Evolution of Mom Dancing with Michelle Obama.

Nicholas Briggs’s The Sands of Life.

Audio  After the initial excitement of Tom and Mary reunited (or not quite as was the case thanks to the intricate farce of The Auntie Matter), we’re now straight into the business of sorting out what a Fourth Doctor and Romana story is really like outside of The Key To Time season. The answer if Nicholas Briggs’s The Sands of Life is a model, is some pretty generic Doctor Who which fills an hour with some excellent performances, atmospheric sound design and some intrigue, which is fatally difficult to review in this context because despite its unusual three episode structure (Big Finish tend to offer two per disc), this is only the first half of the story, and the slightly “generic” element could just be a classic bait and switch, the second disc turning the entire story on its head.

In the near future, the Doctor and Romana tumble to Earth just as masses of alien beasts capable of manipulating the time stream are apparently returning to their breeding ground in the Sahara Desert, during which endeavour they wipe out a space platform owned by a conglomerate called The Conglomerate, whose CEO, Cuthbert isn’t too pleased about it. All the while Romana finds herself communicating with the beasts, which is of particular interest to Earth forces when the time team are inevitably captured and then Cuthbert who pulls some strings to force the Doctor’s co-operation in his investigation of this unusual species. Before long Romana’s lost in the desert and the Doctor’s rushing to save her.

There’s not one element of that which doesn’t thrum to the sound of some other Who adventure and throughout the story beats remixed from elsewhere are deafening pitched in, from the Doctor obfuscating in the face of authority to intergalactic xenomorphism to the tension between big business and the government. This is more comfort Who and Briggs’s script is incredibly witty throughout, especially in those moments self-reflexively relating backwards to Tom’s own wild pronouncements about the kinds of things he’d like to see in Doctor Who related to badgers and companions shaped like parrots.

It’s the usual tension in these Fourth Doctor adventures about whether they’re supposed to be providing a waxwork recreation of Saturday night television drama in the 70s or something which throws the essentials into a contemporary mix. That’s marked here by Briggs’s own pastiche of a Dudley Simpson music backing what are entirely cinematic scenes, suggesting Planet of the Dead scored in the style of Planet of Evil. In the first series, that resolved itself into producing something which sounded like their source material but with stories which simply couldn’t or wouldn’t be produced then because of interesting narrative structures or changes in socio-political concerns. This is looser, purposefully less focused.

Yet it’s always compelling because of the cast. In the background to the main story is that of a new elected President of Earth who’s also hearing voices, played by Hayley Atwell. Yes, that’s Captain America’s Hayley Atwell, who despite her fame elsewhere remains a Big Finish regular (this is her fifth story) (I think) and is amazing value in a tiny role which must surely grow in importance in the bottom three so we’ll talk more about it then. She’s joined by the ever reliable David Warner, as the blandly evil Cuthbert, a clear analogue to certain Earth-1218 individuals whose business ownership means he’s arguably one of the most powerful men on the planet, certainly more powerful the elected representatives of the people.

All of which ignores the reunion of John Leeson as K9 with this TARDIS team. He’s been no stranger to the franchise obviously, but this is (again, I think) his first appearance in a regular format Who adventure outside of cameos, spin-offs, one off stories, remakes like Shada and audiobooks like Shada and it’s like he’s never left, picking up his chemistry with both Tom and Mary and proving that his voice always transcended the limitations of the tin dog, however cute he was. With due respect to David Brierley, K9 was never quite the same that season. What’s also remarkable is that there’s no showboating, no great entrance. At a time of crisis he’s simply, there, in the TARDIS chatting to Romana. Good dog.

Doctor Who: The Sands of Life by Nicholas Briggs is out now from Big Finish.  Review copy supplied.


Nature Alan Hale in the Alamogordo Daily News considers the possibilities for the discovery of silicon based life. He's unconvinced:
"Although carbon atoms and silicon atoms are similar in structure, they are not identical. The silicon atom is quite a bit more massive than the carbon atom, and moreover, the chemical bonds in silicon-containing molecules are nowhere near as strong as those in organic molecules. Since it is the strength of these bonds that makes carbon-based life so versatile, it would seem difficult to have a silicon-based lifeform that could remain intact for any given length of time, except, perhaps only under a rather narrow range of conditions."
So, Eldrad must live.

WHO 50: 1976:
The Hand of Fear.

TV  Sarah Jane’s final scene in The Hand of Fear.  The Daleks and TARDIS might be the surface reasons for the franchise’s ongoing success, but if there’s one scene which best expresses the tone of Doctor Who, it’s Sarah Jane’s final scene in The Hand of Fear.

