The Pilot.

TV "She was fat. I'd fatted her."

Last night I watched the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates. Most of Sandler's oeuvre is awful but every now then even he manages to turn out an averagely decent piece of work, and at the centre of 50 First Dates is the very sweet story of a guy who falls in love with a girl played with Goldfield's Syndrome, played by Drew Barrymore, who wakes up every morning having forgotten everything which happened the day before going backwards to the day of an accident. As with The Wedding Singer, there's real chemistry between the two leads which shows that with the right material Sandler can be a likeable lead.  Unfortunately the whole rest of the film is a non-PC shitshow with cruel jokes about people with mental illness and an extremely racist performance from California born Rob Schneider as a Polynesian.  So all the while you're grinning through as Adam and Drew make googly eyes at each other, you're also aware of just how awful much of the surrounding tissue is.

That's how I probably felt about Doctor Who's The Pilot because tossing that fat joke into Bill's opening scene did little to warm me to her and so undercut whatever the rest of the episode was trying to do.  I've had the structure of the line circulating backwards and forwards trying to decide who the joke is supposed to be on, and it keeps returning me to Bill's misfortune at having accidentally made a girl she fancies fat, no longer beautiful and so therefore undateable, with a side order of cheap humour about the intelligence of models which is precisely the kind of garbage the likes of Chrissy Teigen have to deal with.  Admittedly Donna could be cruel on occasion, but as the Doctor has said somewhere in the past, first impressions count and this threw me.  If the idea was to make her a human being who says stupid things, fine,  But the ad campaign talks about this being a show about heroes, and its simply not right for someone who's supposed to be a children's hero to make fat jokes especially if it's a child who is currently being bullied at school for being overweight themselves.

Good evening, welcome back and sorry that I can't be as effusive as everyone else.  There was a much derided column from The Guardian the other day about how Doctor Who's become stale and although I took issue with the writer Abigail Chandler about Robots of Sherwood, which was my favourite episode of an otherwise often unwatcheable Season Eight, there wasn't a lot in there I could disagree with.  After the patchy season nine, an only decent Christmas special and a rubbish Christmas special, Steven Moffat feels like a creatively spent force who's lost focus on exactly what the show he's writing is supposed to be (sideways glance at Sherlock).  Perhaps because of this, I was the least excited I've ever been about a season opener and despite going through the motions, including wearing my Eighth Doctor t-shirt to work this afternoon (not that anyone cared enough to mention it).  But my heart just hasn't been in it.

Does The Pilot help?  Well, yes, it's fine.  Although it does at least subtly change the format again from the lengthy scene thing Moffat's been experimenting with these past few years to something more akin to earlier years, it's not the massive game changer we were promised.  Perhaps the show is just too old and has too many different iterations for that to happen.  But there are enough sparkly moments in here to suggest that the writer/producer appreciates some of the weaknesses, especially in the Doctor's characterisation, which we've had to endure recently.  The fact that I'm writing this review shows that it was interesting enough for me to care, something which wasn't certain.  Then again, every season I wonder if I'll bother writing these things and yet here I am again on a Saturday night developing laptop hunch and creating lines on my arms were they're resting on the edge of the table.  I know I could buy one of those rubber rest things, but they bring me out in a rash.

The structure of the episode is quite different to usual.  The first half develops across what must be six months as the Doctor casts himself as Frank in his own version of Educating Rita.  This is the stronger passage as its implied that this soft reboot will see an Earth bound Doctor working out of a university fighting aliens with Nardole as his butler and Bill as the new Jo (even if the bit with the festive mat implies he's taken at least one trip in the TARDIS).  Then halfway through and unlike any of the opening episodes since the show came back, the Doctor whisks his new friend through space and time.  This gives everything some scale whilst simultaneously (and not unlike the first episode of Quantum Leap) explains the premise of the show for potential newbies so that the second instalment can be largely free of the usual explanations.  No "Is this a different world?".  We've done that.  No "Who are the Daleks?" We've done that too.

