Public Art Collections in North West England:
Tate Liverpool.

St Ives signpost

Art Tate Liverpool saved my life.

In my memory my first visit to Tate Liverpool, and you’ll have to forgive me but it was twenty-five years ago, I was thirteen and most of anything which happened back then is submerged in a love of Transformers and Kylie Minogue, but in my memory, I visited on its first weekend of opening. I remember it being very busy, I remember that much.

I remember laughing a lot. Boldly, Tate Liverpool’s opening exhibition was Surrealism In The Tate Gallery Collection, which as a statement of intent ranks with Lady Gaga turning up for an awards ceremony dressed in raw beef. My thirteen year old self, submerged in a love of Transformers and Kylie Minogue, thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

One of the pieces on display was Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree, a glass of water on a shelf above head height. Which was hilarious then and still is because as I now know, for reasons which later became apparent to me, the whole field of “conceptual art” is about challenging the viewer’s beliefs in the construct of the art world and themselves.

Did I innately understand that? No. What was hilarious then was that an artist was able to put the glass of water on the shelf, put it on that wall, have a card which says “An Oak Tree”, other stuff, and people would turn up to see it. Even as I type that, I can’t quite believe it despite now thinking it’s one of the greatest pieces of art ever ushered into reality, even if it must be a bugger for the technicians to keep clean.

How I got from one reason for finding An Oak Tree hilarious to the other reason I find An Oak Tree hilarious, is the reason Tate Liverpool, amongst other things, because there had to be a qualifier, because everything has a qualifier, saved my life. Perhaps this something which happens to everyone. Perhaps all of this is just part of growing up. Perhaps I’m just trying to find something to write.

What I do remember is never being very good at school. Apart from the bullying, apart from that, I wasn’t an especially academic kid and easily distracted, by Transformers and Kylie Minogue, and not easily able to retain information. All of this is still true. I’m not an especially academic adult really, still easily distracted by Doctor Who and the Spotify, and barely able to retain information.

But for the purposes of this story, let’s assume that in fact, I was a different person, that the premise of Michael Apted’s 7 Up series doesn’t apply to me. At the age of thirteen, when Tate Liverpool opened, another strong memory I have is of my parents returned from parents evening and telling me that the head of year, who didn’t even teach me, had said that “Stuart won’t amount to much.”

Which wasn’t an especially nice thing to say, but you should also know that the school I went to, an old style grammar school despite being classified as a comprehensive, not fee paying but selective, was very much geared towards producing Oxbridge candidates, the rest of us, no matter how had we’d worked to get there, sometimes felt like the flotsam and jetsam of humanity.

Not that I was old enough to really understand the implications of those words. I was thirteen and “not amounting to much” at that point didn’t really have a context. What I do know is that mum and dad weren’t worried, this wasn’t some moment when they thought I’d need a private tutor or anything like that. I just wasn’t academic. Not everyone is academic.

Meanwhile, school continued. My grades, when I’m finally graded, which wasn’t something which happened then as often as it does now, are minimal. When I’m “setted”, I’m in the fourth set for French, fourth for Maths. I simply couldn’t learn. I remember working really, really hard sometimes, but not being able to retain anything.  This now looks like something diagnosable but not then. It wasn't then.

But one of the constants was art class. I wasn’t very good at that either. I certainly couldn’t draw, unable to transfer the shapes of flowers or people into anything which looked like the shapes of flowers or people on the page. I’d eventually end up with a D at GCSE, having misguidedly decided to produce a landscape of roofs in the local area and with each individual slate and not having time to finish them all. In the twelve hours allotted.

Throughout that period the teacher took us on visits to Tate Liverpool. Glancing through the list of exhibitions, I’m now remembering greeting the work of Walter Sickert, Richard Long, Jasper Johns, Joseph Bueys, Francis Bacon and Alison Wilding, not whole shows but individual bold images, like Long’s massive stone installation in the gallery space which is now occupied by the shop and café.

None of it really made much of an impression. I still have my portfolio from the time, and amid the poorly realised scrawls based on Bacon’s paintings, are copies of comic art and a very strange three dimensional painting of the Beast's eyes from Disney's Beauty & The Beast. Goodness knows what the external markers thought of all that. No wonder they weren’t very sympathetic.

Luckily the school was relatively sympathetic. My plan had been to study English Literature, History and Art for A-Level. These were default selections. Without a facility with languages, and an abominable understanding of the sciences, no music to speak of, here I was. Some of the choice was also to do with keeping the same classes as school friends. For some reason.

In the event, I managed to write myself to B in English Language thanks to it being a hundred percent coursework but I wigged out on the History exam leaving D. I was allowed to stay on, but without History. Which left me in the small group of kids studying two A-Levels. In the event this turned out to be a good thing, sort of, but at the time, my university prospects looked precarious.

Sixth form starts and more of the same. Even without all the other subjects (of which there’d been six), I still couldn’t draw and still couldn’t retain information, something of a problem when faced with the mountain of English Literature piled up in front of me which included, Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Milton’s Paradise Lost IX & X, Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne’s metaphysical love poetry.

