WHO 50: 1978:
The Ribos Operation.

TV In the early 90s, BBC Video released what would come to be known as the “Years” videos. Initially they were an opportunity to release orphan surviving episodes with some kind of linking material, (“Daleks: The Early Years” etc) but later plastic boxes with things in featured surviving Doctors talking about their time on the show, Pertwee, Colin Baker and most expressively Tom Baker (Sylv and Pete entirely shut out of the process for reasons unknown) (I mean I know Slyv had only been off air for a few years, not enough time to really appraise his contribution, but Pete?).

Unlike the other releases in which the titular Time Lord chose their favourite episodes and extra-curricular clips, The Tom Baker Years majestically spread itself across two video tapes and featured the actor sat in comfy chair in front of a television in a large, stately room with a remote control watching clips from all of his stories, specially selected by John Nathan Turner, the idea being that he’d be able to ambitiously offer anecdotes and memories of them all, over a decade before the advent of the dvd commentary would force him to do it all over again.

As a fare weather fan in that period, this was really my first introduction to the off-screen personality of Tom in all its miscellaneous glory and as it turned out in that period he could seemingly barely remember half the stories, including the titles. Many fans spoke in unison with the small caption which appears correcting his titling of The Seeds of Doom as “The Invasion of the Krynoids or The Krynoid Invasion” (surely the first production subtitle extra in Who history).

From that moment on I could rarely say Lalla Ward without stressing the consonants in her surname (“I got to know her quite well…” he says coyly after watching a montage sequence about their marriage), or talk about Tom without affecting the voice and his guttural approach to umming and aaahing and until the dvd release, my only impression of most of the stories was the clip and Tom’s ensuing giggle (The Power of Kroll in particular which was served by the climactic struggle between the Doctor and rubbery Kroll on the oil rig) ("Haha ... well ...").

So often have I watched The Tom Baker Years, that sometimes it’s now quite strange when seeing the whole episode that Tom doesn’t pop up in his chair at the end of the relevant scene with his anecdote before turning away and suggesting, “let’s watch another…” If only the dvds had included a branching option. The reveal of Romana in The Ribos Operation is never quite the same without a cutaway to Tom smirk and the following explanation:

“Also, you may have noticed I had a scabby lip. That was because a few days before we shot that I’d been in a pub, gosh, and a chap, an actor there had a dog called George that he’d brought. George had been in care at the Battersea Dogs Home, a sort of Barnardos for dogs, and George was a very jumpy little terrier, and had been short of affection all his life until he met this actor, and aaah, and one of the tricks people did, the actor did was to make a sort of clicking noise like so (at which point Tom makes a popping noise with his finger in his mouth using his cheek) and George used to go absolutely crackers, I think he must have associated it with some sort of violence in his childhood, aaaaaaahmmmm, this tiny little terrier, and I had gone to buy him a sausage because I’m a sap for deprived dogs, and errr trying to attract his attention I went to do that and he flew across from this actors knee and errr I thought he’d bitten my lip off. Apparently I remained amazingly calm, I tried to calculate what would have happened if he had bitten my lip off, there was blood everywhere and everyone was screaming and shouting and the more they screamed and shouted, the more I enjoyed being the centre of attention even though I was bleeding to death and I thought to myself, “Gosh, if he’s bitten my lip off, I’ll have to play smiling parts for the rest of my career.” Fortunately as you saw he hadn’t bitten my lip off, they patched it up and hid it so that I could play those scenes…”

Let’s watch another …

Don't expect live theatre on BBC television any time soon.

Theatre Red rag to the bull time. National Theatre's artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner's given an interview to a Murdoch paper about the BBC's lack of initiative when it comes to live theatre. It's excerpted in The Guardian here with some extra reporting which includes some intelligence insulting comments from the BBC. Hytner says quite rightly:
"So if a performance got a million on TV... look, they've really got to detach themselves from this Downton ratings mentality."

Hytner said he was not concerned by the switch, announced last month, of BBC2's The Review Show to BBC4, which he said was "just journalism".

"I'm interested in performance," said Hytner. I don't see why there couldn't be a closer relationship between the BBC and this vast performance network – us, the Crucible, the Royal Exchange, Opera North, Broadsides, Live Theatre, the Royal Ballet, everyone!

