wow, wow, wow, wow, wow

TV Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Doctor who? Doctor Who? Doctor WHO? Having the memory of a dusty Dalek I can’t quite remember how long some of the gaps between seasons were in the olden days but I imagine the sense of anticipation was just as high as the during the eight months we’ve been waiting for series seven. The only vivid memory I have is of sitting down to watch The Trial of a Timelord after eighteen months, being wowed by the budget busting opening sequence of the TARDIS being grabbed from time and space, the intrigue of the darkened tube station then a sinking feeling as I realised that this was not going to have been worth the wait as Col and Mike grimaced at each other across a 2D courtroom and the woman from the Carry On films shiftily flounced about. I’m far kinder about Joan Sims’s performance now but I still have at the back of my mind the bitter disappointment of falling out of love with a show I’d been following for years.

Surprisingly that memory’s stuck with me and bizarrely despite every bit of evidence the contrary always wonder if the first episode of each season will indeed be worth the wait. Hello, you. Hello, Asylum of the Daleks. Hello, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Hello, Doctor who? Hello, Doctor Who? Hello, Doctor WHO? Hello to putting my carrot juice drinking demons to bed, or more precisely trapping them in a heat-sealed lead lined coffin and dropping them to the bottom of the sea. Like Trial, this also began with a budget busting opening sequence, our first glance at Skaro on screen since the show came back (and as promised long ago the same version from the City of the Daleks) and with the TARDIS and its inhabitants being grabbed from time and space, but unlike Trial this was well worth the wait as the Matt and the Dalek Supreme grimaced at each other across a parliament in three dimensions with the girl from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (there’s posh) shiftily flounces about.

My goodness. Just where do we begin? The Daleks? In this week’s party newsletter, the Prior Mordrin indicates that he’s been trying to write a “proper” Dalek story for the series since it began. Under the prior Prior Mordrin, he nearly wrote Daleks in Manhattan but was so busy he ended up writing Blink instead (which is a fair trade off I suppose) and after his inauguration farmed out Victory of the Daleks to one of the other knights of God and despite peppering his work with the um, pepperpots this is indeed the first time he’s had them say much more than their catchphrases. Quite rightly he decides to have as many as he can, hundreds upon thousands, which is bit of a group growth spurt from the reconstitution of the new paradigm (a new paradigm which spent much of this episode hiding at the back which suggests that they really have got the hump), enough to look sexy in the clips, the trailers and the posters. Doctor Who and the Daleks. Always has been. Always will be.

Unless Terry Nation estate pulls the rights but given the acknowledgement of his input within Moffat’s script through back references to his scripts, not to mention the merchandising possibilities of the episode (head attachable stalks for Christmas), that doesn’t seem likely. As is the run of things lately, these Daleks don’t have some grand master plan, “simply” the destruction of their technological race history in the form of the machines, which have failed them in the past. There are questions to be asked about just how this asylum exists given that we’ve been told countless times in the past seven years that since the time war the Daleks have been an endangered species when in reality there was a planet full of dodgy examples. Perhaps having had the race reconstituted they bumped into the thing on their travels rather like the rotting plum I found in the middle of my laundry basket the other week. I knew I hadn’t eaten it but convinced myself as much only realising later that it’d fallen off the shelf above.

But it does offer Moffat the chance to bring in every Dalek from the show’s history as promised by the fold out computer generated cover of Doctor Who Magazine a few months back. Except, and welcome to small criticism number one, because of the spooky lighting we can’t really see them. One of the Battle Daleks from Remembrance is clearly visible when Rory first turns up on the planet and one of the I think Resurrection versions is obvious in the later scene when the examples the Doctor's defeated wake up.  Other than that mostly it's the golden model with a few of the paradigms oddly strewn about the place (despite the fact they’d apparently had a Victory) (unless they were in some unseen spin-off story) (one of Justin Richards’s graphic novels?). Somewhere in suburbia, Mat Irvine throws his hands in the air and shouts: “Now you turn the lights down?” Did he build any of the Dalek props? He must have reconditioned one surely? For the purposes of this reference?

Anyway, Moffat decides to write a story as Daleky as he can right through to the creation of some new robo-people. Anamaria Marinca with a Dalek stalk pointing out of her forehead is not something which I've ever expected to see, but that’s presumably because I missed all of her three appearances in Holby City such are the vagaries of an actors career once they’ve been nominated for the likes of the London Film Critics Circle Award for starring in one of the last decade’s greatest world films. During a frankly barmy but brilliant #leveson style enquiry into the JNT era in this month’s DWM (thanks, Graham), the topic of his “celebrity” casting is given rigorous discussion and Moffat says he’d also cast Ken Dodd if the part was right. But clearly his casting ambitions are rather more ambiguous. Who else can we expect by series end? Mathieu Amalric playing a Draconian? Udo Kier? Either way, this is quality casting which lifts a tiny part in a way which makes one wonder what might have happened and JNT had got his way with casting Sir Larry Olivier as the mutant in Revelation.

