The Four Doctors.

Audio  Really good fun and best experienced without foreknowledge so stop reading now if you haven't heard it. Released as a Big Finish subscriber special, this is an interesting take on the multi-Doctor story, as a wayward Dalek collaborator, Colonel Ulrik, finds himself buffeted through time meeting the Doctor's Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth incarnations.  The narrative partly feels like a way of promoting some of Big Finish's best work, the celebrity historical as Seventh meets Faraday, the war zone tragedy with the Sixth Doctor and a Fifth Doctor comedy of manners.  The Eighth Doctor acts as a kind of temporal shepherd, utilising his memories of all these incidents to help shift Ulrik from one end of his time loop the next.  Mainly a prose writer on Who, notably as co-writer of The Ancestor Cell, Peter Anghelides hasn't written many audios for Big Finish, but this sounds like the work of a veteran who has a real understanding of their potential with nested flashbacks, recreation of events through alternative points of view and understanding of the various incarnations, especially Eighth who immediately sounds in-character.  Timeline talk: Released in December 2010 slap bang in the middle of the With Lucie era, Eighth nevertheless sounds much younger than even the Charley years, so I'm putting it after Shada but before Benny's Story here.

Beatles Childhood Homes.

Book your tour online now and enjoy the unique experience of a visit to the childhood homes of John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. This is your only opportunity to see inside the places where the Beatles met, composed and rehearsed many of their earliest songs.

"Imagine walking through the back door into the kitchen where John's Aunt Mimi would have cooked him his tea, or standing in the spot where Lennon and McCartney composed 'I Saw Her Standing There'.

"Join our custodians on a fascinating trip down memory lane, and take a moment to reflect on these incredible individuals. Visiting the Beatles' childhood homes in Liverpool is an absolute must for fans of any ages. The tours provide a real insight into Lennon and McCartney's humble beginnings.
Music  Hello John.  Hello Paul.  As we've already discussed on many an occasions, if you're from Liverpool, you're either a born fan, become a fan, or have fandom thrust upon you and I'm in the far latter group.  Very far.  Rather like football, the local music scene is just the sort of thing I rejected from a young age, or at least the rock and roll end, committed as I've been for all these years in not being stereotyped.  The football was purposeful.  The Beatles was not.  It's just that having discovered girly pop and film soundtracks, guitar bands fell down the priority list.  Availability was an issue too.  When in possession of my own disposable income at just the moment when I was presumably supposed to be listening to the music of head bobbers and foot tappers, I'd be in Penny Lane Records buying the new Wilson Phillips album.

Which is why it's taken all these years to finally visit the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney.  It's also true that because they lived in my patch, the curiosity value is rather less than it might be at a medieval castle or Tudor home.  My parents and I all went to the same school as Paul and I'd get the bus home from there opposite where George used to live.  Perhaps the people of Stratford have a similar attitude to Shakespeare's birthplace.  It's just sort of their and although it's not in their living memory in the same way, the whole notion of spending too much time their beyond school visits entirely ludicrous.  But I understand the impulse to see where genius flourished.  I wonder if they have the same feeling I did, that in the end it's just a house and that it's the experience a person has there, impossible to recreate in a heritage sense which made the person.

The National Trust tour begins at Jury's Inn which is the giant hotel next door to the Echo Arena and not as I initially thought on Castle Street necessitating a panicky walk up the Dock Road.  You're picked up by the above minibus outside and the whole tour lasts about two and half hours.  The member price is £10.50, nine-fifty plus booking fee (£24.00 to non-members).  This is doubtless to cover the cost of transportation which in and of itself was quite the surprise.  I'd expected some kind of generic vehicle but here it is advertising the tour in the Trust font should anyone notice it passing by.  There were around fifteen people in the group, the capacity of the bus,  including some Canadians, Mexicans and one bloke whose house actually backs on to Mendips.  His house has an identical interior.  He still has the same bath.

