Review 2010s:

TV  If anything the 2010s were the year when I receded further from watching television as a linear broadcast model to a streaming affair.  Much of my watching, especially in the bottom half of the decade has been through iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV and notably YouTube, which thanks to its ability to deliver content covering very specific interests and from abroad makes it unbeatable and addictive.  About the only "live" television I've watched recently has been political, debates and hearings on both sides of the atlantic, through BBC Parliament and C-Span.  That explains why so many of the programmes I've chosen did not necessarily debut through an aerial, cable or satellite dish.

The Virtual Revolution

The decade opened with a series that offered opposing views on the potential for the internet.  Led by Aleks Krotoski. The Virtual Revolution offered great optimism as it traced the history of online culture until that point, revealing the origins of social media and how it had shaped revolutions in the decade before.  The original version of the website include the programme's entire source material, interviews and linking shots so viewers could mash-up their own version.  A year later, Adam Curtis's All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace proposed that on the contrary, amongst many other things, humanity has become a slave to technology and a gestalt content editor.  In truth, as the ensuing decade showed, we've become something in between.

The Hour

Twenty-eleven was a big year for future Doctor Who Romola Garai with The Crimson Petal and White and The Hour putting her at the forefront of the BBC drama, a Golden Globe nomination the result of the latter.  Like Party Animals and the like before it, this was British television attempting to offer something other than the same old tired genres, succeeding brilliantly but not finding enough viewers interested in watching this kind of drama to justify its existence.  At which point the very viewers who failed to watch it then complained about seeing the same old tired genres.  My continuing suspicion is that this would have been perfect for the 9 o'clock drama slot on BBC One.  Writer Abi Morgan has apparently been shopping around a sequel since 2018.  Good luck with that.

The London Olympics

With everything which has happened since, was this the last occasion the nation was united about anything?  Yes, the 2016 Olympics were popular, but a lot of that happened at weird times of the day, whereas the London Games were all in prime time, so much so that the final night's presentation of the swimming contest fell over onto the red button channel.  This was probably the last time I committed myself totally to a live sporting event, somehow contriving to watch all but two of the British gold medals won live and only because those two, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott in the canoe double and Luke Campbell the boxing bantamweight because they clashed with gold hopes elsewhere.

The Night of the Doctor

Doctor Who's second decade since the revival has had variable fortunes and to be honest not really been able to live up to the peak of the 50th anniversary, for which the Capaldi years often felt like a long hangover from the aftershow party.  But for fans of a wilderness years vintage, nothing will quite match turning to the iPlayer or YouTube at lunch time on the 14th November to be greeted with a new television episode for the Eighth Doctor in which we finally discovered the circumstances of his regeneration and that they didn't lead directly into Rose.  You can see the extent of my subsequent fangasm in the review I spent that afternoon writing (posted here), not quite able to get over the now hilariously out of date Big Finish references (Tamsin but not Liv or Bliss?) (poor Liv and Bliss).

BBC Genome

The project to scan to turn the Radio Times into a massive database containing broadcast details for every BBC channel and programme in the past century seemed like a myth and impossible and yet in 2014 here it was available to the public for the first time.  Initially it just seemed like an excellent way to see easily what was being broadcast at the time of your birth (Nationwide) but has since had a profound effect on how we think about broadcasting, especially in an archive sense, wondering why some shows have become forgotten while others emerge on streaming services over and over again.  Links back to the BBC website, to clips and full programme are also allowing us to see glimpses of that history, beginning fittingly with a talk by The Time Machine author HG WellsSoon to be updated with details since 2009 and a new look that more closely resembles the BBC's old programme pages.

Agent Carter

MARVEL on television was full stream ahead in 2015, with Daredevil on Netflix, another series of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter which despite a slightly muddled second series, is still one of the best examples of how the recently disbanded MARVEL Television could experiment with formats and tones which the films didn't quite have the confidence to attempt ... yet.  But it was also a victim of the fractured nature of how these series are licenced, with FOX Television on Sky snapping it up when Channel 4 passed, despite it being part of the wider narrative of that year's SHIELD, with a flashback cameo from Hayley Atwell in that series to boot.  Now that MARVEL Studios have taken over the television wing everything will all be in one convenient place.  Plus.