But such is the detailing in Asylum (as it will be forever abbreviated) an episode which also manages to bring other revelations like the marital status of the Ponds. The final chunk of their spin-off series suggested all was not well between Amy and Rory and here they are given some grown up problems. I’d be interested to know what viewers who were insulted by “fridging” of Amy in the previous series think of her “new” infertility as a result of that. Frankly, I’m not sure myself. Which I suppose you could take as small criticism number two, or at least pencil it in as such until I can decide exactly what that criticism is. Nevertheless it does lead to another gob-smacking piece of acting between Karen and Arthur who having underscored they can do comedy during Pond Life, demonstrate their facility for tragedy and annunciating human irrationality. She kicked him out because she couldn’t have kids and he wanted some to do him a favour? Still pencilling it in.

On top of which: in that annoying way that Radio Times often does, during its preview of Asylum said “and stay alert for a major, top-secret surprise just after the title sequence…” which means I’ve spent the past four days trying to work out what that might be. By Thursday afternoon I’d decided it was the return of the Doctor’s daughter Jenny and despite its hokey similarity to the Mels/Melody “surprise” that she’d later regenerate into Clara or whatever the name of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character is ultimately going to be by the Christmas special, the twist being that neither she or the Doctor will recognise each other, that being the “surprising” way the character’s introduced. Friday was a very RTDish kind of a day as I oscillated through various nuish Who companions then Sally Sparrow. By halfway through the credits I was convinced Carole Ann Ford had been brought out of retirement for a 50th anniversary preview.

Well, no. Magnificently no. Bless the reviewers. Bless the fans who attended the various preview screenings. Bless even the papers, despite the Mirror’s bizarre headline today about Matt leaving, a weird attempt to top The Scum’s post-Rose front page deduction. None of them spoiled this. You can detect Steven’s raised eyebrows at the fact in his quotes from this official website story about same. Having spent all that time indicating somberly that this would be Karen and Rory’s final five occasions to shine, there’s the new girl beaming at us. It’s not the first time a companion’s appeared on screen as a different character before making their introduction as a regular. It is the first time they’ve been given quite so much up-front up-staging narrative agency ahead of the current regulars in an attempt to charm us before she makes her proper entrance so much so that at one point I wondered if Moffat was going take the Whedonesque route of killing Amy and having Oswin take her place early (all the trailer footage we've seen having been filmed specially).  But only for a few seconds.  Oswin by the way is usually a boy's name.  It's old English for "God's friend".

Oh Jenna-Louise Coleman. Look at you. You’re, to quote an old friend, brilliant, catching the rhythm of Moffat’s writing, instant chemistry with Matt and understanding completely the tone that this show requires, the sideways skips between micro-genres. Feels strange writing about your performance now before you’re actually playing the companion but for all we know you already are playing the companion.  On the one hand its possible you were cast just for this episode and were so incredibly good that Steven spoke to Andy from casting and you were offered a permanent job but given everything we know about the production timescales, you have to have been playing Oswin for a reason and despite these five episodes apparently being vaguely stand alone in structure, your appearance is going to create just the kind of speculation that has been this show’s stock in trade of late (especially since your name was even left off the credits on the programme page for this story) (at time of writing).  This is also an example of the show taking advantage of its own buzz/hype/press releases because if the viewer didn't know that this actress was playing the new companion (which might just be the case in some international sales territories) how they perceive the episode changes.  There's no great surprise after the credits, just curiosity as to who this character is and at the end, no expectation that she would be returning.

Cue speculation. Will JLC be turning up in all of the next four episodes too playing different characters, will that be the “surprising” thing? Or is this another of Moffat’s pre-destination paradoxes and she’ll be travelling with the Doctor until such time that she leaves him only to find herself crash landed on the Asylum planet and assimilated the “surprising” thing being the Doctor doesn’t know her fate because he hasn’t met her. Or will he pop back in his TARDIS to the seconds before the planet explodes and give her a lift, the twist will be his new companion is a human trapped within a Dalek casing, perhaps with a handy perception filter showing the real her to deflect unnecessary questions when they’re charging through Splot on the trail of a marooned Monoid or convincing Edgar Allen Poe that it’s not the gentle rapping, rapping ravens he needs to be worried about. Certainly the conspiratorial glance to camera suggests she’s not one to fear death. Not since the Valeyard’s maniacal laugh in Trial has the fourth wall been broken quite this shamelessly and not since The Face of Evil for reasons to do with the plot. Potentially.

