I know the feeling.

Jane is taking a break from her blog.
She says she's said all she can about writing for television and is increasingly wondering if she's repeating herself. I know the feeling.

Kate is moving to Ramsbottom.

Jayne almost uncovers the story behind a famous photograph.
It is a small world, after all.

Andreas in Australia.
Seeing these massive frames in a browser, doesn't do them justice. Look at the dimensions.

Cheryl's an angel.
She's crying again tonight.

Alex uncovers the story behind film studio logos.
I've always loved PIXAR and they way it incorporates the studio's history.

Erik tries to watch films on television in the US ...
... and it's a mess of idents and adverts all the way through. At least our version of this -- in-vision sign language -- has a benevolent purpose.

Gretchen dislikes Festivus.
"I am tolerant. I'm all for free speech and free rights, just not on December 25th." Her co-presenter's defence is brilliant.

Jill hears Christmas music played on a decorative vegetable.
... and you've not heard everything yet.

Clair meets some ingenious con-children.

Phil enters the darkness.
My suggestion?

Who is The Next Doctor?

TV As you can see, the cover of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine features a shot of David Tennant being shoved aside by David Morrissey, all Edwardian frock coat and enigmatic smile as a caption explains that he ‘is The Next Doctor!’. Inside, as you’d expect, there’s little in the way of an explanation as to how he can be the next Doctor and for once, the plot of the episode hasn’t been spoiled by a tabloid (yet). In other words, we don’t know exactly who this next/new Doctor is or how. Nevertheless, it's an amazing idea and I thought it was worth exploring in more detail than is probably necessary and with the impression that I can't tell what's real and what's fiction. Here then, are some fan rumours and a couple of my own ideas.

[I should say there might be some spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t read anything about the new special anywhere. So if you want to stay completely in the dark, look away now].

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps …

He’s a conman

Precedent: The One Doctor, a Big Finish audio in which a flimflam man played by Christopher Biggins was flying around the universe grabbing some of Colin Baker’s Doctor’s thunder.

Background: My first hunch, and something I saw immediately being talked about online when the opening of the episode was revealed in these excepts from Russell T Davies’s book The Writer’s Tale in The Times. It didn’t seem that unlikely given that the series isn’t averse to remaking/reimagining old spin-off stories (Dalek, Human Nature) and the habit it has of suggesting one thing in the title (The Doctor’s Daughter) and revealing that it’s something else entirely (cloned from biodata, not Susan’s mother).

Potential: None at all. Page five of DWM, Russell T Davies says: “The new Doctor is absolutely not a conman.” So that’s that.

He’s human.

Precedent: Minuet in Hell, another Big Finish audio starring Paul McGann.

Background: The premise of the Doctor’s story in the above is that his mental energy has been passed to a random human (played by voice of the Daleks Nick Briggs) who is then convinced that he’s human. Some of the regeneration energy at the close of The Stolen Earth (where you remember Tennant cheated the process by throwing the energy into his severed hand in a jar creating a human clone and spreading some of his essence into Donna as a result) could have seeped into someone in the population. Nothing to do with a fob watch, then.

Potential: Not bad. It’s not unknown for one character or story to be sparked by something which happened earlier. The only problem is that during these two minutes which appeared in Children in Need …

… a Tardis is mentioned so you’d have to wonder where that came from. That said, Morrissey also uses the word ‘alonse-y’ which is a very Tenth Doctor affectation and precisely the kind of thing which could be passed on through the above process and there’s a lot of story potential in seeing a man dealing with the responsibility of being the Doctor and is understanding of the universe.

He is the next Doctor or one after that

Precedent: Time Crash, The Two Doctors, The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Eight Doctors (a novel) and range of audio adventures.

Background: It’s not unknown for different incarnations of the Doctor to bump into one another at a time of greatest need, so it’s conceivable that this is a future incarnation and quite like the idea of him actually being the Eleventh Doctor and we’re going to spend the next twelve months waiting for Tenth to regenerate into him – in other words – for once – the announcement as to who will be the next Doctor actually happens within the show. But that doesn’t explain this slip of the tongue …

I’ve a feeling, assuming this is a future version, that his exact number will be kept deliberately vague and I’ve always like the idea of there being a range of potential future incarnations that we can only imagine what they’re like (see also Merlin).

