Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Spacecraft: Apollo 11 - Men On The Moon.

Space NASA's Spacecraft: Apollo 11 - Men On The Moon boxed set (which I finally watched this year) gathers together all of the relevant footage of the moment when man finally landed on the moon, something we discovered this year, China is working towards replicating (far more than appears on NASA STI YouTube channel). From the construction of the spacecraft to it returning safely to Earth, the dvds include all of the television tests and proper broadcasts too and from the moon and the whole of the moon walks in real time, from multiple angles including a 16mm camera fixed to the top of the Eagle. It's one thing to see the edited highlights of this mission, quite another to watch the astronauts attempting to mix their media commitments with scientific experiments during the brief time they have on our satellite, slightly drunk on the whole experience of standing on another world.  Some of the footage is entirely unwatchable, especially during camera tests as the astronauts shift the camera around the cabin so that images become an abstract mess and you have to remind constantly remind yourself, that this abstract mess was being broadcast from space to the earth in 1969.  Plus if the lunar landing was faked by Stanley Kubrick (or whoever) why would they bother with any of this?  Why is so much of the material on the moon random chatter and high technical conversations about the implications of how the samples of rock are being gathered and where they should be stored?  Why all the administration?  The best moments on the surface are perhaps when the film and video footage are intercut with the iconic colour stills photographs just as they're being taken, the grainy silhouette suddenly brought into sharp focus.  It's impossible not to feel a sense of awe at what was achieved and could be achieved again.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Streaming Theatre.

Theatre Another by-product of our getting unlimited broadband in the house has been a less tentative approach to see what exactly is available to watch online, and not just from official channels like One of the surprises is the mass of amateur and semi-professional theatre productions available to stream through various video services, as companies that might otherwise have filmed their work then put the tape on a shelf have uploaded such things online for posterity.  Search Vimeo for both spellings of "theatre" or "theater" and sorting by duration reveals some not safe for work material from the Center for Sex and Culture in California (you have been warned) but also a California Institute of the Arts production of Measure for Measure, or the first two rare treats embedded below, Thomas Middleton's A Mad World My Masters and John Marston's The Dutch Courtesan in excellent productions from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television in York.  YouTube's search is less hospitable but its catalogue much larger.  Fancy some Sophocles?  Here's Jesse Eisenberg in a rehearsed reading of Philoctetes at the now defunct Philoctetes Center in New York. Or Boston University which seems to be working their way around Early Modern Drama - Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair's below too, filmed albeit as so many of these productions are, from a single camera at the back.  The best strategy is just to dive in - there are plenty of professional productions too.

A Mad World My Masters from TFTV_York on Vimeo.

The Dutch Courtesan dir Michael Cordner from TFTV_York on Vimeo.

Review 2013: The Doctor:
The Time of the Doctor.

TV Happy Boxing Day! Well there we are then, it’s all over for another year and all that's left to pick up the pieces and move on. If NORAD’s tracked Santa across the planet in the lead up to Christmas, Twitter’s been trailing the fan reaction to The Time of Doctor just as successfully as each country received its festive broadcast and its fair to say the reaction has been a bit mixed, and quite often within the same person. I know because that person is me. For a proportion of the story I was somewhat delighted but as the narrative span towards its inevitable conclusion, I began to detect my internal production monologue intoning, its sonorous voice disrupting my enjoyment of what was on screen until by the end, it distracted me to such a degree that as the credits rolled, I sighed and said “Goodbye Matt”, and then “Oh dear.”

My internal production monologue is a bit like the production subtitles on dvds, except instead of Martin Wiggins or someone offering facts about weather conditions on location, scheduling problems and why Pertwee looks a bit peaky in a given scene, it begins to question exactly why the present production team decided to do this or that. Samples from last night’s performance include: “What’s with all the Rose references? That’s the stand in Powell Estate. The severed head of an enemy plugged into the TARDIS as a navigational tool.” “Isn’t using a monologue over this a bit risky? Isn’t that having a distancing effect especially since we don’t recognise the voice?” “Monoid!” “Oh right, so the material in The Ultimate Guide was shot at the same time as this.” “The Rings of Akhaten music now?”

