The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Which writers are you most influenced by?

Open Book, Blank Pages

Question asked by Graham Kibble-White of TV Cream.

Life Is it possible to have a favourite writer who doesn't influence your own writing? Given how many authors have their own definitive style yet enjoy the work of others, sometimes in entirely different genres, then it must be. But perhaps, "influence" doesn't just mean in terms of style but on a more fundamental level, in relation to structure or world view. In attempting to list which writers have influenced me, I've come to the conclusion that the distinction isn't as clear, that I don't have a particularly distinctive style anyway.

Some of that has to do with never really receiving formal training, if such a thing exists. At school, GCSE English Language consisted of endless assignments, fiction, but sometimes essays, each of which would be returned with red pen comments like “this needs more work” or “your argument is unclear” but I was too busy thinking about teenage things to really ask the relevant teacher what that meant. Then there wasn't an option for that subject in A-Level, just literature and after struggling through Beckett, Woolf and Chaucer for two years, I failed the course.

Which means that my ability to write, assuming I have an ability to write, has been entirely informal, that the people who've "influenced" me, have most likely taught me how to structure such things as paragraphs and sentences, but through the same process had led to the picking up of many bad habits, like sentences which seem to carry on endlessly, with comma, after comma, until they fill nearly the whole paragraph. But not to mention the seeming need to make those paragraphs have the same number of lines. That one's mine.

My primary source I’m unashamed to say is The Guardian and the writers thereof. I’ve been reading The Guardian since the mid-nineties and when I was scratching around attempting to work out how “proper” writing should sound and be, I decided The Guardian style was the thing to mimic even to the point of reading their style guide. That was certainly the case when I began writing this blog and probably still is even if my largely monosyllabic vocabulary isn’t always up to the task.

If you’re interested in specific writers on the paper, it’s who you might the expect, the Brookers, Hydes and Freemans even if I’m too embarrassed to be quite that acerbic. I was a big fan of Anna Pickard’s television writing back in the day, and Jon Ronson’s reportage has been instrumental in suggesting how to find the core of what’s happening whilst still illuminating through personal response. Elizabeth Day’s columns and interviews are also particularly fine.  Yes, if I've any ambition it's to have something professionally published in that paper.

Except I’m aware that my writing can be too discursive, too unruly for that and I think I can blame Douglas Adams for wanting to break off in the middle of one thing to talk about something else, deciding on what should be the right structure then ignoring it, finding myself in the middle of writing about one thing, when I should be typing away about something else, even ignoring what few rules I have cultivated. If not his actual writing, I certainly have his annoying writer’s block, though no one has yet had to lock me in a hotel room to finish anything because of a missed deadline. I’ve always hit my deadlines.  I think.

Elizabeth Wurtzel taught me how to be personal, or at least pointed me in that direction. Mark Kermode writes, but it’s listening to his Radio 5 show that I’ve seen the allure of being unafraid to forthright and dogmatic in my beliefs. David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Roger Ebert show how it’s possible to be clever, accessible and yet also structural and I wish I had more of an ability for that. Numerous blogs. Perhaps since all of my writing is blogging right now, I’m mostly influenced by bloggers.

Then there’s Shakespeare. I appreciate it takes a certain particular hubris to specifically suggest Shakespeare as an influence, but if I’ve learnt anything from him, it’s that English isn't static. Grammar, spelling and punctuation should be malleable, manipulatable especially if using the wrong word in the right place has thematic resonance, helps an argument or is just funny. Many are the occasions when I’ve been pulled up on what looks like a grammatical error, a typo or poor spelling which I’ve done on purpose to make a point. Perhaps I’m just not very good at it. Perhaps that's why he's a genius and I'm not.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention (embarass) the person asking this question and some of the other people looking at this very blog post who contributed to the Off The Telly website, which demonstrated how it was possible to write knowledgably and thoughtfully about television and although I’ve said this before, it’s still true, that whole project, however rare I contributed myself, was instrumental in me returning to university for my MA Screen Studies, not least because my portfolio included one of the few pieces I did contribute.

