a kind of Devonshire Rose Tyler

Audio After securing Tom Baker’s services and deciding to produce a series that recreates the feel of his 70s adventures, the next logical step for Big Finish is to turn a couple of unused story ideas from back then into full blown adventures for their Lost Stories line. The first in this new box set, The Foe from the Future was originally suggested by the legendary Roberts Banks Stewart (of The Seeds of Doom and Terror of the Zygons fame) for the slot in season fourteen eventually taken by The Talons of Weng-Chiang and has here been fleshed out by regular audio writer John Dorney. At six episodes, it’s one of the longest continuous stories Big Finish have produced and I’m pleased to say never drags. In fact, it’s positively bursting with adventures (and they can put that on the poster).

One of the tricks as Banks Stewart memorably employed in Seeds is to split the story into two rough sections. The first is a villiage mystery reminiscent of The Android Invasion or The Awakening. The Doctor and Leela investigate time trouble in the sleepy Devonshire village of Staffham in 1977 where Jalnik, the shadowy master of the local Grange is apparently conjuring ghosts. But when the geography of the village also begins to change before their eyes, they realise that something rather more powerful is at work which propels them along with a girl called Charlotte from the village into a far more futuristic setting where it becomes apparent the whole of galactic history is at stake. Big Finish’s own synopsis isn’t particularly specific on how that might be, so it would be unfair to reveal too much.

What I can say is that if this had been produced back then, like Banks Stewart’s other work we’d all be sitting around toasting its successes now and trying to decide if we should be buying the alternative cover with Jalnik of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine.  That said, apparently Dorney’s taken a few liberties in fleshing out the original outline, not least in expanding the story's gender horizons (or the “Pennant Roberts” approach as he calls it) because the original had men in all the senior roles.  All of these additions, particularly some venomous political shenanigans provide many of the highlights so Dorney should take as much of the credit.  Anyone who enjoyed the camper elements of V: The Series (as if there were any other kind) will be well served here.

In Jalnik, the authors have one of the series great villains of the kind nuWho would do well to have some more of. Intoned with guttural horror by Paul Freeman, best known as Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his rich voice fighting tooth and nail with Tom’s in searching for the very lowest register, Jalnik is unusual in that he knows and says that it’s his completely lack of sanity which propels him forward. Unlike most Who villains who’re entirely convinced their path is righteous (see The Pirate Captain in The Pirate Planet), Jalnik has realised early on he’s wrong but doesn’t care, not really giving the Doctor many options in relation to trying to convince him down another course. Dorney says in DWM he was following his “collaborators” lead in making sure there are plenty of good deaths and many are at Jalnik’s hands.

The other banner casting is Sherlock’s Molly, Louise Brearly as Charlotte, a kind of Devonshire Rose Tyler complete with a fabulously broad accent and a very bravely selected name considering its Big Finish connections. Entirely created by Dorney to give characters like the Doctor someone to bounce images off, Charlotte quickly develops from simply a voice in the village to something akin to the one off companions beloved by nuWho (complete with her own romantic subplot) and to such an extent that at one point if we didn’t know any better we might assume she was being set up to replace Leela. With six episodes to play with, Dorney is able to produce some heady characterisation right down to a butler called Butler, a joke which never gets tired.

As ever Tom and Louise are in their element and it’s certainly refreshing to hear a new story on such epic scale in which some TARDIS regulars don’t emotionally have the weight of the universe on their shoulders, at least not to the point that it’s all about them. This is more of an ensemble story, but Dorney still gives Tom some excellent speeches and moments, not least at the close of episode five which has a cliffhanger just as devastatingly effective in its own way as The Pandorica Opens. Dorney’s Leela is vicious and she clearly relishes those moments when she’s not in the Doctor’s disapproving eye-line and able to show her warrior instinct. Once again, this is classic stuff, and actually there are moments when you might wonder if this could even have been done this well when it was originally planned.

Doctor Who: The Foe from the Future is part of Doctor Who: The Lost Stories - The Fourth Doctor CD Box Set available now from Big Finish.  Review copy supplied.

awards nominations and whatnot

People Not too long ago, Claire Danes was endorsing paint. Now that her new show Homeland has been a hit with awards nominations and whatnot, she's being invited to slightly more fashionable events. But she still finds time to be kissed by students in drag:
"Actress Claire Danes was treated to a day of celebrations after receiving the Woman of the Year award from Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals society on Thursday. The honour, which has been bestowed annually since 1951 to starlets including Elizabeth Taylor and Angela Lansbury, includes a parade through Harvard Square, dinner and a golden Pudding Pot."
Oh the photos. Such photos.

