In Search of Chock-A-Block.

TV Noticing this tweet from Clayton "All Things Doctor Who" Hickman reminded me to check on the status of the wiped episodes of Choc-A-Block, the children's television series from the 1980s. 

Kaleidoscope's Lost Shows's search engine provides the following information:

Missing or incomplete episodes for programme:


11.06.81 (missing)
18.06.81 (missing)
25.06.81 (missing)
02.07.81 (missing)
09.07.81 (missing)
16.07.81 (missing)

23.07.81 Shoe
One or more sequences exist from a recording on a domestic video format (e.g. VHS, Beta, Philips 1500), but the complete programme is lost.

30.07.81 Shoe
The only known complete copy was recorded on a domestic video format (e.g. VHS, Beta, Philips 1500).

Out of an original total of 13 episodes, 6 episodes are missing. In addition, one episode is incomplete and 2 exist on formats inferior to the original.

Which is what it is, a bunch of TX dates. Fortunately the Wikipedia has a complete episode guide (because of course it does) and the BBC Genome exists so it's possible to create match that information up with the episode details.

As it stands, according to that list, these episodes are still in the archive in broadcast quality:

(1) "Clock" tx 21/05/1981
(Fred Harris and the song "The Clock That Lost Its Tock)

(2) "Crow" tx 28/05/1981
(Carol Leader and the song "Ballad of Joe Crow")

(3) "The Sheep" tx 04/06/1981
(Fred Harris)

(12) "Bee At The Sea" tx 06/08/1981
(Carol Leader and the poem "If All the Seas Were One Sea")

(13) "Unknown" tx 30/08/1981
(Fred Harris and the song "Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?")

Inferior non-broadcast quality copies exist in the archive of:

(10) "Shoe" tx 23/07/1981
(Carol Leader)

(11) "Snake" tx 30/07/1981
(Fred Harris and the song "Drake on the Lake")

Not in the BBC archive are:

(4) "The Train" tx 11/06/1981
(Carol Leader)

(5) "The Sun and The Moon" tx 18/06/1981
(Fred Harris and the song "Out Shone a Ray")

(6) "Magpie" tx 25/06/1981
(Carol Leader)

(7) "Unknown" tx 02/07/1981
(Fred Harris and the song "King Cole's Mole)

(8) "Cat" tx 09/07/1981
(Carol Leader)

(9) "Pig" tx 16/07/1981
 (Fred Harris and the song "The Dancing Pig")

Sad face.

Except - they're not lost!

Here's "The Sun and The Moon" on YouTube:

Here's "Unknown":

Here's "Cat":

Here's "Pig":

Plus there's this which I can't identify but I think is "Magpie":

Which just leaves "The Train" as the single missing episode.

Chock-a-boy, checking out.  So that's that.  Good-bye.

Shakespeare Lives on Radio Three.

Radio BBC Radio Three has published details of how they'll be celebrating Shakespeare weekend, with a series of live broadcasts from around Stratford and further afield. As you'd expect the emphasis is on his subsequent influences on music but there still plenty of textual analysis, for example:
Record Review on stage: Live Broadcast
The Other Place Studio Theatre

Actors Samuel West, Hugh Quarshie (a recent Othello at the RSC) and scholar Kate Kennedy join presenter Andrew McGregor on stage to guide us through archive recordings of the greatest Shakespearean interpreters of the last hundred years, including the likes of Sybil Thorndike, Johnston Forbes-Robertson, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.
The broadcasts end at tea time on Sunday evening, but you have to assume that the evening play has to be something Shakespeare. Hasn't it?

New Adventures With The Eighth Doctor (Titan Comics).

Comics Hello again and here we are nearly a quarter of the way through the present hiatus, gap or whatever word you’d like to use for a year in which the only televised episode is at Christmas.  But there’s still plenty of Who around, certainly far too much than most of us can afford, between the BBC and Big Finish audios, books and comics. My strategy is to pretty much stick with making anything with the Eighth Doctor a priority then picking and choosing whatever looks essential from everything else. Does anyone really have the purchasing power to collect everything produced each month now? How do people find the time to read and listen to everything. Presumably enough of this stuff is selling to different fan demographics to sustain itself, but there can’t be many franchises this prolific.

Anyway, at the sharp end of production is Titan Comics, who having nabbed the license to produce US comics from IDW has set about creating their own cottage industry with titles for all of the nuWho Doctors (10th, 11th and 12th initially and now 9th) and a series of limited series for the classic models which means the Eighth inhabits yet another media. The selected approach, set the story during the Time War, is somewhat predictable given the world having moved on from being able to create sequels to the now twenty year old TV movie and the wild popularity of Night of the Doctor (which according to this month’s association circular led to an increase in sales of the McGann audios at Big Finish) making the pre-regenerative Eighth the expected model.