But Graham continues to be an influence on my Doctor Who reviews, as does his colleague at Doctor Who Magazine Gary Gillatt, that being the first section I read each month, always feeling slightly let down when their by-line doesn’t occur. Also the old crowd from Behind The Sofa, Neil, John, Damon, Frank, Sean, Dave and everyone else, all the reasons I tried to get my review in first on a broadcast night because I knew they’d be on my tail with greater style and honesty in the hopes it’d look like they were copying me rather than the other way around.

This is the kind of piece which doesn’t really have an ending, so I’d be interested to know who you think my writing is influenced by, if I’m deluding myself with some of persons above (Shakespeare) and who you think I should be reading. Any influences become more or less apparent depending on the kinds of writing I’m attempting and no matter how much I try to make everything sound the same, there are still moments when I begin one type of writing in the wrong voice and everything goes catastrophically wrong. I wonder why?

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Your thoughts on where social media is heading (I keep asking you this).

Frozen Impression

Question asked by @kariebookish via Twitter.

Hello everyone. This Ignite talk is going to be about the future of social media.

Sorry, um, ah, I'll waiting for the first slide.


The short answer is, I don’t know.

Having been thinking around the subject for days, whole bit of speech which you’ll never hear, trying to develop a satisfactory answer, I’ve decided that I simply can’t.

The reasons are relatively simple.

For one thing, social media is one of those concepts or subjects which lacks a clear definition.

We clearly mean Twitter and Facebook and before that myspace, Bebo and Friends Reunited. But do we mean The Well bulletin boards in San Francisco during the 1980s? What about Empire Magazine’s comment sections in 1995 which was my first experience? What about Metafilter, or Yahoo! Groups, ICQ or Chatylist all of which I’ve used since?

Tom Standage’s book The Victorian Internet shows, social media began even earlier than that with the telegraph, with marriages even being conducted over morse code.

And what of smoke signals? Don’t they also count?

Of course they do. A glance at the Wikipedia, itself a form of social media, demonstrates that the definition is so loose as to include anything on-line that isn’t a static web page and even then arguably that’s a form of social media because it’s about communicating.

But also, unlike so many other things, it’s impossible to really forecast exactly what new bit of software or platform might develop to improve on what we have now just as when we all thought email was a panacea and little realised that however instantaneous that seemed there’d something even quicker.

Incidentally, um, next slide, email’s gone soon, I suspect. There are plenty of mailshots from companies, but usually that’s because those websites don’t have an RSS feed or their Facebook has a high noise ratio, posting the same topic six times a day.

In the future there will be new platforms, and social media applications will become even further integrated into software and hardware, but it genuinely feels as though we’ve reached a plateau in development terms, with Twitter and Facebook straddling simpler and more complex tastes.

Except it felt like that five years ago when blogging was everything.

In which case we have look at this question from an application perspective. How will we use social media in the future?

At 13:57 on the 1st December 2011, @thejimsmith tweeted: “Oh! People who think twitter is for conversation rather than screaming into the void. Bless.” Which is true.

Sometimes I’ll be tweeting for hours without a single reply hoping that whatever I’ve said is of such scintillating validity it requires no comment but knowing it’s simply that I’m creating just a lot of noise in someone’s follower list.

But the day before, I had a very long, useful conversation with @doublenagativeL about the Liverpool Biennial, one of hundreds across the years since I’ve been using Twitter, often with people who are near or total strangers.

The tone has been different every time, and there’s always the block button if I want to cut someone off.

There’ll be much more of both. Much more.

I’ve also stopped using the telephone socially too. Some recent chaos meant I had to have long conversations with friends and I was surprised at how difficult it was to anticipate when the next person was ready to speak, outside of the professional environment where I use the phone all of the time and the structures are more rigid.

Customer service is still in its infancy on social media but I could imagine it becoming more crucial. Increasingly, problems which I’ve not been able to resolve through normal channels have been easily dealt with through the Twitter account of the relevant company, M&S agreeing to send Mum a gift voucher because her Mother’s Day daffodils failed to open.