The convenient misunderstanding, the potted plant, the stuffed owl, the freeze frame.  Almost every Who writer since then has challenged themselves to recapture the indefinable spirit of that scene for better or worse and once you notice it, you’ll see it in dozens and dozens of other stories.

It’s there in the mismatched friendship between the Tenth Doctor and Donna.  The Eighth Doctor and his shoes in the park.  The squareness gun.  The whole of The Snowmen feels exactly like that if you watch closely enough.

That thing, you know, that indefinable thing.  The thing which makes us happy and sad both at the same time, silliness and seriousness wrapped tightly and loosely together with a scarf.  This thing:

Inside the console room ...

SARAH: I'll never be warm again. Never, ever, ever.
DOCTOR: No, we're well out of that. Goodbye, Kastria.

The Tardis de-materialises.

SARAH: Do you think that Eldrad, well, do you think that he really is dead?
DOCTOR: Oh, I doubt it. Very difficult to kill.
SARAH: Well, I quite liked her, but I couldn't stand him.

The Tardis tilts.

DOCTOR: Whoa, easy, old girl, easy. These temperatures must have affected the thermo-couplings.
SARAH: Yes, I know how she feels. I think Kastria must be the coldest planet in the galaxy.
DOCTOR: Oh, rubbish. I've been to much colder places.
SARAH: Oh, big deal. It's all right for you. I'm human. We're not so thick-skinned.

The Doctor gets under the console.

DOCTOR: Where's that astro-rectifier? What did you say?
SARAH: Thick-skinned.
DOCTOR: Oh, good, good.
SARAH: Here.
DOCTOR: Multi-quantiscope.
SARAH: You know, I might as well be talking to the moon. You don't even listen to me.
DOCTOR: Mergin nut.
SARAH: What?
DOCTOR: No, no, forget the mergin nut. I'll have the ganymede driver.
SARAH: There.
DOCTOR: Thank you.
SARAH: Oh, I must be mad. I'm sick of being cold and wet, and hypnotised left right and centre. I'm sick of being shot at, savaged by bug-eyed monsters, never knowing if I'm coming or going or been.
DOCTOR: Zeus plug.
SARAH: Oh, I want a bath. I want my hair washed. I just want to feel human again.
DOCTOR: Forget the zeus plug. I'll have the sonic screwdriver.
SARAH: Oh, and boy am I sick of that sonic screwdriver! I'm going to pack my goodies and I'm going home. I said, I'm going to pack my goodies and I am going home! Right! Excuse me!

Sarah storms out of the console room.

DOCTOR: What was that you? I don't know why she goes on like this. There's really nothing the matter at all.

The Doctor gets a mental wave.

DOCTOR: The call. The call from Gallifrey. Gallifrey. After all this time, Gallifrey. I can't take Sarah to Gallifrey. Must get her back home. Must reset the coordinates. South Croydon.

Sarah enters carrying a bag and a pile of stuff including a plant in a pot, a stuffed toy owl and a tennis racquet.

SARAH: Ahem!
DOCTOR: You're a good girl, Sarah.
SARAH: Oh, look, it's too late apologising now. Everything's packed. I've got to go.
DOCTOR: What? How did you know?
SARAH: What?
DOCTOR: I've had the call from Gallifrey.
DOCTOR: So I can't take you with me. You've got to go.
SARAH: Oh, come on. I can't miss Gallifrey. Look, I was only joking. I didn't mean it. Hey. Hey, you're not going to regenerate again, are you?
DOCTOR: Not this time. I don't know what's going to happen.
SARAH: You're playing one of your jokes on me, just trying to make me stay.
DOCTOR: No. I've received the call, and as a Time Lord I must obey.
SARAH: Alone?

The Tardis materialises.

SARAH: And I'll give your love to Harry and the Brigadier. Oh, and I can tell Professor Watson that you're all right.
DOCTOR: We've landed, Sarah.
SARAH: What?
DOCTOR: We've landed.
SARAH: Where?
DOCTOR: South Croydon. Hillview Road, to be exact.
SARAH: That's my home. Well, I'll be off then. Here.

She gives him his coat back.

DOCTOR: Thanks.
SARAH: Don't forget me.
DOCTOR: Oh, Sarah. Don't you forget me.
SARAH: Bye, Doctor. You know, travel does broaden the mind.
DOCTOR: Yes. Till we meet again, Sarah.

Sarah leaves.

In Stokefield Close, the Tardis dematerialises. Sarah looks around.

SARAH: This isn't Hillview Road. I bet it isn't even South Croydon. Oh. He blew it.

She speaks to a dog who is sunbathing on the pavement.

SARAH: Hey, hey. You. He blew it.

