“That looks like my husband's.”

Life I’ve just got back from a festive night out with Chris. Our first stop was the Philharmonic Hall Bar, which is one of the nicer places to have a drink in Liverpool. It’s only open on concert nights (and presumably when there are films) but if you time it right, you can be in and out during the parts of the performance when there’s music and listening. It’s nice and empty and you can get served super quickly even on a Friday night.

Tonight, we didn’t time it right. At all.

Seeing the audience enter from the stairs was a like being the first people at a party with the rest of the guests entering on mass. It’s odd watching the interval ritual from the other side, as Chris noted the bizarre rush to find a seat after having been sitting down for an hour. Not realising we’d still be there, we’d sat at a table for four and it wasn’t long before, just as we were about to leave in fact, someone asked if the other two were free. A balding man, late fifties wearing a cashmere coat.

“Well,” he said, “Would you mind watching them while I go to the bar?” Before we could answer he’d toddled off, leaving his scarf on one of the chairs.

We sat looking at the empty chairs, knowing that it wouldn’t be in the Christmas spirit to up and leave. “Are these taken?” “Yes.” “Are these taken?” “I don’t know. He might come back. Well alright, Yes.”

Time passes. The queue at the bar is huge. Why didn’t these people pre-book their drink? The system at the Phil is amazing with its pigeons holes and assigned numbers and prepared booze.

I hatch a plan. That we’d tell the next people who solicit for seating that they can have our spaces but ask them to watch the scarf instead. But by then, the seats had been empty for so long that people were obviously assuming that our friends were at the bar or something. I wonder about simply asking someone standing nearby, except they’re all threes and fours.

Time passes. We wait some more.

Then a couple of older women, in overcoats and scarves approach and try their hand. By now we’re definitely thinking about leaving whatever so we explain to them what’s been happening. One of them looks at the scarf:

“That looks like my husband's.”

Chris is clearly having the same thought I am. Could this be a ruse to steal the chairs? Could someone be that desperate? What happens to the scarf afterwards? Are they prepared for the confrontation when the person who’s seat they stole questions their motives?

Then the man reappears his arms laden with drinks. They are together.

Thank god. We leave. If this was a twenties novel, our exit would probably described as ‘making our apologies’, but for once we didn’t have anything to apologise for…

Acoustic christmassy bliss. Well worth 69p.

Fears Grow For Doctor Who, originally uploaded by LinkMachineGo.

What I've discovered in the past couple of days:

David Renwick decided to make the Christmas Jonathan Creek because he had nothing else to do.
"I’d never drawn the curtain down on that in quite the same way I did with One Foot in the Grave. Alan [Davies] always says whenever people ask him, “I wasn’t run over by Hannah Gordon, so there’s always hope”."

Joe Quesada's favourite Christmas recipe is Beef Tenderloin and Caramelized Onion Sandwiches.
"Add wine or Asgardian mead."

Job satisfaction amongst some Starbucks employees is flatlining.
"The only reason I don't leave is because who can pay me what Starbucks does and give me time to go to school, with this economy?"

The world is split between people who use the internet and those who don't even understand it.
"It turns out that they didn't go online because it didn't understand them; a so-called simple search on Google produced nothing but 30 minutes of fruitless frustration."

Mel Gibson once appeared in Australian soap The Sullivans.
"Fremantle Home Entertainment and Mediumrare Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of The Sullivans – On the Brink of War on 19th January 2009 priced at £19.99 RRP."

"If a person grits his teeth and shows real determination, failure is not an option. That’s how winning is done!"
Forty inspirational film speeches. Mercifully leaves out Love Actually, which is full of them.

The new series of Torchwood sounds like it might be quite good.
"We've got a new young lady who helps the team - I wouldn't say she's part of the team but she kind of helps them out. She's played by a new actress called Cush Jumbo, who's a very pretty young lady and who I'm sure is going to go on to bigger things." [via]

The Archbishop of Canterbury is a big fan of The West Wing.
"It's so consoling to watch those episodes when something goes terribly wrong - you know the president says something that is misinterpreted ... and you think, 'Now what does that remind me of'?" Has he not seen Two Cathedrals?

Fiona Apple has recorded Frosty The Snowman
Acoustic christmassy bliss. Well worth 69p.

she’s the only chosen one

Comic If you’re a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan of old but haven’t been following the season eight comic books, I’d strongly recommend you at least find a copy of this month’s issue, #20. A continuity light number, it sends Buffy into what seems like a dream world were she’s back in Sunnydale, it’s season one again, her mum’s alive and she’s the only chosen one.