"Geez, Julie. You’re so defensive!"

Film Julie Delpy's Two Days in Paris which has always seemed like the evil version of the Before series now its own sequel, Two Days in Manhattan, also written by her and now co-starring Chris Rock. Salon has an interview with them, which includes this moment up front when Deply quite rightly harranges the interviewer for his approach:
"Salon: Chris, the only thing from black culture he can come up with is Salt ‘n Pepa. I’m not even sure why that’s funny, but it is.

Julie Delpy: Why are you talking to him? I wrote it!

Salon: I know you wrote it, but he’s in the scene. I was talking to both of you.

Chris Rock: Geez, Julie. You’re so defensive!

J.D.: It’s just that when you’re a woman filmmaker, people always think the guys have written their own dialogue.

C.R.: Right, and when it’s a comedy people always think the best stuff is ad-libbed. Always!
It sounds good natured but this does happen a lot, interviewers immediately addressing the male when both genders appear. Of course, the one disappointment with the film (which does otherwise sound excellent) is that it kyboshes my assumption for where the third Before film would be set given Jesse's background.

"a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles"

Architecture  From the New Yorker in 2003.  Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Please don't read this if you don't think you can cope with it. I barely could:
"Kevin Hines was eighteen when he took a municipal bus to the bridge one day in September, 2000. After treating himself to a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles, he paced back and forth and sobbed on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong. A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did. “I was like, ‘Fuck this, nobody cares,’ ” he told me. “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was What the hell did I just do? I don’t want to die.”
From the Wikipedia: "On October 10, 2008, the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors voted 14 to 1 to install a plastic-covered stainless-steel net below the bridge as a suicide deterrent. The net will extend 20 feet (6 m) on either side of the bridge and is expected to cost $40–50 million to complete. However, lack of funding could delay the net's deployment."  The project's website indicates that's still the case.

"His Hamlet is far from mad"

People The actor Nicol Williamson has died. The announcement was made on his official website in this statement from his son:
"It’s with great sadness, and yet with a heart full of pride and love for a man who was a tremendous father, friend, actor, poet, writer and singer, that I must bring news of Nicol’s passing. Dad died peacefully in the early hours of the 16th of December after a two year all out, balls to the wall struggle against esophageal cancer. He gave it all he had: never gave up, never complained, maintained his wicked sense of humor to the end. His last words were ‘I love you’. I was with him, he was not alone, he was not in pain."
Always one my favourites thanks to his seminal appearance in Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur, he was also the first Hamlet I reviewed at the other place, where I said:
"On first appearance, Nicol Williamson might seem a bit old for the part. Certainly, I've seen Claudius's who look younger. But that does a disservice to his performance, which commands every scene he appears in. His Hamlet is far from mad; he's using a bluff technique to search for the why's of his father's death and how he's reacting to it. Unusually. in the intimate moments, during the soliloquy's he's at his most vulnerable, as though he's unable to come to terms with these feelings, and only really comes to life when he has someone to relate himself to."
Here's an except:

Valerie Nelson has already produced an excellent obituary for the LA Times.

The List:
33. Correction published by The Guardian.

Journalism A few days ago ...
From: Me
To: reader@guardian.co.uk
Date: 2012-01-22 09:18:40
Subject: How Ed Miliband's cuts policy is dividing Labour's heartlands correction

The geography in this piece about cuts to Library services in Liverpool is a bit muddled


At first I thought "hold on -- Woolton's solidly LibDem"


Then I realised that what you meant was a safe Labour was the parliamentary constituency of Garston and Halewood run by Maria Eagle, which also includes:

Allerton and Hunts Cross (in Liverpool);
Belle Vale (in Liverpool);
Cressington (in Liverpool);
Halewood North (in Knowsley);
Halewood South (in Knowsley);
Halewood West (in Knowsley);
Speke-Garston (in Liverpool);

But neither Maria Eagle or Garston and Halewood are mentioned which has created a lack of clarity, which also isn't helped by mentioning Woolton in the opening paragraph and then spending the rest of its duration talking about *Walton" which does lend its name to a parliamentary constituency.

Take care,

from: reader@guardian.co.uk
to: Me
date: Wed, Jan 25, 2012 at 4:54 PM
subject: RE: How Ed Miliband's cuts policy is dividing Labour's heartlands correction

Thanks Stuart -- the earlier reference (para 2) to "a safe Labour constituency" should have specified Garston and Halewood. I'll amend this text and add our usual explanatory footnote shortly.
Best wishes.
So ...

