Time to break out the Boney M!

The Independent: Hallelujah! Competition for yule No 1
I know that all of this is a corporate endeavor and much of money will be going to the same record company, but I could certainly get behind a campaign that sees the Jeff Buckley version of this at number one, ahead of The X-Factor, if only to rest control of what was once a great British institution from the Saturday night advertising machine. I've just bought a copy from Amazon's new Mp3 shop which was a surprisingly painless experience.

cauliflower gratin
Made using what looks like the Star Trek equivalent of vegetables. Purple? Resulting recipe looks like blueberry cheesecake.

The Guardian: Twittersphere in shock as Tony Benn reveals he's never even heard of Twitter...
I watched him talking to many of the people I follow all evening. I put the errors down to a lack of proficiency with a keyboard, but on reflection it didn't sound like him. But then, how many of us actually do online?

Archives.org: Congress Establishes Thanksgiving
A bit late, I know, but fascinating nonetheless (save it for next year). For two years, two different dates were used for the celebrations at different ends of the US.

Shelf Abuse - Or How To Organise Your DVDs
Another excellent post from the Empire blog. I have everything I've recorded from television in chronological order based on when they're set -- which means that they're in rough genre order -- and everything else is fairly random. I try to keep some directors together and film series but other than that, it's Dawn of the Dead next to Empire Records next to Sense and Sensibility. Works for me.

Meanwhile, the captcha for this post in blogger is:

Which, I think is the first time I've seen a proper word. Time to break out the Boney M!

Was it all Bill Shakespeare's fault?

I would like to request any communications between any employees of the BBC and any employees of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) during the period from 28 September 2006 to 11 September 2007.

This Freedom of Information request looks somewhat random until you look at the detail and find that what the person is really interested in is communications with the RSC from Russell T Davies, Phil Collinson, Julie Gardner, Jane Tranter and Peter Fincham, and that the subject is "David Tennant going off to act at the RSC".

The enquirer doesn't really give much in the way of comment, but when it was announced that David would be playing Hamlet, it was misreported at the time that Doctor Who would be rested because of it, when in reality the show was taking a break anyway for production (and some say budgetary) reasons and Tennant was decided to take the part in the gap.

Or in other words, "Why isn't there a full series of Doctor Who in 2009, and was it all Bill Shakespeare's fault? I want answers."

Here is the response: "We have checked the records of the contracts team and the individuals you name, with the exception of Russell T Davies, who is not a BBC employee. However, our search would have retrieved any information held by the BBC which included communication to or from Russell T Davies. No communication was found that involved Peter Fincham, Jane Tranter, Phil Collinson or Russell T Davies. "

My italics. That's presumably because he's a freelancer like the other writers and that explains how that works, at least to me.

You can read the emails in this .pdf file.

There isn't an awful lot there, other than two people touching base over whether David will be able to attend the RSC's press launch last year, and much of the conversation took place over the phone, which is probably not the loaded gun person who made the information original information request was looking for. But you definitely get the feeling that everything went mental and dates were moved up because the Daily Mail got the story out before anybody really wanted them to.

Still, though they're not particular interesting right now, these four emails are precisely the kind of thing some future Andrew Pixley (Doctor Who historical researcher) might me interested in reading, especially with the fear that with much of this correspondence happening via ephemeral email, that archives such as this one recently released by the BBC won't be available for scrutiny.

I'm not so sure about the square trees

Liverpool Life I was passing by Concourse House this afternoon and noticed that it wasn't quite as tall as it used to be. I've spoken before about the Lime Street Gateway redevelopment in relation to a bookshop moving out, and those shops have been demolished and now the other major section, this office block, where La Machine slept one night, is slowly being removed one piece of masonry at a time.

I'm usually quite sentimental about any building that that's demolished, especially if its something I've had to pass-by nearly every day on my way to somewhere, but I've none of those feelings here. There was once a cafe at the foot of the building and I do wonder what happened to that -- if they relocated -- I remember there being protests at its closure -- but other than that I couldn't care less, I'm glad that it's going. I'm already thinking about it in the past tense.

