the Borad

TV What's the Borad doing in Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck's new promo "Heaven Can Wait."?

Video [via].

horribly wrong

TV Here is a comment I wrote for Neil "Syfy Love" MacDonald's guest entry at the Sunday Mercury about David Tennant's worst moments in Doctor Who which I thought I'd best post here were he'll have a chance of reading it, because their captcha system is broken:
Oh Ello! Right, yes, right!

Utopia's a bate and switch -- it seems like it's going to be one thing then turns into something else and the future kind are part of that; they're stock Doctor Who figures, somewhat like the colonists in something like Frontios. I think they're designed to be amorphous and forgettable to put us into a false sense of security ready for the final act. Not sure about the quad bikes though.

I like the flying bus in Planet of the Dead. It's probably about as close as we'll get to seeing a certain spin-off character on tv.

I totally disagree with you about Love & Monsters which I'm grinning about even as I type this. The Jackie scenes! A monster designed by a Blue Peter viewer! My Blue Sky! Implied fellatio at seven thirty on a Saturday night! What's not to love?

Fear Her is rubbish. I quite liked it first time out; begins well but totally wigs out with the inclusion of the 2012 Olympics and the Huw Edwards sections which are about as bad as the new series has been. "Bob? Not you too Bob!" About the only thing that could redeem that is if Huw Edwards ironically reprises the dialogue during the actual 2012 Olympics.

If I was writing this list it would at least include:

New Earth, a rubbish horrible first proper episode for a new new Doctor which I discovered recently was the reason a friend hasn't watched the show since. Might have worked mid-season, but splitting up the Doctor and Rose at this early stage was a mistake, and Tennant's mincing was insulting.

The smug Ghostbusters dance in Army of Ghosts and to be honest the whole premise of Army of Ghosts that people actually thought these shadows were long lost relatives. Blah. That's bait and switch going horribly wrong.

Review 2009: Another Call For Entries

About Don't forget, I'm still looking for volunteers to take part in this year's Review 2009 about social networking. All of the details are here.

deconstructing the chatshow format

Video YouTube has launched an area for television and films. It would be remiss of me not to point to some classics and whatnot:

The Quatermass Experiment: As live production created for BBC Four featuring Jason Flemyng in the titular role. Also Mark Gattis and one David Tennant, who found out he was going to be playing Doctor Who during the rehearsals for this.

This is Dom Joly: It is indeed. Joly's attempt at deconstructing the chatshow format in much the same way he did with hidden camera thingies. The number of views it currently has on YouTube also reflects the number of people who tuned into its TV broadcast, which is a shame because parts of it are very good indeed.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Cheney Vase: A rare outing for the director in the series which to which he gave his name. Surprisingly cinematic considering the studio constraints and budget, which rather reflects his talent.

Jupiter Moon: Fire Of IO: Before Defying Gravity, there was. The original sci-fi soap opera created for the Galaxy Channel on the soon to be defunct and merged with Sky squarial satellite service BSB. Early emergence of Anna Chancellor. See if you can watch it without expecting a cut to TARDIS materialisation scene.

Highlander The TV Series: Though only the patchy first season mainly consisted of Duncan McCleod slaying some immortal or other on a weekly basis and me trying to work out what accent Adrian Paul was using.

NOVA: For a while PBS's NOVA and the BBC's Horizon series included repurposed documentaries flying back and forth across the Atlantic. That seems to be less of a case now, what with the BBC series relying on a more presenter led format.

Doctor Who: Curse of the Fatal Death: Rowan Atkinson and bunch of other people play the Doctor for Comic Relief using a script written by new nu-Who supremo Steven Moffat. In 1999 this looked like a viable option for the return of the series to television. Features in Hugh Grant, for a few seconds, one of the greatest performances ever in the role.

Classic Doctor Who: Sporadic stories, some of which stretch the description of "Classic" to breaking point. At present, Edge of Destruction, The Krotons, Carnival of Monsters, Planet of the Spiders, The Masque of Mandragora, The Awakening, The Caves of Androzani, and if you'll pardon my language, fucking The Twin Dilemma, voted in a recent poll as the worst story of all time.

Know Your Meme: One of the benefits of creating content for an online audience is that you can create content that only an online audience would be interested in. And thank goodness. Hilarious and informative.

