David Tennant on Hamlet

David Tennant only ever gave one interview about his time in Hamlet. Here it is:
"Even if you read a play once you have preconceptions and notions about it. It's hard to be specific about things, because things are so gradual, and also talking about it now at the end of a run, it's quite difficult to work out where you were at the beginning, especially with a play like this that changes from night to night. I do remember being surprised, because I had always assumed that Hamlet and his father had a slightly distant relationship, that his father was a slightly distant patrician, quite a bellicose figure with whom Hamlet didn't really identify. But whilst I do think that they are very different, I remember that once we actually started playing those scenes, there was a sense of the bond that they had and a sense of that paternal connection, and I was quite taken aback by that."
I'm going to save reading this properly until I've seen the film. I don't want to preconceptions. Even productions of four hundred year old plays can have spoilers, I think, even if it's just spoiling the interpretation [via].

Even productions of four hundred year old plays can have spoilers

Shakespeare David Tennant only ever gave one interview about his time in Hamlet. Here it is:
"Even if you read a play once you have preconceptions and notions about it. It's hard to be specific about things, because things are so gradual, and also talking about it now at the end of a run, it's quite difficult to work out where you were at the beginning, especially with a play like this that changes from night to night. I do remember being surprised, because I had always assumed that Hamlet and his father had a slightly distant relationship, that his father was a slightly distant patrician, quite a bellicose figure with whom Hamlet didn't really identify. But whilst I do think that they are very different, I remember that once we actually started playing those scenes, there was a sense of the bond that they had and a sense of that paternal connection, and I was quite taken aback by that."
I'm going to save reading this properly until I've seen the film. I don't want to preconceptions. Even productions of four hundred year old plays can have spoilers, I think, even if it's just spoiling the interpretation [via].


Life It’s my birthday today. I’m 35.

Regular readers will know that one of the standing rules on the blog is that I don’t talk about work. Recently I've thought about the implications of that and how sometimes when I meet people who read this, how they know so little about me and specifically my career and I find myself rushing through my CV. I’ve also considered the extent which it’s ok to talk about a job once I’ve gone. There has to be a period after which it doesn’t really matter.

And so, because it’s my birthday, because it's this birthday, find below an annotated version of that CV, up to, but not including, my present position, followed by some chatter about what I’d really like to be doing with my life. Some of this may be a surprise. Probably not. There will also be links to relevant passages from the blog in which I’ve previously been so circumspect. Now the full story can be told.

31st October 1974

[Let us fast forward a bit …]


Liverpool Blue Coat School, Church Road, Liverpool
1986 – 1993

GCSEs: English Language (B), Chemistry (C), Geography (C), Graphic Communication (C), Maths (C), History (D), Art and Design (D), Physics (E).
A-Levels: Fine Art (B), General Studies (D), English Literature (N).

[Seven years of study boiling down to a couple of lines of early qualifications. What they mask is that I worked really, really hard to get these grades, didn’t do any of the things which teenagers are apparently supposed to do. The failed English A-Level was particularly crushing because I’d studied and studied and building my critical faculties and making myself understand over a two year period, starting with F grades for essays until I managed a respectable B. Then it was all over in three hours. I was never very good under exam conditions. I did however sing at the cathedral.]

Leeds Metropolitan University
1993 – 1996
BA (Hons) Information Studies 2:1

[This was really a librarianship degree, something which wasn’t entirely clear from the prospectus or the title of the course for that matter. In the second year, they changed to title to Library and Information Studies and you could choose which one you’d like to be awarded. I decided to go with the degree I began with and that’s stood me in good stead. It was during this period – for reasons which will become clear – that I thought I’d like to go into art history so my dissertation was about the censorship and restriction of art – in The Last Judgement, so-called Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany, Socialist Realism in the USSR and the Maplethorpe trial – comparing and contrasting the approaches. To this day I don’t know how I got away with that. Lord knows how I ended up with a 2:1. In 2003 I revisited all of the places where I lived.]

University of Liverpool
1996 – 2000
General Certificate In Higher Education

[After graduating, I couldn’t let go of higher education and learning. So from that autumn right through to 2003, I attended night school courses at the University of Liverpool, some of which I talked about on this blog in the early days. This is combined flexible qualification featured accreditation gained from courses in journalism, Theatre Studies (acting and directing), creative writing, philosophy, history and film studies. It’s here that I met my friend Fani and became the kind of person who is intensely interested in everything because there are so many interesting things to discover.]

The University of Manchester
2005 – 2006
MA Screen Studies (merit)

[Which you can read all about here. Well, most of it. Subjects covered include fantasy adaptation, gender representation in French cinema, classic Hollywood and science in entertainment media (including comics). I was very proud that I’d gone from just about making it into undergraduate university on the back of an Art A-Level to gaining a qualification at a prestigious university, and I’m getting a lump in my throat about that even as I type this. My dissertation was titled “To what extent is 'Hyperlink Cinema' identifiable as a genre and what are the conventions?" for which I received mark of 70%. It was about those kinds of films laced with unusual connections between people and places, which has also been true of my life.]


Front of house at Studio Theatre, Leeds Metropolitan University.

[A voluntary position ushering. Downside: weird hours. Upside: the chance to watch all of the weird and wonderful shows that would pass through its tiny walls, which included a musical version of Casablanca, some performance art which amounted to the performers stripping themselves naked very slowly then putting their clothes back on and something which wasn’t a million miles away from that joke production in Friends were Joey’s character is abducted by aliens. I also took part in a poetry afternoon were the audience was able to enjoy my prose renderings of The Bangle’s In Your Room and John Lennon’s Imagine, poor things.]

Agency work through Job Shop at Leeds Metropolitan University
1993 - 1996

[My first experience of agency work was at university through their job shop. Five in total. Standing on a platform at Leeds Railway Station for eighteen hours asking passengers if they would like to have a GPs surgery on the concourse (they didn't care). Standing on the corner of a road in Hull with a clicker counting cars during rush hour. Five days at Headingley Cricket Ground clearing the rubbish (which mosly consisted of beer cans) from the stands. One evening on the turnstile at Headingley Rugby Club. Prospective candidate for a Police identity parade. I didn't get chosen. Which was a comfort.]