This will increasingly become the way companies interact with their costumers or as they’ll soon be called, users, and they’ll realise that the best feeds are those which sound as though they have passionate human being behind their corporate avatar rather than automatically simply linking to press releases.

Such things are expensive, but there’s a real benefit to having a dedicated Twitter user rather than someone who does social media on top of their other work, though it’s surprising how rarely such jobs are advertised. They’re usually still crouched in terms like “marketing” which they are but the skill set isn’t quite the same.

Search and other data applications will also become increasingly important. In Jan 2009, every search result on Google was advised as being harmful. My first thought was that it might be a virus. My second was to search Twitter and sure enough the entire planet was witnessing the same phenomena. The Googleplex was confused and Twitter also eventually let me know that the outrage had been resolved.

Oh I'm running out of time. Erm ...

Contexts will improve! Search for Liverpool on Twitter and the results are swamped with football related tweets. It’s possible to filter those out with carefully chosen terms but perhaps in the future you’ll be able to tell whatever that you don’t like football and it’ll do the job for you.

The data Twitter supplies is also being used by companies to test products, a massive, passive focus group able to provide instant reviews of anything from food to television programmes, something networks are discovering to their cost as they can watch the project they’ve nurtured over months being destroyed within a few minutes.

But similarly, this instant consensus allows us consumers base our choices somewhat on other people’s experiences. Not that we should become too carried away. We’ll still need experts. I think. I hope.

None of which wasn’t impossible before. It’s just that Twitter, Facebook and the rest make it much easier.

Like I said, there’ll be new platforms, new technologies.

Smart phones will become cheaper, data too, so within five or ten years or even sooner, everyone will have one, even me, with all the knock on social effects, positive and negative and it’ll be increasingly difficult not to be wired in making speculative fiction of the past look positively anachronistic.

None of which should at all be seen as me giving a definitive answer. Because I don’t have one. I simply don’t know.

But luckily I'm out of time. Thank you.

[Disclaimer: This is an imaginary talk in homage to the sterling work of those who were brave enough to speak at last night's Ignite 8 in Liverpool].

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
The noble pasty or the ubiquitous pie. When should one choose one over the other and why?

Nokia 152a

Question asked by "Pastryman" from the comments section.

Food The first pasty I remember eating was a Sayers pasty. I grew up in Speke (Liverpool, L-2-4) and each trip to the parade of shops would include a visit to the Sayers. I now know this wasn’t the traditional Cornish style pasty which recently received the Protected Geographical Indication. It’s now what’s described as a slice, two flat pieces of pastry filled with some kind of meat, possibly beef, mashed potato and bits of carrot. Bought at the right time, just as it’s left the oven, it was just the thing to warm up my young body on a cold winter’s morning (assuming I didn’t burn my tongue) and I now know the perfect way for my cash strapped parents to make sure a cooked meal had passed my lips.

That’s (as is popularly known) why tin miners in the seventeenth and eighteenth century found them so useful, their capacity to contain a full meal, savoury one end, sweet the other, though when I saw that story on BBC’s Blue Peter I remember wondering how they’d know. When I did eat the more traditional shape, it was a treat, something special, something exotic even, with chewier meat and the crunchy plat across the top. Both are still available in Sayers, Greggs and everywhere else, but they seem smaller somehow, less special, presumably because there’s a lack of anticipation in something which is always available, always to hand. That’s true of most things when you grow. Apart from upstairs on the bus.

Only the larger variety, from The Pasty Shop, The West Cornwall Pasty Company and farmer’s market’s retain their mystique, a portable hot meal all in one place, less messy than a pizza, with less moving parts than a burger. I’ll sometimes buy one in Lime Street on my way home, for dinner, but in my heart of hearts its not the same from the plate, especially with the temptation to drown it in brown sauce or mayonnaise. But we humans are like that. We’ll design something which is perfect in and of itself then spoil it by add things it doesn’t need. I know I should simply eat it on the bus, but whenever I'm travelling home at dinner time, it's usually full and there's barely enough room to put my bag on my lap, let alone gulp down a a mix of pastry, cow and gravy.

