Books Here we are then, the Puffin Eighth Doctor eBook, Spore by Alex Scarrow and it’s, well it’s, well it is what it is. It’s as Scarrow suggested it would be in the preview interview, an intellectual exercise in writing a Doctor Who short story about an incarnation that as far as the author’s concerned the public barely know anything about despite nine plus years of books, audios and comics (even though he’s apparently heard some of the Big Finish). Which sounds like a mean spirited way to start writing about what is a relatively short piece of writing, but like so many of these anniversary stories, it’s a missed opportunity.

The story is fine. It’ll be easiest if I quote it from the publicity: “In a small town in the Nevada desert, an alien pathogen has reduced the entire population to a seething mass of black slime. When the Eighth Doctor arrives, he realises this latest threat to humanity is horrifyingly familiar – it is a virus which almost annihilated his entire race, the Time Lords...” Scarrow has in mind some b-movie thrills on a Hollywood budget, in other words Outbreak, with the Lovecraftian elegancy of The Fog and given the character’s origins, to go big does sort of makes sense if the idea is to evoke the era even if as far as Scarrow’s concerned the character doesn’t really have one.

As the story progresses there is some really quite horrific business as to the implications of the pathogen work themselves out and the sense of hopelessness when one is faced with something outside of your control without an answer as to what it is. In that sense, this is the bleakest of all the plays and has a one-off companion to suit. With Captain Evelyn Chan, one of the team who’s been sent in to survey the problem, we have a figure who seems purposefully unheroic, who only exists to do the things human beings tend to do in extraordinary circumstances, panic and ask questions, lots and lots of questions.

If there’s a hole in the middle and think you know what I’m about to say, it’s where the Eighth Doctor should be. Now, the Eighth Doctor isn’t easy. In the olden days, for every Lance Parkin or Paul Magrs getting him right, there were countless others throwing together a generic Doctor hoping against hope that the reader wouldn’t notice. I do think Scarrow tries, but if this had another Doctor’s silhouette on the cover, I might have thought it was a bit off, but I wouldn’t necessarily have argued. There’s nothing to say McGann couldn’t say these lines, it’s just that the lines don’t sound like were written for him.

In other words, for the first prose Eighth Doctor story in a few years, we have a fairly generic Doctor walking through a fairly generic story. I didn't not like it but ... which is the worst thing you can say about anything.  That’s a shame. There is one moment which might have had some impact if it hadn’t also essentially appeared in the last television series, though to be fair that does have a different and rather good pay-off even if the ensuing scenes don’t really ring true and don’t sound like something the Eighth Doctor would say at all. At least I don’t think so. But since the Logopolis Tom seems like he’d pretty much hate Robot Tom, it’s also worth nothing that characters change.

What would I have liked? Well, for a story published as part of an anniversary, something that acknowledges the character’s history written by someone who’s clearly a fan. It needn’t be full of back references, this is aimed at a younger audience after all, but it could still have been some sort of celebration in the same way the Third Doctor story, Marcus Sedgewick’s The Spear Of Destiny was. I’m guessing Alan Barnes’s the Destiny of the Doctor instalment is just that and I can’t wait to hear that when I reach that point in my #whowatch. Until then, roll on the Ninth Doctor and the news of whoever’s writing that.

WHO 50: 2002:
Death Comes To Time.

TV Older fans of Doctor Who always seem to have war stories about episodes missed, stories for which they’d only know the conclusion after reading the TARGET novelisation or even watching it in some home format sought illicitly. Usually this was due to some family holiday, birthday party at an ITV watching household or power cuts, at a time when the show, at least in its complete form, would be shown once. So if you missed episode four of The Art in Space, you’d have little to no idea of how the Wrrn were defeated.

