Time Heist.

TV Decades from now when Doctor Who Magazine has a few pages to fill between the interview with Christopher Eccleston on the occasion of him finally agreeing to record for Big Finish and The Time Team’s review of Alien Bodies (because there’s no stopping them), a successor to Steve Lyons will be tasked with trying to explain the ingredients for what makes a middling episode or clutch of episodes. Having scanned through the franchise’s seventy five year history, no mean task considering by then, hopefully, television and everything else is all treated on equal footing, the author, pushing a deadline will start to make a list of episodes which don’t quite come off, which are nice ideas, pretty well executed without the wow factor then begin their analysis.

Creating such a list won’t be easy because as we all know, Doctor Who is amazing even when it’s rubbish or as is the case for the purposes of this article being crafted in the future, middling. There’s a general consensus about amazing episodes and stories. There’s a similar consensus about utter rubbish. Our hack in the future will no doubt have a recent poll available in order to help filter those out. It’s to the middle of the table he’ll be glancing, to the stories which are just sort of there, which tend to find themselves watched by fans who’re working their way through everything in order but no one bothers to watch out of choice. Perhaps within the next twenty odd years there’ll be a fair few more middling adventures. Perhaps and let’s finally get to this, Time Heist is so middling, so inoffensive, so bland that it simply gets overlooked.

At the risk of pre-empting the task of this journobot, let’s try and break down exactly what constitutes a middling episode (and for the purpose of this I’m going to use “episode” even though I agree that it’s incredibly annoying when its done in relation to the classic series – but this isn’t the classic series). In short, a middling episode is one which has all of the elements of a Doctor Who story (Time Lord, companion, hijinks) but leaves you feeling nothing at the end and not quite knowing why. Amazing episodes make you want to punch the air. Rubbish episodes make you angry and not a little bit appalled. Middling episode make you think, "oh is that it". But I thought... Oh, nope, that’s it. Which in it’s own way is also appalling but because you can see that someone was at least trying you can’t be too angry.

Which is where I was as the Doctor wandered his empty TARDIS in the final scene having just dropped everyone off. Due to dematerialisation montage, I was expecting something else, some extra twist in which it turned out he’d found something else in the private vault, something which made the whole thing more worthwhile than what the actors apparently describe as a Moffat loop but then we’re into next time, a Matt Smith lookalike in a staff room, Capaldi wearing Tennant’s brown coat and no inadvertent Eccleston reference at all. “Oh. is that it?” I wondered out loud as I sighed and went off to the kitchen to fill the water reservoir on my Tassimo machine. How am I going to review that? As I loaded the Kenco coffee pod into the top, a mug underneath and pressed the button on the front, I thought, what would Graham Kibble-White do? Then realised I had no idea what.

Presumably you’re expecting me to give examples of other middling episodes. In the classic series, it’s The Savages. It’s The Dominators. It’s The Mutants. It’s Meglos, Terminus, The Mark of the Rani and nothing in the McCoy era because everything is either amazing or rubbish. In nuWho terms, it’s The Long Game, 42 and Night Terrors. Of course the problem with this process in relation to older episodes is that we’ve probably passed through them enough times to be able to set aside the flaws in favour of the gems (even The Mutants – “It’s…..”) so it’s easy to forget the initial reaction of the shrug, the “oh well that was, wasn’t it” and “well they can’t all be as good as…” and “could have been worse, could have been Fear Her…” The Doctor Who fan, probably Frank Skinner, equivalent of justifying a goalless draw.

How in the case of Time Heist do we get to “oh, is that it?” Genuinely, I think, in this case, a large proportion of it, ooh 60% at least, is because the twists aren’t strong enough. The notion of the Architect gives every impression of being some higher power, so even though from the opening scene he’s already our default notion, because we’re watching a show that’s generally clever than that, we’re expecting something less obvious, that the Doctor’s chain being yanked by some higher power ala The Scream of the Shalka and for their identity to be left dangling at the end, presumably to be revealed as being Missy or some such. When the Doctor realises that he’s giving himself instructions from the future it's incredibly disappointing. It’s another Moffat loop. It’s The Big Bang (amongst many other things). Again.

