In Liverpool on Saturday.

TV Neil at attended the preview screening of The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith at Liverpool One today (lucky thing, I was working!) and managed to get this brilliant video interview with Tommy Knight and Anjili Mohindra.

If you didn't love the show before, you will after hearing their enthusiasm. No spoilers but lots of revelations I'm sure we've not heard anywhere else about behind the scenes hijinks.

It's like being witness to the first time the eyepatch joke was told.

[link broken sadly]

Stuart Ian Burns Blogger

The first time I used the internet was in the first year of my BA (Hons) Information Studies course at Leeds Metropolitan University in 1993. The computer labs were running old 386 PCs and although there was an email system, I don't think they had Windows yet. That didn't stop me opening the Telnet application which had been installed for the Computer Science students and experimenting with commands until I was able to access a text representation of the web, even searching using Lycos. The first website I looked at was about Babylon 5, I think, though all I could enjoy with this slow loading text was a short episode guide and the bracketed word [image] where a .gif of G'Kar or Ivanava should have been [inspired by].

fantastic film

Elsewhere My Hamlet Weblog moves on apace as I review Ken Branagh's fantastic film version.

22 Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet played by Kenneth Branagh
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

One of my favourite moments in Hamlet as directed by Mr Kenneth Branagh is the reintroduction of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Timothy Spall and Reese Dinsdale, hanging from the side of a steam engine as it sweeps through the Elsinore snow to be greeted by their friend at the platform. For two characters usually at the bottom of the casting pecking order and whose entrance is too often treated less importantly than most others, it’s an expression of the film’s inclusiveness. It says, this film doesn’t just have a script that includes nearly every scrap of coherent text knocking about in which all of the characters are cast as though their the most important figure in the story, but each and every one of them will be rendered in a way which is more memorable than you’ve ever seen before.

I love Branagh’s Hamlet. It’s not just my favourite Hamlet film adaptation, it’s one of my favourite films period. I was already excited by the prospect on its release in 1996; having enjoyed both Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing and adored In The Bleak Midwinter and was so desperate to see it I travelled out to Manchester (a far rarer occurrence then) on the week of release even though the print was going to be moving to Liverpool within seven days. Sitting amongst the small audience in screen five of the now closed Odeon on Oxford Road I was in rapture from start to finish, so much so I almost forgot to eat the chocolate bread I’d taken along for refreshment (we ate some weird foods in the 1990s). It was in those four hours I fell in love with the play.

Which means I’m hardly in a position of offer the usually objective first-impression style review. I’ve seen the film many times since and even own a copy in the Video-CD format (were it’s spread across five whole discs). I suspect many of the prejudices I have about the play (the importance of including Fortinbras whatever the cost etc) were born out of my love for this film. It’s secretly been the yardstick against which I’ve compared all of these productions and watching it again for the purposes of the project (I’ve deliberately stayed away since I began writing this blog), I simply couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I tried, lord knows I did. But look – Ophelia’s in a straight jacket. How cool is that?

I was all prepared to even slam Branagh’s performance having seen or heard twenty other men and one girl say the same words. But I can’t. He’s brilliant. There’s no discussion here about whether the prince is mad. He’s sane. Deliberately so from the moment he first appears in the throne room to the duel. He knows he’s gone a bit too far now and then – the killing of Polonius – but everything is an act. And by eradicating that ambiguity, Branagh creates a skein of tension as thick as an undercover spy thriller as we hope and pray he won’t be found out until he’s able to reap revenge on his step-father.

And it's not just Ken. There’s not a bum performance here. Not one. And in casting, the director seems to have deliberately commemorated different levels and eras of acting. There are obvious contingents from Liverpool and Hollywood, from the RSC old and new. His usual repertory of actors are all there too, many carried over from In The Bleak Midwinter, but none of it is incongruous and over and over we see performers that would not share a scene anywhere else. Look it’s Richard Briers giving GĂ©rard Depardieu orders. Simon Russell Beale joking around with Billy Crystal. Perdita Weeks standing next to Charlton Heston.

On the dvd commentary, Branagh jokes that it’s become known as the eternity version and whilst it's true that at nearly four hours it can be an effort to sit down and watch the thing, the time snaps by and the viewer is rewarded with as clear an interpretation of the story as they’re ever likely to see. Nowhere else have witnessed the clarity with which Hamlet’s feigned madness is attributed to Polonius’s banning of Ophelia from seeing him been inscribed with such clarity. By seeing all of the political machinations we can interpret that once Claudius was a sympathetic figure who may have killed his brother to save the kingdom, the marriage to Gertude a way of suturing the throne rather than simply a power grab.

It’s all there. Indeed, there’s almost an overload of ideas. Most productions get by on a couple of good suggestions, whatever can be squeezed in by the director in the rehearsal period or shooting or recording schedule. Here, in every scene, every character has an angle, every line is laced with meaning. Tiny touches. Polonius dies with a smile on his face and somehow continues to be an active participant in the bedchamber even as the rest Hamlet’s encounter with his mother. It’s perfectly clear from the off during To Be Or Not Be that Hamlet knows he’s being watched, with Claudius and his chief counsellor almost filling in for the audience. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio with the latter almost his madness valve, pointing out when the former has gone too far.

There have been criticisms too of the interpolations; the flashbacks to Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship before the play (which indeed could be her imagination but I don’t like to think so) including the tender moment post coitus when he speaks dialogue which is otherwise reported by letter. It re-engineers the meaning of the play, “they” say, applies ideas not Shakespeare’s own. Well, firstly, they’re less obtrusive than in Olivier’s version which in the main are generally illustrative and secondy isn’t the play’s meaning up for grabs? Doesn’t every director present an interpretation? Cut the opening battlements scenes and you can imply the ghost, revenge and all that really are just figments of Hamlet’s imagination, that he has been sent mad with grief and that his father died of natural causes.

