utterly bizarre.

That there would be werewolves involved somehow isn’t that unexpected given the title; we’re told that both sides of what appears to be an inevitable conflict (them and us) are attempting to utilise these being for nefarious ends or defending ones country depending upon your point of view.  What’s totally unexpected is the sudden appearance of a character from a thousand years in the past trapped asleep in a tree for the duration by a dryad from straight out of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that said peasant, Godric remembers King Arthur’s court, Merlin and is actually carrying the Holy bloody Grail around in his back pack and that the ultimate villains of the peace are the batshit mad descendants of Morgan Le Fey and her son Mordred.

Which is where the mood question rears.  Personally I love everything to do with the grail myth (even that romantic ‘comedy’ with Richard Gere as Lancelot) so its appearance here is a glorious intrusion, even if in Whoniverse terms it makes relatively little sense.  It had been well established I thought that the Doctor was or would at some point become Merlin and it all happened in some pocket universe or alternate dimension, yet here Camelot’s presented as a piece of real estate on freehold at the close of the first century AD.  Naturally, I’ve consulted the good book, and in Ahistory, Lance Parkin suggests we can have it both ways, that there’s a court in two different dimensions with different histories and the Doctor is played by Nicole Williamson in the other one and also makes sense given the events of The Shadows of Avalon.

I’d imagine that there’d be some readers who’d be a bit uncomfortable with the way its all treated, especially how a certain cup is used in resolving one of the stories.  They’d also probably raise their eyebrows at how magic in general is dealt with, since in a ‘continuation’ of all the spell casting from Casualties of War, both versions of the Doctor seem quite happy with the concepts of werewolves being magical creatures, that the ground has woken up which is why all of this madness is occurring and that there are such things as sorcerers and not just people who’ve tapped into some unknowable technology. 

It is an amusing paradox that I’ll accept everything I’ve listed in the previous paragraph but not the Doctor joking about proving the existence of such beasties.  I think it’s because it shows an inconsistent approach to the timelord’s characterisation more than anything else.  Ninety-nine percent of the time he takes great pains to show that it’s a rational Whoniverse even when faced with something which could very well be a manifestation of the devil incarnate, yet the language here flies in the face of it.  At one point he even administers a flask full of diluted moondust to a were-person in order to trigger her change into wolf and perhaps brandishes a gun full of silver bullets.

I’d probably be even grumpier if simply on a technical level it wasn’t so cleverly written.  As with some of the best Doctor Who stories, the companions take centre stage, particularly Harry with both Doctors often leaving the story to do something 'off-stage', shadowy figures who's heroism is largely unknowable.   Given the paucity of his on screen adventure, Jac captures Sullivan's travails perfectly, that English stiff upper lip, right-on gun-ho yet terribly clumsy attitude to life. 
He’s Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral, a bungler with a heart of gold.  There are some supreme moments of comedy where Harry realises that he’s the only one in a position to do something and he reluctantly tries his very best and often succeeds beside himself.  At one point he  wonders how he can pass by a vase quite efficiently when its not important, yet always seem to knock it from the mantle piece if something vital's going on and he has to be a bit careful.  He’s never overwritten though – we’re not given too many revelations running counter to what’s already been established – I mean clearly he has a soft-spot for Sarah-Jane – that much was much was obvious in Ian Marter’s performance.

Sarah-Jane on the other hand is a rather tragic figure all told, especially when she takes the decision to dig into Harry’s grave to discover if he’s buried in there once and for all and almost breaks herself in the process.  Yet she still retains a dry wit and is forever needling her Doctor when he’s not keeping her informed or doing what she thinks he should be doing.   She's far more of a journalist here than she was ever allowed to be when Tom took over the main role on tv, though arguably you can see the beginnings of the person she'd ultimately become in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Her Doctor, the Fourth, has always been a surprisingly tricky figure to capture in prose, since his humors changed with the producers, sometimes soberer than others.  In Raynor's novel, we find an amalgam of approaches, the distant man of the Hinchcliffe years to begin with, then later the far more mercurial magician that Graham Williams introduced us to.  Whether that fits smoothly with the placement the story is supposed to appear in – just before Terror of the Zygons -- is open to debate, but it’s good to see ‘teeth and curls’ getting an airing once again along with his monarch of the glen look, tamoshanta and all.