It’s a rescue mission rather than a bank heist. Fair enough, that was a surprise, but is it good enough? The idea of monsters being nothing of the sort and simply wanting to be free really is getting old, isn’t it? We’ve had one nearly every season in the Moffat era, from the congregation of limbs in Hide to the Minotaur in The God Complex. The surprise here would have been if the Doctor’s been hoodwinked into freeing the two of them and they decided to go on a murderous rampage anyway as revenge for their captivity. Plus The Teller (everyone is a definitive article in this episode) is an example of a mono-trope monster who offers more questions than answers about their phylogeny. As they head off to repopulate their species, what exactly do they eat without memories and brains of others to feast on?

Same the reveal that Ms Delphox is a clone of her own boss. Well of course she is. You don’t hire Keeley Hawes under these circumstances to play the lackey. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of a murder mystery series having a pretty decent actor in amongst a bunch of unknowns. The surprise here would have been if Karabraxos had turned out to be played by someone else or a recognisable character under an assumed name. As the scene began, I thought as I always do that it’d be Davros. Then, with Absolom Dark glimpsed earlier in the episode for about three seconds as they entered the private vault I even thought it would turn out to be an annex of the Braxiatel Collection and we’d find Jenna’s Titanic co-star Miles Richardson sitting in the chair. Instead I was in the criminal position of being disappointed to see Keeley Hawes. Again.

Of course they’re not dead we don’t care enough about them yet. Even for Doctor Who, Psi and Saibra’s characters are so minimalist, the script notes for them must have been written in haiku. Well I call shenanigans. I bet when the Pixley special’s published, we’ll discover that each of them had originally been gifted with an extra introductory scene, which went south either in the filming or editing. True, it’s a trope of the heist genre (and placing the Doctor in this kind of story is an idea so good Big Finish have their version discounted this weekend) that some of the protagonists are reduced to their ability (safe cracker, explosives expert), but as was also the case in Voyage of the Damned, when you try and force functional characters into the structure of a series which tends to be richer in that regard it never works. Compare this to The God Complex. Now imagine The God Complex with all of the character’s introductory scenes left out.

Which means that after their ten or twenty minutes of screen time when Saibra’s “killed off” despite the Doctor’s reaction, and to be fair all of the other actors really try to sell it, we’re not convinced she’s dead. She’s simply not had enough screen time. Same Psi when he makes his sacrifice. The surprise would have been if indeed they’d stayed dead, but the tone of the piece, however much it was trying to be Hustle with the lights off, doesn’t allow for it. When the Doctor and Clara are finding their rewards in the vault that just confirms it because there’s no particular reason why they should expending so much screen time over the search unless the items will turn out to be important later and the only reason they could be important later is if the people they’re meant to be for are going to be around to use them.

All which looks, very, well, very in hindsight and a lot of me trying to suggest how clever I am for working all of this out ahead of time, but the point about this is, I didn’t work all of this out ahead of time. The point about these twists is that none of them are especially surprising even though the suggestion is that they’re supposed to be. In his DWM editorial this month, Tom Spilsbury bemoans the fact that the media previews of these episodes contain “a big friendly notice” which ironically contains the very spoiler that they don’t want to the previewer to mention before the episode goes out. As he says, “it’s like being hit over the head with an irony stick”. You can imagine what these spoilery spoiler warnings are for the first four episodes. Whatever it is for Time Heist, it really can’t be anything like as good.

What of the other 40%? That’s the little things. The niggles. Like having the Doctor and his companion watch as The Teller kills someone for the purposes of showing how The Teller kills someone even though it’s entirely out of character. Well, we say it’s out of character. The obvious argument against is that this new Doctor’s a bit, dark and dangerous so won’t step in because it’ll break his cover, but don’t for a second think Clara wouldn’t and that she didn’t diminishes her character. There are other ways of achieving this. Other episodes have shown this sort of death outside of their field of reference with the Doctor then knowing the methodology anyway later. Even as it stands, I’m sure it would have been possible to produce a version in which the Doctor or Clara save the guy and are still able to carry on.