The film’s also extraordinarily beautiful. Shooting on 70mm, Alex Thomson creates vistas about the exterior location on Blenheim Palace, making full use of the period detailing, underscoring the grand old royalty of the Hamlets. On the commentary, Branagh suggests that the best way to see the film would be projected onto an IMAX screen and he’s quite correct. Seems a tragedy that likes of Transformers 2’s 35mm print is blown up to that size, only really serving to increase the incoherence of the editing, whilst a piece with stately shots that repay extended scrutiny were until the dvd release left to languish on VHS. The clarity of the image helps to weight the actors performance, as even the tenderest of gestures, such as Winslet’s slight holding of Branaghs hand at the end of the throne room scene are magnified.

In those extras, Branagh is keen to point out that the film would not have seen a shiny disc had it no been for the internet campaign. It’s lovely, unstarry gesture, and a recognition that the afterlife of some films, even what seem like big studio productions rest in the hands of the viewers. The tragedy is, that while Hamlet’s out there now (and long enough to be relatively cheap to buy), In The Bleak Midwinter, the comedy he made just before hand about putting on a production of the play in a church (my review here) still hasn’t appeared. That’s a disaster. What do we think it would take for Warner Bros, the current rights holders, to give that the release it deserves too?

The Mad Woman in the Attic.

TV “Hello, how are you? I said, how are you? Good. Not too cold? I said you’re not too cold are you? Good. I just thought I’d pop round and see how you’re getting on. Yes, it is warm isn’t it. Not like the old days. The aliens, no I don’t think it’s the aliens. Well we have an Eocene councillor, don’t we? No dear, we’re not allowed to call them Silurians any more. It’s rude. How is your food synthesiser? Well, no, but it’s good for you, you need your vitamins don’t you? If you could just sign here and I’ll be on my way. I’m just going up the road to talk to Mrs Chaplet at number 43. You know whatsername, Dodo? You should get together, I think you’d get along famously. I think you have a lot in common. No, not in that way no. Well. Yes. Well. Anyway Mrs. Chandra, I’ll see you next week. Bye bye now.”

Poor old Rani clattering about that attic all alone for sixty years apparently alone. Didn’t social services pay her one visit at some point, either when she was a teenager or later? Is "The Mad Woman in the Attic" their nickname for her? What happened to her parents? Even without Sarah Jane and the gang gone she’d surely have something approximating a normal life – Mr Smith was still available too for japes -- or was the guilt so extraordinary that she began squatting in her friend’s house almost as soon as she could, shutting out the outside world until all she had were her memories? I’m being facetious of course – presenting an older version of a character as a storytelling framing device isn’t something the franchise has done on screen before (I don’t think) and in terms of creeping out the young audience must have worked very well especially with Souad Faress’s eerily accurate imitation of Anjli.

A welcome step up in quality from last week’s runaround, Joseph Lidster’s script for The Mad Woman In The Attic had to achieve two things, and at the risk of attracting Stephen Fry’s ire (yes, of course he’s an avid reader) I’m going to say it worked on a number of levels (for every use of that phrase does a kakapo die?). For a start, it had to be a vintage bit of Sarah Jane Adventures and it succeeded by offering some Moffat-lite timey-whimeyness and also pinioning on the wonders of the universe rather than some simple earthbound menace, with one of the group being dragged in because they put that wonder ahead of the safety of their friends. The threat, a telepathic alien, had much in common with Mary in the wacky Torchwood story Greeks Bearing Gifts, but rather than wanting to seduce people into animal sex, she just wanted to be their friends. Which is fortunate for a whole selection of reasons. I rather liked the simplicity of this, and, despite her horrenously non-PC puppeteering of the homeless, she was ultimately quite sympathetic and cute and giddily played by Eleanor Tomlinson.

In the midst of that though, Lidster was also saddled with writing the two episodes that the kids would impatiently have to sit through before the Doctor returns next week. The writer (presumably with some suggestions from the production team) neatly sidestepped that with a whole squeeniverse of references to the mother series. Eve is a refugee of the time war. Squee. Zodin reference. Squee. Jon and Tom, clips from Planet of the Spiders and The Hand of Fear. Squee. Snippets of dialogue. Squee. Both episodes in which Sarah Jane saw an incarnation of a Doctor for the last time depending on whether The Five Doctors counts. Squee. Which it must do because there was clip from that as well. Still counts. Squee. No mention of her meeting Eighth in Interference. Not squee. Shot of the TARDIS in the attic. Squee. Brief glimpse of David. Squee. The Bad Wolf theme. Squee. The return of K9. Squee, mistress. The resulting hilarious reaction from Mr Smith, in which the computer was clearly under the impression that he was about to be upstaged by a far more mobile supercomputer. Squee if you’re a Blakes-7 fan. Rightly none of this detracted from the main story and was simply layered in as foreshadowing. What about the darkness in SJS’s soul? Squee again, just in case because it sounded like Gwneth's dialogue from The Unquiet Dead.

But there were a few things I didn’t understand. Why did the gang’s trip to the seaside seem so long winded? Sarah-Jane and Clyde’s strolled to the theme park as though they deliberately didn’t want to get there before Rani’s story caught up. It’s another story happening at the weekend and in a deserted town to justify the lack of extras so was the in-dialogue mention of the credit crunch, a lightly metafictional reference to their predicament? I also wasn’t entirely sure why Luke decided to go sunbathing instead of chasing after Adam. And if this had been an American show in the mid-Eighties, it would have had backdoor pilot written all over it. Alien girl, her boyfriend, crazy pensioner and a talking spaceship? It’s Benji, Zac and the Alien Prince without the need to toilet train one of the cast members isn’t it? Speaking of which where were the toilets on Ship? It looked about the size of the transmat pod from Mawdryn Undead.

