really is just stuff with bits in

TV Here we go again. The run up to this new series of Doctor Who has been pretty unbearable for those of us for whom such things effectively fill the gap where religion should be. The short trailer. The long trailer. The posters. The magazine covers. Drip, drip, drip. It wasn’t hard this time to sympathise with the bloke who turned up on Points of View (because it’s usually impossible to sympathise with blokes who turn up on Points of View except perhaps Jeremy Vine) who complained that because the publicity began what seemed like months before the premiere, his autistic son was becoming very ill with excitement. Three weeks should be just enough he suggested, which interestingly was about the time the billboards went up advertising Rose in 2005.

Me too kid, not least because ironically for a show in which one of the sort of lead characters has a catchphrase to the effect, more than any other drama series except soaps, each shot, each interview, each magazine cover, each midnight exclusive permission to show three screen shots which we received six months ago and was worked into the publicity plan felt like spoiler after spoiler after spoiler. Nixon’s in it you say? Spoiler. Wobbly-bob aliens that look like the sinister older brother the Sycorax and Faction Paradox don’t like to talk about? Spoiler. The cover of Doctor Who Magazine telling us one of the main cast and sort of main cast members is going to die? Spoooiiillllleeeer.

In the event of course, none of it really was a spoiler, although those shots of a regenerative Doctor from midnight last night did at least mean we didn’t go into The Impossible Astronaut completely cold – we knew something was going to happen to Him and there was that clagging reeling in the back of the mind waiting for the golden sparkles to start shooting from his hands, the nagging feeling that some piece of mass subterfuge had been perpetrated and for all the interviews and set photos within ten minutes of the opening episodes the golden glow would dissipate and Michael Sheen or Patterson Joseph or Justin Bieber or some other SEO link bait would be standing with his face reflected in the visor of the astronaut.

Writer Steven Moffat even worked the portents into the teaser what with the Doctor’s breathless trip about time. Moffat seems very keen to get Matt Smith naked probably since we now live in a society where something for the Dads simply isn’t enough to drag in viewers. The Mrs Robinsons must be catered for also. This kind of misdirection is another facet of the Moffat era, always keeping the audience wrong-footed. The RTD era simply wasn’t this shameless in the opening episode of a season; his teasers almost always focused on introducing or re-introducing the companion. For once, we’re beginning with the status quo intact, give or take some domesticity and Moffat takes advantage of that.

Such pre-regenerative last hoorahs aren’t unheard of as we saw in The End of Time in which the Doctor only needed to smell the bio-energy before copping of with Liz I. There was also a rather good Short Trip from the old BBC Books days, Gone too Soon by Christopher M. Wadley, in which the Sixth Doctor, realising his incarnation would be cut short returned to the dawn of Time and carves his name on the first inhabitable planet (which River presumably edited later), jam with the Beatles before they were, watches the birth of Beethoven, then visits his old mentor at the time of his death, to bid him thanks and farewell (reminder) then continues travelling safe in the knowledge he’s done everything he could possibly want to. Which must be why he could then stand to breath the same air as the screaming Bush.

These hijinks seek to make the Doctor’s actual death all the more convincing. Moffat had warned us he’d be bringing the Who back to Doctor Who but in his case rather than turning him into thoroughly repulsive character as arguably happened in the late 80s, his masterplan is to pile in some of the mystery of the early Ninth Doctor, returning viewpoint character status back to his companions and in a fabulous Moffatian twist the younger version of himself. This changes the group dynamic. By the end of the episode, for all His heroics, it’s River who’s essentially filling the narrative role of the Doctor. Which rather means at this point the Doctor’s Adric.

In the old days, restricting narrative information meant re-editing the final episode of Planet of the Spiders so the cliffhanger from the previous episode just sort of happened ten minutes in. Now, it’s us not seeing whose in the astronaut suit, why s/he’s shooting the Doctor and all the malarkey with the regenerative cycle. That is very new, I think. There was a Big Finish audio which resolves itself with a Time Lord being killed off at gunpoint by working through his regenerations shooting him after each new emergence (I’m not saying which one because it’s a spoiler) and this new method would have clearly been quicker and this seems rather more permanent.

Is he really dead? Time will indeed tell and in some ways not only is this episode set in America, it’s using a classic trope of US drama, hell even comic books. Here’s a really exciting moment in the character’s life; now we’re going to spend the next forty minutes, thirteen episodes showing how we got here. It’s what drew us all into Flash Forward initially although unlike that show, the format of Doctor Who or rather its inherent anti-format nature means we’ll be distracted by other things, pirates, old friends with new faces and writer Matthew Graham regaining his dignity (“Not you too, Bob”) to have the same kind of mission creep. Moffat’s promised answers and we believe him. He might even explain the duck pond thing.

Which is rather the tiny problem with that opening. As you can see from the previous thousand odd words, it threatens to unbalance the rest of this story. We’re so busy coming to terms with the summons and the secrets the regulars are keeping from one another, the going dark, that for all the trailing of the North American shooting visit, in the end it just becomes background to the big story being set up. Take away the icons and all of this could have happened on the banks of the Thames (and would have done in the 60s or more likely on film in Ealing Studios). We could have a discussion about whether that’s true for any Doctor Who story, but it's getting late and I'm working tomorrow.