During Matt’s regeneration scene it was pretty much shouting: “Fish fingers and custard. Oh bless. So we’re going to be seeing visions of the Eleventh Doctor’s past. Bet Caitlin Blackwood’s back for it. Oh look there – no hold on that’s not Caitlin. Well obviously, because she’s probably a bit older now, so no that’s not the first face the Doctor saw with that face. But that little actress looks nothing like Caitlin, which is why they keep hiding her face. That’s distracting and even more so since we saw actual Caitlin in the flashback when the crack was revealed. Why didn’t that just use Caitlin? I mean she is a bit older now, but we probably would have accepted it. Was she busy? There could have been a line, something about getting older, “Everything looks older to me now” that sort of thing. Oh Karen’s back. Sob. I miss her…”

Which is pretty much where I was when Matt was giving his final speech, worrying about why Caitlin Blackwood had been replaced, which is probably why I was a little bit under-whelmed (and poor Caitlin's spent most of Boxing Day telling people why it wasn't her on Twitter). But in all honesty I was a little bit under-whelmed by the whole thing but in no way should this be seen a criticism of the writer Steven Moffat particularly, because as had also been pointed out on Twitter there’s been a lot of The Time of the Doctor being used to make pretty personal attacks on a writer who clearly loves Doctor Who to the point of “Monoid!” and that sort of thing and its his love of the show which led him to write The Time of the Doctor in which he decided as he always does to try something to new, to strive to produce the unexpected. Sometimes that leads to Blink. Sometimes that leads to this.

Quite often, too often for my own good, this internal production monologue begins muttering because I know I’m going to write one of these things afterwards, but that also means it’s a decent barometer of just how good a story is because it’s entirely silenced, just as it was during The Day of the Doctor (which I’m still not reviewing) when it only really piped as it tried to understand exactly what all the Gallifrey business was at the end. The inverse reaction to this Christmas episode on Twitter in comparison to the 50th anniversary special not to mention The Night of the Doctor has been the very definition of “how quickly they forget”. Though to be fair, I don’t think any of us would assume that the best regeneration episode of the year wouldn’t be the one for the Eleventh Doctor.

Anyway, after giving twelve or so hours for the rest of my brain think about it, here’s what I think my internal production monologue didn’t quite understand last night. One of the elements of Doctor Who, at least since The Rescue, is that for all the companion’s position as the audience’s point of view character, the Doctor has been the protagonist and that’s been true of nuWho and particularly true of the Smith era, and especially true of this year’s episodes as he went about unravelling the mystery of the impossible girl and The Time of the Doctor is arguably at its best right at the beginning when it’s about Doctor and Wilson, sorry, Handles, investigating the mystery of the planet, what you could call for want of a better description, the more traditional Who elements, the running around and talking quickly in the hopes that something presents itself.

Except, also right from the beginning, right from the moment Tasha Lem’s voiceover begins, we’re distanced from the action, at one remove because everything which we’ve absorbed about the grammar of film and television tells us that we’re watching events in the past tense, which have already happened, which pulls us right out of the now. This isn’t anything new of course, and Doomsday was supposed to tell the story of, as she tells us, when Rose died. Except because it’s Rose, we’re ok with it and accept it as a kind of trailer for future events, the flash page of a comic book adventure. But because this isn’t a voice we recognise and because it’s poetic and full of mythic portent, just like The Hungry Earth before it, we’re put in a frame of mind which says that we’re watching the then rather than the right now.