At which point the following things occurred. A couple of my English teachers took an interest. Still not sure why, but they really began to help with my work. Much of it, I now realise, was because I wasn’t just a precarious university candidate, I was a precarious candidate for continuing the school the following year. My grades needed to improve.

I’d be given extra practice assignments and somewhere in the middle of that I really began to enjoy the literature, even Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale despite facing it in old English. If there’s a source for my interest in Shakespeare, it’s here and especially Measure for Measure and reading around the subject, borrowing ancient literary criticism from the Central Library.

The grades for those essays improved to the point that I went from an F to a B not that it helped much in the end because once again, with just exams as the source of the final mark and my inability to do exams I rewarded myself and them with an N which was just above a U or Ungraded. But despite that, even if I don’t have a qualification in English Literature, this explains the need to add a qualification to my opening statement.

Simultaneously, my art teacher stepped in and thanks to him, Tate Liverpool. In April 1992, we attended the Tate for Myth–Making: Abstract Expressionist Painting From The Us (Pollock, Rothko and the like) and Working With Nature: Traditional Thought In Contemporary Art From Korea (U-Fan Lee, Kang-So Lee, those sorts of people) and my life changed.

Well, let’s not over state this. There’s still a video from the period of me reading out a copy of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual to my uninterested friends, but somewhere between Pollock’s dribbles and Kang-So Lee’s large brush marks, I suddenly understood what abstract art was about, or at least why artists produce work which doesn’t especially “look like something”.

The curator of the exhibitions, Lewis Biggs was cunning. Artists working on different sides of the political divide working in similar ways, in which the gesture and the implications of making that gesture, often after many hours of meditative thought, were just as important as what the piece would ultimately look like. These were all records of a performance.

My mind was blown. I remember being oh so very excited by Working With Nature from the first visit, despite the sneary attitude of my classmates and so much so my art teacher received permission for me to visit the exhibition on my own during school hours, which of course I could do because I wasn’t studying History and I duly went and simply sat in front of those works for hours just looking.

What was I looking at? Chang Sup-Chung worked in a substance called "tak", a pulped paper, which he spread across the paper in an subconscious state, wherever his hands took him. Tschang-Yeol Kim painted realistic water droplets on a bare canvas. U-Fan Lee produced long brush strokes in parallel across a canvas using the contents of a single brush full of paint.

That I can remember all of that from memory is a miracle, but also an indication of the effect this had on me. I can still smell the "tak", which was one of the few smells across the years which has been able to blot out the odour of Tate’s varnished flooring. Written down none of this sounds as exciting as it does in reality, but art is so often like that, which is why there are so few really good arts journalists.

The teacher also introduced me to collage, no need to draw now, and I spent pretty much the next year producing collages. Endless rectangles, pasting strips of paper to plastic sheeting from news headlines to photographs from women’s magazines to paper towels, left over work, dozens and dozens. I still have them somewhere. Some of them are interesting. Most of them aren’t, but the point was I was being creative, doing something.

And all of that cutting and pasting gave me time to think. About the music in the room, always Bob Dylan or Neil Young, about the English Literature, about life, about art, about everything, and while I didn’t change overnight, I began to think about perhaps watching Shakespeare plays I wasn’t studying, visiting exhibitions outside of school time, trying other types of music than the output of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and quickly realising I could do them all at the same time.

As you can see my art teacher also had a hand in this, encouraging my interest. But if Tate Liverpool hadn’t decided to display those works at that moment and I hadn’t been as enthusiastic about it as I was, the same things might not have occurred. The teacher had also booked us into workshops at the Tate, dragged us around Pop Art exhibitions in London. But none of them had been this effective.

As part of the A-Level course work, I had to write about these exhibitions and somehow, and I can’t remember how this happened either, this included visiting the Tate to interview Lewis Biggs. I remember there being a lot of glass and light in the office and Lewis being very polite to this bag of nerves with his list of questions and wondering if every student in Liverpool was interviewing him about this and how he found the time.

My final exam piece tried to find a middle ground between the two exhibitions and the work I’d been doing. Across the many hours allotted, fifteen this time, I created layers and layers of collage, loads of different materials. The top layer was the North Korean flag and then in the last hour I ripped a hole in it and placed a cardboard recreation of the yin-yang sign evoking the themes of both Tate’s exhibitions. Ended up with a B grade.

Which with my D in general studies was enough to get me to the Information Studies course at Leeds Metropolitan University. It wasn’t my first choice and goodness me if I had to do all of this again, perhaps with a different university advisor, a teacher who I’d known before the interview, I would have done a foundation course in Art and all of that, but my precarious university place was no longer precarious.

Tate Liverpool saved my life, then. Sort of. After university, during which I worked at the Henry Moore Institute which is Leeds’s Tate, I suppose, and wrote up what was probably the loosest dissertation topic in the history of that Information Studies course about art censorship, I became a Tate member, in the year it happened to be closed, which did at least mean I got to see the rebuilding work at first hand.