Telesales Advisor at Legal and Commercial
Summer 1994 (1 week)

[This was complicated. Working through a copy of the Yellow Pages and phoning companies to ask them if they required debt recovery services, working without deviation from a poorly written script. They were based in a tiny office above a shop on Allerton Road in Liverpool and to this day I can still vividly remember the smell of the rooms, a musty mix of nicotine and sweat. This was before the minimum wage so I received £80+commission for my troubles. The problem was that you needed to have been working there for a good long while before you’d developed enough personality capital to come anywhere near gaining anything significant in terms of commission which seemed like too many of those troubles which is why I was only there for one week.]

Door to door salesman at some company on the Dock Road
Summer 1994 (1 morning)

[Another find in the Liverpool Echo's job ads. Going door to door selling a card that gave discounts at local restaurants, the kick being that we didn't get paid unless we sold enough of said cards. Apart from the "interview" I was only in the job for a morning, except an hour and a half of that morning was spent getting to Maghull then the "managers" taking us to the pub for a game of pool. When we eventually got on the road, the reality of what we were doing, randomly knocking on people's doors asking them to spend £15 on a promise became apparent, as did the fact that the public didn't want us interrupting their lives. Eventually the "manager" sent me away on what I like to think was mutual agreement after I suggested the flaws in the plan.]

Information & Library Assistant at Henry Moore Institute
February 1995 – July 1996 (1 year 6 months)

[Sprang from five weeks of work experience during my undergraduate course and was mainly helping to staff the library during weekends and some evenings, even commuting to Leeds from Liverpool every weekend in my second summer at university for just four hours (so I was actually travelling more than working). It’s a library dedication to the study of sculpture and it was here that I decided that I would quite like to work in museums and art galleries which explains my late nineties career path. The work was what you’d expect – shelving and cataloguing but I also reorganised the periodical and journal stock and helped with displays. It was at the institute that I also had my first experience as an invigilator in the Institute’s exhibition space, as security and to liase with the general public, offering comments and information about the work, and in some cases, guided talks. The only person I’ve really kept in touch with from this period, Denise, was the library manager.]

Sales Assistant at HMV Liverpool
Late 1996 (3 weeks)

[I don’t actually remember which weeks these were or all that much about the engagement. It was in the stockroom processing and labelling cds and it’s fair to say it was the second worst job I’ve undertaken. My knee still twinges from the afternoon I knelt over wrongly on the cold concrete service area floor. I'm very pleased that the floor no longer exists having been demolished to create the walk through from Church Street to Liverpool One.]

Librarian at a chemical factory.
Late 1996 (2 weeks).

[Just after university, when was still a member of the Library Association (as it was then -- now it has the rather grander title of Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and on their agency books. The one job I managed to get with them was at a small library which was part of a chemical research facility in a factory where I reorganised their journals into alphabetical order. The subsidised cafe was a marvel -- the kind you expect astronauts would have with plenty of food and as much as you could eat for about 10p a go. I was filling in for their usual librarian who had a brain tumour. The things you remember.]

Volunteer at The Blue Coat Chambers
Late 1996 (1 day)

[I can't remember how I ended up doing this, but I think it was through the job centre, because I'd said I was interested in work in an art gallery. It was in the old main space that you came to as you went in the front door -- where the cafe is now. I was thrown in with a group of school leavers on what appeared to be some kind of youth training scheme. I painted the back door.]

Research Assistant at Public Monuments and Sculpture Association
December 1996 – December 1999 (3 years 1 month)

[I’d finished at HMV and decided I needed to gain some experience. So I wrote the Walker Art Gallery, and Edward Morris suggested I join this fascinating national research project attempting to create a central source of information of historical and curatorial information concerning public monuments and sculpture. That involved extensive desk research work in libraries and public record offices in the Warrington and Wirral areas with the information ultimately appearing in a national database and eventually, hopefully, a volume just like these.]

Poll Clerk at Parliamentary, Local and European Elections
1 May 1997 - (I've lost count)

[I was literally on the telephone to the council's election office as soon as John Major stood outside 10 Downing Street to make his announcement about "going to the country" (or whatever it is) -- I even think they got the news from me. That was going to be a historic election and I knew I had to be part of it, and I've worked the elections ever since. I'm the person who tears out and stamps your ballot paper before handing it to you, and who puts the signs up outside, which can be easy or impossible depending upon the location of the station. Whether the ten or twelve hours in a single room drift by or drag depends upon who the Presiding Officer is.]

Sales Assistant at Liverpool Museum
May 1997 – August 1999 (2 years 4 months)

[In May 1997 for about a year, the museums and art galleries on Merseyside charged for entrance, £3 across eight sites. Which was fairly nominal and still a bargain. We were hired to sell this to the public who’d previously been about to visit for free. Surprisingly visitor numbers increased I think, perhaps because of a clear unified branding. My first proper retail experience this also included working in the museum shop and on the ticket desk and encouraging visitors to enjoy museum activities such as the planetarium and providing information regarding the history of the institution and directing enquiries by telephone to the correct curatorial departments. Of the eight of us who began working there, six had a connection with the Blue Coat School either because we were pupils or through family and friends. Everything is connected etc.]

Documentation Assistant at The Walker Art Gallery
October 1997 – May 2001 (3 years 8 months)

[Undoubtedly one of my favourite jobs. Creation of a combined catalogue and location index of The Walker Art Gallery’s fine art collection as a Microsoft Access database, merging and completing separate computerisation projects that had been carried out over a number of years. The acronym we gave it was SCALIWAG (Systematised Cataloguing and Location Index (of the) Walker Art Gallery) and everyone used it. This was the first time I really employed the internet as a research tool, logging on to the Getty biographical artists website using a very slow dial-up connection. Eventually the database was available for use by the gallery staff and general public who could finally find out instantaneous if a painting was in stock and could be viewed. Just before leaving having completed the project, my the data was readied for conversion to Multi-mimsy, a dedicated museums and art galleries package, and as far as I know, it’s still in use now.]

