The Rings of Akhaten.

TV Do you buy much Doctor Who merchandise? It’s a serious question, because I don’t. My definition of merchandise are the figures, the radio controlled Daleks, the innumerable board games, underwear, stationary, the kinds of things which turn up in Home Bargains about six months after they’re relevant to the series.  Which isn’t to say I haven’t given the Drashig hand puppet some serious attention, but I just can't get that excited about these things because most it is tat. Boring, repetative tate (and because events like the Drashig hand puppet aren’t the kinds of things which turn up in Home Bargains).  At a certain point I decided the thing which attracts me to Doctor Who is the stories and with limited wealth, that is what I’ve concentrated on through the dvds, books and audios.

That tension was one of the more surprising elements of Neil Cross’s The Rings of Akhaten. On the one hand this was an episode seemingly designed with official figurine licensee Character Options in mind, make-up and prosthetics designer Neill Gorton finally able to utilise the many dozens of sketches he’s apparently been doodling across the years for aliens and monsters finally allowing Character to have their Kenner moment and flood the market with several thousand collectables with names like Stoatface (because they weren't given a proper one in the script). On the other, for all that, the episode’s most compelling moments were when all of that receded to the background, literally in some shots, and the script concentrated on stories, the myths of a society, our own memories and the fictions we create for ourselves when reality is denied to us.

Which is why I’m willing to give it a cautious welcome. After the episode, fans on Twitter are having their usually mass existential crisis, predictably divided between those who are either non-plussed by the space choir (the Crouch End’s words emanating in some cases from orifices which simply didn’t look capable) and or swept away by its generally majestic special effects and poetry. I giggled towards the end because, as is so often the case, I couldn’t quite believe this was being broadcast on Saturday night BBC television between the news and The Voice. But yes, I liked it. It’s one of those episode which stays in the memory, where individual images and words and bits of performance bubble to the surface and for those of us who have watched, read and listened to more Who than most there has to be something relatively special about it to do that.

Functionally it’s another narrative mountain. As with The Bells of Saint John it finds itself in the conflicted place of having to essentially repeat all the elements of a companion introduction whilst simultaneously doing something else. So it’s Clara’s first TARDIS hop but it’s about her life before that. It’s about the audience falling for her and has many of the moments which are supposed to make us adore her, but it's filled with a tension that there’s something not right with her, that doesn’t make sense but again in a different way to Amy. Plus it still has to function as a pretty standard Doctor Who adventure even though for the most part it doesn’t want to so that in the end there’s not an awful lot to it. I’m listening to The Macra Terror at the moment and adventure content wise, more happens in the first episode of that.

If on reflection The Bells of St John offers a faint echo of Rose, The Rings of Akhaten is its The End of the World. As in 2005, when tasked with taking his new friend somewhere awesome, he offers her an overload of aliens, relishing the chance to introduce her to all of them with just the same glee two incarnations later and throwing the companion in at the deep end. This was also a story pinioned around planetary destruction, which was also about creating a convincing bond between Doctor and companion (something which I now noticed didn’t happen for Martha until Gridlock), holding hands against a view of that world at the beginning and end or in this case a renewal, silhouetted against its glorious light. The Beast Below has a similar resonance.

There are plenty of points of difference. Whereas the destruction of Earth occurred in a world without hope and science was running its course to such an extent religion was banned from Platform One, faith is all that’s apparently holding this celestial body together, the power of song keeping this God-like grandfather (as opposed to the one visiting in his blue box) from sucking the life out of all and sundry. Notice the Doctor doesn’t deny that faith out of hand. “It’s what they believe,” he says which tends to be my attitude too. Unlike the mysterious Ninth, Eleventh is quite happy to admit to having been here before, with his granddaughter, opening up to Clara in a way we’ve not seen much with any of his other friends, at least not lately and certainly not without the situation forcing his hand.

