Books SurLaLune publishing has a heavily annotated edition of Grimm's Rapunzel which includes details of sources, later updates and literary criticism. Here it is the on the implications of the marriage:
"On one level, this story is entirely about procreation and life cycles. The tale begins with one couple, man and wife, and ends by bringing another couple together to marry and have more children. In earlier versions of the tale, the prince doesn't always ask for Rapunzel's hand in marriage although a sexual relationship is implied when Rapunzel gives birth to twins near the end of the story."

Review 2012: The Projects:
Annual Predictions.

That Day It's that time of year again when I assess what were my predictions for the passing year and make up some new ones. Well, and indeed, then:

Obama re-elected.
He was and by a wider margin than might have been predicted mid-term. As a disciple of Nate Silver, I entirely ignored the polling numbers and simply watched his chancing of winning percentage graph and although it took a dip coming out of that first debate, by election day it had surpassed the previous peak. So while Republicans rubbed their hands together and the media, especially in the UK, were talking about the election being too close to call, I was quietly confident, if not entirely. Now one of Romney's sons is suggesting that his father didn't want to be President anyway which is either sour grapes or explains why the Republican candidate ran such a lacklustre campaign.  But the most important thing is, ONE MARK.

Murdoch's empire collapses.
Not quite, not yet.  To an extent it's too big to fail.  It's not about Murdochs to much of an extent anymore even though they're still the figureheads.  Their foot soldiers are now well trained enough to continue their legacy even if sections of the business are being separated.  Now you could argue that splitting the empire into two separate companies is a collapse, and that I could award myself half a mark at least, but it's not good enough.  Sky still broadcasts. His newspapers still publish.  He still owns 20th Century Fox.

Sugababes reforms.
Aha, the jokey outside chance comes through again.  Last year is was the lost Who episodes.  This year, well, blimey.  The album isn't out yet, but Siobhan, Keisha and Mutya giving interviews and recording is good enough for me.  ONE MARK.

Shakespeare found.
No manuscript, no lost play, and actually no old plays conferred new canonicity even if an Arden edition of Edward III's been confirmed for a 2014 publication.  Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre remains were found though, which is still a huge discovery given the archaeological implications so I'm taking HALF A MARK.

Planet saved.
"I have high hopes about us all finding a mutually agreed decision on climate change," the thirty seven year old version of me said, "though what I really mean is that we’ll simply move from being negative to positive about the future. I’ll leave it to the thirty-eight year old version of me, next year, to measure exactly what that means. Sorry, future me." You bastard.  And to think I let you discover the majesty of Scott Pilgrim vs The World that year.  Well, it's probably your fault that that Doha was a bust, the global financial crisis continues unabated and I've been unable to find a clear direction in life.  Well, the third one at least.  Though in all fairness it was a tall order.  At any point in Earth's history has anyone felt positive about the future? The planet was saved in The Avengers, but I don't think that counts, sadly.

Another two and half marks, so still keeping to the average even after all these years.  Now then 2013, what have you got for me.  Or us?

Lab/Lib coalition in the UK by the end of the year.

Paul McGann in Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary television special.

BBC announces new complete works of Shakespeare.

Andrew Stanton hired to direct Star Wars.  Aaron Sorkin works on script in some capacity.

Liverpool artist wins Turner Prize.

After last year's vagaries, I've decided to go specific, though not so specific that I'd risking adding that I think Tim Farron will be the new leader of the Lib Dems having replaced Clegg because Milliband won't work with him and Vince Cable won't want the job.  I'll reserve the right to half marks if McGann is in the special but not playing the Doctor in case they utilise the Zagreus strategy of employing past cast members in new roles.  The rest is self explanatory.  Good luck 2013, I'm counting on you.

Toy Soldiers.

Review 2012: The Projects:
Mystery Music March.

Music  Over a year after Forgotten Films, Mystery Music March was my attempt (in 2008) to force myself to write about music, not something I'd ever been comfortable with.  I'm still not.  When was the last time this blog carried a music review of any kind?  Unlike the previous blogcapade, this was ultimately even more autobiographical and the culture under consideration mostly available.  Which is why I've gone through and updated these old posts with illustrative YouTube clips of nearly everything.

41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Carla Bruni’s quelqu'un m'a dit
The Doctor Who Theme – David Arnold
Bold Street – Eugene McGuiness
Funny How -- Airhead
Godspeed You Black Emperor's Raise Yr Skinny Fists To Heaven
The Elements – Tom Lehrer
I’m Like A Bird – Nelly Furtado
The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feeling Groovy) – Woodstock
Intro / Tokyo -- Richard Beggs
Me To Be – I Am The World Trade Center
BBC Music Magazine
Once More With Feeling – The Cast of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
The Rough Guides To World Music
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
Losing My Religion – Tori Amos
Qui-Gon's Noble End – John Williams
Imperial Bedroom -- Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Supermarioland -- Ambassadors Of Funk Featuring M.C. Mario
The JCB Song – Nizpoli
Plays The Music of Oasis – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Video Killed The Radio Star – Buggles
Zadok The Priest -- George Frideric Handel
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Guilty Pleasures
Answer Machine Message (Baby Call Me Back) -- Britney Spears
By The Sea – Roosta
The 'Internet'
God Be With You Till We Meet Again – Ralph Vaughn Williams
Thank You -- Dido

Perhaps one of the most interesting isn't directly about music.  In the post, I condescendingly include a scan of an old BBC Music Magazine article about the dawn of the internet as an illustration of how far we'd come.  Ironically, two of applications mentioned underneath would be superseded by Spotify just a few years later, the Wired blog was shut down and the other posts far less than it used to.

Not long after I completed Mystery Music March, which due to illness was some time that May (!), on a visit to Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, I stumbled upon a promo copy of Scarlett Johansson's album Anywhere I Lay My Head.  Having noted the richness of her singing voice in her cover of Summertime a few years before, I was looking forward to more of the same.

Anywhere I Lay My Head disappointed me.  Her register seemed an octave too low, the content of the songs was, I thought, too maudlin, and not really understanding the music of Tom Waits then, decided it just wasn't my sort of thing.  So I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for the next four years.  Four years is a surprisingly long time.  Four years in my case is the difference between being in my early thirties and late thirties.

Four years is long enough to realise what I've been missing.  Over the past month, along with a bunch of Christmas music, my mp3 player's been filled with curiosities, albums which I've not listened to for some time if barely at all and so threaded through Chrissie Hynde and Wizzard have been Johannson's what I now realise, magical, lustrous cover versions of Tom Wait's songs.

Now it's one of my favourite albums.  Scarlett's voice is low, wrecked almost (see above) with that slightly tuneless Dylan quality, but there's a poignancy to the way they're communicated, especially with the multi-layered production filled with uncommon sounds and percussive experimentation.  It's all the more extraordinary because of its very concept, however potentially vanity driven, of Scarlett Johansson singing the songs of Tom Waits.

Waits himself turns up in a couple of tracks, notably the finale Who Are You in which Scarlett, having apparently tried her best throughout seems to finally find Tom's trademark growl, amid synthesised noodlings from the band including what sounds like one of the basic rhythm selections from a Bontempi.  All of which sounds utterly bonkers, and it is, especially when you consider that this is the actress who played the female lead in one of the biggest films of this year.

An endless void.