When Yoko bought Mendips in 2002 and donated it to the Trust, it was on the understanding that it would not be used as a Beatles tourist attraction per se, but to give visitors an idea of what it was like inside John's home in the 1950s.  As the present custodian explained, a kind of pre-Beatles tour.  So although there is some description of how John became a musician and met Paul, it's all through the prism of Aunt Mimi's pride in the house and keeping the house together through Lennon's teenage years.  As portrayed in the film Nowhere Boy, she had a love/hate relationship with his musical interest, unable to ban him from pursuing his guitar playing but desperate for him to get an education.  Luckily for the two of them, even though he failed his O-Levels a grade below requirement across the board, the School of Art saw that he had some talent which gave him a springboard.

She was well-to-do.  Groups enter through the back door into the kitchen because Mimi kept the front door for special visitors, holy men and the like, mostly to keep the carpet from becoming worn.  There's an odd moment in the tour when he implies that the way that she with her Woolton house looked down on Paul and George from the estate was a thing of the fifties when my school experience, where I was the only child from Speke at school full of people from the area around Mather Avenue was not dissimilar.  In order to keep the house, she eventually turned it into a hostel for students, converting the upstairs rooms into bedrooms, the back dining room into a study.  But it worked and she stayed there, despite some hardship, right up until John became famous and bought her a new place for her to live in Surrey.

Most of the tour is conducted in the kitchen and living room, with the custodian explaining all of this history, with the group then given ten or fifteen minutes the wander through the rest.  It's more than enough.  As with the Hardman House, much of my visit both here and at Forthlin Road, was spent noticing which items myself or a family member owned as a child and in some cases still do.  I'd entirely forgotten about the wooden clothes maiden which dangled from the ceiling at my Grans house which features in both kitchens.  A wooden board with grooves which used to have a planter on in our back garden I now realise was originally a draining board.  The Canadians and Mexicans will have found this much more fascinating thanks to cultural disparities.  You can imagine the blank faces when the guide tried to explain the concept of the eleven-plus to them.

The Beatles history end of the tour is held over to 20 Forthlin Road where Paul flourished.  The house is filled with photographs donated by his brother Michael which shows them and their family growing up in the property, even obliquely indicating historical inaccuracies in relation to decor and wallpaper some of which was unique enough to be impossible to recreate now.  It's in this house that Lennon & McCartney really forged their friendship, where they practiced the majority of their music and where they wrote some of the songs on their first album including Please, Please, Me.  Although Paul hasn't visited since 1964, he's recorded a message welcoming visitors which is rather lovely.  It feels more like a home than Mendips with visitors even allowed to sit on the furniture.  Until recently a custodian actually lived in the house.  He was always out whenever Paul happened by.

But what I wanted more on both tours was the sense, much clearer at other properties, of talking about them in terms of what they were architecturally within and out, how they fitted into that piece of social history.  Although there's some talk of why post-war council estates exist and the class system, there's little about the design features of the property, why they should differ.  But I acknowledge that's more to do with my personal taste and that the bulk of visitors will be more interested in the Beatles connection and so that's what's being emphasised in the limited time allotted.  Whereas in other Trust properties it is the architectural features which are of most importance, although both of these houses are now Grade II* listed, it's The Beatles connection which makes them remarkable.  Perhaps it's my own fault for not asking.

Nevertheless I'm pleased to have finally taken the trip.  As we left the house, a group on the Magical Mystery Tour were receiving their version of the history which must have included the same explanation I received back in 2004 when I originally took that tour (coincidentally the same week I visited Carnforth Station - see Sunday!) as to why we'd been allowed inside but they were stuck outside in the cold.  The irony that this fairweather fan had bought an opportunity which they were still waiting for wasn't lost on me.  Perhaps I should take that tour again to see what's changed.  Not much probably.  As I write I'm listening to their music on Spotify and just as in 2004, I'm listening to it with new ears.  Please Please Me sounds as fresh now as it must have done in 1963.  It hasn't dated.  Like Shakespeare, it's timeless.

Shakespeare's First Folio: A Checklist.

Shakespeare With the welcome news that Stonyhurst College's First Folio is going on display in Blackburn with Robert Edward Hart's 2nd, 3rd and 4th Folios, I've decided to begin keeping a list of the various copies of the editions which I've seen. Of course, the greater adventure would be an attempt to see all of them, but since visiting the Folger Library isn't on the cards yet (assuming they'd let me see them all), it'll still be fun to see how many I can take a gander at.

