this Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who crossover Assimilation 2

Comics The staff at the local Forbidden Planet must be tire people like me. The kind of people who turn up on delivery day nomically asking “Is it in yet?” assuming they’ll remember what I’m talking about out of the many hundreds of titles they have to sift through each week. Such as its been waiting for this Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who crossover Assimilation 2 since it was announced what feels like many months ago with ambiguous publication dates and an uncertainty about whether it would be supplied to the UK at all thanks to Panini’s sole UK comic rights to the franchise.  Strangely not a problem thanks to having Star Trek first in the title.

Was it worth the wait? Well … in #1, the writers Scott & David Tipton (with Tony Lee) have in mind to adjust what they see as two disparate fan bases into the different universes. The story opens with a teaser section about a Borg invasion of Delta IV (home planet of the Motion Picture’s Ilia) catching a bunch of Starfleet officers by surprise. Familiar characters are AWOL, but it’s a thrilling piece thick  Trek mythology with Vulcans and Andorians, sober barking of orders and starships being vapourised ala The Best of Both Worlds. There’s also a bit of beaming and some fantastic artwork of an armada of ships from J.K. Woodward.

Then we’re plunged into an entirely Trekless pseudo-historical romp around ancient Egypt for the Eleventh Doctor and friends, the writers capturing nicely the interplay between the three of them as they infiltrate a pharoh’s palace to flush out an alien – a kind of extended bit of Doctor Who Adventures business that manages to also work in that Rory was a Roman for a bit and that Amelia was the “girl who waited”. The likenesses are beautifully rendered by Woodward working from some familiar publicity shots, a rare occasion when Amy Pond in comic form actually looks like Karen Gillan and not some anonymous red head.

Then breathlessly we're into the final few pages with the TARDIS landing in 30s San Francisco but once we see a splash page set in a bar featuring Riker, Data and Beverly we know they’re on the holodeck at which point I rolled my eyes and wondered what they’d been doing for the previous nineteen pages because this should have been the first three, this should have been the teaser. I’m not often one to review what isn’t there, but it seems bizarre that with just eight issues to play about with the writers have decided to spend most of the first keeping the key characters apart.

The essential problem is this:  Though the Egyptian runaround is fun, because it has to reflect a typical Doctor Who story its also horrendously generic which means Who fans for all the cute back references are going to feel short changed because we’ve seen it all before. But Trek fans will have an even more understandable grievance because after the initial invasion chunk, they have to sit through all this Time Lord eccentricity before regreeting the characters they probably bought the comic for since they’re on the cover. Apart from Picard, who’s on the cover but not even inside.

The opposite approach would have been twenty pages of the Enterprise cocking about with an interstellar phenomena interspersed with Data discovering jealousy via his cat Spot finding romance elsewhere with the TARDIS vworping into a corridor at the end, which would have been equally alienating to those Who fans who couldn't give a stuff when the anomaly's revealed to be focus of the feline's amore.  Just because most of this thing is going to be set in the Trekverse Prime, we're adjusted enough not to need some old school Deus Ex Machina.

They're assuming an audience incompatibility that may not exist.  Perhaps another way of dealing with it would have been to have the TARDIS land on the holodeck much earlier and have the crew explore that 30s setting slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps it was either too fake, too perfect or too fictional.  We readers would all know where they actually are, but it would have given the supposed non-Whovians a chance to get to know the characters but in the familiar setting from The Big Goodbye.  Then drop in the reveal of the Enterprise crew and go from there.

It’s not a total disaster. A lapsed Trekker like me can see all kinds of ironies in the opening pages, like the fundamentally emotionless Cyber-Borg alliance annexing the Deltans, a notoriously empathic race (“My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain.” etc). Or the stardate included which may orientate the attentive Trek fan to this being set in season five between The Outcast and Cause and Effect, but might have Who fans like me sniggering because the former’s a gay allegory and the latter's about a time loop. Plus, is the Cybus logo on the chestplate of the Cybermen a deliberate choice or a reflection of the images Woodward was working from?

Hopefully when the other seven issues are published, this opening instalment will make better sense within the overall structure and the writer's will have resolved who's supposed to have narrative agency and who they're supposed to be writing this for.  Maybe issue two will be from the Enterprise crew’s perspective and we’ll have A Matter of Time referencing discussion with the Doctor trying to convince Picard that he’s not bonkers and that he should be listened to in regards to the alien invasion which is making Wolf 359 look like a labrador.