Yet for all that I'm not satisfied.  The idea of companions ignoring rote reactions to the TARDIS and the Doctor showing off have become so cliche itself now that it would probably have been more surprising if she'd gone through the motions.  Throughout there's a constant sense of trying to undercut the magic.  Big lighting reveal of the interior, joke about it looking like a knock through and a kitchen.  Contrast that to the Ian and Barbara's faces in Doctor Who's actual pilot (depending on which moutning of the second half you're watching) and there's no contest.  Admittedly I cheered along with the Doctor and Nardole when Bill finally said that it was bigger on the inside, but it does work against one of the series best moments.  Sometimes the cleverest thing is to not to try to be too clever.

That goes too for whatever lies behind JJ Abrams' box or as is the case here, vault.  I've never particularly been particularly keen on those stories in which the Doctor himself is a mystery, or rather there's a mystery about something he's doing rather than who he is.  Whilst it's true that like Eccleston we're wondering what's been happening to the Doctor since last we saw him and how he's ended up in this predicament, it's always tricky pointing towards a viewpoint character and then deliberately omitting narrative information about them as Moffat is trying to do here, especially when Bill never quite feels like the protagonist and can't be.  Whatever the Doctor's mission here is a mystery simply because you haven't shown us the initiating scene.  Perhaps if Bill had indicated any great curiosity about what's in the box, sorry, vault, herself it would have provided a useful counterweight, but Moffat doesn't want us to care too much about it yet, so she doesn't either.

Nardole's presence still doesn't make any sense either.  As we're reminded through Bill of the healthful characterisation that recent companions have enjoyed, not to mention proper introductions, he's an anomalous blank.  Kind of amusing but for the most part stripping the Doctor of some of his eccentricities and whimsy.  Having the Second Doctor as companion to the Third sounds fine in theory, and didn't we all enjoy The Three Doctors, but for the most part he seems to exist because Matt Lucas said he'd like to be in Doctor Who again and everyone supposedly likes him.  He's Handles with limbs.  He's Kamelion unfettered by Anthony Ainley's availability.  I'll keep the faith for now, Lucas's chemistry with Capaldi is obvious and it's possible the next eleven episode will include something which'll make me love him, but at the moment, yeah, ok, shrug emoji.

Like Rose, The Pilot contains a pretty low key antagonist of the week, the stuff of annual prose stories and Class, perhaps from the same genome as the the waters of Mars.  The CG isn't quite a seamless as perhaps you'd like to be, but the shots of actress Stephanie Hyam underwater and breaking the surface are creepy, especially from side on.  Taking her to the middle of a Dalek war was a logical way of working in the Friend from the Future footage, which then, curiously, mostly doesn't appear.  Which somewhat makes sense, the episode would literally have had to stop to accommodate pre-shot material everyone has been, but it is distracting to be sat waiting for them to turn a corner and straight into it, especially since Bill is wearing her accidental tribute to Prince t-shirt.  Where does that leave Friend from the Future?  A dream?  A side step within this scene perhaps occurring during a Nardole cutaway?

The episode is at its best during the kisses to the past.  The photos of Susan and River on the desk, the sonic screwdriver collection in the pen pot, the Movellans (more thrown away than the pre-season trailer perhaps had us believe).  Unless its an anniversary year, Moffat's is reticent about these kinds of references in the past, almost embarrassed, but every franchise is enriched by its mythological tapestry and should be happy to embrace it.  After watching tons of Star Trek lately, I'm pretty much convinced taking the time to create back story and baggage are why shows like this have the greatest longevity.  Here the Doctor's talking to photos of his Granddaughter and late wife (ish) and at no point are we told who they are which is as it should be.  Like I said, mysteries about who a person is are always more interesting than about what they're doing and why they're doing it.

Recent Capaldi continues to be character he clearly wanted to be from the start but was boxed in, a patrician at times,  with elements of the Henry Higgens and Lear's fool.  A good man, in other words, someone who simply wouldn't react in the same way if he was to be faced with The Caretaker or Kill The Moon now, wouldn't insult Danny Moon with such ferocity.  Is this as a result of his loss of memory?  Does it matter?  Initially having Clara's theme under his decision not to mind wipe Bill feels like a misstep, his treatment of Donna surely being the clearer reference, but Journey's End was nearly nine years ago and sometimes television has to assume Netflix or blu-rays don't exist.  The guitar and shades business is still a pain in the arse, but Moffat seems to have tossed that in here as a joke rather than something being pursued going forward.

