the kind of living conditions which don’t lend themselves to excellent hygiene

"Big huge pirate ship ... that's a win."
"Welcome to Doctor Who doing pirates."
"It's got pirates. Double win."
"Hugh Bonneville is amazing."
"We've got Lily Cole which is a bit of a coup."
"Watch out for Amy with a sword, that's all I'm gonna say..."

TV Say what you like about the often padtastic Doctor Who Confidential but tonight, once Matt had frightened the kids half to death by talking to them through the lens breaking the fourth wall for the first time since Attack of the Graske and basically telling them to be as creative as possible in three minutes or something bad will happen (like Chris Chibnall’ll writing another script for the series instead perhaps), they (they being Karen and Arthur and the editor) managed to offer as good a review of The Curse of the Black Spot in forty-five words as I'm about to offer in the next thousand.

For a genre magpie that tends to be quite comfortable nesting in other narrative styles, Doctor Who’s rarely pitched up on the decks of ships amongst sea dogs. Space pirates have notoriously been a staple (The Space Pirates, Enlightenment, The Infinite Quest, The Pirate Loop) but its been a time and relative stranger to the Robert Louis Stevenson paradigm with (I think) only the 60s historical The Smugglers in the tv series and the Big Finish audio Doctor Who and the Pirates as prominent adventures, with the latter more interested in allowing Colin the chance to give it a bit of the Gilbert and Sullivans. Not cockney rhyming slang by the way. The man sings. Maidenhead 1, Cardiff 0.

So it was fairly inevitable that nuWho would hoist the main brace at some point, especially with Pirates of the Caribbean at the cinemas but typically this was a more literary reading with, as Confidential noted later, the treasure, the small boy stowaway, the mermaid and I’m noting the Captain calling his crew dogs, barrels and the kind of living conditions which don’t lend themselves to excellent hygiene or as Ween sing, Don’t Shit Where You Eat, although they may have been singing about something else which is probably more applicable to the Tennant years but I digress. Where was I? Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Yes, right, pirates, plank walking.

Walking into the past because this was a semi-prequel to The Smugglers which depicted the search for the gold Avery left behind. Surprisingly, the episode didn’t make more of this though given the story is missing from the archives and only available in audio form (until BBC Books reprint Terry’s Target novelisation) that’s probably to the good. It’s one thing to educate kids new to the franchise about pirates with dubious morals, quite another to scare them with horrific tales of episodes being skipped and burned, some visuals only surviving in Australian censor clips which ironically are less enthusiastic than anything in this episode.

Because this is really good fun, tick boxing all the elements of the genre off the list, and Karen does indeed look very fetching in the pirate get up over her Angela Chase shirt. With yes, a sword.  Look, she's swinging!  Swinging! Then as the episode goes about the business of transmuting into a Doctor Who story, a good old fashioned bit of base under siege business, the pirate elements receding in favour of the sci-fi, writer Stephen Thompson almost seems to be turning the format of the old historicals inside out, so that instead of the Doctor, his blue box and his entourage being the sole fantasy element in a period setting, Bonneville’s Captain and ultimately his crew incongruously steering the spaceship.

The problem is, and unfortunately for The Curse of the Black Spot it’s not really it’s fault, I would much rather have been watching next week’s episode. Slotted between the season opener and The Doctor’s Wife, it’s in the inauspicious position of being a true filler episode, flexible enough indeed to be swapped with another one in the next tranch of episodes due to be published later in the year. In a show which is now priding itself on the number of “event” stories it can cram in, that’s a problem because it means that perfectly entertaining fare like The Curse of the Black Spot can seem even less consequential somehow.

Indeed, under the original schedule, The Doctor’s Wife, with its Doctor Who Magazine cover and teasing preview was in this slot and while you can understand Cardiff’s need to stretch out the audience’s expectations for another week it does rather mean that no matter how much Boneville is emoting (in his second Doctor Who role incidentally) and his is a beautifully layered performance exploring just why a man apparently capable in spirit to be a well loved family man would turn to piracy, you wish he was Suranne Jones revealing who her old friend with a new face is (at this point I’m guessing Romana, her whole spin-off mythology crumbling to dust).

This is one of the dangers of sneaking over into a stricter sense of a story arc, there will always be the odd episode that doesn’t really contribute to the overall story, other than to restate some of the jeopardy, and without the shorthand of a crack this time, now it’s Francis Barber's walking convention anecdote saying something creepy through a hatch which may only be in Amy’s mind and suggests this is all a dream anyway, Rory reminding Amy that she can’t tell the Doctor that the future version of himself and her Schrödinger's womb (which isn’t as funny as the rhyme which cropped up on twitter in the week but is more factually correct) (ish).

