The Crimson Horror.

TV As we discussed the other week, everything pointy points in the direction of Mark Gatiss becoming Doctor Who’s next show runner. As I’ve just discovered in the post game virtual locker room that is my Twitter timeline on a Saturday night, some people aren’t necessarily enamoured with the idea, which is probably fair enough because I’m trying desperately to let other people have their own opinions. I’m oscillating on the idea on a daily or even weekly basis largely because although his television episodes have been admittedly variable, I still have soft spot for his spin-off material, especially Invaders from Mars and Last of the Gaderene.

The problem with his television work, and he almost admits this in the preview for tonight’s episode in this month’s party newsletter, is that he’s very rarely allowed to write exactly what he likes, there’s always things which are “prescribed”. He didn’t particularly want to do a Dalek story but was stuck with trying to patch together Victory of the Daleks. Night Terrors isn’t his natural territory either. But when he’s asked to work within his own auteuristic interests, as Russell T Davies did with all of the writers of the first revival series he produces The Unquiet Dead and in this series Cold War and now The Crimson Horror.

In other words, let Gatiss be Gatiss and he’ll produce great work. The Idiot’s Lantern is the only potential blip in that for some, though on the night of broadcast the younger version of me called it “the best episode since The Girl In The Fireplace” so I’ll include that in my theory. So yes, let Gatiss be Gatiss. But I think that’s been true of most of the decent writers on the show, like, forever and indeed it’s also true that those writers with a singular voice and been allowed to utilise it which have produced the best episodes. We’ve seen that as recently as with Neil Cross who even though I didn’t think it was that bad, was certainly ill at ease with alien choirs.

Here we are then, Victorian Yorkshire, carriages, corsets, jokes about modern devices within a historical framework (the Thomas Thomas joke being an ideal example of know if you’re with an episode or not – if you didn’t laugh like a drain or at least groan you’re not going to be convinced much by anything else), a batty old patriarch under supernatural influence, some grand extrapolation of historical context in this case the Port Sunlight alike model towns philanthropically created during the industrial revolution to give the workers a better life, some naughty innuendo and a general sense that thing, you know, that thing.

Because as we also discussed with Cold War, it’s not exactly possible to put your finger on what makes Gatiss, Gatiss, except a sort of intangible recognition that we’re watching something created by someone who’s steeped in film history, Doctor Who history and being allowed to let rip. Of course, some elements of The Crimson Horror are prescribed. It’s not his Doctor or companion. It’s the first adventure for Vastra, Strax and Jenny not written by Moffat. But arguably those latter elements aren’t very Moffat either, as though we’re already watching a show which is as much of psychological co-production as Sherlock.

Except for the first quarter it has all the hallmarks of The Great Detective spin-off we’re all clamouring for, all the trappings of a backdoor pilot. Indeed, and after listening to the Devil in the Smoke audiobook and watching this back to back I’ve been using indeed at the top of a sentence a lot, the opening half acts like we’re watching an episode of that notional spin-off, uninterested in introducing any of these characters again, the investigative structure already in place (partly because Gatiss is aping Sherlock Holmes anyway so we’re practically watching the Jeremy Brett adaptation with aliens replacing those lead characters).

Like the Devil in the Smoke, it’s everything you hoped it would be, with Strax proposing over the top plans until Vastra undercuts him with the subtler approach and Jenny infiltrating Sweetville like a Victorian Sydney Bristow. Few eras of Doctor Who have produced such compelling characters and with this chemistry, but it’s also impossible to imagine another era of Doctor Who, even in the spin-off material that could, because of the chemistry of the actors, because these are the nuWho versions of the classic races and because up until now with a few exceptions, writers have been scared shitless of the Star Trek dichotomy of aliens and audience recognition.

This first fifteen minutes is so good, so confident, that’s actually quite jarring when the Cherry Tangoed Doctor is revealed and because of the needs of the show, regains the narrative’s agency and the other three disappear into the background once again. It’s to be expected, of course, and all of them have a heroic “moment” in the latter stages, but it is a vague disappointment that we don’t get to see a version of this story in which they complete the task, have the arguments with Mrs Gillyflower, throw the chair around (though it’d be more likely that the control panel would have found the wrong end of a sword).