Death Comes To Time was my version of that. Still is, and moreso since I’ve never seen or heard the conclusion. When it first began streaming online, I was still accessing the internet via a very shaky dial-up connection via a telephone line I only had limited access to due to the vagaries of BT’s surftime package, but I still managed to work my way through the pilot episode, the one originally created for broadcast in Radio 4 by producer Dan Freedman even though it was pretty clear, pretty quickly, the commissioners didn’t want it despite the cast and format.

It’s fair to say, having just heard Storm Warning, my appreciation levels were low. This might have been called Doctor Who and had actual Doctor Who actors in it, most of the time it felt like the work of someone who’d fundamentally misunderstood what the show was about, or worse, was simply rewriting the thing to bend it around some other idea they’d had. Plus, as I noted when I sent a comment to the BBC’s website about the thing, what was the point now that Big Finish were already creating such wonderful things? Why hadn’t they been commissioned? They were later.

That was in July 2001. By 2002, the website had commissioned Freedman to complete his story and that was uploaded between February and May 2002. I didn’t listen. Having been unimpressed with the pilot and now full ensconced in the Eighth Doctor stories from Big Finish, plus working in Manchester so with even less free time due to commuting, somewhere along the line, rather like Neil Cross's attitude to nuWho at the start it seems (see this month's DWM), it fell to the bottom of my list of priorities. It doesn’t seem to have even ranked a mention this blog though oddly, I did post a link to it on Metafilter, more as a service than anything.

All of which is of course different to Terror of the Zygons, which until recently was the only televised story I hadn’t seen. I’d missed that first time around because I was only a one year old and not really interested in anything more than long periods of eerie silence, I hear, designed to frighten the life out of my parents, along with the usual baby stuff. I didn’t know what language was let alone that it could be bent around to create exciting adventures around Scottish lochs. I’d always wanted to see Terror of the Zygons but kept putting it off. Death Comes To Time is entirely dissimilar.

At a certain point, I remember thinking I’d come back to it, but unlike the other subsequent webcasts it was fairly quickly removed from the website and expunged from history, so I missed that window. Subsequent CD and MP3-CD releases (remember them?) passed me by too due to the expense. Part of me was, I think, gripped by that strange fan anger and loyalty that with Big Finish creating such authentic material, I didn’t want to support "whoever these people were with their distorted garbage".

Just as a side note, I wasn’t the only one purposefully not listening to Death Comes to Time. When Real Time, Big Finish’s attempt at a webcast was released later that same year, its writer director, one Gary Russell, gave a very diplomatic interview in which he admits to also only having heard the pilot episode for reasons of then not being able to comment on them either way. But he did hear the pilot episode, so he must have had some opinion of it. He doesn’t give it. Instead he talks about how it simply let him see how the animation was done (with due notation that he's less diplomatic in this month's DWM).

Ten years later, I’ve a cooler head about it, but it still doesn’t mean I’d want to hear it. I quite like the idea that, as with the older fans who for ages only had the Radio Times 10th Anniversary special and their imaginations as a way of accessing some of the older stories, that I only have the fragment I’ve picked up from reviews and Ahistory (which makes a broad attempt at trying to fit it into continuity), with their outlandish talk of Ace becoming some higher being, the Brigadier flying a space shuttle and the Doctor making some supreme sacrifice.

None of which really makes much sense when I’ve sat through all six episodes of The Ghosts of N-Space, another cautionary tale from the spin-off universe that’s even worse than Timelash, which did at least have Paul Darrow. Perhaps I do still have some deep seated, sub-conscious anger that anyone could even think about creating a Doctor Who continuation that disregards the many years of other continuity created in the meantime culminating the crime of apparently trying to write the Eighth Doctor out of existence.