Freelance Databasing and Cataloguing at National Museums Liverpool

October 1997 – May 2001 (3 years 8 months)

[During my time at the Walker, I developed a reputation for being quite handy with a database and moved about the organisation working on other projects. At the marketing department I cleaned up the data collected from the sales of visitor tickets ready for a mailing list – which was my first proper experience of working in an office for any great length of time. It's worth mentioning that this also led to some more market research, this time asking visitors to the Walker and the Maratime Museum if they enjoyed their visit. In the antiquities department I re-organised their catalogue of objects and verified that the information in the database corresponded to what was in the store.]

All of this work ended at the same time. At one point I was working four different jobs simulaneously, but then I was left with none. With no formal qualification in museums and art galleries I couldn't work out how to continue. It’s then that I decided on the five year plan (which was actually about five years but “the about five years plan” doesn’t sound quite the same). I would work full time in some jobs I didn’t necessarily want to do until I managed to save enough money to do something that I did, which at that point was an MA in Art History. So I cast about for two months I desperately looked about for work, but I was really trained for nothing specific. Then I happened to phone Job Centre Plus and …

A housing repair company.
2001 (I think) (1 week).

[Agency work. What was supposed to be admin work -- sorting files into alphabetical order -- turned into answering phone calls from worried residents trying to find out when their repairs would be done. Seemed to spend the week running backwards and forwards to a manager who would simply take the message and this was my first experience of having to tell people something when I knew absolutely nothing.]

Data entry at an arts funding organisation.
2001 (I think) (1 week).

[Agency work. What was supposed to be entering the details of artists making funding claims turned into helping to reorganise the databasing system in two days and other IT odd jobs.]

Call Centre Advisor at Royal Bank of Scotland Credit Card Centre
July 2001 – June 2002 (1 year)

[Taking calls regarding credit card accounts which included balance enquiries, payments and applications. I began writing this blog a month after I started and it was this job, in Manchester, that I was travelling to during the first salvo of commuter tales. I was commuting for a call centre job. Which meant that I didn’t do much in the way of saving because of the sheer cost of getting to and from work in comparison to the salary – but I decided that it would be good experience for returning to Liverpool and hopefully another, better paid job. Was the perfect opportunity to build my customer service skills and was my longest experience of working in a commercial organisation. Here’s what happened the day I handed in my notice.]

Data Entry at some insurance company in the Port of Liverpool Building
2002 (1 evening)

[Agency work. Checking through car insurance claims and entering the guts of them into a database. Very slow work, since it involved going through a series of tick boxes and making value judgements based on what people had written. We were each given about fifteen. I only managed to get through about three. It didn't help that I know nothing about cars or driving cars or anything related to cars, though no one seemed particularly concerned about that.]

Press Office Volunteer at Manchester Commonwealth Games
July 2002 – August 2002 ( 2 or 3 weeks)

[Providing information to press regarding the Netball Championship; security on touchline advising photographers where to sit; distributing match information on press tribune within the arena. One of the most exciting two or three weeks of my young life. I’d watched these kinds of events on television for years and wondered what it would be like to be there. Initially I was a bit disappointed not to be in the athletics stadium, but then after watching Australia demolish one of the less able teams two days in, I realised that this way I could become a temporary enthusiast of a sport I’d never seen before. As a student of pop culture I was quite excited to be entertained by Heather Small, Roger Black, Steve Cramb and Ted Robbins at the volunteer party and three parts of S Club 7 at the closing ceremony rehearsal (Bradley, Rachel and Hannah). I wrote some more about this here.]

Call Centre Advisor at Nat West
November 2002 (6 weeks)

[Taking calls regarding bank accounts. A bit of a false start this. I trained for a month, worked in the call centre for two weeks then was offered the next job which I’d actually applied for at the same time. A sympathetic manager who knew I wasn’t happy and knew I wanted to move was happy for me to leave without working through my whole notice period. Walked on a Saturday. On Monday I began working at …]

Steward at Birkenhead Balloon Festival
Summer 2003 (2 days)

[Safety and security at a balloon festival, making sure the public didn't drift into the main field and get stuck in one of the baskets or something. Also included telling people where they could park depending on whether they had a blue badge. The more of this I write, the more varied and bizarre I'm realising my CV actually is.]

Call Centre Advisor at Liverpool Direct Ltd.
December 2002 – August 2005 (2 years 9 months)

[This is the call centre for Liverpool City Council, and my section dealt with calls ranging from parking permits for disabled drivers to taxi licensing, neighbourhood services, environmental services, street lighting, pest control and refuse collections, funeral arrangements and council switchboard. I was also process champion, liaising with management regarding ways to improve call handling and departmental connections in areas related to environmental services. I was also 'the voice of Liverpool Direct' and my vocal chord were utilised on the council's automatic payments line on 0151 233 2000. It’s still there if you phone it, my voice in the machine.]

By now, my five years were more than up and I’d also given myself the job of saving what I thought would be enough money to return to university or have a new life (see above). I'd also decided that film was my passion and that was what I'd quite like to study and later have a career in. I actually handed my notice in before I’d found out if I was on the course, that being the only course I’d applied for. What I would have done otherwise is probably one of this life’s greatest cross roads. Imagine my relief when the acceptance letter came through a week later and just a couple of weeks later I’d finished work and was back at university. Then, a year later …

Casual Invigilator at AFoundation
October 2006 – November 2006 ( 2 months)

[Once you leave university, there’s a limbo of a couple of months were you’re not sure what your final mark will be, were you’re still in shock that it’s over and you wait hopefully for graduation. Having tried but failed to find some agency work, this was advertised at Art In Liverpool for the duration of Liverpool Biennial 2006. It was about talking to visitors about the art works, offering safety warnings were necessary. Very casual in terms of work patterns, but I did meet some good people including Leo who you may remember from the One & Other video.]

Card Seller at The Grand National
April 2007 (3 days)

[You can read all about the application process then the job itself, here and here.]

Columnist at Liverpool.Com
March 2008 – December 2008 (10 months)

[Writing the monthly ‘City Links’ column highlighting the most interesting Liverpool based weblogs and websites and contributing previews to the theatre pages. My first paid magazine published articles (unprinted example).]