Then we’re into a rerun of the same exposition and exploration, though subtly not; Gatiss’s script obscures enough information in the first fifteen so that this flashback actually adds to our understanding. There’s again something wildly confident about giving the digital footage a pre-Restoration Team 16mm style and mixing it with those clever sepia freeze frames, though notice it doesn’t go the whole Feast of Steven and making it a silent picture. For the modern child, even Spearhead from Space is ancient, so anything which doesn’t look pristine is enough to evoke “the past”. Gosh, this is all analysisy isn’t it? Always happens when I’ve enjoyed an episode.

Then we’re right back into the proper Doctor Who portion of the installment, the running, the shouting, the monologuing, the fighting, the reveal of the alien (which as a side note is practically the same as The Snowmen and it’s odd that no-one noticed considering the two were filmed simultaneously with the same director, Saul Metzstein, who again makes it look nothing like a Doctor Who episode and everything like a Dickens adaptation from the 1990s, but then the symbiotic controlling alien thing is a mainstay of the series so it might also just be Gatiss referencing Planet of the Spiders or The Next Doctor) (did that need to be in brackets?).

Some things we might talk about, or will because it’s my paragraph. The Crimson Horror continues this run of the Doctor at his most tactile, kissing Jenny, kissing and hugging Clara (something he does a lot) and kissing the unfortunate Ada on the cheek at least. I’ve seen objections. But I think within the context of the modern series it would be strange for the Doctor to be standoffish. There’s a scene in the latest Puffin short, The Roots of Evil when the Fourth Doctor embraces Leela and it feels wrong as though author Philip Reeve has extrapolated nuWho behaviour backwards, yet younger readers might not necessarily notice the difference.

The guns. Back in the Davies era, I remember an interview in which he talked about how The Doctor’s Daughter was a difficult episode because one of the elements of his era’s house style which was agreed early on was that a human would not pull a gun on another human, it being a family show and they’d had to rewrite around it. That’s not the case now it seems. Not that I have a problem with this, but it is worth noting how understanding the Doctor is of Strax’s utilisation of his weapon (stop it) and violence in general, one of the running gags of the episode being his gaping, bemused Troughtonesque helplessness. Poor horses.

The talent. Who would have thought Doctor Who would be the venue for Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling to finally appear on screen as mother and daughter? As DWM also explained this was also at the behest of Gatiss writing particularly for them knowing full well that Rigg would eat up the screen and Stirling would break our hearts. This isn’t Stirling’s first appearance in the Whoniverse incidentally, having previously voiced a character not too dissimilar to Mrs Gillyflower in Alan Barnes’s Fourth Doctor audio Trail of the White Worm (which I reviewed here) (actually now that I come to think about it…).

Then, everything crawls back to Clara, dressed, despite the Doctor’s reference to the gob on legs, in what looks like Nyssa cosplay. Gatiss cleverly manages to park questions as to this Clara’s identity (“It’s complicated!”), the tone of the piece ill-suited to long soul searching existential conversations, or at least the repeat of long soul searching existential conversations. At this point, I’m buggered if I know what she’s about other than to fall back on my old Scaroth theory. This isn’t a detective story. Like all of the other story arcs, there are no breadcrumb shaped clues. It will all apparently be resolved in two weeks though apparently, thank the profits.

Now, that ending. In reply to a correspondent who said he thought it was a good episode “except John and Gillian deciding their nanny is a time traveller”, Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spilsbury said (in a rare example since the Eighties of a DWM editor publicly criticising the series in quite this way), “Yeah, that bit was shit. The rest was great” and it’s not quite possible to disagree. As is sometimes the case in Doctor Who, it’s the coincidence that Clara would just happen to have been dropped off home at just the moment these photographs would be on the computer, so that she could be found out so that presumably, these kids would be given the chance to travel in the TARDIS for Neil Gaiman’s episode and be menaced by the Cybermen.

The premise, that these children have serendipitously stumbled on these historical photos of their nanny only makes sense if it turns out they’ve been planted by the woman in the shop, or River Song as she’ll probably be, in order to push forward the mystery as though she’s metafictionally conscious of the end of the series. Plus you can’t really fight against the logic that on seeing those they wouldn’t assume, just like Clive in Rose when faced with similar evidence, that she was a time traveller. And Jenna-Louise plays the wide-eyed wonder impeccably but it’s just, again, not something I can easily put my finger on.

Did Gatiss write this final scene?  Presumably, though it's still difficult to know how the labour is divided now that so little proper behind the scenes material is released now.  But what's worth saying, is that if Mark does become showrunner, though the overall tone of the piece will be his, the house style, there will be moments when we won't be able to let himself be himself.  On the flipside, Moffat might continue writing for the series and arguably, weirdly, he seems to work best under someone else's regime.  His best episodes were arguably in the previous era, so he might well get back on form...