Such things are purposeful creative decisions, and Moffat perhaps had in mind to give his story some weight. But given that this is a regeneration story it already has weight because regeneration stories always do. But then Moffat adds an extra level of distancing by telling the story from Clara’s point of view, by making her the protagonist rather than the Doctor. Structurally the piece is quite similar to The Parting of the Ways, with Clara worried about a Doctor who’s deposited her back on Earth for safety while he fights his battles in the future. Except in that episode, the cross cutting between the two still kept the Doctor to the fore including the heart stopping moment when it because apparent that he’s lied to Rose about being able to save day when he really can’t, a beat which is also repeated here.

Except, crucially, when we do see the Doctor on Trenzalore, he still doesn’t have narrative agency because Tasha Lem’s describing events and everything happens in montage and we’re still seeing the then rather than the now and as he gets older, the aging, and the reaction to the aging slowly shifts to Clara to the point that when the Doctor finally goes from being big space Gandalf, to old, basement Bilbo Baggins, it’s revealed to us through Clara’s eyes. Perhaps Moffat has in mind to create a bookend to An Unearthly Child, to have a frail old Doctor being discovered through the companion’s point of view with the companion as properly the protagonist again after all these years, but as an audience we’re left trying to fill in the blanks of the Doctor’s new past when we should be paying attention to be present.

But, I suspect, our subliminal dissatisfaction runs even deeper than that. When Clara visits in the Doctor’s middle age, information that the Time Lord has already discovered, like who the Silents and Silence are, why his TARDIS exploded, essentially all of the mysteries of the past three years are simply described to him, her and us anticlimactically across a table, which is, quite frankly, in terms of narrative closure, awful. Moffat forgets at this crucial moment that as an audience, however corny it might be, we need the catharsis of the watching the Doctor’s reaction to these revelations however much they might feel like old news to the writer, who’s more interested in dropping in the shocks and surprises of the Dalek trap and giving the Doctor another opportunity to kiss one of his friends and it’s that dissatisfaction which is what I think killed the episode stone dead last night.

There is also the Lost syndrome, of having built a set of mysteries which couldn’t really satisfactorily be paid off and perhaps Moffat realised this and decided it was best to give them simple answers then move on. It’s a choice, I suppose. As is often the case in this era, I’ll be interested to see how this effects the rewatching of previous stories when these were just massive questions. Lost is pretty much unwatchable now for just this reason but I don’t think The Big Bang will be simply because there’s too much other fun stuff happening as well. Same with The God Complex, though I think I much preferred not knowing what was in the Doctor’s room rather now knowing that it’s one of the “cracks”. One of the best things about The End of Time is that we still don’t know who Claire Bloom was playing. Random mysteries are great.

Such a shame. Some of this is outside the writer’s control because of the absence of Amy Pond. Structurally, since this is the final degree of a three year arc which began in The Eleventh Hour, it should be Amy Pond and to some extent Rory who are here at this final end and the Clara material is Moffat dealing with similar issues that J Michael Straczynski had when cast members, notably Michael O'Hare and Claudia Christian upped and left Babylon 5, in having to transfer their participation in the storyline to another character. If Karen could somehow have been engaged to be in the episode for longer it might have worked, there’s then the problem of giving Clara something relevant to do that’s also fresh and new and mores to the point not unfair to Jenna Coleman.

Some would see it as a benefit, having this character who doesn’t understand the action that went before able to ask the relevant questions for all the people who apparently only watch the show on Christmas Day, which at this point doesn’t seem like nearly enough to warrant it that much. Plus I’ve heard reports of people having to spend the whole thing explaining it to their relatives anyway despite Clara’s narrative intervention. It's just that when she sees the fish custard it means nothing to her and although Jenna does her best with it, she’s unable to give quite the look of recognition it requires, because she's not Karen Gillan playing Amy Pond.

There were other niggles. Linked into the distancing effect is wondering about the extent to which Christmas is a real town. It’s clearly not supposed to be a magical, unchanging place like the Planet Albert in the Eighth Doctor novel Grimm Reality. The population has generations, aging around the Doctor. But it doesn’t develop, the Doctor’s benevolence and the threat of invasion apparently keeping it in cultural and socio-economic stasis but also oddly thriving because there are still people walking around at the end despite successive invasions. Though to be fair said invasions weren’t as spectacular as they might be, the dramatic dictators “idea” and “budget” forever staging coups against one another, though the wooden Cyberman is a brilliant idea. More of that please.