Yes, yes, I know, booorinnng.  But even by 2019 standards, 2016 was a terrible, terrible year and Fleabag was one of the bright spots.  Although the elements weren't completely new - Clandestine Bandersnatch broke the fourth wall just as conspiratorially if more homicidally as The Hollow Crown's Richard III in the same year, Pheobe Waller-Bridge's title character implicated us in her behaviour whilst also drawing us into her tragedy.  Having subsequently read the text of the original play, it's possible to see how skillfully she opened it out to the a full six episodes, adding dimension to supporting characters who were otherwise just voices off stage.

The Good Place

The Good Place is special.  Like All Along The Watch Tower or The Red Wedding, at the close of the its first season it upends the viewers expectations of the kind of show they're watching by apparently throwing out its entire premise.  The effect is rather like if the characters in FRIENDS got to the end of the first season and were seen to wake up in suspended animation chambers and we discovered they were actually on a deep space mission and the sitcom New York we'd been watching was a simulation.  Ross and Rachel were already married, Chandler and Joey were fuck buddies and Phoebe was the Captain.  Or something.  The Good Place should be seen as one of the pinnacles of its form.  God knows how they're framing it in academia.

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema

The decade opened with The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Mark Cousins's meandering event series covering the history of cinema for Sight and Sound readers which arguably led to the flourish of online film essays from the likes of Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1 making accessible the film studies classes I spent nearly ten grand attending in the mid-noughties.  Imagine my surprise at the close of the 2010s when Kermode pops up providing what amounts to a pretty coherent investigation of different film genres, the topic of my MA dissertation, even if (I don't think) he ever used the words semantic or syntactic.  More episodes coming next year apparently.  Good.

Prince Andrew and the Epstein Scandal: The Newsnight Interview

Watching the recent restoration of Monty Python's Flying Circus reveals how much of the television landscape, which they spent half the series saturising, consisted of lengthy interviews of the kind which most people would expect to find on podcasts now.  But what this special Newsnight (and the various interviews during the election campaign) demonstrated is that with a forensic, well researched interviewer like Emily Maitlis and a fascinating subject, there are still acres of drama in watching two people sat in a room talking.  Andrew did not need to give this interview.  Afterwards he was apparently punching the air due to what he thought was a success.  The time in between was utterly riveting and the best drama on television this year (that isn't Watchmen).

Review 2010s:

Film Boiling a whole decade's worth of film watching to just ten items is a nonsense but let's do it anyway. In the middle of the decade, I posted a weekly non-review of a favourite film in each year across a whole century, but that stopped with the 2014 installment so really the following is about providing some closure to that project, bringing the choices up to date. But unlike most of that other list, I don't really have enough perspective to say that these really are my favourite films of those years and even as I write this introductory paragraph I'm regretting a couple of the choices, but as a barometer of the kinds of films I've enjoyed in the 2010s, this as good as any.


Christopher Nolan has consistently been one of the most interesting directors of the past ten years, but that's true of his entire career.  With Inception he demonstrates, just as the Wachowski sisters did ten years earlier with The Matrix that it's entirely possible to produce a film with all the excitement of a typical summer action blockbuster but with the intelligence and weight and beauty of a Tarkovsky film.  Inception's storytelling structure expects much its audience, running across genres and narrative threads in a way which tests our concentration and imagination.  Arguably there have been numerous films since which have attempted the same trick.  Many of them are in this list.  Both Dunkirk and Interstellar would have been here too if this decade hadn't been overstuff with so many great films.  But there was something about Inception which felt fresh and a harbinger for a really exciting decade to come.

Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl was 2011's secret classic.  I suspected at the time the teenage version of me would have judged it the year’s best.  Well, now I'm forty-five and I'm still saying it was.  It's essentially a British take on the Mary-Kate and Ashley cultural tourism series, but throughout exploding expectations of the genre by making the bitchy blonde rival the best friend, putting the handsome suitor at the epicentre of a discussion on class politics and hiring Bill Bailey to play an emotionally crippled Dad. But the key success is Felicity Jones as the eponymous service worker who uncannily appropriates in her tiny form some of Katherine Hepburn’s verve, timing and just general weirdness, taking full advantage of a script which is drenched in buckets full of cynicism and still able to look just plain cute in a ski coat against the snow. It's just a shame the typically mishandled advertising campaign and critical reaction put everyone else off.

