"rerunning The Brain of Morbius or Pyramids of Mars"

TV It's only just now, reading Philip Sandifer's excellent analysis of The Five Faces of Doctor Who that I've realised why my vague memory of it is different to everyone elses. I always thought it was five random episodes. Only now has it occurred to me that I'd somehow decided -- or my parents had decided since I was that young -- that it was only on once a week so I only watched episode four of each story.

 Here's Philip trying to get to grips with why Logopolis was chosen to represent Baker and not anything in the previous seven years:
"The real issue, let’s be blunt, is that Nathan-Turner knew better than to rerun something from the Whitehouse-hated and very technically adept Hinchcliffe era. So the real obvious choice of rerunning The Brain of Morbius or Pyramids of Mars - both quite old and nostalgic - got skipped. Heck, even rerunning The Hand of Fear as a lead-in to what Nathan-Turner had planned for December was skipped. Given the ferocity with which Nathan-Turner would begin adamantly insisting that the memory cheated with regards to this era (despite the fact that the era was being released on VHS and it was abundantly clear to everyone that, for instance, Pyramids of Mars and The Robots of Death really were a damn sight better than Terror of the Vervoids), it is difficult to read this omission as anything other than Nathan-Turner not wanting to deal with direct comparisons between his era and the Hinchcliffe era."
It's not a bad conclusion, but in trying to choose representative stories anyway, JNT was on to a loser. As Philip somewhat says, none of the Doctors are internally consistent within their own eras either in character or style. 

The Hinchliffe Fourth Doctor is a different character to the one with Douglas Adams's lines just as earlier the First Doctor who turns up in The War Machines is far sunnier than the dark figure who stalks the junkyard in An Unearthly Child.

"It’s a warm Indian summer morning in September 2020"

Liverpool Life Thursday night's Social Media Cafe brought the launch of Liverpool 2020, a blogging and social media project which asks us to imagine what Liverpool will be like eight year's hence. The opening post at the blog offers some form and a few ideas:
"It’s a warm Indian summer morning in September 2020, and I’m on my morning commute, walking down Upper Duke Street. As I near the Chinese Arch my phone buzzes in my pocket. I pull it out and it’s the location reminder I set last night – “pick up pastries for the meeting”. I divert my route slightly and call into the Banksy Bakery. That’s not its real name, Sam called it The White-Bread-house in a play on its original pub name, but the local nickname has stuck. I ask him for some danishes, and am also tempted by some of his outstanding soda bread – that’ll work for lunch…"
Expect my entry when I've had a chance to think.  I can barely deal with being thirty-seven let alone having to predict what like will be like when I'm forty-five.  Twitter didn't exist eight years ago and I wasn't even thirty.

"I think heaven's being left alone with a Steinbeck in the edit suite.You sit in front of your life and you're allowed to re-edit it. Cut the rotten bits, loop the sex, montage the good moments. Live it over and over, a bit better every time. And eventually, make it perfect."

"he pandered on the death penalty"

TV Former West Wing writer and producer Lawrence O’Donnell assesses Bartlett's record:
"O’Donnell’s pessimism was at its apex when he discussed his process behind writing this scene. “When I proposed a death penalty episode…the backstory that I wrote in my head for this president is that he pandered on the death penalty, just like every Democrat who doesn’t believe in it, in order to get elected president. And he was from a state where he never had to use the death penalty anyway.”
The comments beneath are relatively coherent too and offer an good outsider perspective.  As one of them notes, Obama's big problem has been his inability to communicate what successes he has had with the epic rhetoric we heard in 2008, that we're desperate for him to sound like Bartlett.

But it's also important to look at Bartlett's fictional presidency in the context of the change in producer five (?) years in to his presidency, a producer who was hell bent on balancing the portrayal of Republicans and decreasing Bartlett's effectiveness.  Hello, Season Five.