Thomas Sangster doesn't think Love Actually is rubbish either.

TV Human Nature's Thomas Sangster's given an interview to Access Hollywood on the occasion of him joining Game of Thrones. He's asked about Love Actually and says:
"Oh yeah… it’s brilliant. I’m still very proud of it, although it does follow me an awful lot even today (laughs). It’s a lovely thing to be attached with. I think the reason it’s so successful, people love it so much, is it doesn’t try anything more than be a film that was designed to make you feel good. … It’s very easy to watch and it’s a love story, all set around Christmas. It just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all and people love that. They sit down every Christmas and I know a lot of guys that love the film and sit down and watch it with their girlfriends or their mothers. It just appeals to a very, very large audience and people seem to love it."
Given, as I described at length here, the potential misogyny, stalkerism and horrendous narrative technique, it remains a bizarre element of modern culture that people do think that it is such a feel good film considering the amount of tragedy wedged in throughout and at the end.

Neon Tubing.

Architecture The Buckhorn Baths in Arizona, listed by a national historical society as one of the most endangered roadside inns in US, has been closed for more than a decade but has re-entered the news for two reasons.

Firstly, last October the Phoenix Arizona Paranormal Society visited and were terribly excited by all of the paranormal activity they found which included, they say, a masseuse looking for business:

Which just goes to show how accurate The Day Today parodies of US local news coverage actually were.

A bond was agreed for the purchase and restoration of the site, including the massive neon signs. The reason the site is of interest is because of its use by Major League Baseball in the 1940s plus potential celebrity and political clients like John F Kennedy.

Why the Daleks failed.

WHO 50: 1986:
The Trial of a Time Lord.

TV At least in television terms, and disregarding Dimensions in Time, the Sixth Doctor’s final words on television are:

”Carrot Juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.”

Poor Colin.

As originally written this must have seemed like a fun gag. In the Terror of the Vervoids section of the Trial, the hitherto unseen Mel is attempting to drag the Doctor into a much healthier lifestyle. So exercise bikes and yes, carrot juice.

The problem is, because Colin was fired before the next season and didn't understandably turn up for the regeneration (it's Sylvester in a wig), these final lines have now become part of the show's history, turning up in pub quizzes and trivia boxes in newspapers ever since.

Notably, Cavan Scott & Mark Wright's Whoology an officially licensed publication which notices that in theory we don't actually know what his last words before regeneration were (though Gary Russell's Spiral Scratch gives it a go).

Not quite "You were fantastic..." we all snigger as we then realise the Seventh Doctor's final lines aren't the big speech at the end of Survival but whatever he says on the operating table in the TV Movie.

For years I’ve listened to the carrot juice line and for years I’ve wondered what carrot juice actually tasted like, and so for the purposes of experiencing everything the Doctor Who franchise has to offer, I shall be tasting carrot juice.

Carrot juice, in its purest unadulterated form is surprisingly difficult to find. It’s certainly not in most supermarkets were it's usually mixed with orange or included as part of some root vegetable concoction.

A call out to the Twitter hive mind yielded some public bar related suggestions but since I want to be carrying out this experiment in front of a keyboard, and to be fair in private, I had to try some lateral thinking and eventually realised Holland and Barrett was a solution. Which it was.

This bottle was therefore purchased last Friday at the Holland and Barrett shop in Whitechapel, Liverpool at a cost of £3.60.

Reader, I spluttered and asked if they had a smaller bottle. They did not.

I expect the reason it's this expensive is because of the number of carrots involved in the manufacture and the cost of said vegitables. Here’s a highly instructive video about how to make carrot juice:

A year later, the process seems to have become rather simpler:

I imagine the man in the first video watching the second video and rethinking his priorities. But to be fair, I am the one who's testing and tasting carrot juice because it was mentioned in an 80s example of genre sci-fi television.

The glass of juice is poured now and I’m about to taste it. Wish me luck.

First reaction. It’s carrot in liquid form. It’s strong, very strong. Sour.

Second reaction after another sip. I can see why it’s generally mixed with other things, because it has, for want of a better description, a kind of caffeine kick and not in a particularly pleasant way. It’s without doubt one of the worst liquids I’ve had in my mouth. Ick.