Except this is not a story directly about the Time War. As with the River Song cameo, this is a Doctor who’s actively trying to avoid the thing and seeking a distraction.  George Mann brings some weariness to the incarnation, but for the most part he’s back in the powerful adventurer mode, life’s champion and all that, carefully dodging the cataclysms which are presumably destroying the universe as hinted at in the Justin Richards short story Natural Regression. Perhaps at some point in the future, perhaps in the Big Finish audio, someone will make an attempt to define the chronology of these stories. For now I’m putting it early. At this point there aren’t enough stories for it to matter too much.

Mann’s story somewhat mirrors one of the Big Finish boxes, the Doctor having been tasked by some mystery other with discovering the origin of his new companion, Josie Day, a painter who somehow knows more than she should about the universe, with each issue developing from visiting a space and time on a handwritten list. We’re back in Seasons of Fear, Keys of Marinus or Key To Time multiple territories, though the impetuous is much looser, there’s no ticking clock, it’s simply a way to justify each adventure and when the conclusion comes, it would probably have worked out the same way if they’d simply skipped to the end (not that you couldn’t argue that the emotional connection sparked by the intervening adventures doesn’t help).

New companion Josie is pretty old school in Eighth Doctor terms, fitting a similar silhouette to Sam Jones, Izzy Sinclair and Lucie Miller (and so Ace and Rose), although for various spoilery reasons it’s not quite that clear cut. If you haven’t read the comics yet, if you’re waiting for the trade paperback, my suggestion is that you stop reading now. I want to briefly discuss the implications of Josie briefly. Have you gone? Good. Right so, yes, the cleverness of Mann’s writing is that as well as making the final instalment provide a logical conclusion to the first and provide a twist (effectively shifting the cliche into someone akin to Majenta Pryce of DWM fame), it’s how in those intervening adventures by giving Josephine a key part to play in helping the Doctor, often with a big speech attached, he justifies the Doctor’s faith in her more than is often the case with companions.

The Pictures of Josephine Day

Paintings coming to life is as good a start as any and Mann connects it well to that central mystery about Josie. As we discover (and yes, I’m writing this after reading all five issues) (twice!), Josie knows full well why she has all the knowledge that troubles him and in re-reading the issue, we can already see Mann layering in that she’s hiding something, providing lame excuses but doesn’t overplay his hand, aided by Emma Vieceli’s superb characterisation of her face which manages to capture the double meaning of the words so that can read something new into everything in hindsight. Mann notably doesn’t feel the need to reintroduce Eighth, treating him as being as much of a known quantity as any of his other incarnations. Although he’s not sequelising the cross-media legacy exactly, he is at least acknowledging it.

Music of the Spherions

Tricky second story. Arguably imperilling Josie Androzani-style is an odd choice for her second adventure, but it does provide a good moment of raging anger which you can absolutely hear McGann himself relishing and his companion having the first of her big speeches as she brokers peace between the inadvertently genocidal Spherions and the accidentally oppressed cat like inhabitants of the war-torn planet. Vieceli’s artwork really is epic and gorgeous in places, taking anime as a clear influence especially in the latter stages when Josie’s infection is flushed out. Unlike the various DWM artists across the years which strove to create a clear likeness of the actor, Vieceli’s most offering an idea of the Eighth Doctor, preferring to underscore movement over tableau.

The Silvering

Following the pattern of the 2005 series, after a contemporary setting, then something alien comes Earth’s past, Edinburgh 1866 and like The Unquiet Dead a trip to the theatre. Are these influences intentional? The Doctor confronting magic that isn’t is a deep seam running through his biography and Eighth in particular, this recalling some of the atmosphere of Lloyd Rose’s Camera Obscura. It’s pretty slight stuff, like one of those pieces that would turn up the DWM strip between the larger arcs when Scott Grey or Alan Barnes needed a break from writing in order to catch up. I didn’t notice the twist at the end first time around, perhaps because there’s not enough room in the reflected mirror to see that Josie isn’t there.  There's probably a discussion to be had about who the viewpoint character is in these stories.


“Aaah, it’s The Krynoid Invasion or Invasion of the Krynoids” “[Caption: Seeds of Doom]” Sadly, The Paul McGann Years would be a very short video although I’d pay good money for Big Finish to produce an audio version in which he attempted to provide anecdotes about spending a week in the booth every couple of years recording his scenes. Anyway, Mann returns to another of the Doctor’s key antagonists, alien plant life, on this occasion crossed with a big mansion mystery. The piece has a Masefieldian tone as Mann foregrounds a small boy getting to grips with the notion of having an adventure and the mythology which has built up around his family.  You could well imagine this story told with mid-80s production values, the moments when the plants take control of humans achieved through stop-motion animation ala The Box of Delights.

A Matter of Life and Death

The finale caught me by suprising, having thought that this was a six-part series. Despite rehearsing some of the same arguments as The Almost People from television and Immortal Beloved from the audios, this is my favourite issue of the run with its strong antagonist in the source of Josie’s existence and the Doctor having to take moral decision that underscores how he stands apart from humans without undermining his heroism. The reveal of who provided him with the original list (which also reconfigures our understanding of the first page of the previous issue) is the kind of thing which should annoy me, but I couldn’t help grinning at how well Mann provides necessary contrasts in personality. The final moments hint at there being further adventures for Eighth and Josie. Good.

