TV Who in the what now with that pronunciation of Metebelis III? Really Matt Smith? Really? Though to be fair it’s not necessarily his fault. With his Troughton fixation he’s probably not seen The Green Death or Planet of the Spiders but no one else on the production has an excuse, especially the usually meticulous Steven Moffat who must have sat through the episode a couple of times before broadcast. Given that this was the first episode recorded of a very long shooting schedule, how could there not have been a moment during the ADR session when Matt was asked to pronounce it properly. Or is this Steven’s attempt at creating a new potato/patato or more accurately Uranus/Uranus for the Whoniverse?

Luckily this classic fanderail wasn’t enough to sink what in the end turned out to be an instant classic, one of the best episodes of the modern era and although I appreciate I’m more likely than most to make such idle pronouncements, largely because it takes a lot for me to become especially hostile about an episode (THE DOCTOR DOES NOT USE GUNS) (except when he does) (OH). Four (or five) episodes into 7b and there’s a real sense of redoubled efforts, of a sense of direction, of what was all becoming a bit tired regaining its sense of momentum, the renewal which can happen even a few years into a production cycle (sadly for Peter Davison it happened with his final story) (and only lasted that one story) (but take my word for it…).

The problem is, when the alchemy finally works, all the planets are aligned and there is the rare occasion when what should have been a fairly run of mill instalment turns to gold and eclipses others, it’s near impossible to exactly say why. Oh, you can start listing the good, and we will, but in the end it just sort of happens. As Philip Sandifer’s noted frequently on his blog, one of the reasons the Eighth Doctor novels were often so inconsistent was because at a certain point the experimentation led to a lack of focusing on turning out a series of pretty good stories with the inevitable consequence that less than the normal few would turn out to inspired, unlike which Big Finish which manages it on a regular basis.

That’s Who in the modern era down to a tee. With very rare exceptions, across seven years it has turned out some pretty good, consistent Doctor Who on a weekly basis (or at least when it’s on) and although there have been a couple of turkeys, equally there have been some classics not of the Doctor Who form but of drama in general. Even the ardent Moffat haters would be slow to admit that many of his episodes have been especially awful, generic sometimes, repetitive certainly, but they’re never less than entertaining even if its sometimes been because we’re never quite sure what Matt’s going to do with his line reading or if Arthur will manage to hide his adoration of Karen within Rory’s adoration of Amy enough so she won’t notice.

But every now and then a Blink or a Midnight or a, as it turns out Neil Cross’s Hide and we’re reminded why we do this, why for some of us, as Paul Cornell says, aren't just fans of Doctor Who, it’s a way of life. Some shows like Babylon 5 (to pick an especially cruel example) people move on from with fond memories. We don’t. Once we have the bug we slog away at it, year on year, even when it makes us work at it through having to read it in two hundred and seventy six page chunks or listening to Fraser Hines doing his best in creating an atmosphere around the soundtrack to a missing episode (and unable as it turns out to do much at all with Fury from the Deep, which takes four episodes to get the same point nuWho did this week in about five minutes).

Which sounds like three paragraphs worth of drawing away from the achievement, but Hide is an especially prime example because it comes two weeks after Cross’s later recipe for Marmite, The Rings of Akhaten, divided audiences. If Hide had been his single contribution to this season, people who would be talking about him as the new Moffat, or the new Gaiman. Instead we’re all probably scratching our heads wondering how The Rings of Akhaten can be turned out by someone who’s just recently completed a Hide for all their thematic similarities. Sorry, I should have noted for people who don’t read Doctor Who Magazine that in simple terms, Cross was commissioned and wrote Hide first. The Rings of Akhaten came later.

In Hide, Cross confronts head on the (usually resolvable) paradox at the centre of any Doctor Who story which is that it can be any type of fiction it wants to be but in the end it still has to be a Doctor Who story. Hide is ostensibly a ghost story and Cross is heavily influenced by Nigel Kneale and Tobe Hooper in placing a ghost hunter and a psychic or empath within a big old house investigating the paranormal activity (sorry) within. When the Doctor and Clara arrive, a viewer might assume that this will remain an intimate closed space scenario, which will resolve itself within the confines of these walls perhaps in the style of Nick Murphy’s underrated The Awakening in which Rebecca Hall does a good audition for a female Doctor.

It’s an episode that allows us time to get to know, to love its characters. As Martin Belam noticed the other day, even the pace of nuWho has increased since it went into production, but Hide shows that sometimes that has more to do with what the episode wants to do. In this case, the pacing is superb, with action sequences often giving way to quiet conversations about the nature of things, conversations in dark rooms about how spectacular lives always have a cost the Doctor perhaps seeing an element of his own Ninth incarnation in Alec’s survivor guilt. Yet, even taking into account the subject matter of Clara’s confab with Emma, it’s still people talking in rooms, reacting to the encroaching sense of doom.