I also couldn’t quite follow the ending. After all of the build up of the mystery, Rani’s was put into the predicament then released from it within a couple of minutes of screen time (even if it was fifty gin soaked years for the character). I had almost expected the story to end with her still in the attic, but then there was the reveal that boy she’d been narrating at turned out to be the son of Sam and Eve called Adam and that Ship was going to put things right. Had sixty years in the company of the Mixed Up Biblical Reference People made the old thing go soft and change its mind? What mechanism were they using to make reality go back to normal? Which then led me to wonder where the rest of the gang had gone in the first place, zapped out of reality like that. Sometimes watching kids drama can be like playing a game of Kerplunk – pull out a pin and all the balls drop from the air and into a trough. But the thing is, all of that, like the winking issue in Blink, only occurred to be afterwards and none of it really impacted on my enjoyment of the episode.

Which makes me wonder why I spent a whole two paragraphs nitpicking. That's not like me, is it? I must have just missed something important. I did enjoy this. Honestly. Rubs his temples, the TARDIS pulling the Earth into orbit is cool and sod the science, the TARDIS pulling the Earth into orbit is cool and sod the science. That’s better. Good performances all round as ever and some excellent direction from Alice Troughton in bringing to two eras together through Rani’s eyes. Sam Watts provided what was one of his best scores for the series. And I did genuinely like the coda, with the new version of old gandmother Rani, kids about her feet, and a computer that eschewed a normal keyboard for some kind of blue-light flat panel configuration with a see through monitor – clearly a Mac. Nice to know too that despite what Amazon says, people will still need proper books with paper pages in 2059. It’s quite brave to present the future of one of your characters so specifically like this because it can jeopardise future jeopardy but I suppose that your mains can’t die in Sarah Jane Adventures for tonal reasons. So it’s interesting that Clyde didn’t warrant a mention …

Next time: He’s back and it’s about Dr. Tom Latimer

anal nitpickery

Elsewhere I've reviewed tonight's Sarah Jane Adventures which I did genuinely enjoy even if the review reads like the worst form of anal nitpickery.

Competition Results

Sorry for the lateness of posting this. The answer to question in the competition to win Hamlet and Henry V on blu-ray courtesy of ITV DVD was ...

"Never more than kin and less than kind..."

And the winners were

Neil Perryman and Kevin Anderson.

They have been informed. And thanks to everyone else for entering ...

how many people are reading this blog?

About Well, then, um, ah, wow. Creative Tourist, Manchester's guide for the creative tourist has put together a top 25 list of UK Arts and Culture blogs. The list includes the likes of Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian and other national journalists, The FACT blog and Art In Liverpool. It's really solid, really quite brilliant expression of culture blogging around the country. Except:
2. Feeling Listless
A surprise high entry for this independent blog from Liverpool that has been running since 2000. Feeling Listless covers every aspect of culture from arts and museums to politics and film
You're surprised? I nearly fell off my chair. How many people are reading this blog? The reason I ask is because this isn't just a pick a quarter of a hundred at random exercise. As they describe:
To get to our final list of 25, we used a number of different measures to assess the popularity of a blog. These include Technorati and Yahoo inlinks, Bloglines citations and the number of Google readers a blog has. Initially, we also included Alexa data (to assess site traffic) but as Alexa only counts from the top-level domain (e.g. ‘’ rather than the URL of one of the Guardian blogs), we considered that this would give blogs like those run by the major newspapers an unfair advantage. We then used an algorithm to combine the various criteria and give an overall scoring for each blog.
So again I ask, how many people are reading this blog? I know the phrase silent majority is a testy one to use on this day in particular, but who are you all?

Hello everybody.

obscure lookalike

Film Throughout tonight's events (the BBC's been vindicated etc) I was bugged after seeing a portrait at Radio 3's website. I knew Moses looked like a character actor but couldn't work out which one. So I asked Metafilter and sure enough tzuzie realised who it was:

Moses Mendelssohn Totally Looks Like Colm Feore
moar funny pictures

A pretty obscure lookalike, I'm sure you'll agree.

I wanted it to be a summation.

Film I began watching Family Plot with mixed emotions. Hitchcock, himself, of course, didn’t know this was to be his last film; he wasn’t interested in career commemoration or summation. As ever he wanted to produce an entertainment for his audience, this time subverting the caper plot by presenting two couples with the same goal neither of which are particularly likeable, kidnappers and confidence tricksters, testing our expectations of what makes for a loveable rogue. But I wanted it to be a summation. I wanted it to gather together all of his favourite motifs, be shot in the old style, to be as solidly funny, to takes its cue from an overwhelming sense that you should be like Cary Grant and be polite to the world no matter what it’s throwing at you or expect sinister happenings around every corner like Jimmy Stewart. The funerial aspects not meant, inadvertent.

Instead, though it is witty in parts and the performances of the four leads especially Karen Black and Bruce Dearn capture some of the rag-tag sense of screwball mayhem, throughout you’re gripped with a sense that Hitch’s final film is one of his experiments outside of his comfort zone, this time an attempt to ape Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? or a Blake Edwards comedy, his equivalent of Woody Allen's Anything Else which expected people to turn up because it featured the piefucker (that joke (c) Kevin Smith). As the minutes tick by, you wish that some of his brilliance will assert itself, that outside of his cameo he’ll give us (or if I’m being honest, me) a final wink and a thank you for enjoying his work. But it doesn’t happen and my lasting impression is that Hitchcock’s final film was really Frenzy, just as The Tempest was spiritually Shakespeare’s final play. Both worked beyond that, right through to their deaths, but there wasn’t much more that needed to be said.