Of course it’s entirely possible that like Boomtown, which as I noted a few weeks ago seemed like the nil plus ultra of filler episodes until it turned out to be what amounted to a secret pilot for Torchwood, The Curse of the Black Spot will turn out to be an idea Steven Moffat’s been working on for years and once Merlin is wound up we’ll have the adventures of real sea dogs in space, Hugh Bonneville leading a band of scurvies as they pillage the Whoniverse with their beautiful holographic medic patching them up at the close of each mission, nuWho’s own Blake’s 7 with a Treasure Planet vibe.

But that’s unlikely. So instead let’s just enjoy it for all its incidental pleasures. The regular cast, Matt so attuned to his Doctor now he doesn’t just say the words, he feels them, not just commenting on how comfortable Freud’s couch is, demonstrating, enjoying the memory even as the mayhem continues around him. The guest cast, Lily Cole who is cornering the market on enigmatic waifs and whose otherworldly features which have made her so beloved by the fashion industry work perfectly within the fairy tale imaginarium that’s been created by Moffat, the franchise’s own Doctor Parnassus.

The combination of make-up and digital effects used to bring Cole’s mermaid to life evoke Victorian paintings especially Waterhouse and Grimshaw actually, whose Sprit of the Night I have on the wall above my desk and similarly depicts a green hewed sprite in the business of bewitching. I don’t remember it being explained in the episode why this emergency medical hologram has to enchant her patients though [several readers later: "It's an anaesthetic!" "Thanks!"]. Perhaps we’re meant to believe that as part of the programme, the medic had to also select the best way to grab the patient’s attention and this old legend is as good as any [me later: and far less brutal than a punch in the face or a gassing].  We were sadly denied the sapphic delight of Amy falling under her spell though. Ahem.

About the only sticking point of the episode (other than the sudden disappearance of a pirate from locked room -- someone call Jonathan Creek) (or Sherlock) is this climax; you might expect an show with pirates to conclude with those pirates fighting aliens but instead we had another of nu-Who forays into medical science, and in this case the potential death of Rory again which is turning into the narrative equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. Still the the production design of the ward did impress, influenced as it was surely by the poster for Michael Crichton’s film Coma with its patients suspended from the ceiling, albeit in this case with beds to keep the actors comfortable (in the film they’re magically if uncomfortably suspended in the air).

Ultimately, there have been worse filler episodes (Fear Her) and this was well worth the Doctor’s conscious detour from investigating the identity of the little girl. Sometimes it’s good that the television show essentially enters the territory of the spin-off fiction if only because it allows some nice gaps for that spin-off fiction to inhabit and reminds us of its core values.  Unfortunately, we’re all like Captain Avery desperate to grab the shinier treasures, the crowning achievements, when the thing that really matters is right in front of us, his son Toby for him, exciting adventures in space and time for us.  Perhaps we too need a change in priorities.

Next Week:  Who is she?  WHO IS SHE?

“The metropolis has never lost its thrill for me”

Geography Sometimes it's difficult for some of us to comprehend just how an ordinary citizen had sense of what the unvarnished city looked like before the moving image, before the web, before blogging, before even all of this new fangled social networking malarky, especially between unsurmountable distances. For a period, Odd McIntyre was as the Smithsonian suggests, "the man who taught America about new York":
McIntyre’s most devoted audience was small-town America, where readers saw him as a local boy turned foreign correspondent, reporting from an exotic, faraway place. He referred to his daily column as “the letter,” and its tone often resembled a note to the folks back home. “[T]he metropolis has never lost its thrill for me,” he once wrote. “Things the ordinary New Yorker accepts casually are my dish—the telescope man on the curb, the Bowery lodging houses and drifters, chorus girls, gunmen,” as well as “speakeasies on side streets, fake jewelry auction sales, cafeterias, chop houses, antique shops, $5 hair bobbing parlors—in short all the things we didn’t have in our town.”
Alistair Cooke would later, of course, be the man who taught the rest of us.

As you know, I'm a waiverer.

Life I'm tired and angry and, well, all the emotions I usually feel after an election in this country. Sensing the temperature and not wanting to lose a day's holiday from my typical employment, I stayed away from my usual work as a poll clerk yesterday. Sure enough, as expected Lib Dem Paul Clein was booted from our Lib Dem seat by Labour's Laura Robertson-Collins whose campaign literature largely stressed Westminster issues which seems to have been the winning strategy employed across the country.  Thankfully his wife, Jan, is still an incumbent for a little bit longer so we may yet see the potholes around Sefton Park repaired, a topic for which we receive near weekly update letters and we have to listen to taxi drivers vitriol about whenever they're in the area.