Reviewer at Liverpool Confidential
November 2008 -

[Which you already know about and can read the fruits using the links here. I haven’t been writing for them for a while because of the mixed up crazy way the taxes are collected and how it impacts on some other things in relation to …]

Library Assistant at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
April 2007 – March 2012

[Here's the straight beat from my LinkedIn profile:

· Operate counter service including circulation and security systems
· Sort and shelve materials (the library utilises Barnard Classification Scheme)
· Catalogue latest journals
· Process university inter-library loan requests (photocopying articles, post books)
· Create information signs and user guides to photocopying and printing
· Sell merchandise and stationary, issue receipts and cash up
· Assist with the processing of resources, including repairs and withdrawal of stock
· Prepare list of potential purchases for the refreshing of stock
· Receive library post and sort as necessary
· Assist with stock taking of merchandise and stationary
· Ensure all equipment is ready to use at beginning of shift, powered down at end if required
· Replenish paper in photocopies as required and report maintenance issues
· Provide IT support (Microsoft Office / Internet)
· Bind student dissertations and theses
· Reclassification of a specialist historical collection using National Library of Medicine
· Organising dissertation deposit (sorting, reboxing and labelling)
· Attended conference about digitisation of archives]

Doing something at somewhere
April 2007 – now

[Which brings us up-to-date. Incidentally, if you follow me on LinkedIn you can find out what my present job is. It’s just not something I want Google to be able to find, the sometimes evil monster …].

Even though I do want to keep up this Kubrickian mystique as to my current vocation, I will at least tell you what I'm not doing, a sort of fantasy CV. I’ve written a list similar to this before but I think, after all of these revelations it’s worth setting down at least for my own benefit. In my dreams I would like to be …

A critic.

I want to have Mark Kermode’s job, but that’s hardly likely, unless someone wants to be my Simon Mayo. Or just to be working as a critic full time. The problems with this idea is that as Toby Young made abundantly clear on The Culture Show last week, full time critics are a dying breed. The public tend to just want to know if something is worth the money and won’t necessarily pay someone else to find out. Word of mouth has become just as important as word of expert. Plus, I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot by giving this stuff away for years myself. And I’ve no idea how to get in.

Doing this full time.

Being paid to blog, and being paid enough that it’s a wage. I’d be happy to write about anything if someone paid me enough.


Which could mean further training. Feature writing and interviews in arts related fields. Miniature versions of my Off The Telly work. But I think I've missed the boat on this. Most journalists must have a strong academic background and large vocabulary and I don't have either of those. At all. Would a proper journalist use a phrase like "I've missed the boat on this"?


I like to think I'm very good at research and nothing makes me happier than being given a question to answer, a range of information to collate, a problem to solve and working towards a conclusion. Every job or course I’ve been has had an element of this, be it phoning around various council departments and beyond trying to discover ownership of the bucket sculpture in the city centre (eventually spoke to an old colleague at the Walker Art Gallery) to searching my way through bookshelf after bookshelf, index page after index page at various universities looking for mentions of the films I was investigating for my dissertation.

Google has obviously made some research work obsolete, but it’s knowing what resources are available, which I often do, somehow. I have a fantasy of being as a fact checker in television, film or publishing working my way through scripts and manuscripts making sure that everything is water tight – or for that matter aiding someone who is considering a topic for the first time and wanting to know where to begin. Perhaps this is editorial research. I don’t know. Notice that I've written a little bit more about this subject than the others. Perhaps this is a passion. I don't know.


I'd also be very pleased if I could win the lottery very soon and finally undertake my plan to spend the rest of my life travelling the world or until the money runs out. Why stay in one place when there's a whole world to see?

But that's the fantasy.

Social networking has probably given me delusions of grandeur and I'm simply looking at other people's jobs and thinking how much I'd like that and that I should just get over myself and make do. But having worked so hard for all of those years to get the MA I feel like I'd be doing my younger self a disservice if I didn't somehow repay all of his hard work and sacrifices and didn't try to make something with it.

I'm not sure where this rolling CV could go next, though I suspect the answer is in my own hands, just as it always has been.

The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.

TV Before the gap year, one idea I wish they’d thought about was to have the Doctor crop up in other shows, but only ever in the background, rather like the knitted toy from Harry Hill’s TV Burp. So we’d see the timelord, screwdriver in hand, running down the corridors of Holby City, chatting with the gardener in Jane Austen’s Hartfield, looking slightly annoyed as part of the studio audience on Strictly (presumably keep an eye on her sagacity) and the TARDIS sitting once again in Albert Square (finally canonising, once and for all Dimensions in Time). A scheduling nightmare for David Tennant perhaps, but a great way of keeping fans watching the BBC when their favourite show isn’t on television.

Eventually it would become apparent that all of these appearances aren’t simple cameos but connected together to form a story, the various bits and bobs eventually becoming part of a slightly larger drama leading into one of the specials perhaps or standing alone. Great as I thought this idea was, I had feared that the Doctor’s appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures would just be a miniature version of it, a vague appearance in the middle of the story, perhaps to sort out the cliffhanger ala Angel turning up at in the last couple of episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Silly me. For months this crossover had been trailed as a proper adventure for the Doctor and so it was, in a brilliant, brilliant way.

Don't expect this review of The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith to be the most coherent piece of writing you've ever seen. I'm too excited. There will be repetitious use of prop words, tiresome hyperbole and as many synonyms of the word excellent as my word processor and synonym.com can muster.

More than the first two stories this series, each of these episodes had a distinctive flavour. The opening instalment, the set up, was a funny, sweet, tender in place and hilarious. By spreading the story out over a couple of weeks, we were finally able to see the attic team within a rather more realistic context, instead of the artificially short timescale bursts of action that make up much of the rest of the series. There’s something about this kind of experimentation that immediately makes the drama more substantial, more like a family series and it’s a credit to writer Gareth Roberts that he felt that he could sustain it within just twenty-odd minutes.

The scenes in which the kids were curious about Sarah Jane’s new man but had to hide the alien elements of their lives were hilarious, the potential double bluff of the package which we might presume would be a Graske turning out to be a cartoon alien, a good choice. Well directed too, with the clever use (patented by the Zucker Brothers) of slapstick occurring behind a perfectly reasonable conversation happening in the foreground. During a story in which characters like Clyde or Rani could be sidelined and might have been in other series, Roberts was careful to keep them in the story from the off and remained active participants right through of the conclusion (even if we missed out on a double take from the Doctor in relation to her name).