Ten Great Doctor Who Spin-off Stories

TV For most people including some fans, Doctor Who consists of the television series that began in 1963, was dumped in 1989, was resurrected briefly in 1996, then came back properly in 2005.

Except the show had a life off-screen, in books, in audio dramas and comic strips, hundreds of stories, far more than even appeared on television or all kinds, very often set in gaps between seasons with a web of new monsters and companions, plenty of which has gone on to be thought of just as affectionately as anything which appeared on-screen.

Most of these masterpieces have since fallen into obscurity; as novelist Paul Magrs pointed out on his blog recently, while the 60s tv episodes are being released on pristine dvd, nearly a decades’ worth of novels are being ignored, even though they should be ripe for reprinting.

Partly this is because of content which in some cases is more akin to Torchwood than The Sarah Jane Adventures, but there are some genuinely great pieces here, well worth foraging for on the rare occasions that they appear on ebay.

This is not an exhaustive list. These are not the greatest stories simply because there are so many of them. But I’ve tried to choose things which stray just a little bit further from the norm, which rather than just trying to recreate the television series, attempt to go a little bit further, see how far this flexible format can really stretch.

When faced with writing this, I might have let my nerdier excesses get the better of me. You have been warned …

The Witch Hunters by Steve Lyons (BBC Books)

The pure historical, or a story in which the only sci-fi elements are the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS were part of the DNA of the series until the mid-60s when poor ratings in comparison to the alien invasion episodes led to them being dropped, so it was a treat in the 1990s when BBC Books published a number of them as part of their Past Doctors series.

The Witch Hunters has the First Doctor and his four original companions granddaughter Susan and her teachers Ian and Barbara materialise in Salem Village, Massachusetts, 1692 during the witch trials.

At first, the non-interference ethic which was a key element in this period is in full effect (and similarly discussed in the nu-Who story Fires of Pompeii), but then Steve Lyons forces the post-modernity of the story up a notch by taking the TARDIS team into the future to watch an actual production of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and uses it as a catalyst for the heroes to reassess their time travel responsibilities.

Lyons is renowned for authentically capturing the essence of whichever era he’s writing about but in this case he also adds a depth that was originally absent from what was ostensibly a kids programme.

The Witch Hunters allows the TARDIS crew to experience the loss of innocence and realistic reactions denied them on screen whilst simultaneously riffing on playwright Miller’s themes. And he never looses sight of what continues to make these early shows so charming, the Reithian ethic to educate and entertain.

Season 6B (various, BBC Books)

If you’re a Doctor Who fan for long enough (though this is certain true of most franchise followers) you’ll come across obscure but fun quirks in the spin-off material.

The concept of Season 6B, that is a series of adventures set between the close of the Patrick Troughton’s final season (six) and Jon Pertwee’s first (seven) began life as a fan rationalisation of apparent continuity errors in the television series caused by Troughton’s appearances in multiple Doctor stories (The Two Doctors mainly) none of which seemed to fit within the general run of his episodes since he never travelled alone (there are other things buts lets keep it simple).

Well, they said, what about if, before the Doctor was exiled to Earth and regenerated, his fellow timelords sent him out on missions for them on the hush-hush? If he was doing that for long enough it accounted for why he looks so much older in those later stories and sometimes doesn’t seem to be behaving quite right.

Season 6B became the catch all term for any Troughton story that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else and then as is the way of these things, those fans became published writers who attempted to legitimise its existence by producing works which could only be set in this period.

Then, and this is where the situation becomes really “interesting”, legendarily prolific Doctor Who author and former script writer/producer Terrance Dicks produced the late BBC Books World Game which “canonised” Season 6B once and for all, describing how the conclusion to Troughton’s final story The War Games offered the ‘official’ version of events but in ‘reality’ (or the Doctor Who version of it) the Doctor was indeed sent out on missions for the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency – get it?), a rare example of an old series legend embracing the way the fans view their programme.

Who Killed Kennedy by David Bishop (Virgin Books)

Oh yes. What was good enough for Quantum Leap and Red Dwarf became good enough to Doctor Who in the mid-nineties. Who Killed Kennedy tells the story of a cub reporter, James Stevens, in the 1970s investigating the movements of UNIT, the secret military organisation, their mysterious grey haired aristocratic scientific advisor, his beared adversary and ultimately their connection to the assassination of a president.

Partly written in the first person from the point of view of the reporter, Bishop’s novel also features the Kennedys as characters dealing with established events within the Doctor Who universe.

A love letter to the Earth bound Pertwee period, this misleadingly titled novel spans the decade, twisting itself in and out of television and spin-offs alike, with Stevens becoming the unseen second person in on-screen telephone calls and the connecting tissue that draws hitherto unconnected stories together.

Companions are reintroduced and killed off, and another secret governmental organisation, C-19, mentioned just once during the 80s, is fleshed out to become almost but not exactly like Torchwood and has to have been an influence on the later tv series.

Fairly controversial in fan circles on its original publication, it’s become something of a classic because it treats its source material with just right balance of respect and satire, with Bishop, who until that point was best known for writing for 2000 AD, demonstrating a remarkable knowledge of his subject. Who Shot Kennedy is a continuity heavy artefact it’d be interesting to hear what a new fan who might not know their Mars Probe 7 from their Monoids would make of it. Hopefully they’ll just embrace the epic sweep and look forward to filling in the gaps in the experience from the dvds.