North Square: Much of 4oD's content has pitched up on YouTube (including Dennis Potter's posthumous Cold Lazarus), which gives me another opportunity to recommend this rare lawyer drama from the turn of the decade featuring Rupert Penry-Jones, Kevin McKidd, Phil Davis, Helen McCrory and the underutilised since Kim Vithana. Scheduled properly this would have been a massive hit.

Slacker: The film section is a bit of a jumble but I have spotted Richard Linklater's narratively freewheeling first release in which the young population of his home town of Austin talk about everything and nothing for an hour and a half. Captivating. Watch out for that pap smear!

ASTONISHING X-MEN MOTION COMIC: GIFTED - Episode 1: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday seminal comic turned into something that resembles a cartoon. Effect is like watching Waltz With Bashir but instead of a Lebanese massacre it's about mutants and the cure plotline that was ruined in X3.

a lump in the throat

TV Try watching this without getting a lump in the throat:

Windy Miller! Order it on ye olde cd here.

Romola on her week.

Film Add Romola Garai to the list of relatively famous people who should be blogging but aren't:
"My week started when I spent the best part of two hours (and a bottle of wine) on the phone to a much-loved friend whose marriage is breaking up after nine glorious years. This marriage has been my template of love, the Pulitzer prize of relationships; everything that marriage should be and it came from love.

But as I stood at the top of the escalators and thought of my friend, shell-shocked and broken, I wanted to rip down that ad (frustratingly not possible as they are now electronic screens) and rewrite that phrase. "Love is at the root of everything good and everything terrible that has ever happened."

The Gift.

TV There was a rather good episode of The Thick of It a couple of weeks ago (I know they’re all rather good, but this was especially good) set at the party conference which pinioned on a physical altercation between the descendent of Fires of Pompeii’s Caecilius and Glenn being leaked to bloggers via Twitter. It felt very now. As I think someone in the unpopular press said, it made the show even more contemporary because it sounded like something that has already happened, which is hasn’t as far as we know, at least not in the political sphere. Twitter doesn’t seem to have made it into the Doctor Who universe yet, which means …

Sarah Jane Adventures: The Gift

… lacks a moment in which Clyde and Rani huddle over some client software like Tweetdeck watching words like “weird”, “plant”, “flower”, “splotches” and “twilight” trend in the TwitScoop while the All Friend column is awash with detailed eyewitness reports (well as detailed as they can be in a hundred and forty characters). This would have been the nu-Who equivalent of the railway station scenes in Doctor Who and the Silurians. Instead, they were watching BBC News via the iPlayer which whilst a brilliant expression of a governmental programme to get decent broadband into schools also seemed somehow, rather dated.

But The Gift overall felt very old fashioned, but in a good way. I complained last year that Enemy of the Bane, the climax of the second season was “brash, loud and disjointed, powered by a kind of atomised storytelling which has replaced such incidentals as logical plot structure and coherent character motivation”. The Gift couldn’t be more different. Perfectly paced, with a simply plot structure and mostly useful characterisation, it offered the chance to stop and think about the themes being offered up and to laugh at the hijinks of the kids, and concluded with a scene that was about as close to the conclusion to Children of Earth or The Waters of Mars as this adolescent franchise member is likely to have.

After the kind of chase through a warehouse which has all the hallmarks of a typical climax to a story in this series, Writer Rupert Laight (whose previous franchise credits have included some excellent short stories for the Doctor Who website, the novelisations of previous SJA stories and most interestingly one of the stories in Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith spin-off series) unexpectedly drops us into a homage to the Stanley Kramer’s film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (or when wet Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) with the Blathereen standing in for Sydney Poitier (or the Klingons). The dialogue between the kids before hand is very on the nose; airing his suspicions, Luke says that it doesn’t matter what colour they are, they’re from the same planet as the Slitheen, as the camera pans across the kitchen to reveal Clyde and Rani.

Then, uniquely, a good ten minutes of the episode are spent at the dinner (in an empty Rani’s house, the parents conveniently at a conference apparently) with the kids enduring the table manners of their guests, their potentially racist remarks cleverly making us sympathetic towards the Blathereen, so that we understand when Sarah Jane takes them into her trust. The message until this point is that you can’t take people at face value; as I think Rani says at one point, there are bad people on the planet Earth as well. But it’s genuinely amusing, aided by some supreme voice work from Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes of all people, demonstrating the benefits of getting proper actors in for such roles. Alice Troughton really enjoys stepping up to the challenge of filming the always difficult table scenes, my favourite shot between Sarah Jane and Rani at the sink as the mayhem of the meal plays out behind them.

