Writing Sense8.

TV Aleksandar Hemon was one of a few writers hired to provide script elements and story suggestions for the second series of Sense 8. With little screenwriting experience he was surprised, but relished the challenge diving in so far that even when the show was cancelled, he agreed to continue the collaboration into a new series idea.

  He's written this fabulous piece for the New Yorker about the experience which somehow manages to say a lot about how Sense8 was made without revealing any spoilers:
"Before “Sense8,” my screenwriting experience consisted of co-authoring a script with the Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić for her comedy “Love Island,” in 2014. The rest of my writerly life had taken place in the self-imposed isolation of my head. I don’t take part in workshops or writing groups; I don’t share ideas or drafts with my fellow-writers for feedback; I make all the decisions and am responsible for every word in the book that I am writing, acknowledgments included. My solipsistic authorial habits would seem to feed into a common misconception about writing, which is that it is merely a conduit for the writer’s interiority, and that a good writer—or even just a capable one—possesses the skills to transfer the contents of that interiority onto the page with as little loss as possible."
It's arguable that with the new paradigm in television story telling a novelist should be just as prepared as another writer. Although in some cases (Class, cough) it can also be prudent to have someone with a television track record on hand, as here, to steer things otherwise the traps are wide enough to fall into.

Romola on Sexism in the Entertainment Industry again.

Film Yes, again. It's still happening. From the New Statesman:
"Although she finds sexism doesn’t affect her career at this point, she’s had run-ins with directors and producers over misogyny in their work. Recently, a scene she was in had been rewritten with her character saying a line that minimised domestic violence. “I went to the producers; the argument they came back with was that domestic violence was ‘a downer’,” she grimaces, translating their attitude into: “We really didn’t want to make too much of a thing in the show when murdering women is much more interesting!”"
All together now, #ffs.

From the Archive.

TV In case you missed it, the BBC iPlayer launched a new category yesterday, "From the Archive", which gathers together in one place the various BBC Four collections and whatnot which are already on there but otherwise hidden in the various other genres. From the BBC Press Office:
"From the Archive will include a wide range of programmes from 1946 to present day. It will feature footage which hasn't been shown since first broadcast, including collections such as the Great War Interviews, a series of interviews with World War One veterans and civilians filmed in the 1960s. Until now, many of these programmes were only available to watch on the BBC’s website. Today’s launch brings them to viewers on computers, the BBC iPlayer mobile and tablet apps and on connected TVs."
At the moment, the smart TV iPlayer (Roku etc) just highlights six programmes and a few of the collections but hopefully more will follow including the A-Z section which is already on the website and tablet apps.

What Happened.

Books Hillary Clinton doesn't answer the question implied in the title of her book until page 392. The tl;dr version of what's laid out in that chapter will be familiar to anyone who's been listening to the FiveThirtyEight podcast for the past twelve months (and indeed its founder Nate Silver is quoted extensively throughout) or just paid attention during the campaign. The Comey letter, Russian interference, her message being swamped by the coverage of her emails and whatever scandal was engulfing her rival that hour, the electoral college causing not all votes to have equal worth, systematic voter suppression, people wanted change no matter the cost and the general fact that what was the Obama coalition hated her so much they prefered to vote for a third party candidate, write in Bernie Sanders or not turn up to vote at all.

All of this is presented with plenty of statistics and wonk but ultimately, and this is true of the whole book, there isn't a single explanation for why sixty-two million people voted for her opponent despite her qualifications for President significantly outweighing his.  Perhaps an investigation will uncover some fraud which dwarf all of this, that voting tallies themselves were hacked in key states, that the polls which suggest Clinton would squeak through were correct but another agency effected the number of votes cast.  That voters who were expected to turn up and vote actually did but their democratic right was deleted by a third party.  Even if this is proved it doesn't mean Clinton will become President anyway.  The US constitution has nothing on what happens if a Presidential election is compromised in this way.

