even the works of Pip & Jane and Peter R. Newman

TV Yeah, that was rubbish.

When I reviewed last week’s opening episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, some readers mistook my general LOLing as an indication that I was more positive about the episode than I probably was in real life. Actually, I saw dangers but decided that since this was the opening episode, since Russell etc were working in a new idiom and since let's face it anything set in the Doctor Who universe is worth giving the benefit of the doubt (even the works of Pip & Jane and Peter R. Newman if you’re being particularly mean spirited) I’d just treat it in good humour and hope it all worked out.

We should still perhaps be in cautious welcome mode. Next week’s episode is by genre wunderkind Jane Espenson after all. Every series has a blip. But after an admittedly exciting first episode, Doris Egan’s Rendition took something of a nose-dive and not the one you would have expected to happen on the plane having been slashing about in its innards with a knife and in a way which drags us right back into the Doctor Who franchise’s roots and those stories in which we’re essentially spending whole episodes waiting for our heroes to interact with the main story.

Because that’s the main problem with Rendition. Having (re)introduced Torchwood, Russell etc saw fit to have them handcuffed on a plane for much of the episode and although the flight was fraught with incident, Gwen’s desperate Macgyvering of a cure for Jack’s poisoning which was presumably meant to parallel Oswald’s non-execution in the previous episode, Barrowman’s unusual pronunciation of hegemony, the flight crew that had wandered in from The High Life and Dollhouse's Dichen Lachman’s idiosyncratic performance most new viewers might wonder what the fuss was about.

You could argue that like Children of Earth, the story's slowly developing amongst an ensemble of characters but it feels wrong to me that Jack and Gwen should be sidelined at this early stage even in a series being co-produced with a different network that presumably has its own casting requirements. Indeed the only times the episode really snaps back into focus, feels like Torchwood rather than a ScyFy tv movie of the night, is in these plane scenes (despite the inertia) with Eve Myles shouting at full throttle and punching people in the face (in a moment sadly spoiled by traileritis).

It's also structurally mechanical since obviously the reason Russell etc are keeping Jack and Gwen away from the world during this period is because as soon as they come into contact with any of the research into the "miracle", by dint of their experience it would be implausible for them not to have a clue what's going on.  It's a perennial problem with Who in general and one of the reasons the TARDIS is so often parked miles away from the epicenter of the story, the Doctor and his companions forced to walk there.  If the terminally long "morphic fields" conversation is anything to go by, we're in for eight episodes of conveniently interrupted exposition. 

The dodgy creative decisions run deeper than that. As many previews in the professional press have noted, why are we not seeing how such a global event is being dealt with in the walls of power or on the high street? Why is everything tell not show? Again, it’s still early days, and the hospital scenes have offered some indication of the effects the “miracle” is having, but wouldn't it be cooler showing us Pakistan and Indian ambassadors calling a truce and working together?  A crook hopelessly trying to rob a bank when the tellers have no apparent reason to be threatened?

I’d certainly much rather that than endless scenes of bland CIA agents commenting on unconvincing television news pictures then admonishing each other for watching the television pictures and scientists uselessly arguing over the future of humanity, hunched over vdu screens describing the medical implications in a narcoleptic remake of Doomwatch. Perhaps Russell etc are saving the money shots for later in the series, trying not to repeat the mistakes of Flash Forward in throwing the epic up front with a boring long tail to follow but it’s a risk strategy when you’re trying to build audience confidence.

Granted, there’d be a danger of repeating Children of Earth’s Downing Street meetings but this is a different continent, a different government and although The End of Time has established Obama as the president, that shouldn’t stop us from seeing something happening in the White House and someone with a higher pay grade than Wayne Knight’s Director discussing the actuality of what the world is facing. Despite recent events, politicians arguing over statistics still carry more weight than anonymous scientists making those guestimates.

Perhaps I’m falling into the reviewers trap of reviewing what isn’t there. But that’s because what is there is so disappointing. Esther and Rex’s shafting from the CIA by their bosses, apparently being controlled by what must be aliens (or else the Channel 4 sensors from the 1980s) is a rerun of Torchwood’s own disavowing in Children of Earth, with some narratively useful cash to save them from having to endure a remake of The Real Hustle montage sequence when requiring the purchase of technical equipment for the setting up of The Hub 3.

