we haven't had one of these

Life  Over the years we've had all manner of visitors to Sefton Park.  Circuses.  World music concerts.  Food festivals.  Dozens and dozens of athletics events.  But in the twenty years since we moved here, we haven't had one of these:

Those dodgems do look tempting.  From up here it looks like a photo realistic game of Sim Theme Park.  Rain has stopped play for much of the time they've been here but students and families have all drifted through in small numbers.  The most prominent soundtrack when one of those thingys is spinning people vertically is Haddaway's What Is Love.  The song's lyrics are pleasingly ironic in this context. 

the knife-edge of taste Eric Saward was working under

TV As I write, there’s another #newsglastonbury with a special Question Time and a typical Newsnight filled with experts and people who think they’re experts attempting to explain the events earlier in the week. But since none of them will really know, none of them will agree on anything, and none of them will say anything that hasn’t already been said by someone else in the past couple of days I’ve decided to fall into my usual pattern for a Thursday evening and writing about the fictional atrocities of Torchwood instead. With apologies that this might not necessarily be the most detailed or even coherent analysis since I’m working through a category two designation (or wherever man-flu puts me).

Jane Espenson’s Categories of Life was supposed, based on the pre-episode hype, to be the “game changer” or the week in which Torchood’s Miracle Day began to build momentum. The terrifying secret behind the miracle would be revealed and we’d all be come terribly excited about what’s to come. And to be fair, some viewers have been. At the close of the episode, Torchwood was trending on Twitter for the first time in four weeks, and positively judging by the substance of the tweets and scoring highly at Gallifrey Base with at least a couple of reviews, with the likes of Gen of Deek heralding it as the episode in which the series finally went dark and “structured terrifically well”.

Well, hum. The structure was almost exactly the same as the previous two episodes – breaking into a place to get some plot-related information and like last week ended with someone being shot. In terms of it being a “game changer” we’re not any closer to knowing the terrifying secret behind the miracle rather that Phicorp is mortality cleansing which for all its Nazi parallels, somehow isn’t quite as powerful as the moment when Rocco was carted off in Turn Left (at least no one has used the words “final solution” yet) and certainly isn’t as creepy as using small children as suppositories for decades or the fact that I’ve just decided to rank these fictional atrocities in order of creepiness and thematic resonance.

Perhaps having watched Shoah, that episode of The World at War and studied that period in any number of ways, I find the concept of Torchwood employing that imagery a teensy bit facile and that’s undercut whatever suspension of disbelief I’m supposed to have that would lead me to care that this fictional version of reality is doing much the same thing. But I think it’s more likely that given all the hype, I’m actually disappointed that we’ve not been introduced to whichever spooky-doo is actually behind all of this, that rather than given us some new alien fiend to look at, or the Cybermen as I suspected, they’ve incinerated the boring doctor instead, a thinly characterised figure played however capably by Arlene Tur who was pointedly expendable since she didn’t merit a position in the opening credits with the apparent regulars.

Even Indira Varma as Suzie was gifted one of those. Perhaps if this had been a character we had a emotional connection to, Gwen’s Dad most likely, this scene might have pierced through by usually thin layer of cynicism. Since the scenes when the episode really seemed to find its centre were once again back in Cardiff, in tradition Torchwood territory. Look, there’s Andy saying something silly so he can be corrected with some important exposition. There’s Rhys being the most human character. There’s Gwen gaining entry to a place through sheer verbal dexterity alone. Vocal chords like a sonic screwdriver that one. Despite the dodgy NTSC transfer, whenever the show is set back over here again, it becomes more authentic somehow.

There’s plenty more sniping to be done, but since I’m showing every sign of my blue peg being replaced with a red, I’ll direct you to Iain’s review at Tachyon TV since he’s already done most of the good jokes especially about the awful Ralph and Colin, the latterday Jobel and Tasambeker which just go to prove the knife edge of taste Eric Saward was working under back then. At this point, despite all the best work of Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose, I don’t really care what happens next and to make matters worse it's looking like the final few episodes of Torchwood are going to overlap with the first few of Doctor Who which means we’ll be able to cruelly compare one show making a mess of the Whoniverse with another which is putting it right.

If you're wishing to support them ...

Film As many of you will know the recent fire at the Sony distribution and manufacturing centre (the causes of which ... no that's for another time) destroyed the entire stock of a number of independent music and film companies. Third Window distribute a small number of Japanese films in the UK, and in a post at Facebook they describe the problem's they'll now be facing in getting their business up and running again:
"First off, we found out that all of our stock was insured which of course is great, but doesn't come close to solving the problem of continuing again as normal. While all of our stock was insured it was only around 19,000 units which were damaged, but minimum orders on all dvds and blu-rays are 1,000 units each. This means that if we wanted to make our whole catalogue available again we would need to replicate 32,000 units. We will receive credit for 19,000 units of replication (though yet unsure as to how such costs of things like expensive blu-ray original glass master costs will come into play) yet cannot afford to cover the costs of the other 13,000 for now. This would essentially mean that for now at least we will have many titles that we won't be able to manufacture for a while, if we even could...."
That companies are willing to exist on such tiny margins rather demonstrates the love they have for the films they're distributing.  If you're wishing to support them, I recommend Confessions, Tetsuya Nakashima's brilliantly nasty yet in places stunning beautiful teen drama cum revenge thriller, a study of disaffected youth and wanton destruction [via Bleeding Cool who also have a list of other film companies effected and ways to help them too].