Art Brian O'Doherty's seminal 1976 article, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, originally published in now extremely rate issues of Art Forum Magazine examins the implications of the modernist blank space and how it either stimulates or clouds our appreciation of the art works displayed within:
"The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is "art." The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. This gives the space a presence possessed by other spaces where conventions are preserved through the repetition of a closed system of values. Some of the sanctity of the church, the formality of the courtroom, the mystique of the experimental laboratory joins with chic design to produce a unique chamber of esthetics. So powerful are the perceptual fields of force within this chamber that once outside it, art can lapse into secular status- and conversely."
Some of my best art experiences have been in white cube spaces and it's certainly preferable to the elaborate rooms which fill some British museums in which the paintings fight for visible supremacy against the fixtures and fittings, images impossible to see due to fluorescent lighting bouncing across their glazed frontages. But sometimes, as was the case at Copperas Hill during the Biennial, a very curious space can enhance the work because of the unexpected juxtapositions.

Review 2012: The Projects:
Forgotten Films.

Film  Can any film truly be regarded as “forgotten” even in these slender five years since this blog dedicated an entire month to the form? Surely with thousands of films available to stream through Lovefilm and Netflix and the global accessibility of shiny discs through Amazon and the like, what seems like everything available, nothing can fall through the cracks, the long tail won’t allow for it.

Well, there are two issues here. Many, many films may be available now, but it’s still up to the consumer to discover them if their relative media companies aren’t advertising their existence. We still need word of mouth recommendations, behavioural engines and expert lists to point us in the direction of some classic piece of cinema which hasn’t yet joined the typical canons, academic or otherwise.

Before recommending one of the forgotten films I’ve enjoyed this year, I thought I’d look back over the films that were sprung on you that month and see how many have either fallen from accessibility or become newly available in the five years since that feature first appeared. Find them all listed below with links back to the original reviews for to aid new readers. Hello.

I'm With Lucy (2002)
Still some availability on dvd, though it looks to have been deleted.  Are some copies from between £2.98 to £9.99 depending on where you're looking.  Available on Lovefilm on dvd.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
On dvd.  On Lovefilm, for rental and streaming.

Magic Town (1947)
Actually making a rare appearance on television as part of BBC Two's new wildly archival schedule on Thursday 10th Jan 2013 (so perhaps iPlayer for the week afterwards depending upon rights issues).  Meanwhile on dvd to buy and rent.

The Hour of the Pig (1993)
Only available on dvd via an expensive R1 copy under the rubbish title The Advocate.  Otherwise its still only available in the UK on a Curzon Video.  Sometimes turns up on BBC Four in a terrible cropped print.

The Red Violin (1998)
Available amazingly cheaply now on dvd at Amazon.  Reached BD in the US.  Dvd to rent at Lovefilm.

A Thousand Acres (1997)
Budget dvd at Amazon which is rentable at Lovefilm.

Barfly (1987)
Apparently still unreleased in the UK.  There is an R2 dvd import available.

Late Night Shopping (2001)
Available on dvd in various flavours.  Also at Lovefilm.

Loser (2000)
Second hand dvds plentiful.  Streamable at Lovefilm but curiously not viewable by post.

All World Cinema (1895 - present)
Link included here for completion sake.  But I'd still recommend all the films listed.

The Core (2003)
Of all the films on this list to be available on region-free BD it had to be this.  Dvd too and in a double bill with Deep Impact which is practically a tragedy remake.  Lovefilm link.

11:14 (2003)
Amazon, Lovefilm.

Hostile Hostages (1994)
DVD under its UK title, The Ref.  Lovefilm on shiny disc.

Quinceanera (Echo Park LA) (2006)
Amazon, Lovefilm (streaming and by post)

The Tribe (1996)
Still only available on R1 dvd, and even more expensive now than in 2007.

Stealing Beauty (1996)
Amazon, Lovefilm.

Visions of Light (1992)
Some dvd copies still floating around for sale and available at Lovefilm.

View From The Top (2003)
The worst film on the list is still one of the most available.  Amazon, and on Lovefilm by post and streaming (so you can skip directly to the scene I'm writing about).

Next (1989)

Life Story (1987)
One of the best films on the list is the least available.  The BBC Education VHS copy doesn't look likely now though there is a low grade copy on YouTube.

Nina Takes A Lover (1994)
Status hasn't changed in five years.  R1 only.

Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)
Status hasn't changed in five years.  VHS only, despite that cast.  I mean look at that cast.

Chacun cherche son chat (1996)
Available on R2 import for £20.

Memento: The Beginning of the End
Is an Easter egg on the special dvd edition of the film.

The Red Siren (2002)
Amazon, Lovefilm.

One Night Stand (1984)
Not available.  Not even the VHS version I bought ex-rental in the mid-90s.

The Family Stone (2005)
Of course it is.  It's The Family Stone.  Happy Christmas.  Amazon.  Lovefilm.

Happy Endings (2005)
No, not the sitcom.  It's a Don Roos film.  Was available on R2 for about three seconds so there are copies floating around.  Lovefilm also have it.  Along with the sitcom.

The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)
Amazon, Lovefilm.

In reality, despite everything, the availability of titles hasn't changed much.  If it wasn't available five years ago, it still isn't and indeed some titles have since been deleted, with YouTube and Lovefilm only coming to the rescue on a couple of occasions.  As such, there isn't a film version of Spotify, a celestial cinema in which seemingly everything ever is available however obscure.  A studio still has to choose to make it so.

What about a new recommendation?  In short, The Whistleblower (pictured), in which a typically compelling Rachel Weisz is Kathryn Bolkovac, the real life U.N. International Police Force monitor who uncovered sexual abuse amongst her fellow officers serving in Bosnia.  Like Green Zone, Blood Diamond and The Kingdom, it utilises fairly typical Hollywood thriller tropes to elucidate subject matter which might otherwise be illuminated via documentary.

Which isn't to say it isn't tough.  The parallel storyline following a Ukrainian woman who's sold into the sex trade which ultimately leads to Bolkovac's involvement is horrific and enough to make the viewer hate their fellow person, especially when it seems that she'll be saved and is inevitably let down by bureaucracy at its most blandly mechanical and inhuman.

Despite being a film of unique quality, The Whistleblower toured the film festivals of the world but only received a limited cinema release in the US and did not go theatrical in the UK where it went straight to dvd this year and for ages exclusively to Blockbuster which is where I bumped into it for the first time having overlooked its existence until then.  I eventually rented it from Lovefilm, but it is also available for a fiver on dvd and blu-ray.

WHO 50: 1968:
The Mind Robber.

TV  One of the more eccentric elements of early Who includes the lengths the production team had to go through in order to produce each week’s episode, particularly in unforeseen circumstances.

During the making of The Keys of Marinus it was agreed that each of the regulars would have a couple of weeks off and in that and each ensuing story, other characters were brought in, sections were pre-filmed and scripts extensively rewritten to accommodate this much needed holiday.

With the show being made in series of over forty episodes, who could blame them?  Did the public, as they would now, notice that the participation of the regulars were extensively scaled back in those weeks?  Was there talk of a Susan-lite episode?

But sometimes, such changes were so last minute that they utterly changed the fabric of what was on screen, or as in the case of The Mind Robber enhanced it.

When Frazer Hines contracted chicken pox, there wasn’t much that could be practically or convincingly done to write the character out.  So they recast.

A scene was written in which the Doctor and Zoe were forced to put the features of a cut-out version of Jamie back together to save him.

They fail and in walks Hamish Wilson playing Jamie for the rest of the episode and quite well too, blending seemlessly into the mayhem of the Land of Fiction.

By the next episode, Frazer was back, Jamie’s face put back to normal.