"Fifty-two weeks, more than 52 companies, offering something. It's low-hanging fruit, there for the taking."
Well exactly. Radio 3 broadcasts nightly concerts live with documentaries every Friday night on BBC Four as well as performances. Arguably the BBC's current offerings are somewhat similar, theatre of a sort on the radio, documentaries on television (see below).  But theatre the theatre we do get is studio based, often produced especially for that venue.  Even in radio, microphones are absent from the interior of the the Crucible, the Royal Exchange, let alone television.
"BBC insiders were puzzled by Hynter's outburst, pointing out that the corporation recently entered a partnership with the National Theatre, the fruits of which will include a BBC2 programme from the Olivier Theatre celebrating the 50th anniversary of the NT's first performance at the Old Vic. BBC4 will broadcast two, one hour specials featuring interviews with National Theatre alumni including Alan Bennett, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen."
But not an actual performance, no licensing of the NT Live recordings for showing on BBC Four which used to sporadically show theatre back in the day (back in the day in this case being about seven or eight years ago).  More documentaries, more teasing clips of old performances the rest of which are being walled off from seeing.  The puzzled BBC insiders can't apparently see the difference.

The Guardian rightly notes that Jerry Springer: The Opera was broadcast but given that it was a bit of a genre crossover, it could be just as rightly listed within the endless hours of music broadcast across the stations. The rest of the article is quotes from BBC4 controller Richard Klein who always comes across as an intelligent bloke. But hold on:
"It's very expensive in terms of performance costs and coverage costs – it requires outside broadcasting and that's expensive - and it is true to say that performance, with the possible exception of classical music, finds it very hard to get even a small audience to come to any channel," he said.

"I have to question the value to the licence fee payer of putting on whatever it happened to be at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds and getting an audience of 85,000, let's say. Those are ballpark figures."

Klein said BBC4 did do such projects and would be broadcasting George Benjamin's new opera, Written on Skin, from the Royal Opera House.

"I don't think it will do huge business personally; it's a fantastic new piece. We will be playing it because it is the right thing to do. But that is a relatively rare thing because it is expensive and I have to judge value to the licence fee and how much it costs."
Oh ok. So you'll be showing opera because it's opera and it's "the right thing to do" but something less elitist (and yes, sorry but opera is elitist in this context) like the kinds of theatre which packs houses on a nightly basis is to be ignored. What does the BBC's arts commissioning editor Mark Bell have to say about this?
"(he) said it was the BBC's job to "think about new ways of making performance work as a television experience" rather than "just pointing a camera at a stage".

"NT Live works really well because people go to the cinema and it feels like an event because it is live and they are in the cinema. If it's on in the corner of the room it feels like less of a draw. You have to give people a sense of excitement."
Which didn't seem to be a problem up until some time in the middle of the last decade when you simply stopped showing it. Also, and again I ask this, how is pointing a camera at an opera visually all that different to pointing a camera at a play other than more budget spent on costumes and sets sometimes?  Plus as we've also already discussed, NT Live stuff is already recorded.  Helen Mirren in Phiedre is already on tape/hard disc somewhere.  There's no need for the BBC's broadcast unit to go anywhere.  We continue:
"Bell also pointed to the BBC's digital collaboration with the Arts Council, The Space, as a way of bringing the arts to a wider audience."
But only for people who can afford unlimited broadband and or have access to a smart tv box. The reason to show theatre on television like much else is to serve a public which can't get out to see these things and can't afford to get out and see these things. We can't afford opera either, but the audience for theatre in generally seems to be much larger. There is a case for classical music, I agree, but again, suggesting theatre shouldn't be shown because it's less visually exciting, less of an event, is really, well, really a bit mad. Finally:
He added: "We feel it's important to do more than just lots and lots of performances reflected straight on the screen. We need to do more than that, we need to think more creatively."
Yes, but in order to do "more than that" you have to be doing that to begin with. On Saturday, Radio 4 is broadcasting a radio version of last year's Old Vic production of Hedda Gabler starring Sheridan Smith but due to the limited imagination of BBC heads and producers at the moment we won't be able to see the performance.

Why is it important the BBC do this?  Because no one else in the Freeview landscape can be bothered either.  ITV has well given up the pretence of being anything but populist and I still think the last time Channel 4 broadcast any theatre was a studio recording of Harold Pinter's Celebration which went out on More4.  In 2007.  Even that would be fine at this point.  Has Channel 5 ever done anything like this?