The Stuff of Nightmares by Paul Magrs (BBC Audio)

A surprising amount of publicity greeted the announcement that Tom Baker, everybody’s favourite Doctor, the Doctor for adults of une certaine age, was returning to the role after thirty years (give or take the odd cameo). That was followed by general disappointment when a preview of The Stuff of Nightmares was released, a short scene between Tom and visiting companion, retired UNIT officer Mike Yates played by Richard Franklin, in which neither actor seemed to be putting in much of a performance, sounding like they were reading from a script.

On listening to the whole thing, it becomes apparent that what Magrs has written for Baker is a fireside chat, in which the Doctor regales his friend with tales of sentient alien hornets and madcap escapades.

The first of a series of five, The Stuff of Nightmares is a suitably bizarre story of stuffed animals coming to life and attacking the general populace, with the Doctor eventually piling the menagerie into his country home (like Season 6B a well established non-tv idea) where he spends his days fending them off with fire pokers, his wits and whatever else he has to hand, aided and abetted by his dower housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey, a harridan of a woman played by Louise Jameson (who cheered 70s Dads up playing Leela in the tv series). The hornets are in control and as the play continues it becomes apparent that he’s been fighting them over and over again across time.

It takes a bit for Tom to get warmed up, but once he gets his bearings, decades drop away and you can well imagine that it’s the younger man whose picture is drawn on the cover of the cd having these escapades. Baker clearly enjoys wrapping his lips around Magrs’s verbose script and probably injecting his own jokes and humour just as he always did.

As ever, it’s the asides and one liners which makes this such a joy; during one particular animal assault he makes a startled discovery “I realised I was being attacked by the cast of the Wind in the Willows!” and whole of the play is like that, luxuriating in Tom’s mischievous voice.

Spare Parts by Marc Platt (Big Finish)

The Cybermen’s origin story. New or non-fans are often surprised to hear that the Cybermen aren’t universally liked. It doesn’t make much sense, especially since they’re in almost as many stories as the Daleks and the idea, humanoid cyborgs with their emotions removed is such a horrific idea.

The problem is that as time went on they became little more than massed foot soldiers either for some other form of evil or as an added threat when the story was already chock full of invaders hell bent on the destruction of the Earth! Or something.

They also looked ridiculous, striding about in their silver painted moon-boots and biker gloves often taking several episodes to construct a bomb that didn’t work or falling over.

The Big Finish audio adventure Spare Parts did much to repair their image, just as Genesis of the Dalek reinvigorated the Daleks, by stripping away the general uselessness to return to the original idea of a race seeking perfection and sacrificing their humanity in the process. Landing on their home planet of Mondas, the fifth Doctor and Nyssa realise that as the sphere drifts through space and slowly becomes uninhabitable, the entire population is going to receive cybernetic implants in order to survive which will have the side effects they’ve already seen in the races’s future. The Doctor is essentially a tourist at this race’s destruction.

This is body horror at its darkest as instantly likeable characters are slowly operated on and become beings with a vague notion of their original life, whose relatives, like those at the bedside of coma victims, cling onto the hope that the person they know is still in there, somewhere, behind those dark lenses. If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because Russell T Davies and script writer Tom MacRae borrowed the guts of the story for the new series episodes Rise of the Cybermen & The Age of Steel (Platt is mentioned in the credits).

Remember the heartrending scene in which the Doctor reanimated the memories, within a cyberman, of a woman who was recently married? A version of that appeared here first and it’ll break your heart all over again. A classic.

Doctor Who and the Pirates by Jacqueline Rayner (Big Finish)

As with the Cybermen, the Big Finish audios have done much the rehabilitate the image of Colin Baker’s Doctor. The carrot permed multicoloured misfit is often blamed for the ultimate cancellation of the television series first time around (even though it had as much to do with the choices of the production team), but the audio writers have markedly softened the character, making him far more loveable if not always less self-righteous, whilst still embracing the element of camp inherent in this incarnation, not least because of the ever so theatrical Mr. Baker.

Doctor Who and the Pirates is the epitome of this approach, dropping the Doctor and audio companion, retiree historian Evelyn Smythe, into a retelling of The Pirates of Penzance with the songs intact. It’s a Doctor Who musical! Baker sings!

Continuity Errors by Steven Moffat (Virgin Books)

It’s difficult to know what to say about a short story like this without giving so much away that it becomes pointless tracking down the heavily out of print Decalog 3 anthology in which it’s printed. Across the series’s history, shorts fiction has been the place where writers have experimented with this most flexible of formats, often as we’ve seen in Season 6B, attempting to explain continuity errors or plugging gaps in the unfolding text.

Elements will seem incredibly familiar to fans of Moffat’s later writing for the television series. It’s set in a massive library and the Doctor finds himself in the grip of the flow of time when he attempts to borrow a book.

Except this is the Seventh Doctor and this was published alongside the Virgin New Adventures when he was at his most malevolent and manipulative and spent far too much of his span bending time to his will. His companion Bernice, looks at him with a mix of admiration and disdain.

It’s fascinating to read Moffat dealing with the characters who were at the forefront of the franchise back then. The McCoy version lived on for nearly ten years after the series was cancelled in novels and comic strips, and fits perfectly with the kind of story Moffat likes to tell in which TARDIS travel isn’t simply an intergalactic coach tour but can have real effects on real people, themes present in all of his later television scripts.

Neverland by Alan Barnes (Big Finish)

Or the one where the Doctor tells his companion he loves her. And means it.