Cabin in the Woods

Does Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's film count considering that it sat on the shelf since the decade before? Well, since most of us didn't get to see it in the meantime, enough time in fact for Chris Hemsworth to play Thor and become a major star, then it probably does. If most of the films in this list share one element, it's that they're endlessly rewatchable because you like spending time with the characters, even the evil science guys due to them being endlessly adorable despite their nefarious aims.  But it also shares the element of trusting the intelligence of the audience by confronting us immediately with what would have been the twist at the first act break in lesser works and balancing the various story elements.  There's an argument for this being the best thing Whedon's written outside of the special episodes of Buffy.


Here's another one.  Gravity also straddles the divide between blockbuster and art film.  Amid the heart stopping action sequences, there are moments of sheer awe as we see our blue bauble home drift by in the background and Bullock's character simply stops and watches with us.  An incredible artistic achievement, almost every scene in Alfonso Cuaron film is computer generated, with moments in which the only organic element is Sandra Bullock or George Clooney's face.  This photorealistic animation would reach its most recent apogee in the remake of The Lion King, but whereas that sapped the emotion from scenes as the animals faces failed to emote in any meaningful way, Cuaron remembers that the best way to bridge the uncanny valley is the give the audience something they can relate to.  Arguably has the best final shot of the decade too.

Stories We Tell

There's been a recent vogue for film documentaries with a major narrative shattering twist in the middle (Three Identical Strangers, Searching for Sugarman) and Stories We Tell has one of the strongest. Sarah Polley reflects backwards on her own life tracking the story of the relationship between herself and her father through her career to the point that afterwards we can remember the huge, life shattering moments which occured when she was shooting particular films, notably during the little seen but actually pretty good Mr Nobody.  Few films of this genre have been quite this raw and emotionally open.  IndieWire interviewed Polley about its legacy back in July.  Although later in the decade Polley would write and produce the superb Netflix series Alias Grace, she's not directed since.  Hopefully this will change.


Bought for distribution at Sundance by Netflix in the time before such projects would be labeled as "Originals" and provided with the associated publicity and so ironically causing unfortunate obscurity, Jennifer Phang’s indie wonder Advantageous glimpses a dystopian future in which an older woman is given the choice of losing a job which guarantees her child’s future, or sacrificing her own identity.  Tense, impressionistic, refreshing and warm filmmaking.  It's still available on Netflix all of these years later and although it's just possible I've inflated its quality in my memory, it still feels like an important commentary on how non-western cultures are co-opted and modified outside of their native countries.  See also the Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell.


You could argue that I have a very samey taste in films, and you'd be right, since this is another with a female lead within a piece of contemplative sci-fi.  Rewatching Arrival recently, I was struck by just how upfront its message of international co-operation was in a year when such things seemed impossible and still do a couple of years later.  But like Amy Adams's character, I remain hopeful despite knowing that the future is already to some degree set.  In that film its because of the laws of physics and alien technology, in our world the weakness of righteous nuance in the face of simplistic but effective messaging.  But a pendulum always swings back, and it still will however long it takes (assuming the everything doesn't blow up in the meantime).


Even more than some years, 2017 was an incredible year for film and I could have chosen a dozen different films to be marked up in bold above this paragraph. For a few seconds each it would have been Get Out or mother!, Anchor and Hope or Ocean's 8. Wonder Woman! But there was just something incredibly odd and charming about Colossal which somehow managed to be a seemingly indie budget relationship film and a monster mash in a way which didn't quite happen with Godzilla a couple of years later.  Anne Hathaway at her most charming, Jason Sudeikis at his most punchable and incredibly rewatchable.

The Square

The film which made me think again about contemporary art and really rather ruined the entirely unconnected Liverpool Biennial for me later that year (to the point that I didn't even review it on here).  The performances are extraordinary, especially from Claes Bang, the gallery curator with a far too high opinion of himself and a A1 demonstration of white men failing upwards. He's the sort of chap I've been either tried to be or fight with all my heart not to be across the years depending on the social circles I was wanting to join (eventually giving in to Groucho's maxim). Some reviews have suggested the wallet related subplot is the weakest element, but it offers a glimpse of how some people, despite what's being professed through the artworks are unable to appreciate the mechanics of the world outside their tiny spheres of influence.