Doctor Who’s always been slightly afraid of the USA, actually reflecting the special relationship in general. The Hartnell era features the most appearances, though usually these were visits to a genre rather than historical era, notably in The Gunfighters with its songs and toothache. Even in the new series, the only other appearance was Daleks in Manhattan though that lacked a proper sense of place (the soccer nets in Central Park?). The US of A just seemed too remote, too big for our little show to cope with. The best sojourn on screen has been the animation, Dreamland, but again we’re back into capturing a genre territory, the Area 51 thriller.

This is the second occasion the series has ventured abroad shooting and once again we open in a desert. Like Planet of the Dead, it certainly adds scale and remoteness and scale (did someone mention the scale?). It’s a reaction to the cramped Cardiff set conditions, getting as far away from corridors and factories as possible and it works. The material shot in Utah is stunning, it does have scale, it looks in fact like a completely different programme achieving what John Nathan Turner had in his head when he kept suggesting random places to have a holiday, only to find it all hobbled by the return to recording the bulk of the episodes on a two cameras in studio B. Not that shooting the whole of The Two Doctors actually in Seville would have helped much.

The shot of the TARDIS team and elderly interloper watching the Doctor’s burning remains drifting into the distance was one of the best of the new series, sneaking into cinematic and beyond and again, with all the questions and histrionics it’s a tragedy that these are the scenes fans won’t be talking about this evening. Similarly Karen's performance, as highlighted in Confidential, grieving over the body of the Doctor should hopefully put pay to the doubters who still think Gillan and by extension the character of Amy is too glib, too unconvincing. It’s her reaction just as it did in Cold Blood over her fiancé which makes this moment real, the reaction of all the leads in fact. River soberly asking Canton who he is.

But again I’m dwelling. I’m almost forgetting that The Impossible Astronaut is a celebrity historical, Stuart Milligan and a prosthetic nose giving us a rather good Richard Millhouse Nixon for his first appearance in the franchise (at least according to sparse TARDIS Index File entry), the Doctor generally being a fairly good judge of character. The recreation of the Oval Office is so convincing I thought it really was the set of The West Wing, which is still being hired out to film crews. Now the BBC have their own version. The problem with looking over just the first part is that we don’t know the extent to which Dickie will become instrumental to the story. We’ll return to him next week, I suspect.

That’s the nature of the episode. It really is just stuff with bits in. Like most of Moffat’s scripts in his era, this review or a teenage boy with a copy of Karen’s Shortlist photo shoot, it’s easily distracted. No sooner have we settled in the Oval Office and met the younger Canton but Amy’s off to the toilets for an encounter with The Silent (not named in the episode but everywhere else) then we’re back in the TARDIS and the location of the FAUXDIS from The Lodger and Amy’s pregnant and shooting at the astronaut who’s looking for his mummy or whatever. This should not be seen as a criticism. Doctor Who’s littered with moments in which the characters sit around in a room waiting for the story to catch up with them (Timelash).

I’d much rather have this. I’d much rather have the beautiful character moment when Canton says Nixon wasn’t his first choice for president, immediately outing him as being a good guy. Rather have a writer who structures his writing so carefully that he manages to steer into the innards of the FAUXDIS the two characters who wouldn’t recognise it. Rather have the misdirection of Amy’s sickness apparently being caused by The Silent but actually by a baby. Knowing, or at least assuming that the walking Robert A. Heinlein reference won’t be who shoots the Doctor. That all signs point to River (“killed a good man”) even though we know it’ll be something even more delicious than that.

The episode did nothing to dissuade me from the new significance of the title of River Song’s first episode, Silence in the Library, or that Moffat’s clever enough to produce a series in which, if we watch the River’s episodes in reverse order we won’t see a perfect story arc for the character. The fear she relates to Rory in this episode, of the moment when she meets the Doctor and he doesn’t recognise her, as well as steering as close to Audrey Niffenegger as Moffat’s ever done, explains the archeologist's whole attitude in that story and are exactly the kind of fears any protagonist might have at the midpoint of their story and demonstrates Alex Kingston’s sheer skill in being able to communicate her character’s arc in reverse.

And with the cliffhanger, the cycle begins again, another week of photos and trailers and careless words on twitter from people who attended the series launch and have already seen both episodes. The speculation, the constant speculation, more intensive even than last year because Moffat has in mind to bring the tone of Lost and Flash Forward even further into the UK mainstream. The Impossible Astronaut is about as confidant a season opener as we’ve yet had and absolutely fulfilled Moffat’s ambition to kick of the season with something as exciting as a season finale. The perfect tribute to the legacy of absent friends.

Next Week: More stuff with bits in. Can't wait.