The Daily Post's David Bartlett has an excellent summary of the local picture. A shorter version would be that the Lib Dems have gone from being the heroes who brought about the regeneration of Liverpool and attracted the Capital of Culture year to zeros thanks to some bizarre behaviour from some members of the local party and the PR disaster area that is the national party.  As you know, I'm a waiverer.  I still voted Lib Dem locally to make the point that local and national politics are separate but it's still going to take a lot to convince me to return to the Westminster party.  Whilst I can see some of the benefits, some of the cuts which are being waved through especially in the arts are still very poorly thought through and don't seem very "liberal" to me in that it seems to be the smallest outlay, greatest benefit systems which have been hit hardest.

The result of the referendum was a foregone conclusion though it's still disappointing that yet again the population, or rather the percentage of the population who bothered to go out and vote, didn't have the foresight or even the ability to understand what was being offered to them and the consequences of saying no.  Fear,  ignorance and short term thinking have won through again  Well thanks everyone (not you of course, I mean everyone else).  You've condemned us to another generation of the main two parties dictating political discourse in the kind of situation the monopolies commission would stamp right out if it was between two commercial companies even more so now that the Tories have effectively done to the Lib Dems what Arriva and Stagecoach have done to smaller bus companies.  Absorb and annihilate.

Vote Yes to AV tomorrow. Please.

Shakespeare on the subway

Gothamist reports:
You can typically find "Popeye and Cloudy" (the name the two-man troupe goes by) on the J, M, Z, N, R and L trains [in New York]. According to PSFK, they perform around 20 hours every week (since January) and earn up to $20 per performance."
They included a clip from R&J but I thought this segment a bit more relevant. They're unphased by the environment even when passengers are walking through the carriage and remind me of the actors and actresses who similarly put on guerilla performances in Stratford, in and around the birthplace.

a whole new generation emerged in the Middle East

Life You've probably read this -- the thing already has over five hundred comments -- but just in case. After noting myself on Twitter after this week's events that Adam Curtis could make a fourth episode of The Power of Nightmares to bring his narrative up to date, he's written a column for The Guardian which does much the same:
"As journalists and Predator drones searched for the different al-Qaida "brands" across the regions, and America propped up dictators who promised to fight the "terror network", a whole new generation emerged in the Middle East who wanted to get rid of the dictators. The revolutions that this led to came as a complete shock to the west. We have no idea, really, who the revolutionaries are or what, if any, ideologies are driving them. But it is becoming abundantly clear that they have nothing to do with "al-Qaida". Yet ironically they are achieving one of Bin Laden's main goals – to get rid of the "near enemy", dictators such as Hosni Mubarak."
It's not every day that first words out my mouth in the morning are "Oh, fuck..." but that's how I began my Monday.

Yesterday as I read the record of events (or record of events as they were known then) and commentary, I was quite ambivalent, perhaps having lately convinced myself that everything we're told even by journalists is essentially different degrees of fiction, often because they can't help it, but often even though they can, and that so-called non-fiction still has it's own narrative design.

Which contrasts with my reaction to 9/11, when I could barely function emotionally for nearly a fortnight despite not being directly connected to it in any way other having watched it on television and being unable to comprehend once again what humanity is capable of doing to itself.  As I said here at the time:
"The bus to the station was deathly quiet again this morning. Apart from a baby crying. It is getting easier to live now, although everything is still in the back of my mind. I simply can't understand why this has affected me, whilst my co-workers and people I see about seem to be able to get on with their lives efficiently. My Mum said it was because of 'The way you are.' I wonder what that means. I think I'm mostly filled with forboding about the days and months ahead. Even in Liverpool this will never go away -- everyone is connected somehow. I was one of the few to volunteer to take calls tomorrow during the three minutes silence, for those who don't want to respect it (although I can't imagine who). I think the thing which will stand after this is 'persepective'. Suddenly, all of the little niggling things which seemed really important on Monday just don't seem to matter now. It occured to me earlier I haven't listened to any music since Tuesday morning. I should go do that."
I was working at the RBS credit card centre then.  There were no calls during those three minutes anyway.

"Let's get it on ..."

TV Amazing stuff from TV Cream. Where the hell is that clip of Colin talking about Chuckie Egg from? It's not Lust In Space is it?