Potential: Pretty high. Though in the above clip, Morrissey doesn’t recognise him but the actor has said in an interview that he’s suffering from memory loss. In Radio Times last week, RTD hinted that “regeneration is a complicated process” which could be a reference to the post regenerative amnesia – could this Doctor have only just turned into David Morrissey?

He’s a past Doctor.

Precedent: In The Brain of Morbius, when the Doctor is battling the titular timelord using the power of his mind, he's apparently using the combined strength of his earlier incarnations and we see a bunch of faces that the production team inserted of themselves to suggest that the character has lived far longer than the four versions we’d seen on screen by that point. But I’m not talking about that.

Background: We didn’t ever see Paul McGann regenerate into Chris Eccleston and nothing on screen has confirmed that they were concurrent. What if somewhere in between, the Morrissey Doctor exists, the real ninth Doctor? If he has amnesia, this could be as a result because of the time war – in the novels, when the Eighth Doctor destroyed Gallifrey, he spent a century wondering around Earth not having a clue who he is.

Potential: Medium. It would be a fantastic twist, though judging by how the Ninth Doctor appears in the first season of nu-Who he’s still getting over the tragedy which destroyed his home world, it’s difficult to rationalise. Plus Tenth doesn’t recognise him, unless he too is afflicted by amnesia at some point.

He’s a version from an alternative reality.

Precedents: Unbound, a series of ‘What-If” style audio adventures from Big Finish

Background: The discussion of a multiverse in the franchise is vague at best. There have been stories featuring other realities – that’s where Rose and the human Doctor were left at the close of the last series and there have been others in the likes of Inferno and Turn Left (though the latter was a rewriting of new series history due to outside interference or more specifically someone interfering with Donna). But we’ve never met an alternative version of the Doctor, though some authors, notably current series script editor Gary Russell rationalised that the different versions which have appeared in various spin-offs all occur in different realities and so are different (Spiral Scratch). I think it’s all still one long story and unseen adventures fill in the gaps but I’m rambling. Anyway, either there’s one Gallifrey watching over the whole multiverse favouring the main Whoniverse like the Doctor favours Earth or each universe has its own Gallifrey and a potential Doctor and Morrissey is one of those – not necessarily evil, just one of those.

Potential: Good, especially since the Cybermen who appear on the episode are the ones from the alternative reality not ‘our’ Whoniverse.

He’s the real Doctor

Precedents: None that I can remember.

Background: Wild speculation here. What if, due to the time war, there have been two Doctor’s buzzing around the universe and the Morrissey edition is the real one and our Doctor, unknowingly, is the impostor? Of course it could be the other way around but it would certainly put a new spin on the Face of Boe’s suggestion that ‘You are not alone’.

Potential: Slim. After all, Ninth in Dalek says that he can sense that there aren’t any others, but if they’re the same man, perhaps their brainwave patterns are the same and he can’t tell that Morrissey is buzzing around for the same reason that he can’t feel the other versions of himself in time.

I think that’s about the right time to stop, don't you?

disconcerting but brilliant

Liverpool Life Liverpool: The Souvenir is a new book of photographs published by the Liverpool Daily Post which perfectly captures the atmosphere in the city during this capital of culture year. The images were selected from their flickr group and every page is bursting with life and colour even when the shots are in black and white, and if you turn to page 53, you’ll notice this:

In 'Liverpool: The Souvenir'

The original image is here. I am very pleased and honoured to be sitting alongside such talented company, and I can’t recommend the book highly enough. And yes, I would still be saying that even if I wasn’t in it.

It seems to be on-sale in all good bookshops and newsagents around the city, including the place were I buy my morning paper, which is disconcerting but brilliant.

the porcupine pincushion

Obituary Oliver Postgate has died.

Oliver informed my childhood through programmes like The Clangers and Ivor The Engine and it’s his voice I remember hearing the most next to Mum and Dad before the age of five. Bagpuss was always my favourite, the acoustic opening, the sepia photographs, Emily, the expectation of what would be found in the shop window for her to repair and even when you knew them all, the porcupine pincushion, the ship in a bottle, you’d still be trying to guess which one it would be. The best character outside of the old saggy cloth cat was Professor Yaffle, a wise old woodpecker (ironically made from wood), based it is said, on Bertrand Russell.

Postgate only ever produced a dozen or so episodes of each during the 1970s but at least two generations of kids grew up watching them as they were endlessly repeated over the next couple of decades. It must have seemed to some like he was still working on them, but by then he’d moved on to other things – to politics and the anti-nuclear campaign – and he was even blogging for the New Statesman up until February 2008. He also auditioned to play the Voice of the Book for the film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy which I’m sure would have made that film better (with due respect to Stephen Fry who took the part instead and tried his best).