The metafictional twist is that these earlier times are actually a homage to the much muted animated series and in particular this pilot, with a simpler story and characterisation, more slapstick and well, some of the same jokes. Eric Wight's character designs are used as contrast to the more "realistic" work from Ethen Beavers and Adam Van Wyk.

On a couple of occasion, Buffy almost seems to be aware that she’s in a cartoon (or a comic book recreations of one) and writer Jeph Loeb gets loads of comic mileage and poignancy out of the disconnect between the older slayer in her teenage body, to demonstrate how, even though some things change, some things often stay the same.

erasure disguised as ‘progress’

Books Another FOI request. Author Iain Sinclair was due to promote his book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report at Stoke Newington Library but the launch was notoriously cancelled (Tom Roper collects further background and links).

Sinclair, himself, writing (alright) in The Guardian, said that he thought the launch had been cancelled because of an essay he wrote for the London Review of Books criticising the effect that part of the new London olympic site was having on the local community which he says has nothing to do with the content of the book.

This FOI request clarifies things somewhat.

As you can see from the emails (you'll have to cock your head to the right) which passed back and forth within Hackney Council, everyone was very positive, until someone did a risk assessment -- or in this case looked the book up on Amazon and read the synopsis:
"Once an Arcadian suburb of grand houses, orchards and conservatories, Hackney declined into a zone of asylums, hospitals and dirty industry. Persistently revived, reinvented, betrayed, it has become a symbol of inner-city chaos, crime and poverty. Now, the Olympics, a final attempt to clamp down on a renegade spirit, seeks to complete the process: erasure disguised as ‘progress’."
They decided that the book "may contain criticism of Hackney Borough Council" (oh really?) and that it might attracted the wrong kind of press coverage and swiftly cancelled the launch. So in fact, the cancellation had nothing to do with the LRB article and everything to do with the content of the book which based on that synopsis appears to be an incendiary piece of work about the local area.

Which just demonstrates yet again that there are two sides to every story. I'm not surprised the launch was cancelled. True, there may be free speech related issues, but why would you invite someone round just so that they can tell you how rubbish you are?

Quentin Blake's Angel

Quentin Blake's Angel

Last Saturday, The Guardian included a Christmas annual supplement (a version of which I can't find on their website) filled with recipes and games and gift ideas and on one of the pages was this rather nice angel. It was designed and drawn by Quentin Blake, the illustrator who worked on all of Roald Dahl's children’s books. I’d say it’s his images that are brought to mind when people think of the author’s work (just look at his rather merry official website). It’s ages since I’ve made something like this and I think it turned out quite well. The instructions called for white card and glue. I used a Weetabix packet and some double sided tape, which was a bit fiddly when going around the edges of the wings.

this is turning into one of those Christmases, isn't it?

Life We have a Christmas tree. It's smaller than usual, but the largest of what was on offer from our usual source. The place we go to, on Smithdown Road, usually has many hundreds, but this year I’d say there were a couple of dozen if that. None of the trees have been particularly huge this year it seems and there are less scotch pines too. We reminisced about a few years ago when the trees were huge and still had snow on them. Still, covered in lights and baubles it’s still beautiful and at least this time we haven’t had to chop the top and bottom off so that it’ll fit in the room.

Walking home, I couldn’t help noticing the number of shops which have stopped trading, shutters down in the middle of the afternoon. Next to go is Micro Music, which I remember seeing open in the early nineties if not longer, one of those instrument shops which always seemed to be open even though it was rarely busy. I stopped and looked through the window to see what stock was left, perhaps a bargain cable, but there wasn’t much. I made eye contact with the owner and we acknowledged each other, but he looked very glum indeed.

Between environmental changes and the credit crunch this is turning into one of those Christmases, isn't it?


TV A response has already been made to that Freedom of Information Act request for the rules on how Strictly Come Dancing is scored. It's very similar to the Eurovision Song Contest with the judge's marks and audience votes are allocated to a sliding scale of points from 12 down to 1 which are then combined. It looks as though on Saturday it was these points totals which led to the kerfuffle.

Or is that an over-analysis?

The decorations are up and it's beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas. Every year there's always something we remember hanging in the hallway the year before and can't find. And inevitably we replace it with something else only to discover the original choice in a box somewhere afterwards. Can you believe that by this time next week it'll all be over again for another year and we won't have to listen to George Michael singing with himself on Last Christmas again for at least nine months?

Friend of the blog, Robyn of Orbyn, is blogging for Dollymix during the festive period. Go and keep her cheerful.