"remains about armpit height"

Travel Laurie Penny is leaving London. Here she is romancing the underground:
"More than anything, I wanted the tube. Every time we went to London for a visit, I could happily have ridden the underground all day. I wanted to lose myself in the dark and mouse-running scramble of crammed-together humanity and come up again in the light. I liked being one of the sardine people, even in rush hour, even at my height, which was and remains about armpit height on the average commuter. Late at night, the platforms echo with the memory of thousands of city dwellers huddled together for shelter with the bombs of the Blitz overhead. Catching the last Bakerloo line home, you can almost see them, out of the corner of your eye, through the cracks in history: propped against one another, mindlessly tired."
Yes, absolutely. Merseyrail just isn't the same.

Competition: Demons Never Die on dvd: The Answers

Competition The Demons Never Die competition's over and the winners have been notified.

The question was:

Who's in it from Doctor Who?

The possible answers:

Reggie Yates

... was Martha Jones's brother Leo.

Sheila Reid

... was Etta in Vengeance on Varos.

"There's a great deal of difference between antiques and junk."

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Then You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was released in UK cinemas eventually, but left them fast enough that I didn’t have a chance to go. Inevitably, Warner Bros decided to release it just to dvd, but after the Vicky Cristina Barcelona debarkle when I rushed to buy it in the lesser format before a cheaper BD came out six months later and the Whatever Works mess I decided to wait. And wait. And wait. But with Midnight In Paris garlanding a few nominations and awards here and there and for the purposes of this project having to watch Stranger first, I buckled and bought the dvd from ebay last week. I watched it late last night after spending the evening waiting for The 10 O’clock Show only to realise it was the wrong night.  As ever the following is more of a spoilery analysis than a review.

Now The film opens paraphrasing Shakespeare. Badly. The narrator (Zak Orth who was Adam in Vicky Cristina Barcelona says: "Shakespeare said life was full of sound and fury and in the end signified nothing." It’s an odd way to begin, especially since if it was Woody’s thematic mission statement, it’s one of the few things he succeeded in. For all the good performances and excellent photography (by Vilmos Zsigmond returning from Cassandra’s Dream and Melinda and Melinda), the only time I laughed was after spotting one of the numerous odd cameos and although it’s not by any measure his worst film, it’s disappointing that my low expectations were so conclusively met.

Marinating overnight on why that is, the only conclusion I can draw is that it’s a drama script that’s generally been shot and performed like a comedy. While there’s a Chaucerian tone to Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) swapping his long standing wife for a prostitute, that ultimately spins out into darker territory. The bitter dissolution of Sally (Naomi Watts) and Roy's (Josh Brolin) marriage isn’t leavened by the former’s indecision over a suitor or the latter’s existential angst and taking advantage of his friend’s misfortune. Helena's (Gemma Jones) search for love and being taking advantage of by a clairvoyant who everyone knows is a fraud is simply upsetting.  Until it become irritatingly repetitive.

But as I’m writing this, I'm considering if my initial reaction to the film has been skewed by the marketing and publicity. Certainly the trailer suggests this is one of his light comedies, replete as it is with jokoids and the design of the uk poster and quote on the dvd box “… very funny, my favourite Woody Allen in years” (albeit from that august organ the Sunday Express). Yet, the more I turn these ninety minutes over in my memory, the more I realise that the most effective scenes are of straight out drama and I conjecture if I’d watched the film with that attitude, the one which takes a deep breath before revisiting Interiors, my reaction might have been different.

There’s some great dramatic weight to Sally’s story, helped by Watt's fearless performance, with its subtext of fading beauty. The scene in the car after Sally’s date with Greg, her boss  (Antonio Banderas) in which he drunkenly complements her before a romantic moment agonisingly recedes. Her sullen reaction on hearing that artist Iris (Anna Friel with a bizarre "oirish" accent) is enjoying an affair with the same man. When her mother convinces her to try to rekindle those feelings with Greg as she leaves her job as his assistant to set up her own gallery, only to discover that she’s making a fool of herself in the face of his lack of interest. Finally, her painful, pleading desperation when the loan her mother promised won’t be forthcoming.