There’s no real end to this story other than the person writing this now. There’s a dozen other examples of cultural awakenings since then involving films and music and theatre and Douglas Adams, but I still believe that all of it can be traced back to the moment when I entered Working With Nature with its abstract images of a kind I’d never seen before and I began thinking and I haven’t stopped thinking since.


WHO 50: 1989:

TV A guest post from writer Mags L Halliday:

Survival should, probably, have been my last Doctor Who story. It was 1989 and I was at art college, living in a bedsit on a diet of jacket potatoes, and going to see American post-punk bands. My tv was a tiny black and white set with a hoop aerial and a dial you used to tune in manually. Presuming you'd put a 50p in the meter. Once a week, though, I'd head back to my parents for a real dinner and Doctor Who in colour.

I missed the first episode of season 26 in fact. Unsurprisingly arty shared houses did not buy tv listings magazines so I only realised after it was on. And my parents didn't have a video. By the time Survival aired, it felt like it was becoming time to put Who away in the box marked "childhood". Despite the season having contained two of my favourite stories, Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric, things like Hale and Pace and bad animatronic cats made me embarrassed.

Thematically, Survival is about conforming (or not) and working together to escape a doomed world (be that Perivale or the Cheetah planet). That chimed with me, as I partied with Anti-Fascist League members and protested the oncoming poll tax. In retrospect, Survival distilled the social and political tensions of the late 80s every bit as much as the more obvious The Happiness Patrol. But still...

Most fans think Survival has a melancholy air applied only afterwards, just as the Doctor's voice over at the end was dubbed on in edit. But for me that feeling was there as I watched it, and it chimed with my own feeling that something was coming to an end. Had there been another season in 1990, I suspect I wouldn't have watched it. My love of Who would have been boxed away along with my Bauhaus t-shirt.

Instead, I bought the first New Adventure. And Doctor Who became too broad and too deep for any TV set.

Mags is a contributor to Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who and Encounters of Sherlock Holmes: Brand new tales of the Great Detective, both out now. Her previous works include the Eighth Doctor novel History 101 (which I reviewed here) as well as for the Professor Bernice Summerfield and Faction Paradox spin-off ranges.

Jennifer Lawrence wears Dior.

"We went out to lunch and we started talking about dresses, he told me I should wear this one, and I said ok, and then I wore it."

Hand of Omega.

Horology The Financial Times reports that Omega watches are introducing a new innovation to their watch movements:
"After increases in recent times engendered by the introduction of new technologies such as the coaxial escapement and the silicon hairspring, the company’s latest innovation, a movement that is antimagnetic to a greater degree than has previously been achieved, will continue the pattern.

"The movement, based on Omega’s calibre 8500, its first proprietary coaxial movement, incorporates non-ferrous materials throughout to negate magnetic interference."
Essentially this is a watch which can be worn around things like MRI scanners without fault.

The Guardian's Notes & Queries on Hamlet's Kingship.

A reader asks: "How was it that King Hamlet's brother, Claudius, succeeded him to the throne when he died and not his son, Prince Hamlet?"

Many answers. The last one's probably the best because as with most of Shakespeare's plays and the best of fiction, it's the rules of the world of the play (and how a production interprets them) rather than our reality which are arguably of most importance.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
The Story So Far.

Art Since yesterday's visit to West Park Museum in Macclesfield might have been a surprise for some readers, I thought I'd re-post the links to previous visits. The explanation for why I've been doing this is in the first entry, for Southport's Atkinson Gallery.

Accrington - Haworth Art Gallery
Altrincham - Dunham Massey
Birkenhead - Williamson Art Gallery and Museum
Blackburn - Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery
Blackpool - Grundy Art Gallery
Bolton - Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium
Burnley - Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museums
Bury - Bury Art Gallery and Museum
Chester - Grosvenor Museum
Kendal - Abbot Hall Art Gallery
Lancaster - Lancaster City Museum and Ruskin Library, Lancaster University
Liverpool - Sudley House, Tate Liverpool, University of Liverpool Art Gallery and The Oratory
Macclesfield - West Park Museum
Manchester - Whitworth Art Gallery
Oldham - Oldham Art Gallery and Museum
Port Sunlight - Lady Lever Art Gallery
Preston - Harris Museum and Art Gallery
Rawtenstall - Rossendale Museum
Rochdale - Rochdale Art Gallery
Salford - Salford Museum and Art Gallery and The Lowry
Southport - Atkinson Art Gallery
Stalybridge - Astley Cheetham Art Gallery
Stockport - Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery
Warrington - Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Wigan - The History Shop

Which leaves ...

Carlisle - Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

Coniston - Brantwood and Ruskin Museum
Grasmere - Wordsworth and Grasmere Museum

Knutsford - Tabley House and Tatton Park
Liverpool - Walker Art Gallery
Manchester - Manchester City Art Gallery
Runcorn - Norton Priory Museum

There's actually less than I thought ...

Watching and listening to all of televised Doctor Who in order: The Second Doctor.


Who is the Secret Actor? #6

Theatre Secret's in generic mode again this week talking about other people in other places and lookatmeism.