Which means:

33.  Correction published by The Guardian.

Peter Moffat's millennial lawyer drama

TV Finally, at last, and probably due to the moderate success of its spiritual clone Silk:

Set in Leeds and partially filmed in Liverpool, North Square was Peter Moffat's millennial lawyer drama and a piece which quietly influenced most of the similar dramas which came in its wake, not least Trust and Outlaws (not that anyone watched those either).   It's available on 4oD but for those of us without unlimited internet access, this dvd release will be very welcome.  The Amazon page has a decent synopsis. Whoever designed the box art is also clearly a fan, knowing full well that Phil Davis stole the series.

"no loopholes, no offshore bank accounts"

Politics Actor Mark Ruffalo offers an alternative State of the Union address:
“We, from this moment on, will disallow private contributions to our public campaigns. We will insist that the richest people in this country pay their fair share of the taxes, no loopholes, no offshore bank accounts. They have enjoyed all the things that government has to offer to make their lives safe and to pretend they have done it alone is a lie. They could not have done it without a safe, stable government ..."
Or in other words, "My fellow Americans ... mic check!" [via]

“It’s Saturday night tea time in 1977 all over again!"

Audio  Despite this being the fourth time I’ve begun writing this review not really knowing where to start, the pressure to perform on my shoulders, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Nicholas Briggs and his fellow writers at Big Finish having finally given the opportunity to script for the Fourth Doctor knowing that Tom Baker himself will be saying the words.  Ever since they won the Who license in the late 90s, in almost every interview, the question has always bubbled away, “Will Tom Baker ever record for you?” and all along they’ve essentially been biding their time and hoping.  Even when Tom began appearing in the AudioGo stories, there still seemed to be a question mark.  Had it been too long?  Was there too much politics?

Brilliantly, amazingly, the answer to both questions is no and there can be no greater testament to their patience and the passion that’s gone into this new series than Tom mentioning in the big Doctor Who Magazine story that he regrets not having worked for them before and that despite having recorded a couple of year’s worth of material, he’s itching to do some more.  Well done lads (and ladies).  But the AudioGo series creates a secondary challenge of trying to produce new material that’s significantly different enough to make the project worthwhile.  Paul Magrs’s scripts have been somewhat about fulfilling the listener's expectations of Tom’s apparent eccentricity, his Have I Got News For You and convention appearances distilled into drama.

Cleverly, Big Finish have decided to return to first principles and attempt to recreate the sound and style of the original stories.  As Tom’s voice over in the trailers suggest, “It’s Saturday night tea time in 1977 all over again!"  So we have the classic TARDIS team of Fourth and Leela, Tom consciously reproducing his earlier performance and Louise Jameson magnificently returning to the savagery of a role which has matured over a number of Big Finish’s spin off series across the years.  Not only that, Jamie Robertson’s score pastiches and updates Dudley Simpson’s familiar studio ensemble and each of the hour long stories is being released in two half hour episodes with a proper cliff hanger in the middle (perfect for a BBC Four Extra broadcast).

This first story, Destination: Nerva, even breaks us back into the period gently by segwaying directly from The Talons of Weng-Chiang into a pacey return to Nerva Station from The Ark in Space and later Revenge of the Cybermen, at an earlier point in its history when it's still a space dock.  Like all good Doctor Who, the story works best for the listener without knowing much in the way of a prior plot synopsis, so I won't say much more other than to note that Briggs’s script neatly updates the odd mix of Victoriana and bloody body horror that ran through the Hinchcliffe-Holmes period.  It’s almost a surprise not to hear Dr. Matthew Sweet crop up in an extra interviewing a historian from the British Museum in order to investigate the underlying themes.

As the cover indicates, heading up the supporting cast is Raquel Cassidy, now properly ensconced in the franchise thanks to her appearance in nuWho and mostly recently reading James Goss’s AudioGo, The Art of Death.  Cassidy’s always at her best with beleaguered characters and she gives the space dock’s doctor Alison her classic weary sigh and cynicism, with a tragic underpinning that's potentially one of the script's few breaks from its classic Who influences.  Aided by his actors, Briggs is also able to create what feels like a realistic working environment in just a couple of scenes, though the focus is always on the Doctor and Leela, carefully balancing the need to produce a relatively unassuming story with a sense of occasion.

Because this opening story’s biggest success is how seamlessly it recreates the chemistry between the Fourth Doctor and Leela after all these years, Big Finish once again fulfilling our expectations then surpassing them.  As those of us who pay attention know, Tom’s character changed considerably across his tenure and it’s interesting to be reminded exactly how brusque he could be with his companion in this period, and how alien the two of them could be despite one of them supposedly being human.  But we’re still gifted with one of those rare moments when Leela giggles and we can’t help giggling too.