Perhaps if, like Another Woman, Woody had made this the definitive dramatic nucleus of the film, it might not have become quite as directionless as it is otherwise. That could also be said of author Roy’s decision to steal his friend’s manuscript, a big enough idea for a whole hour and a half but barely given enough room to develop amid his romancing of musician Dia (Frida Pinto) in which he generally comes across as sadly rather creepy in what’s presumably meant to be Allen’s avatar. Similarly, it’s impossible to watch Roy’s stupid old man routine without wondering what that business might have been like stretched to film length – then remembering we’ve already somewhat seen that in Mighty Aphrodite.

Both of these stories are an iteration of a familiar theme – the older man and the beautiful younger woman and though Woody grants Dia some intelligence in an attempt to make that coupling more equal, Lucy Punch’s Charmaine is a cartoon character and unlike Mira Sorvino’s Linda Ash not granted much shade or back story to underpin her utter dislocation from the reality of this film's world. Like Tim Roth in Everyone Says I Love You, or all of the characters in Small Time Crooks, it’s Woody once again trying to spin comedy from the working classes with none of the affection or sympathy of his Take The Money and Run days. The moment when we’re supposed to laugh at Sally and Roy’s reaction to Punch at the concert is deeply problematic for that reason.

Just an aside, it's almost impossible to imagine what Nicole Kidman would have done with the role, assuming it was as is before she walked to make Rabbit Hole.  You could infer she decided to look elsewhere because Woody went in a direction she wasn't expecting, but given some of the comedies she has fulfilled her contractual obligation to like The Stepford Wives, The Invasion and Just Go With It (for goodness sake) that's not entirely certain.  It has been rumoured (not that I can find a citation) that the film was actually substantially rewritten after Kidman left, which would explain a lot.  We can only wonder what the character was like before.

The conclusion of that story is awful. Alfie’s discovery of his wife In flagrante delicto is haphazardly shot, his roughing up horrible rather than funny. The following scene in which Charmaine reveals her pregnancy even dips over into light misogyny when the script has her suggest rape as the reason for her behaviour and Alfie won’t take her word for it that he’s the father, throwing phrases like DNA test around like a researcher on The Jeremy Kyle Show and after all but threatening her, regarding her with the expression Hopkins used to employ when his Lector was sizing up a good meal. Then the storyline is parked, along with Sally and Roy individual stories left totally unresolved (another of the film’s failures).

Helena's story too is a wild contrast to Woody's previous utilisations of the occult.  Pauline Collins's clairvoyant reminds us of Julie Kavner's similar role in Oedipus Wrecks, but this is very much a secular approach in which the strongly held beliefs which Sally has essentially helped to foster in her mother as a coping mechanism after her divorce from Roy are treated as bunk and more than that are the cause of the daughter ultimate financial downfall.  They do bring Helena happiness, but at the expense of her daughters, unlike in a piece like Alice in which mysticism eventually lead the titular character to some kind of peaceful ending.

With all of that said, let’s do some project related housekeeping. This is Woody’s first multi-protagonist mass ensemble film since Everyone Says I Love You. After his sojourns to Spain and New York, he’s back to the fantasy London of Cassandra’s Dream, Match Point and especially Scoop with which it shares an interest in the lesser known parts of the city. Like those previous films, none of the speech patterns are quite right, an outsider’s idea of how British people might speak in this case interpreted by amongst others Watts doing a pretty good cut glass English accent, now and then with an Australian lilt. Only Brolin ever sounds comfortable, just as he should having been allowed to play Roy with his own voice.

The big casting twist is Antonio Banderas who last glanced at this fiolmic universe when he appeared in the Allenesque Miami Rhapsody. As well as Collins, there also the usual collection of local talent. Beyond the aforementioned leads, Meera Syal as Dia’s mother, Philip “Hunt” Glennister and Christian “Welles” McKay and (a returning from Match Point) Ewan “Spud” Bremnar as Roy’s poker buddies, Alex MacQueen as his publisher, Fenella Woolgar as Sally’s new business partner and Lynda Baron as a prospective date for Alfie. Also in it from Doctor Who are Natalie Walter who was Alice in Turn Left and The Shakespeare Code’s Doomfinger, Amanda Lawrence.