Within she talks about a "Young Actor Pal" who could be anyone, attending a meal that has a very famous person hold forth who could also be anyone.  Without names or faces, I'm not sure what we're meant to draw from it other than that human beings walk around, breath, are sometimes arrogant and often have dinner, all at the same time.

It could just as well be that "Young Actor Pal" is Secret herself in which case she's using an anonymous fictional friend within an anonymous column for the purposes of an anecdote which makes her look clueless, but the philosophical implications of that would be enough for a whole series of Adam Curtis films.

So here's a parody of an Adam Curtis film about Adam Curtis's films:

Also today, The Guardian published this interview with casting directors which says more about the profession than the first six of Secret's columns.  Here's Doctor Who's casting director Andy Pryor on receiving presents:
"The worst," he says, "is when you get a card with a teabag in it, and the card is filled with glitter – so that when you open it, it goes all over you. They say, 'We just wanted to get your attention.' It's like, 'Yes you did. Now we've got to clean this shit up.'"
Pryor then goes on to admit that they have cast roles on the strength of unsolicited approaches. I wonder who.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
West Park Museum.

Art To Macclesfield. Those of you who’ve been following my travels around the public art collections in North-West England will have detected a fairly large gap since my last visit, Townley Hall in Burnley which I wrote up in January 2011 but actually happened a few months before. I hadn’t actually realised it had been this long, but life intervened, various Liverpool Biennials and the fact that most of the remaining venues are pretty difficult to approach without public transport. But along with all of the other projects I’ve had on the go, I’m going to try and complete this by the end of the year, weather, life and health permitting.

To Macclesfield and to West Park Museum, which in the end was more accessible than I expected, with a train from Liverpool changing at Manchester Picadilly and a short walk from the city centre to West Park where it’s inevitably situated. Macclesfield also boasts various exhibition centres and a Silk Museum which seems to be the key recommendation for most visitors to the town. But because of time and my ongoing adventures with this lingering cold, after a quick wander around the town centre I pretty much mostly concentrated on the museum. Which is fine. Given the distances I’ll be travelling to elsewhere, there won’t be much time to do much else there either.

I did manage to see two of the local sights:

In St. Michael's Church, the tomb of Sir John Savage the Fifth (d. 1492) who commanded the left wing of Henry Tudor's victorious army at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) and at the siege of Boulogne (says the accompanying information card).

Sarah Storey's gold post box for her fourth gold medal win in the Paralympic Road Women’s C5 Road Race, athough I've just had to look that up.  There are no plaques on site.  No words of explanation.

Edward Morris dedicates just two longish paragraphs to West Park Museum in his book each highlighting the institution’s main features. As he explains, this is another example of philanthropic curatorship, having been donated by the Brocklehursts, one of the wealthiest families in Macclesfield, who made their fortune from silk and banking. The endeavour was mainly spearheaded by Marianne Brocklehurst, who had amassed a relatively notable Egyptian collection after three expeditions there and she wanted somewhere for this to be displayed as well as parts of their art collection and various natural history curios collected by her husband.

A museum leaflet, researched by Luanne Collins to celebrate the centenary of the museum in 1998 suggests that the whole thing was quite scandal. Having selected an architect Purdon Clarge, the then deputy director of the South Kensington Museum in London, and approved of his design, for some reason the local town councillors took objection to it, and according to a letter to the local press, it was variously described in a meeting as looking like a “dog kennel”, “an abortion”, “a tool-house” and “a mortuary” though as Collins ponders, perhaps the plan they saw had been misinterpreted by the copyist. In the midst of these objections, Mrs Brocklehurst withdrew her offer.

Then four years later she quietly proposed the whole thing again, with the same plans, actually modelled on the interior of the South Gallery of the Whitworth in Manchester, and it was built and opened in October 1898. Mrs Brocklehurst sadly died just a few weeks after the opening and didn’t live to see the museum completed. Luanne Collins notes that arrangement of the museum was in the style of the time, every exhibit for itself, “Egyptian relics and the paintings would have been packed closely beside tropical beetles, models of Canadian settlements, ostrich eggs and a stuffed tiger.”

The floor plan is still somewhat within the spirit of this original structure. The fine art collection is predominantly overwhelmed by a particular artist, which I’ll return to, but amid that are still related natural history items and at the far back a walled off section displaying Mrs Brocklehurst’s Egyptian finds. It’s not unlike the Lady Lever Art Gallery in miniature. While I was there a small school class of infants aged children dropped in to inspect a single item, but I could imagine large groups spending an afternoon here investigating the whole display, perhaps seeking tangential connections.

The reason for my visit, the fine art collection, is essentially split between that single artist and everything else. When in 1974 Cheshire County Council took over management of the museum and began to develop a display of works by the Macclesfield born painter Charles Tunnicliffe, best known as a wildlife painter (most of that work on display at the Oriel Ynys Môn in Angelsey) but earlier in his life, the period predominantly covered by the West Park’s collection, he was interested in a much wider variety of subjects and it’s this display the visitor is confronted with on first entering the museum.