The rest of the story is like that. There aren’t that many big action sequences, no speedy runs through corridors or shouting and not a lot of intercutting in the editing actually, with the story quietly playing out in refreshingly long scenes allowing the actors room to act which also benefits the characters, with a return to the neat bits of screwball comedy which were the hallmark of the first season, in this case between Clyde and Rani. If it didn’t quite work in the attic scenes were Sarah Jane seemed strangely listless initially at the prospect of her perfect (yet soon to be narratively sidelined again) son Luke somehow being ill which is an impossibility and should have tipped her off that something horrendous was in progress, the later scenes in which she enjoyed the reverse of her own domestic dinner party in the Blathereen ship were hilarious messy, bringing to mind the likes of Tiswas or Fungus The Bogeyman. That right there is how to entertain kids.

A fair use of CGI too. Though the production team couldn’t stretch to a Slitheen reveal this time, the unveiling of the vivid red petals of the flowers was very effective and the shots of the spores flying through air, though cartoony, had the same disturbing power as the virus droplets in those scenes in Outbreak as we watched them hover over our heroes and their classmates. Of course, in a perfect world there would have been dozens of these scenes with populace fleeing as the spores degraded even further the air quality of London, but as is always the case in SJA, even if the moon is falling to earth, it’ll be viewed through the eyes of our heroes, the catastrophe being left to our imagination through reported speech. Perhaps, just as we’ll never know what happened to these kids during Children of Earth, there’s a version of this story were Prime Minister Denise Riley is staring UNIT out across the cabinet table and asking them if they have any good gaseous pesticides.

If there’s a problem with the thematic heart of the story, it’s that having passed on to kids the anti-racism message, the needs of the narrative to have a villain leads to the reveal that the Blathereen were villains all along, a turnaround which is fairly dark stuff for something in the CBBC slot. People who aren’t like you are ok – oh no wait, no they’re not, they’re bastards after all and they want to take your land. Laight does briefly leave the possibility hanging that perhaps the Blathereen are set up, but it’s not long before they’re shown chomping their way messily through another meal. Anyone who’s read the spin-off novel from which they’re sourced, Stephen Cole’s The Monsters Inside, will know that they really are as bad as the Slitheen anyway, I suppose.

B3 Viewed through the prism of recent franchise editions, the conclusion of this story is also fairly challenging. Having spent the best part of three years saying that sentient beings deserve a second chance, and third, and fourth, and … with the whole conversation about the execution of Margaret in Boomtown having already seen much of her family destroyed by a missile, with whole stories which talk about the orphaning of aliens, Sarah Jane uses Mr Smith to destroy the Blathereen couple, splattering their remains across the inside of the attic in a moment that inappropriately reminded me of the Marvin scene in Pulp Fiction, and like Tarantino’s best scene (!) it’s played for laughs and is very, very funny.

The final moments of the episode demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of the series. The scenes in which our heroes are huddled together amid the orange goo, the actors clearly trying not to laugh, like the earlier were Clyde is trying to hide the tin dog under the table much to Rani chagrin are adorable and demonstrates as I’ve already mentioned over and over and over again that when the characters aren’t simply spouting masses of exposition at each other we like spending time with them. That's what ultimately made this episode so entertaining. Plus Clyde's one liners. And the continued rivalry between Mr Smith and K9.

About the only thing really wrong with the story was the coda. The perfect end to the story and the season would have been a pan away from the group in that attic wiping Blathereen remains from their eyes, having saved the world and enjoying the consequences. That final montage which is supposed to bookend the series and may be trying to be as depthful as an Angela’s philosophy montage from My So-Called Life but ends up being as anodyne as similar monstrosities in Heroes or Defying Gravity (“Some people say that life is a dream. It could be a dream. It depends if we dream and when we dream and what we dream about etc”).

Good god, I hope they never do that again.

days on

Music A young Lauren Laverne on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 1997:

Aaah, Kenickie.

A brilliant friend in New York

Beverages A brilliant friend in New York posted over to me some of the new Starbucks instant or VIA coffee for my birthday. It won't be available in most of the UK until the end of next year. I was intrigued but a bit reticent. Drinking instant coffee instead of filter is often a bit like watching a film on dvd rather than going to the cinema. It's perfectly enjoyable while you're doing it, but there's always a slight pang of melancholy afterwards because the experience just isn't quite the same, even when, as you can see, I drink it from a proper Starbucks mug.