This isn't, as if it wasn’t already obvious, an Eighth Doctor adventure as such.  He’s in there true, and perfectly in character as far as that version of the character goes, but he’s more of a guest star in Harry’s story and though he spares his former companion (despite apparently not knowing who the hell he is) on in taking what could be the ultimate sacrifice to save the day (though I’ve known men who’d pay good money to spend the rest of eternity with a wood nymph) whenever there’s some bit of investigating to be done, we more often than not see Harry waiting around for his return rather than follow his actions. 

There are few details as to what he’s been up to in the meantime.  He’s been drawn to this village after hearing about the death of more life stock (this time it’s sheep – meat mutilation seems to be a thing with him) and rented his own cottage (which would tally with what’s happened on the previous two occasions he’s decided to board with someone else).  He’s using science in an attempt to crack open his mystery blue box, and has come to the conclusion that he isn’t human (he refers to our species in the third person).  Oh and you should read what he’s called his chickens.  Though all of this has been slotted in by Raynor in hindsight, it’s very much in keeping with the developments from the first two books.

If all this ultimately sounds like a mish-mash, then it’s probably
because that’s exactly what the novel is.  By this point in the past Doctor novels, pretensions to write something copying the mood and spirit of the relevant era of the series has fallen away.  At no point does this feel like a Fourth Doctor television story or as I’ve said an Eighth Doctor novel for that matter.  What’s here are recognisable characters reacting within a literary or cinematic world far removed from the bounds of television; the wolf in the fold, Emmeline, seems to have walked out of Neil Jordan’s Angela's Carter's A Company of Wolves or just as Godric is a refugee from John Boorman’s Excalibur and the dryad’s played with the playful magnetism of Michelle Pfeiffer who was Titannia in Michael Hoffman’s  underrated adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Then, just as the story seems to have reached a satisfying conclusion (though it’s a shame that, Harry doesn’t realise ultimately he’s met much more than some chap who happens to be called the Doctor), Raynor drops in an italicized coda which throws everything in the air.  In presenting us with multiple conclusions, all as ultimately tragic as one another, we’re potentially left with questions even more exciting that that posed originally.  Is Harry a werewolf during Zygons?  Is Sarah?  Did the Fourth Doctor put them out of their misery or did he save them both?  Or one of them?  And why do Fourth and Eighth always seem to be connected to readily in time (see also The Dying Days and Alien Bodies)?

Then finally, in the closing two pages there’s one final twist as the butler of the house meets a man in the street in a top hat wearing an eyepatch who seems to be the Doctor, the Eighth Doctor, yet isn’t.  And the problem is, having read Wolfsbane both in and yet out of order I know that the answer won’t be forthcoming just yet, especially since Eighth has a date with Fitz in 2001 to keep and sixty-five years of history to live through (as well as four more novels).  No spoilers, please.  I don't want to  know yet.

Next:  It's an enigma.

Soundtracks and girly music.

Meme It's this blog's seventh birthday today, but rather than try and have a surprise party (pointless because it knows what's happening soon as you click 'publish') I thought I'd have a go at that meme in which you attempt to list all of the major albums in your life year by year. To be honest it's a bit hazy before my tenth birthday. There was a lot of chart music, folk and according to my parents bagpipe music. I do remember a BBCtv Children's Favourites record and The Carpenters and the soundtracks for The Jungle Book, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, but I'd be lying if I arbitrarily picked a year. So instead I'll begin with the first album I bought and work forwards. I think you'll be less than surprised by the rather tragic results.