Although some of his later nature work is here, arguably the stronger works are the illustrative etchings and paintings of Macclesfield town centre. Of the former, he seems most comfortable reporting on rural life at a turning point, with some atmospheric images of life on the Sutton farm where he grew up and illustrations for Richard Church’s book Greenhide all of which reveals an almost surreal element of isolation, loss and destruction. One etching, of bell ringers in various states of repose and work within a shadowy stone space demonstrates perfectly how a group of men can be in the same room, relating to one another, yet still seem totally alone.

In some ways, in many ways, I prefer Tunnicliffe's town paintings to Lowry's. As the artist himself admits in the relation to his The Cattle Market, the architecture of the town is just as interesting to him as the people and he paints both with a richness of character. But unlike Lowry who was determined to force dour abstraction and desolation into his scenes, Tunnicliffe utilises an almost Mediterranean colour pallet to his scenes, which in its own way may be less realistic, but does a least focus on the positives, why someone would live in this town, albeit again in the transitional moments between rural and metropolitan.

Tunnicliffe was also attempting portraiture in this period. One of his strands was a collection of images of locals and on display is a head and shoulder portrait of a nameless local policeman, sternly regarding us from the space between where his helmet stops and his uniform begins. Painted in the 1920s, the cop is wearing a cape originally introduced in 1843 though it’s not made clear from the accompanying information if it was still a standard part of the uniform or whether Tunnicliffe was indulging in some municipal nostalgia. From the same period is a study of a Reclining Nude. This lacks any accompanying information.

Some highlights of the rest. As with most of these regional galleries, West Park has a Landseer, Interior of a Highland Byre, a milk girl and a rather startled looking cow. Mabel Layng’s A Seat in the Park is an impressionistic scene of two turn of the last century ladies gossiping on a bench as a handsome man reads his paper trying not give the impression of listening in. One of the women looks just ready to burst into laughter, an emotion the painter achieves with just a few brush strokes. Nearby is a landscape of Durham Cathedral, attributed to Edward Hastings, which is notable for putting its subject in the background, its towers almost hidden behind trees.

But my two favourite works from the collection are at the opposite corner, right at the back of the room. One is a panoramic painting of West Park itself on a summers day, in which the artist George Stewart captures the diversity of people who have utilised this green space, women in beautiful Victorian dresses with the working class playing ball games. The other is Nina Colmore’s The Panda, painted in 1935 featuring the animal almost submerged in a grey background which is accompanied nearby by a stuffed Panda which Mr Brocklehurst shot himself one of his hunting trips. Colmore’s painting show that there are other means of demonstrating their majesty.

The curatorial assistant on duty this afternoon was extremely helpful, introducing me to the Egyptian collection, noting that it’s one of quality rather than quantity. He showed me in a catalogue investigating the museum’s shabti collections (The Shabti Collections by Glen James) two paintings by Mrs Brocklehurst of her digs, which are currently on loan abroad because of the accuracy with which they depict one of the digs, unafraid to show the local labour involved in shifting the sarcophaguses across country. Should these be part of the fine art or archaeological parts of the collection? West Park is one of those museums where these distinctions are blurrier than ever.


Technology  To China and a selection of photos of a new invention best explained by the first caption:
"Liu Tie'erlooks at a wheelchair he invented in a workshop in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, May 6, 2013. Liu Tie'er, a 71-year-old local resident, invented a wheelchair capable of climbing stairs in an effort to help his disabled wife and many more who are in need."
There are a variety of designs to suit every occasion.

Doctor Who confirmed for eighth season.

TV Surprising a few of us, Doctor Who has finally been confirmed for an eighth season and another Christmas special with Steven, Matt and Jenna a lock.

 Whether that means Christmas 2013 or 2014, I'm a bit confused about but at least there's some forward direction on this, even if also we don't actually know when it'll be broadcast.

 I've seen reports of Autumn 2014, which seems a looong way off.

 My hunch is it's one of the reason Merlin's left us -- to allow Who to finally have a full thirteen weeks in Fall and Winter because frankly I think we'd all be a bit cheesed if it was another split season across the closing of the year, because if it was another split season across the closing of the year that would mean we're been reduced to having one full run of episodes every two years in real terms.

 Which, yes, I know is more than was broadcast in the 90s but still looks a bit pokey for what's supposed to be one of the BBC's flagship dramas.

Anyway, to celebrate BBC America have uploaded the moment from The Name of the Doctor with all the Doctors so we can enjoy Murray Gold's vague cover version of the Field of Dreams piano theme once more:

"People will come Doctor, they'll come to Trenzalore and they won't know why..."

Coal Hill.

Nature Wow, this is grim.  From an ABC News affiliate in Arkansas:
"In recent months our Seven-On-Your-Side office got several complaints that we had never heard before.

People were voluntarily giving their horses to what they believed would be a "forever home," only to now have serious second thoughts about the wisdom of their decision.

We went to Johnson County... where these horses should be living out their days.

The real story is not what we found...but what we failed to find.