Having said all of this, it's just possible I'll watch it again and have another reaction entirely, as anyone who read my positive review of Class's first episode will know.  However much the production team want to downplay the fact, having a gay companion is huge and despite some of the line's she's been given, Pearl Mackie's offbeat performance is a refreshing contrast to what's gone before.  Even with that opening scene, this is me singing her praises.  I just wish Steven didn't have such a cloth ear for the implications some of his dialogue can have.  Plus, looking forward, with Michelle Gomez having redefined the Doctor's Time Lord nemesis, having her stuffed into the trailer and then having the John Simm version as some big reveal feels a bit shoddy.  And Frank Cottrell-Boyce is back next week.  Shudder.  Happy Easter!

The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition: The Complete Works.

Books Someone should send a copy of this to Germaine Greer, whom as I discovered a couple of weeks ago doesn't believe that any of Shakspeare's plays were collaborations. If the evidence here is correct (and I'll be reading the authorship companions shortly), nearly a third of the plays in the folio contain words by someone else, either due to collaboration or later rewrites. Whole sections of Measure for Measure are by Thomas Middleton, including a line which later became an essay question for the A-Level English Literature (which I failed but that's probably not the

Utilising a hard chronological approach (based on theories of when works were written and published), the editors have chosen include the versions of the plays which contain the most of Shakespeare's words (hiving off other versions into an edition containing "alternatives"). My taste would have been to have included all versions of all texts, but I suppose you might ask were this would stop. Including all three Hamlets and both Lears is one thing, but what if the different editions only contain a variance of a few words or lines? Perhaps the expectation is that for most scholars and fans, this won't be the only copy of the plays they own.

But it may be the only complete works which contains Double Falsehood and the 1602 rewrites for The Spanish Tragedy. Except in both case they've chosen to only include the parts of the text they think are by Shakespeare, which leaves the former completely unreadable. We're told that full edited versions are in that alternative volume, but this still feels like a swiz, since mechanisms are surely available which could highlight which sections are his verse and which are not. They're employed elsewhere in the volume (to point out those Middleton additions, for example), so this feels like a missed opportunity.

Mainly all of this is a reminder that because the discourse is focused so strongly on Shakespeare, we're only ever receiving half the story.  We're told that much of the work of his collaborators was simply mundane, but unless it's produced and examined with greater regularity, how are we to compare?  It's a Catch-22.  My instinct is that if Shakespeare was a genius then why would be choose to work with these people if he didn't think they had a valid contribution to make?

Cheek by Jowel's The Winter's Tale coming to the iPlayer.

Theatre The iPlayer's commitment to filmed Shakespeare productions continues with Cheek by Jowel's The Winter's Tale being uploaded on Shakespeare day:
"Cheek by Jowl will be livestreaming its critically acclaimed production of The Winter’s Tale at 19:30 on Wednesday 19 April, in association with The Space. Watch it live here, or on demand via BBC iPlayer from Sunday 23 April - Shakespeare Day. Find out more about the play below."
The last two weren't really to my tastes but I'm looking forward to this. The accompanying director's commentary notes the sixteen year gap in the middle of the play. I've often wondered if it would be possible to mount a production either on stage or film in which that gap could be included in actuality with the actors, director and even the audience returning after sixteen years for the second half.

Emmerdale: Their Finest Hour.

Books Lately I've been linking to the old Eighth Doctor novel posts in Twitter which prompted Allyn Gibson to reveal to me that Lance Parkin had included an Eighth Doctor cameo into this Emmerdale tie-in novel, as the author himself mentions on his website. So yes, I've read it and yes, I did spend it's entire duration looking out for a someone who didn't quite fit the narrative landscape.

 Not having seen an episode of Emmerdale since it had Farm in the title, probably some time in the early eighties, and so only a hazy notion of who any of the characters in this are or the how carefully Lance and worked the soap's back story into this flashback about the village of Beckindale during WWII, I'm probably not the right audience.  How does it fit with with the other Emmerdale Farm novels?

The cover promises "the stormy loves of Annie Sugden and Betty Eagleton" and it certainly delivers, there are few characters who don't have sex with each other at some point.  The structure of the book  is designed to replicate a soap, with mainly short scenes and dozens of characters and love and marriage.  The effect is dizzying and it's sometimes difficult to keep track of who everyone is and their connections, just like its television counterparts.