It was embarrassing way to introduce Liverpool to visitors, especially those who'd been led to believe that we had such a great architectural heritage. We have some great modernist architecture in Liverpool, including the Sydney Jones Library at the university but seriously, this was not one of those and deserves to be going (no matter what these people say). I recently learned that the building was never full, and I'm not surprised. If you were trying to attract clients, would you want their first impression to be this clash of concrete and glass and what looks like wood beading?

I only went inside once; between school and university in the early 90s I was casting about for work and signed up with the Manpower Services who had an outlet on the first or second floor (and giant sign across the windows which blanked out the sun for the people working inside). It was my first taste of what an open plan office looked like and it scared me, so much so that I'm sure I might even have vowed never to return to somewhere so synthetic and anti-human again. If only I'd known.

Liverpool City Council's website has an artist's impression of what to expect when the development is complete. The idea is to give the station, a marvelous piece of architecture dating from the 1830s, room to breath for the first time in decades. I'm particularly pleased to see that the plan for a new circular residential tower in place of Concourse House has been dropped, though I'm not so sure about the square trees, but the new approach, a piazza and steps leading up to front door will be incredibly striking.

wouldn't shame a later time-slot

Elsewhere A review of this week's excellent Sarah Jane adventure. On reflection its quite a sober survey of what's meant to be a piece of kids television, looking at the more philosophical elements and as usual over-analysing everything, but it is was genuinely depthful piece of work which wouldn't shame a later time-slot.

more like the tutting noise Death makes

Life There goes another one. I was downloading some podcasts this afternoon and the monitor I had on loan went dark and began to make a spooky clicking noise, not quite tick of a clock, more like the tutting noise Death makes when he’s missed the mark and hit some electrical equipment instead. I unplugged the screen, plugged it back in, turned it off and left it for a while returned and still nothing but the tiny mocking tut, tut, tut.

I’ve already been looking at new monitors, something I could tragically call my own. Knowing almost nothing about peripherals (or, I fear, how to spell that) I’ve gawked at Amazon, glance around Currys and flicked through the pages of the Argos catalogue. Tonight I ended up walking the aisles of Comet trying to look serious, like I knew what I was looking for when really all I cared about was whether I could screw an S-VGA cable in the back.

I’m now in the possession of a LG Flatron W2234S 22” LCD widescreen monitor.

I suspect when my Dad sees it he’ll tell me that I’m sitting far too close, but I don’t think these things can make you go blind these days. It’s 1600 by 900 (ish), so literally widescreen and suddenly everything on screen is bigger and I can’t quite get used to all of the extra room and the ability to see two different applications clearly next to one another at the same time. It’s slightly bigger than our lounge television and whereas I used to have to squint at the other beast, everything I’m typing here is crystal clear.

The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith.

TV The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith is one of those problematic stories the modern nu-Who franchise is throwing in, now and then, in which one of the main characters breaks the unspoken rule about heroism and gives in to the lure of their position for selfish ends. Torchwood does this kind of thing all of the time in attempt to make it look dangerous, such as resurrecting Owen or sending a small child literally away with the fairies. In this case it’s even more awkward because as Frank has already pointed out, the choice that Sarah-Jane makes is the same as Rose in Father’s Day – saving a parent or in this case both of them – and in the process bringing about an armageddon more horrific than even the grimmest and grimiest of monsters wouldn’t contemplate.

It’s a parable, an attempt at teaching kids that no matter the attraction, just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should and especially if, like Sarah-Jane, who has clearly forgotten the lesson the Doctor taught her in Pyramids of Mars, you really should know better. Years from now an academic fan looking to pad out one of those books will probably attempt to apply a thematic framework to this, that it’s about music piracy, it’s about drugs, it’s about teen pregnancy, it’s about oil in Iraq, and you shouldn’t give in to peer pressure. What they’ll probably overlook is that we’re all human, and that actually it’s the certain knowledge that what we’re doing is wrong that makes us do it, a thrill to breaking the rules. Just once.

