Joseph Lidster’s Red Skies

Audio Part Three of this short series of Torchwood audio readings, Joseph Lidster’s Red Skies finds Captain Jack in holiday mood, off world after the horrors of Miracle Day and seeking a bit of fun. But clearly the Doctor’s influence continues, because Jack’s idea of fun on this occasion is visiting Cotter Paluni’s World, a mysterious planet who’s secrets are obscured from the universe by a barrier of scarlet lightening. He’s decided that in order to get away from it all, he really needs to get away from it all.

As with the writers of the previous plays, Lidster almost seems to be positing a possible future for the television version of the series, this time an adult version of Doctor Who that finds its influence not with the UNIT years but the more usual time travel and discovery format. Certainly it’s structured like a typical Who story, with the Captain pitching up in town, finding a local bar and after being arrested becoming mixed up in some business that may involve overthrowing a government.

But through a massive coincidence, Jack discovers that like US viewers, the inhabitants of this remote, unapproachable ball of rock worship Torchwood.  But this Torchwood isn’t just a sci-fi action adventure tv series of inconsistent quality, but their god. Not only that, criticising Torchwood isn’t just banned, it’s blasphemy, punishment nastily meted out by some unseen force in the form of spontaneous combustion. It’s a good job that can’t happen in the real world or I’d be barbecued for some of my Miracle Day reviews.

As with Who's The Face of Evil, it’s this mystery of the familiar in an unfamiliar setting which powers the next hour’s worth of narrative though as Jack befriends some local law enforcement and helps him through some emotional problems while laying some of his own personal demons to rest, it’s also akin to the Immortal Sins episode of Miracle Day, Jack enjoying the company of this companion almost as though he’s well aware he’s working through one of his Time Lord friend’s missed adventures.

Having been on the writing team for the television series (A Day in the Death) and the radio episodes (LHC spectacular Lost Souls) he’s well versed in Torchwood lore which means that when Red Skies heads into some Fragments-style continuity building, none of it feels tacked on and all in-keeping and in-character and even burrows into some unexpected areas, reminding us that despite its relatively slender overall screen time, plenty's happened in this corner of the Whoniverse.

Another accomplishment is Lidster’s characterisation of the Captain himself, striking a balance between the angstier version who chisel-jaws his way around Torchwood and the flirty Jack Rabbit of Doctor Who, even turning the difference into a story point. This Jack is genuinely funny and we can always imagine John Barrowman’s reading of these words, a slight twinkle in his eye, us wondering just how far he and the character are going to push things, the scamp.

Even if we can’t have Barrowman, wild card reading choice John Telfer is a worthy replacement. Best known for playing cool vicar Alan Franks on The Archers, Telfer has no personal previous Who experience but you’d not know it from his uncanny impression of Jack and intelligent measuring of the correct tone for this material. His chameleonic delivery oscillates between pacy prose reading and committed characterisation, especially of the Soviet accented local cop.

Red Skies is another little triumph from what’s turned into a seminal group of stories, right up there with the best of the Radio 4 Afternoon Plays and certainly preferable to some corners of the television series itself. As with a lot of Who, much of the entertainment is in journey, but even the reveal delivers, a logical if chilling revelation. But along the way we’re reminded of Torchwood at its best, and it’s clear that should it continue on screen, a return to single stories would be the best choice.

Torchwood: Red Skies by Joseph Lidster is published by AudioGo and due to be available from the 3rd May 2012.  Review copy supplied.


Doctors does Hamlet.

Garlands to Sylvia Morris for compiling this comprehensive list for Shakespeare Unlocked across the BBC, which includes the revelation that daytime soap Doctors is having a Shakespeare themed week which includes on Monday a rather familiar sounding storyline:
"Fall of a Sparrow

Rob witnesses a tragedy unfold as young Dane refuses to accept his mother has moved on so soon after his father's death. Whilst Curtis lies critically ill in hospital, news breaks about Heston's arrest, sending shockwaves...
That's Dane Hamley.  I will of course report back.  The entire list of the week's episodes is here.  Some are more obvious than others...

"still being sacrificed"

History Maryland has its own completed replica of Stonehenge:
"Modern Stone Circle in Klickitat County, Washington. Built as the nation’s first World War I Memorial, Stonehenge lies at what was the original Maryhill town site. Believing the original in Great Britain was used for sacrifices, Hill constructed the replica in honor of the war dead of Klickitat County.

"Hill wanted the Memorial to serve as a reminder that “humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war.”
Found in this report that the henge was recently utilised to help with acoustic research to uncover "how the shouts, speeches, songs or sacrificial screams would have sounded".

the latest Liverpool Social Media Café

About Last night was the latest Liverpool Social Media Café, on this occasion at the Static Gallery on Roscoe Lane and on the subject of podcasts. Keep an eye on their website for news and video of the talks. The general theme was music podcasts, hosts introducing unsigned bands and royalty free tunes they enjoy to sizable global audiences and passionate listenerships, underscoring that such programmes were pioneered by independent broadcasters (because that’s what they are) before the BBC entered the scene.