I also love the way that the two “novelty” characters with essentially the same narrative function (what was Mr Smith if not a K9 substitute?) bickering about who gets to engage the catalytic plot converter. It’s certainly brought out the best in Alexander Armstrong, who began playing his character in a disconcerting monotone but has brought a sardonic deadpan quality to his lines of late. The integration of K9 has been less of a jolt too, the robot dog becoming an extra confident for Sarah Jane on those subjects she can’t talk to the kids about. This is K9 and Company done properly and certainly preferable to the moribund K-9 which is looking more horrific with every new preview clip (tag line "WHO's a good dog?" -- ugh).

The episode clearly had some money spent on it. Look! People! In caf├ęs and streets! The kids running around places that don’t look like they’ve experienced a 28 Weeks Later zombie clearance! Nigel Havers mustn’t have been cheap either, but worth every Flainian pobble bead. Who else but Havers could turn his character, beige Peter Dalton, into the kind of man this older version of Sarah Jane could convincingly fall in love quickly without any suspicions that he was some alien terror bent on sucking out her brains etc, but that some of the kids might be a bit apprehensive about because he’s so charming?

There were some beautifully played moments between him and Tommy Knight, who excelled as Luke tried to come to terms with the possibility of a having a proper father figure, something he didn’t even have in the Bane. But everyone raised their game here as though, with the impending appearance of the Doctor, they realised that their series finally had a proper shop window for their wares and they’d better get themselves in order, dust down the wooden brushes and plastic fruit. Sam Watt’s music was some of the most heartfelt the franchise has produced – has K9’s theme always been the middle-eighth?

And what an appearance. The extra million who bothered to turn over from the repeat of Midsomer Murders on the other side might have been a bit perturbed that the Doctor didn’t appear straight away, but the grunt and growl of the distressed TARDIS whispering through the episode perfectly teased his emergence, even if there was a certain panto element to us kids shouting “It’s the Doctor, he’s trying to get through…” to our heroes, going about their business, unaware of what the Type 40 even sounds like.

Even so, with all the build up, these two episodes had a lot to live up to, and in a way it would have been, like Christmas and World Championship Boxing in Las Vegas, completely understandable if it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Then to have the Doctor burst through the doors during “lawful impediment” was just perfect. There’s that word again. Perfect. But it was, it just was. I applauded right through the credits, which I know is perfectly possible these days since they last about three seconds, but totally unheard of at The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The intellectual exercise of writing the Doctor into this story must have been immense. As we’ve been told time and again, and we’ve seen, he’s an all powerful wandering god and in the person of David Tennant one of the most famous people on television at the moment, an immense presence who if you’re not careful could like Sean Kingston in that leaked Sugababes track overpower your regulars and make them look stupid. But then, if you deliberately try and handicap the character so that he’s around but isn’t really much use in the story and doesn’t have some part in the resolution even though he’s the most capable one there you’re going to look stupid.

Dr3 Gareth Roberts’s intricate solution was indeed to handicap the Doctor somewhat with one of the main sources of his power, the TARDIS phasing in and out, but to have the character himself voicing the fact that he needs the kid’s help to succeed, saying how important they are to the whole processes of saving the world or more specifically their place in it once again, and then turning them into his companion figures for the duration, offering them hints to the situation so that they could work everything out for themselves, which in production terms meant that they weren’t just standing around being lectured at by the all knowing timelord buzzing about. The climax recalled the original first series of nuWho (Moffat is renumbering), in that the Doctor, and in this case Sarah Jane, convinced the not necessarily as special Dalton to sacrifice his potential happiness for the good of the universe.

It must have been quite weird for Tennant to complete filming on his final story chronologically, The End of Time (or whatever his last episode is called), with the regeneration. But it wasn’t noticeable in the episode, and he simply seemed to be relishing the opportunity to take the character around the block one last time (his final recorded line as the Doctor was "‘You two – with me. Spit spot!"). All of the ticks that most of us know and love were there, the bit were he talks epically in a lower voice, the shouty friendly introduction, "K-niiiine!", and the stuttering. He was even gifted a proper stand-off with the Trickster (Key To Time. Squee. Eternals. Squeeeee. Hmm, that was a good one.) with a bit of foreshadowing for the future specials (what’s this about a gate?).

Budget wise (not that I'm obsessing) trapping the regulars in second long pockets of time meant that the wedding extras didn't need to be around for most of the shoot but also lent these scenes an justifiable and plausable intimacy (unlike, say, pretending that it's a Sunday). This kind of time trap is actually a fairly untapped sci-fi concept as far as I know -- only Star Trek's Wink of an Eye springs to mind (though a couple of other Treks featured pockets of time being sped up and down) -- and the rendering -- the repeated shot of a horse race -- tastefully concise if slightly surreal.

From a film studies perspective I was very impressed with the way that, while the Doctor remained an active presence in his scenes, the point of view mainly stayed specifically with the regulars. I was also pleased that Sarah Jane wasn’t simply relegated to companion status in her own series, realising herself that the ring was the source of the Trickster’s power and that Dalton wasn’t all there. There we odd moments in there in which we saw a return of the character as an independent figure with proper moments of wit rather than mumsy musings, and when the emotional suckerpunch came in knowing she was going to have to sacrifice her man for the good of the world Elizabeth Sladen was just devastating.

As if you hadn’t realised already, I’m fairly convinced this was the best story The Sarah Jane Adventures has produced since the first series and, yes, the perfect expression of what the series is capable of when it stops worrying about trying to keep down with its supposed target audience and just tells a proper story. I would be interested to know what kids made of the climax with Havers the one to properly beat the trickster and Sarah Jane’s teary march from the altar. I was in tears. The Sarah Jane Adventures never does that either.

I complained that after Children of Earth that the production team didn’t seem have brought the same sense of occasion to the kids spin-off. The Wedding of Sarah Jane proved that it is possible, but instead of the darkness of Torchwood, this spin-off can be infused by a sense of wonder, the wonder in the eyes of the kids as they toured the console room at the end (a perfect commemoration of the soon to close Blackpool exhibition where thousands of children in the real world must had the same expression as they stepped through the TARDIS shaped door for all these years).