Anyway with all that in mind, it was a pretty dark comedown after an otherwise very good Christmas Day. Then I woke up this morning (dur-dur-dur-dur-dum) and watched it again first thing on the iPlayer and like the second spoonful of Alpen blueberry flavoured porridge in a pot which I had for breakfast (just add water), it was much more enjoyable second time around, now that I knew what to expect, all of its virtues in crystal clear HD with its crunch bits of dried apple (or as is the case with the iPlayer the annoying logo in the corner of something which was obviously recorded while it went out rather than uploaded directly from the broadcast master and for the life of me I don’t know why some programmes are off-air and some others aren’t) (perhaps it’s the powdered milk).

If Moffat still doesn’t quite seem to know how to deal with the post-arc Clara, he is at least going about the business of giving her such things as a family that doesn’t just exist in flashback and isn't about her being a nanny and there’s some interesting business here, as we’re introduced to another couple of generations of the Oswald family, and her relationship with her grandmother is especially fractious, since she seems to some extent have decided to fill in the gap left by her mother, offering boyfriend suggestions and the like. This could just be local colour though. Unlike Davies, Moffat isn’t much in the business of building up the parts of his companion’s family and it’s unlikely that we’ll see Capaldi’s Doctor’s contrasting approaches to domesticity as we saw in The Christmas Invasion.

Moffat and the design team also had in mind to show the contrast between a twenty-first century Christmas and the version that appears in the Bruegel paintings which sometimes appear on the classier cards blu-tacked to bookshelves and fireplaces of the modern household, Clara’s family meal in bright, albeit grey snowless daylight, the Doctor’s final years played out against endless, frosted darkness. Perhaps it should have swapped titles with The Night of the Doctor. There’s also something quite melancholy about how in The Christmas Invasion, dinner around the table is all celebration and giggles, whereas here its arguments and tears, the former full of life, this a synthetic experience, an almost ritualistic experience for all concerned. The reality is probably somewhere in between I fear.

Jenna's performance is remarkable too given the material.  She's  funny, smart and clockwork in her timing and able to somehow play the emotional rollercoaster of watching her friend grow old and die and subtly changing her chemistry with him over the course of a Christmas meal. It’s also important in the rush to dismiss how her scenes played out not to ignore just how fabulous Orla Brady is as Tasha Lem, even if like Clara her character’s relationship with the Doctor mainly makes her seem like she was created to deal with the absence of another character, in this case River Song. She’s not, having River in that position would have been weird, but she’s written as much the same character, especially in relation to how she amorously reactions to the Doctor, simultaneously wanting to love him and destroy him.

But of course this is Matthew’s final adventure and as has been so often the case in the darkest corners of the past few years he elevated the material and was, well, he was, doing his best with the only vaguely amusing nudity stuff, clearly loving the wig stuff (wasn’t the final scene with Karen essentially about two people acting with semi-bald heads?) before really storming through to the dismount and the metafictional loss of his bow tie. As even David Tennant’s admitted, Smith has been the show’s biggest asset over the past few years, perhaps even the reason it broke North America and like Tennant, you almost wish that they could simply continue making adventures for him even after he’s regenerated. There’s always just been something about his face, even when obscured by latex, in which you just know he’s the Doctor and it’ll all be fine.

As regeneration scene go this is a bit of a mix of the old and new. Like The Tenth Planet his regeneration comes about because his body is dying of old age, but it is also because of a selfless sacrifice, albeit one drawn out across centuries, defending Christmas even when he could simply jump into his TARDIS and go. Like the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, he is visited by echoes of his past, Amy the new Adric, I suppose. Like the Eighth Doctor it’s a regeneration which brings him into some new physical territory in this case a whole new regenerative cycle and like Ninth, his companion looked on dumbstruck, and like Tenth, like Captain Jack, she is entirely appreciative of the change that is to come. Like some of those, but unlike Tenth the second time around, he is absolutely content with finally going.