Pies on the other hand love plates and there’s few more beautiful sights than the filling dribbling through the crack as you run you knife from the centre outwards as you prise opening the casing. That’s meat and gravy. But unlike pasties, pies are even more flexible, capable of containing a vast variety of fillings. All of the bakeries listed above have attempted to vary the pasty but not of them sit right, not chicken tikka, not baked beans and not even cheese and onion. But a pie could contain all of those and as well as a range of sweet options. It’s can also be shared. A pie for one might seem like a treat, but how much better for a family or some friends to be tucking in, and unlike a joint, without the potential to be disappointed by the cut of meat.

Pies are portable too, of course, but they can be unsatisfying alone, unaccompanied. The most memorable pie I ever ate, if not necessarily the tastiest, was accompanied. At the end of the last decade I was walking through Manchester city centre and because I happened to be wearing blue was offered a visit to Main Road to appear in the crowd scenes of the film There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. It was October and it was cold. It was a long day too, despite the chance to meet the cast, Ray Winstone, Robert Carlisle and Gina McKee (who was very nice indeed). Plenty of people left, but at the end we were all given a meat pie, chips and gravy, which was warm, salty and filling and just the thing to tied me over for the long train ride home.

But the best pies, and if you’re really asking for my opinion, the pies I’ve most enjoyed are as deserts. Apple pies, cherry pies, summer fruits, pecan (though that’s more of a tart) covered in cream, custard or ice cream. Somehow, even restaurants with mediocre main courses are able to produce tasty sweet pies, because even soggy pastry is tasty pastry. That’s why the series Pushing Daisies and the film Waitress are so entertaining, not just the script but the visuals, pies which don’t seem to exist in the real world. Unless it’s just that I’m in the wrong part of the real world. Either way, in answer to question, pasties are best when portable, pies when they’re filled with fruit.

the man who could have been Will with Grace

With Review 2011, The Opinion Engine 2.0, beginning here tomorrow -- and ideas are still welcome because if you don't ask it, I can't write it -- here is the last of the Torchwood review reruns for now.

TV The BBC in its infinite wisdom decided to show the final two episodes of Torchwood's Season One back to back which did neither of them any favours. They are somewhat linked together, but the upturn in quality of the first just made the second look all the poorer. As you can see the need for two reviews in one meant I went to town offering a coffee fuelled rant which resulted in one of the more entertaining comments sections at Behind The Sofa as the blog's other contributors finally went to war with the trolls with me stuck in the middle wondering what I'd said. 

If you're waiting for the BBC Two repeat don't read this review. I wouldn't want to spoil it for you because it's a treat really. Everyone on Outpost Gallifrey is giving it five stars. Now for the rest of us ...

What - the fuck - was that?

It's perhaps fitting that the final episode of Torchwood, after what has, at best, been a variable season should be utter bollocks. But when the announcer beforehand suggested that there may be strong language, I really hadn't expected it to be from my own lips as I resorted to a mixture of swearing at the sheer awfulness masquerading as quality drama and laughing so hard I nearly pissed myself. After blast of comedy that was The Runaway Bride, the intricate beauty of radio Who yesterday and the joy of The Sarah Jane Adventures earlier, I might have known Torchwood would ruin this Whovian marathon like a pissed streaker knocking over Paula Radcliffe just inches away from the finishing line and a world record.

But actually, no, I should really save my enmity for the End of Days until I've dealt with Captain Jack Harkness, the first episode tonight, not the man. Because, and I'm sure this'll be a total surprise considering the opening paragraph to this review. I really quite liked it. And not just because Ianto finally got around to shooting Owen. In keeping with most of the season, of course some elements were entirely derivative, this time of anything from Back To The Future to the underrated Frequency, with a character lost in the past leaving clues to some future friend to help them escape and the well worn conceit of not being able to tell someone about their fateful future.