The dog runs off. Sarah walks away whistling 'Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow'.

Freeze frame.

"Olympiades is the death of God."

Architecture The Atlantic has a short history of the Olympiades, Michel Holley's Paris rezoning project that created epic modern structure but with little understanding of how they'd ultimately be utilised by the people:
"Holley’s dream has faced criticism since construction. The "vertical zoning" means parts of Olympiades are deserted at certain times. The mall closes at 9 p.m., and as restaurateurs lower metal over their storefronts, men gather in corners, emitting catcalls. Outside, wind whips between the towers. Evenings, the slab empties except for some men and dogs lingering at its edge, near the overgrown planters and vents that billow the smell of Chinese food.

"I’m sure that there is a set of quite good restaurants on the slab, but you need to be quite courageous to get there after 8," says Didier Bernateau, director of development at SCET, the urban engineering firm that leads the network of public and private companies that develop land in France. "There’s a feeling of unsafeness, and the stairs, and the coolness of the wind."

"It is the worst failure in the history of Paris’ urban projects," says Ahmad Kaddour, an artist who teaches silk-screening classes at an Olympiades workshop. "Olympiades is the death of God."
This is just the sort of scheme which was originally planned to ring Sefton Park, until that project faced public opposition and ran out of money. Ugly façades, amazing views.

"Au troisième coup..."

Communications The Parisian speaking clock is eighty years old:
"The talking clock at the Paris Observatory has been giving away time to phone callers for 80 years.

Invented to deal with an early example of information overload, it still gets about one million calls per year - charging 56 euro cents per call."
A couple of years ago it was revealed that one of the main customers of the speaking clock was local councils.

The Oxford Comma.

Grammar  Last time I attempted to use what I now find is called the "Oxford comma" was at school.  I was told it was wrong, I'd love marks, and I haven't used it again. There are some circumstances when it could be quite useful:
"The Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) is that extra comma that you sometimes get at the end of a list, before the and or the or. “She wrote novels, essays, and JavaScript” uses an Oxford comma. “He bought apples, butter and the ranch” doesn't."

The Oxford moniker derives from the century-old endorsement of the serial comma by the Oxford University Press manual of style; and the OUP is backed up by a slew of revered authorities: Strunk's Elements of Style, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage and the Chicago Manual of Style. Why? Because omitting the Oxford comma can result in distressing double meanings:

“She lives with her two children, a cat and a dog.”
Despite that I still would use it. I'd probably rewrite that sentence to make it clearer:  "She lives with her two children and two pets, a cat and a dog."  You could even argue for some brackets around the animals [via].

Chris Chibnall on Torchwood's Miracle Day.

TV Chris Chibnall has an interview for Starburst during which he's remarkably self aware about Torchwood's numerous problems, and it's entirely possible to infer from what he's saying that it's coincidental that Children of Earth was its finest hour because he had nothing to do with it. He has this to say on the subject of Miracle Day:
"I did a bit of very early storylining with Russell on Miracle Day, right at the start, before they pitched it to Fox, before they pitched it to Starz. I think somewhere along the way it sort of lost a little bit of its Torchwood-ness. Whether you like or dislike Torchwood, it has an essence – of madness and cheekiness and sexiness, and fun and darkness, those sort of polar facets of what it’s about, of putting those things together – and somehow it lost a bit of that somewhere in the process. when we were first talking about it, it was something a bit bolder, a bit cheekier. it may just come back to the fact that one of the great essences of Torchwood was taking those American tropes and doing them in Wales. And in a way, that’s what made Torchwood so brilliantly odd. Once you put it in California, it becomes more like other shows."
The main problem with Torchwood, throughout, was its wilful ignorance of the nuts and bolts of producing a coherent piece of entertainment television.  Chibnall says the brief was to "go and do something that isn’t like anything else" which is fine and they certainly did, but at the same time, as I noted in this analysis written during the first series, it has at least to be coherently structured and watchable in the traditional sense, all of which Torchwood largely failed at, unless you're being deliberately obtuse and avant-guard, which it wasn't.

After the five episodes of proper drama that was Children of Earth, Miracle Day, thanks to, if you listen to the dvd commentaries, innumerable production problems and a loss of nerve, returned to many of the same problems as the first series, with incoherent characterisation, weird plotting and not enough exposition.  It's true that Miracle Day felt more like Torchwood once it was back in Wales.  But putting Torchwood in California wasn't the problem.  Making Torchwood badly was the problem.

[Incidentally, that link via The Mary Sue, where the comments are a pretty good indication as to why Davies advised Chibnall never to read the internet.  Which is good advise.  Except that when working in a vacuum, it's also impossible to know how your work is being received.  If the reaction is overwhelmingly negative, which it pretty much was after the very first episode, you're unlikely to know if you're on the right track.  The trick is not to actively do exactly what the audience is suggesting.]