Oswald Danes is also an astonishing creation and not necessarily in a good way. In a return to the villains of the week figures who populated the first two series of Torchwood, he’s a bizarrely two dimensional psychopath and while Bill Pullman’s delivery is undoubtedly creepy it’s a weird about face from the norms who occupied series three, who were evil because they retained a ring of truth about them, rather than simply taking this pantomime approach to fixing a minor character in the eye and saying something slowly and deliberately.

Not that moral discussion isn't interesting.  Can we forgive a man like that if he shows remorse?  It's a pertinent question ss listeners to Radio 4's PM will know.  A man has just been put to death for a 9/11 related hate crime with the twist being that the one victim who survived his many racist shootings.  But the public reaction here simply didn't ring true.  As part of the Twitter's braying masses, I can tell you that we'd be unlikely to be tossing around a #forgive and be more likely RTing our cynicism.  Nevertheless, a few marks for using hashtag in the right context, at least.

Apart from the scenes featuring actual Torchwood, Lauren Ambrose also illuminated her two moments like a floodlight accidentally blasting through the murky mis-en-scene of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, her bright scarlet jacket, marmalade hair and intensely curious glassy eyes utterly alluring and dangerous. My guess is she’s recruiting a kind of evil Torchwood (perhaps more eviler than Torchwood One) ready to manipulate the populace into knocking off Alan Moore next week.  But since this is tonally all over the place, she might well just go to a bar and get drunk instead.

Overall then, Rendition manages to take what is still an amazing idea and render it in a rather mundane, hopelessly generic manner. Yes, bits of it are funny and sometimes not in an unintentional way (was Dichen's backwards CG head supposed to be amusing or creepy?) but mainly this was irritating to watching and really rather smug.  It wasn't really helped either by an niggly transmission problem in which frames skipped at random intervals causing even greater motion jerk in Captain Jack than usual. Did anyone else notice that?

"small potatoes in this line of storytelling"

Comics Bleeding Cool investigates the ethical implications of the healing of Barbara Gordon:
"What stands out as even more remarkable about DC’s use of Oracle up to now has been its consistent commitment to her bodily condition, bearing in mind its universe’s fantastical and science-fiction-based rules. Given that futuristic technology, time travel and magic make injury and death somewhat small potatoes in this line of storytelling, it’s been nothing short of groundbreaking for DC to remain devoted to narratives about the physical and emotional challenges of Oracle’s paralysis—sending a message that even in a genre like DC’s, people with disabilities were still relevant enough to include. Likely it was Yale and Ostrander’s progressive precedent that inspired DC to exercise 20-plus years of restraint on the matter, resolving not to consider Oracle’s situation a burden to its writers or her comic book colleagues. Instead, despite the various—and easy—plot means available to put Barbara back on her feet, DC had commendably chosen to celebrate the unique role and contributions her disability brings to the table."
Not having a disability, I'll remove myself from commenting, except to say that this seems like another example of how haphazard the DC notreallyabutokthenmaybe reboot seems to be.

"Math Rock"

Music With the Proms upon us, Spotify Classical Playlists has posted an excellent guide to searching for classical music on Spotify which, because of the seemingly random approach to track information can be really, really tricky:
"7, Genre. This may work well for other genres like Math Rock, but it simply doesn't work for classical so far. It seems that the labels don't even bother to tag the classical albums as classical. Just did a search for Year:2011 Genre:Classical on Spotify US and the result is empty. There are already 700 new recordings in my 2011 new classical releases playlist (not including re-issues)."

a giant model

Architecture Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center has a giant model of how the city is due to look in 2020 and is the kind of edifice which can't help but collect dust.  As you'd imagine, the cleaning and restoration of the thing is a highly skilled job:
"I’ve been taking out-of-town visitors to the model for years, and inevitably two questions arise during those visits: 1) how do they put new buildings onto the map;, and 2) how do they clean it? I’d long assumed that the modular panels which constitute the hockey-rink sized model were removed, from below, for those purposes. It never would’ve occurred to me that twice per year a small team wanders the map, barefooted, repairing, replacing, and cleaning."
Worth visiting for the photos alone which look like something from a modern indie adaptation of Jonathan Swift.

the instant before we discovered who River Song was

(Kicking) Television

Life In an Oxfam shop earlier hovering over a dvd copy of "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (it's really not that bad plus Hugh's funny on the commentary), I heard the radio behind the counter play in the jazzy music heralding the news on the hour. Inevitably the main story was whichever aspect of the phone hacking scandal was current in that particular nano-second.  The older man behind the counter, who until then had been enjoying the musical interlude which led up to the news, harrumphed, said "Not bloody this again" and turned the radio off.