Outside of that chapter, What Happened is a curious entity.  Unlike the Katy Tur book Unbelievable, this isn't a straight memoir of everything which happened during the election from the inside.  There's a sense of what campaigning was like, travelling the length and breadth of the country, meeting people, attempting to understand their needs.  There are sections which cover how the candidate was feeling at key points notably in the pre-released passage about the resultant POTUS looming over her on the debate stage.  Election night is given just a few pages (perhaps its still too difficult to talk about for her) or when Comey letter was released.  Such passages are surprisingly frank and there's a sense that if the campaign had been more open during these moments and in this style it might have made a difference.

There is much analysis.  Anyone who watched the primaries will recognise how like her later opponent, Sanders and his supporters were able to contribute to a general sense of paranoia against Clinton making it about personality over policy, feeding assumptions that she was going to be somehow dangerous to the country.  Clinton enunciates how difficult that was to fight against.  If people assume you're a crook, despite all evidence to the contrary, they'll stop listening.  The chapter "Those Damn Emails" is gold as it unpicks the deficiencies in the reporting like an episode of Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver, how it was treated as though it was the greatest scandal in US history because it was assumed Clinton had some nefarious reason for it which simply wasn't there.

But for over half of the pagination, What Happened reads like an extended stump speech, reiterating and litigating the messages which were stagnated or ignored in the campaign.  In places it becomes a suggested policy document for the Democratic Party, a list of suggestions as to how they might organise or engineer their message so they can have a chance in hell in the future.  Some of this, it has to be said, is a slog for this British reader because its being direct at a different audience across the pond, especially since much of it seems like common sense and it's difficult for me to see how people can't have come to these conclusions themselves, why it needs to a Presidential candidate to write them in a book.  But it does and she does and hopefully somebody will heed it.

The general emotion on completing the book, hell on completing the first page is sadness.  How could a person this articulate, sensitive, intellectually stable and capable of such thought and empathy have lost in that election?  As with any autobiography there is an element of ego and of punching up your own identity.  But there's also a laser focused self-deprecation which indicates that in becoming a candidate she thought she would be able to overcome whatever shortcomings she perceived herself to have.  It's obvious, despite the evidence, that she blames herself even though history demonstrates that no candidate is perfect.  It's just that on this occasions the rivals were held to completely different standards and that there wasn't a lot she could do about that.

New Discoveries.

TV Star Trek Discovery premiered on Netflix in the UK this morning and is fine, really, really fine. Like most revivals post Doctor Who 2005, it takes the elements of the original mythology and spins them around a different televisual language, in this case a single protagonist, multi-part story. Having spent the best part of a year watching my way through a year's worth of a Trek which even in the sequel and prequel series and films followed roughly the same formula established in the 1960s, it's refreshing to see the franchise attempt something different, partly for its own survival. Imagine if the show had returned in the same old mode, reiterating the usual three or four storylines, offering yet another version of The Naked Time or Data's Day.

But the real pleasure for me is in not having to wait to see it.  This is the first Star Trek series which I've been able to watch on "broadcast" almost as soon as it's been made available in the US and participate in the discussion, enjoy the reviews and as is the case in the 2010s, gorge on the YouTube videos listing easter eggs in exacting detail.  In the olden days actually seeing Star Trek was a frustrating process especially if you were in a non-satellite family tied to video releases and terrestrial broadcasts.  Having the entire series (including animated!) available at the touch of button Netflix is the kind of magic which busts Clarke's third law to smithereens.

Here's how I've watched Star Trek previously.

The Original Series 

-- the 1980s BBC Two broadcasts at 6(ish) with the teaser editing in after the titles - the one with the BBC Micro asterisk field beforehand

-- The Cage was a rental of the sell-thru version from Video City in Garston in the late 80s

-- episodes recorded from Sky by my Auntie

-- borrowed from a librarian friend (who also loaned by tons of the books)

-- the 90s "remastered" BBC Two version running at the wrong frame rate

Star Trek: Animated

-- Afternoon broadcasts from Sky One recorded while I was at school.  When we first moved into this tower block, Sky One and Sky News were being delivered via a BSB squarial on the roof.