Updated: The Day of the Moon (or part two of the story) is reviewed here.

the Pop Up Art Shop

Art The following press release cropped up on the Arts Council mailing list and it's just the sort of thing I wish we'd do more of in Liverpool, employing empty shops to help people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford a window:
This Spring, arts organisation dot-art will taking over a key site at the MetQuarter, Liverpool city centre, to offer shoppers the chance to purchase original paintings by local artists. The art shop will “pop-up” for just three days at a time; from 5-7th May and 2-4th June 2011.

The aim of the Pop Up Art Shop is to gain exposure and sales for the talented artists of the region, while also giving the public access to quality, affordable art work for their homes, in a friendly, non-gallery environment.

A wide range of work will be on display, from traditional still life to modern abstracts, but all are original paintings by locally based artists and will give any buyer, where seasoned collector or first time purchaser, many years of pleasure!

Some of the highlights on show include the street scenes of Gary Beach, whose distinctive work addresses issues of anonymity and isolation as well as capturing the endless motion of urban centres; he describes the city as “a concrete muse that inspires and surprises me.” Also included are stylised Wirral scenes by John Kneen, vibrant interpretations of the North ...

something rather personal

Elsewhere I've published something rather personal on my Hamlet Weblog as part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare celebrations from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which features contributions from dozens of bloggers from across the web.

You can track their work at the Happy Birthday Shakespeare website.

Hamlet vexes me.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

The best present I can give is the news that you vex me, or at least your play Hamlet does. I’m suggesting for the moment that this is a positive outcome, because if nothing else any dramatic writer wants to create an emotional response in the viewer. Across your many plays, you wrote some of the most heartbreaking, scary, funny, intelligent, angry verse and prose in the English language so that has to have been your aim. Well that and earning wage enough to pay for the many houses.

Hamlet vexes me for an extensive list of reasons, but since you probably want to get to the heavenly inn and celebrate the day with the rest of the company, I’ll narrow my focus slightly. The most obvious reason is that in writing some of the most heartbreaking, scary, funny, intelligent, angry verse and prose in the English language even in just this one play, you sent me on the path of wanting to watch that text interpreted in as many ways as I can and its become a compulsion. An obsession. So thanks.

But my vexation also emanates from the content of the play and more specifically the title character. Hamlet is me. I am Hamlet. Not the details. I’m not a teenager (much prefer your later draft of the play by the way – he didn’t strike me as the mature student type) and my family dynamic is completely different, thank goodness. Plus I’m not Danish although between you and me, I probably do have some Viking blood. My stubble seems to grow back at least three times as quick as it should.

No it’s the sense of Hamlet, or specifically his inability to take decisive decisions when required and the fact he always has an excuse until it’s all but too late. I’m stuck, in life, in work, in everything, yet whenever an opportunity presents itself I always feel as though I’ve several hundred reasons why not, too far away, too little money, too much this, too close to that which puts me back where I was to begin with, stuck in life and work and everything.

That’s the source of your longevity, of course, your ability to offer characters we can all identify with, most often, when it comes to tragedy as a cautionary tale. It’s probably why I persist in watching Hamlet over all others as way of subtly and unsubtly reminding myself I have to do something. It’s certainly one of the reasons I applied for, studied and graduated from another degree, in film rather than literature, but I’m also possessed of a failed English A-Level and tiny attention span so that couldn’t be helped.

I’m also possessed with an inability to tell the truth or at least the ability to omit certain truths. As everyone around me presents brutal honesty, I hide behind over simplification largely because there are probably things I can’t admit to myself let alone to anyone else or because of some vestiges of my low self esteem don’t think people would really be interested. I’m not boring, I don’t think, but very often I do become bored with the sound of my own voice. Blah, blah, blah, la.

Each time Hamlet recedes away from not killing Claudius, I wince, because I know I’m doing the same. Of course, I don’t have some evil king’s life in my hands, just my own, yet the outcome is the same. I keep receding and I fear there’ll be a moment when my complacency will become everything but not to the point of the acceptance we hear when he says “The Readiness Is All …” I want to say I’m ready for everything, but something keeps pulling me back.

And that’s my present to you, Mr. Shakespeare. That four hundred years later, a play for which you may have produced many versions, possibly in tribute to your own son, still has the power to make me take a good long look at myself and keep watching, desperate to find some answers. Perhaps the problem is that once Hamlet finds an emotional resolution for himself, death isn’t too far behind. Hopefully, mine won’t take that long. I’m not in the mood for irony either. Chin, chin.

[Published as part of the Happy Birthday Shakespeare celebrations from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which features contributions from dozens of bloggers from across the web. You can track their work at the Happy Birthday Shakespeare website.]

"He awoke to find himself trapped in the past ..."

TV All together now ... "Theorising that one could time travel within his own lifetime ..."

Perhaps we could get Sam to leap back to 1999 and make the film version of Mr. Benn come to pass. 'Twas to feature John Hannah in the title role, with Ben Kingsley as the Shopkeeper [via].