But our understanding of the environment became richer.  Darker.  It doesn’t just have the capacity to create fictional characters from the minds of the Doctor his companions, it can materially change them too.


The Snowmen.

TV There you are. Where were we? Right, then, Doctor Who’s The Snowmen. Wasn’t it good? Wasn’t it? Since it is Boxing Day as a write and and I've still the rest of the Olympic opening ceremony to watch (Danny Boyle's a fan of the TV Movie it seems) it’s also lucky that it’s the kind of episode which lends itself to bullet headings, section titles and lists. So even though I’m generally dead against that sort of thing in blog posts, resorting to * * * * * and the like, on this occasion, I’m going to crack on with bullet headings, section titles or lists. Do not expect this to be business as usual, but let’s face it, as episode go, The Snowmen was not business as usual either.


Well, sort of, because throughout The Snowmen, for all the Moffat-patented Christmassy whimsy of intelligent snow it’s not until later that I realised that in fact the Great Intelligence’s plan isn’t a parsec or two away from what the Nestene Consciousness has already achieved. This GI’s plan is to repopulate the planet with ice sculpted human beings something the NC has already achieved and has been using for decades creating plastic pals who think it’s fun to behead you. In other words, ironically at this point in their relative histories the Nestene Consciousness is a cleverer being that something presumptuously calling itself the Great Intelligence, which probably serves it right.

Elswhere, The Snowmen shares form with specials of previous years. In Richard E Grant’s frosty Walter Simeon, a Kazran like figure who the Doctor can’t save by wandering through his past (even when he realises he can be bothered) so simply deletes it, influenced instead by the (not so) Great Intelligence. The Victoriana of The Next Doctor and A Christmas Carol (albeit then thanks to a colony world harking backwards). Less developed but still present there’s also a family touched by tragedy caught up in it all ala The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. There’s also the kind of love conquers all, there’s nothing quite like the magic of Christmas resolution which can only really be acceptable on the 25th of a December.

But on top of that, it’s also a paradigm reversal remake of Rose in which instead of the Doctor pulling his new companion into an adventure, teasing her along, it’s the other way around. Moffat seems to be deliberately echoing that earlier episode throughout, from the Doctor saving Clara from the Snowmen hoard at the end of her working day, to her (rather than him) following him to his place of residence, to her later dashing into the TARDIS, stepping out, running around the outside and dashing in again. Perhaps I’m stretching the point, perhaps there’s a standard model, but the classic series rarely had companion introductions quite like this.


Since we’re here. My goodness. Now that the show’s been back for a few years, the companion figure is becoming increasingly difficult to get right. The new format, which has somewhat been remodelled on screwball comedies, demands that she be relatively feisty, well ok, very feisty, but without repeating what’s gone before. We’ve had mutually in love with the Doctor, crushing on the Doctor, friends with the Doctor, ambiguously attracted despite being married, married to the Doctor and now we have intellectually teasing the Doctor. I’ll theorise a bit later, but Clara has the potential to beat them all simply because like the Doctor, we can’t work her out.  Clara who?

We know nothing about her. In her Oswin form, we were handed a slender bit of back story, of joining the Starship Alaska crew as Junior Entertainment Manager. This Clara person is a barmaid and governess, but beyond that we’re told nothing about her. This automatically makes her compelling. We don’t even know if these two characters are the same being, facet, reincarnations or … no, speculation later. The point is, companions in the new series usually come with a ready developed back story, a family, a mess of stuff and Clara Oswin Oswald has none at all. All she has is her force of personality.

Interestingly, the TARDIS Index File lists her under the same record. She was there and now she’s here, even though in describing her, they’ve essentially describing two (or three!) distinct fictional beings. The best bit is the final paragraph, one of those occasion when this wikia goes a bit QI. I’ll quote it in full to save me paraphrasing:
Clara's headstone in 1892 states that she was born on 23 November 1866 and that she died in 24 December 1892, meaning she not only shares the same birthday (though not the year) as Doctor Who itself but that she was also 26-years-old when she died — the same age as Doctor Who was when it was cancelled in 1989.
Mind blown I know! I know! That’s Moffat at his most intricate, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more:
The Evil of the Daleks, which introduced the other Victorian companion, Victoria Waterfield, who also faced the Daleks and the Great Intelligence, took place in 1966, one hundred years after Clara was born. The oldest Dalek model to appear in her first story was also from Victoria's origin story and another of her stories (TV: The Web of Fear) was referenced in her second (a reference to the 1967 London Underground).
This magnificent piece of detective work has to be more of a coincidence doesn’t it?  Less of a coincidence than Victoria happening to be the star of this blog's title bar in Christmas week anyway.  Let’s add that to the list of things to speculate about later.

All of which ignores Jenna-Louise’s compelling performance demonstrating that Asylum of the Daleks wasn’t a fluke and that Andy Pryor and the production team have chosen another fabulous actress for the Doctor’s companion, on this occasion with the range to articulate multiple accents. Like Karen Gillan before her, there also some automatic chemistry with Matt, who genuinely seems energised by her. There are also few actresses with the guile to convincingly jump about outside an invisible spaceship shouting the owner’s name, at least not since Catherine Hicks in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

As she fell from the TARDIS, I gasped, both because I was watching a character who in the slender screen time I’d grown to adore unexpectedly dying at what’s supposed to be the most exciting moment for a companion, but also because of the audacity of it, especially on Christmas Day. It’s not quite Suzie being shot through the head in Torchwood’s Everything Changes especially with the ensuing throw forward, but it’s a rare occasion when an “emotional” death is wrapped up in an intellectual conundrum and that is different for Christmas Day, to have a piece of television which challenges the viewer in that way.

The Doctor.

Almost every Christmas special has consisted of the Doctor brooding about something, usually it’s a companion, once it was his own mortality and it’s a trope that something will force him to snap out of it, rekindle his sense of adventure. The idea of the Doctor not becoming involved is an anathema, so it’s little surprise that he does eventually don the bowtie and step up. We don’t know how long it is since the last episode in his lifetime. Could be decades. Could be a century. He mentions being over a thousand years old, but again, it’s entirely possibly he’s been moping around for decades.

Matt’s very good at moping, just as he is everything else. But what’s surprising is just how much more mature he seems. I accidentally stumbled on my copy of Party Animals the other day and the photo on the back looks almost like a different actor. Like every Doctor before him, he’s physically aged into the role. Not as significantly as Tom, not yet, but when he stopped to look in the mirror at one point, I thought it would be the character acknowledging the passage of time (it was the bowtie). Not that his line readings have changed much. Writers will probably never know if their dialogue will be shouted or whispered, though his choices are usually just right.

Old Friends.

“I am the lizard woman from the dawn of time - and this is my wife.” Aaah, Vastra and Jenny, you do spoil us. As everyone else has said, it’s ironic that on the day the Archibishop of Canterbury condemned gay marriage in the one address each year when people are listening and you’d think he’d instead be promoting peace and goodwill to all men and women, the BBC’s flagship family tv drama doesn’t just endorse it, but to such a degree that it’s interspecies. Oh bless you Steven for providing this antidote however inadvertent. This is why Doctor Who, like Shakespeare, is the closest thing I have to a religion.

Nevertheless, Moffat utilises the “keep them greedy” approach to their return, putting them central enough in the action that they’re able to pick up the curiosity slack early in the episode when the Doctor doesn’t give a toss, but again not so much that we learn all of their tricks.  We still want that spin-off damn it.  Aguably it’s Strax who has all of the best lines, having lost a few IQ points since he died leading to a Tribbianite understanding of life, albeit without the interest in women (unless he’s revealed to have a secret crush on Jenny and wouldn’t that be a complicated love triangle) (what else is the probic vent for?), and strange obliviousness to the Doctor’s racism.  Yes it is.  Isn't it?