Except Doctor Who, especially television Doctor Who, especially television Doctor Who when the Time Lord has control of his TARDIS, can’t simply be that because what would be the point? Granted something like The Stone Tape isn’t being made now and so the closest we’re ever going to get is hidden within an episode of Doctor Who, but because the Time Lord has control of his TARDIS, the story opens out from this intimate closed space scenario to take in all of time, the Doctor spinning across this planet’s entire chronology on a hunch in order to make the inexplicable explicable and surprise us by offering an explanation for this paranormal activity which isn’t that they’re aliens.

These are the reasons why the episodes feels longer than the previous two, despite being just as long. If very little intrinsically happens in The Rings of Akhaten. Hide’s almost the exact opposite. Just when you think you have a grip on it, you’re being pulled off across time or into a pocket universe that usefully allows the show to tap into the intrinsic scariness of an empty forest. Perhaps it is a similar trick to something like The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe but it shows that the more singular plotting that’s a hallmark of the Moffat era (in comparison to the parallel plotting of the Davies era) doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t include a lot of stuff in forty-five minutes.

Just another brief detour if you don’t mind. On Thursday, during Radio 4’s Open Book Mariella Frostrup interviewed author Gillian Cross about her new work, After Tomorrow which is about “the aftermath of 'Armageddon' Monday, when the banks collapse, sterling becomes worthless and industry crumbles, people lose their jobs and the hunger begins. The only hope for many is to escape through the Channel Tunnel and become refugees in France, a country that doesn't want them”, in other words, the squintable backdrop to a dozen Who spin-off stories by authors who would never be interviewed on Open Book. Including a TARDIS seems to be the difference between being taken seriously as a writer by mainstream Radio 4 book programmes or not.

But that’s often what makes Doctor Who, Doctor Who, that it can be serious drama when it wants to be, asking big epic questions about the implications of what it would be like if you had the whole of time and space in your hand whilst showing the goofiness of seeing all that in close visual proximity with its giant blue insects and Edwardian costumes. It’s the tension which runs through Hide, as the mojo which in a “real” ghost story might draw whatever ghoul is causing the ruckus out into the open is instead the method through which the Doctor visits a pocket universe in order to save a wayward time traveller and eventually her aggressor, “The Crooked Man” according to the credits, handsome chappy that he is.

All of which is mere commentary really and just proves my point. Other stories have utilised similar mixes but not all of those are “great”. The stately home set Pyramids of Mars, in which the Doctor also gives his companion an existential pause for thought by showing her a possible future is also great. Timelash which attempts a similar journey in reverse isn’t. And before you say, yes but the former was written by Robert Holmes, the latter Glen McCoy, Holmes turned out The Krotons and The Space Pirates before he worked with a producer who fitted his tone. In the case of Hide then The Rings of Akhaten you could argue Cross is worryingly managing to do that in reverse.

What, for example might have happened if the parts of Alec the ghost hunter and Emma the whatever Emma is had been cast badly, however unlikely that is with the patience of Andy Pryor at work. Whilst his career’s been a bit inconsistent lately (Death Race: Inferno, Love's Kitchen), Dougray Scott still feels like the show punching above its weight especially in asking him to essentially recreate the part he played in Michael Apted’s Enigma, albeit with the extra years of weariness. He perceptively notices the attitude of the piece offering a generally understated performance, really nailing the tête-à-têtes with the Doctor especially in the aforementioned in the dark room.

Just as I’ve never seen Luthor, I’ve also entirely missed Call The Midwife, too, so this is the first time I’ve seen Jessica Raine on screen and wasn’t she marvellous and won’t she be an excellent Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time? To an extent, Emma’s a difficult role to approach, one which so easily could be given what’s never described in the trade as a Duvall or at the other end of the scale a Featherston. Instead, she brings realism to this unreal character, thanks in part to her not ultimately being revealed to be a fraud or mistaken, that she is indeed for whatever reason someone with real insight. She and Carmen from Planet of the Dead have a lot in common.

Another detour. At the close of last week’s episode, it was revealed that due to the HADS, the TARDIS was at the wrong end of the planet which led some to speculate that the Doctor and Clara could have a whole range of adventures set in 1983 as they cross the planet returning to the blue box. Near the close of Hide, Kemi-Bo Jacobs’s Hila seems to be wandering off to the TARDIS with the Doctor and Clara deciding where she’d like to be dropped off. Perhaps at some point in the future a spin-off merchant which has the rights to this era will create a whole series of adventures for these three. With her slender screen time, this time travelling Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart reference is ripe for extra curricular development.