On top of that, there’s the teaser and the introduction of this Clara’s back story, disproving somewhat that she’s adopted even if the whole element of fate and chance and the reason why that leaf exists seems to be open for cross examination. Having already met the younger version of her in the prelogue, now he’s consciously visiting the points of her life. This also seems to be the Doctor’s thing now, having previously visited even Rose when she was twelve years old, not to mention Reinette and Amy. Some have already sought to find an ambiguity, but on this occasion it's part of the central tension of their friendship; she’s wrong, he knows it, and more powerfully the TARDIS knows it in a way not seen since the Wilderness Years when she suffered indigestion over almost all of the Eighth Doctor’s companions.

All of which shows that I must have enjoyed the episode because I’m buying into the fiction, I’m interested in how all of this is working out. That’s some kind of triumph for Moffat and the production team, now towards the bottom end of their third season, the seventh since the show came back, the grind of producing somewhat weekly television Doctor Who and create something which is interesting and not repetitive unless it's meant to be really begins to hit. That’s perhaps why I’ve become more sympathetic over time. Only otherwise in soap opera and comics has a production staff to deal with all of those years worth of previous stories and have to face up to still surprising the audience. I mean look at the previous few paragraphs for goodness sake. I’ve assumed we’re meant to see the similarities, but what if we’re not?

Back to what I was saying about Orwell For Kids, sorry The Macra Terror, or rather what actually occurs in The Rings of Akhaten. Once the TARDIS has landed, Clara’s met Merry and convinced her to sing, we’re not that far away from the final battle in the temple. It’s almost as though the middle two episodes of the story have been wiped, the Doctor telling us about the world rather than showing it to us. Which sounds like a criticism, but it’s not meant to be. Some of the best Doctor Who stories don’t feature that much incident, are all about character and conversations, hell, that’s all that happens in Rob Shearman’s audio Scherzo. Speaking of which, doesn’t The Rings of Akhaten sound like a Big Finish story? Actually, the TARDIS Datacore says that it literally does. There’s a Companion Chronicle called The Rings of Ikiria.

There are two key character conversations and I think you know what they already are. Pausing briefly to wonder where exactly where the Doctor sods off to leaving Clara to get lost so she can meet Merry, there’s the scene behind the TARDIS. Jenna-Louise is remarkable here, effectively becoming the Doctor in that way companions do when he has sodded off somewhere else and the kind of two hander which I don’t really remember Amy having after The Beast Below. There are Proustian Father’s Day undercurrents to her story, of course there are, she’s another companion whose lost a parent. But it feels fresh because for all the tragedy she’s turned it into a strength and a strength she can pass on. If Cross’s Luthor is half as well written as this scene then I should probably get around to watching it.

Then there’s the grandfather to grandfather. Radio Times didn’t like this and attempted to guess Matt Smith’s feelings about it from his performance. I thought he looked like he was enjoying every minute of it (and that Sylv will too at the next Gallifrey One convention when its thrust into his face at a panel discussion). It’s the Doctor using his history as a weapon again, but this time without datacores to hand he actually has to annunciate what that means, the magnificent suffering of a millennium long life. But it’s the infinite stories not written inherent in the leaf which finally sate the God’s appetite (cf, yes, the bird scene in The Scarlett Empress) which probably means we’re all that big, glowy globe, even after fifty years (or however long we’ve been fans) waiting for all the stories still yet to be told.

Yes, well, that’s all hyperbole, but it’s that kind of episode, the kind which drags us along with its big orchestral score and epic scenes. Which isn’t to say this is an episode which didn’t have some thwarted ambition. If the crew had in their heads the crowd scenes from The Phantom Menace when considering the audience to the ceremony, that they’d only really built the bottom tear was all too obvious. It’s rare that I’d even mention this stuff, but it’s also rare that when faced with a budgetary challenge they haven’t simply pulled back and done something else and gone ahead anyway with the abandon of classic Who, knowing full well that there’s little chance that an exploding miniature filled with toy Daleks is going to look like anything other than an exploding miniature filled with toy Daleks.