I chose the Italian Roast for this first try. The coffee comes in small, long sachets, which when opened and tipped into the mug don't reveal granules but a dark brown powder not unlike grounds. I boil the water then let cool slightly as I pour the 8oz required into a measuring jug, then straight onto the coffee, stirring as quickly as I can so that the powder will dissolve quickly. Already I can sense the authentic smell of Starbucks coffee. I take my coffee black this has the rich shade of brown I expect from filter.

Then the taste. It's a triumph. The flavour is almost exactly like filter coffee. Like magic. A rich, strong wack of bitterness which flows about the mouth, resting on the tongue just like filter. Then there's the kick, the Starbucks kick, which makes my head cock slightly and my skin tingly as I assume the caffeine hits my system, just like filter. The strong after taste at the end of the cup stays in my mouth for minutes afterwards, just like filter. None of this do I usually experience from an instant and certainly not without overcompensating on the amount I'm dissolving.

Miraculous. And with no machine to wash afterwards, just my mug. Elsewhere, reviews have been mixed. Zoe Williams in The Guardian thought it "insipid" though based on her description I'd question whether she put too much water on it -- any more than the 8oz and I imagine it would taste blander. Similarly I'd question what it's like with milk and sugar, but then I think that about all coffee -- I do like it strong. There's an alchemy at work here and I can't wait for Starbucks to launch it nation wide in the UK so that I can experiment some more.

I like books. [...] I love films.

Books The Times has posted a list of what they think are the top 100 books of this decade. Here is a list of the items on their list that I've read:

50 No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies by Naomi Klein (2000)

You'd expect me to be embarassed about that perhaps, especially considering Karie's appetite for pages. But the number of books published each year, each week, and the evident bias against genre fiction (reflected by the choice of judges listed at the bottom of the page), it's a surprise I've even read Klein's book.

I've come to terms with that years ago. I like books. I like the smell of them, the way they feel in the hand. But I'm not a voracious reader. I can never seem to find the time. I love films. I watch lots and lots of films. That's my narrative form of choice. And theatre. I like the immediacy of them, and the compexity inherent in the collaboration, which still exists even with the most manipulative of directors.

That's probably why the books I do read tend to be autobiographical or analytical, with only a certain type of fiction. I also at present can't seem to be able to concentrate for longer than an hour on anything. Modern life, at least my modern life is noisy. But there is hope. Audiobooks. I've been buying lots of audiobooks. Abridged. Unabridged. Fiction. Non-fiction. And I'm hoping this halfway house will help to set me back on track.

only ever made

Update! Darren Linkmachinego's first and only personal blogpost has made the cover of The Guardian (below the fold). Here's the article. As Darren says ... Fair to say he's beaten me. I've only ever made the obituaries.

horrendously homesick

Life During my first year at undergraduate university, I was horrendously homesick for at least the first few months. This manifested itself in a collection of ways but mostly it involved moments alone, in the dark of my room in halls or a stairwell, when I’d simply sit and cry, trying to retch in such a way that I didn't make too much noise, not let people know how I was feeling. It was my first time away from home, alone, and I hadn’t quite managed to work out how to mix, how meet people, how to bond, and I thought the last thing I needed was for them to thing I was a crier, someone who couldn’t stand being alone.

Eventually the feelings largely subsided, after a parental visit and parcels began arriving from home with creature comforts, most of which I could have bought myself but were somehow tastier, comfier or funnier because I knew they’d been through home and the hands of the people there. This was the early nineties, before mobile phones were cheap enough for any student, and the only email available was in the library and so that was the only real contact I’d have apart from the odd phone call home from the expensive and smelly call booth on the ground floor.

Now and then, I still felt like I was alone and surrounded by people who didn’t understand me, even the friends I’d made, which is ironic, probably, since this was no doubt what everyone else was thinking. It didn’t help that there wasn’t anyone from my home town of Liverpool in the hall. No one to reminisce with. Two neighbouring blokes in a few doors away from me were from other ends of the same street for goodness sake, and had never met before. There were plenty of similar coincidences and geographical bunching, but as far as is went, I was the Merseyside contingent.