The performances are anchored as usual by Matt (few do fear as well) and Jenna-Louise for whom this was her first episode shot not that you’d know it if the first publicity photos hadn’t been taken during production and DWM’s preview wasn’t all about it. The chemistry is there straight away, and in an episode during which has to play her character dealing with the weight of time travel knowing that she’d soon be having to play it again, with the same character in a different way for the first time. Or something. But there’s nothing here to suggest she hasn’t already filmed all the other stories we’ve seen her in. Again, I sit in awe at the intellectual capabilities of actors to seamlessly play such non-linear characters so non-linearly.

Again, they’re parts of the whole, part of the list with “reasons this is great at the top”. Jamie Payne’s direction is superb somehow managing to make some (over) familiar locations like this mansion into something new and spooky, retaining the closed haunted mansion aesthetic in those scenes while making allowances for the grandeur of the locations the Doctor visits. The forest scenes are perhaps the biggest triumph, keeping The Crooked Man out for sight for as long as possible, know how long a shot needs to be without killing the suspense. The script presumably offered some guidance in that regard, but there’s real courage, especially in Doctor Who, in making a monster exist simply through the Doctor’s frightened reactions.

Then there’s the production design. I feel particularly connected to the episode because it’s set just a couple of days after my birth. Mum says I hadn’t even left the hospital. It’s worth asking. Why set it in the 70s and not now? Variety? To create a closer link to the ghost stories of the era? Pure nostalgia? I’m not sure. But as with Cold War, it’s a pleasure to see the television show setting stories within its own production period, conscious of the fact that for children this is ancient history. Note how the Doctor keeps in period and uses the analogue camera for his picture safari so as not to create too many paradoxes by introducing Alec and Emma to the camera phone.

Now I really am simply listing possible reasons why the episode is great. But after two and a half thousand words, all this really boils down to is that it’s great because it’s great. It’s confident enough to have the TARDIS effectively piloting itself to save the Doctor and put out a projection in order to have a conversation with Clara. It’s unafraid to have the Doctor and his companion walking along corridors joking around and not make it seem smug. It makes the Ghostbusters gag again, despite the volume level of human gorp that met the previous reference in Army of Ghosts, the moment which Tennant haters always point to as the epicentre of their …

And we’re back again so perhaps I should end with the usual Clara shaped speculation. The TARDIS really, really doesn’t like her even to the point of taking the piss by producing a holographic version of her imply that it knows full well about her many versions but is keeping it a secret from her as much as the Doctor is. Unlike Dan Hall at The Guardian, I don’t have a problem with her dialogue, it is writerly in places, but it’s also Doctor Who, the best of which is literary to some degree, plus it’s part of her character, the sense of her not being quite human, or at least being more human than human. Sometimes, as with her convincer speech in Cold War, she sounds positively like the Doctor himself.

Emma apparently taking sides was an interesting twist, her knowing full well why the Doctor has turned up. We know he’s being secretive because to some degree he’s testing Clara to see what makes her tick but now Clara has some sense of that. The way she’s so easily fallen into the role of “companion” still does nothing to dissuade me from the notion that she’s been somehow designed that way and the throw forward to next week’s episode suggests the Doctor’s having similar suspicions. If the Doctor’s relationship with Amy and Rory was situationally complex, this is all psychologically so and if the title of the final episode of this season is anything to go by, none of this may be resolved in 2013. Great.


Geology In 1947, Life Magazine's Ralph Morse received an unusual assignment; to the be the first photographer to document the recently discovered Lascaux caves, whose glorious ancient paintings had to led to it being dubbed "a Versailles of prehistory". In 1996, Life spoke to him about the process:
“The first sight of those paintings was simply unbelievable,” Morse said. “I was amazed at how the colors held up after thousands and thousands of years — like they were just painted the day before. Most people don’t realize how huge some of the paintings are. There are pictures of animals there that are ten, fifteen feet long, and more.”

“But it wasn’t a comfortable assignment,” Morse remembers. “It wasn’t a refined setting. It was a dungarees-and-sweatshirt job. When we first went down, there were no steps or anything. You slid down on a piece of wood, or on your rear end on the bare earth. A bit later, we put in some very rough wood steps, but it was easier to work underground than it was to get ourselves and all of our gear down there in the first place.”
Like so many of these sites, Lascaux has been closed to regular visitors in recent years due to the potential damage wrought by the outside world, so these photographs, despite their age, are still a valuable resource.