The inevitable question was asked, does anyone listen to podcasts and I sheepishly raised my hand. I only really listen to a few podcasts on anything like a regular basis, the Kermode and Mayo film review and This American Life, with whatever TV Cream put out and In Our Time. I’m also enjoying Shakespeare’s Restless World, which contrary to my expectations, is covering material which isn’t already in the catalogue for the exhibition which prompted it. Which now that I’ve said that seems like more than I thought.

As all the speakers noted, we all have various reasons for listening to these things. I’ve covered This American Life at length elsewhere, but I do tend to seek out documentaries and knowledge based discussions rather than simple badinage. The exception’s probably the film review which is generally at its best when it’s about two friends, each with their own quirks and prejudices growing old together. When listeners complain that Mark hasn’t had time review such and such a film, they’re missing the point. I also tend to miss the weeks when they’re on holiday.

The main theme of the evening was to promote the idea of podcasting which is something I have considered a couple of times across this blog’s nearly eleven years of service. In the end, I’ve decided to stick to what I think I’m good at, and as anyone who’s watched my desperate hour of One and Other will attest, rambling in public isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I can be energised into verbal action, informing someone against their will, by a topic I’m interested in, but I’m still much happier hiding behind a keyboard, choosing my words carefully.

Which is why you've been reading this and won’t be hearing this blog post as a podcast. And yes, I tried.  Um.  Err.  Right, let's start again.  Um.

"the garments to stay out of rotation"

Film Clothes on Film have been given a tour of Angels, costumiers to cinema and television, recent films including War Horse, The Iron Lady and Downton Abbey. This is a secretive business, especially because productions don't want to see their threads on screen anywhere else until it's appeared in theirs (or on  Recycled Movie Costumes presumably):
"Steven Spielberg’s War Horse was actually referred to as ‘Dartmoor’ during production. We found a rack of muddy officers’ uniforms waiting to be processed in the warehouse (unfortunately, again, we were not allowed to take a photograph). These War Horse uniforms were held under embargo until very recently. This means the client paid for the garments to stay out of rotation, ensuring they were not seen on screen before the film was released."
The Royal Shakespeare Company's costume collection also recently went out to hire. The crown from David Tennant's Hamlet can be borrowed for £20 a week.  Well you'd have to wouldn't you?

Actors Who Should Have Played Green Arrow #1

Film  Ty Hardin who was ENS Lenny Thom in pacific war movie PT 109 about John F Kennedy's command of a motorised torpedo boat during World War II.

Energy of the Daleks

Audio There was always something slightly cruel and bit unusual about the fact that Leela, the one warrior companion who would have been the perfect foe for the Daleks never actually appeared with them on television. Indeed, as Nicholas Briggs, voice of the pepperpots and writer of this story explains in the supplementary material, the Fourth Doctor only every had two exciting adventures with the Daleks and both of them focused on their creator Davros rather than providing a more typical romp. So in keeping with the rest of this series of audio adventures, he had in mind to redress the balance and produce the kind of story the contemporary production team were unwilling or at least unable to put before the camera.

Briggs’s script for Energy of the Daleks is also idiomatic of two other periods in the show's history. The story, about the search for an infinite, free power source at a time when natural resources are critical bespeaks the environmental concerns of the Letts/Dicks era, especially with its central friendship built at college between two idealistic geniuses one of whom, Damien Stephens, becomes darkly enamoured with commerce over the philanthropic potential, the other, Jack Coulson, leading occupy-style protests on the day of reckoning. But the setting of 2025 is very much nuWho with smartphones, the internet and secret headquarters in famous London landmarks. Coulson is even played by Rose’s Mark Benton (with Dan “Sontaran” Starkey in other roles).

Then there are the Daleks. Often keen to experiment, Briggs sometimes modulates the sound of his favourite enemy differently in these audios than television. Here we have the full on Briggs Daleks still capable of being terrifying in audio, especially when listening through headphones with the curtains drawn. As ever their underlying aim is utterly bonkers but the details are where the creepiness lies, the implications of the creation of the robomen, a comedy set piece in Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., utterly repulsive here.  As Briggs has rightly noted elsewhere, the Daleks are at their scariest when there’s a thought process, when they’re sly, when indeed they’re not simply Davros’s bodyguards and he puts all that well into practice.