Now, let’s keep it up shall we?

repetitious use of prop words

Elsewhere Reviewed tonight's bloody marvellous episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures featuring the Doctor: "Don't expect this review of The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith to be the most coherent piece of writing you've ever seen. I'm too excited. There will be repetitious use of prop words, tiresome hyperbole and as many synonyms of the word excellent as my word processor and synonym.com can muster."


Music I think I prefer this to the official video:

Still a horrible, horrible record. Yes, I am aware that bits of the Keisha version of Sweet 7 have leaked, it's all over YouTube and sounds like The Saturdays having an argument with a drum machine. The Sean Kingston track is a particular failure because it essentially renders them backing vocalists on their own album.


Film Kevin's The Seven Ways To End Your Film manages to cover all but the triumphant success:
"With The Dream Ending everything can be explained away in a simple and elegant shot of your protagonist waking up. It’s the perfect closer to any story. You’ve seen it done before, so do what the pros do."
Which actually turns up at the close of The Devil's Advocate which has a perfectly good ending right before anyway. Who doesn't love CGI, incest and Al Pachino ranting and raving, hoo-aaah.

The Spotify Playlist

Music News comes that Peter Gabriel is to release an album of orchestral covers, his first record in many a year apart from some noodling in world music and on film soundtracks. Though The Guardian makes much of the preview of The Boy In The Bubble, his version of The Magnetic Field's The Book of Love has already appeared on the Shall We Dance film soundtrack:

I'm note quite sure that the lyrics work outside the context of the original version which seems to have a deliberately home made quality, the kind of sound which might emanate in a student bedroom at three o'clock in the morning (spotify link). Gabriel's warm voice and the rich soundtrack overemphasise the meaning of them. Perhaps The Monotones song would be a more interesting choice (spotify).

Two playlists for the price of one. Firstly, a collection of alternative The Book of Love covers, some of which are pretty but never quite match The Magnetic Fields. I've also included The Magnetic Fields:


The second is the track listing for the album in the original versions before Gabriel gets his hands on them. The only track missing is The Power of the Heart which Lou Reed doesn't seem to have turned into wax, plastic or digital pixie dust himself yet and Elbow's Mirrorball.


One potential improved by this varnishing could be the Neil Young which is perfectly fine, but has a rubbish synthesiser in the background instead of an orchestra as though someone decided to master the temp track.

after Newsnight

Film In interesting piece of synchronicity, on the first Thursday without a Hitchcock review in quite some time (you can read the whole j-word here) BBC Two are rerunning the Paul Merton documentary that started it all tonight at 11:20 after Newsnight (and it should be available on iplayer at that link for the rest of the week).

Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock an excellent survey of the silents and later British films, though I still think he's a bit harsh on Waltzes From Vienna which he thinks is the worst film Hitch directed. Clearly hasn't seen Topaz then. The documentary is followed by an umpteenth screening of The 39 Steps at twenty past midnight.

their most famous film export

Film Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus has just opened to huge numbers in Italy with one journalist describing him as having rock star status (whatever that means). Since the film has struggled almost everywhere else, one could wonder why the Italians are lapping it up. Except, with its army of grotesques, a subplot about a man ruined by his own fallibilities and a stream of extraordinary, surreal images, perhaps Italians have noticed the similarities with the work of their most famous film export Frederico Fellini.

Like his , Parnassus is about the struggles of the creative process and dealing with the under appreciative audience with the central figure a potential fictionalisation of the director. And like the more self indulgent elements are what hold the viewer at arms length because at times its as though the director is talking to himself but using his cinematic voice to do it.

The story is a mess. Parnassus is an immortal storyteller who has made a pact with the devil regarding his daughter and Satan has turned up to accept his payment. His tax is five souls, which are captured through a flimsy mirror at the centre of their circus/performance piece which is hooked into a dreamland which exists within the Doctor’s meditative subconscious. Except their show is such an anachronism that it’s out of step with the modern world which is smelly and full of drunks and it’s not until a scandal ridden businessman joins the group that their luck changes.

Breath. In typical Gilliam fashion, the film is less interested in telling a coherent story with strong characterisation than delivering a series of jaw-dropping images and funny business and how the membrane between horrible reality and magical worlds is slimmer than we imagine. Like Baron Munchassen, which shares many of its ideas and themes, it’s probably a flawed masterpiece and will be described as such just as soon as people decide what a masterpiece actually means in this context.

Famously this is the film that was half completed when Heath Ledger left us with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell filling in the gaps when his character enters The Imaginarium. Together they aptly portray a fractured personality but unlike some have suggested, I’m not sure that the tragedy helped the film, for a significant reason I can’t mention because it’s a massive spoiler.

But the revelation is clearly Lily Cole as Parnassus’s daughter Valentina, who gives a funny, romantic, luminous turn that suggests she’s been working in film for years and has none of the forced approach to acting that other models have betrayed. If anything, it's a pity that Gilliam wasn't more disciplined with his writing and didn't put her at the centre of the story, perhaps as an Alice figure. Valentina is by far the most sympathetic character here.

Outside of the fantasy world, Gilliam's camera is restless, almost headache inducing as his (or rather his cinematographer Nicola Pecorini’s) hands shaking as the fragility of reality forever seems close to shattering. The best shots are those in which The Imaginarium pitches up in a thuddingly mundane location like a Homebase car park or middle class shopping mall, its Victorian styling incongruous against the cars and concrete. I was reminded of the tv adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and those moments when the Carabass or Door left the underworld to walk amongst us.

The inside of The Imaginarium is almost totally computer generated and oscillates between aspects of a Bosch painting and Disney as Gilliam almost recreates his Python animations but as part of a plot point with protagonists rather than just as a sight gag. If you’re not careful you could imagine that Gilliam would have been happier, budget allowing, simply to have produced a film set totally within The Imaginarium. Except the final caption shows that he still interested in reality and humanity: "'A Film by Heath Ledger and Friends...'"

But ultimately it's a frustrating experience because you desperately want to like the film more, but can't ever quite put your finger on why you're not as engrossed as you should be. Sometimes it's because clearly improvised scenes go on beyond their natural end because Gilliam likes some bit of business, sometimes the story isn't going anywhere or loses cohesion enough to wonder if a reel has been dropped out somewhere but mostly it's because Gilliam never quite seems to know what kind of film he's trying to make.