Avengers: Endgame

Yes, I know. But having dodged featuring an MCU film anywhere else on this list, it seems only fair to put its near season finale at the bottom. Arguably Infinity War is the more substantial and experimental installment and selecting Endgame is a bit like saying Best of the Both World pt 2 is the better half of that Star Trek story, but the Russo brothers somehow managed to bring the curtain down on a decade worth of storytelling across multiple films in a satisfying way which also suggested future potential.  MARVEL apparently have everything mapped out until at least 2026.  So there's still plenty of time for the Beyonder to appear.

Boxing Day Links.

Why is it called Boxing Day?
"Boxing Day got its name when Queen Victoria was on the throne in the 1800s and has nothing to do with the sport of boxing."

Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear:
"Professor Kiernan Ryan argues that the subversive spirit of King Lear remains as powerful as ever, four centuries after it was first performed."

Malls after midnight on Christmas Eve: 'It’s like an out-of-body experience':
"For almost two decades, Australian stores have hosted all-night shopping events in the lead-up to Christmas. Perhaps that’s why being in a mall at 2am feels surprisingly normal."

Christmas leftovers recipes:
"Use up your Christmas dinner leftovers, including turkey and all the trimmings. From stir-fries to pies, these recipes are packed with festive flavour."

Batman Returns: The Christmas Movie We Deserve:
"In which a savior is born and dies for our sins."

The Official Doctor Who Annual 2020.

Books Can we talk briefly about this year's Doctor Who Annual? It certainly looks the part, although we could quibble about the font which is a bit too 1980s futro, although it makes a change from Helvetica.

When the second revival annual was published for Christmas 2007, it contained a reprint of a comic strip from the second issue of Doctor Who Adventures.

Russell T Davies was furious and said later that he made sure that all future annuals under his watch would contain original content.  I'll find a citation for this when it isn't Christmas.

Although the annuals have been of variable quality in the meantime, it's still true that they've stuck to this approach, with 2019 offering a stupendous comic strip with cameos from all the old Doctors.

Scroll through to this year's book and we get a basic synopsis of each of the episodes from the last series, which kids will have already watched endlessly, a couple of pages of puzzles and some text stories, except both the text stories, however nicely illustrated are reprints.

A chapter from David Solomons' The Secret in Vault 13 and one of the stories from Twelve Angels Weeping by Dave Rudden both of which are over a year old which means a young fan may already have received them under the tree last Christmas.

If this was me I'd be somewhat disappointed, however nice the accompanying pictures.

But to make matters worse, both include small adverts for the books themselves which means that parents have shelled out £7.99 (RRP) for the printed equivalent of some free Kindle samples.

Imagine if the 1976 annual had included excerpts from the Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen novelisations instead of The Sinister Sponge or The Hospitality on Hankus.

Are future fans likely to look back at this 2020 volume with such fond nostalgia?

How did this happen?

Was the commissioning budget for the book so low they couldn't afford to pay someone for new material.  I notice the book doesn't have any editorial credits which makes me wonder if it was created by someone outside of the usual Doctor Who editorial line.

With some much amazing Doctor Who fiction floating around now, it's sad to see what should be and is one of the flagship publications reduced to this poor relation of previous triumphs.

Happy Christmas!

Christmas (Day!) Links #25


Here's why there used to be so many Christmas Day weddings:
"Why did a lot of people get married on Christmas day in times gone by? The reason is not as romantic or festive as you might imagine."

A Shakespearian Christmas:
"Christmastime in ‘the days of yore’ (in this case, the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras) was quite different to the way that we celebrate it now."

Cardiff chippy staying open on Christmas Day to give free food to homeless people:
"A fish and chip shop in Cardiff is opening its doors on Christmas Day to provide free food for people who are homeless, older or vulnerable."

The strange story of the first and only Doctor Who Christmas special of the 20th century:
"Festive episodes of the series are a recent tradition, and going by their first attempt in 1965 it’s not hard to see why."

15 Japanese Christmas Traditions:
"Christmas is one of the most celebrated occasions around the world. Every country has their own way of celebrating the holiday, and Japan has some truly unique traditions when it comes to KURISUMASU (the Japanese pronunciation of Christmas)."

Christmas (Eve) Links #24

Conversation starters for Christmas Eve, with your phone:
"As the festive season gets into full swing, there are some pressing questions that only Siri can really help you with."