This was the first of these new adventures to be recorded but already Tom and Louise are in their element, the old chemistry re-ignited after twenty-odd years, perhaps helped slightly by this not being their first attempt at recreating the characters. Benton is also a perfect straight man for Tom, filling the Duggan role as the dopey human usefully blundering into situations, drafted into bravery because the alternative is nastier than death. The rest of the cast is also pretty impressive. Along with Starkey, there’s Caroline Keiff (who was in the original stage cast of Wicked) and Alex Lowe (a regular in Ken Branagh's ensemble and “Barry from Watford” on various radio shows) as potential victims (to say much more would be to say too much).

They can all sense that at its core this is an old-fashioned runaround, with the Doctor chasing energy signatures between rooms and Leela attempting to take down robomen with Janus thorns. After a relatively sober couple of adventures, it’s nice to hear the series returning to first principles and even if there’s a familiarity to some of the situations, Briggs isn’t adverse to affectionately offering a critical nudge about some of nuWho’s apparatus, not least the preponderant utilisation of the sonic screwdriver. Not that it isn't just possible Briggs is noting how much of old Who was narratively extended because the even the sonic couldn’t get through such and such a door.

Doctor Who: Energy of the Daleks is out now from Big Finish. Review copy supplied.

“La la la la la”

Film And so to the inevitable AV Club interview with Joss Whedon about Cabin in the Woods, this year's Inception (which is the longest review I'm prepared to write at this point):
"We were talking about it last night, Jesse [Williams, who plays Holden] and I, that people seem to be really behind protecting—not the giant twist at the end, but just protecting the integrity what the experience of seeing it will be. You see people on the Internet like, “We don’t want to tell you, we don’t want to tell you,” and it’s like, “Wow, they didn’t just enjoy it, they cared.” It’s another level. Some people will have read the script, some people will have studied every frame of the trailer, and some people will go [puts fingers in ears], “La la la la la” during the trailer, like I used to with movies I really cared about. But I feel like it’s a movie that’s designed to be viewed more than once, so if people want their first viewing to be their second viewing, well, that’s fine too. I’ve had most of the great movies spoiled for me my whole life. It’s human nature. Those who want to avoid it will always try. I’m still going to make stories with plots."
Except to say that this is a film with which I'd argue, the poster is a massive spoiler. The publicity photos are massive spoilers. Hell, even some of the casting is a massive spoiler.  Basically, you're spoiled as soon as you hear the title.

"362 nights out of every 365"

TV Matthew Engel, a cricket writer and columnist on the Financial Times offers this celebration of Ceefax at the BBC News Magazine. The delivery is very poignant and I don't just mean the words:
"Firstly, it could do the basics very fast. I have four immediate needs first thing in the morning: a pee, tea, a period of reflective silence about the day ahead, and a quick reassurance that nothing has happened in the night that might change that day drastically.

"About 362 nights out of every 365 nothing does happen. But a journalist needs to be sure - the memory of the 4am death of Princess Diana is still seared into my brain."
As he rightly points out, the internet and the BBC's replacement red button service provide much the same information. But they're just not the same as a rainy afternoon in the early eighties when the only entertainment was a cup of Horlicks and "pages from Ceefax" and trying to guess which type of news will be appearing next.

"radicals in terms of technique"

Art Tate Britain's summer show will be the Pre-Raphaelites and the aim will be to attempt to break them from the assumed Victorian formality and demonstrate the avant-gardism they represented:
"The exhibition will argue that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – a movement led by William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais – were radicals in terms of technique, choice of subject matter, composition and the way they engaged with the viewer. They explored social, moral and political issues in a way that was new and often shocking.

"Smith said the gallery had been planning and negotiating loans for the past five years. Among the highlights will be Hunt's Lady of Shalott, owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, which has not been seen in the UK since 1951. More than 150 works are due to be exhibited along with photography, furniture and sculpture."
I wonder if any of the Walker Art Gallery's collection is to be loaned? Sometimes that can lead to lesser seen items from the collection briefly finding wall space.

Shakespeare's Sonnets for the iPAD

A really exciting project underpinned by a fantastic academic publishing legacy. Here's the press release:
The Arden Shakespeare, Faber and Faber, Touch Press and Illuminations are delighted to announce that they are in the final stages of producing a spectacular edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets for the Apple iPad. The title features specially filmed performances of all 154 sonnets by a stellar cast that includes Fiona Shaw, Sir Patrick Stewart and David Tennant. It also features the complete Arden notes, providing unsurpassed commentary on the poems.

This digital edition follows Touch Press and Faber's iPad app The Waste Land that presents T. S. Eliot's great poem in an innovative and widely praised interactive format.
Since this is partly an Illuminations productions, that may explain one the extras on the superb recent release of Simon Callow & Jonathan Bate's Being Shakespeare  (directed by John Wyver) which included Callow reading 18, 29 and 31 directly to camera.