Having spent the best part of three hours writing these thousand words and thinking about the film again, I am tempted to give it another look and see if with fresh eyes I might agree with the other box quote, from Woman’s Own, that it’s “Woody’s best film in years”.  As with the other films in this series, revisiting them after a period often illuminates elements like how Woody employs his music.  Perhaps I'll update this entry when I have.   But not yet, not until I’ve seen Midnight In Paris with its biggest box office ever and Best Picture nominations and marketing campaign which from I hear captures the mood of the film perfectly.

"an array of plants and flower vases"

Architecture Domus Magazine has a series detailing unusual highrise houses in Tokyo. This edifice by Ryue Nishizawa attempts to combine the beauty and health aspects of a garden with a high rise living and taking advantage of the tiny footprints of property which are available downtown:
"Wedged between two tall buildings and invisible from the main road, the narrow Nishizawa building insists on maintaining its confidentiality via an array of plants and flower vases that screens it from the gaze of passers-by. It might easily be mistaken for some sort of mysterious vertical garden."
Beautiful as it is, there are a few negatives. A resident has to choose between storage space and a guest bedroom and it's very close to next door apartment building, whose windows overlook each floor. Even with those plants, privacy does not seem to be a priority.

"Jay and Silent Bob walking off into the sunset with a monkey"

Music Emmy the Great talks/writes about teen movie soundtracks and somehow manages to list half of everything I listened to in the 90s when you all were interested in Britpop:
Here lies that perfect synergy at the heart of teen movie soundtracks. Who knows if Suzanne, originally a b-side, meant so much to me because it was set to an edit of Jay and Silent Bob walking off into the sunset with a monkey, or the other way round? That’s a question that not even Kevin Smith, Rivers Cuomo, or the monkey called Suzanne could answer.

When you’re a teenager, music is the most important accessory you own. Trainers are important, sure, but nothing is more important, when it comes to your identity, as music. As you get older, you start to see that things are not so concrete, that there’s merit to many different types of music, genres, artists, that you don’t have to be so definitive in your tastes.

What a fucking shame.
I'm presumably one of the few people who thinks The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead is a more seminal Crash Test Dummies track that Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm. Or cares.

But Emmy's right.  Having been exposed to so much music now, I don't have a clue what I like listening to and am always thinking about the next thing.  Which is the real benefit of random track playing.  It chooses for you.

"an unholy alliance"

Comics Star Trek dot com has slipped some extra information about the Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover and amazingly I guessed what the storyline might be (though didn't write it down here so you won't believe me). Spoilers, obviously:
"It’s official. And it only took five decades to happen. Yes, Star Trek and Doctor Who, two of the most popular and venerable franchises in entertainment history, will cross over for the first time ever in Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #1. Set for release in May by IDW Publishing, Assimilation2 #1 – the first in a series of eight adventures -- teams up Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise and Doctor Who and his companions when the entire galaxy is threatened by an unholy alliance between their respective greatest nemeses, the Borg and the Cybermen."
Eight issues worth!  The monster alliance is fun too.  Will we see Borgermen hybrids? [via]

"in their two-story Tudor in Los Angeles"

Life Kate Bolick (this Kate Bolick) writes about her unusual living arrangements:
"Last winter I took up temporary residence with a married couple — friends of friends — in their two-story Tudor in Los Angeles. It was a short-term plan: I’d stay there intermittently for two months, when work wasn’t keeping me in New York, just for a break, a change of scene. They lived upstairs, I lived downstairs, and we shared the kitchen and public spaces, including a backyard and pool."
It actually sounds like the perfect arrangement offering both solitude and a human connection. I'm now also looking forward to reading her book length expansion of The Atlantic article which had a profound effect even on this male reader.