As I discovered in my epoch making conversation with Ben Stephenson, BBC Drama is cash strapped.  It's even poorer now thanks to the license fee settlement and they're having to make decisions based on audience size, the constituency of license fee payers.  Now it seems the other corners of the BBC within which theatre could have a home have decided to promote the usual instead too.  For goodness sake.


Nature In January 2012, The Senator, a three and a half thousand year old tree in Longwood, Florida, burnt to the ground. But some the tragedy was mitigated because years before a plant nursery owner, a science teacher and a team of forestry researchers had begun a project to clone it.  Now The Phoenix has risen in its place.  The Seminole Voice reports:
"Buchanan’s crew started digging. It takes six months to prepare a tree the size of The Senator’s replacement for transplant. The roots fan out dozens of feet, so surgically removing most of them, then coaxing the tree to grow its roots in a tight ball without killing it, takes months. During transport, a crane and a tractor-trailer bear the massive weight.

"In Seminole County, officials involved with the project put forward tens of thousands of dollars for park renovation, fencing, security systems and an arts grant to use parts of The Senator’s enormous trunk to create a memorial. They prepared a site for the new tree, hollowing out the marshy soil less than a football field away from The Senator."


Nature This coming Saturday, a new plastic pal who's fun to be with, is going to be unveiled in Zurich, the BBC Magazine reports:
"Roboy's main technical innovation is a tendon-driven design that mimics the human muscular system. Instead of whirring motors in the joints like most robots, he has around 70 imitation muscles, each containing motors that wind interconnecting tendons. Consequently, his movements will be much smoother and less robotic."
But the really interesting idea is that they're not setting out to reproduce humanity.  Not yet.

As Roboy's parent-in-chief, Rolf Pfeifer says "One of the goals is for (it) to be a messenger of a new generation of robots that will interact with humans in a friendly way."

At the root of his design is a philosophy that our empathy for a robot increases the less human it looks.

For rather the same reasons as why the Audrey Hepburn digiquin looks awful in the Galaxy adverts, it's because they don't ever look quite right, "They remind us of corpses or zombies, they look unwell or they do not look and behave as expected".

In 1970, the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori calls this the "uncanny valley".

The article mentions this Hello Kitty robot which has the ability to recognise children individually and play games with them.

Does all of this mean we can have a K9 now? Please?

Pulp's 7.

Music It's the Brit pop equivalent of this and this [via].


Literacy The Verge has a long (and cleverly formatted) interview with Shigetaka Kurita, man who invented emoji, the graphical version of emoticons:
"Not being a designer himself (he was an economics major), the young Docomo employee’s plan was to draft some ideas to show manufacturers like Sharp, Panasonic, and Fujitsu — large companies with the design resources to throw at the problem. Kurita was surprised to find that the they didn’t immediately share his zeal for the project. “They were like, ‘please, you design them.’ They had a lot of reasons — these were the first devices that supported i-mode, they didn’t have the resources, that kind of thing,” he explains. Faced with few options, he grabbed some paper and a pencil, gathered his team, and, without really knowing what he was doing, got to work. He aimed to create a complete set of 176 12-pixel by 12-pixel characters that could cover the entire breadth of human emotion."

BBC Radio's Neverwhere.

Radio The BBC have produced a radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Natalie Dormer who plays Door murmurs about the recording process here which I'd urge you to read, but if you don't have the time, here's the publicity paragraph which lists the crew and cast:
"A six part adaption of Neil Gaiman’s novel adapted by Dirk Maggs for Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra, sees James McAvoy as Richard lead a stellar cast which includes Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head, David Schofield, Bernard Cribbens, Romola Garai, George Harris, Andrew Sachs, Lucy Cohu, Johnny Vegas, Paul Chequer, Don Gilet and Abdul Salis."
They had me at Dirk Maggs, who produced the posthumous adaptations of the later Hitchhikers novels.

One particular interesting aspect is the scheduling, with an hour long opening episode on Radio 4 in the Saturday drama slot, followed by a series of half hours on Radio 4 Extra which should be an excellent opportunity to remind people that they have digital radio on their televisions.  And PVRs.

BBCi's Book of the Future and my contribution to it.

History BBCi's Book of the Future was March 2003 Comic Relief project which asked members of the public to write short pieces about what they thought life would be like in 2020, with selected entries published in a book (with a forward from Dave Gorman).

