what I think is right

Politics I continue to be obsessed with the US presidential campaign season, far more to be honest than I've ever been with our own elections. Obviously some of this has to do with the glamour of it all, the big stadiums, the rhetoric, the colours (and being from Liverpool I can well understand how divisive the colours red and blue can be depending upon the context). Unlike UK politics of late in which ideologies have rather become blurred, the selection of Palin sees the two sides, liberal and conservative, being polarised around fundamental points of view, between what I think is right and what's clearly wrong. There's no grey area this time, or rather a kind of purple.

After spending months saying that I didn't really care who the Democratic candidate would be, after seeing his 'conference' speech, I've become really rather energised by Obama. He is fresh, he is new and more importantly it seems like he would be perfect for the job president. Much was made in the past couple of days about how Palin and McCain's speeches demonstrate that 'they're just like us' (or in this case 'they're just like US'). Which is fine, if that's what you want, though you can't then complain if they're just as corruptible as we are and prone to the same mistakes. Personally what I would like to see is someone who's nothing like us; I want someone who's better than I am, because otherwise what's the point?

Also: Now that was one bad convention speech: "John McCain sounded like the vestry board chairman speaking at the church social about the success of the raffle. Or, as a colleague just put it: he looked like the guy who'd been the office accountant for 40 years giving his retirement address. After he'd eaten a little too much Chicken Kiev."

Incy Wincy

La Machine

Liverpool Life Here, then, the obligatory Liverpool blogger's photo of La Machine, which I visited this morning just before it was hoisted off the building and carried to a 'secret location'. It is an immense structure and pictures don't really reflect that. There were hundreds of us watching, from travellers taking a peak as they wait for a train at Lime Street to those wanting to have a wider view from St.George's Hall. I was reminded of scenes in the Godzilla of people looking up, which was clearly the point -- it's incongruous and unreal and like nothing the city has seen before so all you can do is stand and gape.

a problem of their choosing

Giant spider brings Liverpool to standstill
La Machine is here and it's big. I wondered how they were going to demolish that building.

Wallace & Gromit model for Harvey Nics
How It Was Done
So much work for a single frame.

Scotland the Baffling
"I've come to love so many things about Scotland. The fish suppers, the mountains, the graffiti ... but I cannot get my head around THE TUB." It's called simply a bowl in these parts and I agree that on the face of it, this is a curious habit. But then you look at the sink itself and ugh!

I'm a rock chick, get me out of here!
Laura Barton tackles opera and has pretty much the same reaction I have. The comments from readers are as callous as you'd expect.

In Search of the Simple Sandwich
"For the last few years, I’ve noticed a creeping obsession among the sandwich-vendors of our nation’s capital and high street to add all sorts of random stuff to their lunchtime staples, turning what might otherwise be a simple, beautiful, tasty thing into something utterly fussy and overcomplicated."

Librarians find the weirdest things in returned books
"Pals keeps a collection of creative and unusual "bookmarks" on display behind her desk in case people want them back. Her wall is covered with greeting cards, personal letters, travel mementos, board game pieces, doilies, playing cards and one recent addition: a list of "karma violations." She also has found combs, deflated balloons and origami creations."

How pop music transfers should work
If Keisha were to leave and somehow convince Mutya and Siobhan to give it another go, who would be the Sugababes then? It'd be the Bucks Fizz band dispute all over again.

Sushi & business have more in common than you might think
I do love the design of Yo Sushi outlets. It's just a pity I'm not fond of the food.

Curtains Up On Sydney Theatre Company 2009
Cate Blanchett's new company has snagged Steven Soderbergh to direct a production, the content of which is still under wraps.

Pink Panther Ultimate Collection Prowls to Disc
Proper recreations of Eighties tea times are finally in our grasp. The Panther goes into the car and five minutes later the TARDIS is materialising at the side of the road. A different road, obviously.

The borrowers: 16-plus American adaptations of British television shows
A typically well researched piece from The AV Club. I hadn't seen any clips from the US version of Coupling before and I can immediately see why it flopped. Over here we seem more used to long involved scenes about situations with speeches and fewer punchlines, whereas the US sitcoms I've seen tend to have staccato editing and much higher gag rate.