One morning I was in a particularly low mood for the first time in ages. I suspect it was because it was a Sunday, and I was hankering for the kind of morning bacon butty only my Dad can cook but when I’d gone down to the kitchen to do it myself, someone had stolen it from my bag in the fridge. Bastards. I remember opening the window to let the cold Autumn air into the room and imagine perhaps that I was looking out across a park or the Mersey. I shut my eyes and let the slight breeze flow across my cheeks. Then I heard a girl shout:

”Earyaa babes, pass-us me shooz…”

I don’t really have a scouse accent. It comes and goes, most often it comes across as generic northern. I’ve been told it’s because I don’t particularly appreciate the accent of my home town which might well be the case, but since, if you’re from the city and surrounds you know that there isn’t just one Liverpool accent but dozens depending upon where someone is from, it’s probably truer to say I don’t like some versions of it. But on that day I loved them all.

It was like music. It was like that scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy opens up the public address system in the prison and plays opera music to his fellow inmates. I sighed. It was just what I needed. I later found out her name was Stella and we became passing acquaintances since she’d become best friends with someone else in the hall. Throughout the rest of the year, whenever I was feeling homesick again, I’d somehow end up meeting her and she’d remind me of what home was like, what Liverpool was like, like.

[This is my submission to the Liverpool Echo’s Open Culture Benchmark.]

speaks for itself

Music Lee Barker's piece about the Morrissey incident at the Liverpool Echo Arena speaks for itself:
"From my teens onwards I’ve been acutely aware of Liverpool’s undercurrent of annoyance. Whether it stems from the time I grew up, where the city was crumbling around us, there was mass unemployment and seemingly no future or it goes further back to the fact we are a sea port and all sea ports are tough places, I don’t know. What I do know is that time and place for these attitudes has passed. Its not applicable for life as we live it today yet this tacit approval for loutish behaviour is tolerated."

Shakespeare Quartos Archive Opens Access to Hamlet

I was sent the following press release yesterday by the communication department at the Bodlean Library for something which sounds and is rather amazing. Which is why I'm simply going to post their explanation in full:
Oxford, 16 November 2009 – The highly-anticipated Shakespeare Quartos Archive has been officially launched today with a complete digital collection of rare early editions of Hamlet. For the first time, all 32 existing quarto copies of the play held by participating UK and US institutions are freely available online in one place ( This initiative is jointly led by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, through a joint transatlantic grant from Jisc in the UK and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the US.

Controversy surrounds Hamlet as there were several different versions published before the theatres were closed in 1642. The most significant differences are between the first folio, and the first (Q1) and second (Q2) quartos. For example, in Q1 Hamlet’s famous soliloquy appears in a different scene and begins “To be, or not to be, I there’s the point / To die, to sleep, is that all? I all” and the edition documents an entire scene not present elsewhere. Meanwhile Q2 is almost twice the length, with various additions including a new soliloquy for Hamlet.

Now scholars can explore these different quarto versions side by side for the first time on the project website. It features high-quality reproductions and searchable full text of surviving copies of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in quarto in an interactive interface. Functions and tools – such as the ability to overlay images, compare them side-by-side, and mark and tag features with user annotations – facilitate scholarly research, performance studies, and new applications for learning and teaching.

The project, which began in April 2008, reunites all 75 pre-1642 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays into a single online collection. The prototype interface is at present fully functional only for Hamlet, but the Shakespeare Quartos Archive plans to apply this technology to all the plays in quarto, and to seek involvement from new partner institutions.

Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleian Library said: ‘The Bodleian Library has been delighted to lead the UK side of this international partnership. Together with our partner institutions we have brought together all the existing quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays in one place. Featuring a set of innovative interactive tools, this digital resource will also open new ways of accessing and researching the original texts of Hamlet. We are confident that the Shakespeare Quartos Archive will become an indispensable online resource for the worldwide community of scholars, teachers and students with an interest in Shakespeare. It is a valuable addition to the increasing number of Bodleian's digital collections.’

Gail Kern Paster, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, said: ‘The Shakespeare Quartos Archive presents new and innovative opportunities that were simply unavailable before for scholars, teachers, and students to explore Hamlet.’

In the absence of surviving manuscripts, the quartos—Shakespeare’s earliest printed editions—offer the closest known evidence of what Shakespeare might actually have written, and what appeared on the early modern English stage.

Alastair Dunning, Digitisation Programme Manager at Jisc, said: ‘Early copies of Shakespeare's plays are now scattered across the world's great libraries and viewing each one in person would be a monumental task. However, international projects such as the Shakespeare Quartos Archive provide a valuable opportunity for such collections to be reunited and re-examined in their entirety.’