Martin Belam on Doctor Who.

TV Martin Belam's written a really quite remarkable, rangy essay about Doctor Who covering a range of topics, but one thing which caught my eye was this:
"But the thing that most struck me about watching “School Reunion” again was how old-fashioned it already looked. I’m not knocking the production, I love the script and I’ve enjoyed 94.5% of all “New Who” episodes immensely. But having watched The Bells of Saint John six days earlier, it felt sooooooooo slow. And it looked like television from the last decade.

Which, of course, it is. [...]

It made me think about the equivalent gap in the series back from when I’d first seen Elisabeth Sladen in her role. In January 1968, seven years prior to Tom Baker taking on the Wirrn on Space Station Nerva, Patrick Troughton was in the middle of an adventure titled “The Enemy Of The World”.
Well goodness. Of course it is. Seven years since School Reunion was broadcast, the difference between half way through Pat and the beginning of Tom.  But, thanks to dvd, streaming and all that nonsense, it still feels very present, whereas in 1975, the Troughton era felt like a distant memory.

WHO 50: 1984:
The Caves of Androzani.

TV One of the more interesting elements of this remarkable story is how familiar, from the opening sequence onwards the Fifth Doctor and Peri are, and indeed how relaxed Peri is with the whole process of being his travelling companion.

Such is the format of Doctor Who, this isn’t an unusual occurrence. When the Doctor explains the TARDIS's dimensional transcendentalism to Leela in Robots of Death, there isn’t much continuity from the Face of Evil, the companion’s newbie status barely referred to, other than in the subtextual sense of him explaining why the ship is bigger on the inside.

Yet in The Caves of Androzani it feels different, as though this Doctor and this companion have been travelling together for far longer than a quick trip from Lanzarote.

Partly it’s the performances, the chemistry between the two which flourishes across the story. But Robert Holmes’s writing also creates a comfort and respect between the two of a kind which would ignored for much of the ensuing years when Peri had to endure the Sixth Doctor. Bicker, bicker, bicker.

Peri refers to the desert making a change from lava flows, but she also chides the Doctor for his behaviour and he admonishes her as though her rubbish sarcasm is something he’s had to endure before. But she’s not insulted. She smiles. The Doctor’s being the Doctor again.

How did contemporary audiences interpret this? Did they even notice?

Of course subsequently spin-off licensees and writers have seized on the gap between this and Planet of Fire and filled it with dozens of stories about the Fifth Doctor and Peri, Big Finish even introducing a further companion, the Egyptian princess Erimem and separating the pair for a period and giving him a completely different friend, Amy, for another search for the Key To Time.

Read or listen to any of that material and as usual our expanded universe reinforms and changes how we experience the original series as we retrospectively imagine the characters remembering all of those experiences as they’re walking around in the sand.

When the Doctor says later that he doesn’t know her all that well, but he’s willing to sacrifice himself for her, we now have to wonder if it has a double meaning.

The Tomb of Rassilon.

History Egypt revolution brings golden age for tomb raiders:
"Egypt's revolution has not only brought political upheaval, but also lucrative opportunities for illegal diggers hunting for antique treasures and gold.

"There is ample anecdotal testimony from people living near the Great Pyramids at Giza that since the revolution large holes have been appearing in the ground there."

"Our own inspection quickly revealed evidence of what they were talking about."
This sounds like the destruction of history of a massive scale. As this BBC piece notes, when you remove an item you remove its context and therefore the storehouse of information it contains about the past.

Dillon Casey on Torchwood's Miracle Day.

TV Dillon Casey played Brad, Captain Jack's one night stand, in Dead of Night, episode three of Miracle Day:
"When Dillon Casey landed his first role in the BBC science fiction series Torchwood, he had no idea what he was getting into. Mostly because he hadn’t read the script.

“They kept asking me if I would be OK being intimate with another guy,” said Casey.

That other guy turned out to be star John Barrowman.

But Casey knew what he had to do.

“I had to out-gay John Barrowman,” Casey said of his gay co-star, whose Torchwood character is bisexual. “I was biting his earlobes. . . . I went for it.”
The rest of the interview is here.


Stephanie McGovern on professional misconceptions.

Feminism Somewhat hidden in The Guardian's professional area, BBC Breakfast's business correspondent, Stephanie McGovern, writes about the reaction to her appointment and men's attitudes in general:
"I remember once at the end of a BBC job interview the manager said to me: "I didn't realise people like you were clever." I don't think he was being intentionally nasty. At that time in the BBC he was surrounded by clones of himself, give or take some facial hair and glasses. He had never worked with anyone 'like me' before and so thought he was taking a risk by employing me. Later I found out that he'd also told the rest of my team that 'someone very different was joining who would stir things up a bit'. Fundamentally though, I'm not any different, I just talk differently."
She's one of the few reasons to watch Breakfast, capturing the tone perfectly, and unembarrassed when irish dancing or reporting from toy fairs.