When I tell people that Paul McGann is my favourite Doctor, if they’ve only passing interest in the series they tend to raise an eyebrow and say “But he was only in that American tv film wasn’t he?” which is my cue to tell them, well no. Since the TV movie, the Eighth Doctor has stormed a trail through comics, novels and audio adventures with McGann reprising his role in the latter.

When the first two series of these plays were released earlier this decade they felt like the proper continuation, he was still out there, travelling time battling aliens, still trying to find a decent cup of tea, accompanied now by Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress (played by India Fisher, best known outside fan circles as that posh voiceover woman on Masterchef).

It wasn’t just that McGann was able to lay to rest the opportunity missed in 1996; it was that the quality of the writing and performances were in the main so spectacularly good, with McGann sounding just like I’d hoped the Doctor always could, funny, clever and comfortingly bohemian. Many of the scribes who worked on these ten went on to pen new television series and the guest casts included the likes of Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) and Mark Gatiss. They were linked by a strong story arc too.

In the opening story, Storm Warning, The Doctor saved Charley from an airship disaster but unlike many of his companions in the past, her removal created a rip in time, through which all kinds of nastiness seeped through and it slowly became clear that the timelord might have to sacrifice his companion to save the universe.

Neverland was the culmination of that, an epic so big it barely fitted on its two cds, in which the timelords, presidentially led by his former companion Romana (with Lalla Ward reprising her role), after an epic chase between TARDIS’s, finally catching up with him and setting off a chain of events which ultimately sees him lose all sense of identity. Huge in scale, the play culminates in a scene where the Doctor has to choose between shooting Charley dead and saving the universe and as she’s pleading with him to do the deed, explaining that the few extra months he’s given her and wonderful experiences are more than enough, that he makes the admission which she reciprocates.

Listening back again all of these later, I can hear that it’s ambiguous, he could just mean the love between friends, but at the time it was thrilling and heartbreaking as the beach scene with Rose in Doomsday and the mind-wiping climax of Journey’s End.

Meet The Doctor by Russell T Davies

With such a short life onscreen, the Christopher Eccleston model had precious little time to establish himself as a presence off, with just a few comic strips, six novels and an annual, most of it still in the process of trying to get used to the show being back and the audience for the stories skewing backwards to children again after years of playing to an aging fan choir.

Unlike the McGann era which eventually ran to hundreds and hundreds of tales with only one on television, Eccleston’s version appeared in just twenty-five including his thirteen tv appearances.

For old timers like me, the most exciting two pages written in that era was the Meet The Doctor feature in the 2006 Christmas annual in which Russell T Davies naughtily hinted at his great contribution to the mythology, the Great Time War between the timelords and the Daleks.

In just three columns, Davies pulls together continuity from the television series old and new, the audios, the novels and the comic strips essentially validating their existence in relation to the new series underscoring that he believed as much as we did that when the show left television it simply continued elsewhere biding its time until it blazed back into the corner of the living room again.

It also does that ability the show has always had of implying epic galaxy spanning battles just off screen (or in this case pages). We might never discover the identity of the Dalek Puppet Emperors or what happened at the Omnicraven uprising, but our imagination can be set into overtime just as it was during Star Wars when we heard about the clone wars (until George Lucas spoiled everything by showing them to us). And then, magnificently, two years before it meant anything on screen he describes a cave painting depicting the time war under which are written just four words: “You are not alone…”

The Time of My Life by Jonathan Morris (Doctor Who Magazine comic strip)

With four years on screen, the David Tennant model has had plenty of time to establish himself as a presence off with comic strips being published in three different magazines, forty odd novels, four annuals and three storybooks, most of it comfortable with finding a space between the expectations of children and their parents.

Plenty of room for some amazing tales with the Tenth Doctor being granted the meeting with The Brigadier he’d otherwise miss out on, and in this gap year countless new companions that in some cases are as tangent as Rose, Martha or Donna.

Set just after Journey’s End, The Time of my Life grants Donna the farewell she was unable to give on-screen. We’re presented with extracts from adventures we’ve not seen before, meeting the Beatles, fighting sentient dogs and vampires and to describe any more would be to ruin these nine pages utterly. Throughout its history the Doctor Who Magazine strip has been a wild, experimental, post-modern dream and this no exception, as Morris and artist Rob Davies somehow manage to render a televisual montage sequence on the page.

It’s a tribute to the character, something the strip has done each time a companion has left the show, at least since it returned. Morris captures the character perfectly and its easy to imagine Catherine Tate reading these words (some of the other spin-off material overlooks the character development gifted to her in that fourth year, rendering her as the shouty, sarcastic nitwit from The Runaway Bride).

The success of the strip is demonstrated on the final page which is just heartbreaking as perfect a marriage of words and images as the comic strip has achieved and as will all of these stories you’re left with the reminder that the best of Doctor Who hasn’t just been seen on television.

[Originally posted at]

Ten Great Doctor Who Spin-off Stories.

TV I have a confession to make. I've been playing away.

To celebrate its relaunch, asked if I'd like to contribute a guest post and inevitably I agreed and decided to write about Doctor Who and choose one of the nerdier topics. And so I present:

Ten Great Doctor Who Spin-off Stories

That's spin-off in the old sense (before Jack and Sarah), audio plays, novels and comics strips. As you'd imagine it's a fairly esoteric selection ... Comments? Suggestions?

[The link seems to be broken now, so I'll post the full thing on the next repost.]