It's an interesting insight into how record companies' minds work.
Having recently discovered Hot UK Deals, I'm slowly developing a critical mass of emails from companies I've bought Christmas presents from. They're rarely accurate, usually suggesting presents for a kind of stereotypical expectation of the typical customer. I just know there are people who look at these things and think that it's exactly what their relative wants, whereas I always go out of my way to find things which no one expects.

The Journal of Impossible Things & Mini Sonic Screwdriver
Not sure why there's a pen -- one of the points of Dr Who's Human Nature was that the Doctor in becoming human had divested himself of his usual toys. Or is that an over-analysis?

Christmas in contemporary Bethlehem.
Be warned -- the caption to this photograph actually goes about the business of explaining the irony.

Rod Blagojevich's Deleted Facebook Account
Nixon had a tape recorder.

Strictly Come Dancing Rules
Another request under the Freedom of Information Act which misunderstands the point of the Freedom of Information Act. It's not that these rules are secret, it's just that Brucie didn't use some of the ten minutes the show was running under to explain things a bit better. Rachel Stevens to win etc.

It’s that time of year again and the TV Newsroom has been scanning through the News bulletins to find some festiveness.
A round-up of festive set dressings in UK news studios local and national. ITV seem to have a corporate Christmas tree and all of their sets are the same as well.

Enemy of the Bane.

TV And so The Sarah Jane Adventures have come full circle. In writing about Revenge of the Slitheen I commented on how brain-splitting children’s television is these days with its fast cutting, bouncy graphics in primary colours and music which sounds like a cut up remix of a Disaster Area concert. In places it makes the promotional film for the London Olympics with the rubbish logo look like a genius piece of sedate modernism and that’s just the bumpers and idents between the programmes. Now, during ...

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Enemy of the Bane (both episodes)

… everything in the programme itself is brash, loud and disjointed, powered by a kind of atomised storytelling which has replaced such incidentals as logical plot structure and coherent character motivation and by the end of the two episodes I was left in a grumpy old mood desperately muttering like a jilted lover “Was it me? Was it something I did? Did I not see the signs? What does he have that I don’t?” Well, perhaps not the last bit, but it’s ages (well a few weeks at least) since I felt so angry about a piece of drama. Not just because as a finale to what's been a half decent series its so disappointing, but because it was let out of its cage by the same people who brought you so many sublime episodes of Doctor Who this year.

Kermodian rant mode engaged.

If there’d been a camera in the room I suspect the expression on my face would have been somewhat like John Lyman’s during that brilliant episode of The West Wing in which he’s woken up with a hangover and Joey Lucas’s translator Kenny is shouting in his face. He looks rotten, his eyes desperately trying to focus on something, anything, coherent until in the end he has to admit “I have no clue what is happening right now.” That was me during Bane II as the convoluted plot convulsed into the kind of inherent ramblings which tend to give our favourite genre a bad name. It’s an alien doodah which when combined with a thingy could bring about the end of the universe. For the first time this series I did finally, genuinely felt like a teacher trying to look cool listening to The Jonas Brothers at a school disco.

There’s little point in me listing all of the irritations – we’ll be here all night – so I’ll just offer two.

Firstly, there’s the treatment of the Brig. I’d quite looked forward to his return to television, though for some of us he’s not really a character that’s been away with his appearances in the novels and Nick Courtney’s frequent visits to the Big Finish studios for this and that, notably his appearances in the U*N*I*T spin-off mini-series as well as the, I think, underrated video Downtime which also featured Lis Sladen briefly as Sarah-Jane. It seemed like an odd fit that he’d be resurrected for The Sarah Jane Adventures anyway considering the target audience, but the SJS connection is strong enough and it might well be a pre-cursor to his re-emergence in the mother programme, where the details of his mission to Peru might yet be revealed.

His dislike for the newer, vastly more militaristic UNIT is a welcome continuation of some of the themes begun in those spin-offs and is extrapolated well in his opening scene, as he wipes the monocle from fake Major Cal’s face. The reunion with Ms Smith was just ambiguous enough not to render any of those spin-off stories non-canonical. Nick Courtney has a ready gravitas which makes you wonder why he’s not employed more often (though watch out for him playing the Archbishop of Canterbury in this thing soon). He obviously relished the chance to be back on tv and a through line to the man we loved so in the seventies and eighties. It’s nice introduction for viewers too, he’s an old friend of Sarah-Jane who used to be in UNIT and knows how to get into the spooky Black Archives.