Small criticism number three (or two) might be that the revelation of Oswin’s status is a rerun of Charlotte Abigail Lux’s fate in Forest of the Dead, albeit with a difference sense of reality or geography and guessable as soon as the Doctor entered through the door to that chamber, at least for me. Are we to perhaps assume that Amy’s visions earlier are because the Daleks in that chamber are also transformed humans, their dress a homage to Evil of the Daleks suggesting that they’ve been borrowed from that era? (I've seen it again.  Not so much).  But the ensuing montage sequence of Oswin being transformed ala Revelation is truly shocking (even for this timeslot) and more than made up for any crossover. It’s rather why I’m hoping this won’t be the start of another of Moffat’s predestination paradoxes. It’s the first of his scripts without one and he even seems to utilise our expectation of his tendencies for some misdirection in the scene on the Alaska escape pod as we briefly wonder if time is the reason for the rapid ageing of the bodies.

Finally (because frankly this has gone on long enough) there’s Matt. It’s easy in this role to become complacent, fall back on habits and ticks, not exactly phone it in but work within certain limits. We’ve seen it happen. We’ve made it happen. But Matt’s performance has grown in stature across the years. Never before have we seen him play the character as penetratingly logical as in the teaser or so subtly change the tone of his behaviour in the presence of the Ponds increasing his sense of purpose then again with Oswin as the Doctor detects a soul as quick-witted but whimsical as his own. However proficient some of the readers of the spin-off audiobooks have been across the years or intricate the characterisation of the writers, none can really capture this man when he’s fully engaged in his vocation, both the actor and his character and the character because of the actor.

None of which has left much room for me to talk about Nick Hurran’s direction (prodigious use of wide angle lenses), Murray’s music (does JLC’s character have her own theme yet?) or Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg given proper actorly credits (was that as a result of their piece in the 450th DWM?) but these two and a half thousand words have been a bit of an incoherent fangasm and perfect demonstration of why I really should decide what point I’m making before I begin writing. Perhaps the point is that we’re still watching a show at the top of its game and if the gaps in seasons and pauses are one of the reasons for that, so be it. I’d much rather that than the sense of churn which leads to something like The Curse of the Black Spot or The Trial of a Timelord for that matter, where creativity’s compromised because of the need to create something called Doctor Who no matter what it’s like. This is a show which has to be worth waiting for.

Liverpool Food and Drink Festival. An Aerial History.

Liverpool Food and Drink Festival 2012 from above2012

Simon Guerrier’s The Empty House

Audio  Throughout Who’s history there’s been a thread of stories which have been about the Doctor and/or his pluses finding themselves in an odd situation and the story is about them discovering how to unpick the stitch they’re in. Think Inferno, The Chimes of Midnight or The Girl Who Waited.  Such adventures tend to be more interactive than most because the audience’s own deductive skills will be in play with the satisfactory potential that we might just be one step ahead of the Time Lord or as is the case in the best of their kind not see the extra layer of stitching underneath.

I’m smugly in the position of being able to say I was at least ten minutes ahead of the Doctor during Simon Guerrier’s The Empty House even though for various reasons the cover art suggests various ambiguities. The TARDIS crash lands in the wilds of Hampshire in the 1920s, and the Doctor smells the sulphurous malfunctioning engines of the alien ship they collided with. As is standard, Rory becomes separated when he returns to their ship for his wife’s umbrella while Amy and the Doctor investigate the other deserted ship then follow its occupant’s footprints to an eponymous dwelling of the title. Within they hear muffled voices, one of which is Rory’s.

Brain in gear, then. Guerrier structures his piece so that information is slowly parcelled out as the two friends turn over the house and simply pay attention to their environment and although the sound design sometimes works against what he’s trying to achieve (we’re only told the about music a gramophone is making rather than hear it), it’s structured in such a way that even this older mind found itself piecing things together leading to the eureka moment which happened just earlier as I was walking home from the post office. But as with the best of this type of story, the interest is kept alive through awaiting confirmation of a correct presumption.

Another adept reading from Raquel Cassidy who seems to have become AudioGo’s go to actor for their Doctor Who singles. In the parish monthly, the author suggested he’d originally envisaged Mark Gatiss as the voice for this adventure, pondering if he might have written it differently if he’d known who would ultimately reading the piece. But his characterisation of the regulars and narrative technique are proficient enough that it probably doesn’t matter. This is fine, economic storytelling and if it lacks the demented genius of some of his longer prose work (The Pirate Loop, The Time Travellers) it’s a worthy addition to this format.