It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I’d much rather the show did this sort of thing rather than timidly stunt its storytelling because of what it thinks it can afford. The space scooter scene (an echo of the sleigh ride in The Snowmen) was never going to look entirely realistic on this budget so we have the HD equivalent of the air car scene from The Pirate Planet. The digital camera shudder which on SD tv momentarily made the shots look like the digital video they really are. The walls of the temple at the end were pretty ropily painted too, the lighting doing few favours for the airbrush splatter in a way not seen on television since Classic Star Trek, or indeed 80s Who. The nuWho equivalent of Mat Irvine will have much to say about this on future dataspike rereleases.

But in the end your appreciation of the episode probably falls onto the shoulders of Emilia Jones and that choir. Well and indeed then. As I intimated earlier, it’s all so bloody ludicrous. You have all of these rubber and robotic creatures who as has been established speak in languages even the TARDIS can’t decipher and here they all are singing with the voices of Crouch End backed by a philharmonic orchestra. It’s been established that it’s definitely supposed to be them, this is all diagetic and its gut-wrenching and epic and then just as the big emotional climax in The Pandorica Opens is undercut by the ludicrous side on shot of the Sontaran at his most small man menacing, we cut to the android bloke. That’s when I giggled, I remember now, that exact moment, because really …

… and yet, oh god don’t you just love that? It might not be some people’s version of what Doctor Who should be about, but as we’ve discussed before no version of Doctor Who will be completely like what some people’s version of Doctor Who should be about. It’s the Doctor Who of Gridlock and Journey’s End, big choral musical statements about stuff and more stuff, Doctor Who attempting to stay within genre whilst simultaneous allowing Murray Gold to pretend he’s presenting a new work at Glyndebourne. Sometimes it succeeds in being Radio 3, usually it ends up on Classic FM, literally in some cases, but I’m willing to give it that latitude especially since there has to be something new to play on the concert tours when the Spoonheads and Stoatfaces are marching on stage.

The debate’s still ranging incidentally as I type, on Twitter and Gallifrey Base which has the spreadiest spread of votes on its rating thread I think I’ve ever seen, with one commenter prattling that it’s the “worst one since The Girl in the Fireplace.” Have I simply convinced myself that I like it simply to be the contrarian I aspire to be? I don’t think so. Like I said three hours ago, individual images and words and bits of performance are bubbling to the surface and when I just looked at the Doctor’s speech again, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It’s beautiful. The flashbacks are atmospherically shot too, and note the confidence of the show that it can mix those two so seamlessly now in a way which feels natural, when the contemporary scene that closed The End of the World seemed so groundbreaking for its time.

Who is Clara? What is she? As we’ve seen the TARDIS doesn’t like her, which would suggest that she has a Turlough like malevolence however inadvertent, some kind of cosmic sleeper agent. But it could simply her existence as a time/space event which it’s unhappy with. It could equally just be jealous, because she and the Doctor when he’s not trying to hide an aspect of his interest in her, do get along very well indeed. Which leads to my other theory, dredging up the old Paul Abbot story idea which was eventually replaced with Boom Town in that first year for someone designed to be the perfect companion which in some respects Clara is, seeded by someone across time on the assumption the Doctor has to save one of them. But why won’t the Doctor tell her about her other selves? Afraid of the existential crisis?

Heathrow Airport.

Travel Skift analyses the social media presence of airports and in particular Heathrow:
"Outside of the usual logistical questions, airports have taken the opportunity to engage passengers on a more personal level. The best Twitter accounts don’t wait for flyers to mention them, but seek out travelers via search.

"Head of Passenger Communications at Heathrow, Marc Ellams, calls it the “surprise and delight” element: “We have also shifted from being predominantly customer service/crisis focused to producing more engaging content to improve passenger experience.”
As we've discussed before, social media done well takes time and personnel but pays dividends and the best examples are from companies who are prepared to make it the employee's only duty, as important in this age as telephone and face to face contact.

WHO 50: 1982:

TV It’s sometimes difficult to remember how we enjoyed Doctor Who as children.

Everyone but everyone says they hid behind the sofa, but I didn’t. I have a definitive memory of not hiding, perhaps because it was stuck up against the wall in the sitting room.

But I do recall being terribly excited about Time-Flight.