The Palin Meltdown in Slo-Mo
Sarah Palin Soap Opera
I'm becoming slightly obsessed with the Sarah Palin story. Not her, you understand, but the fall out at the Republican Party's apparent inability to deal with a problem of their choosing, pulling out of interviews with networks when they have the audacity to criticise a candidate and the like. Unlike here, were not too long ago on BBC News, John Sopel referred to Palin as John Major's running mate during the news headlines. Now, as per The Daily Show, here's your moment of zen:

Politics There's an unnerving similarity between this ...

... and this ...

isn't there?
Elsewhere I spin round in circles trying to review a Doctor Who novel because I don't want to give too much away.

Lost Souls.

Audio This morning, when the Large Hadron Collider was turned on at CERN in Geneva, the world didn’t end, despite the presence of Radio 4’s correspondent for the Big Bang Day Andrew Marr, who as Doctor Who’s Aliens of London demonstrated is always on hand for some of mankind’s greatest apocalypses. The non-appearance of a cosmos crunching singularity made some people very cross, particularly viewers texting in to the BBC News channel who seemed to be suggesting that there was little point in spending all that money if it didn’t have a greater televisual spectacle than men and women in coats becoming really excited over a white dot on a plasma screen. What were they expecting? A shot of a giant laser beam flying through a tunnel like the Death Star in Star Wars? A crack in the Earth’s core perhaps? Or even as today’s Torchwood radio special suggested, the emergence of inter-dimensional aliens on a mission to make humanity glow like they’ve collectively overdosed on Ready Brek?

It’s not unknown for the recent franchise to be authoring to a shopping list (no matter what Russell T Davies says) but this was a particular difficult commission because it also had to fit within a day’s worth of programmes marking this ‘historic event’ ™. It could not have been easy for writer Joseph Lidster to work a story around this kind of real life scientific event, especially with the real switch on having already been broadcast, and also take mash it up with post-watershed gore and swearfest and make it acceptable for a Radio 4 audience in the middle of the afternoon (though after listening to Professor Brian Cox’s earlier doco about famous fans of particle physics which dropped the shit-word, the channel’s inspirationally far swearier already than most people might suspect).

In the event Lost Souls did at times sound like the Torchwood Quiz Book of Particle Physics. At one point, Captain Jack plonked Gwen and Ianto in front of a plane window and explained what CERN was and what the LHC did, and though that information was to become important later in the episode, if this had been the eighties the scene would have been illustrated by Rowan Barnes-Murphy. To keep things on narratively on track and tell a proper story rather than ask us a question about how Quarks are made (or something), the writer’s solution was take his cue from the setting of the story, Geneva, and turn in a love letter to the UNIT stories of the Pertwee era, with Captain Jack filling in for the Doctor.

Instead of a suspicious Brigadier, we found Martha Jones calling in Torchwood to investigate strange disappearance at a scientific project, the LHC becoming a nu-Who Inferno project, with CERN essentially a base under siege. Instead of being tempted to take full advantage of radio and flying in dragons or turning the sky purple, Lidster instead had the aliens sucking neutrons from their prey in tunnels with the companions under greatest threat, almost being transformed themselves. The head of the project turned out to be a patsy and with one of her subordinates working against him having already been possessed already by said aliens. And to cap it all there was a squee inducing finale as, for the first time in the franchise’s history, reversing the polarity of the neutron flow wasn't simply a cover for some useless deus ex machina, but the actual resolution for the story.

Lord knows what the usual audience for the Afternoon Play thought of this intrusion into their quiet universe. Tomorrow’s slot offers a drama in which ‘poetry dialogue, monologue and song combine to provide and insight into the spirit of a 1930s industrial town and its people’. Lost Soul’s only concession was a rather contrived opening scene in which the supposedly secret organisation introduced themselves to some random club employee in an effort to orientate casual listeners and a quote from Tennyson at the end. Otherwise it was business as usual with faux-dance music, exposition and shouting and a spectacular amount of continuity in what was essentially a direct sequel to the shocking conclusion of the previous series, with the team are still grieving over the deaths of Owen and Tosh, their funerals having just passed.