Much Ado About Nothing on BBC Radio 3's Afternoon on 3

Shakespeare Completely unmentioned on the BBC's press release for the Shakespeare season on BBC Radio is a series of concerts as part of the Afternoon on 3 strand which includes this Wednesday an abridged production of Much Ado About Nothing with Daniela Nardini as Beatrice and Liam Brennan as Benedick with Korngold's score played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

The show begins at 2pm.

Here's the relevant page at the iplayer.

This press release was produced for the recording last year.

Much Ado About Nothing on BBC Radio 3's Afternoon on 3

Shakespeare Completely unmentioned on the BBC's press release for the Shakespeare season on BBC Radio is a series of concerts as part of the Afternoon on 3 strand which includes this Wednesday an abridged production of Much Ado About Nothing with Daniela Nardini as Beatrice and Liam Brennan as Benedick with Korngold's score played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

The show begins at 2pm.

Here's the relevant page at the iplayer.

This press release was produced for the recording last year.

Shakespeare at the BBC: Shakespeare's Restless World

Ahead of today's first broadcast of their new landmark series, a kind of history of Shakespeare in twenty objects, the BBC has posted an "audio discovery" page filled with "a selection of other programmes and clips from the Radio 4 archive on the theme of Shakespeare's Restless World" (and also the connected exhibition at the British Museum).

Which is rather understating things.  As well as pointing to notable episodes of In Our Time and Great Lives, they've also resurrected and uploaded pertinent series from the past, offering a preview of what the Radio 4 website may be like when the aim of digitising the entire collection has been achieved.

It's obviously more fun if you go and investigate for yourself.  It's good to see documentaries from Radio 3 included, many of which aren't usually kept up on the website past the seven day limit, including the many fascinating Shakespeare related episodes of the concert interval filler Twenty Minutes.

"For Laura, 35"

TV The Daily Record has an interview with Laura Fraser on the occasion of the second series of Lip Service but if fate had gone another way we'd be watching her on television right now. On Channel 4:
"For Laura, 35, her new life in the US got off to a dream start with a starring role in the pilot of acclaimed US drama Homeland. [...] The dream, however, became a nightmare when she was replaced for the series, her role going to V actress Morena Baccarin. For all her career highs, it was a bruising experience. [...] “It felt horrible. I was so embarrassed. It happens, mostly in America, and you can’t take it personally but it was very hard not to and not to feel rejected.”
This isn't the first time Baccarin's replaced another actress and been in reshot scenes, having stepped in for Rebecca Gayheart as Inara on Firefly.  Lord knows what they producers were thinking in this case.  Next time, Laura.

David Llewellyn’s Fallout

Audio For a much loved supporting character, PC Andy, or Sgt Andy as we must now call him always receives the short end of the narrative wedge on television’s Torchwood, often relegated to viewpoint character and exposition sponge. Admittedly he’s had the odd heroic moment, notably during Children of Earth's Day Five but he’s usually been the local law enforcement authority calling in the experts whenever something weird wanders into their jurisdiction.

David Llewellyn’s Fallout, the second in this special series of post Miracle Day audio adventures, seeks to redress the balance by putting Andy front and centre in an epic battle to save planet Earth from an evil alien focused on releasing a virus that will eradicate humanity from the face of the planet, while avoiding being shot by a secret agent working for Torchwood's Russian equivalent, The Committee for Extraterrestrial Research or KVI (previously of Llewellyn's novel Trace Memory). Yes, indeed, only on Torchwood.

And very amusing it is too. Llwellyn’s trick is to allow the story unfold like the kind of police procedural clogging up the schedules of ITV3, with a botched eBay sale resulting in a murder to which Andy and a colleague are called, the weirdness intruding slowly as the McGuffin, an alien egg not unlike the Skishtari spawn from Paul Magrs’s Serpent Crest series becomes target, and as with the previous audio, Army of One, we’re discovering the implications of the defunct institute's past decisions.

As the cover suggests, in a sweet scene Andy does tap Gwen for help, but with her stuck in the US, it’s his Welsh grit all of the way and Llewellyn really goes to town in giving him car chases, hand to hand combat and bit of potential romance with Yasmin within who’s deceased grandfather’s shed the egg sat for years. Everything’s kept in subtext, for once in Torchwood there’s no hanky-panky, but Andy’s clearly pleased to be the alpha male for once without Jack or even Rhys to stealing his thunder.

All of which is read with aplomb by Andy himself, Tom Price nipping in and out of Welsh accents, the Sgt emerging fully formed and just as loveable as on-screen, especially when piercing authority. We’re also treated to this Tom's Russian accent for obvious reasons, but it’s the voice he uses for the alien which demonstrates the actor’s flexibility, sounding unnervingly like Michael Maloney at his creepiest.

Torchwood: Fallout by David Llewellyn is out now from AudioGo. Review copy supplied.