Perhaps it’s just that having been the boy who waited, I can’t believe we’re having to wait another month for the inevitable scenes when Riker flirts with Amy, Data enters the TARDIS and blows is positronic net, Geordie and Rory realise that they're functionally similar in the narrative and Picard asks for the doctor and both the Time Lord and Crusher turn up.  Hopefully we'll not greet issue three with Kirk and Spock bumping into the fourth Doctor (Shatner meets Tom!) and wonder if we shouldn't have had eight issues of that instead.  We'll see.

"Listen to me, Den Watts - I don't care if you HAVE come back from the dead, get out of my pub! The only spirits in here are gin, whisky and vodka, so go on - GET OUT!"

The Olympic Torch Relay.

Sport The Olympic Torch Relay. The Olympic torch relay. I’m not sure where the capitals are supposed to go, but I was sure that for all my cynicism about ticketing allocation, the siphoning off of money from less populist culture to pay for it and LOCOG’s shenanigans, I had to attend the Olympic Torch Relay, the Olympic torch relay. Checks main website. Olympic Torch Relay it is then.

Indeed I can’t quite understand why you wouldn’t bother, especially if you had the opportunity. As it spaghettis across the country taking in most of the major cities and at least some of the minor towns, there’s certainly enough time. I know people who desperately wanted to see it but couldn’t get time off from their employer, so in a way I felt like I had to see it for them too.

Not everyone has that spirit, it seems. Passing up Hope Street this afternoon on the way the place where I’d be standing, a mother was herding her brood up the pavement. One her boys looked up and asked, “Aren’t we staying to see the Olympic torch?” to which is Mum replied, “Why?  It’s just someone running up the road carrying a torch.”

I was desperate to say something, say “Well, yes it is, but think of your boy in twenty years when he’s in the pub talking about all this and when asked if he saw it, his story’s going to be what you just said. It might get him the sympathy vote, perhaps even a sympathy drink, but if he’s desperate to see it you might as well give him the hour.” But I didn’t because it was none of my business.

Instead I carried on up towards the Metropolitan Cathedral, outside which the Archbishop of Liverpool was having his photo taken with five women in top hat, tails, miniskirt and fishnet stockings (Zatanna basically). Inside the cathedral’s cafĂ©, a girl in a kimono practiced an intricate dance, swishing her sleeves around in circles. For a few moments, I felt like my life was being written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff.

I’d decided to stand in the university district on Brownlow Hill, near the red brick Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, guessing that the crowds would be thinner than in the city centre, and being students slightly more fun and less aggressive, mostly because I like to think that’s what I was like as a student and that has to be the template, doesn't it?

When I arrived at about four o’clock, the streets were empty which boded well for finding a decent speck.  But was early so I bought a 99 from an ice cream van, watched some of the entertainment laid on by the University radio station (Chinese drums), winced in Rymans at the exorbitant price of blank dvds and them met a friend in Blackwells who told me that the torch wouldn’t be passing by for another hour.

Eeep. Thankfully after some more strolling about, time passed relatively quickly and by about twenty to five I was standing up the hill outside one of the Electical Engineering buildings, the Sun reflecting brightly across its glass and white modernist tiling. On the balcony of the building, a group had gathered in swimsuits carrying beers. They were the happiest people there.

Waiting. Waiting. Chatting, to a couple of students stood next to me, about why we’d come, about the impossibility of buying tickets, about just what time the torch would actually be passing by. The crowds built. Random cheering ensued, mostly initiated by the people in swimsuits, sometimes after egging someone to remove most of their clothing too, something they succeeded in a few times. No, not with me.

At about 4:45, things occurred. After some stewards arrived to hopelessly ask us not to stand in the road, the first lot of support vehicles drove through, police on bikes (cheer), police car (cheer), Coca-Cola lorry (muted cheer), Samsung (cheerishing), Lloyds (cheer), yellow Olympic vehicles some carrying torch bearers (massive cheer) and then … a number 79 bus. The torch would be on time, then.

Which it was. At ten past five, more police bikes and cars, more Olympic vehicles, the security joggers in their grey track suits and in the middle the torch bearer, whoever he was. The experience of watching wasn’t unlike the Sea Odyssey giants of a few weeks ago, the surge of people, the shouty stewards, the desperate photography, the fleeting moments in which suddenly it's there, then just as suddenly it's gone.

I wish I knew who the torch bearer was. I’ve had a look at the Olympics website isn’t clear on exactly who had the opportunity when and the above photographic evidence is too indistinct for a positive identification. But he was smiling, enjoying himself and that’s the main thing. Certain other torchbearers haven’t seemed like they’ve really understood the honour.