Where it really scored was as a character piece which developed some of the mystery of Captain Jack which has been brewing since the first series of Doctor Who. For the first time in ages he seemed to be somewhat close to his old self, compassionate without being deadly really wanting, with a Sam Beckett Quantum Leap vibe to give the man whose identity he would 'borrow' the best final night he could, and with, for once, lots of romance. Well alright it was a bit of a coincidence that he should meet his name sake in Cardiff on that night of all nights, but sometimes this kind of serendipity can work well in drama and it did here. The sudden reappearance of what looked like the basement from New Earth jarred, but the recreation of the rest of the period setting was lovely and the introduction of wartime animosity towards Tosh was surprisingly realistic.

Pleasingly, however, the contemporary scenes ran in parallel and the whole benefited from having a definable goal to work towards, the find of the equation, the opening of the rift. Considering that this was a Doctor Who spin-off tackling time travel at least it was doing something else with it, really showing the consequences of potentially being lost in time. Pity Owen though, that, even when he's doing something for best of intentions he still came across as a twat and when the bullet pierced his shoulder it really was a shame that it wasn't his head (for reasons that'll become clear below). I genuinely thought they were going to kill him off, so the only real disappointment of the episode was that he lived to snarl another day. My only real question is -- what was the missing dongle from the Rift Machine doing in a grandfather clock in some random dance hall?

Barrowman probably gave his best performance of the season and he was aided by a feisty turn from Naoko Mori revealing once more what a wasted opportunity the persistent focus on Gwen all season has been. It's just a shame that the apparent loyalty between whatever his name is and Tosh wasn't carried over to the next episode - but this is the upbeat part of review so I'm really not going there yet. Matt Rippey as the real Jack was excellent too, very touching as a man divided and for once a guest cast member who worked within the ensemble rather than overshadowing them (which is actually a good thing). Murray Melvin as the time hopping Bilis, who I'm sure will eventually be revealed to be Gary from Goodnight Sweetheart at pension age, was particularly creepy in his scenes and if I'd had a week between episodes I really think I would have been looking forward to seeing what they did with him. Thank god for that.

It's a pity then that it was all for naught as, after a quick flash of the logo, the series once again plunged headlong into a vat of manure. The trailer for End of Days was quite promising with all the visitations from the past and Sarah Hughes in The Observer built my hopes up further by suggesting that 'this excellent finale shows' that the programme 'has potential'. Sarah, given that you also say that the scripts needed tightening up how can you justify this episodic mess as being 'excellent'. Were we watching the same programme?

Y'know the one were they didn't seem to have a clue how to finish the season so decided to pull a hitherto unheralded fifty-foot demon out of the ground and have it stomp all over Cardiff, which looked half amazing but made NO FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER? At least when Buffy revealed the First Evil it ran with it for a whole season and didn't just trot it out in the closing twenty minutes. We've seen surprise aliens before, but this appeared without any logical foreshadowing.

It's a shame because the episode began quite well with the cameo from Carrie Gracie from News 24 and the indications of all the timeslips across the world (the sudden appearance of The Beatles on the roof of Abby Road studio is a good thing). This created the potential for an epic battle with time, a season long story of attempting to send everyone back where it came from Invasion of the Dinosaurs style. But then Torchwood, the series and the organization, did what it always does, sits around in the hub having an argument and then interacted with the big epic happening by meeting a Roman Centurion in a police cell and a couple of extras in a hospital. Not even the sudden appearance of PC Andy, the man who is a regular in the good version of the series in my head, with his lovely acting could save the tedium. While the idea was probably to make the big, small, how boring is that?

The episode was, well episodic, so once all the stuff that was happening across the globe had been established and they'd made the ooh two visits to see what was happening in Cardiff (hardly the montage sequence in Ghostbusters is it? And we know they've seen Ghostbusters) everything finally came home to roost after yet another argument in the hub and Owen finally being kicked out (well until he sneaked back in later). This was spoilt by taking about half an hour as Owen knocked on for no readily apparent reason about retcon again. Get out of there. No one cares and this has zero to do with what is to come. This was another example of Torchwood dropping in useless exposition that would not be paid off later when it should have been consolidating the overall story of the coming apocalypse.