Since it’s implied that Vastra is the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, let’s ruminate briefly on the great detective’s status in the Whoniverse. A glance at the latest edition of Ahistory indicates that as far as spin-off fiction is concerned, from Andy Lane’s All Consuming Fire onwards, Holmes is a full blooded character within this fictional universe and has been embraced to such an extent that it’s possible to conjecture that all of Conan Doyle’s stories, like Nigel Kneale's, are retrospectively canonical. Lane’s book suggests the author is fictionalising the exploits of real people, which isn’t contradicted by The Snowmen. Thank goodness.

New titles, new music, new TARDIS interior.

The murky time vortex has been replaced by a Contact-like drift through the cosmos which vaguely references all of the previous title sequences and Matt Smith’s face peering out of a nebula which vaguely references the cover of the Eighth Doctor novel The Slow Empire. The new Dominic Glynn hewed version of the title music reintegrates some of the alieness of Delia Derbyshire’s original arrangement, though frankly going into the 50th year what we’d really want is Delia Derbyshire’s original arrangement which if you’re paying attention hasn’t aged and continues to resonate in and influence electronic compositions.

The decision to change these indicates The Snowmen is supposed to be something of a reboot that looks backwards across the history of the series and that’s also true of the new control room, a kind of submarine take on the white nightmare of the classic series. The space seems smaller, though with everything else happening we didn’t really get a chance to see Michael Pickwoad design at its best.  There still isn’t a proper scanner, though opening a door and looking out is the more epic option. My favourite interior is still the TV Movie. It’s so ludicrously huge it fulfils the suggestion that the TARDIS has a whole universe within its walls.

Everything Else.

Where to start?  Murray's music packed with new themes and a homage to David Arnold's Sherlock track at the necessary moment?  Pickwoard's atmospheric design elsewhere including the spiral staircase leading to a cloud and the Great Intelligence literally inhabiting a snow globe?  The costumes especially on Jenna-Louise who it seems looks amazing in both spacewear and corsetry?  The Snowmen with their Jack Skellington faces?  Life on Mars's Liz White (who was once companion material) in a tiny little (and frankly slightly thankless role) as a maid?  No, let's start with Ian McKellan voicing the not so Great Intelligence.  Ian McKellan!  In the month that the new Hobbit film is out.  Not bad, Andy Pryor.  Not bad.


Who is Clara Oswin Oswald? It is still possible that she is fragments of the same figure blown across time Scaroth like, but she keeps dying. Is it that she keeps being resurrected? Is she conscious of the other versions of herself? My initial thought after Asylum was that we and the Doctor would meet a new version in each episode and that she’d die by the end of each somehow like Kenny from South Park, only to magically re-appear the following week never conscious of her other selves but entirely the same character, the Doctor flummoxed as to why he keeps meeting her, a string of one-off companions who’re all the same companion.

The problem with that approach, however ground-breaking, are the merchandising implications, with licensees trying to work out if each of their stories would have to have the same structure, the Doctor meeting a Clara at the start of each comic, novel and audio only to be lost by the end. It’s also a big ask for the audience to be empathetic across so many different iterations of the character, having to carry their affection across these multiple personalities. It’s the Dollhouse problem in some respects despite it being an adorable actress playing loads of different characters who’re the same character.

Luckily, the trailer offers a few other suggestions. There’s talk of a girl who died twice but still lives, which suggests the Doctor’s going to be meet the very modern Clara in the graveyard and she’s going to be the girl he carries into time (with the prospect come Easter of at least the third introduction of the same character) (will it still be played from her pov or his?), trying to find out what links her to the other characters. Clones? Sisters lost in time? Or has she been planted to be the Doctor’s perfect companion ala Paul Abbot’s suggestion for the slot which he was given in the 2005 series before he dropped out, either by some future version of the Time Lord or someone else? River?

The other main thread is the not so Great Intelligence. The implication is The Snowmen is supposed to be a prequel to The Web of Fear. Will all of the stories in the upcoming year feed back into the old mythology, perhaps all be subtle prequels to classic stories somehow, one for each of the Doctors? Lord knows what they’ll do for Eighth given the dodgy connectivity with the spin-off media leading to no chance of a pre-visit to Edward Grove or appearance from Fitz. Grace can’t wander through can she? It’s going to be a celebrity historical featuring Puccini isn’t it? Unless we actually get the Eighth Doctor himself. Yes, that should do it.


A magnificent episode of the kind which you want to watch almost as soon as you’ve finished the first time, The Snowmen is clearly the best story of the seventh series so far, assuming, due to its weird structuring it can be included as part of that seventh series. What’s the boxed set going to look like? Will it include two Christmas specials? How is the series going to chime in international sales with a whole new bunch of stuff in the middle or is it being treated as two separate series? Is s8 actually beginning in Easter? I know, I’m effectively playing with the packaging. But can you blame me? It's still Christmas for two whole hours.


Archaeology The world's largest ancient Egyptian sarcophagus has been identified in a tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings:
"Made of red granite, the royal sarcophagus was built for Merneptah, an Egyptian pharaoh who lived more than 3,200 years ago. A warrior king, he defeated the Libyans and a group called the "Sea Peoples" in a great battle.

"He also waged a campaign in the Levant attacking, among others, a group he called "Israel" (the first mention of the people). When he died, his mummy was enclosed in a series of four stone sarcophagi, one nestled within the other."

Magnetic Fields.

Astrophysics Magnetic field shapes spinning black hole. The astrophysicist in his home territory:
"At the time of our interview, McKinney was working in a small office on the fourth floor of the physics building of the University of Maryland. He had just moved and his office had boxes everywhere, a bicycle shoved into a corner and two tables awkwardly positioned in the middle of the room. The tables were coated with a layer of black soot that had dropped through a ceiling air vent.

"My own jet of grossness," he called it."

Walking in the air ...

TV Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Wasn't it though? Wasn't it? I'll post a review of Doctor Who's The Snowmen if I can get my head around it in the next week or so (it's Christmas night, I don't get review copies beforehand and my new blu-ray of the Olympic opening ceremony (without commentary!) is waiting to be watched).

But let's look back at my review of the Children in Need prequel and ...
"I'm still going with my theory that Oswin and Clara are two facets of the same character, scattered through time ala Scagra and the Key and that the Doctor will either accidentally keep meeting them or be motivated to gather them all up and make them whole. It would be nice for him to simply be travelling with her though in the typical mode. One of the problems of the last five, was that the jiggery-pokery required in each episode to explain why the Ponds are travelling with with that week."
At this point possibly. Maybe. Either way. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.  Happy Christmas.

Review 2012: The Projects:
My Top Ten Films of 2012.

Film Having thought about this for a few days, or at least hours, perhaps minutes, I’ve realised it’s impossible for me to select ten films I’ve truly enjoyed this year because despite outward appearances at the box office, I’ve seen so many more than ten great films this year, it’s impossible for me to single them out and makes me wonder exactly how film critics manage it, though to be fair most of the time they’re choosing what they think are empirically the “best” because it’s their job, whereas I’m trying to find favourites.

It’s also a process not helped by the sheer volume of films I’ve watched and also the haphazard way I approach them with little regard for release schedules or vintage. As we’ve established elsewhere, my paying film theatrical experience of new films this year amounts to Cabin In The Woods, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit, with press screenings of Delicacy and This Must Be The Place, all of which I’d happily include on such a list if I was being forced to make one. Even now I have a strange feeling I saw something at the Cornerhouse in Manchester too. Um.