I knew how he felt.  Many of us do.  We might think wistfully backwards to the period before 16.29 BST on Monday 4 July 2011, before The Guardian posted this story about poor Milly's phone being hacked.  Before the sky fell in.  I'm on holiday from work at the moment and what had seemed like it was going to be a quiet month in which I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my life (we'll have the librarian for the BBC website chat some other time), perhaps watch some films, and instead I've become addicted to the story of the moment.  As has been observed, this feels like this generation's Watergate and it seems important to be paying attention.

But I don't want to be.  I'd like to be able to  harrumph too, switch off my television set with or without a keyboard in front of it and do something less boring instead.  I need to think about what I'm going to do with the rest of my life but as anyone who's endured the onslaught of me during general elections and other events, my addictive personality can't leave it alone.  For days now, my routine has been #Today to #PM to #Newsnight, punctuated as I eluded yesterday by visits to The Guardian's superlative live blog, with gaps in between filled with the usual life stuff, but forever wondering if something else has happened, thinking about the implications of each new item of BREAKING NEWS.

The problem is of course we're all just spectators.  We're the people who stand in front of television shops in old movies watching events unfold, who grab copies of newspapers from the paper boys shouting about special editions on street corners, and are consuming these events through the instantaneous modern equivalent of those.  That's probably what makes it all the more addictive, that we're just on the edge of tasting the truth whatever the truth might be, the instant before we discovered who River Song was stretched out into a perpetual state of being.  And like River Song, never real being convinced that we will ever are really get to the truth.

Perhaps this is just a glimpse of what it must be like to be media correspondent, one ear on the other outlets, another on sources with loose lips, both hands chained to a keyboard desperately engineering copy before a rival manages to get their version of the story in.  Perhaps it's an indication that I should have been channelling my addictive personality into a journalism career myself all along, despite having failed my English A-Level.  Except I generally dislike the person I am and I can't imagine what I'd become under those circumstances.

Initially I felt guilty about being the person with my nose pressed up to the glass, because there are people at the centre of this who've experienced great tragedy and who because of these many allegations are having to relive those tragedies and we're all gawping at it and them.  But now I'm slowly realising that although we're not active participants, it's very much about us, because in just two weeks it's basically been confirmed that we probably can't trust the people who are supposed to be looking after us, the people who are indirectly supposed to be looking after us, and the people who are supposed to inform us.  I don't know about you, but I'm really scared.

"I'll admit to yawning"

Literature When I saw this title at the Smithsonian website I'll admit to yawning: "The Timeless Wisdom of Kenko" Well, I thought, makes a change from Starbucks I suppose. But Kenko, it transpires was a 14th-century Japanese essayist who wrote:
"Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa)—an eccentric, sedate and gemlike assemblage of his thoughts on life, death, weather, manners, aesthetics, nature, drinking, conversational bores, sex, house design, the beauties of understatement and imperfection."
Some of the essays are very short:
“You should never put the new antlers of a deer to your nose and smell them. They have little insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain."
Some are timelessly wise:
“Nothing leads a man astray so easily as sexual desire. The holy man of Kume lost his magic powers after noticing the whiteness of the legs of a girl who was washing clothes. This is quite understandable, considering that the glowing plumpness of her arms, legs and flesh owed nothing to artifice.”
Astonishing given its date and inspiring for the same reason.

"my vice of choice"

Computers Usually when blogs post retro predictions of the future of computers, it's because whichever trainee Nostradamus has lucked into describing the naked now. But just this once, let's look to someone who go it spectacularly wrong, but you kind of wish he hadn't.  David Byrne, Lead Singer, Talking Heads:
"I don't think computers will have any important effect on the arts in 2007. When it comes to the arts they're just big or small adding machines. And if they can't "think," that's all they'll ever be. They may help creative people with their bookkeeping, but they won't help in the creative process."
As I spend my days remaking the film Trainspotting with the Guardian's Phone Hacking Live blog as my vice of choice, I'm slowly developing the the opinion that Tim Berners-Lee el al have a lot to answer for.