His final speech is sheer poetry, good enough to put in an upmarket Christmas cracker. Here it is in full. “It’s started. I can’t stop it now, this is just the reset. A whole new regeneration cycle. Taking a bit longer. Just breaking it in. It all just disappears doesn’t it, everything you are gone in a moment like breath on a mirror? Any moment now, he’s a comin’ … The Doctor …. And I always will be. But times change and so must I. Amelia! The first face this face saw. We all change when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that’s ok, you gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” Then his actual final line. “Hey.” Sob again.

Just as Twitter’s tracked the global viewing audience, it’s also been tracking people who’ve watched it again and like me, seen its virtues the second time around, how like so much of the Doctor Who we’ve disliked the first time around, we’ve watched again and loved. Like I always say, Who is still amazing even when it’s rubbish, and much of The Time of the Doctor is amazing. Of the future? We’ve barely begun with Capaldi but already I’m detecting a bit of Tom about him, especially in that shot when the TARDIS spins out of control and his hand seems to grasp towards us rather like this publicity shot from City of Death. He’s keeping his accent which is all to the good too. Doctor Who’s moving on, it’s regenerating and I for one can’t wait, whoever’s in charge, both on and off screen. Good night, raggedy man.

Updated 01/01/14! I've since written almost as much again about the regeneration and the mechanics thereof. Which you can read here.

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

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The Wes Anderson Collection.

Film The Wes Anderson Collection is a new book from the writer and critic Matt Zoller Seitz and illustrator Eric Anderson which tells the story of the film maker Wes Anderson through a collection of essays, interviews, diagrams and reproductions of archival materials from his films. There are excerpts from the book at Variety and at Vulture (what looks like the entire chapter about The Royal Tannenbaums).  The accompany the publication Seitz posted a series of short documentaries to his blog at in which he deconstructs each of the films, highlighting what he believes to be the important elements, tracking developments in Anderson's style and noting footnotable items like cameos and film references.  Unafraid to be critical and notice when the films haven't quite gelled with the public, they nonetheless capture the essence of one of the singular voices in cinema, whilst simultaneous capturing some of that style in their use of font, editing and music. Watching them over some soup before attending work over a couple of weeks in October reminded me of why I went to film school in the first place and how much I wish I was still there.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The BBC's World Service.

Radio This year I began listening to the BBC's World Service in earnest and it is for no other reason than because of Radio 4's You and Yours and The Archers, but I'm very pleased that I did. Not really being a fan of music radio, I've had Radio 4 turned in on the pod stereo in the kitchen for years and throughout those years I've sighed because I've known that at some of the times I've tended to be in the kitchen, at lunchtime heating soup or making a sandwich or after dinner when washing the dishes, that I'd end up listening to You and Yours or The Archers, both acquired tastes which I haven't acquired, or an eerie silence punctuated by the ping of the microwave or the splosh of the dishwater. Finally, in June I ordered a digital radio, and in ironic mood but entirely cognizant of the implications, this horrendously kitch union jack Pure radio and it's been tuned to the BBC's World Service ever since.  As you might expect, there's a sense of looking over a garden wall onto someone else's lawn, but in this case the wall is an ocean and the garden another continent.  Now You and Yours has been replaced by Outlook which gathers amazing stories and interviews from across the globe (for example this extraordinary tale about how a man, lost on a train in Mumbai and separated from his family at the age of six was able to track down his mum 20 years later thanks to the faded tattoo on his arm).  Instead of The Archers, I now have The Newsroom, which given its subject matter, humanity, also has a storyline of some longevity, but takes time to present some context and covers stories on a much grander scale than Ambridge, wars and revolutions and diplomacy.  The service calls itself "the world's radio station" and that's no more true than World Have Your Say in which people from all over the globe in its various worlds all chime in on a topic by phone or social media, or else a correspondent takes to the streets with a microphone and speaks to the people at the centre of a story live, which in the aftermath of the Philippine typhoon included areas which hadn't yet been touched by aid and allowed families to voice appeals from inside and outside the effected areas for help and comfort.  Which sounds voyeuristic, but this is mostly about reminding me that it's all happening out there, right now.