"Rabelaisian bowel movement"

TV Doctor Who Magazine journalist Benjamin Cook has a new website and he's uploaded some his best interviews and articles. Amongst the highlights are the notoriously abrasive Clive Swift interview (“I’m an actor. As soon as you switched that thing on, I’m performing. I think you’ll find that proper journalists know shorthand.”) and this suitably bonkers encounter with Tom Baker:
“The thing about being a Christian is, you’re never alone, because God is everywhere, so you have no privacy. Insane Christians, like the Roman Catholics, believe in angels as well. They walk in a special way – I won’t do it now, it might embarrass you – because they’re dying to go to the lavatory. They’re plucking up the courage, because not only is God in there, but also they’ve got a f***ing angel on their shoulder. It’s difficult to have a spontaneous, Rabelaisian bowel movement with God and an angel watching.”
Just before Doctor Who returned to television, the first official Ninth Doctor (not anymore) was an online animated incarnation with Richard E Grant (still watchable at the BBC website). Ben was there too for the recording:
Richard E Grant arrives. Jim introduces us. “Doctor Who Magazine?” Richard exclaims, as though such a thing is impossible. “A magazine? About Doctor Who?” That’ll be the one. “The show I know nothing about? I have never seen it. I know nothing about it.”

"In case you were under the impression that Richard E Grant is the new Doctor Who, rest assured, he isn’t. Not according to his agent. “He won’t even be wearing the scarf,” she insisted when we spoke on the phone. He just happens to be providing the voice, that’s all. Apparently, Richard doesn’t want to be associated too closely with the role."
It's all worth exploring and a reminder that if you watch Doctor Who, you really should be reading the official magazine.

Is this the same book?

Food Gwyneth has a new cookbook out soon. I know you're all probably rather bored with the whole thing, but:

In the US, the book is called My Father's Daughter and this nice audio interview at npr emphasises the autobiographical element of the enterprise, as she talks, for example, about how her reputation for having a macro-biotic diet, one of Alexis Petridis's comic props, came from an attempt to try and help cure her father's cancer through osmosis.

Now the UK edition, which is called Notes From My Kitchen Table.  Is this the same book?  A glance at the Amazon page suggests that sections have been rewritten and references to her father are nowhere to be seen.  But the cover art has been used to illustrate that npr thing.  They could be the same book.  I've asked Metafilter.

Clearly there's an element of marketing in all books, but I'd be interested to know from food bloggers and people in the industry if there really is that much difference between us and US, if we prefer our cookbooks with a cleaner approach which focuses on the recipes rather than human interest stories.

Which one should I buy?  No, really.

the habitat for so many memories has gone

Liverpool Life Where's this?

It's the crater where the Odeon London Road used to be. The photo was taken last Friday using my obstinate phone which renders everything in this gloomy shade of blue. Having already written a eulogy when the building closed there's little point in me saying much more. I just wanted to mark the moment when the habitat for so many memories has gone.

Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith has died.

TV Well, this has thrown me for a loop. Rumour briefly then confirmed by Doctor Who Magazine. Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith has died.

She was one of us. For a brief moment in the 70s, two Liverpudlians were travelling in the TARDIS and although my first memories of the series are from slightly afterwards, watching some of those adventures later was what led me to become the fan and man I am today.

Viewing Planet of the Spiders this afternoon, I was thinking how great it would be if she and Tom recorded adventures for Big Finish if the BBC agreed. Now, that can never happen.

Some episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures have already been completed. Hopefully they'll be broadcast soon as a fitting tribute.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Touched - the book.

Art The pavement outside the headquarters for Liverpool Biennial is an unlikely setting for an attack of the collywobbles and yet just before I stepped through the glass front in order to pick up a gratefully received review copy of Touched – the book, I had to take several deep nervous breaths. Regular readers will remember that I spent almost the whole of the 2010 festival visiting and writing about the experience on the blog and during that time I’d often wondered what was at the nucleus of all the activity.

I knew that it had to be just a plain, simple administrative office, yet it felt like I was crossing a cultural line of demarcation, revealing something which we’re not meant to see in case it punctures the enigmatic façade which is constructed in the years between the festival bursting out across the city’s venues, exciting and confounding the population. I needn’t have worried; because this is a plain, simple administrative office the enigma was retained.

The book (available online here) is similarly enigmatic, largely ignoring, give or take an interview, the creation of the festival and detailing too strongly the curatorial aims in favour of photographically recording the artwork and essays based on the series of Touched Talks held before and during the festival. If the Biennial catalogue was the introduction to an experiment outlining the aims and research methods, this explains the results and suggests areas for further study.

Like the visual arts section of the festival, the Touched Talks transcribed here are a heady mix of the accessible and the impenetrable. A Philosophy of Fidgets wouldn’t be out of place filling the interval of a live concert on Radio 3, as Steven Connor investigates in minute detail the various forms of fidgeting from hair twirling to doodling, with literary allusions when necessary. I’m an inveterate fidgeter participating in most of the displacement activities described.

Coco Fusco’s Defiant Abjection is a useful investigation into the growing protest movement in Cuba, a country which the writer correctly indicated tends to be viewed through an anglophile prism based on its relationship with the US. Bloggers have been branded cyberterrorists and it’s a much needed reminder that for all free health care and the political reforms announced by the other Catro brother in the past few days, it remains a dictatorship in which free expression is quelled.