That’s what probably stops us from turning against Sarah-Jane. Unlike the Rose of series one, she’s well versed in time travel and its effects and she knows that even as she’s chatting to her parents Blinovitch is rolling in his floating zero gravity grave. But like Rose, she’s human and Liz Sladen’s amazing performance communicates why she can’t stand idly by and watch whilst her own flesh and blood drives off to certain doom if she’s in a position to do something about and to hell with the consequences. Far from weakening the character, it strengthens her because we’re now seeing that the rest of the time, whilst she’s charging around essentially pretending to be the Doctor with her sonic lipstick, it’s all bluff. A side effect of that is that it makes the Doctor an even more idealistic figure because we understand the anguish he must be going through in not plunging back into the time war to save the rest of the time lords.

The fact that we’re able to discuss such weighty issues is a mark of the strength of what was probably the best written episode of the season, just as Whatever Happened To Sarah-Jane? was the best of the last. It might even be better than that, because it gave all of the team something to do, a moment of heroism. I agree that the moment in which Sarah-Jane’s mum realised that she had to die in order for the future seemed like the kind of fudge which left a plot point in the eyes of the actor and their ability to display some unlikely thought processes, but I’d argue that what Gareth Robert’s script was in fact trying to articulate that we’re watching a kind of predestination time loop, that within Sarah-Jane’s memory we can see that time dropped out of kilter already and that we’re just watching it fix itself, part of the suture being the inspiration put in Barbara’s head of what she had to do.

I discussed similar quasi-mystical interventions when writing about The Zygon Who Fell To Earth the other week and like ‘timey-whimey’ and I know that they’re a useful cop-out for what might simply be unclear story beats that even the best writer couldn’t make convincing, but despite my usual protestations that it’s all a fairy tale and that children are very good at filling in the gaps, it would be nice now and then to consider that not everything is quite so superficial, even if its not being enunciated. Clyde and Rani, for example, displayed a mature and philosophical attitude to their situation, even in the face of their own parents all but being dead to them and the world they know having gone, perhaps assuming that everything would write itself, Roberts is clearly trying to show that nothing lasts forever.

Even though perhaps more could have been said as to how the future got into that state (alien invasion? global thermonuclear war? dead Doctor much earlier than Turn Left had it?), those scenes were particularly well acted and directed against the parched landscape (quarry) with Daniel and Anjli diving right into the more challenging than usual material and Mina Anwar’s stunted cognition making the characterisation of Gita elsewhere seem all the more misjudged. But there was little to criticise anywhere here: Rosanna Lavelle's Babs though initially straightforward displayed inner depth and in place the years seemed to drop away from Elizabeth and we caught a glimpse of the girl who danced through time with Tom.

Director Graham Harper brought an epic sheen to the whole story; despite having a smaller budget than he’s been used to lately, across both episodes there was return to the cinematic approach of last year, and whilst the 1950s scenes recalled a more typical BBC costume drama, the sight of The Trickster, especially in that shot where he appeared to the kids against monochrome future reminded me not only of the opening of Genesis of the Daleks, but also appropriately Ingmar Bergman’s iconic manifestation of Death in The Seventh Seal.

That kind of sophistication transferred to the jokes. I’ve had issues this series with the reliance on Clyde to inject humour into stories, striding through scenes and tossing out one-liners like Chandler Bing on Ritalin and more often than not it has detracted from the danger. At the risk of over analyzing (what now? Have you read the previous six paragraphs?), the lines about “ethnic in the 1950s” and “fashion in the Punjab” were hilarious and made the treatment of Martha through history during season three look positively heavy handed. But it’s also the willingness to take the piss out of series standards such as the police box, complete with a full on blast of the Doctor’s theme. I know similar jokes have been done before in the likes of Logopolis, but having complained that this second season has skewed in general to a lower age group than the first, it’s just gratifying as to be able to watch and laugh without having to continually make mental allowances for the demographic reach.