That was money well spent then. I can see why the Sixth Doctor had this reaction:

Colin didn't need to do much acting here. Hopefully there weren't too many retakes. Poor Colin.

The Ratings.

TV We'll return to the mainstream of this morning's symposium in a moment. I just wanted to note the following:

Firstly, that because of Twitter, I've tended to neglect this blog. So whenever I've had something to say, I've been parcelling it up in 140 character chunks. I'm going to try to stop that. Which is why..

Secondly, I'm noting here the differential between the "timeshift" results between Doctor Who's 7b episodes 2 and three. Or whatever the number is for these given that's it's become more complicated than production codes.

As Doctor Who News reports:

Doctor Who: Cold War had a final audience of 7.37 million viewers.

Hide an official rating of 6.61 million viewers, a share of 29.2% of the total television audience.

Which with my C in GCSE suggests a drop in 760,000 viewers. Such things are virtual and proportional of course. A percentage of people with ratings boxes could have simply gone on holiday or just not bothered to rewatch the thing for whatever reason. But it still seems like a lot.

Let's look at the rest of the series:

The Bells of Saint John Sat 30 Mar 2013 6:15 pm 8.44 million 35.8 %
The Rings of Akhaten Sat 6 Apr 2013 6:15 pm 7.45 million 34.8 %
Cold War Sat 13 Apr 2013 6:03 pm 7.37 million 26.7 %
Hide Sat 20 Apr 2013 6:45 pm 6.61 million 29.2 %

Yes, indeed, the ratings look like they're dropping. But notice a few things:

The Bells of St John went out at Easter and because of that the opening episode is always traditionally huge.

The show is wibbling around the schedules due to the BBC not really knowing what to do with The Voice in relation to whatever Cowell's doing on ITV to which is playing havoc with the numbers of people like me who watch it when it goes out.

This has not been a vintage season. The story of Clara hasn't grabbed the viewer's attention in the same way as other similar memes, not helped with the too subtle approach to enunciating it in the episodes, whole conversations which may or may not be important.  The audience likes to know if they're important or not or at least have a hint in that direction.  The media simply isn't talking about it in the same way. They're more interested in what's happening with the 50th.

But I do wonder if the real thing about these numbers is that they don't factor in the iPlayer. As I've discovered this past week, once you have broadband installed and running through your television, even if you've recorded that week's episode, laziness sends you to the iPlayer to watch it, which must account for a fair percentage of the 760k who went missing between shows. BT have had an offer on.

Plus if you look at the overall ratings across the past eight years, they've been up and down much more than you might expect. I'm not sure we have anything to worry about. Yet.


Film Oh Steven, wow:
"... I got my hands on a book by a guy named Douglas Rushkoff and I realized I’m suffering from something called Present Shock which is the name of his book. This quote made me feel a little less insane: “When there’s no linear tie, how is a person supposed to figure out what’s going on? There’s no story, no narrative to explain why things are the way things are. Previously distinct causes and effects collapse into one another. There’s no time between doing something and seeing the result. Instead the results begin accumulating and influencing us before we’ve even completed an action. And there’s so much information coming in at once from so many different sources that there’s simply no way to trace the plot over time”. That’s the hum I’m talking about. And I mention this because I think it’s having an effect on all of us. I think it’s having an effect on our culture, and I think it’s having an effect on movies. How they’re made, how they’re sold, how they perform."
That quote is mostly a quote because you should read the whole of Steven Soderbergh's keynote at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival which crystallizes in one place the general mood of cinema or at least Western cinema in the past couple of decades.

He's pessimistic.  I'm not.  There are ebbs and flows.  There is interesting work out there.  The problem is its obscured by the blockbusters more than ever or the release windows are so marginal we're all tending to simply wait for the dvd.  We're still watching this stuff, we're just not watching it in its intended setting.

The Ogre Hunters and the Great Library Robbery.

Film These are adorable. The British Library's Spring festival in March was an exhibition and gathering together of various types of culture inspired by their collection. Just uploaded to their YouTube channels are these two films created, presumably, for the festival, both expressing the library's "weird and wonderful wildlife sounds".

The first, The Ogre Hunters by Luke Rodgers, stars Prunella Scales and Timothy West:

The other is this Katherine Blakeney animation:

Most of it is silent, so don't adjust your speakers.

Who is the Secret Actor? #3

Film So far, then, the approach taken by the secret actor, heretoforth known as "Secret", for remaining secret is to write in as vague or generic terms as possible and not to include as far as is apparent anything specific.

