Elsewhere I've reviewed tonight's Doctor Who. Paradoxically I loved it because of its over-familiarity. I'm weird.

Review: Ashes to Ashes. The finale.

Television And so the finale of Ashes to Ashes was broadcast tonight bringing to a close five years worth of drama begun in Life on Mars. As expected it was a brave, exciting piece of storytelling and if I was slightly disappointed because it didn’t go for the genuinely life affirming happy ending of Alex awakening and being reunited with her daughter (why do so many dramas always have to be so bittersweet?), it did manage to resolve the story in interesting and surprising ways and provide a satisfying conclusion to Gene Hunt’s story too even if closing on a close-up of his face rather than Alex's seemed to be a shade too much like the Star Trek: Enterprise approach (I'll leave that reference hanging).

Across this series, the actors have been gifted a near impossible task by the writers, charting the development of their characters growing self-awareness whilst simultaneously indicating the seeping in of the attitudes of their respective times with Ray in particular reverting to his more racist and sexist earlier state. With this final episode, Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Montserrat Lombard were finally able to shed their stereotypical characters and give them real depth with Shaz's breakdown in particular a heart stopping moment. Arguably it's been more of an ensemble piece than before, with Shaz especially gaining in strength as Alex broke down though it's to Keeley Hawes's credit that Drake still went into that good night/smoke filled pub with dignity.

Matthew Graham has given an interview to The Guardian explaing the symbolism of that pub and much more besides (the Metro has an even more succinct version). You probably won't believe this, because I didn't bother to post it here so can't quote it as proof, but the explanation of the world and Gene Hunt's place within it was exactly as I guessed it would be at the close of the first/third series. The differences were that I thought Hunt was just as metaphysical a figure as Jim Keats turned out to be and that the only copper that was being helped along was Sam and then Alex with everyone else a construct or indeed a "figment" as she described them for much of the first season. That would explain why it seemed to continue to exist when Sam wasn't there at the close of series two.

Some questions were still left dangling. Are all of the police officers in this world like Ray, Chris and Shaz including the crazy perm guy who looks like a stereotypical 80s copper? The new Skip's blank reaction to Ray's new gun suggests that they're not, just key figures like Viv (who it seems was sent to hell by Keats). In which case why are some of them like Sam, Alex and the iPhone guy aware of the change in location and time but not others, including for all those years, Gene? Was Gene's story about were he sent Sam (and Annie?) during his date with Alex his sub-subconscious's way of rationalising the real truth of them going to the pub? Is their heaven an eternal lock-in were the final round is never called? What if you don't drink?

"a thrilling piece of radio drama"

Radio It was a thrilling piece of radio drama and one which the listener really needed to experience as it was broadcast in order to gain the full effect. At a few minutes to eight this morning I was idling away at my computer attempting to gather back together all of the download This American Life podcasts that Spotify had very kindly thrown to the edges of my hard disk when the Gracenotes process in the new version had set about trying to relabel them as music files.

As ever my radio was tuned to Radio 4, to the Today programme and Diane Abbott MP, Labour back bencher and pundit on various Andrew Neil presented politics tv shows was being introduced to give her views in relation to her party’s leadership campaign.

Always attentive to criticism of the Labour party I turned half of my attention away from trying to find out the episode numbers for “The Inaugural Show” and “Numbers”. Within moments the rest of my attention joined it.

Naughtie was arguably giving her a fairly soft interview as befits someone who’s already a pundit at the BBC, and Abbot was offering an opinion I’d heard from her at the weekend of the all white middle-class shortlist and how little it seemed to recognise the diversity of the party and the wider country. Then Naughtie "fed" her the killer question: “So what are you going to do about it?”

At which point – well you can hear the interview now and I’d urge you to give it four minutes of your attention.

As you can hear, apparently unheralded and with little warning, Abbott announced her own candidacy of for Labour leadership. It’s missing from the clip, but on my digital radio, I’m sure I could hear an audible gulp from Naughtie as he realised the scoop has landed in his (and the programme's) lap.

He then offered a beautifully timed hesitation as the prepared lists of questions found itself in the circle shaped filing cabinet situated underneath the desk and he was being called upon to improvise.

We don’t know if there was indeed any advanced warning in the Today office of the announcement (though audible evidence is to the contrary). But audio evidence suggests that it was a shock to the presenters which means that Abbott had gone through the front door of the BBC, several researchers and sat down without saying a word and giving every impression that this would simply be some end of hour, pre-pips filling.

Her voice is clearly dry as she speaks. In her first answer she mistakenly suggests one of her rivals, John McDonnell has dropped from the race, a sign of nerves and one which had to be clarified later in the programme and permanently on the Radio 4 website.