1984 "The Best of …" -- The Spinners
1985 "Silk & Steel" - Five Star
1986 "Transformers: The Movie" -- Various Artists
1987 "An Evening Wasted With ..." -- Tom Lehrer
1988 "Kylie" - Kylie
1989 "Electric Youth" -- Debbie Gibson
1990 "Graceland" -- Paul Simon
1991 "Heart In Motion" - Amy Grant
1992 "thirtysomething: original soundtrack recording" -- W. G. Snuffy Walden
1993 "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" -- Bob Dylan
1994 "Automatic for the People" -- REM
1995 "Jagged Little Pill" - Alanis Morissette
1996 "Debut" -- Bjork
1997 "All Saints" -- "All Saints"
1998 "the audience" -- the audience
1999 "Roosta Live" -- Roosta
2000 "One Touch" -- Sugababes
2001 "White Lillies Island" - Natalie Imbruglia
2002 "Love, Shelby" -- Shelby Lynne
2003 "Lost In Translation" -- Kevin Shields etc.
2004 "The Rough Guide To French Cafe Music" -- Various
2005 "Careless Love" -- Madeliene Peyroux
2006 "Goodbye Alice In Wonderland" -- Jewel
2007 "Made of Bricks" -- Kate Nash
2008 Too early to say, though I think BBC Music Magazine might be in the running just because.

Soundtracks and girly music. What else were expecting? If seven years of reading this blog has taught you anything it's that. Incidentally, to really celebrate (!) perhaps everyone could tell me when they started reading? I'd love to know if any of you have been with me since the beginning. Maybe your favourite post?

links for 2008-07-28

From the Arts Council mailing list.
Do you look like Michel Gondry? Do you know someone who is often mistaken for him? For more info contact 020 7849 4493 or send pictures to gallery@bfi.org.uk

Make Friends With Celebrities
"The more you know about the star you want to meet, the better your chances of anticipating where they are likely to be. If your heart's desire is to meet Angelina Jolie, start hanging around African refugee camps. Eventually she will show up, and when she does, the two of you can commiserate about the world's inequities and what a loser Jennifer Aniston is."

Views of Jupiter
My God, it's full of stuff

The end of the pier show
Michael White on the destruction of the pier at Weston-super-Mare which I watched in real time this morning on Sky News. Just horrible, though it looks like the actual bases is still intact so hopefully it can be rebuilt.

NZ judge orders 'odd' name change
I once shared a student hall with a girl called Clare Hamburger. Which was sort of the father's fault.

On Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen
For Darren: "I guess the Reagan era was that scary. I was a kid at the time — I’d have been thirteen when Dark Knight Returns was published — and I remember feeling at times that the world could end any day. It probably didn’t help that my father reviewed books for a military publisher, and sometimes he would leave books around, and I’d be curious and I’d read them. I really did expect nuclear war when I was ten or twelve, and a book like Watchmen (which, to be fair, I didn’t read until my twenties, a good decade after its publication) tapped into that social fear."

Wine In A Tube
That's just about enough to get me drunk.

Magical library may vanish
"The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, based at the University of London, is the UK's largest of its kind and contains letters between Price and the legendary illusionist Houdini. It also has detailed correspondence between Price and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a believer in the paranormal. Titles such as The Hammer of Witches, a 1486 treatise on witchcraft, are among its 13,000 items, which include pamphlets and hand-pressed books as well as photographs."

Say So Long to an Old Companion: Cassette Tapes
"Cassette tapes’ tendency to hiss — and to melt in the summer and snap in the winter — turns off audiophiles. But for audio books, the cassette is an oddly elegant medium: you can eject it from your car, carry it home and stick it in a boombox, and it will pick up in the same place, an analog feat beyond the ability of the CD."

100 Tube staff strike over staff assault
This does seem to be a mixed message. We won't tolerate assault on our staff but we'll sack them if they defend themselves.

Review from the stalls of David Tennant's Hamlet
"His facial muscles are constantly exercised - at one point he crosses his eyes to great comic effect. All of Hamlet's characteristics are beautifully portrayed. His loneliness and sense of loss, his feelings of betrayal, his defensiveness when he thinks Ophelia has rejected him, his insight into the machinations of the court. To the brilliantly contrived sword fight and death scene, it really was hard to take your eyes off this remarkable actor."

Music of the Spheres.

