the names are incredibly diverse

BBC Three's new sci-fi comedy has an interesting pedigree at least in the script department. Nearly all of the episodes are written by different people -- which is unusual even these days for any comedy programme of this length -- but the names are incredibly diverse. Assuming they're the same people Alexa Junge was on the staff of Friends, The West Wing, Sex and the City, Big Love, Once and Again and Clarissa Explains It All; Toby Davies from The Mitchell and Webb Look; Paul Doolan wrote Man Stroke Woman as did Ed Weeks and Maggie Bandur worked on Malcolm In The Middle. Which shows that script writing is script writing and you should get the work were you can.

Crash Course
I'd like to think this will work, but the hyperlink structure is notoriously difficult to pull off in television -- Heroes messed it up completely in the second season -- and I'm not sure how this will sustain its narrative and premise since they're only focusing on five lead characters. Lost's an interesting case, since the flashbacks are interlinked like a hyperlink film, but the people on the island are usually unaware of the connections (with the exception of the one big example in season three).

Intermission is dead time?
I missed intermissions. Whenever I'm watching a length film on dvd, I always take a break at what looks like the mid-point even if there's not one there. I'm not sure if The Woolton Picture House still does this, but in the olden days they'd always have an intermission at the end of the third reel no matter what was happening on screen, even if it was in the middle of a scene. The house lights would go up and the ladies would appear with the ice cream. The big action sequence in the middle of the underrated Twister is a notorious example.

tender loving

Elsewhere I've spent the evening given some tender loving to Liverpool Blogs, with new items listed, a new way of adding to the list, and plans to start posting there properly again. If you are around these parts and not listed, do get yourself on the list by emailing

You never know, at this rate I might try and resurrect HeardSaid. Who's with me?

ever present risk of blogger envy

For reasons related to trying to find a copy of the Liverpool Echo, I found myself standing in a taxi blackspot tonight. There are places which are too far away from a bus and also nowhere near the route that cabs take back into town. Five minutes pass. Ten. I get a phone call asking where I am. But I know if I move that a taxi will arrive and I'll be just too far away by then to double back. So I wait.

Red tape could kill live comedy
I'm beginning to wonder if that's what's happened to my whole life. Again. I'm stuck in my ways, doing what I'm doing, actually too shy or scared to move an inch in case I get myself into an even worse position. I know what I want to do, but I don't want to risk it. I know that risk is part of life and all the other platitudes you'd find on a tv movie on Five Life, but as ever I'm under the impression that life is passing me by.

Destruction Of Bloglines Now Complete; Founder Prepares To Switch To Google Reader
Writing this blog and reading others has offered all kinds of opportunities, but there's also the ever present risk of blogger envy, of finding out about other people's fabulous lives in which they're doing what they want and are enjoying it, yet the most exciting thing which happened to me tonight was not being able to get a taxi.

On the Ultimate Time Waster
I know what I want to do. I like to write, but I also seem to have a facility for research. Clearly I want to be a journalist. Who writes about the arts. Mostly film.

The 18 Things You Need for Your Computer
I know this, and yet I don't even know where to begin. Put together a portfolio and send that off? Is it that simple? Do I actually need to have studied journalism specifically, or does reading other people's writing and having a basic idea of structure and writing for different audiences count? Is that enough?

status updates
So many questions. And believe me, I've been asking them to myself over and over. As Jill Sobule asks "Where do I begin?"

Celebrity author Salman Rushdie suns. He mingles. He tries to sell books.
Is that an obscure reference? I'm not sure. This article's worth reading by the way, even if you haven't forgiven Rushdie for his bizarre cameo in Bridget Jones. Apparently he was offered Dancing With Stars (the US version of Strictly Come Dancing). Well, Germaine Greer did appear on Celebrity Big Brother.

read it and weep
100,000 in St. Louis, MO: "All I can say is, wow."
I suspect some of this probably just wistfulness as I look across the Atlantic at this massive human endeavour -- and wishing I could bring my four years of call centre experience online to canvas for the man who'll be the first Black President. I'd love to get into to politics, except the British scene is generally boring and there's not one single inspiring candidate. Well, alright, one or two but neither of them are in parties that I could condone.