"The Joy Of Disco"

TV BBC Four celebrates its tenth anniversary next month and have decided the best way to mark the occasion is with a Disco night:
"Friday 2 of March will be marked by a lively line-up of programmes about the impact of disco music. The Joy Of Disco examines how a style of music that was originally derided by the masses went on to help define a decade, whilst Disco At The BBC showcases the very best performances."
Which is fine. Friday night is music night. But surely an even greater celebration would be a season rerunning some of their best shows from across the years, perhaps even reconstitute their opening night with the Michael Landy documentary.

Or at least invite Adam & Joe (assuming they're not busy directing Bafta nominated films and the like) to create a cross-channel sequel to The Fourmative Years with Bad Dad reviewing old Proms broadcasts and a toy version of The Killing (The Stuffing?).

The Titlebar Archive: Dance at Le moulin de la Galette

Art  One of the highlights of visiting Paris, nearly ten years ago now, was being able to see Renoir's painting, Dance at Le moulin de la Galette, in the canvas at the Musee d'Orsay. There are few better evocations of the party atmosphere and friends enjoying other's company.

 The couple on the left of the section I've chosen for this title bar are one of my favourite in all of art, the way she's almost smugly address the viewer the adoring look of her dance partner, both drawing us into the painting which seems like a fitting choice for this week.

Smart History has a useful commentary for the painting from a couple of experts apparently standing in front of the real work. I'd urge you to reflect on this massive reproduction while listening, especially when they're discuss Renoir's use of light.

Renoir, Moulin de la Galette, 1876 from Smarthistory Videos on Vimeo.

Artble also has a typically detailed entry on the painting, including the unsurprising news that the work was not well received on its initial exhibition:
"This painting was first shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1877 and demonstrated the original technique developed by Renoir. This canvas shows Renoir's friends, Frank Lamy, Norbert Goeneutte, and Georges Rivière gathered around the central table. Rivière, a writer who knew Renoir well at this time, wrote a review of Dance at le Moulin de la Galette in the journal L'Iimpressionniste which accompanied its exhibition. The writer referred to Dance at le Moulin de la Galette as a "page of history, a precious and strictly accurate portrayal of Parisian life. " Yet, others were not so kind. Many contemporary critics regarded this canvas as merely a blurred impression of the scene."
I wonder if their opinion changed when they realised this simply a new way of communicating rather than poor technique.

Eater of Wasps.

Books A friend recently asked me why I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I told her that I’ve never been very good at keeping them so didn’t see the point in creating undue expectations on myself – or a more monosyllabic, less well thought through version of that. But this year I’ve decided I need to do two things, complete two blogging related projects which have been hanging about for years. One is admittedly less achievable in the present climate, visiting the final eight venues in Edward Morris’s Public Art Collection In North-West England books (some of which are rendered a bit out of the way due to public transport), but the other, blasting though the bottom thirty or so of the Doctor Who spin-off novels about the Eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann seems more achievable. Or at least it did until I counted them.

Nevertheless, here we are with Trevor Baxendale’s Eater of Wasps, a novel I’ve probably put off for so long because of the title and the cover, which is pretty disgusting once you’ve realised what it is. In the event, though it isn’t a stone cold classic, it is an entertainingly traditional bit of body horror (if such things exist) with a few elements that pre-figure later Who both spin-off and on television. There’s a coincidental bit of déjà vu to the set-up. Like a couple of recent Big Finish Fourth Doctor stories, the TARDIS pitches up in a village, this time in Wiltshire, with mysterious Grange, inhabitants friendly and otherwise and a threat which isn’t initially what it seems. An artefact from the far future that imprints itself on the local wasp population turning them into a hive mind bent on reproducing itself amongst the local inhabitant.

Which means it also has a few passing similarities to the AudioGo Fourth Doctor stories written by Paul Magrs with their zombified human beings also infested by wasps – or hornets in particular as they are there. Thanks to the Eighth Doctor’s memory loss, we can happily ignore inconsistency of him not remembering a similar adventure that hadn’t been written yet. Buzzing around that (oh yes) is a team of what we can how assume are time agents also on the trail of the artefact with primitive temporary travel devices not unlike Jack or River’s wristband contraption. These three aren’t unlike the teenagers from last year’s Becoming Human, though it’s Kala, the girl, who finds herself swept up in the Doctor’s usual mantra of trying to find another way. Oh and it’s set in the 1930s.