But that leaves five to fill in and with Margin Call, Shame, Haywire, Coriolanus, The Descendents, Young Adult, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, John Carter (of Mars), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, We Bought A Zoo, The Hunger Games, Tiny Furniture, Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, Damsels in Distress, Iron Sky, Moonrise Kingdom, A Royal Affair, Your Sister’s Sister, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World and The Flowers of War to choose from, that’s not easy.

Plus there’s all of the films made in other times which I saw for the first time this year which seem just as present, like the three hour cut of Margaret which would and should have been considered one of the greatest films of the 00s, and everything from the back end of 2011 like Midnight In Paris, Tyrannosaur, Sleeping Beauty, Contagion, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Help, Immortals, The Rum Diary, 50/50, The Deep Blue Sea, Moneyball, My Week With Marilyn, Resistance, Another Earth, Mysteries of Lisbon and The Artist. Shouldn’t they count?

Take instead, then, all of those films as recommended, though let’s face it you’ve presumably seen most of them already. Here’s where I think film is in 2012. In surprisingly good health. Whilst it’s true there is a hole where US mid-budget films used to be, low budget titles have become even more ingenious to cope and the gap’s being filled internationally more than ever, in Europe and the Far East (cf, Headhunters and The Raid). Plus distribution networks outside of cinemas continue to make the history and geography of cinema even more available so there is always something “new” to watch.


Fashion  Tori Spelling (yes, Tori Spelling) on how to make your own kaftan:
"Whether you're in your living room, by the pool, or entertaining guests, there's a kaftan for every occasion. So why not customize yours by sewing them yourself? It's actually pretty simple: on the scale of difficulty, if hemming a pair of jeans is a "one" and sewing a couture dress is a "ten," making your own kaftan is about a two or three."

"Our lives are different to anybody else’s."

TV One of the elements of the modern world which still confuses me is what constitutes being a geek or nerd. Computer and video games now sell in vast numbers but those who play them simply aren't labelled as nerdy in the same way as we were in the 80s, when even owning a computer automatically placed you in a particular subgroup. That's also true of television and film, where genre titles and the achievements of same mean that there are probably people walking around who would undoubtedly previously be described as having geek sensibilities but don't consider themselves as such. And let's not get started on computer use in general.

What I hadn't considered, though, is how females in particular, especially girls who identify themselves as geeks, either find themselves as somehow fake, especially if they're of a particular appearance, or otherwise patronised by men who're surprised by the fact that they have seen every episode of Fringe or want to dress up as a Star Wars droid. I'd hope I've never been guilty of this, especially towards anyone reading this blog. Indeed my assumption, taking into account everything I've said in the opening paragraph, is that women are often even more passionate about this stuff than men and better at it, because they seem to be in most things anyway. Seriously.  Men are rubbish and women would do just as well without us.

The Mary Sue has asked psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi to consider why "are we so deeply threatened by the notion of falsified fandom?" with the wider issue of this kind of chauvinism and how women who do identify themselves as geeks face disbelief by XY chromosome carrying mouth breathers:
"I recently traveled to a psychology conference, and, upon arriving at the airport for my departing flight, experienced an example of a microinvalidation. At security check, after my technology went through the scanner, I scurried over to gather my shoes and belongings. I picked up my Star Wars hoodie and wrapped it around my Batgirl t-shirt. The thirty-something male TSA agent pointed to my Kindle, the one with the Star Wars comics cover, and immediately looked at the stranger standing next to me: “Is this your Kindle?” 
The stranger next to me, a twenty-something looking guy dressed in plain jeans and a pale shirt, shook his head. “It’s mine,” I blurted. The TSA-man then leaned forward and said, giddily, “That’s really awesome. I love Star Wars too.” A compliment. But I couldn’t process the kind words because I was still recovering from being stunned by his assumption that my things do not actually belong to me. A reminder of the widespread belief that Star Wars is gendered. It’s male. The thing I love is for males."
Another interesting question is why I don't identify as much.  I have a TARDIS wallpaper on my why-phone, City of Death themed keyrings (Eiffel Tower, TARDIS) and TARDIS blue jumpers, but I don't wear branded t-shirts or any of that business (partly because it's cheaper to be man at Asda).  Perhaps I should dig out my fez.

More Eighth Doctor for BBC Radio Four Extra.

Radio The schedules for the opening few weeks of next year have opened up at the BBC website, including for Radio Four Extra, including news that another set of Big Finish's Eighth Doctor audios are to be broadcast, from the fourth series, from the 7th January onwards.

So far, Death in Blackpool, Situation Vacant, Nevermore, The Book of Kells and Deimos have been scheduled and since that last one is the beginning of a two parter there's every possibility that they'll be running them through to the end since there are still five days worth, enough for the following week.  Excellent.


TV  The BBC's live transmission of the 1947 production of Jack and the Beanstalk from the Croydon Grand was a logistical nightmare that led to innumerable problems:
"Monday evening, 6 January, came around, with the plan being to transmit the first half of the pantomime from 6.45 to 8.25pm. At 5.00pm that afternoon the OB transmitting van was working perfectly, but soon afterwards a fault appeared. According to a detailed technical report compiled in the wake of what he described as ‘a double disaster’, assistant chief engineer R. T. B. Wynn wrote, ‘This fault was intermittent [...] and conditions of darkness, weather and cramped space made the location of the fault and clearance of it extremely difficult.’ The whole broadcast was lost."

Review 2012: The Projects:
Film Lists.

Film As ever this year brought several film viewing projects. There’s the Sight and Sound 2012 poll, which surprised me in two ways, both because I’d already seen all of the top ten (apart from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc) and because they manage to be both innovative and thoroughly entertaining at the same time, something not all of the other two hundred and forty films voted below them can claim.  Too often the so-called “canon” puts artifice and innovation above watchability, leaving the viewer having to wade through three hours of dull lighting. Which isn’t going to stop me from wading through the next 240. Having reviewed both, I should add that in no way is Vertigo a better film than Citizen Kane, a work which still maintains most of its thematic resonance seventy years later.

Having decided Anne Hathaway was the best thing about The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve also set about working my way through her career, which meant finally sitting through Bride Wars. Predictably she’s the best thing about that too just as she manages to elevate other less than promising material like Havoc and Passengers. She’s a rare example of a teen actress capably managing the shift into mature fare, though it’s also true that disappointingly her only film with any real indie sensibilities is Rachel Getting Married, even though she’d be excellent at mumblecore (which that isn't quite).  About the only film she can’t save is One Day, mainly because as with most films of that ilk (and like Love and Other Drugs actually), the writers and director are determined to tell the whole thing from the man’s perspective.

Plus there’s the ongoing attempt to make sure I watch anything that’s been nominated for an award at a smattering of ceremonies. Due to the sheer volume of film content produced each year and not wanting to bother too much with spoilery reviews, I’ve taken to adding (as a priority) to my Lovefilm list any film nominated for anything at the Oscars, Baftas, Golden Globes and Cannes as well as the yearly lists from Empire, Sight and Sound Magazine and Mark Kermode. Sometimes this consensus approach leads me to snoring through the likes of Act of Valor because it received a best song nod, but it does at least mean I feel like I’m seeing most of anything of (general) regard in a year, with only the Golden Globes throwing in a few bogies in the comedy and musical categories.