BBC Election '97 website. [via]
It's still there. '97 was probably the last exciting election. I remember the mood in the country; it was the first time I worked as poll clerk simply so that I could be there when the winds changed. I voted for the Lib Dems as usual, but that didn't stop me from cheering through the night whenever another of the old blue faces we'd had to endure disappeared into the shadows. So yes, I was up for Portillo. Little did we know they'd simply be replaced by a cascade of equally irritating red faces and as my old journalism night school tutor suggested, nothing very much would actually change. Ooh -- we're back to journalism again.

Ambitious £6m restaurant revamp of Theatre Museum proposed
It's the way of things I suppose, very nice restaurants or cafes with a museum attached. Still if it puts the collection back on public access. There do seem to be more jobs in theatre lately than film. But it also occurs to me that theatre education is given priority in school than film, because of its traditional connection to literature.

Dreadful Accident: the great London beer flood of 1814
Considering that film and television are mass media, they're not taught seriously in schools are they? I know there are A-Level standard courses in film, but why not teach it at an even younger age, have kids looking over film critically before hitting them in the face with Gerard Manley Hopkins? As I discovered, the disciplines aren't that different. Hamlet tells much the same story as Star Wars if you think about it, though I'm not sure who Gertrude would be. Lando?

Greatest Hits - Christina Aguilera
Much like this album cover I wasn't sure where I was going with all of this, except that it's a Thursday, that I never could get the hang of Thursdays and that actually for once I'm writing about how I feel on here. Example: I like Christina Aguilera. Secretly always have, the music at least and some of the videos. Her last album Back To Basics was a triumph. But what's going on with this album cover? She's an astronaut and a cross eyed one at that. She once posed naked with a guitar on the cover of the Rolling Stone. What happened with this here?

Free TV! Works!
Random Roles: Matthew Modine
Only A Game?
Anyway, I've been typing for longer than expected, so I'll leave you with these three. The first seems to be about a positive flytipping scheme, the second features some soul searching from Modine about the psychological state he was in on completing Full Metal Jacket, and the third is a Gilliamesque animation which greets visitors to a new exhibition in Liverpool about the beautiful game that isn't netball. And if you skipped over this link above go back now. It's unmissable.

"I wanted to make sure we understood each other..."

I had planned to post all of these last night, except just as I was about to, I realised that someone had hacked into my eBay account and sent spam messages into Italy. Ebay spotted it before I did. I was surprised. Then I was astounded to discover that a Trogan keylogger was installed on my system. I don't know how long they'd been there, but I hope they enjoyed my review of Monday's The Sarah Jane Adventures. I know I didn't.

U.S. pilot was ordered to shoot down UFO
Of course, I've cancelled all of my credit and debit cards as a precaution and changed the passwords on all of the websites I may have used, home shopping or not. I've never had my house broken into, not when I wasn't there at least (long story), but the feeling can't be too dissimilar, the impression that someone could be going through the details of my meagre life looking for loopholes or ways they can get me a mortgage or credit cards I don't need.

Rage Of The Unpaid: Hip Hop Freelancers Revolt!
As you can see, I'm still a bit behind on my reading, though this story is sure to become infamous. Freelancers of the world unite!

Dogs, squirrels and rats: Sefton Park in the autumn
The park is lovely this year, a patchwork of orange and gold which I don't think we've seen before. Apparently we're getting these Vermonter colours due to climate change and though I can't say that's a good reason, it shows there are silver linings to everything.

Grant Morrison writes Doctor Who [via]
... and drawn by Brian Hitch.

The 150 Best Online Flash Games
Many of these are quite samey, but the arcade adaptations are impressive.

Graham Kibble-White interviews Charlie Brooker
I can't wait for Dead Set, Brooker's Zombie dramedy, though since it's being shown daily and I'm horrible at remembering when things are on, I'll probably be watching the dvd. So actually I can wait. I'm learning.

Digital switchover date revealed
Granadaland is losing its analogue signal 4 November 2009, and if I'm still in the area, I definitely be tuning in to watch ITV1 being taken off the air.

Plotting on the London Underground
This looks like a British version of the man in the currently downloadable This American Life who goes around in a Superman costume.

Three Billy Goats Guff
Stuart writes about being banned from the Doctor Who forum: "But what I was saying was the truth, and I was never what I would consider to be very rude, nor was I trying to provoke a reaction so much as getting irritated at what I saw as rather creepy behaviour. "

Mitch Benn to write musical with Neil Gaiman.
I am aware that for some, that headline would be the other way around.