Ziauddin Sarder suggests (I think) in his essay on art and religion in the twenty-first century that both are part of an eco-system of intellectual thought and that to marginalize either at the expense of the other, through the encroaching element of modernity in society, “limits our critical faculties”. He’s fighting against plurality of thought; if everyone had the same opinion we’d have nothing to argue about. The problem is, of course, when that argument descends into violence.

When you buy the book, my advice is to approach these essays in much the same way as you probably approached the festival, in short bursts, then consume, then contemplate. They perfectly capture the spirit of the Biennial and the hours I spent with them took me straight back to the golden days of exploring the venues never quite sure what I’d find behind the next corner, at the top of the next set of stairs. I wish now that sometimes the artworks also included as many useful footnotes.

Between the Touched Talks, photographer Mishka Henner has been asked, as Paul Domela explains in his introduction, “to focus on the responses of visitors the exhibition and give us glimpses of how art touched the city”. These are usually faces locked in concentration either on the artwork or their mobile phone photographing the artwork, human and digital memory capturing the installations and paintings for later recall which is apt considering the aims of the book.

Humanity still sneaks into the exhibition section which inhabits the larger proportion of the pagination usually in the public realm or to demonstrate the reaction to interactive elements. The experience of flicking through these photographs by Thierry Bal is rather like finding holiday photos from a distant holiday, a flood of memories with each turn of the page and because many have been taken at night there’s also a sense of still being an interloper into private moments.

The Biennial space at Rapid Hardware no longer exists in actuality and yet here it’s remembered and to some extent mourned now that it’s becoming integrated into the usual mass of urban renewal, a Sainsbury’s opening were once stood a garden shed containing a rather good café and shop. The A Foundation has also sadly gone now too of course, but if we close our eyes we can probably still hear the sound of scissors cutting which resonated between its echoing walls.

Even after visiting and writing about the experience on the blog for all of those weeks, I never did quite feel as though I’d completely taken advantage of everything that was on offer having missed most of the talks, and though they’re available on the Biennial website, these transcripts have allowed me to give them due attention with photographs which perfectly capture everything else. Touched – the book is a much needed full stop on the Liverpool Biennial 2010 experience.

Touched - the book is published by Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art.£22.50. ISBN: 978-0-9536761-9-4. Review copy supplied.

Presumably singing.

Radio Easily missable in the hinterland that is the back of the Radio Times is news of Easter Sunday's Drama on Radio 3:
Kafka the Musical
Sunday, 20:00 on BBC Radio 3

Murray Gold's new play starts from the suitably Kafkaesque premise that Franz Kafka finds he has to play himself in a musical about his own life. The play - or is it the musical? - introduces Kafka and the audience to some of the key characters in his life, Milena Jesenska, Dora Diamant and Felice Bauer.
Starring Mr. David Tennant as Mr. Franz Kafka.  Presumably singing. Which is you'll agree very exciting.  Except, what's this?
Sunday, 21:00 on BBC Two

Drama based on the true story of Manchester United's legendary Busby Babes, the youngest side ever to win the Football League, and the 1958 Munich air crash that claimed eight of their number. The film draws on first-hand interviews with the survivors and their families to tell the inspirational story of a team and community overcoming terrible tragedy.
Starring Mr. David Tennant as Mr. Jimmy Murphy. Written by Chris Chibnall. Directed by James Strong.

This is one of those occasions when the people who schedule the television need to talk to the people who schedule the radio so that the people who have the single tuner Freeview+ box don't have to make impossible decisions about which channel to record.  Kafka the Musical it is then ...

The final episode of the first series, The Parting of the Ways

TV The final episode of the first series, The Parting of the Ways and the final reposted review, well not so much a review but aptly as you'll read, something akin to religious fervour, a kind of affirmation of belief.  It's been quite poigniant for me to re-read this old reviews written whilst I was still working at Liverpool Direct and waiting to see if my application for university at Manchester had been accepted.  For all that learnin' my style hasn't changed that much, it's still a bit rangy, raggedy and unsctructured but I think I captured the essence of the story.  The subheadings are my typical stand-bye when it's eleven o'clock on a Saturday night and I've spent the past three hours just writing stuff.  I still do that sometimes.

Torchwood hadn't yet been announced so I assume Jack will be back for Season Two of the main series.  I'm also still bitter that the regeneration wasn't a proper surprise thanks to tabloid whose whole existence seems to be to spoil it for everyone.  The BBC Press Office is older and wiser now too.  It's been explained to us in the meantime that Eccleston didn't quit Doctor Who -- he only ever signed for a single series as a favour to Russell T Davies.  He did have second thoughts late into the shoot but it was too late.  David Tennant relates the rest in his Desert Island Discs episode, how he was asked about taking over before the series had even been broadcast, after watching a preview of an episode and how it wasn't something he could ever turn down.  Good for him.

"The fans are going to hate this ..."