Doctor Who: Destination Nerva from Big Finish is out now on CD and to download. Review copy supplied.

Well, spoilers.

Film Remember how I'm perennially complaining about how the rights to various Marvel characters have been smeared across so many film studios, it means we're unable to enjoy one of the best elements of the comics, that they all live in the same universe.

Well, spoilers.  Let's hope so.

Meanwhile, Jenny Agutter's in The Avengers?

Luckily, Kermode corrected her on all counts

Film   Oddly I've seen more of the films nominated for Oscars this year than Baftas though as we'll see I'm making the assumption that it'll be a foregone conclusion.  Which probably means it won't now.  Given my approach to watching cinema, the Globes, Baftas and Oscars tend to become pretty important because they guide the films that become a must see through Lovefilm in the coming months and it's rare that I'll not see something which has been nominated.  Which means there's at least three films in here which can no longer be avoided.  Sad face.

Best actress in a supporting role

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Gauging the reaction, I've developed the opinion that when it comes to the Oscars, The Artist will sweep.  It can't help it.  It speaks backwards to the history of the industry and Hollywood seems to be pleased that its silent back catalogue might shift some units and it has a bit with a dog.  Bejo will benefit, even though it would be neat to see Sooki with a statue.

Best actor in a supporting role

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

If you listened to the frustrating BBC Radio 5 coverage of the nominations you will have heard Shelagh Fogarty who clearly has a limited interest in films, giving away the ending of The Artist, smirking that she hadn't heard of this Jennifer Lawrence (who was announcing the nominations) and trying to sound with it by suggesting that Christopher Plummer will win this because of "his body of work", perhaps because she hasn't heard of identically aged Max Von Sydow either.  Luckily, Kermode corrected her on all counts at least in mentioning von Sydow's contribution to the history of film.  Nevertheless, she's probably right.  Plummer may win.  I wish is was either Max or Ken.

Best actress in a leading role

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Inevitably, although the real controversy in this category is the appearance of Rooney Mara who if the artwork, trailers and clips I've seen are anything to go by is doing (inadvertently or no) a cover version of Noomi Rapace's Lis Salander performance which was totally ignored last year.  Of course I can't really judge until I've seen the whole thing...

Best actor in a leading role

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Pass the broom, we're sweeping here too.  Like so many of these categories, almost the same list as the Baftas but with Bichir in for Fassbender.  At this point, I know I got my Clooney choice wrong there.  It'll be Oldman for a bronze mask.  Oh well, too late now.

Best director

Michel Hazavanicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

But good god that's a strong field.  Indeed with the final three it looks like a 70s field, presumably the one with the locusts in Days of Heaven.  Like I said when I was working through his back catalogue, one of the benefits of Woody's one film a year approach is that now and then he produces a truly great piece of work amongst the really good.  I will of course be watching Midnight in Paris once I finally get around to seeing You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.  It's about time.

Best original Screenplay

The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

Traditionally this is Woody's categories, but the cleaners are still in, so The Artist it will be.  Unless the voters can't get their head around a silent film with a script (having seen Hugo).  But it's also great to see Bridesmaids being offered something.

Best adapted screenplay

The Descendants
Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If The Artist is sweeping, this'll be Hugo's consolation prize along with some craft awards.  Note how none of the cast has been nominated in a film which does straddle between technical marvel and a big emotional story.

Best foreign language film

In Darkness
Monsieur Lazhar
A Separation

Again seems inconceivable that the film which has been nominated elsewhere wouldn't win this at least.

Best animated film

A Cat in Paris
Chico And Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Wouldn't that be fascinating?  Can't imagine it'll be anything else.

Best picture

War Horse
The Artist
The Descendants
The Tree of Life
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Best part of the telecast was when it seemed as though there were eight nominations then Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close appeared over Jennifer's head, a film I'll admit to not having even heard of despite it being released next month in the UK, being about 9/11 and having Tom Hanks in the cast.  I like that.  Reminds me of the bygone days when I'd treat myself to a copy of the US edition Premiere Magazine's preview issue to look at all the films which wouldn't be seeing the inside of the UK for at least six months.

Art direction

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

Unless the academy decide that they have to give Harry Potter something after all these years.  I remember last year Deathly Hallows was being considered as Best Picture material for the same reason as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the commemorative thank you.  Unfortunately, that second film was deeply anti-climactic, at least for me and certainly didn't have the heart-wrenching through line of Peter Jackson's film.


The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Unless the academy decide that they're desperate to give a proper 3D film an award, although as I said at the time, I enjoyed Hugo despite the 3D rather than because of it.