Lovefilm is still my main source of cinematic exposure having been inside an auditorium precisely thrice, for Cabin in the Woods, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit all spoiled to some degree by the nearby inconsiderate audience members with their food and their mobile phones. If the internets hadn’t been having a spoilergasm over them I wouldn’t have bothered, though as it turned out I probably should have seen The Avengers too, its biggest surprise accidentally ruined on the same day I received the boxed set, such are the dangers of following the blu-ray release dates for films rather than theatrical. None of which stops me from still listening to the Kermode podcast each week, even if I’ve generally forgotten what he’s said by the time I receive the shiny discs in the post. Watch out for my top ten soon.

WHO 50: 1967:
Tomb of the Cybermen.

“I wonder what he would have thought if he could see me now.”

TV Another Cyberman story, another remarkable moment which has almost nothing to do with them.

When Doctor Who was revived, much of the commentary pointed to how much of the series was refreshingly about the characters, the so-called soapier aspects, of the Doctor dealing with survivor guilt, Rose tied to her home and their romance.

This as though the first run lacked all of these things, as though everything was about the plot, the characters one-dimensional automations.

Whilst it’s true across the two and a half decades, such elements oscillated in importance, there are still many scenes in which the characters consider their relationships to one another and their unique position (as was the case then) as time travellers in the fourth dimension.

Sometimes, often, these were clustered around major events, companions joining or leaving, a regeneration.

But sometimes, they would be in the midst of an adventure, just as now, and in their own way all the more powerful because it.

Here’s a quiet moment from Tomb of the Cybermen.

It’s extraordinary for a number of reasons, not least the performances, Patrick and Deborah demonstrating that he wasn’t simply playing the clown and she the screamer.

It’s the two of them sharing their pasts with each other and the viewers and not in a glib way, not for example, the Time Lord name dropping or Jamie emphasising his Scottish heritage.

It’s them talking about their relative losses, the ancient man whose escaped his home world, the girl who watched her father die.

Her acknowledging that he could be a potential father figure, him communicating that their mission goes beyond that:
"Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing. Nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing."
Arguably all of his best companions since have understood that too. Embodied it.

Then it’s time for Victoria to sleep, the Doctor to keep watch.

Review 2012: The Projects:
Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, issue #8.

Comics Ho, ho, bloody ho. Last week the writers of what is, without shadow of a doubt, one of the worst comic representations of either of these franchises ever were interviewed by Comic Book Resources. As Allyn suggested when tweeting me the link, "you may have an aneurysm". He was quite right. Everything you need to know about what went wrong with Assimilation2 is in there especially their lack of knowledge of Doctor Who, which they differente from Star Trek as being “science fantasy” not “science fiction” as though fantasy and fiction are opposite words and transporters seem more plausible than a machine that travels through time. They admit that Star Trek is easier for them because they’ve been writing in that universe for much longer, which explains why they probably hadn’t realised that it exists as a television programme within the Whoniverse which explains why at no point has the Doctor, Amy or Rory said, “Oh my god we’re in the Star Trek universe”. Though frankly that’s been the least of its worries.

Bizarrely this series has had its fans. The writers indicate they’ve “done convention and bookstore signings over the course of the year, everyone has been super-friendly and complimentary. I think it comes through that we love both these properties and are trying to do right by both.”  The solitary comment on the interview says, “As a fan of both shows, I really loved this series. Well done and thanks to everybody involved. As you all did a great job on it, that you should be really proud of! Loved it!” Which is fine, really. Everything is a matter of taste after all. Just because I think that this is empirically and provably rubbish doesn’t mean that someone else can’t consider that it’s an unutterably flawless work of genius. The writers certainly seem to be pleased with themselves. But for all CBR’s indication this has been a critical success, I’ve not found many reviews which are more than at least luke-warm. Starburst hates it as much as I do. Forbidden Planet uses phrases like “frustratingly uneven”.

Spoilers, spoilers, this is another synopsis. So what do we have behind the Kirby homaging cover with the baby-faced Doctor and orgasmic Worf? An extended action sequence, the issue begins with a cliffhanger resolution and the wrongness begins pretty much immediately with Amy utilising one of her three lines in the issue (“All right.”) in agreeing to provide covering phaser fire for Worf and some other security guards as they go in to sabotage the CyberBorg ship’s engines (her other lines are, spoilers, “Bye!” and “Just hope what?”). That’s Amy Pond. With a phaser. Providing covering fire for a Klingon and some security guards. Rory warns that they’re not trained marksmen. Worf suggests they’ll “do fine”. Not that we get to see this because they cutaway to the sabotage so we don’t actually see them fire at anything, which is probably for the best. If this was being acted by Karen and Arthur they’d probably be a bit grumpy, though Rory has more things to say and has an exciting moment with a door later.

Three pages later we’re back with the Doctor, Picard, Data and Riker’s Borgfriend, or friend who is a Borg (though he doesn’t appear in a frame for two pages) facing up to the CyberBorg hoards. After a page or two considering how they’re going to get past them to reach the CyberController, they’re captured anyway (which means those two pages look particularly wasteful with just twenty-two to play about with), then released again when the ship is eradiated with gold dust by the Enterprise. Once again we ask when it was established in nuWho that the nuCybermen were vulnerable to gold (not that you can’t introduce tropes in spin-off fiction but this seems incongruous). Then Picard suddenly has a translucent face-mask on to stop him breathing in the fumes. This just appears between frames. We can imagine he whipped it out of his pocket, but Starfleet uniforms aren’t known for them and no one has a bag. Where did they come from? Note the Doctor doesn’t have one. He’s holding a hanky up to his nose, which barely seems adequate.

After that, they go and see the Cyber-controller, whose a surprisingly articulate bugger. Cyber-controllers so far on the revival have been characters we’ve come to know who’ve been converted (cf, The Age of Steel, The Next Doctor) and this fella is in that realm, but his dialogue closer to the classic form ala Earthshock, with lots of fist clenching and poetic threats. He spends most of his monologue confirming what we already know from previous issues about the Cybermen converting the Borg, before he’s quickly neuralized by Data and the Riker’s Borgfriend, and the Doctor uses him to finish blowing up the ship and the Cybermen with it. We’re now at page sixteen. At no point have we been surprised, much, by any of this and what we’ve been watching/reading/snoring through is a well-executed plan. Good god, it’s boring, apart from, perhaps the dynamic moment at the bottom of page eleven with the Cyber-controller seems to leap off the ground and hover over the Doctor with Picard standing nearby with a mean look on his face waving around a phaser rifle.

Everyone safely into the TARDIS. But wait, Riker’s Borgfriend has made it on board and reverting back to his programming is attempting to assimilate the time machine. At least I think that’s what’s happening. He’s sort of squatting nearby and the next moment the TARDIS is attempting to possess Data in an attempt to save itself. Again, what could and should be a big moment of joy is pissed away in a few frames before Rory’s exciting bit with a door is handed a page and a half. I keep returning to the narrative real estate portioning because over and again the writers can’t seem to decide how this story should be paced. There’s enough mileage in Data interfacing with the TARDIS to fill a whole issue and in a more interestingly structured series it would. But over and again across these issues, the more fascinating ideas with the most potential are put to the backburner in favour of repeated exposition or action sequences that merely set out to mimic what’s already been shown on television.