Meanwhile, the sudden appearance of Lisa to Ianto in the trailer was revealed to be - nothing more than a vision cooked up Buffy First Evil style by whatever lies beneath to try and get them to open the rift. Again. And for the lucky people who might have skipped every other episode there was the usual nano-flashback to explain who she is, although I wonder how many people would actually recognize her without the metal bondage gear and high heals. Same thing happened for Owen and although it was, nice, seeing these old faces again I don't think their presence was really explained or how whatever it was had read their mind.

The not unexpected visit to the caretaker's shop was marred by being apparently minutes after Owen had been kicked out of the hub and a repeat of the characterization incongruity that occurred in Countrycide after Owen and tried to dry hump Gwen up against a tree. After telling Jack what to go do with himself after kicking out her fuckbuddy, who let's be clear on this, has potentially brought about the end of the world, Gwen's in the shop cracking jokes again and joshing with whatever his real name is. What is it with this characterization? Shouldn't she still be a little bit pissed off?

As usual, there was no urgency to the scene and at no point have we being reminded of the stakes. Bilis is back, still creepy, still possibly a really interesting character. Is he a timelord? Probably not, but his sudden CGless disappearance into time was fairly interesting even if the scene lacked momentum. It's at this point then that the episode went totally off the rails as though all sense had left the writing and directing process and the story was being put together by a group of chimps playing a Torchwood Roleplaying Game.

Well alright I can see now what they were doing. Bilis gives Gwen vision of the future and the death of Reece. Gwen takes Reece to Torchwood. Bilis breaks into Torchwood and kills Reece. Cue tragic music and much emoting from poor Eve Myles, who was acting her heart out for nothing. Inevitably, this being Torchwood I assumed that they really had killed her boyfriend, it being entirely likely that he'd been pottering about in seven odd episodes, shouting now and then, so I was pretty incensed. That fact that now I'm only realising that he was murdered by Bilis to turn Gwen to the point of wanting to open the rift either means I'm very slow or it simply wasn't made very clear in the episode. Probably the former.

You see you really have to wonder what goes on in the tone meetings when Owen just wonders back into the hub, the gang standing over the corpse of Reece and Tosh grins like she's just won the lottery, whilst and let's make this again quite clear, the world is ending and it's his fault. At least this led into the best part of the episode when John Doe launched into a list of everything the team has done wrong all series and pays off everything I've been saying. It wasn't quite the meta-joke I was expecting but at least it showed that he was aware of the mistakes the other characters had made, bravely underlining the fact that this is the series that has no likeable characters whatsoever. It's a misfortune then that, well alright let's call him Jack for now, received the gun shot to the head as this bunch of jerks showed the loyalty we've loved to see from them all these episodes.

Now I have to admit to the next section of the episode being something of a blur. I remember cheering when the hub was blown up Liberator style, seeing them run for their lives, suddenly deciding that Jack is still their leader when they need him, dragging his body outside. And Bilis talking in tongues and bringing out the re-rendering of the beast from The Satan Pit, something else buried in the Earth that is being unearthed this festive season. He was the Son of the Beast apparently. Of all the mother series monsters to make an appearance I hadn't expected that.

Disappointingly no attempt was made to suggest that all of the characters wierd behaviour in the previous twelve episodes was a result of his influence, just this one, and after that I was laughing at it too much to remember much else apart from seeing John Barrowman, so great on Loose Women and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the man who could have been Will with Grace, having to sit in some gravel being oppressed by a giant shadow. Is Jack dead? Is this going to be the cliffhanger?