Costume design

The Artist
Jane Eyre

Anonymous has been nominated for an academy award.  They'll be sticking that on the box and I'll now have to watch it.  [stoney face]

Film editing

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In some respects this becoming like the multiple choices I used to do in primary school when you had to fill in a blob amongst other blobs down a sheet of paper.  If we ran out of time, we were instructed to fill in all the blobs in the single column on the assumption that we'd have to get some of them right.  Well, The Artist is going to win some of these.

Sound editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Therefore confirming that unlike the British, who gave The Artist a nomination for Sound, the Americans in the academy are without irony.   It'll probably be Hugo.

Sound mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

 Although the more obvious question is why Drive has better sound editing than Moneyball and vice-versa.

Visual effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

See above.

Make up

Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The Iron Lady

I'm with Kermode on this.  Seems unlikely that the people who made Streep look like Thatch wouldn't be covered.

Music (original score)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

The BBC's PM programme took Bernard Hermann's widow to see The Artist in the past couple of days to see if she agreed with Kim Novak.  She didn't.

Music (original song)

The Muppets

Two songs which'll please the producers of the ceremony.


Film Mark Kermode reviews Madonna's W.E. in that kind of anti-intuitive way which still forces you to want to see the film:

This a film so rubbish, it makes Simon Mayo bust out of his usual apparent disinterest and join the discussion to point out the indigenousness of some of the script. Not in the video is the moment elsewhere in that programme when Simon admitted that it was a rare occasion when he tactfully failed to indicate when interviewing the person involved whether he liked the film or not.

Elizabeth Day also interviewed Andrea Riseborough the other week and I'm still not sure if she wasn't deliberately riffing on the classic Harmony Cousins spoof (which is nearly ten years old now and still a cautionary tale).  The "If she were a Chinese dish, what would she be?" moment nearly made the tea fall through my nose. 

"Tapping into the fear of industrialisation"

Books Stephen Cole’s The Ring of Steel continues a seam of these audio exclusive Eleventh Doctor adventures hoping to give the listener something which the television series in the Moffat era has categorically turned its back on, the epic (expensive) alien invasion story with casts of thousands looking to the sky. Vampires in Venice perhaps qualifies but that was set in the past and didn’t threaten the whole planet, also true of Victory of the Daleks. There have been no Sontaran stratagems or aliens in London in the past couple of years and all the Atraxi were really interested in was Prisoner Zero and not the planet’s natural resources.

Tapping into the fear of industrialisation creeping into our great wildernesses, Cole has the Doctor and Amy land on Orkney in the near future and straight into a local protest against a power generating company using the islands a base of operations with the inevitable pylons blotting the landscape. Fairly soon, the protest turns nasty and not just between the company and plackard wielders. Pylons come to life, roads begin to melt and refashion themselves, a kind of chaos straight out of a Roland Emmerich film when he’s not trying to rewrite literary history (not that Doctor Who would ever do such a thing).

In other words squint and we’re right in the middle of old Who’s season ten, with Malcolm Hulke or Barry Letts putting a group of locals under threat from whatever environmentally unfriendly evil the BBC’s sfx team can pull together given the lack of time and money available to them. Cole has great fun recalling moments generally seen through the noise of a reverse standards conversion, visors pulled up to reveal the “wizened faces” of employees who’ve had the life force sapped from them or the Doctor utilising his sonic screwdriver whilst simultaneously flying a helicopter. All that’s really missing is the Master dragging on a massive cigar from a safe distance.

Oddly in a story it's hinted is set in the period when Amy had forgotten about Rory’s existence, Arthur Darvill's reading. Arthur’s audiobook style is very much to emphasise-every-other-word-in-a-deliberate-fashion which sometimes works against the text, though Cole’s also landed him with the challenge of every character barring the Doctor having a Scottish accent, all of which he fights to keep distinct both from Amy and each other, largely succeeding. He’s aided by some excellent sound design, the whips and scorns of the pylons cutting across the speakers, helping to increase the atmosphere of a generic but not unenjoyable adventure.

The Ring of Steel by Stephen Cole is available now from AudioGo.

"in the wee hours"

TV Elizabeth Day interviews Louise Breakley who plays Molly on Sherlock. The opening answer speaks for itself:
"Oh God. I think I use Twitter almost like I'm talking to myself and then forget people actually read it. The party was so much fun. They don't give you any canapes. It's a trick to get you absolutely twatted. I ended up in the Groucho club in the wee hours, assaulting someone for not wanting to marry me. Today I'm feeling poorly, a bit weak. I'm drinking Lucozade."
Her Twitter avatar is a picture of Keith Moon!  Don't ever lose it Louise!