We didn't find a lush 60 acres. We didn't find plenty of hay. And most importantly...we didn't find any of the horses in question."
I think you can tell that this doesn't end well.  Poor horses.

The Name of the Doctor.

TV Where do we start? Let’s start with Alien Bodies. Alien Bodies is an Eighth Doctor novel by Lawrence Miles. I’m about to spoil the book so if you haven’t read it and have any intention, I’d shift your gaze downwards five paragraphs. As you know, or you will by the end of this sentence, Alien Bodies is about the Doctor attending an intergalactic auction with its single lot of a relic containing his final remains. As with The Name of the Doctor it’s a very funerary piece of work that’s also extremely funny and ultimately changes our view of the character because it gives him a finite end albeit one that’s presumed to be very far in the future.

Like The Name of the Doctor it also references a Time War, one which is revealed in future novels to include the destruction of Gallifrey, an act which actually negates Alien Bodies from happening in the same way because it stops the Doctor’s relics from existing in quite the that form. Part of the story arc involves an alternative version of the Time Lord, the Grandfather Paradox, who has a coincidental resemblance to the Ninth Doctor, but whose actions in actively continuing the war are what the Eighth Doctor is fighting against when he destroys his own planet (as it turns out for the first time).

Why that’s interesting in the context of The Name of the Doctor, is that it too features an alternative version of the Time Lord, the one, we must assume now, who destroyed Gallifrey, and because as we know now he can't be an old version of Eighth or Ninth (see far below), absolves them of the action in quite the way it’s been portrayed over the past eight years on television and in some of the books. In AHistory, Lance Parkin makes a pretty good argument for both destructions of Gallifrey being the same space-time event seen from different points of view, that perhaps the Grandfather Paradox regenerated into the Ninth Doctor.

Even now the climax makes me giggle. Not since The Stolen Earth's surprise regeneration have we had a conclusion this “sexy”  and so much metafictionally about the language of tv though in this case it’s one based on we the audience finding out a piece of information rather than something particularly happening to the Doctor who knew about this all along. The fact that John Hurt is somehow playing the Doctor has been heavily spoilt in advanced already, thanks to a tasty set photo ala those early shots of Rose from Partners in Crime and the words coming out of John Hurt's own mouth. It’s the somehow which is interesting (again see below).

Was Alien Bodies and its ensuing arc in the novels rattling around Steven Moffat’s head when writing this series of Doctor Who? Let’s look at the evidence. As I noticed in 2008 when coincidentally reviewing The Forest of Dead (of which this is a semi-sequel), Moffat was an avid reader of the books including the Lawrence Miles material. Alien Bodies also includes the concept of the Doctor’s then companion Sam having alternative versions and in the Time/Space sketches, the Doctor talks about the TARDIS entering “conceptual space”, a Lawrence Miles invention from Alien Bodies (see this review of that here). So if you want to infer all of this, you can.

But and this is a big but, designed especially for those of you who skipped the past five paragraphs (hello again!), The Name of the Doctor is one of those episodes. A glance at the TARDIS Datacore page for it shows that like similar season finales, and more-so thanks to it being an anniversary year, narrative stuff from across the franchise’s half century of existence, and although most of it’s on the nose animated gifs and wav files, some of the underlying html, java and python is notable for those of us who spend more time than we should pouring over Lance Parkin’s AHistory, TARDIS Datacore pages and other reference “works”.  See also something Paul Magrs has noticed from his own work.

Did I enjoy it? Yes! Is it any good? Well … I suppose having said all of the above it depends what you want from Doctor Who. To be fair to the show, a few episodes this series have returned to first principles with bases under siege and alien invasions, but there is a point where you have to show more of the Doctor on his adventures saving all of those lives rather than of the Doctor chasing his own tail or indeed tale. Partly the current approach is as a result of this being the 50th anniversary and wanting to respect that past and introducing something new, or at least reveal something new about something in those fifty years.

But (small but this time) I do hope once the 50th is over and the eighth series begins, whenever the hell that’s going to be, though it’s good that we know finally that it is going to be, that we’ll have another brand spanking approach, that the story arc isn’t about the Doctor or the companion or a mix of the two, ending in another paradoxical situation of some form or other related to same existing or not existing or revealing something which is/was already in plain sight. We’ve done that and it’s been thrilling. It's thrilling here, but now even I’m asking for something else. Across a whole series of thirteen episodes because the split season thing isn’t working.

Right, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, what about The Name of the Doctor? What about The Name of the Doctor? Like I said, I loved it. Even though it does have roughly the same structure as The Pandorica Opens, The Wedding of River Song and The Angels Take Manhattan, of the Doctor receiving a message which forces him to confront that which he should never confront which is ultimately resolved by messing about in his own time stream, like the other older standards, it’s how that’s deployed what really matters and this is an excellent example largely because we like spending time with the characters.

If Clara (more on whom later) still seems a bit consistent in relation to how confident she’s supposed to be, which isn’t to criticise Jenna’s playing which has exponentially improved across the season, especially her comic timing, Strax, Jenny and Vastra will remain, like Jackie, Donna and Wilf in Russell’s era, his greatest creation and he clearly loves writing for them, notably Strax, whose line “Surrender your women and intellectuals!” will become the quote we all secretly wish would be put on the posters, t-shirts and badges even though we know that by implication it’s really, really wrong.