I've said this a few times during the series and and I said it again tonight. It's an odd thing to say since it suggests I'm not a fan, but I really am. I have two shelving units filled with videos, dvds, cds and books graphically demonstrating this. But what I think it means is the hardcores. The ones who consider themselves the self appointed rulers of what's right and wrong in the series. Those who decried the brilliantly romantic moment at the end of the TV movie, the loss of the half hour episodic format, the casting of Billie Piper. What Russell T Davies has done throughout this series is largely and cleverly ignored what they think. To play to them would be to return to the series we were stuck with during the mid-Eighties when continuity was slowly throttling good story telling. Tonight's episode exemplified the Davies approach. Produced something which plays to the fans but also creates new fans. Tosses out the continuity without disregarding it.

But he also did something else. He gave it heart. I was always afraid that if you threw money at the premise it wouldn't work, that it wouldn't be the same. Thank god I was so wrong, and so right. The Parting of the Ways looked like a feature film, told an big epic global, galactic story but at its heart were themes of people, loyalty, morality and lord help us, religion. It didn't dump the essential elements while it was throwing thousands of Daleks at the screen. Davies did everything you'd want in the final episode (and in fact followed a clear model set down by new genre pioneer Joss Whedon). Produce it like it's your last, throw everything at it, but importantly underpin and underline the architypes of the series and underscore everything you've been trying to accomplish. Rose saves the world in the end, because that's what she's been doing all series, and yet The Doctor is still the saviour of the universe because he inspires it of her, just as he inspired everyone from Gwyneth to Cathica. Through selflessness in words and actions. The Doctor of old had the arrogance that no one but he could win the day - this Doctor believed that everyone had that capacity. It was just a case of giving them enough room to breath and showing them the way.

"Oh my god, they've killed off Jack ..."

Like the rest of the series this just kept hitting me at a gut level. Scene after scene mattered, contributing to the arc of the series, the plot of the episode, the story of the character. We found out what the Bad Wolf was (a time paradox and red herring rolled into one) and we saw The Doctor finally put his personal demons to rest. We got to see one of the best man vs. Dalek battles in the show's history and saw why they are the deadliest of foes. Taking the ideas of the Dalek episode -- the giving of an ounce of humanity to the pepperpot -- and then twisting it and darkening it. Not just loathing the universe but also loathing themselves. The design of Emperor Dalek was a great choice too, as this God created its race in its own image. We saw also that in fact it's not just The Doctor who had regenerated, Rose had too -- complete with that mess of amnesia afterwards -- she's seen too much to go back to her old life now.

But for all the writing (and this may have been Davies' best script of the series) I don't think the acting has ever been this good. In the Confidential documentary afterwards, Eccleston said that he couldn't internalise the character, that we were effectively seeing on screen was his reaction to the words and how they should be played -- it showed and it was exactly what the part called for, which sort of demonstrates what a great actor he is. Despite his epic lifespan, The Doctor has always been about how others see him and that's exactly how he appeared tonight. Is Rose Tyler the best companion we've had? It depends on your definition. But I tell you -- I don't know who else was up for the role but I can't imagine anyone else playing her. Billie Piper has simply been a dream throughout the series, funny and sad and tragic. And knowing. It's also to John Barrowman's credit that he's not felt like an interloper, although Captain Jack's been a good character -- it'll be interesting to see in Season Two if he feels discruntled about being left behinds and drifts off into his old ways.

I've written before about how it's difficult with some television to see the gaps between the director, the cameraman and the editor. It's a collaborative medium. Would this episode look and feel much different if James Hawes instead of Joe Ahearne had been the director? I don't think I'm clever enough to tell. What I will say is this. Of all the episodes this was the one which felt most consistently paced, visceral and deeply emotional. Characters seemed less like a bunch of words (cf, Aliens of London) and more like people. And again we saw the same values here as we'd seen throughout most of the series -- straight down the line drama and comedy without decending into camp. It believed in what it was doing and so we believed in it too.

"But ... he's regenerating. No. Noooo .... What! What! Hang on -- who's he going to be? Are we going to get to see it or is that the cliffhanger? We are going to see who it is ... fuck me, it's David Tennant ... Casanova's in the Tardis ..."

One of these days I'm going to build a time machine. Granted I took the arts stream at school so I did Fine Art GCSE when I could have been doing Physics, but hopefully I've got a good sixty years left on the planet so that should be just enough time to go back to school, do Physics and Chemistry and Biology as well, head off through A-Levels, get myself a degree in Quantum Physics, a PHd, a place in a great research institute, a team of mechanics and a billionare I can convince to finance a development project to build the first time machine. At the age of fifty (because I'm in this for the long game) I'm going to strap myself into that extraordinary machine, flip the switch and head back in time back to this year. I'm going to get a job in the press office of the BBC and make sure I'm on duty one night in early April, so that when I see that a tabloid is going to print a story saying that Christoper Eccleston is going to quit Doctor Who, the last thing we do is confirm the bloody story. That way, this younger version of me can be shouting the words above at the screen as the latest series comes to a close instead of wondering what the experience would have been like.

"I'm still buzzing..."