BBC Red Amber Green HD Mpeg 4 from Ratchet Films on Vimeo.

BBC World News: The World's Newsroom Launch from Ratchet Films on Vimeo.

BBC Global News Ltd: Live The Story from Ratchet Films on Vimeo.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: My Year In Films.

Film As you know when it comes these "reviews of the year" and creating a list of my favourite films, it's a pointless exercise because I've usually only been inside a cinema once or twice and always desperately behind in catching up with everything via rental delivery services. This year, the films I saw inside the cinema were Star Trek: Into Darkness, which is entertaining while it's on but entirely falls apart in hindsight, Thor: The Dark World, which is just as good as the first film and continues the MARVEL experiment in fine style and Gravity, of which I think I've said enough already. Overall, I think I've been fairly lucky. My last roughly twelve months of watching films have been filled with transcendent moments. Kylie's song in Holy Motors - and indeed Holy Motors. The surprising narrative gearchange in Looper. The Perks of Being a Wallflower which was this years film I wished I'd watched before becoming gripped by the cynicism of age. Ruby Sparks which caught me at just the right time. Lincoln's introduction in the film Lincoln as the iconic monument which has been a comfort to so many film protagonists gained flesh and became a protagonist himself. The selflessness and support of the filmmaker in 5 Broken Cameras. Paul Bettany's multilayered performance in Margin Call, making us feel sorry for a banker. Salmon Fishing In The Yemen for being, at heart, an old fashioned romance but with a melancholy ending. Moonrise Kingdom for being, at heart, an old fashioned romance but with a happy ending. The Amazing Spider-Man for being the Spider-man I remember loving as a child. The tree scene in The Kid with a Bike. At least The Bourne Legacy tried to do something and Rachel Weisz is brilliant. She's always brilliant. That scene in A Field in England (Reece Shearsmith's a better actor than he gives himself credit for). That scene in Les Miserables (and all the parodies). The whole of Pitch Perfect. Most of Friends With Kids, which was sold as a Bridesmaids follow-up even though it really isn't despite having much the same cast. Oh and special mention for The Host which is also being unfairly treated in the years worst lists despite being a really, excellent piece of post-millennium sci-fi with a really quite remarkably pessimistic outlook. If only it had been successful enough to be granted the pointless sequel.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The Art of the Pop Video.

Art Back in February, FACT Liverpool's exhibition, The Art of the Pop Video displayed itself on flatscreens throughout the various gallery spaces. My original review is here. In the months since, thanks to the list which was supplied in the galleries I've been catch up on the videos I missed and been thinking about the promos I would choose if I was curating the exhibition, keeping within the original categories. Find the results posted below. They're a mix of biographical detail and utter desperation as you can see from the rather limited musical range and the inclusion of Enya where she is. FACT still has explanations for the categories on its website.

History 1

Directed by Chris Langman (1988).

History 2

Directed by Unknown (1988).


Directed by Monkeehub (2005).


Directed by Jake Nava (2008).

The Wilderness Downtown

Directed by Jonathan Demme & Ted Demme (1994).

The Dancing of Politics

Directed by Schmoyoho (2008).


Directed by Various (2002-2005).

The Conquest of Film

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (1999).

The Conquest of Art

Directed by Michael Geoghegan (1988).

The Music Video in Art

Directed by Laurie Anderson (1981).

Bonus Round

Directed by Eric Slatkin.