"So many people have asked me to put my hat in the ring and I have finally agreed to do so" she says like someone who's been persuaded to put on another of her famous dinner parties.

During the interview, his co-presenter Evan Davis tweeted the news and Abbott’s name was trending on Twitter (aided it has to be said by the manic retweeting of a Diane Arbus quote in the US). Fall out coverage can be found on The Guardian’s page devoted to the politician, including a clearer statement of intent from the MP herself.

I don’t know anything about politics but I think that she may well have a chance and at the very least has shaken up the campaign. Should she be leader going into an election, depending on policy she could well act as a catalyst for disaffected soft Lib Dem voters annoyed by the coalition to swap allegiance to Labour in a way the Brownites and Blairites might not.

It says something about Naughtie’s professionalism that, after a high pitched "well", he drew the listener into the process of the interview ("two minutes ago there were five people running and now there are six" and "I'm just wondering what to ask you next") before apparently pulling those devised questions from the bin and modifying them for the change in circumstances.

He asks his interviewee about policy differences with the other candidates and whether this is a serious challenge and if she believes she has a chance at winning (plenty, yes, yes) before closing the interview (with some audible giggles from Abbot “and if any other Labour MP is listening and fancies doing something similar, you know where to find us. Thank you very much.”

On a day when we're all be urged to scrap our analogue radios in favour something digital, it's heartening to know that one of the original FM/LW/MW broadcasters still has the capacity to surprise and be surprised itself in the process.
Advertising The new Spotify Open logo ...

Almost totally looks like The Criterion Collection logo.  At a different angle.  And in a different colour.

Music And so the "Sugababes" go on the counter offensive, offensive in this case, being the operative word. Last year, Mutya from the real Sugababes filed for copyright ownership of the name. At the time, the "Sugababes" claimed the record company already had that right despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, unsurprisingly, as BBC News reports:
"the current line-up - Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen - have filed a notice of opposition, as have their record company, Island Records."
Important reminder of who's actually in the group there (elaborated upon further into the article -- it's like a wikipedia entry down there).

They appear to be using the Bucks Fizz defence:
"In a letter to the EU body, Universal's Island Records said that because of the "similarity of the goods and services" provided by the applicant - Buena - "there is a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public".
I think the public are already confused; any new fans created on the back of Sweet 7 (there must be some, there is one good track on there) who decide to investigate the group's back catalogue are presented with a range of albums with an assortment of different faces on them -- they're the noughties equivalent of the Top of the Pops compilations and often just as saucy.

My expectation, sadly, is that the judge will rule in favour of Island despite Mutya prior claim based on their original childhood group name (which was THE Sugababes) because there is at present only one group recording under that name, the promised reunion having not materialised. This is not a like the Liberty case, there will be no name change, even though Sugafree is still available ...

Review: High Kicks & Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec prints at the Walker Art Gallery.

Art I spent this morning amongst this selection of surprisingly rare poster art in lithograph form mainly from the mid-1890s. Like anyone else who’s visited Paris I have a Toulouse-Lautrec postcard on my wall but I’ve always been very aware of him. My secondary school art sketch book contains a rather duff pencil copy of one of his Yvette Guilbert portraits (one of the examples in this exhibition I think) so I must have seen this work in my teens and his famous portrait of Aristide Bruant with the bright red scarf was the model for Tom Baker’s first costume in Doctor Who.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s technique is deceptively haphazard. At a distance many of his images don't make much sense.  Only on looking more closely do you see that what he's doing is creating startling impressions of movement using single, deliberate lines. But the forms are all there and clearly defined and haven’t quite reached a Picasso level of abstractness, were the position of objects becomes irrelevant. Often prints like Divan Japonais or May Belfort will be dominated by a single colour but some, like Marcelle Lender en Buste (pictured) include eight different shades which at that time required eight different stones and an intense level of concentration from the printer so that the mix of red, pink, orange and green did not lose definition.

As ever, it’s only when confronted with a brace of a man’s work that you can really appreciate his accomplishments. Like the best of the post-Impressionists, he’s somehow able to capture the essence of a scene and the people within it without slavishly presenting every aspect. Over and over again he places dancers like Jane Avril at the centre of the picture, in vivid motion or calm rest, in evening ware and surrounded by elements of whichever club or theatre is being advertised including a somewhat sleazy bearded man of some description.  The viewer is immediately transported to that place and in hindsight, time.