Music Something I love about Doctor Who, other than that it’s Doctor Who, is its ability to combine with some of my other obsessions. Granted with forty-five years of story telling, odds are that it's bound to bump in to a couple of anyone's proclivities (unless you’re Max Mosley) but it’s relatively scary, at least for me, that even the latest few television series have worked in jukeboxes, the Olympics, Shakespeare, communal singing, Kylie Minogue and now the Proms on Radio 3. Frankly if the plots of any of next year’s specials are pinioned around cream cheese bagels, French cinema, art galleries in the north west of England or Superlambananas, I’ll assume Russell T Davies is using a mind probe on my cranium.

It’s only in the last year I’ve become a bit of a stalker when it comes to classical music, after listening to every Albert Hall prom in the 2007 season then buying a job lot of BBC Music Magazine on ebay. Over the past dozen months it’s become apparent that all of the arts and media are influenced by the European classical tradition, either directly or indirectly and that the music in Doctor Who’s no exception. Though initially strapped to a synthesizer, as the series has progressed and its budget increased composer Murray Gold has allowed his orchestral sensibilities to take flight and if he’s not nipping in a bit of choral Orff or Wagner in here, he’s luxuriating in some brassy Copland or Bernstein there, a big sound designed for the small screen. Gold should feel very proud to hear his music finally played in what is for some the home of western classical music and played so intelligently here by the BBC Philharmonic and London Philharmonic choir under Torchwood composer Ben Foster and Stephen Bell.

I don’t know what the Promenaders (literally) on the ground thought of the dedicating of a concert to his music, but I’d hope that even if they’d never seen an episode of the series before (why?) they’d see that Gold can be as bombast yet thematically interesting as some of their favourite composers. Certainly listening to The Doctor Forever and Rose’s theme, they might note that though their roots are in the ‘light’ category within which film and television music is usually pigeon holed, there is a real depth to the composition and some thought given as to how to express the thematic ideas inherent in the series; if music from the likes Korngold can find a life outside of its Hollywood utilisation why not his similarly surnamed televisual successor?

Rather than rerunning the set list from the Cardiff Children In Need concert, Murray (assuming he chose the music) weighed heavily on underscores from the past couple of seasons. Donna’s theme is a Gershwinesque affair, Astrid Peth a neat bit of mournful Monteverdism whilst the brilliant Song For Freedom which develops the Ood them and recalls the melody from Song For Ten for ultimate deployment in Journey’s End. I’d missed it in that episode underneath my own sobbing, but I think it’s one of Gold best pieces of writing for the series, and must have sounded spectacular from within the hall. About the only disappointments were perhaps the Dalek music which was ultimately a mess of choruses vying for control, the rendition of the new version of the theme which was just less cohesive overall to the one we enjoyed for seasons two and three (at least it wasn't Nigel Kennedy) and Song For Ten, in which original episode vocalist Tim Philips seemed to be taken with the moment bless him -- but here’s the wrong place to start the Hannon debate again.]

Let’s instead applaud the non-Who choices smuggled into the concert as a Reithian measure to demonstrate to kids that classical music isn’t boring. Opening the concert with a medley which began up front with the gutwrenching Doctor’s theme then shifting into Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man cleverly enunciated the familiar silhouette of the Doctor and his human companion whilst simultaneously as explained in the programme notes “serving as a fanfare for the human spirit, great endeavour and enormous courage”. Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets whose B-section, which was famously borrowed for the hymn ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, recalls those episode scores which break off in the middle for a bit of churchiness, Gridlock and The Family of Blood. The composer apparently hated what the appropriation did to people’s appreciation of his whole work, which to an extent mirrors Russell T Davies’s own reaction when he found out Gridlock had been nominated for an award by the Christian right in the US for the values it upheld (at least for them).

In the second half, The Ride of the Valkries brought about the only listenable bit of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle to the audience, particularly the adults who more than likely had the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now in their heads – I know I did. When the BBC decide to do a Lucasfilm and start merchandising the time war, I for one can’t wait for Gary Russell novelise a version of the film with the timelords sending the Doctor and some time tots into the vortex after a Kurtz-like Davros lauding over Skaro. “Gallifrey … shit.” “They were gonna make me a chancellor for this, and I wasn't even living on their fuckin' planet anymore.” “He likes you because you haven’t regenerated.” “You are fighting for the biggest nothing in history.” Etc. If the Montague and Capulet from Romeo and Juliet would be the perfect accompaniment to a hundred marching Cybermen, about the only interloper was Mark Anthony-Turnage’s premiere piece The Torino Scale which for much of its duration sounded like he was purposefully smuggling in incidental music from Classic Star Trek. As Chandler said once on Friends when faced with an ultrasound: “I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s attacking the Enterprise.”