Err no. Two reasons. Firstly we know Jack's back in Doctor Who Season Three in, Utopia, an episode written by Steven Moffat*. Secondly, because there are ten minutes of the episode remaining. Of Gwen sitting around at his bedside waiting for him to rejuvenate. You mean there wasn't another ten minutes of cool time tripping goodness at the opening of the story because of this? This scene might have worked if we still thought about any of these characters sympathetically but, and this is the reason I've been so detailed in my description of their actions, they've been so random in their behviour for the whole episode, let alone series that we just don't care.

I spent half of it wondering how killing the beast meant that time became a do-over, fixing the hib and everything else. It was like watching the final episode of that season of Dallas in which Pam woke up and Bobby stepped out of the shower, the bomb explosion in an office that took out both JR and Sue Ellen simply part of a wacky dream reseting everything that had gone before much like the re imagining of the timeline that went on here s0 that everybody lives. The other half was taken up with a wait for the inevitable, a final blast of lethargy in a series that has been filled with it. Seeing Jack stand and forgive his teammates was nice, but you just know that they're not going to be any different next series ...

Then in the final moments, Jack's whisked away by the sound of the Tardis. It says a lot that this sound can still be quite stirring and that you can imagine that the Doctor and Martha are already on board, enjoying their adventures. Perhaps we'll eventually find out why they decided to select that moment to pick up Jack and not when Cardiff was being menaced by a giant beastie and the Earth was being destroyed by giant cracks in time. Perhaps there will be an episode of that series that will explain all of the plotholes in this episode but I doubt it. But it says a lot about Torchwood that it didn't end with its own internal cliffhanger and one that will instead be explained in a mother series entirely. If only I'd watched the film End of Days. At least that has the unlikely sight of Miriam Margolese in a fist fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I appreciate this has all been very harsh and sarcastic and fueled by too much caffeine and I'll probably regret some of it in the morning, particularly the bit about the chimps but Torchwood has largely been a massive disappointment and it simply makes no sense to me that the same production team behind Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures can turn out something this crude and apparently be very pleased with it. As this review/rant has demonstrated I have a tendency to over analyze everything which could be why I tend to focus on narrative flaws at the expense of what is often quite fluid direction, remarkable lighting design, editing and music. If anything Captain Jack Harkness pointed to there still being potential in the series, but End of Days was no way to do anything. And I do wish I could be one of the people on Outpost Gallifrey giving it five stars, but I'm not, I'm the grinch and that's that. Perhaps on the level of a television comic book it works. I just expect a bit more from something calling itself adult drama.

I'm going to bed.

PS * Yes indeed.  Thank the internet for that particular false rumour.

"Queens is not New York!"

Films in Fifty Words #1

Film Cinema's in appalling health if Terrence Malick's film, a bland Tarkovsky for beginners, is considered the film of the year by serious critics due the lack of intelligent Hollywoodian competition, the brave essay-like narrative never thematically consistent enough to support the exceptional performances and Douglas Trumbull’s profoundly beautiful genesis montage.

the return of the modified Pertwee logo from the TV Movie

Books BBC Books have published the cover for Gareth Robert's novelisation of Shada. I'd expected Tom, Lalla and Skagra, something a bit Chris Achilleos in homage to the old Targets. Instead, they've clearly decided to go for a slightly wider audience with something to tie-in with the recent piece of professional fan fiction:

Note the return of the modified Pertwee logo from the TV Movie on a new publication from BBC Books (in keepings with the various audios and dvds), also recently used on the TARGET reprints, which suggests it'll also be employed on the series of original past Doctor novels by the likes of Stephen Baxter. Question: If there's a new Ninth or Ten (as has been rumoured), will they have their taxi cab logo on the front for consistency?

effectively they're all going Suzie

TV The opening paragraph isn't a joke. I really did post this Torchwood review on the night before Christmas 2006, the festive season which contained not just three or four episodes of the adult spin-off, but also The Runaway Bride and the first hour of The Sarah Jane Adventures and lots of hours writing from me. In comparison to the upcoming desert, we were blessed, especially since, thanks to Noel Clarke's abilities as a screenwriter (and whoever else inevitably worked on the script, Russell or Chibs), Combat wasn't half bad.  Don't expect this kind of service in the upcoming festive season.  I will post a review of  The Lion, The Witch and The Tardis or whatever it's called, just don't look for it on the 25th of December.