With two and a half pages to go, the writers tip their hand as Trek fans first of all by giving a whole page to an admittedly well executed scene about Riker coming to terms with the change in his Borgfriend via a conversation with Crusher (who seems to have been drawn in accidentally because its more of a Troi moment) and then the TARDIS crew turn up to tell them they’re going home and explain that simply by destroying this one ship they’ve wiped all the Cybermen from the timeline including the ones who appeared with the Baker version of him in issue 3. But thankfully we’re not left with much time to think about the nonsensicality of this because they’re all suddenly in the Holodeck and Picard’s telling the Doctor to fuck off out of his universe is so many words (“I hope our paths never cross again”) before telling him he’s glad to have met him (oh make up your mind). Then we’re back in the TARDIS for a single frame of wrap up in which Sean Penn in Shanghai Surprise tells his companions that universe skipping will be a breeze.  Oh course it will.

In the final frame, as I predicted somewhat previous, there’s the suggestion of a sequel as the Borg come to the conclusion that they must develop time travel, though that could just as well be a throw forward to First Contact (which had its own crossover sequel featuring the X-Men as a comic and novel when Marvel had the rights) (which makes it astonishing that it hasn’t crossed over with Batman yet because everything else has) (presumably it’ll happen if DC get the rights again) (everyone but Dark Horse seems to have had them at one point or other) (there was a weird moment in the late 80s when Marvel UK were publishing a comic then a magazine of Star Trek: The Next Generation carrying DC’s material) (a complete run of which I still have somewhere) (in the original Marvel run produced early in the run of the tv series the helm officers were a married couple who’d bicker all the time) (seriously, they're called the Bickleys) (and Wesley saved the ship in practically every story) (which is a pretty accurate reflection of the television series itself in that period to be honest).

And we’re done. Given the cack-handed way the previous seven issues have been executed we shouldn’t be too surprised the finale is as perfunctory as it is with weird pacing, pointless pages of stuff prosaically showing us action which would take seconds on screen and yet more repeated exposition. Once again, the Eleventh Doctor rarely sounds like himself, with vast generic infodumps instead of fun dialogue and the Enterprise crew largely reduced to being his companion leaving his actual companions without much to do. The artwork’s better than usual, with some nice shading and rendering of publicity photos though there’s one flashback frame featuring Riker with his Borgfriend (who actually looks more like Geordi) in younger happier times in which the artist has remembered not to give him a beard but puts them both in s3 uniforms when, to my understanding, the scene has to have been set before s1 when spandex was very much in for the officer about town.

As expected, there’s a few loose ends, primarily the guff at the beginning about the Doctor gaining memories from the Trekverse, of recognising Worf and his earlier encounter with the Kirk. In his late infodump, the Doctor says the memory banks of the ship should have gone back to normal, but that their own memories are there’s to keep. Does this mean the Doctor now has a mass of useless knowledge in his head about a reality not his own? Has it been adequately explained how they got there? I don’t remember that it has. Allyn, do you know? What was the point of introducing this rather exciting idea then doing almost nothing with apart from justifying a whole issue telling a different story with a different cast two issues in? I’d expected a Fringey moment when the Doctor and his companions forgot that they’d ever existed in a different universe and that the Tholians rather than the Daleks were his mortal enemy. Alas, it was not in the nature of this series to make to such a dramatic narrative leap.

Instead, what could have been an excellent crossover has been squandered and after seeing the amazing initial shots of the Doctor in the Captain’s chair in command of the Enterprise we’re left with a deflated sense of what could and should have been. From a first issue which materially had nothing to do with the rest of the series (and seems to have largely acted as an audition for the next big project for the writers, a series of Who comics to commemorate the 50th year of Doctor Who) (no) (really) onwards across the following seven months (can you believe it?) we’ve had nothing but disappoint after disappointment and as the months have passed I’ve wondered why I was bothering. Yet, I’d still buy each issue hoping against hope that it would do something really extraordinary. More fool me. There’s another CBR interview with the writers worth reading conducted at the start of this process. At the close they’re asked, “would you be game to come back for a second series?” and they answer:

“Are you kidding? The Doomsday Machine and Dalek Imperial Fleet put together couldn't drag me away.”

Oh please god no.

[Allyn has a much rangier analysis of the whole series with more emphasis on its failings as a piece of Star Trek.]



Mythology "Visualising Zeus's infidelities: the Greek god's affairs as chronicled over the centuries, laid out as a graphic":
"A team of data-visualisation designers have created a fascinating graphic representation of the genealogy of Greek god Zeus. Dozens of authors have chronicled his relationships and offspring, with some of his lovers and children cited consistently, and others mentioned only in one or two accounts."

Orphan planets.

Space Orphan or rogue planets have become more than a theoretical possibility reports National Geographic. Scientists searching for dwarf planets, may have stumbled upon one such object, drifting through space:
"Compared with other potential homeless planets, the new candidate is also older, colder, and much closer to Earth—approximately 130 light-years away ...

"Called CFBDSIR2149, the suspected orphan planet appears to reside in a group of young stars, though it isn't gravitationally linked to any of them. This affiliation with the so-called AB Doradus Moving Group helped scientists estimate the planet's age: 50 to 120 million years old."

My Year Watching Shakespeare.

Crown Jewels

Shakespeare.  Twenty-twelve was an excellent year for Shakespeare.  Arguably, of course, every year venerates Bill to some degree but with the Cultural Olympiad deciding that he’s one our greatest exports, twenty-twelve was indeed an excellent year for Shakespeare.  Not since the birthday celebrations in 1997, has there been such a focus across the media and in theatres, with the Shakespeare: Staging The World exhibition at the British Museum, the Globe to Globe season at the “replica” with all of the plays in various languages from visiting theatre groups, part of a World Shakespeare Festival.

But for those of us in the provinces, it was still a great year for accessible Shakespeare with his plays appearing across the BBC in various forms which was why at around March time I decided that I’d spend a portion of the year working my own way through the canon, with non-broadcast plays covered by other productions on film, video and audio I’d not had a chance to catch up with yet.  So I printed off an alphabetical list and stuck it to my door, ready to be crossed off as I demolished each testament to man’s creative ingenuity.  Plus as it turned out Geoffrey Wright’s disastrous gangster version of Macbeth with Sam Worthington in the title role.


Away from the many documentaries, the BBC’s first broadcast productions were on Radio 3.  A stripped down production of Much Ado About Nothing appeared in the Afternoon on 3 slot designed to highlight the music Eric Korngold composed for a 1910s production with Daniela Nardini as Beatrice and Liam Brennan as Benedick and although it didn’t hold together as drama due to the brevity of the text it was a treat to hear Korngold’s music in situ and there was real chemistry between the stars despite them obviously reading the play in from a script.  It's just a pity that it wasn't filmed as per an earlier A Midsummer Night's Dream which is still available to watch here.

Much Ado About Nothing

On three Saturdays, the Drama on 3 slot brought Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet and The Tempest as well as a repeat of last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  If the four shared anything other than cast members, it was atmosphere, especially Dream which was recorded on location in a Sussex woodland which meant the timber of the voices and footprints created an extra level of twilight magic (a production aided by Roger Allum’s excellent Bottom).  David Tennant and Ron Cook bestrode the Night and Romeo in various roles with only The Tempest not quite holding together due to a confusing restructuring of the text. Epic Prosporo from David Warner though.

Twelfth Night, 
Romeo & Juliet 
The Tempest
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

June brought BBC Four’s broadcast of the RSC’s then current production of Julius Caesar.  Produced by Illuminations (whose previous work includes recordings of David Tennant in Hamlet and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth), their grand experiment was to record the play’s public scenes in the RSC theatre during a performance and intercut that with intimate moments shot on location in an abandoned shopping mall, an experiment didn’t quite work for me.  The theatre scenes had a glorious energy, which wasn't quite replicated in the interior scenes at first, despite a magnetic Brutus performance from Paterson Joseph.