Doctor Who: The Empty House by Simon Guerrier is out 6 September from AudioGo.

despite the many spin-offs and rubbish tv commercials

TV And now the bump:

One of the reasons The Fast Show is still considered one of the great comedy series despite the many spin-offs and rubbish tv commercials nipping away at its legacy is that it was willing to take risks and included that thing rare for sketch series: dimensional characters. Rowley Birkin QC, a retired barrister, was a drunken sot unintelligibly reminiscing about his past adventures, his random moments of clarity the points of comedy and for five weeks that's what it was. Then in the sixth week, this happened. It's one of Paul Whitehouse's best performances and it turns Birkin's catchphrase on its head, makes it far less amusing and actually changes how we view the previous sketches, makes them even richer. Less funny perhaps, but richer.

This final Pond Life is a small version of that. After four funny instalments it hits us in the gut, throws the Doctor's usually amusing time meanderings against what's happening in his friend's lives. Rory leaving or as may be the case Amy chucking him out. It's nicely ambiguous (though a scene in the BBC News package yesterday indicates where this may be going -- another Lizo Mzimba special spoiler).  It doesn't necessarily change our perception of the previous four episodes, there wasn't much to them, but it does make us wonder whether it was the spooky-doos and the Doctor keeping the relationship together and without that there's no spark, like a work or holiday romance which can't continue past the thing which a couple had in common.  Losing the Ood, heralds the end.

As ever it's anchored by Matt's performance as the Doctor, the crack in his voice, the sad walk away from the door towards his TARDIS, his umbrella not really stopping the rain from soaking him, providing the tears he can't have as they so often do when he can't definitively explain when something is wrong. He's become connected to some human friends again and this is a rare occasion when a companion isn't home when he turns up for an adventure. He fears perhaps that they've moved on without him. That's happened before but usually he leaves them behind not the other way around. If only he'd done the same thing I usually do when someone's not home. Sat on the doorstep and waited. He would have discovered that Amy does need her raggedy man.  Tomorrow, then.

a whirly-gig in the back garden

TV As I was saying, about that single camera sitcom:

A continuation from yesterday, now the Ood's less scary than humiliated. Poor Ood. Was the apron entirely necessary? Of course it was. It's hilarious. Some lovely physical comedy between Arthur and Amy over the breakfast table and extremely funny deadpan from Arthur who's always had a facility for the tolerant look of someone who's given up on being surprised by everything which is pushed in his direction however crazy.

Meanwhile on the home front, we have Rory with his plastic lunch box, the Ikea kitchen and a whirly-gig in the back garden. On the TARDIS front, the Androvax conflict, as in the Veil from Sarah Jane Adventures? That's a bizarre reference especially as we'll now wonder how an Ood was mixed up in it. Does this mean we now have to include Ood in the list of companions?  Does he go before or after River?

Pyjamas and a dressing gown?

TV Ah Mr Pertwee you do continue to be relevant:

Of course when Jon talked about a Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec he meant for it to be a scary proposition, whereas this Ood looks positively serene and Murray Gold's re-purposed music doesn't hint toward red eye. Or green eye. The first twenty seconds of the what, episode? minispode? anyway the first twenty seconds hints towards what these things had been sold as, a look at the life of the Ponds at home. I'd assume without the Doctor, but these, um, vignettes? Sketches? have actually quite naturally about how his life intrudes on theres, his oddness or as this case here Oodness.

Other questions. Is that a wig, extensions or does Karen simply have her We'll Take Manhattan hair on? The Ponds have a very decorous home life, no wandering around naked in this household despite them being a married couple. Pyjamas and a dressing gown?  I suppose if the Doctor is popping in every hour of the month you'd have to prepared but it is a bit Arthur Dent, BBC early evening sitcom or M&S catalogue.  They're also big readers too.  Loads of heavily read/mistreated paperbacks on the shelves.  Sherlock would have a behavioural field day with this minutia.

On the basis of this, part of me wishes that they'd turn this whole concept into a single-camera sitcom in which a suburban couple attempt to get on with their lives amid crazy alien things dropping in each week, like Alf, but its the humans who're weird.  Imagine the hilarity of the episode in which they have to drag the dead husk of a Dalek casing out of the house without the neighbours seeing during their house-warming party or Rory accidentally buying an alien charm which makes them have to tell the truth all day.  It's the Witches of Waverly Place or Sabrina The Teenage Witch observing Clarke's Third Law.  Or some such.

to fall down or press the wrong button

TV Day Two:

So this must be the hinted at premise for the next five episodes. Rather than Amy and Rory travelling with the Doctor, he jumps in and nabs them whenever something's about to happen. Now to be fair the Ponds, and contractual obligations aside, surely with "all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will" available to him, he could do better than a couple of humans who're more likely to fall down or press the wrong button than actually do something useful? River Song, perhaps? What's left of Torchwood? The Brigadier at some earlier point? Sherlock Holmes?