It is to Lidster’s credit that unlike The Stolen Earth this felt like a genuine next episode, especially as the hole in the team was utilised as a way for the aliens to suck on Ianto/ turn him into a gibbering idiot. The execution was just a bit clumsy with Martha becoming the kind of person we all hate at funerals as she went first to Jack then Gwen asking them if they were all right and how they feel – leading to one of Torchwood’s worst ever scenes in which, whilst waiting for a computer whatsit to do a thing, the Captain underscored once again that for decades everyone’s been dying around his feet but that he has to keep strong, with all the dramatic power of a US daytime tv soap. The episode was replete with such duff moments ('I wish I had a sonic screwdriver! This rock will have to do...'), though it wouldn’t be Torchwood without them, and most of the time I was laugh with rather than at it.

The acting was good across the board, especially of the guests Tittybangbang's Lucy Montgomery as the blustering head of the project (more Pertwee!). John and Freema were a bit ill at ease without a camera, and Eve seemed to be emphasising her accent more than usual but Gareth was best, working the ‘Welsh Ambassador’ joke for all its worth but turning direction perfectly for his usual descent into madness. I’m getting old so I think the music was too loud, but the soundscape was effective and at times even a cut above what you’d expect from Big Finish. Director Kate McAll kept the drama moving and had clearly researched how a usual tv episode is paced. Overall, the radio producers tried their hardest not remake Slipback and create a worthwhile addition to what they’re apparently calling the Torchwood sub-universe these days, and if it had been filmed it would certainly be seen as one of the better episodes.

For what that’s worth.

The Doctor Trap.

Books Expectation is one of the more intriguing emotions. Before reading Simon Messingham’s The Doctor Trap, I’d expected to open the subsequent review talking about The Most Dangerous Game, Richard Connell's short story from the 1920s in which a New York big game hunter is shipwrecked on a Caribbean island and ironically finds himself being tracked by a Russian aristocrat with a very large gun who gives him a taste of his own medicine. It’s been filmed many times in various guises, most notably as a Hollywood b-picture in the early 30s, shot cheaply on the already standing Skull Island set from King Kong and featuring much of the cast of that film, including Fay Wrey. I was going to write about that story, because the blurb on the back of the book suggests this would be another iteration of it, with the Doctor being chased across a planet by a small army of hunters led by an apparently English aristo this time, replacing Zaroff, the evil genius from the original.

As the book opens there’s nothing to suggest that this going to be any different. We’re introduced to Sebastiene, a Squire of Gothos figure, emperor of his own eco-system who’s invited a society who task themselves on killing the last specimens of dying predatory species to a game across twelve zones, the prize being the last of the Time Lords. Meanwhile, the Doctor/Donna answer a distress call, and having landed at a polar base, soon find themselves in the midst of a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing with scientists being murdered and fleeing by the dozen. It’s not long, though, before the Doctor is captured and dropped into the first of the hunting zones, Donna’s whisked away to who knows were and reader sits back awaiting endless chapters recreating episode three of The Deadly Assassin with our brown suited friend outwitting each of the different hunters and Sebastiene enjoying the spectacle.

Expectation is such an intriguing emotion because sometimes, just sometimes, expectation can be confounded. To explain how would ruin the first of Messingham’s novel’s many twists but suffice to say that it’s been a while since I’ve read one of these Tenth Doctor novels and found myself wondering exactly what it was going to do next, in which the author is hell bent on keeping the reader on their toes. If a certain recent Big Finish audio was seemingly impossible to review because of a single twist, The Doctor Trap is actually impossible to review because to really enjoy it you can’t know what happens much after page twenty-two. Whilst there are a few familiar beats in what occurs, Messingham unfortunately predicts genre elements that became rather important towards the bottom end of the last season, their application is sufficiently different enough not to matter too much.

I really enjoyed Simon’s Eighth Doctor Novel, The Face Eater, especially the characters, and it’s pleasing to see that nearly ten years later he’s not lost his touch. Sebastiene is a captivating creation, the kind of larger than life adversary that I wish the new series would do more often, so desperate is it to present a kind of realistic human evil. A pretentious Prospero, part pantomime ponce, mainly malevolent menace, his unpredictability underscores everything, weakened by an irrational idiocy. There’s Baris too, the nu-Who Whizz Kid, a Gallifrey One attendee taken to its ultimate extreme. Sadly, the gathering of hunters are a bit of a mixed bag and the author’s clearly constrained by the pagination as to how much personality he can give them; on screen you’d imagine that the actor would be the one to flesh out the details. Not so the Doctor or Donna, both of whom are captured perfectly and now that we know what Catherine Tate is capable of you can only imagine how inspired she’d be in some of the scenes this story would give her.