Perhaps the most impressive and suprising images are those created for Elles, a collection of drawings of the local prostitutes. As the accompanying information notes, he deliberately ignores the lascivious in favour of presenting those moments the men that visit them don't see, the preparation for their call, applying make-up, straightening hair, the sagged shoulders and disappointment of the final cash transaction and the moments before going to bed. I hadn't otherwise considered that a figure like Lautrec might have been an early feminist, but the empathy presented in these drawings suggests that might just be possible.
Politics Just one final quiz on the subject of the election. Without resorting to a web search, can you tell when Nick Clegg gave this interview to the BBC's Today Programme?

I'll post the answer here at midnight.

Answer: 5th January 2010 -- and he'd be giving the same interview for the next four months ...

miniblog archive

  • Your messages to the coalition government ... so far http://ff.im/-kq6I3

  • 5.7: Amy's Choice - Overnight Ratings http://ff.im/-kpyCo

  • We are all made of stardust http://ff.im/-knM0I 

  • How I will vote… http://ff.im/-knszz 

  • Elephant Parade http://ff.im/-knr2V

  • A slight overreaction? http://ff.im/-knpnN 

  • Ashes To Ashes - what the 2-part finale must tell us...! http://ff.im/-knlUE 

  • Heroes canceled: http://imdb.to/9IWmDA (if there isn't to be a wrap up mini-series or film it ended very well with some thematic dignity). 

  • Samuel L. Jackson Says We’ll See A SHIELD Film After The Avengers http://ff.im/-klQSJ 

  • Hello again, Rob http://ff.im/-klQSL 

  • How the coalition government will work http://ff.im/-kk8Qg 

  • TV Cream exclusive: First photo of new coalition cabinet! http://ff.im/-kgJDX

  • The folk fan’s guide to hip-hop http://ff.im/-kf1we 

  • The kind of Chatroulette coincidence that requires a degree in pop culture: http://bit.ly/9sjZDN 

  • London Underground welcomes our new wax-faced humanoid overlord http://ff.im/-kecxx 

  • Roy Greenslade: How News of the World entrapped John Higgins http://ff.im/-kdfrP 

  • 11:37am on (which?) Friday http://ff.im/-kcPLL 

  • Why the Lib Dems did better than you think http://ff.im/-kaIo5 

  • The Eighth Doctor on Radio 7 http://ff.im/-k9rd2 

  • The only election graphic you need http://ff.im/-k77Vm 

  • Siddig: No Love For Bashir’s Genetic Modification http://ff.im/-k77Va 

  • BrokenTV’s Boardgame Bacchanal: Part Three http://ff.im/-k77Vc 

  • Sony Takes an Axe to their Floppy http://ff.im/-k77V9 

  • Buying Shoes http://ff.im/-k77Vl 

  • Three Colours Trilogy: Box Set: 4DVD Boxset £9.99 delivered @ HMV http://ff.im/-k77Vb 

  • Want Ad Fail http://ff.im/-k77Vg 

  • Did I mention there are 400 of them? http://ff.im/-k77Vj 

  • Post-election problems are likely to give Clegg and Cameron a headache | Bryan Gould http://ff.im/-k77Vk 

  • The Science of Sleep http://bit.ly/cc3d2i 

  • A new homepage for BBC Archive http://ff.im/-jZl24 

  • The Karen Gillan thing which is on Channel 4 right now is going to be on 4oD: http://bit.ly/93uBDj 

  • The flat to rent that offers plenty of Spaced http://ff.im/-jWAZq 

  • Layout Fail http://ff.im/-jRbY5 

  • The future's orange http://ff.im/-jR9YK 

  • Darwin's Beetle goes in search of a mate http://ff.im/-jR74i 

  • Kim Cattrall confirmed to play Cleopatra in Liverpool http://ff.im/-jR5A6 

  • Beaminster: School breaks world hula hoop record http://ff.im/-jR5uo 

  • Controller, BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7 http://ff.im/-jR1wR 

  • General election 2010: your questions answered http://ff.im/-jQUcH 

  • Link text in here http://ff.im/-jQPth 

  • Philippa Stroud: where is the media outrage? http://ff.im/-jPmpM 

  • BrokenTV’s Boardgame Bacchanal: Part Two http://ff.im/-jOv7K 

  • Oh NOES! http://ff.im/-jN5wV 

  • http://bit.ly/9FpWs2 

  • SNP Alex Salmond's favourite Star Trek series is Voyager. Figures. http://bit.ly/a57eWL 

  • Russian Plumber Doesn't Know Why People Stare at Him On the Street http://ff.im/-jLNEu 

  • The Cultural Catchup Project: Season Two’s Cult of Personality (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) http://ff.im/-jLigh 