Perhaps at some point I will, perhaps, if I see it randomly on sale in some charity shop or cheaper than the usual thirty pounds on ebay. In theory I should do it as part of my attempt to watch and listen to all of broadcast Doctor Who before the 50th anniversary, which will (time permitting) no doubt take in Real Time, Shada and Scream of the Shalka, especially since the latter is meriting a dvd release. I’ll be “doing” Dimensions in Time and The Curse of the Fatal Death as well, for goodness sake. Death Comes To Time? Death comes to sense, more like…


Games H2G2 has a suitably impressive, if slightly ancient (1999, updated 2008) entry on Tiddlywinks:
"Like so many sports and games, tiddlywinks was transformed from child's play to competition by the British Establishment - in this case, at Cambridge University in the 1950s. The key elements in adding depth to the game were the standardisation of the pieces and playing surface, the development of a points scoring system, and giving the game a defensive element. The resulting game has been compared to a cross between chess and pool, with a 3-D element thrown in."
Also, from The Guardian archives: 5 January 1961: Peter Downes, tiddlywinks tycoon.

The Time Vortex.

TV Tonight I was watching Aaron Sorkin's really rather good The Newsroom and noticing that he was essentially still writing the same old characters (Don really is Josh isn't he?) and on reaching the Blackout episode was greeted with this scene which has the odd spoiler for if you haven't seen the series. Keeping in mind the events of recent months and especially the last few days, see if you can spot the moment when I started braying "Fuck Off!" at the screen. A lot.

That episode was broadcast almost exactly one year before the thing we both know I'm talking about but for which I'm not using the actual words because I'm as paranoid as Leo is in this clip. I mean Charlie. Though not that Charlie, obviously. Sorkin likes to reuse character names too it seems.

Anyway people who haven't been as preoccupied as me, did we already know this was happening and what was published since is simply an expression of it being deeper than we thought and that was what was so shocking or is this just some weird coincidence and art's become reality? Is that why more hasn't been made about this? I don't know. But there's also the wording. The ana, sorry, the person making the speech's justification is hilariously similar too.

On Heat.

Music Heat Radio's interview with MKS. Asks them about the toilet in Japan, which let's face it was fifteen years ago. Spends some of its duration trying to grasp how close they are now and what they think of other bands and whether they even like Sugababes 4.0. It's interesting to note how people's relationships with each other do change. Compare what Siobhan said in that Ponystep interview in 2009 with this reality and the current attitude and there's been some obvious sharing of information about that time and what sounds like a proper reconciliation.  Which is good.

Billy Zane.

Music On the other hand, there's Avril Lavigne's new video ...

... which only really makes sense if you read British comics in the 1980s and 90s, watched The Wonder Years and are a supporter of pissing off Guns N Roses fans. For all that it's majestic and shows a real resurgence in Team Lavigne. Also if this had Doctor Who dvd style production subtitles on it, at a certain point they'd say, "Danica McKellar is also one of the only actresses to appear in a video for both Avril Lavigne and Debbie Gibson"

Yes, I know.

The Space live streaming The Globe’s open-air battlefield performance of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays.

I think it's worth a big long title. I've been sent this email/press release:
We thought you might be interested to know that The Space will be live streaming The Globe’s open-air battlefield performance of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays from Monken Hadley Common, near Barnet, between midday and 10pm on Saturday 24 August, 2013.

The Space will present the live event from multiple different viewpoints and aerial cameras will also capture the stage, audience and landscape from above. The live stream will be complemented with an innovative digital programme which will give audiences access to all the information available to the playgoer. After the live broadcast, edited films will become available.

Tune in to http://thespace.org on Saturday - and we would be very grateful if you could tell your followers and readers about this. We will be posting more information on our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I’ve attached the press release for more information but let me know if you need anything else.
I've emailed to ask how long the edited versions will be on the website.

"What Makes A Box-Office Hit?"

Film The Media History Digital Archive collects together related link to the Internet Archive, specifically issues of ancient film and movie journals and magazines. There's far more than any human being could read in a lifetime, but worth bookmarking if you're looking for contemporary material related to films that have fallen into relative obscurity, like the amazing collection currently screening on BBC Two during the early weekend mornings.