Inevitably it's about Doctor Who

Elsewhere To celebrate its relaunch, Neil's Scyfi Love blog is publishing a series of guest posts and I was very pleased to offer something which has been posted today. Inevitably it's about Doctor Who as I offer Ten Great Doctor Who Spin-off Stories. And it's not necessarily what you might think ...

as you ascend

Architecture Spiral staircases everywhere:
"Roosevelt Island is one of those hidden pockets, in the busy city that is still strange, surprising, and filled with bits and pieces of amazing history. While there is more to tell about the island then can be fit here, suffice to say, over the years it served as a prison, quarantine island, gangsters paradise and more. Throughout all this the Octagon remained as did its amazing "flying stairs."
One of my favourite starcases is inside the bell tower at Liverpool Cathedral (and can be seen in the background of this photograph). It's pinned to the wall of the hidden enterior but with the scale of the space that surrounds it, exhilaratingly, as you ascend it's almost as though you're on the outside of a building as the wind currents spinning about.

The Queen Mary II

Liverpool Life The Queen Mary II entered the River Mersey this morning and as the passengers spend the day in Liverpool. It leaves tonight under a hail of fireworks. I’ve never cruised. The closest I’ve been to ships are ferry, to the Isle of Man, across the channel and across the Mersey. I was sea sick one third of the time. There is something very seductive about travelling the world by liner, though it must be something like an extended coach tour, lots of travelling (albeit in this case something related to luxury) then half a day in a destination which must otherwise require much, much longer.

To get the best view I walked the length of the pier head and ended up at what I think was the old landing stage. Freezing cold. The wind nearly blew me and my camera into the Mersey on a couple of occasions, but fortunately barriers and railings and passing photographers were there to grab onto. Descent crowd. A group not that far up from be were phoning someone actually aboard ship, promising to wave to the passengers as they drifted by. I couldn’t see how. The QM2 was surely going to be too far away for that?

Then the liner began to turn. I moved further up the quay and within what seemed like moments but must have been longer, its immense structure was flat in front of us, like a fish in an aquarium moving closer to the as though to let us get a better look. Nothing prepares you to see something that size and human made shifting in spot and creating such a shadow. I took photos. Many of them. I’ve uploaded some of the best (for me) to flickr. Around me, men with longer lenses clambered up as close as they could to get a better shot, at least until a steward warned them to get down. Then Mary sang:

Frightening the life out of all about. Then it was gone. Well, as gone as something that big can be.

How to count squirrels

Nature A new project at the Forestry Commission:
"Andrew Brockbank, National Trust Property Manager at Formby, says: "Red squirrels would feature on many people’s list of favourite British wildlife and we hope that this exciting new project may help secure their future. The recent major outbreak of squirrelpox presents a unique window of opportunity for research and the tragic loss of red squirrels at Formby could ultimately provide insights which help red squirrel conservation in the future.""
We used see many, many reds in Sefton Park but now it's all greys, some of them tame enough to greet us looking for food as we leave home.

then I wasn’t watching anymore

Politics I watched. I watched until half six in the evening, then I wasn’t watching anymore. The House of Commons session is still going on as I write but I wonder how many people are watching. Setting myself the task of watching a whole random day’s worth of proceedings was a taller order than I’d been expecting because, as it turns out, the fragments we hear on The Day in Parliament or see on the news usually are the highlights, the Match of the Day of politics. And as with the average football match there are huge swaths of inactivity, ritual and regulation and in this case points of order.

Mainly I discovered that the main thrust of government does not happen in the chamber. The chamber is the place for statements and announcements. All of the big decision making happens behind closed doors or in smaller committee rooms. What we see in the chamber is MPs of all colours motion going, setting out their stall, presenting their case to closed ears and hardened minds. I did see cabinet ministers promising to look into individual cases offered up by backbenchers but in the main the “action” amounted to:
1) Government minister makes statement about a subject, policy, whatever. All cats should be shaved. Dogs can look up.

2) Opposition minister vehemently and viciously disagrees with whatever government minister said. All cats shouldn't be shaved. Dogs can't look up.

3) Government minister condescendingly disagrees with what the opposition said, often flustered, sometimes spluttering, very angry. All cats really should be shaved. Dogs really can look up. Listen to what I’m saying.

4) The rest of the house have a free for all generally repeating whatever their respective minister originally said with more context to the point that sometimes they lose sight of what the real issue is. Dogs shouldn’t be shaved. Cats can look up. Or is it ... ?
This was the pattern when Ed Balls made his statement regarding the appointment of Dr Margaret (Maggie) Atkinson as Children’s Commissioner and Bob Ainsworth’s statement about military procurement. That even decended into what sounded like the ministers debating whether there should be something called the “Santa’s procurement wish list” which is about as ironic and hateful way of describing the subject of buying arms as I think you’re likely to see.

Earlier in the day, during Work and Pension Questions with Yvette Cooper, I saw that the habit that we the people find so tedious on television and radio and in the papers of a minister not being able to answer a straight question happens just as frequently in the house. The same one size fits all kind of answers to questions echo about the half empty chamber time and again.

One Labour MP asked why a constituent of his wasn't getting Jobseeker's whilst waiting to start course and if that policy and rules could be sorted out so that someone who's doing everything that's expected of them won't starve (I'm paraphrasing). Cooper said she’d look at that case and then took the opportunity to parrot out a line we’d already heard about getting young people training to see them back into work, totally bypassing the issue he’d asked about.

The part of the session that finally left me by the side of the road was Conservative debate on economic recovery and welfare. Begun by Ken Clarke, who gave a very long speech filled as many derivations as a Ronnie Corbett anecdote, it soon descended into back biting between him and Frank Dobson about something which was happening fifteen years ago.

It was also a very strange sort of debate. When I was at school, a debate was about offering each side of an argument or point of order then making a considered choice on what you believe. In the chamber it’s fairly apparent that the MPs already know how they’re going to vote as they take their seat. All of the chat seems to be for the benefit of the record, to give Hansard something print up.