That scene also includes a weird piece of direction in which The Teller walks in slow motion (abetted by the soundtrack) while the other characters are standing and talking in normal speed. If they too hadn’t also walked into the room in slow motion for no reason other than because Hustle (again) we might have imagined this was going to be part of The Teller’s physical presence within the space and that for the rest of the episode every shot of him would be slow motion which needn’t look as silly as its sounds done carefully. Indeed, it could have been that is disappeared when he was reunited with his kin. That would have been an exciting way to go. But as Michael Bay fans know dramatic walking in slow motion is just dramatic walking in slow motion unless it has a point and when it doesn’t it’s the very definition of middling.

None of this is as easy as saying, well, it’s a Steve Thompson episode, what do you expect? Both his previous episodes were middling too and also, now that I come to think of it had “they’re not really dead” twists of one form or another. One of them had a Moffat loop too. But it’s co-written to some degree by Steven Moffat who, it’s clear from the Phil Ford interview in DWM had a pretty hands on role in rewriting the scripts for this opening six episodes in a way that Russell T Davies did during his entire era. With that regard until we see a similar explanation from him we can’t entirely level the middlingness with Thompson this time. It’s Moffat’s own middling The Beast Below which offered the notion of the hero having their memory wiped.

When, in the future we look back at Time Heist because it’s on the blu-ray between Listen and The Caretaker, what will stop us from simply skipping it? Capaldi’s really in his stride now and the same director who brought us slow walking, still knows exactly how to make him fill that space, with his face distorted by domestic appliances, an entirely alien presence in that house in comparison to his predecessor who was completely at home in a kitchen. Jenna Coleman’s predictably good even if she’s given less to do this week and does her very best to justify her position in the aforementioned scene even if both hers and Capaldi’s lines sound as though they’ve been recorded later and stuck on because the production team have noticed that there’s a hitch.

Indeed all of the performers are treating it as the best job they’ve ever had, and if we have any empathy for Psi and especially Saibra its because of Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s instant likeability. Hawes is called upon for panto and that’s exactly what she offers us though the approach to the character in and of itself is very obvious, very middling. Compare her to Ms. Foster in Partners in Crime or Diana Goddard in Dalek for examples of how not to be obvious or middling. Because both of those had a drop of humanity their ultimate fates, negative and positive had weight. Keeley is predictably proficient, but because Karabraxos is effectively a new character in that final scene, then having us care about her regrets is a really, really hard sell.

Where does this leave the journobot of the future? Pretty dissonant. Beyond “oh, is that it?”, middling episodes don’t really have transferable rules, for the same reason that amazing episodes can still have rubbish monsters (magma beast) and rubbish episodes can have amazing performances (Maurice Denham). It’s intangible, a feeling, a sense, it’s “oh, is that it?” The journobot will probably have no choice except to contact the editorbot and suggest something about androids, Thirteen Doctor Romola Garai or the current state of the omnirumour instead. At which point I’ve probably stretched the whole “sending the idea for an article from the future into the past” review idea well in excesses of being interesting (assuming it ever was) causing this whole blog post to be pretty middling too. Sorry about that.

Liverpool Biennial 2014: John Moores Painting Prize 2014: The Result.

Art Things and stuff in the end meant I didn't attend the announcement of the result but here's the news you've probably heard already. It was on the Today programme this morning. I don't remember that happening to the John Moores Painting Prize before.  Press release as follows:


80-year-old artist scoops £25,000 first prize, sponsored by David M Robinson

Rose Wylie was announced the 29th winner of the John Moores Painting Prize today at the Walker Art Gallery where the Prize was established almost 60 years ago.

Rose was awarded the £25,000 first prize, which is sponsored by David M Robinson, for PV Windows and Floorboards, selected from more than 2,500 entries.