The Next Generation

-- Random episodes from season one on rental VHS from Video City

--  BBC Two broadcasts, every Wednesday at 6pm.  Unless there was sport in which case it was pre-empted.  Sometimes we'd only see one episode in about two months

-- Sky bought first run the rights from s4 onwards which meant waiting for the VHS releases which were, I think, just two episodes a month for £12.99 which wasn't easy on pocket money.  Plenty bought as presents instead.  I received Devil's Due/Clues from friends as an 18th birthday present.

-- s5 and parts of s6 during ten hour binging sessions at university in halls because one of my housemates was able to get bootleg recordings of the US TV broadcasts sent to him.  Even then we didn't see all of them and not in the correct order.  That's definitely the first time I saw The Game.

-- s7 mix of bought tapes and episodes recorded from Sky by my Auntie.  All Good Things was another birthday present.

Deep Space Nine

-- Watched the first episode Emissary at a friend's house on what looked like a fifth generation recording of the US TV broadcast in which you could only really make out who everyone was by their outline, the whole thing resembling an impressionist painting.  Which I then had my own copy of and you can imagine what that visual smear looked like.

-- random s1 episodes recorded from Sky by my Auntie

-- Others rented from the Blockbuster video on Allerton Road.  Special rental tapes with four episodes on them.

-- By now I was unemployed and signing on and couldn't afford to buy the episodes.  Sometimes I'd visit the Virgin Megastore in town and stand and watch them on the preview tv screens clustered in the middle of the first floor.

-- The BBC Two broadcasts

-- But most of it was renting the sell-through releases from Roughley & Gerrard newsagent on Aigburth Road.


-- The Caretaker during Star Trek night on BBC Two, 10:50 in the evening on 26 August 1996.

-- BBC Two broadcasts until they lost interest and Sky became the exclusive broadcaster

-- First five seasons rented from Roughley & Gerrard until I lost interest

-- which meant the first time I saw most of season six and all of seven was earlier this year on Netflix


-- Box sets rented through Lovefilm, although this blog post indicates this was after the show had been cancelled.


Of course, all of this happened pre-internet and hose-pipe rather than bucket social media so the concept of spoilers wasn't really an issue with most of us reliant on Starburst or latterly SFX magazine for news and reviews of episodes.  Most people I knew didn't have Sky and those who did weren't fans so when the BBC broadcasts were the main source we were all watching it together any so it felt like a new series even if the episodes were over a year old.  Now I can't imagine how I'd cope having to wait for a home release of Discovery.

[Related:  How I became a Star Trek fan.]

Day of the Vashta Nerada (Classic Doctors, New Monsters: Volume Two).

Audio  One of the knock on effects of featuring an Eighth Doctor adventure set during Time War within these mash-up box sets is that has greater import than the other three stories due to shining a light on a period in the Time Lord's history for which we so far have scant knowledge. The other three tales are entertaining but pretty typical fill-in fare, whereas Day of the Vashta Nerada actually adds to the mythology of the character, not least because this is Big Finish marking out its own territory.  We now have an even greater understanding of how the Doctor is able to continue on the fringes of the conflict even though Gallifrey is desperate for him to become involve despite the whole business being an anathema to him (paralleling nicely with a much earlier intergalactic war portrayed in the Fifth Doctor story).  Similarly we appreciate the extent to which the morality of the Time Lords has been weakened to the point that the difference between them and the Daleks is entirely grey.  All of which is background to an otherwise pretty traditional base under siege piece with the Doctor leading a group of people through a complex fighting various genetic mutations of Vashta Nerada, each more deadly than the last, connected lightly to the earlier story in the box with Fourth.  Having not heard the War Doctor boxes, I know that there'll be some elements I'm missing, the significance of Jacqueline Pearce's Cardinal and whatnot and it'll be interesting to see how that also effects my enjoyment of the upcoming Time War series.  McGann's found a tone for this Eighth which has the years on him, a slight element of exhaustion undercutting the adventure seeker of old.  He's just putting off the inevitable; the War Doctor is close.  Placement:  Pretty late, I'd say, between The Sontaran Ordeal and his regeneration.  We'll see if this changes once the boxed sets are released.