"the odd "very special episode" but"

TV Sarah Hughes of The Guardian offers a nice piece about My So-Called Life which underscores that its brilliance was in its lack of sensationalism:
"The plotlines too were refreshingly ordinary. Yes, there was the odd "very special episode" but generally the point of My So-Called Life was that it dealt not with the big issues but with the small ones: will that unobtainable boy ever notice you? What happens when you ditch your best friend? Can you get away with lying to your mum and dad about what you're getting up to at night? Most of all is there any problem that can't be solved by purchasing a pair of Dr Martens boots and dying your hair bright red?"
She also offers the nice implication that Brian Krakow could grow up to be Mark Zuckerberg. I quite like the idea that The Social Network is a secret sequel.

"meeting artists and gallerists"

Liverpool Life Sad but understandable times as Ian and Minako scale back Art In Liverpool the kind of amazing project that would take over your life. They've spoken to Seven Streets about their decision:
"It has taken up most of our time, nearly all day – every day in some way or other but that was not a problem as we enjoy it. We’ve learned that as well as online presence, attending events and meeting artists and gallerists is important to have face-to-face communication. Fortunately artists generally are really nice people and they are inspiring, we feel more at home in the artworld than anywhere else."
Art In Liverpool's contribution to the local arts scene has been incalculable. offering a focal point for artists and those of who like what they do.  It certainly made me more engaged and led to a number of amazing experiences.  So I'd like to offer my personal thanks to Ian and Minako.

The press release offers more detail and a list of websites offering similar services. There's also m'LiverpoolBlogs with its Twitter feed, though obviously that project's focus is somewhat wider and more diffuse.

builder of the K9 prop

TV Watching Edge of Darkness for the first time this morning, who should I spot escorting a radioactive corpse to the banks of a lake?

It's Mat Irvine, the BBC's visual effects wizard and builder of the K9 prop on Doctor Who.  It's 1985 and this was one of the many shows he would have worked on in that capacity, which also included The Tripods, Blakes-7, Rentaghost, Terry and June and To The Manor Born [source].  I wonder why he stepped in front of the camera here.

‘What’s a Congress?’

TV Short quote from Steven Moffat on the subject of The West Wing and how it's compelling even if you don't understand everything which is going on -- rather like the mythology in Doctor Who:
"I used to love, absolutely love the American show ‘West Wing.’ I never had a clue of what was going on in it because I didn’t understand anything about American politics. They all seemed to understand it, and that was fine by me. They’d walk very fast down long corridors and say really weak stuff and say, ‘We’ve got to do this with Congress and a thing.’ And I’d say, ‘What’s a Congress?’ Then they’d say, ‘We’ve done it. We’ve got an affidavit,’ or something. I’d say, ‘Aha, so relieved.’ ” That, I think, is the way ‘Doctor Who’ can work for anyone because it’s fun. If you don’t understand all of it, join the rest of the audience.”
Jeff Hook's article is titled "How “Doctor Who” is like “The West Wing”" and although we could make a list -- and if I wasn't developing a sore throat, snotty nose and sweating -- I would.

But the one I always point to the fact that like Doctor Who, The West Wing changed producers some way into its run and like Doctor Who, it's entirely possible to see the join, the moment when Aaron Sorkin gave way to John Wells, between seasons four and five, just like Davies's version of new Who gave way to Moffat.

The difference is of course that there wasn't the same drop in quality, or at least not quite.  But The West Wing did improve immeasurably later in Season Five and onwards when Sorkin's old writing team were given free reign again and the characters all started drifting back into character a bit.

I could offer my theory that Sorkin secretly wrote parts of The West Wing in these later seasons based using some of his storylines in oh so biographical Studio 60 as "evidence" but I can feel my joints starting to ache, so we'll save it for another time.  But just watch The Supremes (5.17).  It's classic Sorkin.

"Our graphics department — I’m sorry, our photojournalists"

Journalism Nieman talks to Baratunde Thurston digital director at The Onion about adapting to social media. The method? Act like a real news organisation:
"The recent case where we did this pretty well was a story we had of a 500-foot Osama bin Laden returning from the sea to destroy America. And I was like OK, this is a Big Story. What does a Big Story deserve? Big coverage. You don’t just want to just put that out there; you spend weeks thinking about this stuff. Our graphics department — I’m sorry, our photojournalists — but our graphics department has done some impressive work to make this look super-realistic, so let’s give the story the big coverage it deserves. So in that case we are applying the lessons especially of the last event coverage in the breaking news to the alternate reality. So we start that story with a rumor: “BREAKING: Seismic activity detected in the Indian Ocean near site of bin Laden burial. More coming."
Which then went viral with people offering eye-witness accounts in much the same as we do when a real news event is happening, with the scary but likely prospect that someone, somewhere actually believes it is happening.  But then, as we know, life is but a dream.

"his basic vision for Classic FM"

Obituary Michael Bukht, or as us children of the 70s & 80s knew him Michael Barry, the chef from Food and Drink, has died. As The Guardian's obituary explains that wasn't the end of his story. He was also a co-founder of Classic FM and programme controller for five years:
"His format of chat and short but complete bits of music (no parts of movements or fading) was initially successful until there was a disastrous attempt to export the format, and the station tried to recoup its losses through extra advertising, which in turn alienated listeners. Bukht remained as programme controller until a stress-related illness caused him to step down to a consultancy role in 1997. However, while his successful formula has inevitably been modified, his basic vision for Classic FM has remained constant."
We'll save my feelings for Classic FM for another time, but I will say this: he was right. It probably increased the audience for classical music, didn't necessarily steal ears from Radio 3 which I believe increased its share again this year, presumably because of the extra appetite for strings and horns.

Here he is in a few moments from what looks like the tail end of F&D's run in a video which worth seeing anyway for continuity trails beforehand, which include the second series of Steven Moffat's sitcom Joking Apart and the first season of The X-Files:

Isn't television rubbish now?