  • Terry Pratchett on Doctor Who "It's not sci-fi." No it isn't, it's Doctor Who, a genre all by itself. http://bit.ly/cAXbP1 

  • The Films of director Ken Loach -- a YouTube channel. http://bit.ly/cDakAU 

  • France loves sex, but not on the front page | Claude Soula http://ff.im/-jJWLb 

  • Colleague situation fail http://ff.im/-jIN2O

  • SightSoundmag: RT @Sarah_Bakewell: Blogging about yesterday's zany Abel Ferrara experience - http://bit.ly/6EwgLO http://ff.im/-jIn6Z 

  • Top 10 Things You Didn't Know Google Maps Could Do [Lifehacker Top 10] http://ff.im/-jI7In 

  • Introducing Luther - with love to Detective Columbo http://ff.im/-jI4L4 

  • Educate! Educate! Educate! Daleks invade Worthing school http://ff.im/-jI3ry 

  • Five (other) reasons to vote Lib Dem | Deborah Orr http://ff.im/-jFcYW 

  • Suzanne Moore: 'Vote for me, I'm flawed' http://ff.im/-jBDgU 

  • The media have failed the Liberal Democrats: Deborah Orr http://ff.im/-jBuD9 

  • Leaders' debate: nearly 700 complain to Ofcom over treatment of Nick Clegg http://ff.im/-jBpTN
  • Amy's Choice.

    TV I stopped eating cheese recently. It was a health decision, but I quickly regretted it because I also stopped dreaming. Well, ok, I'm probably still dreaming but my vivid memories of the land of the subconscious have disappeared. I'm bereft. My recurring nightmare of searching a fictional metropolis for the perfect film is gone and I’ll never discover if it is, as I suspect, directed by C├ędric Klapisch and starring Jean Seberg. Slowly, I’ve begun to ration some cream cheese back in but I know the more vivid images won’t return until I’m piling cheddar between two pieces of toast and microwaving for half a minute.

    Seeking alternatives, I’ve been considering a trip into the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Waking Life, but have mostly made do with the couple of odd episodes in the (now) final season of Heroes in which the guilt of Hiro and Sylar trapped them into their own subconscious trials and prisons (budget permitting). The problem is of course, like 80s horror Dreamscape, these are dramatic reconstructions of other people’s impressions of the dreamscape and require those things which our own subconscious aren’t very good at providing – a character arc, dramatic tension and a satisfying conclusion (ish, in the case of Heroes).

    And so it is with Amy’s Choice a fairly eccentric episode of modern Who which against what you might expect from Simon Nye (who you would think would be more comfortable with future episode The Lodger for reasons that will become apparent) harks back to the old days, a homage to the likes of The Mind Robber, The Celestial Toymaker and Inside the Spaceship/Beyond the Sun/The Brink of Disaster/The Edge of Destruction/or whatever you like to call it and also attempts to capture the kind of off-beat weirdness witnessed in children’s television programmes were shot on video and Kate Winslet was still young enough to appear in them and also an approach to plotting familiar to anyone who actually understands what Charlie Kauffman is going on about.

    The initial hook of having the Doctor meeting a current companion and her own plus one five years after their travels is rather brilliantly extrapolated. Given what we know about Amy’s connection to Ledworth, and Rory’s potential aspirations, their small idyll is entirely believable as is the Doctor’s reaction to her pregnancy with him bounding out the TARDIS as though minutes have just passed and then realising that he’s in the dullest part of the universe (quite something for him). Played for laughs and with genuine chemistry between the three leads, it refreshingly lacks all of the recriminations of Sarah Jane in School Reunion (and a dozen Big Finish reunions) about being left behind, reminding me of the Eighth Doctor’s re-emergence to Bernice in The Dying Days.

    This opening section is crying out to unfold across twenty odd minutes with a cliffhanger ending in which the trio reappear on the floor of the TARDIS with the Dream Lord standing over them, in other words, with the classic four episode structure. But as is the way with new Who, we’re all too quickly whisked back to the console room and the possibility that their new life is a dream, their version of human John Smith’s perhaps. The confusing is nicely played here, taking full advantage of us having seen the Doctor skipping two years at the close of The Eleventh Hour to make the “future” reality entirely possible within the structure of the series (even if it does suggest that in future episodes that Amy will be chasing aliens between nappy changes).

    Enter Toby Jones’s Dream Lord. Look at that, Toby Jones in Doctor Who! His oddly round yet still angular face looks like William Hague pushing himself through a rubber band and a brilliant bit of casting because we could imagine in a different universe were the Doctor could still be played by an older man, Jones would be just the man to do it. One of the best elements of the episode was in keeping the true nature of the Dream Lord hidden so that fans could spend much of the story assuming that he was somehow The Master, The Master or my guess, The Celestial Toymaker (it couldn’t be The Valeyard, of course, that would be silly, even though functionally they were doing much the same thing, expressing the Doctor’s id, and look at how I’m burying that in some brackets).