The problem is, because the kids are rightly supposed to be the stars, The Brig predictably gets sidelined and unlike School Reunion, the episode isn’t about the meeting of old friends and before long it becomes apparent that the man is rather incidental to the story. Courtney spends most of the following episode and a half standing or sitting around reacting to whatever’s happening and though he does get a couple of action beats including some nice cane work, he’s essentially a bystander to the main story, which I know was often the case in the 70s but seems like wasted opportunity here. Would it be so wrong for him to have a moment where he imparts some wisdom and be allowed to offer some impression to the kids watching as to what makes him so brilliant that the Doctor would name drop him at a time of crisis?

Of course, the reason the episode isn’t about Alistair is because it’s about Luke and his mummy dilemma and it’s how he fitted into the story which is the other thing which really got my goat. We’ve watched the bond develop convincingly between Luke and Sarah-Jane over the past couple of seasons and it’s interesting to see the show attempting to address the emotional apocalypse an adopted kid his age in the real world might have to address when the real thing wanders in either at the supermarket, home, or as is most likely these days on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Perhaps these kids in the real world might think that underneath these people are giant calamari desperate to steal them away from the life they know, with Spain the destination instead of the universe, but Luke’s not really the role model the adopter would want to hold up as an example of how to deal with the situation.

It’s just a pity that after an excellent showing in the last story, Luke spends most of Enemy of the Bane being psychologically shoved about so easily by his ‘real’ mother Mrs Wormwood. You can just about see the reason behind busting her from the protective shielding, but after that’s gone so well and he’s essentially been kidnapped and tried to dash off with the cosmic doodah, why does he then go and take it to the centre of the stone circle knowing the consequences it’ll have for humanity? The reason is because writer Phil Ford needs him to. Having logically written Mrs Wormwood behind the shielding he needs to get her out so that the next bit of plot can be dealt with. Equally, there isn’t a big special effects climax if Luke isn’t somehow compelled into doing the dirty even if the status quo hasn’t changed that much since five minutes before when he ran off with it.

I should say here that if Samantha Bond wanted me to do anything for her, anything at all, I’m there – her hypnotic voice has driven me absolutely crazy for years and her rather arch performance was one of the few highlights in the these episodes. Except she’s so clearly still evil, still mental, and still untrustworthy, that it undermines our belief in Luke’s intelligence that he persists in doing pretty much everything she says even when the results have proved to be so disastrous. I know there’s an argument to be made for the series being for a younger age group where writing has to lack most of its ambiguity and there’s bound to be a certain panto elements, as we’re constantly frowning in disbelief at the stupidity of our heroes, but when Jack (not Harkness) sells his cow for some beans we get watch a giant beanstalk grow and meet a giant, and I’m not sure any of the results of the over complicated bit of fantasy on offer here was as relevant or immeditately exciting as that.

Now, I know this is harsh commentary for what is essentially a production with its heart in the right place and it could just be a pre-christmas bit of malevolence before my usual festive benevolence descends. All of performances were excellent; Anthony O'Donnell’s Commander Kaagh in particular worked much better in this context than in his own story, seeking honour through freelance work rather than the usual Sontaran oaths. And it scores marks for not also somehow involving the Chandras in the solution to the alien story as a counterpoint to the still lamented Jacksons; clearly if Haresh is up to anything dodgy they’re saving it for the next series – I also hope they could find something more interesting for Gita to do than apparently get Sarah-Jane’s name wrong and have her in some state of catatonia.

I just wish that after generating what has been a very good drama series the finale hadn’t been so relentlessly mundane and predictable and exactly the kind of thing children’s television is criticised for being. Then again, I’m willing to admit its possible that I’ve just had a sense of humour bypass for a week and I’ll rewatch this in the future (as we fans always do) I’ll be less harsh and grudgingly see it’s good points – it’s happened recently with Planet of the Ood which I absolutely hated on my first po-faced viewing. Plus, I am thirty-four years old. If I was about ten, I’d probably think this was the most exciting fifty minutes I’ve ever, ever seen. At least until Christmas Day.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

(We're putting up our decorations today...)

arguing about for decades

TV It's actually quite comforting watching Star Trek fans having to deal with precisely the kinds of issues us Doctor Who fans have been arguing about for decades. This interview with movie writer Bob Orci is somewhat spoilerific but has a whiff of the UNIT dating controversy. More commentary in the comments.

Potential story idea for future episode of Doctor Who.

TV Potential story idea for future episode of Doctor Who. The Tardis drops through a dimensional rift and materialises in a reality, ours in fact, where he's the only fantasy element and becomes the saviour and the problem both at the same time as he tries to work out how to go home. In other words it's an early 60s historical style story set in contemporary Earth without any of the trappings of the Whoniverse: UNIT or Torchwood or the constant threat of alien invasion.