The fact that it's hours since the episode aired and I'm still buzzing shows the achievement of the piece. I'm a cynical sausage really, but this is something else. This is about piling all your hopes and dreams into something and for once it actually works. You don't have to be making allowances and rationalisations because something just isn't as good as you were expecting. Refreshingly I can actually say that this is a show I'm proud to be a fan of and have all this history with. That I haven't been wasting my time as I saw it grow to fulfil its ultimate potential. And it's not over yet -- we'll still be watching this into 2007. I've said this once before and I think I'll say it again.

"He's back. He's bloody back. Bless him ..."

"mere peace-keeping force"

TV TrekMovie has extracts from Bryan Singer's pitch document for his revival of Star Trek as a tv series in 2006. It's a continuation rather than a reboot, plunging the Federation into a rather bleak future:
"Earth’s Humans have become "fat and happy" but this has led to complacency where humans are "giving up exploration for incremental colonization and focusing more on the rightness of their own cultural view over all others"  Many younger members of the UFP have left, eschewing this "human-centric" Federation.


Starfleet has been reduced to a "mere peace-keeping force" protecting fringe worlds from aliens and from fighting each other, with starships that are old and spread out too thin."
The idea was to more specifically reference a latter day Roman Empire in a series which follows the new storytelling structures of nu-BSG and The West Wing. There are a few good ideas; one of the characters is called The 76th Distillation of Blue which has nu-Who written all over it and the ship's sentient computer is named M.A.J.E.L. which is a nice kiss to the past.

Mostly it's a horrible attempt at turning Star Trek into something it's not.  The portrayal of religious belief is heavy handed and the initial storylines lost me at "the obelisk". Star Trek's had its fair share of Big Dumb Objects in its time but in the best stories they've always been a mcguffin. In this version they are the story.  Luckily, it didn't reach the point of being looked at by anyone with the powers of decision making.

scoffed at the gameshows when Bad Wolf was broadcast

Oh how some of us scoffed at the gameshows when Bad Wolf was broadcast in 2005. There’s no way Big Brother and The Weakest Link would exist in the year 20,100 let alone next year! In five years isn’t all going to look horrendously twee and anachronistic? Well, we were wrong. Despite having offered what looked like a definitive full stop last year, Big Brother’s been signed by Channel Five for another spirit crushing few rounds of celebs and norms and the daily ritual of the AnnDroid insulting peroxides continues unabated every evening at 5:15. Only Trinny and Suzanna have been relegated to the satirising themselves on the web, though the thrust of their work has arguably migrated the Gok Wan, which probably wouldn’t matter one jot to Captain Jack. How did this happen? Perhaps it’s a reverse of the Blade Runner curse and having appeared on Doctor Who, the shows will now just run and run, the affectionate observations about each, still funny now, looking increasingly as hollow as the joke about Daleks not being able to go upstairs. Eventually one of Anne Robinson’s grandchildren will take over and within fifty years a rudimentary AnnDroid. On Big Brother channels will proliferate filled with live streams of rival households. Make over shows won’t just create a new look, they’ll create very new look, new face, new body, new gender, new surrealism. As a small group of academics huddle together on a desert island somewhere desperately maintaining storage of their collection of classical music, paintings and literature as the resource crisis hits, the rest of humanity will roughly split between those making television and those appearing on television, all fed intravenously lest the need to mingle some spices for a curry or source some produce to create the perfect pastry ignites their intellectual curiosity. And so it continues for millennia until the literal island of culture has fallen into the sea and the works of Shakespeare, Gormley and Dylan are lost to the oily waves which doesn’t matter because by then humanity has lost the capacity to properly construct anything leaving all of that complicated stuff to the machines, wondering instead if Brandon 45k will floup off with Marla 3 in Big Brother 234,000 and so the real world will reach parity with the dystopian horror presented in Bad Wolf. About the only thing we’d find worth watching will be Doctor Who itself, but even that’s gone off with a new incarnation who professes to be half clone on his uncle’s side and wears a toupee to cover up his bald patch, the stories themselves reaching their formulaic zenith as the Doctor once again travelling into a past when there were only a couple of hundred simultaneous Big Brothers to fight the Master who once again has a plan to disrupt the gameplay. So watchable in the very loosest of senses. If you think this is a very long paragraph, what you’re really seeing is my paranoia writ large, partly developing from the fact Doctor Who’s next opening episode has been shunting back once again to make way for a dancing programme but mostly from the recently announced arts cuts. About the only scintilla of hope we have is that Doctor Who’s still on at all and we’re able to look back affectionate nu-Who’s early beginnings. Russell’s ability to create sympathetic characters from just a few lines is illustrated throughout. Lynda with a Y might well be a walking contrast for how far Rose has developed, but she’s also a loveable character in her own right (Jo Joyner's sweet indeed), and it’s simply heartbreaking when she flat out asks the Doctor if he’ll take her with him and he promises to get her out alive because we know from experience that neither of those will be allowed to happen. But Martha Cope as the controller offers one of my favourite performance of the first year, communicating the desperation of having spent her whole life covered in USB plugs, her sense of self relegated to the infrequent sun spots and a rare occasion when extermination offers a blessed relief from life. That’s closely followed by the best cliffhanger of the series, simply because it’s not really a cliffhanger, it’s an ultimatum and a moment when the audience for once takes the Dalek’s POV as we watch Eccleston give the line that makes all of the Big Brother references worthwhile. How giddy must Davina McCall have been to see the Doctor says “Rose, I’m coming to get you …”

Updated 23/4/2011 Anne Robinson becomes the saviour of humanity and quits The Weakest Link. Kroll be praised.