What we're seeing here is the Doctor going domestic.  Settled down.  Having made some friends, they're the ones he wants to go on adventures with, even if as it seems, they don't want to live in the TARDIS.  This is rather the same attitude the Third Doctor had in his later years when "all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will" had been returned to him by the Time Lords and despite having spent months belly-aching about being trapped on Earth, he retained his position as UNIT's scientific advisor.  He needs some kind of chronological compass and contemporary Earth still suits him.

Of course given the TARDIS apparently drops him were he needs to be, you have to wonder what catastrophe he's failing to attend to once he's sodded off to the next one.  Perhaps that finally explains the Miracle Day mess.  He's a one global catastrophe at a time kind of Time Lord, or as was the case then he was so preoccupied with his impending doom and Amy and Rory didn't think it was worth bringing up or simply didn't have time what with regenerating River and Hitler and all of that stuff.  Or it was a fixed point in time and since it sorted itself out eventually it probably wasn't worth mentioning.

With apologies to Stuart

Blog! The Double Negative have announced the judging panel for the Blog North Awards. As well as their own Mike Pinnington, it's ...
"Much loved author, journalist and broadcaster Stuart Maconie; Meg Pickard, head of digital engagement at Guardian News and Media; founder of Loaded and editor of Sabotage Times, James Brown; Claire Malcolm, chief exec of New Writing North; and Zoe Margolis, author of the Girl With A One Track Mind blog."
First of all, well done. That's an excellent collection. Next of all, it also means the present holding pattern mix of random Shakespeare murmurings, Doctor Who reviews and link bloggage doesn't stand much of a chance.  Perhaps if I link to the last half decent thing I've written, they'll or rather you'll take it into consideration.  With apologies to Stuart for that time on the train back from Bolton.  I hadn't realised I was sitting in the wrong compartment.

it's back on Saturday

TV Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, the best thing Chris Chibnall's ever written:

Saturday. I can't believe it's back on Saturday. So what do we have here? Well, the idea of a week long preview's fabulous though I expect we were all hoping for something longer than fifty seconds. Does this count as the shortest single episode of Doctor Who, beating out one of the many Children in Need specials? Perhaps. Pond Life's a funny title and this is a funny montage ala The Impossible Astronaut, with a potential nod to Dark Star, some phallic subtext, the Doctor not singing and some excellent drowsy booze acting from Arthur Darvill. Presumably that's supposed to be April 2012, though the timeline's all over the place as it is. Until tomorrow.

"You don’t have to backfill it."

Links I was in the supermarket earlier and as my copy of The Observer with the photo of Neil Armstrong passed through the checkout, the clerk began reminiscencing about watching the moon landing with her mother. I told I wasn'y born then. "You lucky thing!" She grinned. Then I mused in that way that sometimes happens when you don't think about what you're about to say before you say it that I sometimes wish that I'd been alive to see it. I said that I'd seen Haley's Comet and the various shuttle missions but the moon landings were the one. Only as I was walking away did I realised I would now also have to be at least ten years older and I don't want that. Being a child of the seventies has been very good to me.

BuzzFeed with a press pass: What happens when the GIF kings try to take Washington?
“I’ve written stories that are several thousand words,” said John Stanton, who heads up BuzzFeed’s new Washington bureau, which opened in July and is the closest thing to a physical manifestation of the site’s expansionist plans. “I’ve also written stories that are 300 words. If something doesn’t deserve more than 300 words, you can just write it. You don’t have to backfill it.”

Doctor Who spin-off writer (and one time editor of the BBC Books range) Steve Cole talks to The Guardian's podcasts about that and and his range of children's books.

Typically intelligent interview from Art of the Title with David Fincher in which they manage to have him answer some questions about Alien3. This sections from earlier though:
" The sequence for Se7en did very important non-narrative things; in the original script there was a title sequence that had Morgan Freeman buying a house out in the middle of nowhere and then travelling back on a train. He was making his way back to the unnamed city from the unnamed suburban sprawl, and that’s where the title was supposed to be — “insert title sequence here” — but we didn’t have the money to do that. We also lacked the feeling of John Doe, the villain, who just appeared 90 minutes into the movie. It was oddly problematic, you just needed a sense of what these guys were up against."