After the biggest cheer went to the street cleaning wagon following the entourage it was over and the long walk to public transport began. I decided to head down Hardman Street to Forbidden Planet to collect my comics order (which is about what you'd expect). As I walked up Rodney Street, in the very distance I could see the torch passing another crowd outside Liverpool Cathedral.  Same cheers.

Turning onto Leece Street, I realised that the torch would be passing again up Renshaw Street. Picking up the pace, I dashed to the bottom and waltzed through the traffic onto the small island opposite the Sainsburys. Behind me the steps of St Lukes again were full and as the same vehicles passed by, it became apparent to them that they were very much in the wrong place. Surge forward.

But somehow I’d managed to plonk myself in front of all of them and was within feet of the path of the torch which, sure enough passed again. Another surge of people, more shouty stewards, more desperate photography, more fleeting moments of the torch being suddenly there, then just as suddenly gone. No photograph this time, just a memory of the torch's golden mesh sparkling in the daylight.

The Spectacle of the Lost, the new exhibition at one of the Liverpool’s unsung art venues, the University of Liverpool's Victoria Gallery & Museum

Art My first encounter with John James Audubon the artist who’s best known for his publication The Birds of America containing over four hundred life sized prints of bird species in North America when as a teenager I raided my Dad’s vinyl collection.  Although I generally ignored his Jim Reeves back catalogue, I was quickly attracted by An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (spotify) and his song, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, an autre piece about disposing of the wing'd "vermin" in a variety of cruel fashions. With wild abandon, Lehrer sings:

We've gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the Audubon Society
With our games.
They call it impiety,
And lack of propriety,
And quite a variety
Of unpleasant names.
But it's not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon.

At the age of about thirteen I didn’t know who Audubon was, or why he should have a society, and didn’t much care without the internet to help me, but I did very much enjoy singing his name (later I discovered the Audubon Society is essentially the US RSPB).  It wasn’t until years later when Liverpool Central Library had an exhibition about his book that I made the connection and grinned as I realised that I finally understood one of Lehrer jokes decades after I’d first heard it.  This Guardian article reminds me that was as late as 2004.

One of the reasons the Central Library was interested, apart from owning a copy of the book, was because in 1826, Audubon visited Liverpool to fund and publish his portfolio. He apparently stayed with the Rathbone family who were resident at the Greenbank House just around the corner from where I live in Sefton Park, a period in which he continued painting, presumably because of the mass of wildlife on his doorstep.

All of which makes me the perfect audience for The Spectacle of the Lost, the new exhibition at one of the Liverpool’s unsung art venues, the University of Liverpool's Victoria Gallery & Museum on Brownlow Hill, for which I attended the private view this evening. Curated by Laura Robertson of The Double Negative, it’s a gathering of works by the Birds' Ear View Collective, a group of artists interested in how birds interact with the modern urban environment.

Cleverly, the show begins in the museum’s own permanent display of Audubon paintings and drawings (the largest outside of the US), giving the visitor some visual tutelage in what the artist achieved. These are considerable images illustrating the visceral endeavours of a hawk pouncing on partridges or the noble, proud American wild turkey, with its tall neck and slightly arrogant features.

The power of Audubon’s achievement is undimmed by modern technology. Yes, television and film can build narrative and knowledge through editing and voice over and photography an even greater sheen of realism, but Audubon’s creatures have a presence, the unreal nature of painting somehow capturing aspects of their behaviour which still vividly leap from the page or canvas.

The rest of the show seems to seek to illuminate the brilliance of Audobon’s observations with an interest in the mortality of birds, with paintings and photography which underscore Audobon’s success in gifting his subjects such a rich inner life with a strong message of how man, at the risk of sounding like a Werner Herzog voiceover, in failing to appreciate their beauty ultimately causes their doom.

In the next room are further, rarely displayed examples of Audobon’s work, contrasted with the first pieces from the modern collective by John Barraclough. whose immense watercolours on paper show birds in their specimen status from the collection of National Museums Liverpool. Having seen examples of the originals when I worked at Liverpool Museum (as it was then) I can attest the accuracy of the fine brushwork on display here.

Yet, these prone eyeless bodies are somewhat depressing for all their formal brilliance.  They are scientifically important and at the Museum many are held in environmentally controlled areas with single existing examples of their species locked in bombproof safety, modern attitudes protecting the birds more now than we did when they were alive apparently.