Amongst the treasures is this collection of 1947 issues of Cinema Magazine which have hidden within columns by Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau, a set visit to The Treature of the Sierra Madre and short pieces catching first sight of the avant-guard and British Film Society Movement.

 But its all introduced with a fascinating article, "What makes A Box-Office Hit?" in which various luminaries answer the question. Here's what Terry Ramsaye, the critic and editor of the Motion Picture Herald has to say on the subject. I'll quote it in full to save you from having to look for it:
"The picture which is to be a box office hit will in important degree serve an audience of persons of both principal sexes in the age bracket between the later teens and earlier twenties. It will supply them with some basic satisfactions through vicarious experience, and with some eagerly sought information on the processes of loving and living. In that sense, and that chiefly, the motion picture of the entertainment screen is educational. That is enough, and all the customers want.

"No matter what the top-lofty persiflage and dressing of the merchandise may profess, the hit picture must be concerned with the service of human concerns which arise from sensory mechanisms and controls south of the navel, all done with both decor and decorum but with precise accuracy. That is decent, proper, fitting. No discoverable challenges to thought or intellectual processes may be profitably involved. Psychology is nothing, physiology is everything. That is because intellectual capacities and interest in abstractions, even though slight, are rare indeed, while nearly all of the customers have acute biological interests and attributes. The motion picture is far too expensive for the service of the minds of the few, while the instincts of the many are yearning. That is not at all deprecatory, but plain business sense — economic determinism is the word for it. The pabulum delivered on the screen is properly to be as elaborately decorated as the bridge club's luncheon salad, or the wedding cake, but the stuff inside must be the time proved McCoy. It is proved because it is both right and correct. That is inevitable because the typical human organism, which is to say the customer, is born so soon and dies so young, having commonly little capacity and never ever time enough for concerns much beyond the requirements of the re-production cycle.

"The hit picture must achieve the indicated approach despite the frosting on the cake, by simple devices of narration. The bad characters must be bad, the good must be good. The writing is to be done in black and white, even if the rendition is in color. It is almost impossible to make the picture too simple, or too obvious, and that is most proper. The persons of that great buying-power-majority do not go to the theatre to reflect and study, to concern themselves with anything save their immediate personal interests, which are even more plainly defined by the content of the newspapers' cartoon pages.

"All this is normal, healthy, adequate. A picture which adequately and gracefully serves the indicated audience and its wishes is a genuine work of art. The best producers do it that way with conscious skill, or, in some instances, with unconscious skill. Anyway it is skill.

"If you would rather read a book and dream your own pictures, that's your business. Pictures are made for customers and they have the authority."
Isn't that something?  Not much has changed in sixty-five years and however apparently more sophisticated "blockbusters" are, the result tends to be the same.  The point about them being "educational" is interesting though I think in this context it simply means "experiencing something new" rather than to actually learn something.

October, 1930.

Culture The Circus Scrap Book was an American publication that collected together old articles and newspaper clippings about big top entertainment. The contents of these are in turn being digitised by the Circus Historical Society and that includes the October 1930 issue which has a short profile of Linda Jeal, popularly known as "The Queen of the Flaming Zone".  She worked for PT Barnham and fell foul of his sensibilities:
"During the early days with the Barnum show, my costume was the subject of a controversy which would today be regarded as ridiculous. The display in public of one's limbs in those mid-Victorian days drew down upon the innocent offender all sorts of censure. We had not yet gotten over the excitement caused by the "Black Crook" and the "British Blondes," who, although severely criticized, drew liberally at the box office.

"Of course the requirements of my hurdle act would not permit me to use any but a specially designed riding costume. Because of the danger of fire, gauze, lace and ribbons were barred. I had to dress for the act as short and as close to the figure as possible. So I designed a neat, tight-fitting, jockey costume. In these days it would not be considered immodest. But in some localities at that time the ladies plainly showed their disapproval.

"It was Mr. Barnum's custom to have the women performers of his show come into the pad room before appearing in the ring to pass judgment on the costume. This was 1879. He expressed satisfaction with them all until he came to me.