Time-Flight is rubbish. It’s badly co-ordinated, poorly written, has some spectacularly wooden performances and any residual menace the Ainley Master is sapped away to such an extent it’d be the end of the decade before he became relevant again.

But the tweenie version of me adored it because it was about Concorde.

Timeflight’s often thought of as one of John Nathan Turner’s follies. The added value on the dvd comes across as a kind of televisual autopsy, cutting into its rotting corpse endeavouring to discover what went wrong.

JNT's culpability is annunciated at length, how his publicity imperative overpowered narrative requirements, the chance to be the first television series to film at Heathrow and say so.

To have Concorde in the programme.

It’s something difficult to remember just how exciting Concorde was in the 1980s.

When I was living in Speke, my Dad used to take me to both the old and later new airports just so that I could see Concorde take off. I didn’t know where it was going and I wasn’t even all that interested in planes, but there was something about the fascinating way the nose cone shifting position as it taxied along the runway.

I have dozens of old photographs of what looks like just an overcast sky, but look closer and there’s a speck. The speck is Concorde flying over the city, which it did during the Grand National.

Luckily, someone has taken some better ones.

My young mind didn’t notice the deficiencies in Time-Flight's script, the acting or the Master’s nonsensical disguise. It would simply have enjoyed seeing the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS cramped into interior of the plane.

So whenever I revisit Time-Flight, I try to do it in that spirit. It’s Concorde, not just travelling faster than the speed of sound, but travelling in time. How cool is that?

I miss Concorde.

Roger Ebert talks about streaming films online. In 2000.

Film Cleverer people than me are already writing about what we've lost with Roger Ebert. What's less known is he was something of a web pioneer, writing a regular column for Yahoo Internet Life! Here he is giving a generous interview in 2000, that's 2000 at the online film festival. Everything he says here has since come to pass. Note, this is five years before YouTube:

The reporter's a bit of a pioneer herself, working as she does for an online news website, four years before Rocketboom. RIP Roger.

Aesthetica: The Art & Culture Magazine reviewed.

Magazines Thanks to the web, not having to fill uncomfortable silences in mass transit terminals and not really being able to afford them (due in large part to not having to fill uncomfortable silences in mass transit terminals), my magazines consumption has reduced to a bare minimum. Having in recent months jettisoned SFX and BBC Music Magazine, I'm down to the essentials: Doctor Who Magazine, Empire, Sight & Sound and Around The Globe.

Which isn't to say I don't like to keep interested, especially if the content is available free online (give or take some advertising).  Which is why when an editorial assistant from Aesthetica Magazine contacted me the other week asking if I'd like a free copy of Aesthetica Magazine in case I might want to write something about it on the blog, I said yes, please I'd like a free copy of Aesthetica Magazine, especially since Aesthetica is such a gorgeous word to repeat out loud.  Aesthetica.  Go on, try it, Aes-thet-ica.  Lovely.

Aes-thet-ica Magazine wasn't unknown to me before receiving the email.  Founded in 2002, it's amongst the journals on sale at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, the ones which I've always assumed I'd read if I was a proper person rather than someone knocked together through a chaos of raw emotion and faltering intellect.  Me, in other words, rather than the accessible hipster I aspire to be.  Most of them seem very expensive for what they are, ten pounds for about thirty pages of interviews with cinematographers or fashion designers.

Aesthetica isn't as expensive as I'd expected.  It's £3.95, which is cheaper than Doctor Who Magazine these days.  Founded in 2002, it, according to its website "combines dynamic content with compelling critical debate, exploring the best in contemporary art and culture" which it certainly does.  As I suspected from the many years seeing it on the shelf, Aesthetica makes you feel like a more enlightened person simply by holding it in your hand.  Like Monocle, New Yorker and Sight & Sound, I suppose.

But for all that it's still structured in the familiar format of a magazine, opening with a news section before diving into features, long form preview articles about hot new releases, or in this case, hot new exhibitions, a section which investigates the general craft more closely, before climaxing with reviews.  All of the magazines I buy or what's left them do this, even if some are more scrambled than others.  Empire boasts two review sections, one for cinema releases at the front, one for blu-rays at the back.  A lot of that magazine seems like reviews.