That interest in the mortality continues into his Impact drawings which mimic the subtle remains of the shape a bird makes when hitting a window, white pages covered in scratches, and the photographic prints made with Alexandra Wolkowicz across the walls in the main space depicting birds which have fallen fowl of the city, carcasses found in diverse buildings across New York like the World Finance Center Gym and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Splayed across black backgrounds in shapes not unlike Audobon's own action paintings, the colours of the bird's feathers remain colourful even in death.  To be honest I'm not sure how we're supposed to feel about them.  Perhaps like the Audobon's what we're seeing is a record of bird behaviour, the repetitiveness of a particular kind of death within an environment stolen from them by humans.

The evening was topped off by a performance from Rob Peterson, whose audio work reading samples from Audobon’s diary also features in the space. Having flown in himself early this morning, he fittingly read entries describing Audobon’s own first impressions of Liverpool. He mainly talks about how polite we all are especially when giving directions, but notes an example of man's intervention, a caged bird near the breakfast table.

Perhaps it’s a bit ironic that my first inclining of Audobon is through a satirical song about man’s cruelty to bird and now I’ve attended an exhibition on just that same topic. It’s the kind of exhibition which is enjoyable because it’s interesting, because it asks questions and challenges the visitor. It certainly speaks to my own inherent double standards in being repulsed by the sight of the birds who had little chance against man’s progress, but adores roast chicken.

Until Saturday 25 August 2012. 

"my favourite programme, Blue Peter"

TV Blue Peter is Who I Am:
"I didn’t have many friends when I was young. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that I have Asperger Syndrome. I was lonely and miserable and having a difficult time at both home – my father was an abusive alcoholic – and at school, where I was bullied. I wrote letters to my favourite programme, Blue Peter. It didn’t hurt that it also had links to my other favourite, Doctor Who, and still does. [...] The first Blue Peter badge I won was the Green badge, for writing about the environment ..."
I'd like to think that kids still have same connection with the show that we used to [via].

strange and challenging

Music Netia Jones discusses collaborating with Maurice Senak on Oliver Knussen's opera versions of his books:
"I'm sick of Wild Things," was the first thing Maurice said to me. Knowing he might say no, making the opera project impossible, I explained my ideas and, heart in mouth, asked if I could animate his drawings. He said yes: "I like you and I trust you. Go where your imagination takes you." I almost fainted with joy."
Both operas are on Spotify and are just as strange and challenging as they should be:

"the meaning of a work can be illuminated"

Art Much as I love visiting art galleries, I hate visiting art galleries. Museums too. The main problems with art galleries and museums and art exhibitions is this: they're terrible places to see things.  Oh everything is available, walls and floors filled with stuff, interesting stuff, beautiful stuff, clever stuff.  Enough stuff for us to spend all day looking at it.  Stuff everywhere, all with the potential if not necessarily to change our lives, at least change the way we look at the universe.

But, we're not alone. There are other visitors walking about self-centeredly wanting to the look at the stuff their way and never with the same concentration we want to give. There's staff members with their radios and being staff members. There's noise. The noise of creaky floor, squeeky doors, visitors discussing the work, the chatter or school groups, all of which can be magnified depending on how large the space is and how popular the display.

Essentially, unless we're very, very lucky we can never give the stuff the concentration we really should, that it's really designed for.  Most art gallery and museums and exhibitions are a distracting one size fits all solution to an impossible problem.  How do we enjoy artwork for what it is, what it should be?

Perhaps we should be able to look at art in private.  We should be able to book a room in a building somewhere and at the same time an artwork from a collection.  At the appointed time we visit and sit in a comfy seat in a soundproofed large empty room.

On the wall in front of us is the painting we want to see or in the centre of the room the sculpture.  We then have as long as we like to contemplate the piece, perhaps with some background information to hand.  Web access or some such.  Then, when we're ready the next work we want to see is brought in by handlers or we slip home and book the next appointment.

All of which is dour and unfair and draws away from the excitement of visiting a busy exhibition in which a mass of humanity is collectively enjoying the experience of seeing great art, the potential interactions, the moments when the meaning of a work can be illuminated because of those interactions.  Plus the curatorial choices which demonstrate connections between the stuff based on where it's placed.  They're all the reasons I love art and places that display it.  All of you.

But sometimes, just sometimes ...

The Smithsonian Institute has a post about how a physics student sat in some rooms at  the Cleveland Museum of Art just watching how visitors interacted with the work and the space, drawing their movements on graph paper.  The results are relatively predictable but what I draw from it is that much of what happens in these places is about trying to see the stuff as best we can.  Under the circumstances.