Anyway, here's the list. I'll keep this updated with new additions. I'll put location and date when I saw them in brackets afterwards.

The Ashburnham
(Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, June 2009)

University of Manchester
(John Rylands Library, April 2016)

Stonyhurst College
(Blackburn Museum, June 2016)

British Library Grenville
(British Library, 22nd August 2016)

British Library Mordaunt Cracherode
(British Library, 22nd August 2016)

British Library Theobold/Johnson
(British Library, 22nd August 2016)

V&A John Jones
(V&A, 10th October 2016)

University of Leeds
(Brotherton Library, Parkinson Building, 1st November 2016)

Doom Coalition 2.

Audio  Huh. Doom Coalition 2's a strange listen. For all the introduction of the newer much greater adversary, the return of the Eleven and River Song, it feels inessential, a group of episodes which exists because it's time for some more Eighth Doctor adventures, rather than because there are any especially interesting stories to tell. They're fine, none of them are utterly horrible, but in places the narrative is either a bit manic and incoherent and in others stretched out. The treatment of the companions doesn't help; for the first time in ages neither seems to have a connection to the wider arc, Liv somewhat in the Fitz Kreiner mode of being around because she is and Helen being rather too generic to be dynamic, both of their back stories having been fully explored in previous adventures (though both actresses are entirely listenable and funny). Certainly there's nothing here which captures the heights of the glory days, the Charley years or the Lucie stories.  This month's DWM is more positive, especially about the earlier episodes, but even their writer spends a lot of time talking about the calibre of the cast.  Perhaps once Doom Coalition 3's released we'll have a clearer idea of how these fit into the wider tale.


During his interview on the making of documentary, writer Nick Briggs struggles to explain what's so great about the Voord, using the words "classic monsters" because in fact there's nothing great about the Voord. Admittedly the BDSM update on the cd cover gives cosplayers new lines of enquiry, but even in The Keys of Marinus they're just sort of there, a placeholder for the humanoid soldier type antagonist hole which would later be filled with the Cybermen (literally in fact depending on which comic strip you've been reading). Which means their resurrection doesn't have quite the same delight cache as perhaps the Nimon or the Macra, at least for me, so when their plans unfold, especially on audio, what you're left with is having to listen to half the cast sounding as though they have a bucket on their head whilst outlining their nefarious plans.  Beachhead otherwise is fine.  It doesn't have the opening bang of some of these boxed sets, but if you decide it's more like episode five in a much longer series akin to an early With Lucie story, then you become more sympathetic.  Hopefully they'll return to the idea of one of the Third Doctor's non-adventures when there's more duration to do it justice.

Scenes From Her Life

Something which I've often pondered is the extent to which the TARDIS or at least the Doctor's TARDIS stops being a magical vehicle when we know that there are hundreds if not thousands of similar vehicles in existence.  As well as the various models which have appeared on television owned by various other Time Lords, in the spin-offs we've seen Battle TARDIS some the size of freighters on the outside, sentient humanoid TARDISes (Compassion notably) and now we have one which is bigger on the outside, the sections usually hidden behind the gateway spread across the time vortex like the intestines of a Tyburn victim after a good quartering.  My guess is that it depends how it's treated in the narrative.  Have Jenna Coleman's giant watery eyes gazing at the interior and Murray Gold giving twangly voice to Clara's theme and it's something pretty bloody special.  Make it effectively an intergalactic taxi cab as it so often became in the classic series, not so much.  That said, the TARDIS city encountered here is wonderful and would certainly be less so if the television series had attempted something similar in CGI.  Once again audio provides us with some something indescribable and leaves us to conjure the images.