My Twitter Archive #1

About  Twitter has finally allowed us to look back into our stream archives and provided us old schoolers with the opportunity to offer some lazy content / interesting autobiographical blog posts.  Here's the first of mine.

Eric Roberts on playing the Master.

TV The AV Club's Random Roles slot invites in Eric Roberts and inevitably asks him about the TV Movie. What was he thinking?
"Well, when I was in school in London—I was the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art—I got hip to Doctor Who, ’cause everybody else there was watching it. Then I come back to the States, I become a movie star, and I forget about Doctor Who. One day, out of nowhere, somebody says, “Have you ever seen Doctor Who?” And I said, “Yeah, I love that campy thing! It’s so much fun!” They said, “Well, they want you to play The Master.” I said, “I’ll do it! But on one condition. He’s always a campy monster. I want to play him where he’s spooky to look at.” They said, “You want to be really frightening?” I said, “Yeah, I want to scare the pants off of people.” They said, “Give us an example.” I said, “I want to really drool. I want people to go, ‘Ew, what is that? Oh, my God!’ I want to scare you.” They said, “You can do it. Go with it.” So they allowed me to be gross in beautiful costumes. [Laughs.] And I did it, and it was so much fun. It was like being 8 years old again. "
Fun for you perhaps.  We'll talk about this some other time in greater depth, but here's a question worth asking:  Was Doctor Who not going to series in 1996 the best thing which ever happened to Doctor Who?

Jacques Rivette reviews Titanic.

Film Popular filmic showman Jacques Rivette offers his review of Titanic as part of a list of his notable films coupled with his thoughts on those which were released around the time of the interview in 1998:
"I agree completely with what Jean-Luc said in this week’s Elle: it’s garbage. Cameron isn’t evil, he’s not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can’t direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That’s why it’s been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo."
Kate Winslet is practically one of the few things which keeps that film watchable in the first half before the action kicks in / tragedy strikes so these comments come across as particularly nasty.

But to an extent Rivette is the kind of figure desperately fighting against a tide of a particular kind of film which seems to run counter to his belief.  Either that or it's old fashioned jealousy that his own films have reached that kind of mass appeal.

An Audience With Mark Wahlberg.

Film Only about one in every ten Mark Wahlberg films is anything like as good as it should be, but luckily his junket interviews are always worth reading because at a certain point you begin to wonder if the dialogue in The Happening was improvised because there's a blurring with the amazing things he's saying. The Guardian today has a typical example:
"Remember that guy I was yelling at on the phone yesterday? Well, he's in jail again. What happened was that this guy went on the run, he was basically in default of court, and he wanted to hide out with me in California. I said: 'Dude, absolutely not, I'm not aiding and abetting a fugitive. Turn yourself in.' But he didn't listen, he didn't listen. He wanted me to pay for his lawyer because I paid for his lawyer before." Another shrug. "So anyway, he gets grabbed and now he's inside and his wife is saying that we've got an arrangement where I have to pay her a certain amount of money each month. He finally called me last night. I was in the fucking green-room of the Graham Norton show and I start fucking swearing down the phone at him and it sends me into a tailspin. The producer woman was like, 'Oh wow, shall I wait outside?'"
I know it's a Xan Brooks and we're not really talking to Xan Brooks after The Dark Knight Rises debarkle, but wow.

Dalek Invasion of Earth recreated.

Belated Compulsory Valentine's Day Post.

That Day Most official film related websites close within a few years of the related product having been released on some home format or other, or relegated to some backwater of the studio's site.

Fittingly the stand alone for You've Got Mail is still there, still reminding us of what the world was like on dial-up.

One facet of the site includes some user related content, and stories from visitors about meeting their own other half online usually via AOL chat or some other prehistoric social media.  Example:
"We met on America Online in May of 1993 in a chat room called NorthEastPA. He was the only person in the room who was actually from PA so I sent him an IM and before long we were chatting privately and then on the phone. It wasn't long before I uprooted and moved across the state to be with him."
"I found myself looking in the member directory in search for someone I can talk to. I was online and had some time to kill before heading off to work. Then I noticed a cute profile...and I instant messaged her. The profile wasn't like a normal 20 year old woman's profile, it was simple and you can tell from the profile she was a sweet woman. Most profiles in my age group are full of shout outs, slang etc (even mine). She answered my im back, before you know it, it turns out we graduated high school together and she sat in front of me in one of my classes once."
The formats change but the fundamentals stay the same.