Unlike Empire, but like most contemporary art magazines, the problem for Aesthetica in producing a news section is that it has to be conscious that the majority of its readers. even with the help of Google Images, won't be able to see the exhibition they're writing about as its flies across the world from Gateshead to Paris to London.  The Cornerhouse is in the "10 to See" section, so that's plausible for me, but UCCA in Beijing is next to it and so less likely unless I win the lottery.  If I win the lottery on Saturday, I'm going to go and see them all.

So we're given a flavour, a large representative photograph of an artist's work, and text which attempts to find a dividing line between giving too much information to the few people who may be able to attend and yet still some flavour to those of us who can't.  Of the lot, it's the MCA Chicago which seems most appealing (hence yesterday's veneration of its website), with its selection of image from its collection, which sounds like Poliakoff's Shooting The Past on display or a hundred Open Eye Gallery archive exhibitions all at the same time.

That approach continues into the features section though with larger and more frequent images.  Post publication, part of the magazine's function, rather like Sight & Sound when films could only be seen in cinemas, is as an archive of what's passed for researchers and academics.  Photographs can never be a substitute for a real installation (unless you're Richard Long and that's the point) but they certainly give a sense and the atmospheric shot of Nari Ward's Amazing Grace (1993) at NYC's New Museum is a good example of that.

The text finds a space between straight journalism, criticism and the press release like material often included in exhibition catalogues.  Anecdotal.  Biographical.  There's a brilliant story about kinetic artist Julio Le Pac fighting against the artistic establishment's expectations (which is here if you want to be spoiled) (isn't that hilarious?) (imagine someone doing that at Tate Modern now) as with the news section, though most of this work will be cut off from us, there's a mighty sense of occasion.

With all that in mind, Aesthetica then enacts its coup de maitre and gives the reader a group exhibition embedded within the magazine.  Examples from the 2013 Sony World Photography awards, Rudy Burckhardt's photographs of New York & Maine and retrospectives for Astrid Kruse Jansen, Rune Guneriussen and cover artist Bharat Sikka.  It's like a glossy magazine version of the Liverpool Biennial's City States, remarkable work from artists you've never heard of and all gorgeous.

Burckhardt represents the city through people and architecture, but rarely together, his shot of the Telephone Building in 1948, a giant slatted edifice whose representation here must have influenced how the Tyrell Corporation was shot in Blade Runner.  Jansen presents a nocturnal world, clever lighting giving everything an unreal quality.  Sikka clashes documentary with fashion photography, which as the cover suggests revels in the incongruous.  Who is this woman and how did she end up here?

Beyond this is the quasi-review section,  with reviews and articles about film, music, dance theare and more exhibitions, in a similar visual and textual style.  The surprise is a two-pager about video game music though the accompanying photo eschews a more typical screenshot with an image of a retro games machine exploding (sorry, can't tell which one) (looks like an Atari 2600 but the dashboard is too complex).  The movies are art house.  Bands featured include Evening Hyms, The Pigeon Detectives and STRFKR.

Would any of this convince me to buy Aesthetica again (assuming there isn't a complementary subscription) (hint) (hint).  It would.  As a bi-monthly publication and at that price, there's enough reading in here especially in the back end of the magazine to justify the expense.  As predicted I do feel more enlightened.  I will try some of the films.  Listen to some of the music.  Get to the exhibitions if I can.  Plus if nothing else it gives me something to buy at the Cornerhouse shop when I'm passing through.


Music Elizabeth Wurtzel on the not so simple pleasures of listening to music:
"I realize that as with everything else, there’s an app for this, for being a connoisseur of listenization. There is Spotify, and I am sure there is the advanced beginners version of it for people who don’t have time to listen and just want to impress expensive body parts over dinner at NoMad—or invest more wisely in the entertainment and media sectors. But there does not exist an app for living well and loving what you love and, in my case, not being at all interested in anybody else’s taste in music because I have more than enough of my own, and I will keep it with mine. (Actually, probably there is an app for that too.) When someone says, There is something you have to hear, that is a cue for me to leave. I am the opposite of interested. I am so uninterested as to not believe what I just heard. I eschew other people’s likes."
Inevitably and just those things she mentions specifically:


Where are the opening hours listed on your art venue's website?