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive contains texts drawn from the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, the National Library of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh Library, in addition to the Bodleian Library. These six institutions worked in conjunction with the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland, and The Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, to digitize and transcribe 32 copies of Hamlet.
You can see the Quarto's at

As an act of scholarship this is immense. Though there are printed facsimiles of these editions are available, together with amalgams which gave the "best" versions of each of the pages, as they say this is really the first time that critics, editors and students are able to properly compare and contrast these different editions and be able to see how our interpretation of the plays change and develop depending upon the version of the text that we are studying. The inclusion of the so-called Bad Quarto, I, allows us to enjoy a kind of alternate reality in which the play is shorter, slightly garbled, but still has its own unique power:
"To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all:
No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes,
For in that dreame of death, when wee awake,
And borne before an euerlasting Iudge,
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
The vndiscouered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the ioyfull hope of this,
Whol'd beare the scornes and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tirants raigne,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweate vnder this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this indure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which pusles the braine, and doth confound the sence,
Which makes vs rather beare those euilles we haue,
Than flie to others that we know not of.
I that, O this conscience makes cowardes of vs all,
Lady in thy orizons, be all my sinnes remembred.
Just once I'd like to see a production of the First Quarto. Or for a production to substitute some of the text to keep the audience on their toes. You think you know that solliquey? Listen to this ...

The Waters of Mars.

TV When The Twin Dilemma was inexplicably released earlier in the year, once had posted it to me, I undid the shrink wrap, watched the Stripped For Action documentary then put it on the shelf, the main feature unwatched. Despite working my way through the Eighth Doctor novels, I’ve never enjoyed the Virgin New Adventures much and find the latter parts of the McCoy era near unwatchable. For a period I wondered why this was the case (beyond quality control concerns) and it struck me watching closing minutes of The Waters of Mars. When the Doctor stops being the “benevolent alien” he stops being my Doctor.

In each of these stories or eras, the creative team turned the character, to varying degrees into a darker figure, play up his superhuman qualities, his arrogance, his willingness to bend the rules, made him cruel as a way of differentiating him from us, a mystery, a who, an other (and in the case of the New Adventures apparently literally The Other). The problem was that much of this work was done abruptly, unheralded, with no cooling off period and with a foggy attitude to justification. Except if you’re a decent writer you want to keep your character interesting, you have to go there, you have to show what happens when the responsibility of power takes hold.

David Most often the approach is to create a parallel character, very much like the hero but whose back story is just different enough that the audience can see what would happen if the hero gene was in the wrong place. Star Trek (and dozens of other genre series and films) have made this explicit by literally giving the lead character an evil twin, but that can only go so far. In Doctor Who, The Meddling Monk and later The Master and later still in the novels Sabbath were created to fulfil this criteria. But that too only goes so far because it’s not really the lead character but you have to be very bold to show your hero going to the dark side and do it in such a way that he can still retain our sympathy.

This latest production team are bold; at the dawn of the new age they want develop the character, but they’re also clever enough to know that you can’t abruptly make a change like that, you have to lead the audience towards it, so that, when the Doctor becomes the arrogant figure, “timelord victorious” we understand, so the audacious structure of The Waters of Mars is designed to get the audience from smiling with the Doctor as he steps onto the red planet to frowning with him as he realises he’s taken his power too far and the web of time gets ready to smack him down. The Twin Dilemma failed because we were meant to believe that this is the new Doctor, whether we like it or not. Yeah, great. What all the time? No wonder the ratings dropped. They didn’t have a recipe. Russell T Davies and Phil Ford had a recipe. And here it is:
"he’s taken his power too far and the web of time gets ready to smack him down"
First, take the most traditional Doctor Who story cliché you can find, something nice and overripe. A base under siege. The boyabase, sorry, Bowie Base, was literally a base under siege. Then emphasise all of the elements of that cliche. Include a large room where most of the action takes place. Lightly sprinkle an alien threat, in this case a horrific possession via water infection, not too much, just something sticky enough that it could potentially destroy the Earth. Keep the fans happy by referencing the very monster they’re expecting to be involved but aren’t but imply they could be anyway (squee).

Lightly sprinkle hardy crew members ready to picked off by whatever monster is loose in the station. They’re basically the same lot who fought the manic Ood and Abaddon’s cousin in The Impossible Planet’s Satan Pit with slightly different names, clearer international origins and more historic relevance, with the Doctor wearing the space suit he picked up in that story as a constant reminder, or any number of Troughton era stories. But unlike most stories (with the exception of the commander) be careful not to make them too individual, too special.