In the middle of all that was the ‘special scene’, Music of the Spheres. On radio, this was as close to a Big Finish audio as the new series is going to get with David Tennant in full bouncy, shouty, jokey, Attack of the Graske mode. Along with a Graske. Not so much a proper adventure, as a shout out to the audience, this must have been a great surprise in the hall as the kids found the Doctor addressing them and it says a lot for Tennant’s charisma that he can work the crowd even on video. Trust Russell T Davies to write something which made the most of the venue yet still worked without the pictures, got the orchestra to do some work (neat bit of atonalism from the Doctor there), provide a squee worthy moment for the fans in beating his foe and a touching moment essentially telling the kids how important music is to us all. Is it canon? Who care, it was just great fun, and I’ve tried my best here not to spoil the surprises for those of you who are waiting for the television broadcast whenever that may be (assuming you didn’t watch the version which appeared on the official website briefly or some dodgy version recorded on camera phone uploaded to YouTube in the mean time).

There’s a routine to listening to Proms on Radio 3. There’s the announcer, on this occasion a slightly bewildered sounding Sarah Walker doing her best to describe the on-screen action like Caroline John trying to improvise the narration for a BBC Audio release. There’s getting slightly teed off with the audience for coughing through everything, this time replaced with babies and applause for on stage action, neither of which I’ll begrudge on this occasion. And there’s Twenty Minutes, the programme that spills into each interval. When Radio 3 commissioned science fiction writer Justina Robson to provide the half time whimsy here, were they really expecting a Behind The Sofa-style evisceration of Journey’s End and the John Nathan Turner era along with some slightly shippy fan fiction? Robson’s obviously something more than a passing fan (even though she ignored McGann’s existence) but could this not have been an analysis Gold’s music, perhaps something prepared by the Doctor Who Confidential team instead of an examination of Captain Jack’s omnisexuality and why Tom didn’t jump Leela’s bones?

Luckily, it wasn’t quite enough to destroy the sense of celebration evident elsewhere in the broadcast. The story of what’s really going on with Freema and the casting politics was set aside for her introductions and her enthusiasm – if indeed she has fled the Whoniverse, she’ll be a great loss. And look (or in this case hear) its Adulthood’s Noel and Camille joking about Wagner and Catherine hopefully realising the affection that most of us fans now have for her and Donna. As one heckler said, ‘Bring her back’ – here, here, though I can't see it happening. In the end, all were beaten by Nick Briggs’s Daleks and the majesty of Julian Beach’s Davros whose spine chilling guttural tones, creeping their way through familiar names like ‘Henry Wood’ and ‘Royal Albert Hall’ were one of the true highlights and worth the organising of this whole endeavour alone. I can't wait to see it all again on television.

Next: Messian’s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur.

links for 2008-07-27

Made up
I was very pleased that Liz McClarnon became Masterchef champion, chiefly because she was such good value throughout, didn't cave under pressure and didn't come across as a complete ass (and that means you Andy, a man who once shared the screen with a fake duck). Terribly normal and unstarry and well, one of us really and very huggable.

Get with the programme
Rachel Cooke investigates whether the bottom has fallen out of the reality tv market. It's always seemed to me that the more willfully extreme and high concept these shows try to be, the less interesting they are in the long run.

The Greasy Pole
Watching this episode of Yes, Minister this morning made me shiver. Here's a transcript from a key scene. Doesn't that remind you of something?

Censor Sensibility
Friz on Channel 4 sensor cuts. It is basically impossible to watch Friends during the day on any of the channels if you can even half remember the scripts; the crowd often seem to laugh at random and scenes end unresolved and incoherently. It's always been this way at Four. The pilot of Alias has its flashback structure unpicked to lessen the impact of the torture and Angel would often clock in at half an hour. But then, if they hadn't decided to show both at tea time instead of later in the evening, it might not have been such a problem.