But at least he's tried and we thank him for that. Always.


EarthworldBooks  Having enjoyed the first seven of the Watcher’s guides to the Doctor’s various incarnations that are being used to bulk out Doctor Who Magazine during the off season, I was quite looking forward to the Eighth Doctor survey, wondering how they were going to boil down into four pages eight or nine years worth of stories and all of that history. Disappointing, the Watcher elected to celebrate the Paul McGann era by talking about the other Doctors a lot more and then after mention the spin-offs in passing on one page, decided on the opposite side that he’d only in fact had one companion before going on to suggest that Grace might not count anyway. Reading this, I felt like a born again Christian at a Richard Dawkins lecture.

The problem is, despite Big Finish’s best efforts and the reprints of the comic strips, eighth's tenure is receding further and further into limbo, far more than the sevenths even. These books might well be available second hand or at an increased collectors price brand new, but with both of these incarnations and all of the missing and past Doctor material, there is a bunch of stuff which isn’t being remerchandised, taken advantage of, reprinted in deluxe editions with additional material such as the authors interviews that appeared on the BBC website or retrospectives. Largely celebrated by an ageing fandom, they're receding into memory like prog rock albums still only available in vinyl.

I expect it’s because tonally many of these novels were written for a much older audience, in some cases akin to Torchwood, and Jacqueline Rayner’s Earthworld is an example of that (and I think that segway was worthy of Christine Bleakley on The One Show). I’d be genuinely uncomfortable about letting a Doctor Who Adventures reader anywhere near this, not least because their role models are teen terrorists or dictators. People don’t just die in here. There are massacres. Someone is shot in the head. There’s sexual humour and at least ten different existential crisis’s. And this is one of the lighter reads. Imagine if they turned over Larry Miles’s Interference in the hopes of reading about the exploits of Sarah Jane and K9. Oye-vay.

It’s over a year since I read the last of the novels in this series, Escape Velocity, which puts me rather in the same position as the Doctor, only vague memories of what’s gone before, impressions. There are continuity references which I’ve had to go and look up, but given the number of novels which came before anyway and the one read nature of these things I wonder if it’s likely a lot of readers at the time were reaching for Google or Lycos or whatever search engine people were using then. “Oh she’s the one from…” “Oh that what that means …” It’s brilliant that 8th novels were willing to take advantage of their own rich continuity but it’s bugger when it comes to wringing out some emotional resonance.

The Doctor still barely able to remember his own name, Fitz and newcomer Anji (as per the cover) land in what appears to be prehistoric Earth. Rather than a rewrite of some Doctor Who Discovers, pretty soon it's revealed to be a Jupiter-based theme park filled with various historical recreations using androids, presided over by three princesses, Asia, Africa and Antarctica, the daughters of the President, who, after being locked away for all their natural lives have turned psychotic and are using the newly minted attraction for fun, frolics and murder. It’s Lewis Carroll meets Michael Crighton, Alice through the Futureworld, with the timelord falling into his comfortable role of regime toppler and status quo dissembler.

Rayner’s story is about history, memory and identity. Set in the far future, the various historical recreations are misrememberings of reality, in which Elvis really was a king, Mort and Arthur were mortal enemies and London is a City of Swings! The sisters have created android copies of themselves. The Doctor is clearly pretending that his memory has returned to some extent even though he doesn’t know how to use his sonic screwdriver. Fitz realises that he’s a copy of the original grown from biomass and can’t decide if that means he really exists. Anji is dealing with life without her boyfriend Dave by writing him emails that he can’t receive.

There’s an odd balance at work here. On the one hand this is a surreal romp, which like Frontier In Space actually, largely consists of the regulars being captured and escaping only to be captured again. The derivative nature of the scenario is largely overcome by the more surreal details though it never quite manages to brush off the impression of this being a old-nuWho refresh of The Mind Robber with a certain embracing of the fiction the only way to survive. The three sisters, because of their one dimensionality, eventually become quite irritating adversaries, rather like the Billy Bunter knock off in The Celestial Toymaker and their father lacks presence also.

But Raynor has an amazing handle on the two companions. This is the first time Fitz’s status has really been addressed and there’s a wonderful sequence courtesy of a mind-probe in which we read his biography backwards, demonstrating what I always thought – that all of the women he’s loved across time have all meant something in their own way – it hasn’t really just been an exercise in shagging about. One of the scenes, in which his whole identity comes into question is one of the most powerful these novels have generated and carefully underscore that the Fitz who was picked up in the 60s is gone. All hail Fitz 2.0 Business Edition.

Anji too becomes a three dimensional figure in this writer’s hands, filled to the brim with believable girly foibles laced with grief being set aside for the duration the adventure. She’s accompanied for much of the adventure by Jupiter freedom fighter co-incidentally called ANJI and it’s fun to find her having to deal with teenagers who’s bark is louder than their bite. I’m just not convinced that she is Milly from This Life here. If indeed she was the inspiration, Rayner takes her far beyond that into Martha or Donna territory, especially the latters mix of sarcasm and surprising intensity.

The novel climaxes curiously with an excursion into a recreation of a different current Saturday night entertainment (hint – that’s current Saturday night entertainment) and I wasn’t entirely happy with the stuttering climax, which reads rather like reaching the end of a six parter and then finding that one of the Terrys has sent along another one just in case. But for 90% of its pagination this is a fine introduction for Anji’s character and a decent justification as to why Fitz would be sticking with the series for the rest of its run. But I’m worried about the sustainability of this new version of the Doctor. The big speeches and frivolity are all still there but they lack weight. I hope he gets some of his marbles back. It’s depressing when we read that he thinks Sam was a bloke.
Next time: You've nothing to fear but ...

Alice through the Futureworld

Elsewhere I've reviewed the Doctor Who novel Earthworld: "It’s Lewis Carroll meets Michael Crighton, Alice through the Futureworld..."

Tom Hanks shouts at people a lot

Film With the mail backlog working it's way through ready for the next backlog because of the strike, I was able to watch the two dvds that Lovefilm posted to me last week. Easy Virtue which we've already discussed and How To Love Friends and Alienate People, the Simon Pegg starring adaptation of critic Toby Young's memoir which turns what should be a searing critique of the parasitic nature of journalism within celebrity culture into a remake of Elizabethtown.