All of which is relatively simplistic by the standards of the EDAs, but allows Baxendale to fill his pages with some well observed characters and a realistic rustic world. Where it not for the utterly grotesque villainy still difficult to achieve convincingly with CGI this could easily be transferred to the screen, though even by his standards, Eleventh is a far less troubled figure than his predecessor. The village, Marpling, is nicely evoked – all very Leadworth – especially the old church where much of the action takes place. One of the nice threads is how the Doctor remembers that period in much greater detail than he might have done with all of his faculties because he has less memories in his big head overall.

The best characters are undoubtedly the Pink brothers who live in the Grange. The Squire is the village’s worthy, well thought of by all and sundry, especially the local busy-body. He’s initially hostile to the Doctor and his friends who are presumed to be gypsies (it’s that period) but events lead him to notice the grey pigments which society is actually coated with. Anji takes a shine to his brother Hilary, a sot who seems deliberately to have been written as how the original Fitz may have turned out before Interference business. He’s charming and gregarious but tinged with the sadness of a life wasted. They’re like a British Crane brothers if Frasier was at even greater variance in behaviour from Niles.

The story tumbles along at a fair lick. There are a couple of occasions when Baxendale is almost spelling out that if the Doctor was at his full strength, business would be attended to far quicker. But all of the TARDIS team seem a bit underpowered, only really coming into focus as the Doctor does, as though he needs to be activated for them to step up to the challenge. Because the Doctor still isn’t himself. He’s often quiet and as with the previous few novels there’s the sense that he’s performing as a Time Lord called the Doctor rather than knowing what that really means, completely aware of the known unknowns he’s dealing with. There’s some entertaining business with humbugs in which it’s inferred that he means jelly babies but picked the wrong nostalgic children’s sweet.

It's best read than written about.  The time agent storyline seems tied up but will surely lead to other things, even in this series of books.  Anji's still bedding in as a character -- we're still at the stage were the writers are constantly referring to her old job and boyfriend as bedrocks though she's still generally a fairly generic companion figure in comparison to Sam even with the retrospective help of Nick Wallace's Fear Itself as a fill in.  Fitz is becoming a bit tired in that way companiosn often do if they've been hanging around for too long.  His story really ended with Interference.  But I'm still excited to see what happens next, not least because I've been looking at the titles of these books on my shelf for so long, I can't wait to find out what's inside.

He looks familiar.

TV Friday night's episode of The Culture Show featured an interview with Zach Braff on the occasion of his new play All New People, half the cast of which have been in Doctor Who. Susannah Fielding was Lilian in Victory of the Daleks and of course Eve Myles plays Gwen Cooper. In this she's sporting some excellent hipster Ariel glasses.

Later in the programme there was a piece about the free art movement with various artists placing their work on trees and railings on a chilly Southbank in London and then timing how long it takes for people to help themselves.  Cue many shots of people stopping to have a glance but ultimately walking on for an infinite number of reasons.

But wait, who's this gentleman in a warm looking overcoat.  He looks familiar.  No it can't be.

After the candid camera like fun's over, some of the non-participants are pulled aside and asked why they didn't walk off with a masterpiece.  It's that man again.

Yes, it is.  It's Rob Shearman, writer of the nuWho Dalek episode, Dalek and a myriad audio dramas including seminal classic The Chimes at Midnight.  Amazing.  In old currency, this would be like Robert Holmes turning up on Nationwide in a piece about the rise of the supermarkets on the high street.

Some of Rob's best contributions to added value sections of Who dvds have been in explaining story connections with real world events, and so typically here he is noting how coincidentally the paintings have "Take me I'm yours" pinned to them and he happened to be listening to the Squeeze track with the same name on his iPod as he was passing by.

Just to confirm it wasn't a doppleganger ...
For background, here's me reviewing his Scherzo about ten years ago.