Crew Once that’s set, take a brush and glaze this concoction with another cliché, but one which isn’t often been used in conjunction with the first ingredient, like adding chilli to chocolate, in this case that the events that are happen on the base are fixed point in history which cannot be changed ever. I talked at great length about this in my Fires of Pompeii review but in essence my theory on how the process works is that the Doctor can happily change history unless he’s aware of it. He could do what he liked down the Satan Pit or on the moonbase or inside Sea Base 4 because he didn’t have prior knowledge of what happened there.

So when faced with Adelaide Brooke and friends and with his mental Wikipedia (bang, bang, bang) not down for maintenance his logical instinct is to walk away, but his benevolence is telling him to stay. Like the space suit, offer a reminder, verbally in this case, to the last story the audience saw such a scenario in to add an extra layer of understanding of what’s being faced. Later in the episode confront the person who’s going to be directly effected by events with the news of their own demise. And if you’re really clever, tie this in to a previous story too (though oddly, it means that the Daleks must also have residually known they’d fail too if young Adelaide wasn’t meant to die then).

Place in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 6 for thirty minutes. I’m not sure why gas mark 6, but everything I cook these days seems to require gas mark 6, so it must also be the setting the production team used in preparing to perfection this magnificent episode. During the cooking time, on the edges, the clichés bond together to create something new, a flavour the like of which has never been tasted and for the sake of my own sanity and because I’ve stretched this metaphor I’d best stop here before I start comparing David Tennant to yeast.

The point I’m trying to make is that the production team in throwing these two seemingly insoluble elements together somehow created a kind of narrative comfort food which like a desert in an Agatha Christie mystery is discovered mid course to be laced with cyanide. But unlike the then new Doctor in The Twin Dilemma or Time’s Champion, we understand the events which led to that change and that’s what makes it acceptable.

They twist his benevolence so that it becomes his downfall. Impudently, they have the Doctor walk away and because we’ve been perfectly conditioned, we want him to. For once, we don’t want him to go back and save the base or its crew and when he does it’s a shocking betrayal and even as he does all of the Doctorish things we’ve loved to see him do in the past, we’re frowning because it’s wrong. Oh so very wrong and potentially even more acutely for long terms fans who've had the concept of the web of time rammed down their throats for so long.

But because of all of the careful writing and directing which has led up to the moment, the heartbreaking moment when, in the wreckage of the rocket his own words come back to haunt him, we’re still sympathetic, but it’s the sympathy we give someone with an addiction perhaps, in this case to power. Pity and an understanding that the actions we’re witnessing will ultimately be self destructive unless something happens to bring him down to earth.

We are confronted with the dark version of the Doctor, the same man, but with his moral compass given a Daliesque melt, the forces he’s otherwise kept in check given reign. He’s scary and with no influence other than his own conscience, he’s the monster, whose own benevolence his downfall. Still my Doctor and also not. And utterly compelling. We’ve glimpsed him once or twice before, notably at the close of The Family of Blood, but then his darkness was measured.

This is a man who now looks at human beings and picks out the important ones. And we understand because the writing and direction have done that too throughout the episode, whole scenes played in master from the point of view of the Doctor stood metres away instead of in close up on their faces. That’s the change. Before, every life was important. When the Doctor falls to the ground after seeing the blue light in the window are we completely sure it isn’t because he’s let one of the important ones die anyway? The psychological complexity of this story, both in the conception of the lead character and the expectations on the audience for understanding thereof is breathtaking and this is one of those occasions when I'm not sure I've done it justice. I'm not sure it's even possible to do it justice.

Through a combination of the writing, the direction and devastatingly detailed performances from David Tennant and Lindsey Duncan (who magnificently and rightly got her name in the titles) on the one hand The Waters of Mars was as traditional a story as you could possible find, but on the other, something totally new, Doctor Who’s equivalent of Torchwood's Children of Earth with a conclusion somehow even darker because it’s in a family show. I’m still reeling. Can you believe that Doctor Who registered the suicide of a character in the eyes of its leading man? Doctor Who? If Midnight was dark, The Waters of Mars was like being lost in the countryside at one o’clock in the morning without a flashlight and weird clicking noises all about you.