The painting, which features four disjointed female figures set in a linear white gallery space, is typical of Rose's work. Often drawn from protracted memories, the compositions of her paintings appear as dream-like sequences, in which details are imperfectly recalled and sketchily represented.

Director of Art Galleries, Sandra Penketh, said: "PV Windows and Floorboards is a striking painting and a worthy winner of the John Moores. Rose's work instantly demanded attention when it entered the judging room and it was clear from the start it would be one of the highlights of this year's exhibition. The painting achieves an interesting balance; containing bold colours and form but also a sense of mystery and an unfinished story.

"Rose's personal story is very exciting. At 80 years old she happens to be double the average age of previous winners. Her style is fresh, unpredictable and cutting edge, and is everything we’ve come to expect from the winner of the John Moores."

The name Rose Wylie now joins an impressive lineage of UK painters who have been awarded the prize. From David Hockney (1967), Mary Martin (1969), Peter Doig (1993) and Sarah Pickstone (2012), who announced this year's prize, the John Moores’ 'back catalogue' of winning paintings (most of which reside in the Walker's permanent collection) represents over half a century of British Art; featuring Kitchen Sink realism, abstraction, pop art and figuration.

Rose will be giving a free talk at the Walker Art Gallery on Saturday 20 September at 1pm.

The four shortlisted artists who each receive £2,500 are:

Sometimes I Forget That You're Gone by Rae Hicks
Vinculum by Juliette Losq
Brutal by Mandy
Jessica by Alessandro Raho

A major part of the Liverpool Biennial, the John Moores Painting Prize is a free exhibition which runs until 30 November 2014. Fifty paintings (including the prizewinners) were selected for exhibition from more than 2,500 entries.

Dubbed the 'Oscars of the painting world', the Prize, organised in partnership with the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition Trust, has been keeping its finger on the pulse of contemporary painting for almost 60 years.

The 2014 judges were Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Programmes at the Royal Academy and artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Zeng Fanzhi, Chantal Joffe and Tom Benson.

The John Moores Painting Prize is part of National Museums Liverpool's Modern Masters series, part funded by the European Union - the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

It is also supported by our exhibition partner Weightmans and sponsor Investec.

For a full list of exhibiting artists: www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/johnmoores

Twitter: @johnmoores2014 #jm2014

Facebook: www.facebook.com/johnmoorespaintingprize

The John Moores Painting Prize with Alexei Sayle is aired at 7pm on 21 September on BBC 4. The programme, which examines the history of the Prize as well as its place within contemporary art, includes interviews with this year’s five shortlisted artists as well as Sir Peter Blake, Peter Doig and Jake Chapman.

The Films I've Watched This Year #35

Film Here we are then in the brave new future of exactly the same.  Which feels good either way.  No one likes uncertainty and certainly this unit didn't enjoy the uncertainty of what was going to happen his it's beloved BBC should Scotland have gone independent.  With ever plan to stay awake all night and sleep all day, when it became apparent, even after for announcements we were witness a forgone conclusion, I dragged myself to bed at about half past three, awakening about three and a half hours later for the confirmation.  The television presentation itself, at least on One was the now customarily boring efficiency presided over by Huw Edwards with all the surety of purpose of John Harriman at the helm of the Enterprise-B.  The revelation of the evening was Sarah Smith, whose razor sharp, tactical interviewing style demolished contributors left and right, giving every impression she should have been presenting the thing instead and probably Today or Newsnight in the future should she want to.

Killer Joe
Stake Land
The Sword and the Rose
Promised Land
Le chant des mariées

One of those rare weeks when I don't really have much to say about any of these films.  The most fun I probably had was this lunchtime watching Non-Stop, with its many twists, turns, Neeson channeling his inner Qui-Gon in places and Michelle Dockery in the 90s Sandra Bullock role.  Oh and Julianne Moore elevating all the material just by being there, though I'm bound to suggest that there's not one element of any of this which wouldn't have been even more interesting if her and Neeson's roles hadn't been reversed.  Stake Land's vampire road movie's the other purely generic piece on the list offering not a single moment which hasn't been seen elsewhere, essentially cross matching the DNA of Daybreakers and Zombieland but with less levity.  Both made me rather nostalgic for the old Blockbuster days when you'd walk into the air conditioned shop full of anticipation of what was on the new release wall, see hundreds of copies of both, that evening's entertainment well provided for.

Killer Joe and Promised Land seem like odd bedfellows but they're both attempting the same trick of having the audience sympathise or at least identify with a morally dubious character.  Of course they couldn't be any more different, Emile Hirsch's misguided hick and Matt Damon's shill for the fracking companies, and their story arcs similarly drift in opposite, if inevitable directions.  But there's a moment in each when their plans go south that we feel genuinely remorseful.  The essential problem in both is that the viewer also realises how they're being manipulated, patronised almost, so ultimately lose their sympathy with the filmmaker instead.  Yet both stay watchable because Matthew McConaughey's eponymous Joe is so damn charismatic and Damon's so likeable even though the twists in both are entirely obvious.  Perhaps they're supposed to be.  But I'd worked out both within seconds of the merest whiff of the related characters appearing on-screen and I really wish I hadn't in both cases.

This week's two French language films are also thematically connected, about young women being emotionally manipulated by their partners.  Structurally Suzanne is a female counterpart to Boyhood presenting snatches from a girl's life until she gains her independence, though shot with different actors, in a much shorter schedule and with a darker tone.  It's involving but structurally problematic because it can't decide if it should focus on Suzanne's life of crime or her family's reaction.  The Wedding Song follows Jewish and Muslim friends torn apart by family and politics in Tunis during World War II, at a moment when the Nazis are pretending to be a benevolent force in Arab lives.  Five years later Lizzie Brocheré who plays the Jewish girl here turned up in The Hour as Freddie's wife Camille and is an astonishingly powerful presence especially in a scene when she's being painfully "prepared" in the "Oriental style" for her oaf of a husband.  Ugh.  My French cinema "serendipity engine" continues to offer its surprises.

He's back and it's about 8:30pm.

TV All in the title and this month's edition of the part newsletter apparently.

Due to scheduling mayhem largely related to the Karaoke Sauron's annoyance at unfair competition (as in a dance programme which is more popular than his music programme) the BBC have thrown Doctor Who the latest into the Saturday night schedule than its ever been with The Caretaker, which I think is episode six, being shown at 8:30 in the evening in the UK.

Only the TV Movie and Torchwood have been broadcast later. Two things:

(1) This is just a scheduling decision. Judging by the BBC's statement on The Guardian's version of the story about Merlin and Atlantic it seems to be.

(2) There's a content issue. There's something within the episode which really is so dark it can't be scheduled to go out earlier for some reason.

(3) Three things sorry. Yes. At 8:30, it's well past the main target audience's bedtime. Which is bold.

The upshot for me is, I'm now in the position I was with Torchwood of having to start writing my reviews even later. This should go well.

Mid-Week Links.

Links Since I know some of you don't use Twitter, you lucky people, I thought it would be a good idea to bring back these old link posts so that you can have access to all the longer pieces I've lazily shared there:

References, Please:
"Almost twenty years ago I wrote a much longer, more elaborate academic book, Translating Style. On that occasion the job of adding the citations took a whole week and was extremely laborious. But I do not recall feeling irritated about the effort at all. It was obviously necessary. There was no way readers could access a literary quotation and check the work I had done if I didn’t provide them with adequate references. They needed to know the edition and the page number because there might be different page numbers in different editions. However with this new book I was acutely aware that one reason I was preparing the references more swiftly than in the past was precisely because rather than going to my shelves to pull out the various books I was using Google. So any reader could do this too, and my careful notes were completely unnecessary."

I want fewer walls and barriers – and to be wonderfully, quirkily British:
"Whenever it was, it has been undeniably difficult and rubbish being a no supporter throughout the referendum debate, even if we prevail on Thursday, which I rather think we will. The yeses, though have clearly had all the fun. As a wishy-washy liberal who holds fast to the two great central political tenets of our time, as expressed by David Mitchell of this paper – "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that" and "it just goes to show you can't be too careful" – I am used to being on the side of … well, hopefully, kindness, doing the right thing and everybody getting along. With a side-order in hand-wringing. I am also a terrible coward on social media. If there's an argument to be had on the internet, I am not in it. (Unless it's about dance-trained stage-school brats taking part in Strictly. Come on!)"

my journey to my referendum decision:
"walk up the street"

A 90-Second Guide to Determine if Your Internet Cause Is BS:
"Hey there, Internet person about to click "post" -- did you know that just because you're extremely passionate about a cause, it doesn't mean it can't be, well, super dumb? After all, even your uncle who thinks Barack Obama is a crab-monster from Alpha Centauri is convinced he's on the side of righteousness. Luckily, we've put together a short questionnaire to help you figure out where your post stands. It shouldn't take much time!"

As If: the teen show that set the tone for youth dramas:
"For a time, As If, the Channel 4 show that followed six friends as they navigated their way through their college years in London, was essential viewing. In the best possible way, it was what you watched when slumped in front of the TV on a Sunday morning when you were too hungover to reach for the remote. But despite running for four seasons (between 2001 and 2004) and getting a US remake, it has been largely forgotten. Last week, Jemima Rooper, who played Nicki in the show, suggested that it might be time for a reunion episode. But how does As If look now, 10 years on?"

Rutherglen writer resurrects sixties Doctor Who foes:
"Andy, who retires from the police this week, said: “It just started from an email from David Richardson, saying, ‘We’ve got a new range coming up, the Early Adventures. I was given a couple of original cast members from the earliest episodes of Doctor Who with Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, and the Voord. I came up with a handful of ideas, one of which involved the TARDIS landing on a ship amidst a massive flotilla, with all these ships travelling across an expanse of ocean, and just took it from there."

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Manchester City Art Gallery.

Art Right then, the penultimate venue. Hello Manchester Art Gallery! Or rather, hello again Manchester Art Gallery because even though I’ve been purposefully ignoring your permanent collection for seven long years since the beginning of this project because I decided early on that you’d be next to last in the list of visits, you’ve not been a stranger. Your temporary displays have often been one of the reasons I’ve travelled over to my second favourite city in the country (sorry Leeds but London is third) and I especially liked the Kylie one. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to change out of this open letter format because I’m not sure it’s worth sustaining over the next however many paragraphs this is going to take.

The visit itself took about four hours, not because it couldn’t have gone on longer, because I now realise there was a whole display section I forgot to go back to, but because as I’ve discovered on the occasions when I’ve visited the larger displays (see also Tullie House in Carlisle), there’s only so much looking a person can do, or at least this person can do. Even with a soup and coffee break between the third and sixth rooms there’s only so much intense scrutiny of paintings and information labels that the eyes and brains can entertain without tiredness setting in at least the way I do it which is to look at every painting and object for a few minutes each before moving on. Lawks knows what I’d do at a national.

Much of this fatigue of course has to do with the quality of the collection. Only now and then, here and there are there signs of, for want of a better description “filler”. Every wall is filled with paintings the visitor could spend whole hours, hours and hours looking at. Now that I do know what’s there, when I do return for the temporary displays, I’ll definitely be walking through the other galleries and stopping at some of these to see them again and look again. Now I wish, back when I was working in Manchester, that I’d spent some of my hour long lunch times sitting in these rooms, though obviously after I’d eaten my sandwiches. Thank goodness that line hasn’t been crossed yet. Visitors taking flash photos in the gallery is bad enough.

In his book, Public Art Collections in North-West England, Edward Morris spends eight and a half long pages describing the history and collections and the history of the collections of Manchester Art Gallery. The summary is pretty much the same as all the collections in the area, a mix of interested artists and industrial philanthropists providing the initial idea and funding, early exhibitions giving way to the forming of a collection which is ultimate displayed in a building, then another building then yet another building with various bequests across the years fattening up the collection into the knock-out it is now. What is different is the time period. The process began earlier than most, in 1823, even before the city had a local council.

As Edward notes, this longevity led to the collection’s reputation developing to such an extent that when bequests came, they were even from outside of the city because Manchester was considered to be the premier collection in the north, a reputation no doubt aided and abetted by The Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887. Though he’s also pretty quick to notice that Liverpool has the upper hand in terms of chronological breadth and purchasing power (some of which I’ll only really understand when I read the Walker’s entry). Manchester’s display at least very much focuses on a period which begins at the collection’s inception in the 1800s, only really dipping earlier within their displays of Dutch art which begins in the 1600s.

If all of this is short on detail, it’s because as the history tangled, and for the purposes of this blog post, I’m not sure how interesting you’d find it. Edward’s final paragraph is worth comment. He notes that for all the richness of the collections, their displays aren’t as adequate as they need to be. He’s writing at the turn of the century and notes the gallery’s extension into the Royal Manchester Institution next door in 2001. That’s all completed and has had over a decade to bed in but as has often been the case when I’ve visited these regional galleries it still doesn’t seem like enough. Your Paintings suggests the collection contains 2,132 oils. There must be an exponential number of other objects on top of that.

Manchester’s strategy is to augment its permanent displays, clustered themselves around thematic points, with semi-permanent exhibitions. So amid the 18th century, early 19th century, pre-Raphaelites and Victorian displays, there’s Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature, A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness and Channel Crossings: French and English Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and it works. It means that more corners of permanent collection are seen, clustered around thematic connections and the gallery also has extra destinations for locals who may feel that they’ve otherwise already seen the display. If you don’t mind me jumping ahead, this is exactly something the Walker in Liverpool should be doing right now.

In the midst of all this, how do I even begin to start choosing highlights as is customary in these non-reviews? Usually it’s been pretty easy, small displays, small collections, mostly local artists but city art galleries can’t be approached in that way. Half of Edward’s pagination makes a good job of it and although I agree with most of his suggestions, especially John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs which I had on my bedroom wall at university. The best idea, probably, is to arbitrarily choose a theme and talking about some of the objects which are about that theme. How about Shakespeare? The collection has at least a couple of renowned paintings related to his works. Yes, that will do.

The first ever purchase for the collection, back in 1826 was Shakespeare related, James Northcote’s portrait of the actor Ira Aldridge playing Othello. Amongst his many portraits, Shakespeare was one of Northcote’s key subjects. He was one of the artists commissioned to produce work for the ill-fated Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in London which was to simultaneously create an exhibition and book illustrating his plays. This Othello was not one of them. Instead, this shows the Moor of Venice in a style that might suggest it was the character that commissioned the portrait, Aldridge not shown in any of the usual cliched “jealous” poses, instead presenting the noble, gentle figure that Desdemona originally fell for.

The other renowned object (which I also have as a postcard on the wall above my desk here) is Arthur Hughes’s Ophelia. Painted when he was just nineteen, it also depicts a very youthful noblewoman with elfin features. The painting and the frame are of equal importance, Gertrude’s description of the scene depicted inscribed into the gold leaf, the edges carved with vines. The overall effect is biblical. The garland of herbs crowning her head, not just indicating a succession which would surely have come with Hamlet Jr as her husband but also a crown of thorns. She’s sitting it seems, but there’s an inevitability to the moment. As she glances down to the water, we're catching the moment when she realises her fate.

William Bromley’s Catherine of Aragon is perhaps the most theatrical but the lengthy description at Your Paintings doesn’t indicate that there’s any particularly famous actors from a production of Henry VIII, a scene from which this illustrates. I love authority with which she addresses the Cardinals even though she’s sitting, her hand up in defiance. Unfortunately within the gallery, the whole thing’s rather ruined by the glaze which covers it and the rather odd circular mark in the top left hand corner where the man is standing holding open the curtain. A similar mark appears on the glass frontage of James Archer’s otherwise remarkable La Mort d’Arthur. Right in the middle, destroying the composition.

When I saw it on the Archer I asked the invigilator what it was. He explained it was the high impact sucker which was used at some point in its transport which has left a stain on the glass, concentric circles about the size of the base of a coffee mug and presumably went unnoticed when the picture was hung. I asked him if there were any plans for them to be repaired. He said that it would be, to boil down what he said less diplomatically, too much hassle. To which I replied that this was rubbish and that there wasn’t much point in displaying the painting in this condition. Or words to that effect. Really, Manchester Art Gallery, this is a terrible way to treat these ancient paintings and no state to leave them hanging.

The rest of the paintings on display illustrate some of the so-called minor works. There’s William Frederick Yeames’s Prince Arthur and Hubert, the latter having been tasked by King John with killing the boy (as per Act IV, Scene 1). The accompanying text says a reviewer at the time “found the painting trivial and anti-heroic” which it really isn’t, as we see in Hubert’s face the turmoil of the choice he has to make and trying to hide that emotion from his potential victim. There’s Winter Fuel by John Everett Millais, an image of survival within a harsh landscape which was accompanied by a line from Sonnet 73 on first display, “Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

There may be more Shakespeare related works in the archives, but the Your Paintings search only works if items have been tagged manually and I haven’t the time (at the moment!) to go through the couple of thousand images there. Suffice to say this is just a snip of what’s there though it’s worth checking which galleries are open beforehand.  The contemporary and main temporary spaces were both closed for rehangs. But like I said way up above, I’d probably well and truly seen my fair share by then. Anyway, there we are then, Manchester Art Gallery, tick. Just the Walker Art Gallery to do and it’s the collection with which I’m most familiar. Why am I so nervous? Ends of projects. Ends of projects.

At least I think I was.

Life I was mistaken for a celebrity at lunch time. At least I think I was.

My latest project is to never eat in the same place again as a way of forcing me to eat in some of those cafes, restaurants or bistros which I'm always walking past without entering of which there are plenty in Liverpool.

 I'm also only ever eating the soup at lunchtime. This is as a special sub-project.

At today's cafe, which will remain nameless to save blushes, but feel free to ask me in real life, I stumbled up to the counter and ordered the soup and a glass of water.

The waitress looked at me, and looked at me again and kept looking at me to the point that I wondered what she was looking at.

Not actual me obviously, my self-esteem wouldn't allow for that.

Was it The Adventures of Tin-Tin t-shirt I'd decided wear for the first time since it was bought for me about ten years ago now that it actually fits? That had already received a few glances on the bus into town.

I sat down.

 Then I sat down again when I moved to a table in the window.

 The waitress, as she cleared the table, still looking at me, still grinning, asked if I'd moved.

 I replied that I had, that I wanted a window seat. She nodded and grinned again, but again not in that way that you tend to have to in the service industry as I know.

She brought me the soup but not the water. I went back up to the counter to ask for the water. She said she'd bring it over.

I sat down. I ate some soup. She brought the water. And then she said, "You look just like Massabi."

I'm guessing the spelling. I don't even really know what she said. But I do know I didn't know what to do with what she said.

"Oh. No."

"Do you know Masebi?"

"No. I'm not him. I'm from here." I don't know why that was important information. "I was born in Speke." I wasn't actually born in Speke. I was born in town.

"Well, you look just like him."

I smiled. She returned to work but every now and then I caught her still looking over, not completely convinced.

I finished my soup.  I left.

When I was at school one classmate thought I looked like Rowan Atkinson.  Another Patrick Moore.  At I knew who they were.

What I should have asked was "Who is that?" but I was so entirely thrown by the encounter, she seemed nervous, that it went out of my mind.

I don't know that it was a celebrity.  It could have just been a friend of a friend.  But there was just something about the encounter.  A niggle.  A feeling.

I've googled.  Without a spelling I can't find anyone resembling me.  There's a lot of people and things in the world with a name similar to that.  Any ideas?  Do I have a celebrity doppelganger?