Apollo 14 Moonwalker Claims Aliens Exist.
Of course they do.

Great Crested Newts
... in Calderstones Park, Liverpool

Going belly up
At the risk of linking to everything in The Observer today, here's Jay Raynor's review of a rib shop: "the Chicago Rib Shack stinks, in the way old fish that's been left on the parcel shelf of a locked car for three weeks throughout an Arizona August stinks. It's a waste of ribs, an insult to pigs and cattle. It's a sauce crime, and it's taking place right in the heart of Knightsbridge. Call the food police. Now! According to its own publicity, the Chicago Rib Shack isn't a restaurant, it's a national institution. Then again, so was Bernard Manning, and I wouldn't have gone round his house for dinner, either."

Well worth the wait
Stephen Fry's back and has the iPhone 3G in his sights: "A year of living with iPhone One has proved to me that the camera lens and its operation is good enough to produce better photos than phones with twice the resolution, that EDGE speeds allow swift email and full browsing in most areas of the country, that the Google Maps implementation and music, video and photo playback are stunningly impressive, and that other deficiencies are made up for by the sob-worthy beauty, elegance and lovability of another Jonathan Ive-designed Apple masterpiece."

Opening of The Apple Store Liverpool
In related news. Mike Thomas ends up talking to people who were tweeting about being there having noticed their messages on Twitter. Macenstein has photos. I did consider going, but then realised I'd have to get up very, very early, and the below was on and every dork has their priorities.

Finally, some excited reviews from bloggers who were at the Doctor Who Prom the lucky things:

Scholar's Blog: "I also spoke to Phil Collinson (outgoing Exec Producer) - poor bloke must have wondered who the hell the over-excited loony was who accosted him outside the RAH just after he and his party exited. I thanked him for his work on Who - because I know he's worked very hard on it. And he immediately diverted me into discussing the concert so I babbled like the fool I am and then wished him luck for the future."

Alipeeps: "The atmosphere was fantastic and prior to the concert beginning (and during the interval) they had a constant sound effect playing in the hall... the hum of the TARDIS.. the background noise that you hear in the control room scenes in the show. Such a cool idea and really added to the atmosphere. The TARDIS was set at the back of the stage, behind the orchestra (and on the "walls" next to it, were spray-painted the words Bad Wolf! :D)"

si_hart: "Great stuff but it wasn't half hot in there! My only regret was that I didn't get to say thanks to Murray Gold himself who was sat in the row in front of us. That would have been nice, but I did as I was told and went to sit down. Ah well."

Something I didn't mention in my Sofa review was that the original version of the theme was played at the end of the special episode and still managed to sound fresher and less dated that the Gold version which appeared at the climax of the concert.

Casualties of War.

WarBooks  It’s 1918 and Jason Bourne, sorry, the Doctor turns up in Hawksworth, a generic North Yorkshire village, saying he’s been called in by ‘the ministry’ to investigating strange occurrences of livestock being exploderised and soon after dead soldiers walking.  Suspicions turn to the hall on the hill, a Hospital for was wounded and its megalomaniac administrator Dr. Banham and its up to the ministry man and his new friends Constable Briggs and Mary Minnett to uncover the threat to the village and stop it spreading to envelop the whole world.

So far, so historical Who does The X-Files.  But what that purposefully broad synopsis seeks to demonstrate is the striking simplicity at the heart of first time novelist Steve Emmerson’s book – it’s the Doctor versus zombies!  Granted Emmerson (interviewed here) is keen to show the tragic similarities between the idea of the walking dead and the men in the trenches of World War One waiting to go over the top and each of these cruel inhuman forms has a history and past life cut cruelly short by world events, but in the end, it’s our timelord friend shouting in a room as these monsters gather for the kill, and unlike The Empty Child, there’s no child like order to stop their advance.