Does The Name of the Doctor ruin The Forest of the Dead?  No more than everything else which has been inserted into Professor River Song's backstory.  The Silence in the Library and its following episode were always stronger when River was a mystery, someone in the Doctor's future.  I remember watching the story on the afternoon before the broadcast of A Good Man Goes To War, knowing that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it in quite the same way again.  Taking into account my previous comments, she'll also be back despite what happens here; the Doctor still has to pass to her his sonic screwdriver, take her on her final trip in the TARDIS, the dramatic possibilities of which Moffat is unlikely to ignore (even if the fact Clara didn't recognise her rules her out of the being the person who gave Clara the Doctor's phone number).

His handling of the Doctor is also really strong. Having built him up, as usual, as the great, fearful mythic god like figure, he’s shown entirely outwitted (apparently) by teenagers and a blindfold. When he’s confronted with his greatest fear, his first thought is to ask Jenny, who last he’s heard is dead, if she's ok. Whether that is Moffat or “business worked out in the rehearsals” (which judging by the production subtitles on the classic dvds how the entire Troughton era was thrown together) (“The scripted line was…”) it’s an attention to detail which hasn’t recently been deployed that often. Jenny was kind to him. Saved his life. Now she’s under his protection.

Moffat's handling of the Doctor’s darkness is equally muscular. Notice how, when listing his vanquished, those bathed in blood, Solomon the Trader is included. Remember how annoyed some of us were about his death, how it seemed to be in cold blood, how it was somehow, along with his approach in A Town Called Mercy, an indication of there being something wrong with him. Well, Mr G Intelligence seems to be suggesting here that it’s just him. That’s just the way he his. He’s The (Oncoming) Storm, The Beast, The Valeyard. Even in these earlier incarnations he’s capable of the inhuman, the morally ambiguous. Unless you’re under his protection.

None of which should really be a surprise. We all like to hold him up, largely because most of the time that’s how the franchise tends to portray him, as a white-hatted figure, Roy Rogers. But he’s The Man With No Name, or man with a name though not even, really a man. In comics terms, his publicist might portray him as Superman, but really he’s The Batman. Which when glancing back at my review of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, makes me feel rather foolish. Nothing happened between seasons as I suggested there. Moffat’s saying he’s just like that. The Doctor, can be, and often is a shit. He’ll still brain you with a rock if you’re in the way.

Much of this is the Great Intelligence’s own moral justification for his upcoming actions, gutturally spit out in one of REG’s best ever performances (and if only he’d played the Shalka Doctor with this conviction) (not that it would have mattered in the grand scheme of things but at least it would have made it a bit more watchable) (perhaps he’ll do it again for the dvd as a special feature) but I suppose the retrospective point being made about Solomon and the Dominators and all the other human looking people he’s exploded is that they’re all monsters even if they look like the people he’s usually defending.

Trenzalore.  Remember back in The Wedding of River Song when the descriptions of what would happen here gestured towards the epic?  Again we're in "arguable" territory.  Arguably Silence did fall when the question was asked.  Or rather time imploded in on itself when the GI entered the Doctor's time stream causing a cataclysm big enough to destroy the universe.  It's interesting there were no specific callbacks or explanations, apart from a mention of poor old Dorium.  But it is another example of Moffat's slightly woolly approach to story arcs which assumes we've forgotten why things are happening anyway.

Now then Clara. In my review of The Snowmen I pondered, “it is still possible that she is fragments of the same figure blown across time Scaroth like?”, to which the answer is yes, yes it is. Of course everything else I said in ensuing paragraphs is utter bollocks and most of the speculation from the past seven reviews, but I was in fairly early. Like Scaroth from City of Death, she’s blasted across time with a goal, her goal being to save the Doctor. A lot. Through a method which makes about as much sense as Amy Pond remembering a whole universe plus Time Lord and TARDIS back into existence, Clarke’s Third Law in full effect.

How are these adventures supposed to play out? Does the Great Intelligence arrive at all points in the Doctor’s timeline inserting himself into all of his adventures at some point forcing them to go wrong, helping the Drahvins to invade the Rill’s ship, manufacturing more evidence of the Doctor’s guilt in Cranleigh Halt and buying Chloe Webber a Costco sized batch of crayons before one of Drahvins suddenly realises she doesn’t need to take orders and sabotages their ship, one of the flappers in the hall happens to witness the Doctor edging out of the hidden passages or as a teacher buys out all of Costco’s crayons for her school’s Olympic art competition?

Are we supposed to now watch Doctor Who on the assumption that every coincidental piece of luck and continuity error might not just be due to the Time War, the Faction Paradox or the cracks in time, but on a more human level, one of Clara’s aspects keeping an eye on the Time Lord? If that’s the case, no wonder the TARDIS took a dislike to her. While she’s taking the Doctor where he needs to go, Clara’s already there to help out, unseen in the background. She’s a benevolent version of Mila from the dying embers of the Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard audios, at which point I refer to the comments I made some paragraphs ago.