To downplay things slightly, given that this is a spin-off novel and the general status-quo can’t change, don’t expect (there’s that word again) anything quite as cosmos shattering as the close of The Stolen Earth. Indeed in some ways the author becomes so determined to pull the Axminster out from under us there’s a bit too much happening at the climax. But you can’t criticise the fact that Messingham, whilst still keeping the book largely within the primary age demographic, doesn’t make many concessions in terms of the narrative construction and has perfectly injected the magic ingredients that make a story work for a family audience, though like some of Steven Moffat’s writing for the series I’d say its skewed towards the older members of that group. He's also unafraid to drop in a few fan-pleasing references and so he should. If your story features hunters who chase down the most dangerous monsters in the galaxy, why wouldn’t they want a Dalek head hanging on their wall?

Doctor Who: The Doctor Trap by Simon Messingham
ISBN: 978-1846075582
RRP: £6.99
Released: 4th September 2008

the 'troubled' tag

Collective: Amy Winehouse in 2003
The BBC's largely user content motivated culture site recently closed but the archive is still up and includes gems such as this interview with Winehouse when she was only 19 and still starting out in the business. The featured live performance video reminds us that behind the 'troubled' tag she's been given by the tabloid is one of our great singers. The forum comments are very poignant.

Some of the World's Strangest Fences

McCain's VP Wants Creationism Taught in School
I bookmarked this before tonight's announcement. Taking a look at the photographs I posted about yesterday, of course she's pregnant in them, or at the very least trying to make it less obvious with the scarf and wearing black. Barack's response is perfectly pitched too: "Let me be as clear as possible... I think people's families are off limits and people's children are especially off limits." If I was an undecided and my decision was purely on the basis on how well the two sides were running their campaign, let alone the issues, I'd say the Democrats would be swaying me at the moment.

Charles van Commenee to take up baton for Britain
Like football managers, even the heads of athletic squads can be replaced it seems if the team's not doing so well. Commanee's a task master -- even when she won Bronze in Athens he offered harsh worlds to Kelly Sotherton when he was coaching her. Will our runners and throwers respond to tough love?

Even more live music in new schedule for Radio 3
There was a fair about of tetchiness when the new controller of the station announced that all of the concerts in the Performance slot would be pre-recorded -- some of the letters to Radio 4's Feedback were downright nasty! But I agreed with them all -- the taped version of the programme lacks the atmosphere gained by a presenter if not being there at least having the sounds of the audience behind them as happens with the Proms. They could just as well be playing cds sometimes. Great news, then, and an acknowledgement that to some extent the experiment hasn't worked. Note though that it is still only thirty and from the BBC's own orchestras.

Obituary: Ken Campbell
I've been a bit out of it, so imagine the shock when I had to read this in an RSS feed this morning. Ken's one of my favourite performers, one of Doctor Who's nearly men, there wasn't a form of performance he couldn't or didn't achieve. As Michael Billington says, he is truly irreplaceable.

Opinion: Can Blockbuster be saved?
There are some useful ideas in here -- scrapping the genre arrangement and simply using alphabetical order amongst the most sensible -- but I don't know that it can. Having been the market leader for so long it's find it difficult in a more crowded market, where it's almost as cheap to buy a film as travel to Blockbuster and rent it for one night and where people are patient enough to wait the extra couple of months for it to be in pay-per-view (should they have the technology) or for it to turn up through Livefilm/Netflix.

Panel Beating : Relaunch Issues
Noise To Signal analyses pointless instances of renaming, renumbering and reimagining in comics of the kind which simply seem designed to piss off collectors just trying to work out a way of storing their collection. I'm sure there's money to be made by someone who designs a classification system for comics and graphic novels which takes into account both chronology and the desperation to alphabetise.

Have you ever seen Christian Bale and Kermit the Frog in the same room together?

Publisher admits errors in 'damaging' age banding row
Would this have happened if an independent body, in other words a BBFC for words and pages, had taken up this challenge rather than a publisher themselves?

Finally, though this isn't quite as entertaining as the famous Jim'll of the cub scouts and their packed lunches, here's a video of some horrendously drunk Hollywood animators on a roller coaster. According to the imdb, the shooter, Jim Baker worked at Disney in the late 90s and was most recently a senior on Beowolf.