25 Best Christmas Eve Traditions to Make Lasting Memories With Your Family:
"There are tons of things to do while you wait for Santa!"

Every year on Christmas Eve, I face my rapist:
"Every year on Christmas Eve, my school friends from the rural Scottish village where I grew up get together at a local pub."

Commemorating A King's College Christmas Tradition:
"Every Christmas Eve at exactly 3 p.m., the Chapel of King's College in Cambridge, England plays A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols."

10 Forgotten Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials:
"If you're prone to picturing your favorite Christmas characters as stop-motion puppets, you can thank Rankin/Bass."

Why A Christmas Carol Is Required Reading at Starfleet Academy:
"Unsurprisingly, the answer has very little to do with Christmas!"

A Christmas Cavil:
"At Christmas time, non-Chris­tians are omitted from the psychic life of this country, and although this omission may be relatively harmless, it's anti-Jew, anti-Bud­dhist, and anti-Moslem."

Festivus Links.

How to celebrate Festivus in 5 easy steps:
"If you hate tinsel and love "Seinfeld," Festivus is already the perfect holiday for you."

A Life Cycle Approach to Comparing Galvanized Steel with Aluminium for Lighting Poles:
"Purchasers from public organizations increasingly use environmental impacts of products to inform their buying decisions. The EU Directive 2004/18/EC ‘Coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts’ allowed EU Member States to add sustainability criteria for awarding public projects."

Gay teenager shares mum’s ‘super secret’ meatloaf recipe as revenge for her ‘f**king abusive’ homophobia:
"A mother’s “secret” meatloaf recipe has been shared online – after she reportedly rejected her gay child."

Festivus: Readers’ top complaints about 2019 and 'those dang scooters’:
"Let the airing of grievances for 2019 begin. Here’s what annoyed you most."

The Guardian view on Taylor Swift’s fight for her rights: empowering a new generation of artists:
"In 2019, the American singer has helped change the balance of power between creators and the music industry."

Mum says 'miracle' £2.99 cleaner from Aldi removed huge make-up stains from carpet:
"A mum who easily removed spilt mascara stains from the carpet on her stairs with a £2.99 cleaner from Aldi has raved about the product online - but others added a word of caution."

10 Things You Never Knew About Festivus:
"Some fun facts for the rest of us about this not-so-made up holiday."

Christmas Links #23

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy: Santa.
"Why does Father Christmas wear red and white? It's not for the reason you may think. In an updated version of an episode from 2018, Tim Harford tells the story of Christmas and consumerism."

My Painful Quest to Find the Worst Christmas Movie Ever Made:
"From 'Homeless for the Holidays' to 'Christmas in Hollywood' to 'Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!'"

Festive spirits restored as Cambs village given beautiful Christmas tree:
""It honestly made me cry when they said they had got one for us. I was so, so happy""

An ICU nurse reveals the one thing we should all remember this Christmas:
"Louise, 27, is an intensive care nurse who lives and works in London. Here, she tells Stylist what it’s like working in the ward at Christmas – and shares the powerful message we should all remember on the day, and beyond."

Slush, a love story: How a Christmas drink in a beef bucket won me over:
"It's a frozen concoction loved by thousands. And, yes, it's best made in an unusual container."

Christmas Links #22

The Secret Barrister: *** LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE-TWEET: THE RULES ***
"This lecture explores the Christmas classic Love Actually through the lens of English & Welsh law."

Is it going to snow in London this Christmas?
"It’s the big crimbo question. Rivalled only by ‘Is Santa Claus real?’ and ‘What even is eggnog?’, we’re all wondering whether it will snow on Christmas Day in London."

Family finds owl in Christmas tree after a week: 'He was hugging the trunk':
"The family had brought the tree to their home and decorated it before they spotted the bird, who initially didn’t want to leave."

Christmas Rocky Road:
"It’s not that I felt my usual Rocky Road Crunch Bars needed any improvement (though fiddling with recipes is one of life’s pleasures) but I thought they would benefit from some seasonal adjustment."

Charles Mingus’s Secret Eggnog Recipe Will Knock You on Your Ass:
"As a world-class jazz double bassist, composer and band leader, Charles Mingus is one of the most celebrated figures in American music."

Royal Family Christmas pudding photos: Five things to spot:
"Buckingham Palace has released two pictures of the Queen and other senior royals making Christmas puddings for charity."