Is the Trickster gone forever? For all his gothic bluster, assuming that this was a time loop he’s not the cleverest of interdimensional beings for not noticing. But I think that Gareth is writing a trilogy here -- the character didn't seem to die rather temporarily lose his grip on this dimension -- and that he’ll be back for the next series and as is the way of these things I wouldn’t discount Sarah-Jane decides to taking the battle to his domain (budget permitting). There’s no denying he’s a great character and spooky even if his design now and then he does indeed look like something John Barrowman might put on display. Given the time trivial connection, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Steven Moffat graduates him to the main show properly so that we can see how effective his against someone who really understands his vocation. Either way, if The Sarah Jane Adventures has a legacy, it'ill be these stories, and it’s telling that this wing of the franchise is at its best when the focus is on the title character instead of one of the kids.

I missed Kim and the cougar.

TV Finally finished watching season six of 24 this afternoon. It was a rubbish as I'd heard and seemed to amount to many hours of people not listening to Jack and then apologising for not listening to Jack. Then a bomb goes off before not listening to him some more.

He spends most of it locked in a cell, torturing a relative, crying, strangling people, shouting or shooting as many people as possible. By the end I couldn't tell if he was supposed to be under arrest or why, and you'd think after twenty-four episodes of this they could have come up with a better ending than Jack looking dejectedly out to sea.

In other words, I missed Kim and the cougar.

I did! I am!

I had my night planned, I really did. And then my web connection seemed to be downloading without a reason. Last time this happened it was because of some malware malarky and for an hour and half I scratched my head, did file searches, virus checks, backed up files in preparation for another reinstall of windows. It wasn't a virus, it wasn't malware. It was the BBC iPlayer or more specifically its download manager Kontike still working and fetching even when the BBC software is closed. Never mind Sachsgate, who do I complain to about this?

The Popdose 100: Our Favorite Singles of the Last 50 Years
Great songs all though it's fairly chauvinistic, with no room for Alanis, Carole or Joan B. Joan A and Aretha are there but I suspect my own list would be almost the opposite and include much music they've never heard of.

Cafepress launches in the UK
I'm very tempted to merchandise the blog. How would you feel about walking around in a t-shirt with 'feeling listless' printed across the front in the Verdana font?

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
I know I'm linking to Kat's blog again, but its been one of my favourite reads lately and it's still my party. Here, she makes me entirely envious as she holds the rope for one of the balloons.

Doctor Who book cliches
If tonight's episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures proved anything, it's that if you're a fan of a franchise you'll see the same ideas and plots float around time and again. It's particularly true of spin-off media with the same beats even re-occuring in novels and audio plays published in the same month making you wonder if the authors consulted with the editor, let alone each other.

Presto Pizzazz Pizza Oven
Rotates your frozen pizza under a grill so that it cooks evenly all the way round. You'll never have to eat healthily again.

Red Button Britten, Carols for Breakfast and Bakewell's Belief among the Christmas highlights on Radio 3
No round the clock blast of a particular composer this year, but the Milton and Puccini seasons should well make up for it. As you know, there are sections of Paradise Lost I like very much indeed. I wonder how that film version is coming along.

Dave Gorman's having difficulty with his postman
Ours has been very good lately though he did get a bit shirty the other day when he had to deliver yet more Amazon parcels. "You're popular" he said.

'This competition'
Five Centres was at The X Factor the other night. Of course she mimed. Have you heard this? What happened to this voice?

If you laugh at any one of these Christmas cards, you are officially a geek
I did! I am!

BNP vs. anti-BNP in Liverpool
Amazing on the spot photos of the ruckus in the city centre on Saturday. I was working, so missed all of this, but it looks as though the BNP got more than they bargained for.

available on cd

Elsewhere The present series of Doctor Who on BBC Radio 7 is eight episodes long, but some reason only the first six have been broadcast. I review the seventh which is available on cd.

Sisters of the Flame.

Audio From the alternate reality where I’m writing this review, where the planet isn’t fucked and neither are the stock markets and I’m married to Emily Maitlis, BBC Radio 7 has decided to do the logical thing and broadcast the finale to this season of adventures. Quite why the radio station in your world decided to knock off this story and broadcast The Chimes of Midnight for the umpteenth time only they know. True it's nearly Christmas and that’s a very nearly Christmassy story, but I’m sure kids who might be following this series for the first time are more likely to be a bit confused as to why the bolshy northern lass has been replaced by a haughty southerner in the space of a week or a week in space.