The Gift

"Zagreus sits inside your head, / Zagreus lives among the dead, / Zagreus sees you in your bed, / And eats you when you're sleeping."  It's inherent in Doctor Who that it tends to reconsider old ideas and here we have the Doctor possessed once again by a "gift" which makes voice go funny, makes him all powerful and a danger to his friends.  Thankfully the solution on this occasion is easier than in the last decade when it became the precursor to one of the oddest sets of stories in the franchise's history, instead favouring some TARDIS-ex-machine, which may become important in Doom Coalition 3 (or as I suspect explains what happens to Rose in The Parting of the Ways).  McGann's in his element in this whole story, running the spectrum from mad Doctor to clever Doctor to nefarious Doctor to finally the adventurer again.  Nevertheless, as with the rest of the stories in this box, there's a sense of the character being in a slight holding pattern, being dragged along by events, never quite the protagonist of his own adventures.  The events of the previous stories should weigh heavier on him but he sounds rather blase about the whole thing.

The Sonomancer

Big Finish's nuWho license apparently stretches up to and include Eleventh's regeneration in Time of the Doctor and yet here we have another River Song story clearly set, at least for her, between The Husbands of River Song and Silence in the Library.  When she refers to the "magician, the spiv and the geography teacher" she can only be referring to 12th, 11th and 10th.  The whole thing's pleasingly naughty, like the old Gallifrey spin-off stories when they obliquely referenced the Time War or the BBC Books novels which reference Ninth before he was properly introduced on-screen.  Otherwise, well, yes, I'm disappointed.  Pre-release this seemed like it was going to be a proper meeting between Eighth and River but once again Big Finish are adhering to continuity and not having them meet with one of his companions forced to keep her confidence on the matter.  Admittedly, it'd be cheap to repeat something akin to the memory wipe forced on the Sixth Doctor so that he could forget Charley's existence, but there has to be some way of getting around this narratively speaking which doesn't break Tenth's first encounter.  Otherwise every one of these River Song and classic Doctor stories is going be a cheat.

My Favourite Film of 1945.

Film Last week, I talked about how In The Bleak Midwinter replaced It's a Wonderful Life in my top five films of all time. During one of the key moments in that film, for various reasons which I won't spoil in case you ever decide to see it, the characters talk about what makes their life worth living and Vernon, one of the sanest actors in this group who're staging Hamlet in an old church at Christmas says, "Rachmaninoff. That bit in Brief Encounter. And Brief Encounter, actually. That makes life worth living. I'll buy you the video for Christmas."

I actually saw Brief Encounter for the first time at around the time on video, not long after Christmas. For about six brilliant weeks (during my third year at university), The Independent newspaper had an offer where you could by a film on VHS at a heavily discounted price of £3 with the Saturday or Sunday edition of the paper starting with When Harry Met Sally and Brief Encounter was also included (the rest of the films are listed here and its fair to say its the first time I saw most of those too) and you could purchase these from the corner shop and I distinctly remember visiting the newsagents in Hyde Park Corner in Leeds and seeing them stacked up under the glass counter.

About six or seven years later I decided to do the inevitable pilgrimage to the newly re-opened Carnforth station, where Brief Encounter was filmed and I wrote about the visit on this blog.  Find the entry reproduced below (which includes more detail about that first viewing) (and subsequent viewings) (yes, for the second week running here is one I prepared earlier).  In the years since I've had a few occasions similar in sentiment to the final moments in the film, with plenty of metaphoric Mrs Baggot.  There's never enough time is there?

Originally posted 3rd March 2004:

I'm standing on the platform of a railway station which I've never visited before but which is very familiar to me. Some things are wrong - the trains are electric not steam driven and small wooden tea room isn't there. And I know that the town which I would expect this to be gateway to is somewhere else. This is Carnforth, but I know it as Milford Junction in the film Brief Encounter.

My first brief encounter with the film was at a very young age. I remember seeing part of it on my gran's television set waiting to go home while my dad sorted out her household expenses. It was the end and I think I was quite interested in seeing the steam trains. It wasn't until university that I saw it in full when I finally gave my life to film and started working my way around the classics. It was on video, on a rented recorder and the cream bakelite tv I had in my third year. If I'm being honest I didn't really understand. My early twenties brain brought up on Neighbours and sitcom couldn't understand why Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard wouldn't leave their respective partners if they weren't happy and this was true love. Last week, when I watched again on dvd, with eight years of understanding that before the sixties people didn't enjoy the freedom they have now that despite their affections they couldn't continue, because of their responsibilities as human beings to themselves and their families - and that in fact this is still a fairly realistic representation even now.