Boomtown seemed like the nil plus ultra of filler episodes

TV “Filler” is often used disparagingly to describe those episodes in television series that bridge the gap between instalments that develop an arc story or offer major character development, episodes which the general viewer should be able to skip without missing anything important or at least anything which can’t easily be explained with a couple of lines of dialogue later. The very idea of "filler" is so feared that one of the reasons Steven Moffat gave for splitting up series six was that it would mean there’d be less “filler” more event episodes.

Once upon a time, Boomtown seemed like the nil plus ultra of filler episodes, interesting for all the moral discussions over the dinner table and tourist board massaging Cardiff scenery but not of great social import, especially when the next episode was reported to be the question answering Bad Wolf (weren't we naive). Russell T Davies even revealed in Doctor Who Magazine that it was a rush job, literally filling in a gap left by a cancelled early Pompeii episode and a Paul Abbot story revealing that Rose was originally constructed by the Doctor to be his perfect companion. Or something.

Yet Boomtown is different. Boomtown has become one of the franchises most important episodes the effects of which are still being dealt with. It’s a filler episode which has retrospectively, at least in franchise terms, became an instalment that develops an arc story or offers major character development. There’s at least one of these per series, I think, though as the “arc” stories have developed, increased in density, you could argue that there aren’t any real filler episodes, that Moffat needs to be more confident in his work.

It’s the episode in which Noel Clarke has a much better idea of how Mickey should be played, bewildered and love sick, if a bit inconsistent. It is a bit rich that having refused to travel with the Doctor, he’s pretending that Rose ran off and left him, but speaking as someone who’s been there, he perfectly captures the mixed emotions of being excited for a friend who’s been enjoying exciting adventures that you’ll never have. When he steps off into the night at the close of the episodes, he’s beginning the long road to The End of Time and a Mickey seeking his own excitement.

It's an episode that for the first time directly references one of the accompanying spin-off novels. When Rose says Justicia, as well as demonstrating how its supposed to be pronounced, she's also plunging the new series directly into the canonicity debate as she's clearly remembering the events of The Monster Inside, parts of which would also later be referenced in The Sarah Jane Adventures. In one of his columns for Doctor Who Magazine, Russell T Davies suggested their were BBC charter rules against this sort of thing, but obviously there's an exception for cheap tricks.

It's an episode that for the first time were for the fisrt time the Doctor and Rose consciously notice the appearance of the words Bad Wolf. Their dismissal is delicious, but I've never quite understood why Rose needs the Welsh translating. Should the TARDIS circuits be doing that for her, and in the conventions of the series, us as well? Shouldn't every bilingual sign in Wales have the same words written twice in English, from the notice board in the station to the banner on the wall of the town hall? Rwy'n gwybod pigo, pigo, pigo ...

But it’s also the episode which led to the first series of Torchwood. Not a secret pilot by any means, the T word wouldn’t be first used until Bad Wolf (an answer during The Weakest Link), but there are still loads of parallels, not least in structure. Like plenty of Torchwood episodes, Boomtown opens with the introduction of the visiting alien (Margaret) or technology (the extrapolator) or in this case both and after an initial burst of excitement the episode becomes a slow burn investigation into the ethical consequences before the alien or technology bites back for an exciting climax.

It’s impossible to watch Boomtown now without thinking about the Torchwood base beneath the floor, of Captain Jack and co keeping shtum inside lest damage be done to the timeline. No wonder the later Jack is grumpy, seeing his tiggerish younger version and the Doctor he’s waiting for at too early a moment. I always imagine the five of them emerging to the cracked decking and explosions with Suzie, Tosh and Owen not entirely sure why their leader trapped them in the cells while the rift opened and creating a major catastrophe. With Gwen and Andy elsewhere directing traffic.

Which isn’t to say it’s a great episode by any means. Like plenty of those early Torchwood’s the final jeopardy happens because of the avarice and stupidity of the main character, in this case the rush to employ some dodgy technology to speed up a process that would work just fine with a little bit of patience, the destruction of the world nearly brought about because the TARDIS team want to shave a few hours from the charging process. At the very least, the people of Cardiff are going to have to foot the bill for the clean up, their council tax skyrocketing during a credit crunch.

The resolution is opportunistic too. As Neil from Behind The Sofa argued back in the day, it’s about as convincing as the renewal nonsense at the climax of the TV movie which as he rightly predicted was used for much the same purpose at the close of the first series. It’s a cheat so that we don’t see Margaret being led to her execution which is odd since Jackie and Mickey have already slaughtered one of her kind this series, the latter still probably trying to clean the oily entrails from his jeans. Boomtown is influential then, but not always for the right reasons.