But the real problem was I didn’t understand most of anything which was being said, at least not at the rapidity with which they were saying it. It reminded me of the time I was invited to the pub with someone else’s friends and they spent the night sharing in jokes and stories and I didn’t feel included. I felt like I would need a degree in politics to understand much of the jargon being thrown about here.

My plan had been to offer commentary on what I was hearing on Twitter. As you can see from the feed, I tried, but in the end I was reduced to making jokes (as usual) and talking about the process rather than the substance. If anything the main thing I’ve learned is that the journalists and commentators, the Nick Robinsons and Michael Whites, don’t just report politics, they translate it so that cloth brainers like me can understand it.

Yet I’m sure that if this had been a different day my experience might have been different. If I’d had more context, my experience would have been different. If Ken Clarke hadn’t been one of the speakers, my … you get the idea. I also imagine that the chamber can still be electric on the very historic occasions, when the chamber is full and big decisions are being made. That just wasn’t today. Or at least this afternoon ...

I’m going to spend today watching BBC Parliament and more specifically the day’s business in the House of Commons.

Politics I’m going to spend today watching BBC Parliament and more specifically the day’s business in the House of Commons. My natural curiosity was piqued at about 10pm one night when I was flicking through the channels for something to watched and saw six hardy souls or MPs in the chamber debating what sounded like an important piece of legislation related to dentists. In that moment I began to wonder if, as we heard over and over during the expenses scandal, there really are very hard working back benchers being tarred with the greedy brush who simply want to get on with the job at hand of running the country.

More than that, for all my opinionation, I realised that I don’t really know what happens in parliament and that my impressions are second hand, based on the reporting and opinions and interpretations of of journalists rather than my own eyes. In bygone times that was the only information source, then some radio broadcasts were available, but now politics is available to anyone with a multi-channel box, live streamed if you will, and it seems very odd not to take advantage of that even if just for one day. I’ve picked the day at random, I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m sure, or at least hope, it will be educational.

Oh and I’ll be tweeting what I see through the day, and fielding abuse, if you want to follow along:

the mystery third voice

Music About five minutes ago, Keisha from the proper Sugababes tweeted:

"Hold up a sec.... ha ha ha ha ha what the hec.... Where and what is this "Low" track about?... Ive never recorded that song??!!!..."


"I think some1 has taken my vocals from an old song on the "One touch" album, or a demo and placed it on this "low" track..."


"Sooo weird LMAO....The song is a no no & who the hec is the 3rd person singing?! Ha ha Calling mutya 2morrow 2 see if im going nuts lol"

"My mum thinks its a demo from when we were 14....Errrr why cant i remember it?!!! ha ha ha ha.. Still in denial until i see evidence mate!"

Engage YouTube. Search for "keisha low" and ...

Having listened to it couple of times:

(a) How about Keisha referring to One Touch? For a good long while the approach to that album was fairly Stalinistic.

(b) It's very good. Certainly better than anything on the Sugababes's last two albums

(c) If indeed it is a hack job from an old demo, it's very well done

(d) Who is the mystery third voice? The video claims it's not Siobhan or Heidi though the former's voice has changed a bit in the interim. It could be an unsigned vocalist wanting to get her voice out there and being stealthy about it

(e) Perhaps the mysterious YouTube user luke2509 knows. I've googled his username and he's a fairly big Sugababes fan. This discussion board reveals that he also uses the handle LUkiBOi! but there are loads of different people with that name. Curiously it appears on this image which leads to this blog which I really don't understand.

(f) If they're anywhere near the copyright holder, K & M and S (if they have the talk) should record and release it forthwith.

(g) Though to be honest it's probably just a leaked demo from an earlier album. Taller In Many Ways perhaps? In that case it's the proper Sugababes's equivalent of Free As A Bird the late release from The Beatles.

Update! Digital Spy are copy/pasting from the newspaper who's name I shall not mention that Siobhan is considering the reunion. It's probably rubbish, but never mind Sugafree, if this happened, a more logic group name would be Pwnd. I should add that I've nothing against the various members of the groups and potential groups, (get well soon Amelle) but a frustration with the management team that they let it get this far ...

self conscious

People This comment at Metafilter somewhat distils what it might be like to be an attractive woman in the 21st century:
"Junior year of college, I worked at the state capitol. Apparently guys like suits because when I would wait at the bus stop, every. single. day. someone would try to flirt with me. Remember that at this point, I didn't realize this was going to be a constant thing. So I acknowledged that these guys meant well, and I would be friendly enough: I'd smile, or respond to questions.

Except they'd take this as encouragement. [...] So when they'd ask for my number -- and, wow, this was usually after speaking maybe three sentences to me -- I would say, "Oh, sorry," in an embarrassed sort of way, "I have a boyfriend."

And they would say some variation of "he doesn't need to know," which is both insulting to me as a moral being and disrespectful of my turning them down. And if this sounds ridiculous to anyone reading this, all I can tell you is this happened EVERY SINGLE DAY I was at that bus stop and that line came up EVERY TIME except once, when the guy said he just wanted to be my friend when he very clearly did not just want to be my friend because he knew nothing about me except I looked hot in a suit.

But I knew these guys didn't realize how disrespectful they were being, they probably just thought they were being smooth or if they were persistent enough I would be charmed. Misguided. I should not take offence, and I didn't."
It's impossible to read this and not think "Men are assholes..." even if you are one. And the worst part is that she ultimately changed how she looked, what she wore and to an extent her personality simply so she could get on with life and not have to deal with any of this bullshit. If reading this doesn't make you feel self conscious about talking to the opposite sex, well, anywhere, you're not human. Possibly.

Salome on Rye?