Restoration of a Bacchante.

Art One of my favourite painters is the 18th century French court portrait painter √Člisabeth Louise Vig√©e Le Brun and her masterpieces include the likeness of Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante which usually hangs at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. The painting as recently been restored, and here the conservator Kristina Mandy talks about her work as NML publish a pdf of the conservation report:
"Varnish removal

After a surface dirt layer was removed, a mixture of solvents were used to slowly remove the varnish layer. Additional residues of an older varnish layer were discovered in Lady Hamilton’s costume, which made her dress appear brown, rather than the original purple-blue colour. These residues were also removed.

A photograph taken during cleaning demonstrates the large visual colour shift achieved by the varnish removal, revealing the bright colours the artist intended for the composition. Additionally the depth in the portrait was reintroduced, and smaller details in the painting were finally visible."
The pdf (which is here) also includes an analysis of Le Brun's original processes in crafting the composition, shifting the anatomy, extending the canvas.

Romola on Isabella.

Theatre BBC Radio 4's Front Row is running a series of interviews with various actors and experts about their favourite Shakespeare characters and Romola Garai has chosen Isabella from my favourite play, Measure for Measure, which she recently played on stage.

As she identifies, the character's situation is often misrepresented. Angelo is suggesting he effectively be allowed rape Isabella (even if the word is never used) and although the Duke then proposes a method for this not to happen, for the production to then end on the two of them leaving as couple as often happens when the director has decided this is the comedy it isn't, is to deeply misunderstand the action which has preceding it. There's a reason why Shakespeare ends the the play on the Duke's proposal but not Isabella's answer.

Other actors featured include David Tennant and Catherine Tate, which means I can add a Doctor Who tag to this post too.

My Favourite Film of 1953.

Film Just because I'm don't follow a particular religion doesn't mean I'm not someone who doesn't have faith.  At the risk of plunging headlong into a Thought for the Day and in order to swerve from smacking headfirst into a sketch from The Fast Show, it's important to note this isn't faith in God or some other mono or polytheistic supernatural being.  I've said in the past that creative endeavours have filled the gap where religion would be and that's still probably true, Shakespeare, the Time Lord franchise and films in general probably have that function.

As Steve Martin says in Grand Canyon, everything you need to know about life is in the movies including it seems, if you're using Grand Canyon as a source  of the information that everything you need to know about life is in the movies.

Here's an example.

In early February, I finally saw Ken Branagh's Cinderella whose central "message" is to "Be kind, have courage and all will be well."  The younger, more cynical version of me might have scoffed at that, but the person typing these words now thinks, "Well ... that's not a bad way to go about things" reminding me as it does of how we'd probably all be better off if we conducted ourselves in a similar way to Cary Grant in North-By-Northwest, genial and good-natured even in the face of aggression and surprising events.  That does work by the way; if a stranger bawls at you, they have nowhere to go if you don't bawl back which is my point about these filmic life lessons, they always have a grain of truth.  Plus it helps if they're the courageous and kind type themselves.

The other moment I often think of is in The War of the Worlds.

The Martians are on the brink of winning.  Everything is near destroyed and then a Pastor realises that no one has bothered to try speaking to the aliens. He says, "I think we should try to make them understand we mean them no harm. They are living creatures out there" and after some justification in relation to God having perhaps created this aliens as well as humanity, steps forward into their path, bible pressed forward and begins quoting. It's Psalm 23. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. [...] Thou anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever."

Now it doesn't go too well and the Martians vaporizer him anyway. God doesn't help him much.

But there's something about his bravery in the face of obvious annihilation, his absolutely belief that he has to at least try.

Who would have thought Cinderella would reinforce the message of War of the Worlds?

Which is why I always try to be be kind, have courage and hope all will be well.


Film Nick Fraser of the BBC's Storyville (which despite threats of closure of close a few years ago is now seemingly going strong) has a piece in today's The Observer about the power of documentary. Not only do I appreciate the way in which he doesn't spoil Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell this opening section resonates with me in an odd way:
"My life has been spoiled by docs. I cannot deal with most fictional representations any more – because reality seems too interesting. Dostoevsky, Vasily Grossman and Richard Yates apart, no novelists quite match up to the hits of reality I get each week. Have I become a voyeur? Am I improved by so much exposure to the lives of others? I couldn’t say, but the experience doesn’t seem negative to me. Meanwhile I can say categorically that docs have become an irreplaceable cultural form of our times. We would miss them if they went. We would miss them very much. I thought of this while watching a Brazilian film about a hang-gliding champion sentenced to death and executed in Indonesia for smuggling 13kg of cocaine in a spar of his glider. His life and last days were conveyed by means of his Skyping and the camera he’d smuggled on to death row. This film wouldn’t have been made even five years ago."
Exactly. Outside of Time Lord adventures I've never been a huge reader of fiction, preferring reality or at least the prose filter of reality instead.  But, and this is the contradiction, I certainly watch a lot more fictional than non-fiction including literary adaptations or the very books I spurn.  The Observer has also post a list of films chosen by practitioners.