But there are hints. Take yesterday's column.

We can't really tell who the "very beautiful actor" is. She's a she. She's also British. The problem is we don't have any timescales. For all we know this could be decades ago. Could be Jenny Agutter. Could be Minnie Driver. Could be one of the Richardson-Redgraves.

We're told that Secret is wearing "evening attire" which pretty gender non-specific but the texture of the rest of the paragraph, indeed this whole thing, still suggests female to me.

But notice how, though we're told that the mutual producer friend (who could be anyone frankly) has introduced them at the opening night of a play, we're not told if either of them are actually in it.

We are told that Secret was out of work for a year but again without timescales she might just have been in at the start of her career.

Romila Garai wasn't in continuous work last decade. Despite the bitchiness at the end of this week, I still think this is her, though I should also consider the question of why she'd be doing this unless it's some kind of post The Hour cancellation creativity revenge plot.

[I should add that the readers are revolting.  The comments underneath are entirely negative.  But I do think there's a long game to this if they want to stick with it.]

Sunday Girls.

Music She & Him's new album Volume 3 is out and streaming on Spotify:

It's right up to the standard of their previous work, which is just the sort of thing for people who like that sort of thing. I like that sort of thing so I sort of like it. A lot.

But as you can see above, there's a complexly post-modern moment when Zooey and M offer their cover version of Blondie's Sunday Girl. It's a bassy, half punk, half Doris Day rendition (as so much of their music is) but the same song is also the music, in a different version, on the promo bumpers for the sitcom New Girl in the UK, advertising the Nina Ricci perfume.

A quick glance at YouTube and we find this:

Not having paid attention to such things, it hadn't occurred to me that the lady in those bumpers, Florrie Arnold, would be the singer and the bumpers are what appears to be her pop promo.  The Wikipedia is here to embarrass me about how uninformed I've been.

 Here she is singing it live:

Merci beaucoup.  But she is also the "face" of Nina Ricci, appearing in department store advertising, so this is all part of some 360 advertising modern thingame.  Here she is being interviewed in Vogue.

Which brings us back to Sunday Girl appearing on She & Him's third album.  It is a substantially different version to the Florrie Arnold but as a student of marketing I have to wonder about the intent in them choosing that song.  Did they know about the connection?  Has life just become one long commercial?  That's practically what this whole blog post is, after all ...


The introduction of a modern version of the ‘Tardis’ police box.

Law You may have heard in the news this morning the Policy Exchange think tank is recommending...
"The introduction of a modern version of the ‘Tardis’ police box. These would be technologically-enabled police contact points, featuring two-way audio-visual technology so that members of the public could communicate directly with police staff. They could be used to report crime, provide witness statements, discuss concerns and access information."
Two things on this, maybe three:

(1) That the TARDIS has become so synonymous with the old public police call box that it has become it's shorthand description and in some news reports it's almost as though it has always been the official name.

(2) The assumption is that these wouldn't necessarily look like a TARDIS. Apart from anything else, the BBC now owns the trademark lock, stock and barrel on the TARDIS shape after the police finally got around to putting in a challenge in the last decade (note before the show returned to television) and lost. Here's adjudication which has actual line drawings of the TARDIS within its pages

(3) Except because it is such a recognisable shape, for all the mod cons, the police should be allowed to use the TARDIS design for such a venture and with the correct dimensions (though presumably the trad dimensions which are a bit smaller). Imagine how thrilling it would be to see these blue box at the ends of streets and in city centres again. Reassuring even, because some of us might imagine that there's a Time Lord nearby saving our lives.

(4) because let's face it, as Foyle's War demonstrated the other week, there is nothing more reassuring than seeing a blue box in the street:

What I love about this is they seem to have used what looks for all the world like an actual TARDIS prop or at least one of the commercial replicas. As anyone who's visited one of the still surviving boxes, like the one in Earls Court or Glasgow, will know the one from the series was a more stylised example especially in relation to the lamp on top.  Yes, apart from the reversed colours on the sign on the front.


Books Inevitably has a wonderful printing of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera in an English translation, published by Grossett and Dunlap in 1911. The opening of the prologue is remarkable:
"THE Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade."
As ever one of the best elements of their scans is that it has the whole book including covers and the library administration. The book was heavily used in its time. Perhaps it was a core text at the Brigham Young University where it originated.