'I felt like some kind of monster'
"The human face is a miracle of nature. It can communicate nuances of emotion just by tweaking a muscle, it allows our brains not just to see the world but in some sense - through a smile or a grimace - to be seen by it. I discovered exactly how amazing the human face is when half of mine stopped working on Valentine's Day last year."

Flea Market Funk
Man or rather maaaan reviews records he's bought at table sales.

Biden's Brief
The New Yorker seems to interview Joe about becoming the vice presidential nominee and demonstrates how accurate The West Wing was in deal with these kinds of things. I wanted to make sure we understood each other—that, even if I vetted and he wanted me to take the job, I wasn’t committing to do that. When the time was appropriate for him, if I was the guy, I needed to spend at least two or three hours with him to understand what the role would be.”

Beat that McCain.

Politics In a lazy mood, I decided to google for Twitter. Look what's second in the search results:

Beat that McCain. And Britney for that matter.

Day of the Clown (Part Two)

TV What a godawful final minute. One of the great themes in The Sarah Jane Adventures is the underscoring of what a great, fabulous exciting Whoniverse it is, with characters seemingly weekly looking up at the sky enraptured by the possibilities. Much of the time we viewers wonder too, even though like Sarah Jane we’ve spent all these years seeing what it looks like and trying to pretend that most of it doesn’t look like Studio B. The last minute of The Day of the Clown was another example of this, but somewhere in the midst of the script, the performances, the direction and the music, I don’t think there’s been a falser moment on British tv this year with the exception of some of Mohinder’s more meandery meanders in the voiceover reality of Heroes. Some of the scene seemed have been ADRed (Additional Dialogue Recording) which can’t have helped the chemistry, but the poetry just tanked, as did the jokes, and I don’t think I’ve hated Clyde more than in that final shot when he looked backwards and said a line not even David Tennant could get away with.

Which is a shame, because up until that point the episode had passed the high quality control standards set by last week. In the first half, Bradley Walsh was largely kept mute until the cliffhanger, but in the second he was let out into the circus ring and basically stole the show. It’s interesting that in times gone by a figure like Walsh being cast at any level of Who would have caused sniggers, but having spent time on Coronation Street he’s become a credible enough actor that his appearance as a villain raised few eyebrows and his turn as the sinister Spellman might well be one of the creepiest performances the franchise has seen. Some of this had to with the accents, Elijah’s German and Odd Bob’s part-Lector part Michael Keaton’s Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. But it was his presence too, the dead eyes, the false geniality, the menace. His advance on Sarah Jane at the Pharos Institute was properly scary, simply because you weren’t sure what he was capable of.

This was an episode designed to creep out parents as well as children; as the little-uns clutched their mummy’s breast at the sight of the scary man with the fluffy red sideburns, the idea was presumably that the mummy would clutch their child tighter as the primal parental fear of losing them was enunciated (assuming they’re not out in the kitchen trying to make the tea). Child catchers aren’t new to children’s fiction ("You have to know where to look; like cockroaches, they get under the floors, in the cracks in the walls, in the woodwork!"), and Ford’s script was careful to demonstrate that it was the act of kidnapping the school kids in order to create fear which was Odd Bobs aim, but it’s still quite brave to tell this kind of story at 4:35 during Children’s BBC, with the kind of hysteria which surrounds just this kind of crime (though obviously in a more grimly mundane Linda LaPlante style). It’s that thing which was missing from Sunday's Eighth Doctor adventure, Dead London; you can tell an exciting, slightly horrific, actiony romp, but it feels more relevant if there’s something underneath, however well buried below talk of meteors and aliens and ninety-nine red balloons going by (or however many there were).

If the first half had Lamorisse and Lang getting lost between the hobos and tramps looking for a way out, this week Ford and vetran tv director Michael Kerrigan (remember Knights of God?) must have been dosing on Orson Welles and Bruce Lee; with that fascinatingly abstract scene in the hall of mirrors which must have been a homage to The Lady from Shanghai or The Way of the Dragon. This was one of those episodes filled with memorable images. The shot of the empty school yard with the three teachers almost colliding with each other at the centre; the phalanx of kids with their balloons marching through the streets, those floating balloons contrasted against a sky so blue it looked like it had been pasted in from the Derek Jarman film. It’s an example of the show, despite its budget and otherwise quite conventional staging aspiring for something more cinematic. They’re not scared of a bit of (what I understand to be) Soviet montage either, with the rapid cutting of shots of clowns with Sarah Jane’s face, underscoring Liz Sladen’s superb performance and helping us to understand this personal phobia which seems to be driving her to levels of apoplexy not seen since a Dalek fleet drifted into the sky above London.