As you’d expect given the setting, it is a good companion piece for tv’s Human Nature.  That was about how young boys were essentially being groomed for the impending and inevitable war; here we see the effects that four years of mud, bullets and bombs would have on them.  The patients in the hospital are broken figures yet also so institutionalized they’re trying to get better so that they can return to the fight (though admittedly to an extent they have little choice).  When one of them is murdered, it's all the more horrific because it happens in a place were they’re supposed to find comfort and yet death still stalks them even there.  As Emmerson says in his notes:  "I wanted to get inside the men’s heads. Let everybody see what they’d been through. Have them remembering their loved ones, their mates, their real lives."

Emmerson’s beautifully written book may be slow in plot development – its some hundred pages before anything of great note happens, but you can forgive him since his handling of both atmosphere and character are so well achieved.  The main representative of the local community is the broadly spoken Bill Cromby and the vague pun in his name suggests the author had Ambridge in mind when he was developing the story.  You can almost smell the village, a tiny outpost of civilisation in which the Doctor seems very metropolitan indeed, but at no point does he seem to patronise the locals, he clearly has some affection for the rural life.

Chiefly that’s seen through the local bobby Briggs, a silver haired copper close to retirement who’s served the community for decades and for whom this is the most exciting thing which has happened in his long career.  Without the Doctor he’d be sunk, and the timelord clearly enjoys his company – there’s some wonderful bluff work at times in their negotiation of the slippery Banham.  If this not been the war to end all wars but the one after that, he’d be front and centre in the Home Guard, presumably telling Captain Mainwaring were to stick his rules and regulations.
The best character though is undoubtedly companion for the duration, Mary.  Educated and aware, the Doctor’s attracted to her straight away though you detect that he’s not quite sure why – we know it's companion syndrome, the need to have someone helping him and watching the excitement, but he’s perhaps confusing that with a romantic connection which he’s not quite so comfortable with and that she isn’t either, though he awakens the blossoms within her (especially after a rather steamy moment outside her bedroom door).  Once the Doctor has moved into her spare room, they begin sparring over the dinner table, a chess game in which she’s attempting to discover exactly who this mystery ministry man is and he’s blocking her blows with half-truths and subterfuge.  In my head Mary’s played by Kate Winslet, and I can just imagine that scowl the actress has patented as the answers to her questions aren’t forthcoming -- and her performance during the pissed on port scene.

Like his subject, Emmerson isn’t in a hurry to provide a recap of the intervening years.  The Doctor’s moved on somewhat; though he’s travelled a bit more and there are more flashes of the man we knew creeping through: the namedropping, the bursts of emotion, the machine gun repetition of the words.  When asked why he’s not aiding the effort, he says that its not his war which suggests that since the years have passed and he’s retained his youthfulness he’s realised he’s unlike other men, which has generated a new sense of purpose, beyond the waiting game for the next millenium and a meeting with someone called Fitz decades ahead.  It’s his naturally curiosity which draws him to Hawkswick and which leads him to almost accept the mantle of a steampunk Sherlock Holmes.

About the only weaknesses in the book are the villain and the denouement.  The problem with Dr. Banham is that he’s rather a stock cackler without the sympathetic motivations that made Nepath, the Doctor’s adversary in The Burning so understandable.  There are some neat parallels between the scenes in which he’s not giving anything away to the Doctor and the latter’s own secrecy, but you’ve never under any illusion that he’s the baddun and whilst not every Doctor Who story can or should be pinioned on a twist, his brand of bland evil is disappointing.  As for the ending, for readers who’ve not yet been through this otherwise rather wonderful novel, I’ll talk about that below.  Anyone not wanting to read the end of the review can always look instead at Emmerson’s own story of receiving the commission to write from BBC Books.

Elsewhere I've reviewed Prom 13: "Something I love about Doctor Who, other than that it’s Doctor Who, is its ability to combine with some of my other obsessions. Granted with forty-five years of story telling, odds are that its bound to bump in to a couple of anyone proclivities (unless you’re Max Mosley) but it’s relatively scary, at least for me, that even the latest few television series have worked in jukeboxes, the Olympics, Shakespeare, communal singing, Kylie Minogue and now the Proms on Radio 3."