Before taking this random quest, I did check what you know of as the internet and found out something to do with a cliffhanger and adult content which wouldn’t have fitted the timeslot, though there’s nothing in the first half of this story, Sisters of the Flame which measures as much more grotesque than anything else in the series, certainly in comparison to The Skull of Sobeck which was just yucky. With its chase through the stars and giant talking millipede this play is relatively kid friendly, and no more shocking than the charred remains of Luke’s relatives in Star Wars, the gold standard of what can be sneaked through for Universal consumption.

Perhaps it's also because unlike the rest of the series with has been closer in style to the television series, Sisters of the Flame is quintessential Big Finish Doctor Who, with the Tardis blown of course by a tussle with the timelords, the Doctor and Lucie being separated by the end of the title music with much of that incident recounted in flashback and memory. Continuity fiends like me will note that the appearance of Gallifrey, even with the relatively new invention Straxus, puts the story firmly in the time frame of that spin-off series before the fall of the citadel suggested the oncoming war. It’s also a direct sequel to The Brain of Morbius so to an extent the BBC’s decision seems somewhat reasonable, though surely none of it breaks that charter directive about not broadcasting something where the norms have to buy spin-off material themselves to understand it.

Most of the adventure focuses on Lucie as she’s locked up on-board a strange ship having stowed-way and finds herself hopelessly wondering if her timelord buddy is lost forever, having seen him snatched away as they tumbled out of the Tardis. This does allow for a lovely moment where the Blackpool girl she makes much the same realisation as all of his companions, that though she might complain about the danger, she’s having the time of her life. It’s beautifully played by Sheridan and not for the first time offers the impression that this pairing have been having far more adventures than those which the BBC have decided to broadcast (or not). If we didn’t know that she’d be matching up with the Doctor again in time for season three, this could have been a good starting point for some radio inspired by the lost Sam-arc from the novels.

From here, the ever dependable writer Nick Briggs offers a surprisingly linear story as Lucie is ‘rescued’ by a benefactor who might not be all she seems and then rescued by Detective Rosto, the aforementioned millipede investigating the Doctor’s disappearance, sardonically essayed by one Alexander Siddig, who along with Colm Meaney is one of the few actors who still seems to be working in places other than theatre after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (when was the last time you saw Avery Brooks in anything?). The scenes between Siddig and Sheriden are very clever as Lucie has to come to terms with the fact that this giant arthropod is one of the good guys and even admits to be somewhat racist in her like totally freaked out first meeting with him. It’s a shorthand Galaxy Four which also reminded me of Mark Michalowski’s recent Tenth Doctor novel Shining Darkness where Donna tarred all robots with the same brush, so to speak.

All of this stuff’s so engaging, you hardly notice the Doctor’s only in about three scenes, but McGann certainly enjoys his scraps as gets to pretend to run around the console pressing buttons and sparring with the Sisterhood of Karn, headed my Katarina ‘varied’ Olsson, who I discovered recently after using a search engine can sing mezzo-Soprano, play the clarinet and piano and speaks Swedish, French and German as well as act, which makes her more talented than most people alive so it’s no wonder she gets so much work. Let’s be honest, this is really a sisterhood in the Alicia’s Attic sense of the word – we only hear from two of them, with Olsson joined by Nicola Weeks as Lucie’s initial abductor Haspira (who’s just one vowel away from sounding like a Paul Magrs creation). I particularly appreciated the back reference to Tom and Paul's underscoring of the subtle differences between the two of them.

But there’s enough menace in their dysfunctional unit to suggest that our heroes are in a bit of a pickle as the first proper cliffhanger of the season descends. It’s a smart piece of writing from Briggsy; he knows that the title of the next play will already have been published on Big Finish's website and every other Doctor Who news site online soon afterwards, so there’s no point in making the re-emergence of Morbius the shock horror moment. Instead, he falls on a tried and tested formula used at least once during the original story, not requiring too much build up and epic enough in its implications for an Androzani-style ‘get out of that’, though perhaps to reach those heights they’d truly have to be at the mercy of this ya-ya sisterhood of the traveling particle accelerator.

Next week: Brainz! Brianz!