The River Cam.

Column cancelled.

Art You might remember last year when I was writing about the Liverpool Biennial, my disappointment about not seeing Anthony McCall's Column from the Albert Dock. In the meantime, life intervened and I entirely forgot about it, until today when the BBC reported that after fifteen months of attempting to make it work, the project has been abandoned.

It was originally due to be working from December 2011 and run through the whole of 2012 and not just the period of the Biennial, but its been beset with problems:
"The Civil Aviation Authority was worried that it would interfere with aircraft and the Port Health Authority had concerns that it could cause Legionella.

"Even after those fears were allayed, the steam-generating mechanism did not work properly and the column still did not appear.

"Such vertical steam spirals occur occasionally in nature, when they are known as waterspouts, but nobody has managed to recreate one on this scale by man-made means."
It's worth noting that the Liverpool Biennial isn't mentioned at all in the BBC article, which talks about the piece as the production of the cultural Olympiad instead.  But at least one of the loose ends from my Biennial experience has some closure.

Raston Warrior Robot.

Food Canadian hipsters, hippies and women are taking up hunting. Filmmaker Kesia Nagata has decided commercial meat isn't for her so she's learning how to fell animals in the wild:
“We were vegetarian growing up, so hunting was never really on the radar when we were kids,” she said. “My parents were trying to make a choice about minimizing evil, both nutritional and ethical.”

Not a lot of the animal protein available met their standard. The environmental impact of what she calls “industrial meat” is enough to put Nagata off her feed.

“I want my meat to be grass-finished, and killed as ethically as possible,” she said. “As much as I firmly believe in the necessity of animal protein and saturated fats, the commercial stuff is all toxic.”
Me throughout reading this. Scroll up, no. Read some more. Scroll up again, no. Read some more, check the masthead again, yes, this is The Vancouver Sun and not The Onion.

Who is the Secret Actor?

Theatre The Guardian has a new column called The Secret Actor, the idea of which is presumably to create similar buzz to The Secret Footballer with people attempting to guess their identity.

The footballer named names. The actor hasn't. Yet. Here's what we do know so far, from the first column.

They are male or female. They make a big thing of pointing out "actor" in The Guardian's style guide is utilised for both, and don't we know if from every comment section under interviews with female actors. Pointing this out could lead you to assume either way so it's probably a double bluff.

They're articulate. Unless a sub has been through this to flower up the language, they use words like "antithesis" and "meritocracy". They're also capable of knocking out seven paragraphs of something which looks like an essay.

They're always in work. Someone who refuses to follow the instructions of the people who're auditioning them is someone who can afford to lose jobs on a whim.  Unless they're Joey from Friends.

They're in sitcoms. Though that doesn't necessarily mean they're not also in films, tv drama or radio. Such things are more flexible than they used to be.

You could infer also something about who they might be from their decision to write a column for The Guardian from their political leanings to whether they've written for them in the past.  I'll get back to you on that one.

The Tower.

Architecture The Reunion Tower in Dallas (and which famously appeared in the opening title sequence of Dallas) is thirty-five years old:
"Reunion Tower, rising 50 stories at the southwestern edge of downtown, became an instant icon when it opened on April 15, 1978.
Even The New York Times gave an effusive review, saying the “slender, delicate column, topped by a spidery geodesic ball” promised to give Dallas “as distinct a focus as the Gateway Arch gives St. Louis.”
Thirty-five years later, nothing says Dallas around the world quite like The Ball and its gleaming-glass sister hotel, the Hyatt Regency Dallas."
As you can see, even from the ground this looks like an extraordinary structure:

View Larger Map

The Wikipedia is positively ebullient.

Eye of Orion.

Astronomy The Earth Sky blog reports that in some parts of the world, after sunset tonight, the Moon and Jupiter will be incredibly close:
"For most of the world, the moon will pair up most closely with Jupiter for the month on this Sunday evening, April 14, 2013. Look west after dark to see the waxing crescent near the very bright planet. The moon and Jupiter appear in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull on April 14. How to spot them? Easy. No matter where you live on the globe, as darkness falls, look first for the waxing crescent moon. You simply can’t miss Jupiter nearby because it’s the brightest starlike object in the evening sky – brighter than any star."
Though as usual, in Liverpool, it'll probably be cloudy.