Neither film has that much in common other than that they're about culture clashes, a Yank over here, a Brit over there. Except, and this is where it becomes a bit strange and spoilery, both feature a scene were said fish out of water manages to flatten a much love small yappy dog for comic effect and then have to dispose of it and in a way that will ultimately lead to their downfall. Both scenes make you squirm in the squishment, though it has to be said that neither is as amusing as the caninicide in A Fish Called Wanda.

I've always had a suspicion whenever it sends me everything on my list featuring a particular actor or by a single director that Lovefilm's selection algorithm is highly attuned. I didn't ever suspected that it also knew the content of the films and would attempt to match up those with similar scenes and decide to send them at the same time. And frankly this is just too specific for my taste. I've had a glance through the list and I don't think there are any other bizarre connections in there. Well, unless somehow The Young Victoria also has a scene were Tom Hanks shouts at people a lot in the Vatican.

Sex Bomb and Car Wash

Film The underrated recent adaptation of Noel Coward's Easy Virtue has one of the more enjoyably post-modern soundtracks I've heard in a few years. As well as Coward's songs, director Stephan Elliott and music supervisor Marius De Vries have mixed in some Cole Porter and period renditions of other popular tunes. Such as ...

... Sex Bomb and Car Wash. Isn't that wonderful? Incidentally, though this isn't really a musical, the tunes are sung by members of the cast. Yes, that includes Jessica Biel (who can carry a tune) and Colin Firth (you're seen Mamma Mia).

The soundtrack is available on Spotify (link) and well worth half an hour of your time.


Liverpool Life This month's circus is in the Sefton Park (well it seems monthly) ...

The Netherlands National Circus. We didn't hear them arrive, much. Silent but deadly.

a sight we’re not privy to

Museums Regular readers of this column will know that I’m generally fairly circumspect when it comes to commenting the display policies of most of the museums I’ve visited. There's little point criticising a gallery with only a limited amount of space and varying regimes and ideas and I know how difficult it must be to hang a fine art collection to the best advantage and often hard to justify if there’s nothing by a verified a-lister that will have the crowd flocking. Better to give the space over to something that will have a definite attraction for visitors or can be linked to the educational syllabus. But too often they’re stuck in a stairwell and you frequently find yourself standing between two steps looking nearly vertically upwards at something which has been put near the ceiling, a health and safety concern as other visitors try and dodge past you on the way to the Egyptian gallery or some such.

Lancaster City Museum presents another challenge. A conversion of the Old Town Hall, it clearly wasn’t designed to display this kind of work so there it is mostly in the stairwell again. Except on one of the walls are two large windows and nearly all of the paintings are glazed. Which means that it’s impossible to view any of the work without some kind of light source getting in the way. The one painting Edward Morris reproduces in his Public Art Collections in North-West England is a Portrait of Mrs Fuller Maitland by W. Blake Richmond. She lounges in a couch with a book and fan wearing some top rank cuture. I would have liked to have waxed lyrical about the work, but you can’t even see it, as the sunlight beats in from the windows at either side of it, bouncing onto the paintings opposite, the edges of frames reflecting all over the front.

I have a better notion of what the painting looks like from the black and white image in the book than from being in the presence of the thing. But that was true of the whole visit; only a few of the paintings, prints or drawings are unaffected by some kind of light source, usually artificial in other places. I spent most of my time looking sideways at work because to try and view it from the front was to do so with a circular flash of light obscuring some part of it, usually the centre. Again, this is something which happens in most galleries, even Tate Liverpool. But it just seems much more acute at Lancaster and pretty much spoilt the visit. It’s difficult to enjoy a picture, and analyse what the artist was trying to achieve, if much of the effort is spent trying to see it in sections. Too often I had to look at one side then step across to the other, taking in visual information like the panning and scanning machine that used to be used on films in the VHS days.

So here's the best of what I could see: The museum moved into the town hall in 1923 having previously been housed in the Storey Institute which had been refurbished by local oilcloth and baize manufacturers of the same name. The collection was the usual selections of gifts – from the Storeys who purchased the work of local artists and from artists themselves who were enamoured with seeing their work on this site. In 1951, for example, Philip T. Gilchrist gave the museum his Xerces burning Athens a wonderfully cinematic injection in which the Greecian fleet is valiantly trying to stave off an invasion of overwhelming odds, a classical story played out in a pastel impressionism of Monet. W T Jackson’s All Quiet shows the British front line at Ypres during WW1, abstract flairs of light streaking into a monotone blue sky towards the haggard silhouette of the enemy.

In A Sunny Day, William Gunning King verdantly reminds us of a forgotten piece of England in which an Edwardian family step from a road into some woods in what looks for all the world like a shot from a 70s Sunday night BBC costume drama. Ary Scheffer’s tiny but perfectly drawn Annunciation of the Shepherds has a small group of the sore afraid looking in wonder towards a sight we’re not privy to, their eyes perfectly fixed on that point no matter where they’re positioned within the painting as though an invisible ray is flashing towards them. But the undoubted highlight of the collection is Max Gaisser’s The Conference which shows a group of bearded Jacobians around a table deep in conversation in front a bookcase filled with antiquated volumes, delicately painted and full of mystery. Who are these men? What are they talking about? Why is what looks like a cardinal standing in the shadows at the back like the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files. Sadly there’s no information label with this work so perhaps I’ll never know.

The most intriguing part of the building is fairly unheralded and a legacy of the building’s past. On the first floor are two rooms; a display in (aptly) the old court room commemorating the work of the Lancaster army regiment and in the council chamber an exhibition relating the history of the town. About that in the corners between the wall and ceiling, partly obscured by the internal structure of the exhibit is a series of murals shows scenes from history, significant moments in the lives of monarchs interspersed with their coats of arms and seals, incredibly vibrant vignettes depicting the period covered by Shakespeare and beyond through to Queen Victoria. There’s no mention of them in the local history handbook on sale in the foyer, other than a photograph dating from 1890 and the attendant didn’t know anything about them. They’re very far away and dimly lit but with these layman’s eyes they reminded me of Edward Burne-Jones and are certainly something which could be made more of a feature of. They’re as impressive as the paintings in the collection, and in some cases moreso.

To be continued ...