The resulting website seems have been lost in the bitter recriminations surrounding the license fee settlement and the BBC's agreement that they should delete a quarter of its content so that the Daily Mail has room to publish more pages of photos of Kim Kardashian in low cut dresses (or something like that), but Archive.org has lived up to its name and preserved most of it here.

These are the articles which made it into the book.  Topics ranged across all human experience from arts to environment, love, science, spirituality and "odd", which seems to be miscellaneous section ("the flying pig is to date the biggest scientific breakthrough of the century.")

Inevitably, I offered a contribution, boldly setting out my dystopian vision for the future of cinema, and here it is below.  Bits of it are hilariously wrong.  But the rest ...

This Indie Future.

All of the chatter surrounding the release of Tandy Cosine’s debut digit ‘Sky Above’ has been somewhat amusing for those of us young enough to remember when the original indie filmmakers were fighting for a piece of the pie. It was the early 1990s - people still used grainy old celluloid. Pioneers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez were mortgaging their lives to get a film into production. But they still largely had to rely on the main players, the very studios they were often trying to be different from, to distribute their work.

This was when the term ‘weblog’ was first coined and for the first time anyone could publish their own personal narrative for everyone to read. People like Jason Kottke, Rebecca Blood, Matt Haughey became household names. Look at Evan Williams – who thought he’d end up running Google for all those years? But it was all terribly slow. At the dawn of the new age, people still used telephone networks to get online.

Because of the synergy of these two seemingly disparate technologies anyone can indulge in the new art form of recording and editing their own lives and get it out there.

But it has come at a price. I miss fiction in independent film.

First of all, I miss the loss of structure. When fictional film is scripted it has a beginning, middle and an end - there is a point to it. You’ll see this in the genre pictures. But in ‘Sky Above’, ‘Carp Aromis’, ‘Hangin Out’ and Pak Cob’s eclectic ‘Grounded’ we’re essentially getting a section of someone’s life - a slice of pie cut out for us to sample. It might be beautiful, touching, interesting and dramatic but don’t you wish that everything would resolve itself? That they would (god forbid) have themes?

I miss good dialogue. The characters in Kevin Smith’s cheapos spoke in a heightened language - not Shakespeare - but still carefully crafted metre and rhythm. The trouble with ‘Sky Above’ is that everything spoken is pretty mundane. As it will be because it’s someone’s real life - carefully edited - but still mostly close to what we hear everyday.

I recently asked Cosine if she ever considered writing a script for her film. She looked at me incomprehensibly and asked, ‘Why would I want to do that? I know that in the past people wanted hyper-escapism at all levels of film making, but if your life is interesting enough what’s the point in making it up?’ In her case, I can to some extent see her point. But for every ‘Sky Above’ there are a dozen ‘The Chasers’ - teenagers making films about their cats. Fun if you like felines, but the rest of us?

It’s taste and choice I suppose. And anyway, things have a habit of going in circles and I’m hoping this will be one of those occasions. In a few years, I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone looks at the work around and wonders what would happen if she took the scripted elements of genres and applied them to the low budget piece she’s creating - take the time to craft a script which had elements of her own life but took them somewhere else. I’ve feeling that in a few years someone will be reading this op-ed piece and bemusedly wonder what I’m getting so worked up about.

Created: 10 March 2003

[PS  Here's the original post on this blog which (broken) links to the website.  Looking at the rest of that week, not much has changed otherwise.  This Walkman only began chewing tapes in December.  Still don't have a PS2.  Still don't have an iPod.  The way things are going I'll be linking to this post in 2020 too.  Hello future me.]


Medicine The world, or at least our corner of it, awoke to the news of the first child which has been "cured" of HIV. There are multiple news sources, but PBS Newshour has an interview with one of the scientists involved. The implications are staggering:
"... kids still get infected, and the guidelines recommend treatment during the first year of life. I think what this suggests to us is that if we treat earlier -- even earlier -- within the first several days to week of infection perhaps (though we don't know what that window would be) that we may be able to markedly curtail the amount of virus and the extent of viral reservoirs that are set up in the body. By doing so, and by treating for a period of time, we may get to a point where we could allow children to safely discontinue therapy. That is the hypothesis that this particular case raises, and now we're constructing the clinical trials to look exactly at that."
It's also another classic case of how chance and happen-stance are still hugely important within scientific and medical exploration.


Science Because there's an xkcd for every occasion: