Christmas Links #11

Counterfeit Christmas: Fears over fakes on sale:
"Lucy Lane ordered what she thought was a Nutribullet blender on eBay in February 2015. It turned out to be a counterfeit. "I bought it from eBay and I paid £124.99 for it. I think they retailed for £150. That eBay [seller] came up as one of the cheapest but not by a dramatic amount. [...] I didn't think for a minute that it could be fake - I mean £125 is still quite a lot of money. It's not like I'm paying 25 quid and hoping that it's real."

We Called Shia LeBeouf’s New Hotline And This Is What Happened:
"This aside, what are you supposed to do? What is my role in this, when (or if) I decided to give Shia a bell? There is a sense of excitement, starfuckery almost, about being granted access to a ‘movie star’. Are you to enact the typical fanboy role? I’m sure many of us have indulged in a celebrity friend fantasy. Whether that be actor, musician, artist, we tend to confuse the enjoyment we gain from their work as a connection. Through this we create a personal simulacrum from that celebrity; an imaginary friend that other people would recognise."

Some kids taking Christmas snooping up a notch:
"Liz Ripking of CyberSafety Consulting suggested parents should change their email and online passwords, keep them private, and close all windows on the computer when finished browsing the Internet. She also said parents need to have ongoing serious talks with their children about what is and is not allowed online."

What a map of the UK's 1,650 branches of Greggs can tell us about the British high street:
"But then the questions started rolling in. Why only one in Northern Ireland? Why so many in northern cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester? Why none in Devon and Cornwall? And what, exactly, is a second-hand Greggs?"

Why Aren't Christmas Ads as Big a Deal in the U.S. as They Are in the U.K.?
"But mixed in with the warm and fuzzy holiday feelings these ads stirred up, Devra Pyrwes experienced another emotion: frustration. Because Pyrwes is an American marketer who works for a U.K. firm, the Unruly Group, which specializes in Web video content, and every year at this time she ponders the same question: If U.K. retailers are generating such enormous Web traffic and overall goodwill for their brands with touching short films, why don't their U.S. counterparts do the same?"

How ‘Turner and Hooch’ helped Pixar convince Tom Hanks to star in ‘Toy Story’
"On Thursday (Dec. 10), ABC's "Toy Story at 20" delighted fans with a trip down memory lane. The special served as a history lesson for those unfamiliar with the humble beginnings of the beloved movie that started it all."

'A Christmas Story' museum in Cleveland gets Red Ryder gun from 1983 movie:
"Now, visitors to the adjacent museum will get to lay eyes on the Christmas gift Ralphie longed for most of all: the "Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time."
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The Back of Shia LaBeouf's Head.

Art  Shia LeBeouf, sometime Hollywood actor, now more meme than man is currently sat behind a desk in FACT Liverpool as one third of a human art installation, with the artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö, called #touchmysoul.  He'll be there all weekend taking calls from the public via a heavily publicised telephone number whilst the visitors shuffle through having a glare at him.  Even though his work in the Transformers films was enough for me to turn away from his charms, his recently developed irony gland and general sense of being a walking event was enough to make me want to go and see him in the flesh, which I did at lunch time.

There was a queue but not as long as you'd expect.  Pausing briefly just at the entrance to Gallery One provides a view not unlike the Talosians had of Captain Pike in the original Star Trek pilot or Roddy McDowell in that episode of The Twilight Zone about the human zoo.  It was from this point I still felt able to criticise the man and his disappointing robot films to the giant security guard standing at the doorway who rightly noted that Shia was quite good in Lawless.  Which he is, even if the rest of this neo-noir is boringly generic.  For my money, his best film is still techno War Games knock-off Eagle Eye.

Moments later I was let through the door and in the gallery space and although the walls are adorned with the rest of the exhibition, everyone's eyes are focused on one thing and there he is hunched over that desk chatting away to callers, him essentially inaudible, them totally.  Every now and then Shia says the hashtag title of the exhibition "Touch My Soul", which seems to be the opening greeting in this existential call centre before either thanking the person on the other end of the line for calling, or asking them to repeat whatever it is they're trying to say.  Assuming they're saying anything.  Sometimes they don't.

I know this after chatting vaguely to a couple of women nearby.  They tell me they've been here for two hours, queuing up for an hour even before the exhibition opened.  They love Shia and you can see that love in every shaking gesture of their fingers on their iPhone as they attempt to fruitlessly call him from a couple of feet away.  Two hundred attempts apparently.  How strange to be within shouting distance of an idol but unable to speak to him via a tool designed for communicating through long distances.  I ask them later what they learned from the experience.  "That Shia is beautiful", they tell me.

Bored with looking that back of his head, I wander around to the various sides of the gallery and take some photographs.  All three artists seem entirely unphased by this or the many other smart phone photographs being taken.  Back in the queue I'd been asked if I had a camera.  I admitted to the iPod.  Was told this was ok, they were ruling out professional models with telephoto lenses.  Presumably they're more distracting.  I visited each wall of the gallery and shot the table from different angles.  They're not the most visually arresting images although I do like how Shia's hunched forward in the side on view.  He looks deep in conversation.  He wasn't.

After a while I wonder, as I so often do in this situation, what it's all for.  To an extent it doesn't feel that much different from the performance work of Marina Abramovic which is noted in this The Guardian interview although they refute it.  Unlike The Artist Is Present, they're all looking at each other and are addressing people outside the gallery rather than those who've come to gawp.  Also unlike Abramovic it lacks emotional scale.  As a performance piece people within the space aren't really receiving much themselves within the feedback loop, other than that they're in the presence of someone who otherwise exists for us on screens.

In a sense, despite having breathed the same air at Shia, I actually felt more emotionally connected to him during #allmymovies, perhaps because his face was front and centre and he was on a screen and when his usually bored, dissonant features broke into a smile or even a laugh, it was like we were witnessing some kind of psychological breakthrough.  That it tended to happened during his childhood films offered extra poignancy.  He giggled a couple of times during the visit, but without knowing why it didn't have the same results.

There is some kind of an outlet.  Shia is typing up fragments of his conversation in a massive document which appears on one of the screens in the gallery and the #touchmysoul website.  That is perhaps the soul of the piece, piecing together an idea of the kinds of people who would attempt to phone the actor and why.  Sometimes they just want to say hello.  Sometimes they want to complement him.  On a couple of occasions he's insulted.  Sometimes the text strays into something not unlike poetry,  Sometimes: " i just wanna say transformers is a big bag a shit ... but its not your fault i just wanna say you should forgive yourself ..."

The live stream of the event is also being displayed in the gallery and in the first picture above I think you can see me taking a picture of the live stream recording me taking a picture of the live stream.  The stream is here and if you scroll back far enough you'll see it was even recording while the gallery was closed and also be able to see the trio sitting down at the beginning of the day and the first set of visitors entering.  Everyone keeps a respectful distance.  A few people attempt selfies.  But no one actually approaches the table, an extra invisible, imaginary wall between them and the artists themselves.

Somewhere in here I decided to see if I could take a picture of the back of my own head with the back of Shia's head.  I held the iPod behind my bonce and jerked backwards but unable to see the screen I had little idea if either of us would be in shot.  This is the best I could do in situ:

It's sort of there.  Inevitably all of these got me noticed on the live stream:

Which gave me a date stamp for when I was in the gallery space. Work backwards through the live stream and ...

Ultimately I don't know what to make of the experience.  Generally I don't go out of my way to see people in the public eye preferring to bump into them and especially try to avoid heroes.  I was two inches away from Hadley Freeman of The Guardian at a Tate press view a couple of years ago and I'd say that was the more thrilling experience.  If anything it's more about being able to say that I managed to see #touchmysoul because it's the kind of event which doesn't come to Liverpool that often even if I'm not entirely sure what it was for and what it was about.

[Updated 16/12/2015:  Revisiting the gallery today I discovered that the table where Shia et al were sat now houses a recording of the conversations they had with callers.  Only able to listen briefly, I don't know how many of them are there or which days but its an interesting sensation to be inside the conversations and actually adds much to the piece.  From what I heard, they mostly simply listened to people, not really interjecting or offering question, I expect to some extent to emulate what it's like for normals to speak to celebs on Twitter which is almost always a one-to-one versus one-to-many situation.  I'm reminded of the description Sarah Silverman gives sometimes of a call she heard on The Howard Stern Show in which a fan nervously insulted Stern but just as he was being cut off blurted out, "I exist!"]

Christmas Links #10

Couple Marries in Christmas Tree Farm Wedding 15 Years After Planting Tree:
"Tis the season to visit Christmas tree farms and deck the halls with smells of evergreens and sights of twinkling lights and big red bows. But it wasn’t jingle bells this entrepreneurial couple were thinking of on their journey to Henry’s Christmas Tree Farm in Hope, Rhode Island last weekend – it was wedding bells."

This One-of-a-Kind Christmas Tree Is Made of 2,000 Handmade Glass Ornaments:
"Since 2008, the world-renowned museum, which boasts a collection of more than 45,000 glass objects that span 3,500 years, has been drawing thousands of visitors each winter to marvel at its sparkling tree. There’s no other holiday tree like it in the world, and no two of the tree’s ornaments, which are created by a team of resident glassmakers, are the same. The tree is so elaborate that it takes several days to install inside the museum’s glass-walled lobby. Once the final sphere has been hung, lights from within the tree illuminate it from the inside, making it glow like a giant, festive lightbulb."

Longer News at Ten for the BBC:
"From 11th January, the 10pm news will be extended with a longer bulletin from the nations and regions following the main UK and international news with Huw Edwards in an extension that was initially trialed in the run up and immediate aftermath of this year's General Election."

White Christmas:
"Bing Crosby dreamt of it, children wish for it but what counts as a white Christmas and how likely is it to happen? BBC Weather's Helen Willetts explains."

Fly Over OP Mest and FOB Sharana:
"Bowe Bergdahl said he planned to cause a DUSTWUN by leaving his outpost, OP Mest, and running—or at least walking—to his base, FOB Sharana. This map (push play to fly over the area) gives a sense of the terrain he would have had to cross."

Father Christmas letter from the 1930s found up Powys chimney:

"A letter written by a five-year-old girl to Father Christmas in the 1930s has been found up a chimney during renovation work at a house in Powys. In the note, found at Garthmyl Hall, Berriew, Christine Churchill, now 82, asks for "some nice toys" and a hymn book."

Shia LaBeouf: 'Why do I do performance art? Why does a goat jump?'
"Shia LaBeouf’s artworks have been dismissed as stunts and ripoffs – but he doesn’t care. The Hollywood star and his collective explain why they’re in Liverpool taking calls from the public."

Austin Middle School 62nd Annual Singing Christmas Tree:

"The program will feature a 25 foot tree with students in the tree. Dancing elves with Santa, Rudolph, and a singing angel at the top of the tree singing "O Holy Night"!"

Christmas Links #9

How to have a green Christmas without being a Grinch:
"If you’re looking for a holiday that holds less waste, debt and stress, there are many ways to shift the gift-centric nature of modern Christmas celebrations without eliminating the tradition of exchanging presents altogether. Did you really think I was going to tell you to do that? I’m no Scrooge. I mean, without gifts, Christmas morning would find us all staring blankly at each other as we sip coffee and wonder: “What now?”"

Well, that went well:
"People will want to make you feel small when they think you’re happy and content. I cannot say this clearly enough. Fuck those people. See also people who send you stories about how little self-employed people earn. It’s political. Fuck those people too. If you make self employment look easy (largely by not complaining about it) you’ll become a magnet for people who think they’ll spend the rest of their days typing on a laptop in coffee shops for a couple of hours before heading home to bake cakes. Yeah. Cos that’s what this life looks like."

Secrets of the Mona Lisa:
"Presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, this landmark film uses new evidence to investigate the truth behind her identity and where she lived. It decodes centuries-old documents and uses state-of-the-art technology that could unlock the long-hidden truths of history's most iconic work of art."

Review 2015:
Kathleen Herzog on
The Empire Strikes Back.

Film My dad was an old-school science fiction fan who loved Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes films and was thrilled to have a kid to share it all with, even if I didn’t quite get the appeal of Star Trek beyond “The Trouble With Tribbles.” I was a Star Wars fanatic, having been so impressed by the first movie I ever saw in a theatre that I was the only girl Darth Vader in my kindergarten class’s Halloween parade. My dad was delighted.

When Stuart asked for film experiences for this year’s Review, there was one perfectly crystallized moment that came to mind. I was seven years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released in May 1980. The memory of that day is mostly a blur of childhood rapture, adrenaline and joy, and the reason I am, to this day, consumed with instant goosebumps when I hear the theme music. But that moment, maybe a single second long, is frozen: turning to my dad when the Millennium Falcon escaped Cloud City, his face illuminated by the light of the screen. He was grinning and aglow with joy, and time stopped. “I’ll always remember this day,” I thought, “When I saw The Empire Strikes Back with my dad. I’ll never forget this for as long as I live.”

And it’s true, I have never forgotten and I never will. I’m sure my seven-year-old self didn’t realize that someday memories would be all I had left of my dad, and just how precious that particular one would be. He died four years ago, a brutal departure he fought as hard as he could. Gallows humor being a family specialty, he joked about being pissed off about all the great movies he was going to miss. He wasn’t really kidding, and this was before we knew about the pending reboots of so many of our other favorite things – The X-Files! Twin Peaks! Mystery Science Theatre!! Come on!

The Force Awakens wasn’t even a twinkle in J.J. Abrams’ eye back then, at least as far as we knew, but my dad loved the Abrams Star Trek reboot and would have been ecstatic that he was handling such precious cargo as our Star Wars franchise. The release coincides with my nephew’s eighth birthday and his next-generation excitement for a “new Star Wars movie” thirty-five years after my own giddiness for Empire is wonderful anti-bittersweet balm. It does happen time and time again, though, the flare-up of quick, helpless anger – Dad should be here! It’s not fair! -- quelled with the resolution that, in his absence, I’ll strive to enjoy it enough for two.

I’ll close my eyes when that logo hits the screen and remember the glowing cinematic moment I told myself I’d never forget. And just like that, he’ll be there with me.

Christmas Links #8

Christmas In New York City - Rockefeller Center Tree:
"Last week, my hubs surprised me with a quick trip up to the City (our first since being back east!) and it was during the eve of the lighting of America's Christmas Tree, the tree at Rockefeller Center! We were there only a short time (and arrived later than expected due to weather delays), but it was still wonderful to "be a part of it." Seeing all the lights, decorations, people, and storefronts dressed for the holidays can really lift ones spirit - even with a few precautionary street closures..."

Lincoln's Christmas melted ice rink becomes giant puddle:
"An outdoor Christmas ice rink has turned into a giant puddle because unseasonably mild weather has caused it to melt."

New York Brewery Makes Giant Christmas Tree Using 428 Kegs:
"Using 428 empty kegs, they created a stack that comes in around 26-feet high. In addition to the 11 layers of kegs, there are also stands of lights and an electrical Genesee bar sign on the top. It’s a classic play on the “Beeramid” that I’m sure many of you have made before, except, you know, this is with kegs instead of cans."

Is BBC One really the same as ITV?
"The BBC should not start with a gap in the market, and try to fill it. It should start with its public remit and the creative idea, and then deliver programmes that fulfil them. The fact that the BBC makes some of the same types of programmes as the commercial sector means there is ‘competition for quality’ that benefits all sides and explains why this country has some of the best television in the world. If we withdrew, it’s likely that commercial broadcasters would reduce their investment too and audiences would have less choice. ITV is already spending less in real terms on original UK content investment, despite its strong advertising revenues and profits."

Rape is not a punchline – or a way to sell Christmas presents:
"Banning jokes and adverts is not the feminist endgame, but why is there a seasonal spike in tasteless advertising?"

Bill Murray's Little Christmas Miracle:
"Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas,” directed by Sofia Coppola, is full of little stocking-stuffer performances that add up to something that feels, almost unaccountably, like an instant classic."

My Favourite Film of 1969.

Film Strange as this sounds, there was a time when Costco, the large wholesale retailer on the Dock Road in the same retail park at Toys R Us wasn't as well known as it would seem to be now having done a quick Twitter survey.  When I first gained a card back in the late 90s due to tangentially working for the University of Liverpool on the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association project, it really did have that whiff of being handed something special, being inducted into a club.

Trying to describe Costco to locals as a retailer in which large quantities of supermarket products could be bought at wholesale prices made it sounds somehow quite illicit, like breaking across the natural order of things.  It wasn't unheard of, if you were really lucky you might know someone with a Macro card, but Costco's entry requirements are far looser and it was even closer to Liverpool to Kirkby, were the former wholesaler still resides.

The novelty never does quite go away, of being able to buy trays of Kirklands water for about three pounds or massive packages filled with chicken breasts.

But what inevitably excited me most about visits to the shop was the film and music section which often carried unusual editions of videos and later dvds not seen at other retailers and amazingly cheap prices.  In the time before really being able to take advantage of discounts online, this was an expressively useful way to purchase films and I'd spend whole minutes working my way through the pallets trying to decide what to buy each time.  It became a ritual.

Costco clearly knew it was a draw for customers.  I remember vividly visiting during the week that Titanic was released on VHS and seeing them piled up at the entrance and throughout the shop and almost every customer having a copy in their trolley as they went through the till.  Apart from me of course.  Although I knew that James Cameron had specially prepared this full screen version by shooting a lot of the film in a square frame, by then I was already a widescreen purest.

Which is why I was surprised a few years later to find widescreen copies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on sale at some loopily budget price.  Having only ever seen a rubbish tv version I was delighted about finally being able to watch it in something approaching the correct aspect ratio even if on my then 4:3 television set that was something of a squintable experience.  You'll remember that widescreen films weren't anamorphic and so lacked a lot of visual information.

As is the way with so many things, Costco slowly cut back its audio-visual section, first the cds, with their unique package that separated the inlay from the cd box in a large plastic packaging, then the VHS and finally the dvds, the internet having superceded them somewhat.  They might have carried some blu-ray just as they were being introduced, but the prices were pretty close to RRP and I didn't have a player in any case.

Why offer them in the first place?  As far as I could see they didn't sell them in bulk.  Unlike groceries, it wasn't as though a cafe was about to also purchase a hundred copies of The Full Monty on VHS (another big seller) to mark-up and sell on.  Perhaps it was simply that shoppers bought them so they sold them and when shoppers stopped buying them, they moved on.  There's still a huge selection of books, which does, in a way tell its own story.

Christmas Links #7

Simms Steakhouse Workers Feel Scrooged By Unexpected Christmas Duty:
"Instead of succumbing to just missing Christmas, plan another celebration with your family. Working on the holiday doesn't have to be a bad thing. With a little Christmas spirit and a great attitude, you can make the best of it. Not just for you, but for your co-workers and our guests!"

Orson Welles’s Forgotten Christmas Classic:
"In fact, Mr. Arkadin, shot throughout Europe during Welles’s nomadic exile from Hollywood, wasn’t even really finished. It was wrested away from the director after he took too long editing it. The result was different rogue cuts and no definitive version. The movie posits a mystery, but is itself a puzzle, a completist’s nightmare that has busied film scholars. And yet it’s also a great, dark Christmas movie, with gorgeous shots of snow-blanketed Munich and the saddest version of “Silent Night” ever recorded."

This Christmas Video of a Little Girl Asking Santa for Presents Is Going Viral:
"That's when Santa turns to the girl and speaks to her, in sign language, about what she wants for Christmas. The look on her face when she realizes Santa can sign is enough to turn even the grinchiest Grinch into a total holiday believer."

This novelty Christmas song only gets worse with age:
"The first time I heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” I thought it was the best Christmas song ever—which makes sense, as I was about 7 years old at the time. It’s a song that’s perfectly targeted to little kids: With wacky lyrics about a little old lady being trampled by Santa, and the somewhat lackluster response from Grandpa, it’s the epitome of “novelty holiday song.” And with every repetition of the track since that initial hearing, one thing becomes clear: This song is annoying as fuck."

This London chip shop is selling deep-fried Christmas:
"Sutton & Sons is flogging deep-fried sprouts for £2.50 a go. A battered mince pie, meanwhile, will set you back £3.50, but does come with a dollop of brandy cream. "

Soup Safari #59: Vegetarian Scotch Broth at The Philharmonic Dining Rooms.

Lunch. £4.75. The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, 36 Hope St, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 9BX. Phone: 0151 707 2837. Website.

This Year's Doctor Who in Pictures.

TV As you may have noticed, the theme I chose this year for illustrating my reviews of Doctor Who have been the final shot just before the opening credits.  I had assumed that this would lead to some visual reality but as you can see from the images I've reproduced below, seven of them include some part of Peter Capaldi's anatomy including five of just his face alone with the veins popping out of his forehead and three of them have Jenna Coleman (although in her only "hero" shot she's not playing Clara).

What can we draw from this?  That to an extent it confirms the Doctor as being as much of a viewpoint character as Clara this year if not more so given that he appeared in more episodes than she.  But also that the episodes clearly weren't recorded in broadcast order given the variable length of Capaldi's hair which actually seems to become shorter as the season goes on (though it's entirely possibly he simply received a haircut in the middle).  When the production dates turn up in the Pixley special, my guess is the Clara heavy material was all shot first.  We'll see.

Review 2015:
Film Experiences:
Annette Arrigucci on
My Girl.

Film I remember seeing “My Girl” when it was released in 1991, one of the very few times both my parents took me and my sisters to a movie theater. In retrospect, I have to wonder, what were my parents thinking taking kids that were ages 9, 7 and 5 to this movie? For being a family movie, “My Girl” is pretty dark and heavy. To say the movie deals with death is an understatement – it’s steeped in it from the start. Besides that it has a widower dad falling in love, puberty, hypochondria, an unrequited crush, and on top of that it's in the midst of the ‘70s.

Looking back a lot of the movie went way over my head. Things on later viewings I saw as quirky touches by the filmmakers I accepted at face value the way you accept things when you're nine years old. Shelly living in a trailer and Vada's dad working (and living) at a funeral home and playing the tuba didn’t phase me. Didn't all adults have funny jobs and strange hobbies? I failed to see the humor in Vada taking an adult writing class and in her being the youngest one in the class by about 20 years. Some describe the character of Vada as “precocious,” but I didn’t see her as all that different from myself, besides being a couple years older than me. And at nine I didn’t really understand what the ‘70s were, other than they wore bell bottoms and played music that was different from the present era, but not unpleasant (do-wa-diddy-diddy-dum-diddy-do - not a bad song).

And, the ultimate sign of my naivete, I didn't see Thomas J.’s death coming. I didn’t read reviews at that age, and I didn't know a person could be killed by bees, so it was a huge shocker.

It was the first time I cried in a movie. It was the first time I experienced the power of art of any type to bring me to tears. Even today just thinking about the scene where Vada runs in to the funeral service and says, "Where are his glasses?" wrecks me. It's so raw, and it’s something a kid would say. Seeing a sad movie in a theater is different from seeing it on TV – it’s more intense since there’s no escaping from it. You cannot look away. It’s an experience I tend not to seek out.

Upon reflection, as an adult, I will probably never be put in that situation again, where I’ll be forced to see sit in a theater and watch a movie that I don’t know is going to be extremely sad. In a way that is a relief – there are no surprises now that I read reviews and have a more sophisticated mentality about movies. But in another sense something is lost – the power of art to move you in way that is completely unexpected. That is something as an adult I experience less and less of. There really is something magical about seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and it’s sad to think that you can never see the world that way again.

Christmas Links #6

Recommended Last Posting Dates 2015:
"To help you get Christmas Sorted we’ve created a useful tool to help you remember the recommended last posting dates for destinations around the world. You can also create reminders for other important UK dates like Valentine’s and Mother’s Days."

German Gymnasium: restaurant review:
"You’d think, after all these years writing about restaurants, I’d be inured to its occasional stupidities, but I’m really not. The German Gymnasium, between London’s St Pancras and King’s Cross stations, is a case in point. I simply do not understand how the extraordinarily experienced company behind it, D&D London, can spend so many millions acquiring, converting and fitting out the building and yet be so utterly cack-handed when it comes to the food, which, relative to the build cost, is a small expense. The food also happens to be the whole point of the venture."

A Hipster Santa With a Man Bun Spotted in Portland, Oregon Wearing Jeans and a Stylish Sweater:
"A “Hipster Santa” with a man bun has been spotted at the Pioneer Place shopping mall in downtown Portland, Oregon sitting in a PDX carpet chair, wearing jeans and a stylish sweater that appears to be simlar to the one worn by “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski."

Santa's smiles better: We send Father Christmas out to spread some festive cheer in Glasgow:
"We’re supposed to be full of yuletide joy! But, with all the miserable news, you wouldn’t be blamed for just shutting your curtains tonight and praying it’s January 4 when you open them again."

No, Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas:
"... on behalf of those unfamiliar with the Jewish festival of lights, I asked basic questions of Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, who leads Chabad of Oregon, a Jewish outreach organization based in Southwest Portland that operates Jewish schools, a synagogue, store and more. His responses have been edited for clarity and brevity."

Hell Bent.

TV See, I told you. Well, yes, so did the cover of Doctor Who Magazine, but there was always the potential that the Jenna Coleman in the waitress outfit would be one of the many of the Clara-shaped humans populating time and space, the Doctor having dropped by to consider the old days with someone who looked like a friend he once knew. Now we know it was rather the reverse and that rather like Me, Clara’s become another of the Doctor’s friends to cheat death, although unlike Me who has had more heartbeats than she should ever have had (and thanks to being rescued at the death of the universe a few more), she exists in the space just before beating her last.

Hell Bent is not an easy episode to write about especially as a series finale. An arguably even more atypical piece of Doctor Who than Heaven Sent, it’s the kind of bitty instalment that has you in bits, the sort of experiment that the best episodic television has to present every now and then in order to demonstrate that it’s very far from being run of the mill. It’s Listen. Or Warriors Gate. Or The Silurians. Or The Keys of Marinus. They’re also injection moulded not to be popular, so trust Steven Moffat and Doctor Who to put it at the end of a run of episodes, though it’s also true that in a couple of weeks we have what looks like a romping Christmas special which in the future when boxed sets are released will be watched at the end of the run.

Did I enjoy it? Perhaps, maybe, not sure. As might have become clear over the many years we’ve been a hybrid, my tastes in Doctor Who aren’t necessarily conservative, I like experimental Who as much as I like experimental anything, but there is still a point when I also think the show has to settle down and do the generic things, when it has to reconfirm its principles and beliefs and just tell a thumping good story. In a run of episodes which has gone out of its way to very specifically not do that, to have ended everything with a Gallifrey based alien invasion on a base under siege would have been a disservice but part of me still longs for the days when a series finale amounted to the Doctor thwarting an alien invasion. With jokes.

The revival has somewhat trained us to expect the massive triumphant conclusion with space battles and speeches when the classic series wasn’t this at all, and indeed with the exception of regeneration stories, tended to simply offer an adventure which could just as easily have slotted anywhere in the previous run of stories. Season 13 could just as easily have ended on The Brain of Morbius and indeed no one really thinks of Season 17 concluding with Shada, The Horns of Nimon being perfectly expectable for that slot, if not necessarily as a piece of drama. Even when you look at the exceptions, The Green Death or whatever, more often than not, it’s still about telling a self contained stories rather than answering a series of narrative questions.

Instead, the show is now in a place where it feels like every instalment has to be an intellectual or emotional visual tone poem. What you would have thought would be celebratory symphonic moments like the Doctor’s return to his home planet become percussive thrums with filigree edging, running giving way to much talking and an audience left to read between the lines depending on how an actor’s skin shifts around their periorbitals or which direction their tongue wipes along their bottom lip (unsurprisingly quite difficult when you’re watching it on a 22” portable with a dodgy backlight). Stunning and statemental as a piece of television but there’s still the need to take a step back and wonder, “What’s it for?” and more importantly, “Who?”

Lord knows there are enough fan pleasing moments in Hell Bent to keep us squeeing no matter when in the past fifty-two years they hitched themselves to the back of the TARDIS, the sort of episode with has a three hundred and sixty degree specially created version of a 60s time ship and actually lets us see inside the citadels established in the Tenth Doctor’s memorial flashbacks. Does the Doctor really admit that he’s half-human in his conversation with Me? The fact that they’re even having the conversation is significant but this in an episode filled with such discussions in which bits and pieces of arcane mythology almost become the topic of Socratic dialogue. With another ten minutes UNIT dating might finally have been sort out once and for all.

Plus there’s the whole business of dealing with Rassilon, the Doctor becoming the President of Gallifrey and effectively resetting the status quo back to something not unlike that seen in the 80s. Does this mean Gallifrey is back, back, back? Can he get a call from the Time Lords as he once did before and be sent on some mission to stop the Xerons from every existing or to a colony to find out why all the natural resources are disappearing out of its core only to discover it was The Meddling Monk all along? Hope so. However unpopular they are amongst fandom, I’ve always had a soft spot for them if only because just as lots of planets have a north, at least one of them should be the Vatican, as a contrast to explain why the Doctor is the way he is.