Art Reading this month's Aesthetica Magazine, which we'll talk some more about tomorrow hopefully, I decided to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago's website to see if they had some more examples from one of their new exhibition (since I'm unlikely to visit myself soon). Immediately I noticed something strange:

No, not the random, if censored nudity, but to the left of that the opening hours at the top of the page in full view. A light bulb went off in my head. Having spent so long clicking around venue websites looking for this simple piece of information, it hasn't occurred to me before that this should be the model for all museum and visitor attraction websites. It's not perfect. You still have to click the big block subheadings for the admission prices and the like to open out, but it's still clearer and more accessible than most.

Now, I'm really not sure why this isn't available up front. Although these websites will have both newbies and regulars, this still seems like important and relevant information and to some extent more important than what's on, though as the MCA Chicago example demonstrates, it's quite possible to do both.

With the bee firmly in my bonnet, I decide to visit some of the local Liverpool venues to see who did have this information in what I now see as the correct position. It's important to note, I suppose, that when I googled some of these, a deep link did pop up to the relevant page (example), but nevertheless here's a survey:


The Walker Art Gallery

There we are, top right, opening hours with a link to "more visitor information" which goes into greater detail about closures and that sort of thing, though there are also some more clicks required to get to an address and transport links through a menu of links.  All of the NML websites use the same style sheet so all of them have a very similar navigation system.

The Bluecoat

Though it isn't obvious. It's true that there are opening hours on the front page beneath the information box, but they're for the whole building.  The exhibition space has different opening hours and they're only sometimes available because they're embedded in the flash animation and so disappear depending on what's being displayed. It took me a moment to notice it in this screenshot. The "visitor information" page linked from the top has all the information needed but you have to scroll to find it after clicking; the first chunk is a biographical two paragraphs, followed by a map, contact details and then opening hours, which do finally differentiate between the building and gallery spaces.


Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool's is a subsection of a larger website and you have to click for the venue from the top of that page.  On Tate's website, on the top left there is a menu of links in a large empty white column, clicking each of which fills the middle column with different information. Click "admissions and opening times" and we are greeted first with a large photo of the revolving doors in the entrance hall of the Tate and then underneath info about free entry and scrolling further opening hours with two or three further clicks required to reach the opening hours of the cafe and shop.  Loads of clicking and scrolling required here, though less so on a portrait shaped screen, like a tablet, probably.

FACT Liverpool

FACT's an interesting case. On the top right there's a "what's on" box which lists the current exhibition which doesn't have opening hours and today's films which do. Clicking the title of the exhibition takes us to a page which says that it has Free Entry, but not when it is open. Clicking "visit" takes us through to a page which has contact information. To the left of this is a menu and at the top of that is "opening hours". Click again and finally we find the opening hours of the centre, galleries, cafe and box office.

Open Eye Gallery

At the bottom of the page beneath the coloured blocks is the address of the gallery, telephone number and email address. There are two accesses to the information page, the "visiting us" link at the top and the olive "we are hear" block at the bottom. That page is brilliant and tells you everything you need to know including a Google map and the address twice (probably because of the style sheet).  One click, no scrolling.

The Victoria Gallery & Museum

The large red button says "Free Entry".  There's nothing which specifically says "opening hours" but clicking "plan your visit" at the top or "visit somewhere different" at the bottom takes you to a page which has everything you need to know, all of which seems like it could just as easily be on the front page with the (admittedly lovely) big flash animation.

St George's Hall

To be fair to St George's Hall, it is a multi-use venue and so has to reflect its many hats as a concert and conference venue as well as the permanent exhibition. But click "visit us" at the top and the exhibition's opening hours don't appear. They're at the bottom of a page about this "heritage centre" clickable from a menu on the left for a giant photo of the front door on the right.

The Beatles Story

The "Prices and times" link on the top right sends us through to another page with all the information on it and links for booking tickets.