To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

Hamlet played by Joseph Tura

The title of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 film offers a double meaning. Of course there’s the Hamlet reference which I’ll get to in a moment, but remembering that the film concerns the Polish occupation by Nazi Germany it’s a question and a call to arms – do we hide away in these difficult times surrender ourselves to death (not to be) or be true to ourselves and battle against what presently seems inevitable (to be)?

Within the film, that means that the group of actors continue their profession but instead of performing for an audience, they bend their skills to self preservation and fighting the oppressor, wearing disguises and improvising and generally being very convincing for all that. Of course, depending on how you’re interpreting Hamlet itself, the prince is either mad or using his acting skills himself to feign madness to avenge his father’s death.

The play’s appearance in the film is largely played for laughs. On both occasions that we glimpse the production it’s viewed from the stalls as the Polish actor Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) steps forward to deliver ‘To Be Or Not To’ on each occasion the opening line sparking the walk out of a service man which he initially suspects has something to do with his acting skills but he later discovers is the code his wife is using to let gentlemen callers that they can visit her dressing room because he’ll be on stage for a while.

The staging is fairly stereotypical, a stone castle hallway and medieval dress and we don’t have much of an idea of what the rest of the show will be like, because we don’t need to. It’s interesting to see that Tura’s Hamlet’s reading a book, not unlike Jacobi in the BBC production though he doesn’t read from it, shouting the lines instead at the prospective cuckold as he dashes for the exit. He’s not one of the greats; as one Nazi officer notes: “"Oh, yes I saw him [Tura] in 'Hamlet' once. What he did to Shakespeare we are now doing to Poland".”

The film has a cross genre appeal years ahead of its time, merging what initially looks like a fairly traditional back stage farce with elements of the spy and war movies. It is often hilarious, which drew some controversy at the time of release and the film flopped presumably because it was ‘too soon’ and the public weren’t ready for jokes about the occupation which sparked the war. What they missed is that like the play which inspired its title, the comedy and tragedy are intermixed and interchangable and the film is at its darkest when the Nazis frogmarch into Warsaw.

found this set of pictures

Politics A Sarah Palin pregnancy story/rumour is all over the internet. After an initial flurry of excitement all I'll say is that based on photographs alone, I'm not sure. Oh and that I've bothered to check flickr and found this set of pictures:

Whole Truth Campaign

Taken on 26th February 2008, according to the camera's date stamp, a week before it was announced. They were posted to flickr on 1st March. Here's one of them. I can't tell either way to be honest, due to lighting and a scarf. The campaign, by the way, is an attempt to gather evidence related to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

I can't tell in this photo (taken 1 March 2008) either since she's wearing a big purple coat.

100 Things About Me

Life I've been waiting for a quiet moment to write about this. It's not much of a story. Actually it is a story and you can read about it here, but before you do I'll frame it like this. When I was constructing the 'about me', this list, the one that has at the top '100 Things About Me', I knew it was an opportunity to have a permanent place to keep certain things. One of them was the sound of my voice, the other was the following:

45: If there was one person from my past I would like to meet again it would be Rosie Holt. We were in halls together in Leeds and I always worry about what happened to her. Sometimes you don't hold on tight to the people who you later wanted to be life long friends. That's Rosie Holt. Rosie Holt. Rosie Holt. I'm hoping she'll find this if she ever does an ego search on Google, so I'll repeat her name again, Rosie Holt. Just email and tell me you're OK will you?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, a day after my computer died, I finally had a chance to check my email and there was a flickr update, a Facebook friend request and an email and they were all from Rosie. I screamed to be honest -- I didn't think the plan would actually work. But she'd googled her maiden name (she's been married since then) and found herself listed here there and everywhere!

Though for reasons that are none of your business her life's been a bit more eventful than mine (something made perfectly clear when she asked me to describe the past fifteen years and the best I could do was list my CV) I think she is genuinely ok, thank goodness. So for those of you who've asked now and then if I have ever heard from her, there's your answer.
About Wow, I've only just noticed that Off The Telly is back online, spruced up and dynamic! Not all the old content is back up yet (and good luck to Graham or Ian or Jack or whosoever is doing that). It's clean, colourful and has an rss feed. I've missed you (us?).