But it’s the work he did through Small Films which is his main legacy, and this intro ...

... which will probably be revisited by everyone of a certain age today as we remember what it was like to be five years old again.

There’s also a wonderful encounter with Lemmy from Motorhead (of all people).

Books I’ve always thought that the way to tell if you’ve become a lifelong fan of something is if you can see which parts of it are a bit rubbish. Guardianista Emma Brockes spends an awful lot of her book What Would Barbra Do? listing the kinds of musicals she loathes and exactly why, an overblown chorus here, piss poor plotting there. She hates Rent (we’ll forgive her) and the movie version of Phantom of the Opera but has a surprising amount of time for the stage version. Yet, because she’s a fan, she slates them with a passionate intelligence, explaining perfectly convincingly why they don’t work and throughout you can see that she probably still loves them for all that. She says The Sound of Music isn’t her favourite piece of work but still takes the pilgrimage to Saltzburg to see where the exteriors were shot (which is one of the funniest parts of the books as she describes in agonising detail the other tourists accompanying her on the coach).

I've written before about where I stand with musicals; the bullet points are: love Sondheim, love Rogers and Hammerstein, love Porter, love Coward, love Whedon, hate Lloyd-Webber. Brockes caught the bug in childhood through weekly trips to the west end with her mother and a school friend through their mutual love of Mary Poppins, but it was really during her teenage years that she realised that no other genre would be quite as inspiring, that Rogers and Hammerstein rocked her showboat more than the top forty and indie. The book is mostly a memoir, charting that interest into adulthood and a hundred nights at the theatre or in front of the tv watching fledgling actresses within the fiction and not, expressing their emotion in song. Threaded in between are ruminations on why some men hate musicals, why a lot of women love them and why the worst place to see most of them is in a theatre with people who are clearly agnostic.

The interviews are best. She meets a Streisand impersonator who's perennially disappointed by his idol and one of Mickey Rooney’s many sons (the actor has had eight wives) himself a choreography but whose life story, spread across four pages is too much of an exciting left turn to be spoiled here. There’s also a wonderful encounter with Lemmy from Motorhead (of all people), where he gives his own sweary opinion of the genre. But there’s not really a dull passage; Brockes offers a ramshackle collection of stories and analyses that are far more engaging than a definitive history might have been and even when she’s offering little more than a synopsis you get the impression that its probably as entertaining as the musical itself (thank god I’ll never have to watch Xanadu now). It’s like spending an evening having a once sided conversation with a friend and you don’t notice you’re not actually speaking because you’re enjoying yourself so much. In other words, even if you don’t quite share the writer’s passion for musicals, by the end you’re dying to see a lot more of them.

cliffhanger ending

Elsewhere A review of The Vengeance of Morbius, a Doctor Who audio, which is all but saved by its cliffhanger ending, which makes a change.

The Vengeance of Morbius.

Audio Anyone who has been following this season of plays starring Paul McGann (especially if like me they’ve gone for the post-radio, extra-time option) might have seen the trailer for the BBC’s Christmas offerings and grinned at the shots of Sheridan Smith dashing about in a hoody, closely followed by an inscrutable man with long floppy hair. It’s obviously the Jonathan Creek special, but it’s ironic that at the end of this series of Eighth Doctor plays, we finally have a proper visual reference for Lucie. Expect a mash-up on YouTube by Boxing Day. That’s assuming whoever edits it is still a fan after listening to The Vengeance of Morbius, the kind of episode which is a bugger to write about and remain completely spoiler free.

It’s a bit of a mess, but endearingly so.

As usual that’s mostly because of Paul and Sheridan, and the writing for the Doctor and Lucie. As with rest of the series, even when in the gravest of peril, they’re swapping jokes and taking the piss out of one another. In one of the episode's best scenes they’re trapped in the dispersal chamber, a riff on the airlock scene from Hitchhiker’s, looking at certain doom, but neither of them are really panicking and they reminded me of Tom and Lalla at their best perhaps with a hint of Jon and Katy, if perhaps with slightly less erudition. Like the best Doctor Who, even as the story is falling about around their voices, you know you’ll be listening again simply because you like their company.