Having written all of that, I'm not sure how important it is, how much effort there really is on the side of the visitor.  But arguably there shouldn't be any effort at all for us, because fundamentally before know what's on there, what we really want to know when it's open.

Updated 6/4/2012  Since posting this, Martin Belam has offered some commentary and Backwards Lion has done a similar survey in Leeds and found much the same kind of result.

Teens React to
Jennifer Lawrence.

"Kind of like Angelina Jolie minus the big lips."

The Oxford Paragraphs:
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Communist Manifesto

Books Even at school, because it was that kind of school, I remember agreeing with friends during free period discussions that Communism sounded like a good idea in theory but unworkable in practice. Having finally read Engel and Marx’s work I’ve a better idea of the why. Removing social distinctions, handing power from the bourgeois to the proletarians only has the effect of shifting the class structure. There always has to be rulers, and damagingly for the philosophy, those rulers have to have a totalitarian element in order to keep the workers in line, to stop them from taking advantage of potential capitalist opportunities, which inevitably leads to rebellion, which inevitably leads to more control. The half dozen subsequent prefaces to later editions included here, filled with qualifications, corrections and clarifications to the main text also demonstrate that this was a manifesto and political philosophy which was built on shifting sands.


Plug! Way back, further than most have ever been into the deep history of this blog, I used to plug the many gigs of a singer/songwriter called Eva Katzler. I'd bought an EP of hers at the Virgin Megastore in Clayton Square, a CD-R with a DIY inlay and it contained some of my still favourite songs, a track from which is now available in the Underground Music section at

Back then I said she offered:
"a lullaby for those of us who need to find somewhere to curl up and hide when the world around us is so loud and overbearing -- her vocals wrap themselves around you and for those brief moments, everything is OK"
I raved about it to such an extent that she utilised a quote from me on her website (I'm there just below Elvis Costello and Paul MacCartney) and here I am in 2007 being excited about her rather wonderful subsequent album. In the meantime she was kind enough to take part in Review 2003 (along with all kinds of people you wouldn't believe).

Now Eva's turned herself to writing with a children's book published last year, Florentine and Pig Have A Very Lovely Picnic and a new one coming in the same series, Florentine and Pig and the Lost Pirate Treasure later this year, and I couldn't be more pleased for her and the reason I know about all of this is because I found this interview with her last night:

There's also an accompanying website and YouTube channel featuring cookery tutorials for children.  Well then.  You never know what you'll discover pottering around online at midnight.

All The President's Men. The Animated Gif.

Film I've just made my first animated gif, inspired by this, and using the screengrabs I created for this university project:

Bit juddery. Bit blocky. But I get the idea.


Radio Next Sunday, Radio 4's The Reunion looks at the creation of Doctor Who which all sounds rather good. What is less, well, good, is the accompanying text which has more errors than a ... well ... let's start with the accompanying photo:

That's The Web Planet Planet of Giants.  If, as we'll see, this is going to be a programme about the making of the first episode, there are enough good photos of An Unearthly Child knocking around.  The show's own programme pages have a dozen of them.

Sue MacGregor reunites five people who created and starred in the first series of a television landmark, Doctor Who.

No she doesn't. See below.

Fifty years later, those who crammed nervously into the BBC's Lime Grove Studios in 1963 recount the triumphs and disasters that ushered in the longest running science-fiction series in the world.

That's fine. Though crammed? Was it that small?

When American TV executive Sidney Newman was drafted in to revitalise the BBC Drama department in the early 1960's, his idea for an ageing time-traveller who would illuminate both human history and Alien civilisations struggled to be successfully realised.

It's Sydney Newman. He was Canadian and more specifically a Canadian TV Executive having spent most of his career up until the 60s at the CBC. Plus it wasn't particular his idea for an ageing time-traveller, it's a bit more diffuse and messy than that. If anything, C. E. Webber was more directly involved in that. Plus capital A, on "alien". Really?

After a number of other directors refused to work on the project, a 24 year-old Waris Hussein took the job.

Or was assigned.

The only Indian-born director within the BBC at that time, he felt the stern gaze of the 'old order' upon his work.