All of which is perfectly fine. But I do fear what the casuals, the not we, the general audience or whatever other patronising description you want to choose to describe the sorts of people who don’t live this are thinking. What possible reason would they have to tune in? There’s an argument that after ten years, the show has amassed a certain reputational surplice and that it’s good that it’s offering something entirely unlike the rest of Saturday night but equally, as I suggested last week and Hell Bent simply went on to confirm, there’s a reason Dennis Potter plays went out on BBC Two. For all the scares and such in here, it doesn’t feel like a show that even children would want to watch. There’s an imbalance.

To a degree, it’s television series experiencing the same growing pains as various strands of the franchise during the wilderness years and although Hell Bent only resembles something like The Ancestor Cell in the sense that it also features Gallifrey, references to a Time War and ends with the Doctor experiencing amnesia (which I’ll talk about in a moment), just as that wasn’t in the business of creating accessible crowd pleasing material, it’s almost as though Hell Bent knows it was only going to be getting a four and a half million overnight, six million consolidated and slightly depressed iPlayer numbers and doesn’t care. I only hope that now it’s had its Lungbarrow, it’s got it out of its system and the next thing will be The Dying Days.

On the Doctor’s amnesia: if he has forgotten Clara, it’s not like she’s been expunged from the universe. Next time he turns up on Earth, even if her death has become part of the timeline (expect a memorial garden in the school grounds during Class), isn’t Kate or somebody going to mention her existence to him even if it’s to pass on their condolences? Isn’t she mentioned in his two thousand year diary and aren’t her belongings still in the TARDIS somewhere? When Charley Pollard was needfully expunged from Sixy’s brain, someone was added to fill the lack. Even if she doesn’t remember any of his adventures with her, the universe does. Unfortunately for some, I suspect this is a topic which will be returned to.

On his gun:  yes, well hum.  As you know, the idea of the Doctor brandishing a gun has always been a bit of a moveable feast in terms of its validity and for all the times he's admonished others, he's certainly held a few of his own.  Although the Doctor does shoot a fellow time lord in the face, it is after checking which incarnation he's in and the result is a middle aged white man regenerating into a younger woman of colour who then moans about her predecessor's ego (which is to the good).  Notice how there's little in the way of post-regenerative torpor which the Doctor endures.  Perhaps the reason he's generally out of sorts during and after these changes is because he's half-human which means his body takes longer to settle down.

On Me: fruitless in the end. For a character who appeared in four whole episodes this year she still feels like a series of interesting ideas in search of a point, mainly existing to function in various scripts as a replacement for other individuals. The one useful thought, of being an immortal whose memory exists in written memoirs, which would have been enough to fuel a potentially classic episode in the right hands, became somewhat thrown away, as has the notion of the Doctor having created an immortal with the potential to do irreparable damage to the time line just by living through it. My impression, despite this ending, is that she’ll be back, that this is incomplete business.

On Clara: I’m pleased Clara isn’t dead quite yet, as such, even if it also means we sat through a ten minute death scene in Face The Raven only to be faced with another hour’s worth. There is something hopelessly poignant about one of Murray’s companion themes turning diagetic so that the character it signatures can hear it themselves, playing again with the notion which has bubbled under the drama since The Feast of Steven of just how aware the Doctor is about being part of a television series, whether he’s regurgitating that music because he’s heard it soundtracking his life, like the Time Lord equivalent of Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.

Did I enjoy it? Perhaps, maybe, not sure. I smiled through most of it, was moved when expected and giggled as the TARDII skipped off into the vortex or at least opposite ends of the television screen. The aforementioned fan pleasing moments were very pleasing and unlike last year, I didn’t end feeling disgruntled and alienated but somewhat elated. But most importantly, as with the rest of this season, I’ve felt like the Doctor has returned, all fourteen incarnations of him staring back at us through Capaldi’s eyes (when he’s not wearing those bloody shades), the man who says words like “never cruel or cowardly” and understands what they mean. In the end, what more could we want?