The best chapter, about Annie taking an illicit trip to London, throws out that approach in favour of less dialogue and more descriptive passages.  Her observations really captures the contrast the place has even now with so-called "everyday life" and how you become anonymous as people care more about their own business than yours (which is something which has drawn me there this past few months).  Like her, I often feel like a different version of myself without the illusory expectations of who I'm supposed to be.

And the Doctor?  He's there, on page thirty-eight.  There's a public meeting about plans for an airfield just outside the village and one of the local land girls is glancing around the room assessing the local talent.  Amongst the ineligible candidates, she spots "a man in a long dark coat with light brown hair stood at the back, keeping himself to himself."  Couldn't be anyone else, really.  Perhaps he's investigating the increased romantic activity in the area.  Not sure it was worth reading the whole book just for these few lines, but fans eh?

Placement:  Wolfsbane is set in 1936 and The Turing Test at the other end of WW2.  This happens in the middle so let's put it there, for what it's worth.

Not That Kind Of Girl.

Books Lena Dunham's memoir is almost the exact opposite to Lauren Graham's.  Anyone wanting to discover how GIRLS is made should look elsewhere.  Few of the other creatives are mentioned with most of the cast not even mentioned in the acknowledgements.  Unlike Graham, Dunham strikingly doesn't seem to want to be defined by her work, which is strange because in providing this intimate investigation into her young life demonstrates how much of it has become material for that work.

As expect, her writing is raw.  Despite her moderately stable childhood, she developed numerous mental health problems which have infested her ever since demonstrating that it's not always unexpected trauma which causes these kinds of problems.  She's quite open about the therapy she's received and medication and how it's effected her perception of the world.  How it's defined her.  These are the chapters I can most relate to.

How much of what happens in here is commonplace or is there a correlation between people who lead complicated, busy lives and creativity?  Perhaps it's that most of her experiences are relatively mundane or common place, but it's her emphatic descriptions which make them kinetic.  Or perhaps it's that because I've had such a monkish existence, anything outside my own social experience is exciting.

Selecting a thematic rather than chronological approach in order to give each of her stories some structure, it's impossible not to play detective in trying to discover how the pieces fit together.  Where do her nine months working in a baby clothes shop fit which is she writes about later in the book fit with her many love affairs, and at what point did production on her film Tiny Furniture begin?  Missing the point, perhaps, but it provides a welcome distraction from some of the darkness.

Dunham reveals herself to be an at times judgemental, hateful person.  In other words, a typical human being.  I didn't laugh as much as the cover text suggests I might, partly because so much of it is from outside my field of reference, which probably the point of reading and probably why men should read more of this kind of biography.  The main takeaway is: how has she found time to do all of this?

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between.

Books At two hundred pages for £16.99 and a pretty large font size, the RRP on this memoir is a bit steep so I ordered a copy through the local library. After having read those two hundred pages, which are admittedly very content rich and read like a letter from an old friend, this still feels very expensive, so if I were you I'd wait for the paperback.  Unless you are desperate or rich or have a library which is happy to buy in this sort of thing.

Striking a good balance between her private life and career,  Lauren takes us on a tour of how she got into show business, some of her lesser known roles and retells the story of how she was cast in Gilmore Girls even though she was almost contracted for another series and Piers Brosnaned out of it.  Back stage gossip is minimal even in relation to the Pallidinos leaving the series with only mild barbs about what happened in season 7.

There's little darkness in here.  But that's all fine.  The last thing you'd want is to turn to these pages and find out that Graham is a nihilistic so-and-so who hates everyone.  Arguably the more interesting passages are when she's clearly paying lip service to her other work even though she knows much of the core readership for the book doesn't care.  The Parenthood chapter is very, very polite, all very, "Yeah, I did Parenthood for years but all you care about is Lorelei so ...."

Romola Garai could still be the next Doctor.

TV The Bookseller announces that Romola is to star in an adaptation of some book I've never heard of, let alone read:
"Romola Garai is starring in the BBC adaptation of Jessie Burton’s “genre-bending” debut The Miniaturist.

"Filming has begun and is taking place in both Holland and the UK, for broadcast later this year.