That's fine too.

The first episode was recorded on the day President Kennedy was assassinated and transmitted the next day, despite concerns that the show might be postponed.

The first episode was recorded in September. Then it was recorded again on 18th October 1963 (I think), broadcast on the 23rd November the day President Kennedy was assassinated, then repeated the following week before episode two. Given that they didn't know Kennedy was going to be shot, why would they it would need to be postponed?  To be fair it was postponed, by one minute, twenty seconds above the 5.15 scheduled time due to Granstand overrunning, but I'm not sure that's what this sentence is implying.

Doctor Who was played by the British actor William Hartnell. His sharp, sometimes grumpy demeanour came out of his increasing difficulty in learning the scripts, but the audience immediately took him to their hearts and the series had nearly six million viewers by Christmas.

His sharp, sometimes grumpy demeanour initially came out of his acting and the character would actually lighten in tone and become more heroic even after his increased difficulty in learning the scripts. Unless you're talking about the actor, but that doesn't quite fit the situation either.  The audience immediately took the Daleks to their hearts. The ratings were closer to near 7 million by Christmas, the first episode of The Daleks/The Mutants/whatever going out on 21 December. They were ten million odd by the end of that story.

Joining Sue MacGregor is Waris Hussein, the director of the episode, Carole Ann Ford who played the Doctor's granddaughter and companion Susan, William Russell who played the Doctor's right hand man Ian Charleson, actor Jeremy Young who was the first Doctor Who enemy Caveman Kal, and television presenter Peter Purves who travelled with William Hartnell in the mid 60's as companion Steven Taylor.

Charleson -- surely a homage to The First Doctor always getting Chesterton's name wrong.  Peter Purves wasn't in the first series as suggested at the top, so this BFI event could in fact this could more accurately be described as a "reunion":

Which is all very pedantic of me I know and none of which is to say I won't be tuning in to hear the usual stories. It's an amazing programme.

Updated 04/04/2013  It's been corrected or rather bits of it have been corrected.  Ian Chesterton's name is spelt correctly now and Sydney Newman's Canadian again.  But the recording/transmission is still the same (ie, surreal) as are the rest of my nitpicks.  Oh well.

The Feast of Melkur.

Quentin Letts in the wild.

Theatre After covering the Milibands, the second half of Victoria Coren's column in today's Observer offers a biting observational of Quentin Letts at work, attending the press preview for The Book of Mormon:
"Letts clearly never expected to like it; even as he took his seat, he looked like a man who'd just run over his own dog. Every time I laughed or clapped with the rest of the audience, I could see him in my peripheral vision, making another gloomy note on his pad."
Are reviewers tastes dictated by their employer or do they naturally gravitate towards the best fit for their opinions?


Nature Mother Nature Network has five amazing things spotted in the Peruvian Amazon:
"As if spiders weren't frightening enough (to many, anyway), here's a spider that makes designs in its webs that look like spiders, but are much larger than the web-builders themselves. The animal is almost certainly a new species, said Phil Torres, in a release from Rainforest Expeditions. It's thought that the spider-shaped design is a defense mechanism that is meant to distract or confuse predators, wrote Torres, who originally spotted the spiders. "

Jodie Whittaker on acting.

Film View London's interviews tend to be relatively idiosyncratic and in-depth and here's another example with Jodi Whittaker on her nuts and bolts, day to day life of auditioning and acting. Here she is on when she decides to keep an accent up between takes:
"There's an absolute argument; I definitely would never rule that out on a job. There have been jobs before when I've stayed in the accent, and I have to say I think you're better for it. Because it was so hard for me, Yorkshire to Belfast is a massive jump, Yorkshire to other accents isn't that big. I was more worried that speaking in it the whole time, in between, I'd pick up habits that weren't right, that I'd just get into the habit of doing, because I'd be speaking. But when I concentrated on my lines, I'd worked so much on the final draft with the dialect coach, I'd done ten or twelve hours on it. So I needed that to be in my head."
See what I mean. It's refreshing to read something which is low on anecdotes, high on giving the reader a real insight into process.