A good introductory story for Rani then, what with her predictably finding a way to stop Spellman, apparently having seen a Tim Vine dvd the night before. I like the way she stands; in that four shot in the attic, everyone else has their pull on hero pose, whereas Ajili’s chose the stork position. Actually the actress seemed less certain this time around, but again I think that might have been as a result of the weirdly unnatural ADR which was more prevalent than usual. She can certainly make her eyes sparkle with the best of them, and there’s already a great rapport with the rest of the cast. Rani’s parents had less to do this week, which is certain to be a phrase I’ll be repeating in the coming weeks as the likes of Clyde’s family come online. Some nice nods to the classics too, with the clown from The Celestial Toymaker putting in an appearance and lip service to Sarah’s Aunt Lavinia (if only Mary Wimbush was still with us). Has the early mortality of her parent’s already been established anywhere or is this something new? Whatever, if you hated the clowns, weren’t too put out by that last minute, and weren’t enamoured by new technology repelling old ‘magic’ at least there was the return of Floella Benjamin’s mesmeric line readings; Liz deserves a Stanislavski award for having to act against that…

Next Week: What An Atmosphere, I predict a party with a happy atmosphere …

Dead London.

Audio He’s back and at Sunday tea time. After a twenty-month hiatus the Eighth Doctor and Lucie return to BBC Radio 7 in a blizzard of publicity, with the already infamous Radio Times cover, previews in all of the major newspapers, those fantastic billboard ads in which it looked like the TARDIS was coming out at you, radio and cinema advertising, the red tops filled with spoilers, and a week of interviews on BBC Breakfast, not to mention the press launch with Paul, Sheriden and Briggsy on top form and the leaked camera phone footage on You Tube of Who’s glitterati sitting in Abbey Road Studios listening to tonight’s episode Dead London.

Well, alright, not really, but given that this is a new series of Doctor Who, you’d think at least the Radio Times could have managed a preview on the day page. Instead it’s Robinson Crusoe and Desert Island Discs (do you see what they did there) and unless you happened to glance across to the actual channel listing or picked up last Week’s Doctor Who Adventures or this month’s Doctor Who Magazine you’d have no idea this was even happening (troublingly said listing says that this is the first of six even though there are eight in the series but we’ll cross that bridge etc).

Perhaps these episodes, because they’re not really new, having been released on cd by Big Finish itself in the first half of this year. I’ve been through what seems like an eight month long Whovian version of The Likely Lads episode in which Terry and Bob tried to avoid the football scores, glancing away from the synopsis of each cd release, reading around the reviews in the party newsletter. It makes understandable business sense for the company to keep them back like this (they must have lost some sales last year when it was the other way around), but when a near agnostic like me is thinking about not just hiding in a church but joining a monastery something’s gone a bit shock-eyed.

Either way, Dead London’s an odd story to begin what’s supposed to be a series with. Unlike last year’s Blood of the Daleks it lacks the in-built dramatic hook of a new companion and ongoing adventures afoot, preferring instead to provide a perfectly serviceable romp of the kind which wouldn’t look out of place in one of those anthology annuals put out by Marvel in the 90s. As fans we’re used to sampling the franchise like a wine festival (or in my case and ice cream parlour) sampling the various flavours with some appreciation of the vintage (or dairy). But you have to wonder what a casual would have thought of this, so unlike the new television series as to seem like a completely different series.

Writer Pat Mills central idea is a good one (which is probably why it was already used somewhat in The War Games and that Virgin Missing Adventure Managra), even if it wasn’t quite employed to its fullest potential. Splitting London into various time zones and then making the inhabitants somewhat aware of the mingling could have made for some interesting contrasts, the different characters swapping notes on how they survive as the walls come tumbling down. Despite all the mention of place names and odd bits of trivia, with so much going on, neither of the supporting characters gives much of an indication of what it is like to live there. That could be as a result of the slender running time and also because, barr some atmospheric sound design, this doesn’t ever stop sounding like a ‘play’ unlike some of the more epic episodes from last season.