"Garai (previously seen in "The Hour" and "Atonement") will play Marin, the “cold” sister of wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. She said: “I'm so happy to be part of this superb adaptation of Jessie Burton's exquisite, genre bending novel The Miniaturist. Marin is a character with an extraordinary journey of true complexity and depth. I am also truly honoured to be working alongside such an extraordinary cast and creative team on bringing this moving and iconic story to life.”
So there's still plenty of time for her to film the regeneration scene for the Christmas episode.  Oh and the synopsis suggests this thing has a massive twist in there.  Alternate reality?  Holodeck?  Dream?

My Favourite Film of 1904

Film One of the questions I frequently ask myself (not that it keeps me up at night because there are plenty of other nightmares and anxieties available) is why I find some things funny and others not. What exactly is my sense of humour? What is it about FRIENDS which makes me guffaw or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver or Harold Lloyd films or Fleabag or even Shakespeare when played well but turns me away from the likes of Anchorman, Mock The Week, pretty much any modern British studio based sitcom and whatever it is Ricky Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen think they’re doing in their own projects.

I think I can see some demarcation lines. I really hate smug comedians or filmmakers, the ones who’ve had a bit of success and so assume that they’re funny, and admittedly make others laugh even if what they’re actually doing is making fun of others or presenting false deprecation. The theatre of embarrassment is hateful. I think I need to have characters with a modicum of dimensionality, who feel like they exist for a reason other than as the basis for parody or comedy. Oh and not written to be wilfully stupid for no logical reason. There has to be some kind of realistic underpinning characterwise. Matt Damon in The Informant! Is a good example.

That explains why I have such a tin ear for the likes of Anchorman or Zoolander in which I can often see what the joke is, understand what it’s trying to do but don’t laugh. For some reason I genuinely loved the interaction between Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig in Anchorman 2, which seems like a much more affectionate piece of characterisation than elsewhere. One of the reasons Mock The Week and many of those panel shows turn me off, is the sense of one-up manship (because it’s usually men doing it), of wanting to upstage everyone else even at the expense of belittling the other comedian. It’s noticeable in Have I Got News For You how respectful Merton and Hislop are with each other and how other contributors often mess up the tone.

All of which has the counter argument that I’m over analysing and if something is funny, it’s funny, but I have met people who think that Adam Sandler is some comic genius, they see something I don’t and there is an element of frustration about missing out. Mark Kermode has a theory that people spend a lot of time going to the cinema to see films they don’t like and I am tempted to see one of the films I’d hate with an audience to experience the reaction. Perhaps the fact I watch most of this stuff alone causes them to lose some of their power. Certainly I can imagine the silent slapstick An Interesting Story (which you can watch here) going down a storm back in its day in front of the right audience. Some films don’t work as well without the collective response.

So what do I find funny? The unexpected, the proverbial banana skin in its many forms, when everything seems to be going ok but then a random element intrudes. But quite often I’ll be laughing at the reaction rather than the action itself. It doesn’t need to be someone tripping over. It could be some surrealist element which doesn’t quite fit with the general sense of the rest of it, so I’m probably laughing at the cheek or simply because I’m impressed at the cajones. I also like smart people being funny together but not to the point of purposeful cruelty. Watching people take the piss out of someone isn’t fun. Unless it’s the real world and they’re a figure of authority and they deserve it. I tend to love current affairs jokes.

Example: I recently watched part two of the Star Trek: The Next Generation story, Gambit. Data’s in command and part of the story is about him imprinting his authority especially on Worf who’s being an insubordinate arse again. There’s a moment when he gives the Klingon an order and as he stalks off the bridge, Data settles backwards in the Captain’s chair with a sense of satisfaction and Troi gives him a look which can only be described as “Ooh, get you…” I laughed, a lot. The timing of the performances is impeccable, but there’s something about the way she moves her head and eyes and the camera holds the shot for much longer than usual. Throwaway moments tend to be funnier to me than more obvious comedy.

The films of last year I laughed at most were Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, How to be Single and Money Monster which also demonstrates that I prefer films which are of another genre which also happen to be smart rather than simple out and out comedies. The West Wing is one of the funniest series ever written but you would never consider it a sitcom. The reason When Harry Met Sally works is because there’s a ring of truth about the characters and they’re not supposed to be paragons. Much of the time, if you give me a reason to root for a character within a proper narrative, you’ll have me. The Boss would seem to run counter to my tastes but the fight scenes between the girl guides are amazingly amusing. I tittered all the way through the widely derided Vacation.

So perhaps my sense of humour isn’t that easily defined.