But it’s worth noting that Caesar isn’t my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays anyway.  After a tremendous first few opening acts, it descends into a tedious miasma of skirmishes and spats but, and this is important, this production somehow managed to make those lucid and emotionally charged especially as the loyalties of the conspirators were wrought asunder.  But I just couldn’t help, during the scenes artistically shot using iPhones wondering who was holding the camera and how they were able to get all of those angles.  Nevertheless this was a bold statement on how television and theatre companies need not be deadly rivals.

Julius Caesar

Illuminations had begun planning on a recording of the RSC’s repertory of The Histories, but this was cancelled when the behemoth that was The Hollow Crown spun across the horizon.  A filmic version of the first Henriad, this didn’t disappoint in entertainment terms with starry casts, incandescent photography and interconnected readings of the plays even if ambitious Saturday night scheduling during Wimbledon meant the audiences weren’t quite as huge as they deserved to be, watching Twitter on those evening revealed that casting Tom Hiddleston drew in a demographic that might otherwise be uninterested.

Of the four, Richard II was the most successful thanks to Ben Wishaw's mesmerising whisper though the title role and a determination to put the text to the forefront, especially during the John of Gaunt sections, where a slow push in did full justice to Patrick Stewart's enunciation of The Sceptred Isle.  If anything, the Henry V was less successful due to its determination not to be anything like the Branagh film, rather than be its own thing and damn the similarities.  But I was please to have seen been able to cross the rarely filmed Henry IVs of my list.  Little did I know what was to come.

Richard II
Henry IV, pt 1
Henry IV, pt 2
Henry V

Hiddleston was actually the second Henry I’d seen of the year, the first being Jamie Parker’s boyishly regal version in the Globe’s touring production of Henry V which I wrote about at length here.  Then, come August, I was hearing the play again along with a dozen others as part of the BBC Radio 4 Extras repeat of Vivat Rex, the twenty-six part mash-up of plays by Marlowe, Shakespeare and their contemporaries describing the history of the monarchy from Edward II through to Elizabeth I produced in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s silver jubilee, now re-emerging in her Diamond year.

The series was gamely broadcast on weekday mornings for a month and I giddly recorded them all and listened to them across about four days, lost in the maze of words and history.  In project terms it meant I somewhat heard my first production of Edward III, listed as anonymous then but subsequent “canonised” as at least a collaboration thanks to textual analysis.  It also allowed me to include other playwrights in my personal festival, including expectedly John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck and the anonymous Thomas of Woodstock albeit in heavily truncated versions.

Edward III
Henry VI, pt 1
Henry VI, pt 2
Henry VI, pt 3
Richard III
Henry VIII

Which, as far as I can remember, was it for broadcast Shakespeare.  But there was still another twenty-odd plays to cover, having disregarded The Two Noble Kinsmen due to only recently listening to the one available professional recording within months of starting to work through the canon in earnest and assuming that Vivat Rex had more than covered the shortfall.  Luckily because I’m a fan with an overbearing collector gene, I’ve multiple copies of all the plays in various formats from different companies, so it was really just a matter of choosing what to listen to, thinned down somewhat by having to select productions I’d not visited yet.

The Two Noble Kinsmen

So on my flat screen I saw Ralph Fiennes’s visceral Coriolanus, Trevor Nunn’s RSC production of King Lear with Ian McKellen facing off against Sylvester McCoy’s clown, Nunn’s The Comedy of Errors with Judi Dench curiously recorded in a studio with audience cutaways and pretence of having been shot in the RSC theatre, a bizarre 1983 Antony and Cleopatra with Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave with Nichelle Nichols and Walter Keonig in minor roles, Tom Stoppard’s truncation of The Merchant of Venice presented by the National Youth Theatre in 1998 and a charming Taming of the Shrew from Canada’s CBC in the 1980s.

King Lear
The Comedy of Errors
Anthony and Cleopatra
The Merchant of Venice
Taming of the Shrew

Audio is trickier.  There are essentially four collections available; The 50s Marlowe Society in conjunction with the British Council released on Argo, the 60s Shakespeare Recording Society productions published by Harper Collins, the 90s Arkangel complete works directed by Clive Brill and the BBC radio versions produced in and around the millennium along with a smattering of classic radio releases.  All share some extraordinary casting choices often dictated by contemporary productions but unfortunately they’re also incredibly inconsistent, demonstrating that even the best plays can be rendered unlistenable through bad choices.

In other words, while you might assume the Argo version of As You Like It and might be boring and bobbins and the Arkangel Troilus and Cressida a treat, the reverse is true, but its reversed again when comparing Argo’s unfunny Merry Wives of Windsor and Arkangel’s superb The Winter’s Tale.  John Gielgud crops up as Time in the latter and can also be heard narrating their poignant Pericles, and it’s casting choices such as these which led me, despite their bland Cymbeline to defaulting to ArkAngel anyway.  Their treatment of King John gives it the panto welly it needs, the Timon of Athens a clear, logical communication substituting the new National Theatre production I couldn’t get to.

As You Like It
Troilus and Cressida
Merry Wives of Windsor
The Winter’s Tale
King John
Timon of Athens

Arkangel is also the place to go to hear a young Damien Lewis offer his Valentine in the neglected The Two Gentlemen of Verona (opposite Michael Maloney’s Proteus) and Harriet Walter’s expressive Tamora in Titus Andronicus.  But eventually I had to resort the Argo with their rather neutral interpretation of Love’s Labour’s Lost and the HarperCollins Measure for Measure in which Sir Ralph Richardson and Margaret Leighton manage to drain their dialogue of all its subliminal bawdiness against which Gielgud’s Duke seems perfectly cast even if he doesn’t quite manage to emphasise the shiftiness inherent in the role.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Titus Andronicus
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure

There was a gap in the middle for the Olympics, which lasted even longer once I became addicted to the Paralympics too.  But eventually I completed the list somewhat were I started six months ago with the BBC All’s Well That Ends Well with Emma Fielding, Siân Phillips and Miriam Margolyes produced to celebrate the millennium and Michael Grandage’s Othello for the Donmar Warehouse recorded for the BBC in studio by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan MacGreggor, Hiddleston (again) and Kelly Reilly (which again I wish had been filmed), ending finally with Argo’s dull Hamlet, which I reviewed here.  And if all that’s been exhausting to read you should have listened to some of them.

All’s Well That Ends Well

If the project demonstrated anything to me, it’s that most of the cliché’s are true.  There really isn’t anyone like Shakespeare for the depth and quality of language, for investigating the human spirit, for capturing our national identity.  But like I said that it’s then up to the director and actors to communicate that language, story and history to the audience, to believe in what they’re doing.  Surprisingly it’s the so-called obscurities which came out best, especially later when listening to the audios, where when someone more used to Lear is handed Pericles they find another character of dimension.

But it's also suggested that every generation deserves its complete works because what all of these endeavours capture, from Vivat Rex to ArkAngel, isn't just an interpretation of the text, but a snapshot of the theatrical life of the nation through directors and through casting.  Television hasn't had a complete works since the 80s, audio since 1998, and although in both cases the BBC is slowly recording version of some of the plays, it's those obscurities that could do with some attention.  Now that Edward III and others have joined the canon, isn't it time for them to be given some professional attention?

[This post was originally written as part of the Review 2012 series on my personal blog, the rest of which can be seen here.]