Mills is more interested in building towards his turning point twist at minute twenty, with initial impression that the Doctor and Lucie were in different eras in our universe quickly being washed away by the appearance of the river. The episode is at its best in the first half, with the business with the Doctor in court and Lucie avoiding a bombing raid, with their respective guides, the spin-off friendly outlaw Spring-Heeled Sophie (played by the best regular companion we never had Clare Buckfield) and Yellow Beryl (the every present Katarina Olsson, who, however flexible and good, must have something on Nick Briggs considering she’s also in every episode this season as well). This romp is built on a number of set pieces, with the chase in the boat and the rather wonderful moment when they realise they’re standing in a wicker man; is this the first time that Eighth has actually used his cravat to save the day?

Dead London then is still entertaining if undemanding stuff, largely because this marks the return of the lighter Eighth Doctor after last season’s experiment with the ‘cantankerous’ version. Since script editor Alan Barnes (who helped to define what the character is about in the audios and original comic strips) won’t be submitting his version of a year long email conversation with David Darlington any time soon we’ll not know how much of that has to do with his influence, but what is clear is that Paul seemed to relish the return to an Eighth with a ready quip to hand, inquisitive and brave, and fundamentally without a chip on his shoulder about something or other. If he’s just a bit too knowledgeable – he knows instinctively what the box is and what it’s for deadening the mystery, it’s just a change to have the man in full control of his faculties.

It’s also good to see that Lucie might be a companion with more than one series in her. Early days but even though she was fairly well tied into the story arc last season and spends most of this episode talking to herself and describing her surroundings like a talking book version of an Infocom adventure, the clips of future adventures from Beyond The Vortex show promise and it's a contrast to have a northern lass in the TARDIS after decades of RPs and cockerneys. The writers just have to be careful to play to her wisecracking strengths without making a poor-man's Donna Noble; as we hear here she's more adaptable to her surroundings but something like "I wasn't really paying attention" when the Doctor is explaining the plot seems unworthy.

The play is just not really about anything; drama doesn't always need to be of course, but there's no message, which registers as a disappointment from man whose 2000 AD output was all about messages; there's also nothing here to match the invention of The Iron Legion or anything from Doctor Who Weekly. So unless Mills is dramatising some obscure bit of Freudian arcania (“A man, who metaphorically has the appearance of a reptile, feeds off his environment and people within it”) there’s no big theme to be found here and neither of the main characters learn anything about themselves or their environment. Perhaps we’re (or I'm) spoilt and been conditioned to expect more from the franchise, but with the exception of the Doctor’s conviction that the tightrope walker can do anything she wants now, this is essentially just another story of the timelord trapped in a strange dimension fighting to get to the centre so that he can out wit the enemy.

Where once it was the inaccurately named Master in the Land of Fiction, here we’ve Rupert Vansittart’s asthmatic alien crocodile with a Second Life account using avatars to assert his status on a virtual world. He’s this guy. Which is probably why the play ends on such an anti-climax. Though the main surprise – that it’s all happening inside the lizard’s head -- is startling – the resolution is worthy of a TV21 story. We’ve railed against the use of the sonic screwdriver as a magic do-it-all fix me up before, but this was just shameless and sounded for a moment like one of those false endings that sometimes crop up when the villain seems beaten, but then everything goes to crap anyway. Nope. I actually re-listened to that section again afterwards to check I hadn't lost consciousness and missed a big explosion or dramatic girgle from the vanquished. But still no. The man might as well carry a carpet bag around with him.

But some redemption comes in the closing moments as the time friends re-enter the Tardis and in a quite poetic moment listen to the sounds of this amalgam London as the various time zones bounce against and echo one another, and you finally got a sense of this place as a memento mori of our nation’s capital in times past, an Edward Rutherfurd doorstep novel with all the pages stuck together. Perhaps if there had been more of a sense of that in the rest of the story, if Mills had built on his obviously detailed research into what the various parts of London were like during the various time periods, it might have expanded upon its limits as a romp into something deeper and more affecting.

Next Week: We find out what might have happened if Satellite Five had featured Top Gear ...

meeting myself coming backwards

Elsewhere I'm meeting myself coming backwards. Last night I wrote a review of the first of a new series of Eighth Doctor radio plays which was posted today. Tonight, I reviewed the latest episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures which should be posted tomorrow.

Either way, there's something for you to read here, should you care to. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the Doctor Who radio thing, it was just a bit of a disappointment considering it was written by Pat Mills. Paul McGann's on form though.


About I'm quietly abandoning the Tumblr experiment because it became apparent that it would be easier for people to visit my YouTube favourites page instead ...

... or subscriber to this RSS feed ...

... which might well be the least exciting post to this blog in quite some time.