"a Banco do Brasil building"

Art Anthony Gormley's installation piece Event Horizon places a few dozen of his burnt nude sculptures (not unlike those in Another Place on Crosby Beach) on rooftops across a city, like angels watching over the crowds below. Their appearance in San Paulo as part of a new retrospective has unnerved the population:
"The police were here a few days ago because they received calls that a man was going to jump from a building," said Carol Menezes, a receptionist at a Banco do Brasil building where one of the statues sits on a roof 25 stories above the sidewalk. "It's interesting, creative. I was surprised when I first saw it. I guess it's art, so many strange things are so why not this?"
The installation originally appeared in London in 2007 but these images of the new iteration from Wired are especially arresting.  ArtLyst has a longer piece about the whole show.

"more visual data"

Film The BBC have posted a short piece about the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's first film The Pleasure Garden.

 The main points of interest are that four alternative versions of the piece have been married together to produce the longest version to date some twenty minutes longer and the image has been stabalised.

Watch out too for how the scanned print looks before its been cropped - there's more visual data on either side of the resulting version something that weirdly hadn't occurred to me having spent years seeing these things in academy ratio.

Here's what I wrote about the film when I was watching all of Hitch's career in order: "Showgirls without the rampant sexuality and subtle performances".

I'm looking forward to reappraising it.

Alan Barnes's Trail of the White Worm

Audio For  the first half of the final story of the series, writer Alan Barnes's Trail of the White Worm takes us right back into the Hinchcliffe end of the franchise with a Holmesain story that riffs on an old horror classic, features a megalomaniac Time Lord foe and is thick with the atmosphere of the late 70s, portrayed on audio via the culture clash between the exoticism of punk culture and the parochialism of Derbyshire’s Hardyesque bygumism. It’s as though the whole thing’s happening in Dominic Sandbrook’s dreams on a night when he’s fallen asleep after a reading Bram Stoker’s book, its supernatural elements still rattling about his brain.

The TARDIS drops the Doctor and Leela in the Peaks, where they find themselves embroiled in the search for a missing girl and the mystery of mucus deposits across the rocks of the Dark Peak Gap, created by what the locals calls a “you know what” but whose identity is rather given away from the title. Before long we’re straight into the classic structure of the time travellers becoming separated, with different bits of the back story being revealed to them and us, the Doctor’s deductive powers filling in the vital missing pieces, Barnes leaving just enough breadcrumbs that we might ourselves be able to guess if we’re listening carefully enough.

Apart from Bob Holmes, the other writer who most obviously comes to mind is Paul Magrs.  This is first of these plays which seems to tonally glance deliberately in the direction of the AudioGo range especially in the latter sections when the White Worm becomes the focus and the listener’s challenged to imagine the unimaginable. Certainly the characterisation’s as bonkers as Hornet’s Nest, featuring Colonel Splindleton an aristocratic big game hunter who has access to a massive arsenal of weapons and an aristocrat labelled Demesne Furze (which in reality’s a leafy new build in Headington, Oxford) (no really, it’s on Google’s street view).

As ever with this series, Big Finish’s attracted an A-list for audio cast. The Colonel’s  huge gestures and Vernian adventurism is perfectly suited to Michael Cochrane, veteran of The Archers and an eerily accurate Malcolm Muggeridge on Holy Flying Circus, the Monty Python bio.  He’s joined by Rachael Stirling, yes that’s Tipping the Velvet and Boy Meets Girl’s Rachael Stirling as Demesne, almost unrecognisable with her pitch perfect, according to Tom in the extras, impression of Ealing regular Joan Greenwood, rolling her rrrrs and sounding about twenty years older. Impeccable.

There’s Becci Gemmell from Land Girls too as Julie, a kind of quick witted I can’t believe she’s not Lucie Miller figure with aspirations for the bright lights of Carnaby Street but the clear draw here is the return of Geoffrey Beavers as the Master in a story set chronologically before his debut in the role in The Keeper of Traken. Without the cumbersome make-up to deal with, Beavers is able to bring his rich consonants to a role which he’s made his own across a number of the these audios, the perfect mirror image to the fourth Doctor, Anthony Ainley never quite was during their single adventure.

I hope you’ll forgive the fixation on casting but they are one the highlights and with at least six paragraphs to fill and not wanting to give away too much of the story, I’m left to free associate with my starry eyes. Perhaps the only advice I’d offer is saving the play for next month and listening along with the final couple of episodes from The Oseidon Adventure. Though it’s relatively self contained, it does still feel like half a story and will perhaps be most satisfying with the other half, which features some of the same characters and resolves much of what happens here. Apparently.

Doctor Who: Trail of the White Worm by Alan Barnes is out now.