    Then like the old Demi Moore film Passions of the Mind (oh yes), they’re left to investigate which of these “realities” is correct, a problem hampered by the need to also decide which of the menaces on offer, alien possessed pensioners or the TARDIS drifting into a cold star. The Dream Lord must be a fan of the Doctor Who Adventures because both of these stories look like the kind of thing which might be knocked out by Steve Lyons or @theolismith across eight pages and a cornucopia of exclamation marks. That’s not a criticism; both offer impressive imagery, of old people acting like yobs and breaking up the place and the frosted time machine drifting ever closer to its icy doom, like the splash pages that might appear opposite “Ten things you didn’t know about the Crespallions (“7: No one can remember which episode they appeared in”).

    At this point, seasoned viewers of British sci-fi might expect director Catherine Moorshead to break out the wide angle lenses and gels and go to town with the off-kilter close-ups and unusual lighting. This version of Ledworth is the kind of weirdly deserted township in which nothing is at it seems and the normal becomes unreal. Doctor Who has had a few of these itself, in other words, The Android Invasion on telly, Eddie Robson’s Memory Lane on audio and Stockbridge in the comics. Similarly fans could be hoping the TARDIS scenes tonally mimic The Edge of Destruction in which despite the hulking great cameras, through some clever lighting, the console room became an alien place rather than a comforting symbol of safety.

    There’s none of that here. Instead, Moorshead does something really quite interesting with the photography. She goes conventional. Though now and then in the village scenes we visit upon the odd shot which apes zombie films, notably one in which four of the pensioners slowly approach our heroes from across a field, despite the blue and green rinse brigade, Moorshead spends most of her time evoking Dangerfield, especially in the camper-van chase which also looks the fake credits for Monkfish from The Fast Show. That approach is repeated in the TARDIS scenes which aren’t much different to anything we’ve seen before; it’s just that there are more of them.

    Along with a music track which with the exception of some brief snatches of a re-mumble of Jon Brion’s main theme for Eternal Sunshine is Murray Gold almost parodying himself, the effort is to make our heroes confusion about the dream worlds as understandable as possible by portraying those dream worlds as conservatively as possible in televisual terms, something this audience might be less likely to accept if they looked like they were directed by Bunuel or Spike Jonze. That’s very risky since it leaves the episode open to criticism for being “unadventurous” or “flat” or not making the most of the script (as I’ve already seen in a couple of early reviews). But if there’s anything I’ve learnt about this series, it’s that there are more “features” than “bugs” and everything is very carefully thought through (and should be at this late stage -- Amy's Choice was the last episode of the season to be shot and edited).

    Like the title of the episode. For all the fantastical elements of both scenarios, it’s Amy’s desires which are being investigated, who and who’s world does she really want, Rory or the Doctor? It’s much the same choice offered to Rose but unlike her “Theres noffink letht for me 'ear” treatment of Mickey in The Parting of the Ways which has always seemed cruel and unusual to me, especially with Billie’s playing of the line, Karen’s understated tragedy as she watches Rory fade to dust and realising her love for him and the Doctor’s impotence is very powerful, more-so because it lacks the histrionics we might well have expected. Still, it is fairly predictable that the series might want to go the other way and allow her to have both, Rory embracing the adventure (Moffat seems keen to return the timelord to his original rampant asexuality).

    All of which said, by the climax I was left a bit nonplussed. Sitting down to write this review I was all ready to suggest that despite all the hilarious jokes, and wonderful performances, Amy’s Choice isn’t bold enough, certainly not as bold as Buffy’s Normal Again in which by the conclusion we’re not entirely sure that the previous six season’s worth of episodes aren’t an extrapolation of a twenty-something girl’s feverish imagination and that the conventionality of some of the direction with its steadicams-a-gogo, had dragged the episode down too far in the other direction. But then I remembered the armies of kid-petrifying pensioners, the spooky shots of the Doctor and Rory frozen to the floor, the funny way the Dream Lord, a demonic rendering of the Doctor's own psychoanalytical concerns for goodness sake and is worth emphasising outside of brackets, zapped about Q-like and the whisk generator and realised that I may need to have look at this one again. In other words, I've talked myself into liking an episode whilst writing a review of it. Well played Nye and Moffat.

    Next Week: "I sometimes wonder why I like the people of this miserable planet so much."