" 'Miss Jeal,' said Mr. Barnum, 'you are the only one I find fault with. Your costume is a little too short. Some of the women criticize it severely and you know I have to study my public.' I wonder what Mr. Barnum would say if he could see the costumes the women of today have been wearing on and off the stage."


Music Rubbish. Rubbish. Boring. Rubbish. Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! Fellini! Amazing! Magic hour. End. Which is a needlessly critically mixed response to the Flatline video, especially since when these three were recording as the Sugababes, the promos were always simplistic. Overload saw the three of them singing into camera in a white void (insert Whole Again reference here). New Year was roughly the same but with pastel colours and bits of line drawing. Run for Cover was living rooms and couches and streets and alleyways just as this is beaches and deserts. Soul Sound was a plushly furnished flat in a state of recursive occlusion.

The problem, I suppose, is that which afflicts many amazing songs, that the video rarely lives up to them.  The intention was perhaps that the whole thing look like it'd been shot on an iPhone with an Instagram filter switched on, in which case it succeeds at that, and there is a sense that anything "flashier" than this would be wrong too.  Does it succeed in selling the song?  Not as well as the lyric video but the song sells itself anyway pretty much.  I expect there's more to it than what's actually on the surface in terms of creative choices.  In this, the comments underneath the YouTube upload are instructive and surprisingly rational particularly this from MarkehJLL:
"Guys, they're three women in their late 20's who are trying to make a comeback under a completely different name from the one that they're famous for. I doubt their record label was willing to pay for a full-on expensive music video. I personally prefer this to some music video shot in a studio because it seems more authentic, just like their music."
It's shot and directed by photographer KT Auleta which would to some extent explain the aesthetic too.  Plus it's the exact opposite of this, and that has to be a good thing.

Updated Later. Here's something which might explain something about this video. There are surface similarities with the promo for the Sugababes's single About a Girl:

Apart from the leathery fashions, it looks like the desert scenes were shot in the same location and there's a car. But to an extent it's almost as though the director of the Flatline video set out to create almost anti-matter version of this, with deliberately verite shooting and editing, no obviously choreographed dance numbers, sort of thrown together rather than slickly directed and where the About a Girl has guns and violence, Flatline has a marching band. Just make things even more interesting, the wikipedia notices this:
""About a Girl" is the first single to feature vocals by band member Jade Ewen, following the departure of Keisha Buchanan in September 2009."
In other words, is there some subliminal symbolism at work here. Is Flatline, the The Shining of pop videos?

Updated Even Later.  PopJustice has posted their verdict:
"Mutya Keisha Siobhan’s ‘Flatline’ is a sad song about the end of a relationship wrapped up in a pretty melody. Siobhan’s first verse is about a drunken argument and the chorus is about a relationship dying, before Mutya sings about the fact that even crying through all the pain won’t make it right during the second verse.
"All this makes the sun-dappled, Instagram-filtered, beach-modelling, arm-waggling, high-fashion video – which ‘premiered’ at midnight last night/this morning/whatever – pretty baffling, the whole thing screaming ‘WE’RE NOT MOODY AND ALOOF ANYMORE YOU GUYS’ while losing a bit of what makes them special."

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Books Anonymous but self explanatory, Christie in a Year is attempting to read the whole of Agatha's canon before next January. In April, they covered The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:
"First and foremost, rereading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd does not make it easier. Many years ago I did not grasp the subtlety the authoress had shown in giving clues inside the clues between the lines. As a teenager neither could I relate the significance of the mongoose family quote in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book nor understand the reason George Eliot’s autobiographical novel The Mill On The Floss is mentioned. I did remember some details although they were rather confusing to my young mind at that time. I therefore set myself a task to find the layered meaning behind phrases or sentences that seems odd or out of place. Perhaps in some incoherent paragraphs that may shed lights towards whodunit."