I also understood why it was a classic. Like all classic film its an innovator. It has an incredibly intricate structure - the final moments of the relationship are shown at the start and then reappear at the end in a new light illuminated by the experiences of the characters and the audience - the 'how did we get here style' supposedly as equally innovative in Fight Club. The voiceover in which Johnson relates to her husband why she's been so mordant of late is echoed again in Fight Club but also in everything from Casino to The Shawshank Redemption. Cleverly, even the romance between the train conductor and the maid in the tea room plays out in the right order as we see the break down in communication at the start and during the film the lead up to the end of that relationship (which reminds me a bit of the narrative games Tarantino plays).

Suddenly convinced of the film's classic status, I recalled watching one of Michael Palin's travel programmes in which he visited the derelict station at which Brief Encounter was shot, and saying how awful it was that a national landmark should have fallen into such disrepair. The original architecture had gone, replaced during the sixties by an overzealous architect and some concrete, the place were the tea room had stood a brick shell. I didn't understand then so gave it no mind. Earlier on this year I was watching BBC News' North West Tonight and saw a report about how a local group had been set up to raise money for the renovation of the station and how the derelict buildings had been save and turned into a tea room which replicated the film and a visitors centre. It was this story which I remembered last week when I thought about what I was going to do during my holiday.

The curious thing about visiting film landmarks is that as you look about, the film plays through your head like a implanted memory, the strange becoming familiar. So as I walked through the tunnel beneath the platforms I saw Johnson and Howard stealing their kiss and standing on the platform I remembered the moment the express train flew through. Which is odd because on the whole as I've described, the station isn't all that similar. The tea room in the film was a fa├žade built for David Lean the director because the actual location of the thing wasn't dramatic enough, for example.

So in renovating the station, the conservators have tried to produce a medium between what's there and what people remember from the film. So the interior of the tea room, which for the shooting was created on a sound stage, has been re-developed within one of the existing rooms. The bar from the film has been re-created and placed in situ, with the memorable taps, tea urns and display cases. The frosted wording from the windows in the film are here too, as are the chairs and tables. It's not the same, but its enough to create the feeling of stepping into the film. And it's a working tea room, and was incredibly busy - so I had to sit in an overflow back room which was fine - larger tables and slightly warmer. Leek and stilton soup, pot of tea and a scone with cream £4.25 and all lovely.

It's still relatively early days so the visitors centre is more of an exhibition space. There's currently a display highlighting the oral history of Carnforth which is interesting, but to be honest not really something a tourist might be visiting for. They want to know about Brief Encounter. There are photos from the film here and there and an archive letter from Celia Johnson, but it's almost an apology. The most exciting thing is a dvd projection system, showing the film on a wall and it is enthralling to be watching the story in the place it was filmed - and it does make a change from fighting with a chocolate dispensing machine when waiting for a train. There are things in the pipeline. I overheard a guide saying that by the summer there would be building a gift shop so that they could sell film merchandise and they had some old seats ready for a purpose built mini-cinema, which is actually a really fun idea.

I watched the opening moments of the film again at the station, then had a walk around Carnforth, went to the loo, realized my train home wasn't for some time then returned to the projector and saw the last twenty minutes. Having missed the courtship, I was back for the breakdown, the realization they couldn't go on and the parting. I was struck by how realistic those final moments they have together actually are. We have an idea of how something will happen, good or bad, that for a few brief moments things will go our way, then something will jump up unawares and throw things off course. Then we realize that's the only way it could end. When dotty Mrs Baggot appears and interrupts their silence it saves the couple from having to say goodbye and Laura can concentrate all of her what ifs on the hand that Alec places on her shoulder, his final moment of affection. From what the guide told me, if you're going to visit the station, give it a few months until they've produced the brilliant tourist attraction this will undoubtedly become.

[for an exhorstive insight into the making of Brief Encounter this is a brilliant resource. For insight into David Lean, he has a dot com.]