It's Christmas Eve, so let me keep this brief, and please understand that this isn't the spirit of the season talking, and really I can't believe I'm typing this .... but ... tonight's episode of Torchwood was quite good. From a perfectly written teaser that was both exciting in terms of setting up the mystery of the main story and important in reintroducing the issues related to Gwen neglecting her responsibilities at home to a perfectly paced script and story which gave everyone something to do and paid off well in its finale, this was the Torchwood I'd been expecting after the stonking first couple of episodes and somewhat suggests that this is a series that is only as good as its writers. Take a bow, Mr. Noel Clarke.

As usual, the concept was not exactly original but unlike usual the interpretation worked exceedingly well. For once, there was a real sense of an investigation in which the characters really looked under the belly of this fictional version of Cardiff to see the awfulness that is probably lurking there even if the truth was obvious to anyone paying attention to the brutality and whose read the Christmas Radio Times.

By holding off the secrets of the Weevil Club to the end, the audience was left in the state of imagining the worst which meant the reveal was bound to be disappointing, which in a sense it should have been -- more Robot Wars that Fight Club. In fact, most of the brutality in the episode on screen was committed my the testosterone filled men rather than the aliens, but unlike Countrycide, by placing both races in the same frame, the viewer was given a dreadful point of comparison.

It's very odd to be watching an episode of a series that for weeks you've had nothing good to say about and actually be enjoying yourself. Even the lurches between tragedy and humour seemed to work - for example the discovery of the body in the warehouse and the sudden deployment of the Crazy Frog ring tone which Jack actually had to explain wasn't his.

There was real sense to of an ongoing cross series story arc, something which has been missing for some weeks. Suddenly a thread can be seen through the whole series begun in the first episode with all the tech borrowing in which the job is having a corrupting influence on the main characters, slowly eating away at their souls - effectively they're all going Suzie. From Jack once again allowing a human to die through to Gwen employing the retcon on Rees it is almost as though each will have to reach the tipping point that both Ianto and Tosh have passed through before returning.

How refreshing to see an A-plot and B-plot running in parallel. Gwen's behaviour consciously recalled the opening episode, with her appearance in the hub with pizza and the aforementioned retcon of her boyfriend. It seems absolutely right that her attempt should fail, and the fact that he fell asleep so quickly demonstrates how strong her will was in those early days and how the job and chipped some of that away.

Even Owen's character began to look coherent, either through a natural viciousness or Weevil infection he's a very bad man and he knows it but he doesn't want to do anything about it. I might even watch last week's episode to see if what we were actually watching was temporary taming of a beast. Either this was all some grand plan, or one of Noel's tasks was to rationalise some of the wayward behaviour seen previously. When he chooses to actually enter the cage with the Weevil, although you're repulsed, it seems in keeping with previous behaviour. Suddenly lines like -- 'I was getting bored of your fuck-tricks anyway' look like characterization choices rather than simply poor writing.

Most of the performances were top notch, although guest Alex Hassell, even though he was supposed to be playing an asshole, hardly gave the subtlest of performances - though no doubt intentional he was a bit too Guy Ritchie mockney gangsta and it seemed to enhance Burn Gorman's various ticks when they shared scenes. But you had to be impressed by that ending when Gorman managed to contort his face to look exactly like a Weevil without any apparent prosthetics. I've seen gurning championships were he'd win first prize.

Unlike last week, I sat in silence for most of the episode my only murmur being 'Hold on - is it me or is this actually quite good. That can't be right..' to no one in particular. It's even put me in a positive mood for the season finale which looks excellent even though it does employ time travel which seems a bit redundant given the mother series. With the introduction of the other Captain Jack Harkness, it's only potential crime would be to ruin The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by implying that Jack gained his current identity through nefarious means.

PS, On reflection, I'm not so sure about 'I was getting bored of your fuck-tricks anyway'