Next time: The finale. Yay!

rare breaks out

Blog! Dr Magnati's reveal has turned into something of a Woodstock for UK Bloggers. Not who was or wasn't there, but who did or didn't know Brooke back in the day (a phrase I'm using increasingly which has to be a sign of my age) and who did or didn't know her secret. It's even caused Darren from LinkMachineGo to make one of his rare breaks out of link blogging to offer something more substantial:
"A couple of months went past, and after Belle de Jour won the award for Best Written Blog from the Guardian and the whole BdJ phenomenon kicked off, I had my eureka moment – I was sitting on the tube one morning and suddenly thought: ‘Could it be Brooke?’"
I love the fact that if someone had bothered to go look, a rather big clue to her identity was available in plain sight. But you had to know what you were doing. As a side note, given that this is one of the most interesting pieces of blog writing I've seen in quite some time, I wish Darren would do this sort of thing more often.

Tweet Up

Life This lunchtime @ACCliverpool or the BT Conference Centre held their first Tweet Up North event and despite my misgivings that perhaps it was just supposed to be for corporate visitors, I went along. It's my first time inside the centre which is the heel side of the Liverpool Echo Arena if you look at it from the sky and pretend it's shaped like a footprint (no, not like Italy, that's more of a boot). The interior is reminiscent of Ethan Hawke's workplace in the film Gattaca, a giant glass atrium the size of a cathedral, which like a cathedral has a stone floor, wooden panelling and loads of small rooms leading off.

The Tweet Up was held in a mezzanine (pictured) which on the one side over looked that atrium and on the other offered a fantastic view of the Mersey and Seacombe beyond yet still managed to seem entirely intimate. There were about forty people, most of whom where indeed attending as part of their work day. We were handed a list of attendees on our way in and it's a three page mix of people faces and corporate logos. But there were plenty of familiar faces so I didn't feel out of it and a couple who knew me from my personal feed of @liverpoolblogs.

Actually, the meeting had the all the hallmarks of a good wedding; a fabulous (and I should add unexpected) buffet (tasty scouse, chicken wraps and mini-pasies), loads of people who haven't seen in a while and total strangers who are willing to chat and speeches. @ianfinch from @mandogroup talked about the corporate uses of Twitter in communicating the message of a company and joining up with clients and @alisongow from the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post talked about how Twitter allows them to properly communicate with the public.

All in all, a really enjoyable event. Not too long so that people weren't looking at their shoes too much, not so short that it wasn't worth the trudge up to the centre. On the walk back to civilisation, @LpoolChamber (hello Nick) suggested that I should take more advantage of these kinds of events, especially since @liverpoolblogs is a known experiment and people are increasingly interested in social networking. Similarly, Alison mentioned in her talk that companies should assign employees Twitter for the day to interact with their public/users. I'm increasingly wondering if it might be possible to find a new career somewhere in there. The professional tweeter.

secrets and mysteries

Blog! Karie expresses just as well as I could what Belle De Jour's reveal means to those of us bloggers who've been in this for the long haul. As I said to her on Facebook, it's like the UK blogging culture of the earlier part of this decade rearing up to reassert itself, reminding all the people for whom its just part of a social networking landscape where it all began.

At first I was elated to know that she was a real person and that it all happened and that I hadn't been reading a fiction all these years (something sort of knew because of interviews related to the television programme and friends of friends but it was nice to have a confirmation) and that in being a research scientist and an early UK link bloggers one of us.

I felt very warm towards some fellow bloggers who knew her secret, knew who she was, but didn't blab, even to each other. Again, it was reminder of the kind of community it was back then, before the form went mainstream and stopped being as Karie says "something you do on the sly", when no one knew what a blog was and thought it was a very curious thing to be doing.

Now, nearly, everyone online is a blogger even if it's just in very short sentences and I wonder if you can still close ranks on something like that when there are so many voices involved. If someone had worked out Belle's identity back in the day and Twitter had existed with its instant gratification, would they have kept it to themselves?

But then I felt anger, towards the Daily Mail for apparently forcing her into this, because after a fashion I didn't really want to know who Belle De Jour was. There are some secrets which are in the public interest of course, but has it really added to the world that people in general now know who she is, to have her face splashed all over the papers? Isn't it nice to have these little secrets and mysteries?

Defying Gallifrey

Elsewhere I've reviewed tonight's magnificent Doctor Who special. Well I say review, it's more like the sound of me gasping because I can't quite work out in my head how psychologically complex it was. I love the title, Defying Gallifrey, no idea where that came from.