Except there’s an inconsistency. When Clara appears in all of these eras, “Doctor?” she asks. “Doctor?” Except as per her three appearances in the series, these fragments, recreations, whatever, don’t know who he is initially, he has to explain to them anew each time. They don’t have his name. Yet here they are peering at him in his literal cliffhanger from Dragonfire entirely recognising who he is despite his predicament and it has to be the same set of events because this is an ontological paradox. Clara wouldn’t be there if the Doctor hadn’t found her intriguing enough in her other versions to have her as his companion/assistant until he worked out who she is/was/will be.

The rendering of Claras appearances through time should be squee inducing but there’s no way of getting past how these don’t quite work. For one thing, the merging of Jenna with the old footage simply doesn’t match in most shots, often cutting between 80s video and 10s HD, or between actual footage and stand-ins running at a different pace. Much of it looks like a poor cousin of similar YouTube experiments and indeed many people on Twitter noted afterwards that they should have asked “the Babelcolour guy” Stuart Humphreys to have done the colourisations, especially since he’s apparently achieved magic on The Mind of Evil restoration.

The lack of accomplishment in these scenes was illuminated still further last night during the Eurovision Song Contest, when presenter Petra Mede was also merged seamlessly into a similar variety of footage in various states of restoration from the history of that franchise, with the ABBA footage a particular success thanks to the engineer noticing the halo effects on the tape and replicating that in Mede’s appearance. Perhaps if the Gallifrey footage had appeared in black and white retaining the mis-en-scene of the era we might not have been pulled out of it quite so much. Perhaps if Jenna had been acting opposite David Bradley instead.

Which is a shame because Clara’s costumes are well chosen to evoke their given era, especially in the case of the Seventh Doctor era in which they recreated almost companion Ray from Delta and the Bannermen’s threads to the nearest stud. Some doubling up across Doctors, and what looks like Emma’s jumper from Hide. Incidentally I’m not sure where all this leaves the Doctor’s remark about Clara’s dress being a little bit “too” tight from last week. I generally didn’t notice it but friends have thought it a bit creepy. I’m still not sure especially having watched how the Doctor talks to Liz in Spearhead from Space earlier which is very in period, my dear, my girl.  Such a man's man.

The use of stand-ins works much better later in the episode, running through the Doctor’s essence in their various costumes, the First Doctor version looking not unlike Richard Hurndall version anyway. The Eighth Doctor is here too briefly, twice, with his velvet jacket. Say what you like about the JNT costumes, at least they’re immediately recognisable. Notice how the Tenth Doctor isn’t much here, saving his cameo presumably for the 50th. Will he be the Time Lord? Will he be the human version from the alternative universe (my hunch?). Still plenty of time to go until we find out.

Woody Allen says, though I’m paraphrasing, that he has a perfect version of each of his films in his head beforehand and what we receive his failed attempt at recreating that. All of my writing is like that and this review in particular, due to my cold, so thanks for keeping with it. Sometimes these things need to be written simply so that they're not in my head and the idea of waiting another few days until my head cleared was unbearable. Who knows what last night’s version would have been like. If I wasn’t perpetually knackered and coughing. If Eurovision hadn’t been on. If this hadn’t been the season finale but just episode eight.

Glancing back across these thirteen odd episodes, has the whole thing been the creative failure some have suggested? Well, no, at least not more or less than most previous seasons in the show’s history. Always remember: between The Sensorites came between The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror. The Twin Dilemma happened after The Caves of Androzani. The Curse of the Black Spot segwayed into The Doctor’s Wife. Even The Name of the Doctor brings some sense to a couple of its weaker instalments, metaphysically recreating the leaf from Akhaten and repairing a reset button, making it clear the Doctor remembered the Journey all along.

It’s still never less than watchable. Mostly. It’s still Doctor Who. The Snowmen’s still a triumph, closely followed by Hide and The Crimson Horror. Asylum of the Daleks could have been a classic if we’d been able to see more of the older models instead of having to squint (notice the parallel with The Name of the Doctor which brought us some their foes older models at the other end of the season). The Power of Three is excellent up until the final moments when Berkoff’s boredom unbalances everything. The Angels Take Manhattan falls apart under the weight of its own existence. Nightmare in Silver is the catastophic failure of the year. Oh well.

For one final time, cue speculation, or rather repeated speculation.  John Hurt’s Doctor. As I said earlier he can’t be the older Eighth Doctor because the stand in version dashed past the prone Clara or some older Ninth Doctor for the same reason which ruins my old theory, so he has to be some interstitial incarnation, the one who destroyed Gallifrey and ended the Time War, the one who had “the moment” in The End of Time, which is both very exciting indeed and disappointing because it presumably removes the Eighth Doctor’s notional cameo from the same story. Let’s hope he’s back for the 50th to make up for it. Paul’s apparently just gone and got a new sonic screwdriver from Weta ...

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