The scant duration of the episode is its biggest problem. Perhaps writer Nick Briggs was in the mood to create a new Neverland, but that evolved over two whole cds, and it’s impossible to produce something on that kind of epic scale in fifty minutes, with so few cast members and with the requirements of audio drama to deal with. It’s been a symptom of much of this series, stories too broad and deep for the small screen, but unlike a novel with only just over the duration of a television episode to fit them into, along with the added radio encumbrance of having to describe and explain everything that is happening in what’s an inherently visual franchise.

After a hokey-cokey of a cliffhanger resolution (in, out, shake the molecules about), and some fairly lengthy exposition about what the timelords have been up to lately, we get to enjoy the resurrection of Morbius, a visit to Gallifrey and then one possible future for Doctor and Lucie, who then surprise (!) Morbius in his lair, along with the resolution of a couple of subplots from the previous episode (though having built up Alexander Siddig’s Trel it’s pity he’s rendered mute for most of the episode, no matter how creepy that might be). It’s a muddle of incidents which doesn’t quite gel together and like much of old-Who, the big gestures are happening off speaker, the constant impression that big ideas are being curtailed because there isn’t the time to investigate them fully.

It doesn’t help that Morbius is hardly a timelord ripe for resurrection. Though the original story is held in some esteem (nu-Who make-up designer Neil Gorton’s favourite apparently), Doctor Solon is the chief villain, the nexus of the drama. Though is voice is a bit creepy, Morbius’s growl is louder than his bite, and his menace is in what he looks like rather than the kind of flamboyance some like the Master embodies. He isn’t even granted his own entry in the Wikipedia (though I notice Terry Dicks has had his own crack at a resurrection story in Warmonger for BBC Books, which is almost entirely contradicted here). So Briggs has to essentially create the character from scratch which isn’t really what you’d expect for what’s supposed to be a returning villain.

His version of Morbius is a petty dictator who, having conquered a planet or in this case half the universe is out looking to pick a fight with anyone. Despite some nice character work from Samuel West, after all of the build-up he’s a fairly inert presence, falling into the usual trap of being sold as a vicious and wicked bastard but inherently a typically Gallifreyan bureaucrat. That might be Briggs’s point, that evil can be inherently banal, but it’s an still an anti-climax, and you can’t help wondering that some of the dashing about in the opening episode couldn’t have been cut in favour of giving West more time to develop his character. Still, he looks rather fetching in his regalia on the cover, though the appearance of a certain loiterer from Ellis Island gives away one of the play’s better jokes.

The handling of Morbius’s victory isn’t a million miles away from that other messy season climax, Last of the Timelords, except rather than the viewer skipping a year, it’s the Doctor and Lucie missing their win status by ten of them. Except on television, you could see the results of the Master’s devastation, whereas on audio we have to sit through a good ten minutes of exposition and to get us reoriented, which ultimately proves pointless, because you’re never convinced that this is some new future for the Whoniverse, you know that there’ll a reset switch, and though it comes at a price, it’s still resolved by the old stand-by of the timelords showing up at the end to mostly make right what once went wrong.

It's a good job the cliffhanger is about the ballsiest thing Big Finish have done in some time. Yes, unlike readers of The Strand Magazine when Holmes plunged from Reichenbach Falls, we know the Doctor can’t really be dead; there’s a whole third season to consider not to mention a time war to win yet also lose and a dozen good television stories (at least) and some random speculation about who’ll play his eleventh incarnation (it’s Joseph Fiennes!) to consider. Yet, it’s still wonderfully unexpected when we hear McGann do his best impression of the Wilhelm Scream and we can well imagine Lucie almost chasing him into the chasm, calling desperately after.

What sells it is Lucie or rather Sheridan Smith’s reaction. We’ve heard a similar speech in similar circumstances from many of the post-millennium companions, but what make this work is that Smith’s emotion sound so very real – there’s no poetry, no ‘fire in the heart of the sun’, but genuine grief and anger at the loss of a friend, an inability to put those feeling into words and the inconsolable realisation that he’s never coming back. Barry McCarthy is wonderful here as Bulek who unexpectedly begins to comfort Lucie with the implications of the Doctor’s sacrifice, and his offer to wipe Lucie’s memories echoes Donna and Jamie and Zoe’s fate. She doesn’t take it, of course, but you almost wish that the post credits emergence of an old ‘friend’ wasn’t there, but Big Finish need to sell a few cds and the it’s nice to have a reminder that the adventure is never over.

Not really.