Art Liverpool’s first International Photography Festival, Look11, opens 13 May until 26 June. A press release:
This spring, Liverpool will host the city’s first International Photography Festival, the largest in the North West. Featuring work by photographers including Simon Barber, Paul Trevor, John Davies, Ian Berry, Lisa Bernard and Mohamed Bourouissa.

Look11 will see work featured at Liverpool’s arts venues, including National Museums Liverpool, FACT, C.U.C, the bluecoat, LJMU, Tate Liverpool, RIBA and others.

The city-wide festival will explore photography and it features two key strands.

The first is a ‘call to action’. Sitting alongside Liverpool’s theme for 2011 ‘City of Radicals’, explores photography’s role in social justice, its ability as a tool to capture and present the world us to affect personal, political and social understandings.

Through the Capture Liverpool competition and by engaging with blogs, forums and social networks, Look11 invites members of the public to pick up a camera and photograph the city for themselves.
Key themes and exhibitions posted below:

to scoop up extra bums for seats

Film Andrew Collins writes about filling in for Mark Kermode or not. It's a useful curtain sneak into the life of the modern film critic, not least how they have to watch films:
"Here how it works. The film companies screen all the week’s new releases on a Monday, traditionally. The national newspaper film critics attend those screenings on a Monday, sometimes a Tuesday, and file their copy in readiness for Friday, Saturday or Sunday depending on their paper. Most weeks there are about ten new films, released on a Friday, with the inevitable blockbuster that comes out on the Wednesday, to scoop up extra bums for seats and steal a march on that week’s box office chart. When, as happened two weeks ago, a Tuesday night screening is cancelled, and rescheduled for the following night, a review of that film (Scream 4) did not appear in that Sunday’s Culture section, due to its long lead-time. You can see how important the Monday and Tuesday NPS’s (national press screenings) are."
No wonder some reviews seem rather mean spirited; there have to be some weeks when the critic just simply isn't in the mood and no matter how hard, professionally, they try not to let it be reflected in the text, I know from my amateur experience it's almost impossible.

Tubular Bells by the Brooklyn Organ Synth Orchestra

Music The subtitles are what make the difference in this addictive video. They work rather like the explanatory text in Don Roos's film Happy Endings which convey exposition information which simply couldn't be included in the dialogue. Well, either that or Network 7 [via].

one of those irregular delurking posts

About I've added a new commenting system to the blog which integrates exciting social networking opportunities bringing it bang up date.

Sorry, bringing it bang up to 2008.

Seems like the perfect opportunity to have one of those irregular delurking posts.

Hello, how are you and mores to the point, who are you?

Leave a comment.

the Kryptonian has concerns

That Day US Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee comments on Superman #900 (in which the Kryptonian has concerns about representing his adopted home) written by our very own (meaning Doctor Who fan and often writer) Paul Cornell. Which is fairly surreal. We await Huckabee's thoughts on the Human Nature canonicity debate with great interest.

Letters: "Still Dreaming"

Dear Stuart:

I wanted to let you know about a new Shakespeare documentary we are developing called "Still Dreaming". The film follows a group of entertainment retirees as they bravely mount A Midsummer Night's Dream. Set at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, this troupe has decided to act on their collective love of Shakespeare and take a huge leap of faith into what was once known, but is now so seemingly treacherous. And we can't wait to see what happens.

If you'd like to view some scenes from the film, please go to, or click on the widget below. We also have a Facebook page at

The film is a follow-up to our award-winning film "Shakespeare Behind Bars", about Shakespeare being done in a Kentucky prison. For more background info on that film, you can check out, but to view the trailer, click here:

And for bios for me and my partner Jilann Spitzmiller, go to

Best regards,

Hank Rogerson
"Still Dreaming"

Still Dreaming IndieGoGo Trailer from Hank Rogerson on Vimeo.

"Remember, the Rebellion is in hiding."

Film Topless Robot offers ten disturbing questions raised by the original Star Tours:
"Tour groups bring in a diverse group of people, so the odds that some of the passengers on Star Tours are pro-Empire are very good. Having different political views is one thing; actively taking part in an attack on the largest government battleship in the universe is another. Remember, the Rebellion is in hiding. The whole beginning of Empire is them trying not be found out while they're on Hoth, otherwise they'll be massacred by AT-ATs. If anyone on the tour to Endor wasn't allied with the Rebellion, they'd be calling the authorities ASAP once they touched down. "Those rebels you've been searching for? Would you believe it, they're running a goddam tour company."
The post includes a POV video of the actual ride in which part of the fun is obviously in the hydraulics. It's worth watching for the sound of the "audience" who are clearly having a brilliant time. Saves us a plane fare too.

Patrick Stewart flowers at the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations