Every Second Count.

Books There's much to enjoy in Mark Gatiss's In Search of Dracula (available now on the iPlayer) which for the most part is as thorough an exploration of the history of the dark lord as is possible in an hour, with particular emphasis on those adaptations and projects which don't usually receive the coverage they should, like the Spanish version shot simultaneously with the Bela Lugosi's debut at Universal.  Understandably his survey stops at Gary Oldman in 1992 - there haven't been that many high profile interpretations until his and Steven Moffat's barnstorming version.  But here are a couple I've especially enjoyed since and another thing entirely.

Buffy vs Dracula (2000)

For four seasons, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer followed the habitual rules of vampires lore without directly mentioning the existence of Bram Stoker's creation within that fictional universe (I think!). After the downbeat ending of Season Five, trust Whedon et al to open the fifth season with a total camp fest and a title which must already have been at the top of a fan's imaginative doodles on a LiveJournal.  Rudolf Martin brought some presence to the Count and made the most of the episode's main thread that he was embarrassed by the travesty of what the rest of his race had become.  Xander continued to think fondly of their time together.  The dusting sequences in the Gatiss and Moffat 2020 version cannot be a coincidence.

BBC Cult (2003)

Published a few years before the below when BBC Online still had the budget and freedom to upload content not directly connected to one of its broadcasting endeavours, BBC Cult produced a minisite celebrating Dracula and all things vampire and it's still available (albeit with all of the video content broken and some missing downloads).  But the six short stories by prominent writers including Kim Newman are still intact and the only other fictional entry for the defunct version of the Ninth Doctor played by Richard E Grant, who looks curiously vampiric in both the animation and especially the painted illustration which accompanies this story (and this paragraph).

Dracula (2006)

Another adaptation broadcast over Christmas (what is the connection between the festive season and gothic horror?), this stripped away most of the historical asticrocracy of the Count, with Marc Wootton's interpretation much more of a Byronic or Heathcliffian figure.  Produced out of Cardiff, it's best seen as part of a particularly florid period for the BBC Drama in the mid-noughties when there felt like a particular house style with old school studio casting with almost everyone in this having recently been front and centre in their own prime time slot.  To be honest, I probably tuned in because I'd become quite partial to Sophia Myles, who'd appeared as Madame de Pompadour on Doctor Who earlier that year.  Sorry folks, this was fourteen years ago.

The Third Book I've Read in 2020.

Books New year, new project. Collecting together birthday and Christmas money, I've invested in the remastered boxset of the Argo Shakespeare from the 1950s and 1960s (see here - fortunately I got in while the price was a bit more reasonable than it is now).  These are perfectly lucid if a bit dated readings of the texts and so I'm using it to crack on with the Arden Third Series editions I've been collecting over the years. 

The Arden 3 Othello is pretty conventional for this series with a lit-crit heavy introduction, dry discussion of the two extant texts and comparison with sources at the back and a theatrical discussion relying on playbooks from producions before the turn of the last century (despite photos of more contemporary productions). 

For 1997 it's also pretty musty, focusing on the the "giants" of Shakespeare criticism and a dated use of language around race.  There's particularly no discussion on the implications of blackface beyond trying to decide if Othello is actually "a black" (their words) or of a more "olive" complexion.  Even in the year of publication this must have felt dated.

Having suffered through this, I've since discovered that a revised edition with a new introduction was produced in 2016, so I now have that on order.  I'm a completist.  Having announced a fourth series, it's interesting that they're still updating the third, not to mention still publishing new editions.  Measure for Measure is out at the end of this month.

The Ratings Fall.

TV The Doctor Who News Pages brings us news of the overnight ratings for Spyfall:
Doctor Who Spyfall Part One, was watched by an average of 4.88 million viewers, 21.6% of the total TV audience at the time.

The audience is slightly lower than last year's New Year Special which had an overnight figure of 5.15 million watching.

Doctor Who was the second-highest-rated show for the day with Emmerdale taking top honours with 5 million watching. Coronation Street was third, just behind Doctor Who. The new Steven Moffat series Dracula had 3.57 million watching.

The rating does not include those recording the programme and watching it later. Final ratings will be released in two weeks time which are likely to put Doctor Who as the top-rated show of the day.
Which looks pretty grim, even if it does at least mean we beat Coronation Street on a Wednesday night which for old school fans is something of a win.  It's difficult to criticise this number too much given how low the numbers are across the board.  Emmerdale's 5m isn't anything for ITV to be pleased with, although it was opposite Who itself.

I'm looking forward to Tom Spilsbury's analysis in next month's union circular, but for what it's worth ...

(1)  The pre-publicity for the show has been shockingly complacent.  Given Doctor Who has been off-air for exactly a year, the trailers have been pretty generic and didn't suggest that there would be anything too earth shattering in this opening episode.  Putting the twist front and centre would have been mistake, but a specially shot piece which hinted towards something big might have helped.

(2)  One element which has gone missing since the RTD era is engineering the shock of the new into each season opener.  In his four years, the first episode of every season brought a new element, either Doctor or companion, something to bring viewers in.  Of course, this episode actually does that, but the problem is they couldn't tell anyone.

(3)  It's a toxic time-slot for an opening episode.  A much braver BBC would have TXed this on Christmas Day bunged the second episode out last night and then run the back eight starting at Easter.  Perhaps this wouldn't have been hugely popular amongst the international sales licensees but it sure would have made this feel special.

(4)  I also think that people have just started consuming television differently.  The hard core still tune in on broadcast, but the majority of people will watch it on catch-up in the following seven days.  Those numbers are going to be really interesting this time.

(5)  Overall the show needs to stop pretending that it's still as popular now as it was ten years ago.  With so much content, it has to justify its existence with each new series and although I have faith after that episode the audience will build for the second half (not least because it's back on a Sunday), there has to be something in each episode that will make the general audience want to watch.  I'm not sure we have that right now.

The Second Book I've Read in 2020.

Books  Absolutely inferior as a sequel to the graphic novel in comparison to the television series, it's nevertheless pretty diverting even if it lacks the textual density and original thinking of Moore and Gibbons.  Anything which utilises Dr. Manhattan to explain how the New 52 happened and return the DC universe to something even close to its status before that reboot, it couldn't be anything other than a travesty of the Watchmen.  That said, it is a very good solution DC universe-wise as it not only restores a bunch of old continuity, it uses the multiverse to suggest that every comic ever "happened" with even the new 52 still rocking on somewhere.  There's also the implication, thanks to a reference to a version of Superman fighting Thor and the Hulk that the DC multiverse is just one of numerous multiverses which would include MARVEL and also the Watchmenverse (or whatever its called).  If nothing else, it's made me want to read a bunch of other comics, so job done in that respect.

Spyfall, Part 1.

TV Happy New Year!  Blimey, blimey, blimey, blimey, blimey.  Did I see that coming?  Put it this way, as the fam were arriving at the casino party, I was guessing that the big shock would be that Graham and Ryan would be leaving at the end of the story (Sheffield 2020!) with O revealing his full name and joining the Doctor and Yas as the new companion.  Instead, somehow, in this social media saturated environment and despite the preview screening at the BFI we have this Masterful reveal of such audacity that even as Adele thrums along in the background as I write, I still don't quite believe it and am looking for reasons why this might be a bluff, that it isn't quite the Master.

Up until that point Spyfall is an above average example of a Doctor Who romp in the Chibnall era referencing on a modern genre.  It's fine.  There are riffs on the gadgets and gambling and the other furniture of the Bond films wrapped up in a slightly tortured explanation as to why MI6 are investigating this alien threat because for reasons I hope are explained more thoroughly UNIT and Torchwood have folded ("The Twenty-first Century is when everything changes and we gotta be ready .... so long as our funding remains intact ...").  Who's in charge of the Black Archive now?  The Zygon refugees?  Sorry, I seem to have strayed off point and it's only the second paragraph.

The apparently trans-dimensional aliens are pretty intriguing fodder, their brilliant white form almost luminous enough to create screen burn, their basic silhouette somewhat giving away the notion that they're spies from another universe.  Who are they?  Chibnall's clever enough on this occasion to keep that reveal until the second half of the story which is just the sort of thing you can do when you're making stories with multiple episodes.  If they're not a manifestation of the Faction Paradox or the Toclafane, they're probably something entirely new.  Unless they're the Cybermen from Pete's World again ("Listen to me Den Watts.  I don't care if you have come back from the grave, get out of my pub!").  Or they're just killer dandruff from the planet Hairfollical.

The biggest surprise is the scale.  Where once, three chunks of studio floor and ingenious set design would allow the Doctor and his companions to criss-cross the globe now the show's budget seems to be able to stretch to feature a dozen locations worthy of a Futura Extra Bold caption, even if a couple were probably filmed on consecutive days in South Africa.  This is now a show with the confidence to hire Stephen Fry for what pre-publicity implied would be a huge role only to have him killed off very early on.  Even the Davies era, having a Fry in the cast would be more than enough but here Lenny Henry too as the false antagonist.  As far as we can tell.

There's also numerous course corrections.  The Doctor has far more agency within scenes, proper close-ups without quite so many moments in which the focus remains on the reaction of her friends to her goofiness.  Unlike previous stories, the characters bifurcate into their own storylines rather than all following a single narrative thread, albeit motivated by a mission mentality rather than because of a kidnapping or poorly timed forcefield or some such.  Chris Chibnall's writing has also become fairly self aware, with amongst other things Graham's tendency to narrate everything enunciated and actually being unembarrassed to point out the Doctor is a woman now ("Don't be ridiculous Franklin, I've read the files.  The Doctor is a Man." "I've had an upgrade.  Hi.").

But then, stellar.  Absolutely fandabidozi.  Everything about the introduction of this new incarnation of the Master is machine tooled for maximum effect.  Sacha Dhawan is already a fan favourite thanks to frequent collaboration with Mark Gatiss, notably his casting as Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time, so having him as the surprise special guest already seems like a big enough post-Christmas present.  Locking him into the story as a previous acquaintance of the Doctor during some unseen adventure further transports him into the friend's zone.  Did anyone else spend half their time trying to remember if Dharwan had indeed appeared as this character in some previous story in such a minor role that we'd forgotten?

My favourite part of the reveal is that the Doctor's only at about stage one of her suspicion and the Master just assumed she'll get there eventually so why wait?  As with Missy, it's not entirely clear how he's able to mask his identity given that Time Lords are supposed have a "feeling", but that's been less than a vague notion since his completely new regenerative cycle.  Plus we haven't yet had an explanation as to how he survived the ark ship at the close of business on The Doctor Falls, how he was able to regenerate and how he managed to take O's form and in some ways I don't want to know.  One of the best elements of the classic series was that the Master just survived.  How exactly he got out of Castrovalva, the Planet of the Ogrons or Lanzarote was besides the point.

While Davos in Iron Fist called upon Dhawan to give a rather one-dimensional callousness which wouldn't necessarily suggest him as an obvious replacement for Michelle Gomez (assuming he isn't some earlier previously unseen incarnation), his performance is extraordinary, channeling the manic camp energy of Ainley and Simm (and Jacobi in the audios) rather than the avuncular logic of Delgado.  It's early days, but arguably these few minutes are as ballsy and rewatchable as Tennant's introduction as the Doctor during The Christmas Invasion, so brilliantly does he nail the lunacy of the character.  Now that the jellicle has the escaped the receptacle, I can't wait for him and Jodie to be properly locking their Northern vowel sounds.

Is he a Master from an alternative universe, rather like Mark Gatiss in the Big Finish Unbound episodes with the various earths overlapping with one another an indication of some kind of multiversal crisis?  That would explain why the Doctor doesn't sense his presence.  When he says to her "Everything you think you know .... is a lie ..." does he mean since the start of this story or earlier?  Was she already in some kind of alternative reality were UNIT and Torchwood had much less influence anyway?  Or is it simply that Yas has been replaced by an imposter or sleeper agent?  Will all of this be resolved in the next episode or are we going to have a season long arc?  Wow.

The First Book I've Read in 2020.

Books After the superb television series (sorry Darren), it was time to revisit the original after my first encounter during the Science in Entertainment Media course which was part of my Screen Studies degree. Actually none of the spin-offs or adaptations really do justice to Moore and Gibbons's achievement of showing exactly how cynical and swirly a world in which masked heroes actually exist would be and forcing the reader to confront their own morality. Even now the final twist is shocking and those splash pages unforgettable and demonstrate that for all Zack Snyder's protestations of being a fan of the Watchmen, in changing the ending (whatever the reasons) it doesn't really understand them at all (something which is true of almost everything he's ever directed).

Predictions 2019.

That Day We reach the time when I assess how well I predicted the ups and downs of the year and look forward to the next. Here we go again:

Trump doesn't complete the year as President.

No. Zero marks.

Brexit cancelled.

No, very much not. Zero marks.

The BBC launches a pay monthly archival streaming service in the UK.

Does Britbox count? Maybe? On Boxing Day it uploaded all of surviving Doctor Who from the sometimes classic era, so I guess? One mark.

Arriva Click expands.

Technically?  Although it's still only in South Liverpool and one other place, Leicester at the moment, they've been adding dozens of buses.  I'm giving myself this half.

I'll lose a couple of stone in weight.

Sadly not. Indeed since my hernia operation I've put a couple of pounds on. Zero marks.

1 and half out of 5. Which is about average. I'm staying out of politics.

Right then. Come at me 2020 if you dare.

The Sugababes releases a whole new album.

A commercial technology is developed to algorithmically convert standard definition material to high definition quality.

The Doctor Who Omnirumour turns out to be true, almost all episodes returned.

Piers Morgan sacked.

The Arden Shakespeare Series Three publishes Arden of Faversham.

Review 2010s:

Life  Here are ten items I could quite manage to fit anywhere else, some websites, video channels and other web adjacent real world things which have proved invaluable over the past ten years.  It's not exhaustive and at least one entry is here just because it's cool and has a philosophical resonance.  Some housekeeping while I'm here to fill up the rest of the paragraph.  Tomorrow's entry will be the usual dumpster fire that is my annual predictions and then it'll be back on the Doctor Who review treadmill.  I had planned to finally knock out eight paragraphs about The Witchfinders but life has intervened.  Some time next year hopefully.  Anyway, on with the show.

Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone Interactive Video.

Uploaded to publicise the release of a big boxset of Dylan's albums, we're presented with dozens of television channels and programmes in various genres in which every participant is miming Dylan's song.  But amazingly, there are no loops.  Every single stream covers the song from start to finish often in quite sophisticated ways, and sometimes through existing shows like The Price is Right or Marc Maron's sitcom, so it's possible to spend hours on the site just watching your way through everything.  I just wish there was a way to choose a particular stream from the off.  Who knows what we're missing in the opening moments [link].

Cinema Paradiso.

When Amazon closed their flavour of Lovefilm in 2017, I was bereft.  Thank god for Cinema Paradiso which opened at roughly the same time it turned out was the better service all along.  Carrying, it would appear, almost every dvd released in this country, this has been a fantastic replacement with even Network's catalogue having recently been added.  Most weeks I'll get the newest films on the day of release and if it wasn't for their original releases and distribution, I would have cancelled Netflix in favour of it ages ago.  Now here's the inevitable link to their referral programme with its one month of free dvds.


My first encounter with the Haim sisters was during the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury 2014, which was about the time I finally had access to unlimited broadband so went mad watching every stream.  Their half hour set was fascinating enough for me to head straight to Spotify and listen to the whole album and that's pretty much were my musical taste disappeared off to for the next five years.  Bits of that set are still nefariously available on YouTube along with bits of their set from a year earlier and I can relive the experience.  What is she doing with her mouth?  Why is the sound quality so dull?  Why is she so off key?  Yet why am I enjoying this so much? [official website]

Arriva Click.

As I discovered earlier in the year, Liverpool Royal Hospital is a geographically difficult place to visit from home or indeed anywhere if you're using public transport especially if you're visiting with relatives who aren't so hot on their feet any more.  Yes, taxis, but they can prove expensive.  Which is why the Arrive Click service was so invaluable, taking us from door to door via an app at a fraction of the cost.  They're also immensely wheelchair accessible and the drivers are all incredibly friendly no matter the long hours they must work.  Yes, I have a code for that too.  Install the app and enter stuart3e6 in the obvious place.  We both get £7.50 credit for the trouble.

Zinc Tablets

On the list of things which happened to me this decade was contracting oral lichen planus, which when spoken sounds like an incantation from the Underworld movies, but is actually a tongue and gum inflammation which causes white rashes all over the place and a 1 in 1000 chance in ten years of developing mouth cancer. It's caused by a genetic disorder around some white blood cells and described to me as my immune system being at war with itself. One of the side effects can be a zinc deficiency so every morning I have to take zinc tablets to paper over the gaps.

Which has had interesting side effect. Touching wood as I type this, I haven't been sick since I began taking them. For years I've been felled by colds and man flu for days and weeks but recently even when all around are contracting theirs and blaming it on me, I've steered clear. This is apparently not a coincidence. It can be a "cure" for cold if taken early enough. If I do feel a bit run down, it barely lasts an hour or two and I'm all ok.  So I've learnt that zinc tablets are an excellent way of keeping disease at bay.

Radio Garden.

Radio Garden is magic.  It's a way of accessing thousands of internet radio streams across the world through a graphical representation of the Earth.  Hover over an old holiday destination or a city you're curious about and all of the local services roll out before you.  Twenty seven pages worth in New York, fifty-one in Paris.  Originally created to coincide with an exhibition at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and recently turned into a company by one of its developers Jonathan Puckey, long may it continue [listen here].

Box of Broadcasts.

Yes, again.  But this is one of the best websites around.  Available to anyone with an academic log-in who's institution has subscribed (which is most of them), Box of Broadcasts is a massive streaming database of everything broadcast on terrestrial television and radio since about 2006, all the films, comedy, drama, documentaries, everything.  Added to that is a range of archival stuff requested for upload by staff and students, as well as anything the BBC's broadcast about Shakespeare, productions and the like.  For academic purposes only of course, but we're all learning about everything, all the time, aren't we? [visit]

Dirty Feed.

Begun on the January 1st 2010, John Hoare's blog has found a niche as the place to go for the miscellaneous detail of pop culture, most often 80s BBC sitcoms, such things as highlighting the differences between broadcast and video release versions of Hi-Di-Hi or most recently how the Doctor at Large series provided John Cleese with a testing ground for ideas which would eventually end up in the DNA of Fawlty Towers.  One masterwork is this biographical piece about working as the TX at Channel 5 over a twenty-four hour period which really sheds light on the numerous errors and problems which can occur on any television channel [visit].

The Internet Archive.

Did I say these were all going to be websites you'd never heard of?  But more than any other resource, the Internet Archive continues to be a force for good despite its dubious interpretation of copyright laws.  Whole runs of defunct favourite magazines of the past like Zzap! 64 and Smash Hits, abandoned software runnable in the browser and other dead media like this VHS vault.  Look at this beautiful 1907 volume about Liverpool or biography of Shakespeare by Sir Walter Raleigh.  This collective effort to preserve our cultural history must be protected.

All The Stations.

Bit of a late entry but also proof that sometimes YouTube's algorithms are a good thing.  In 2017, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe spent the summer visiting all of the Network Rail stations across Great Britain, funded by Kickstarter and producing four or five videos a week about the trip.  In October this year, I binged the lot, watching them travel the length and breadth of the country and showing that the railways are one of our most important resources and need to be protected and expanded.  Informative, funny and often poignant, this is top-end comfort viewing thanks to Vicki and Geoff's genial company and a general sense that so long as we can get around, it'll be all right in the end [visit].

Review 2010s:

Books As you know I'm not much of a reader thanks to the sheer effort it takes me to get through even a single chapter. But every year I try and so have been able to cobble together a list of ten books so as not to break the format of these decadal review posts, although I haven't managed to pin them down to a book per year so the middle of the 2010s is pretty fallow.  There are numerous older classics which I got around to this decade but here are a few items which were actually published in the past ten years [along with links as to somewhere you can buy the relevant volume].

Liverpool: Walks Through History by David Lewis

Originally published in 2004, this newer edition seemed to have few revisions which only made it more fascinating as I worked my way through its various strolls through the city as I compared the text to the new post-2008 actualities.    But as a wise local once said, "the more the world is changing, the more it stays the same."  Most of us townies probably don't know as much about the city's history as we think we do, and there were few richer experiences than walking the pathways of the old Overhead Railway [buy].

Different for Girls: A girl's own true-life adventures in pop by Louise Wener

Incredibly frank and hilarious window into the Brit Pop era from arguably one of its most undervalued proponents.  Except Wener is brutally honest about the bands limitations and why Sleeper never did manage to reach the heights of Oasis and Blur (although arguably this had as much to do with sexism within the industry as the actual quality of the records).  If you're in the mood for  "a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom", this is it [buy].

Off The Telly: The Best Bits of the British TV Website 1999-2009

Seems only fair to include at least one survey of the previous decade here.  The web of the noughties feels like a very different place and here's a time capsule of the kinds of television writing which happened in the period before YouTube became the main outlet for amateur reviews.  Most of the people featured here have gone on to work for professional publications.  God, I miss writing for these guys and I've entirely forgiven the editors for no including any of my writing between these pages.  It's all archived on this blog anyway [buy].

Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris

Given the amount of Doctor Who I've watched, read and heard this decade, it seems unfair to keep harping on about this single story but very little of that material has had the kind of visceral effect that listening to the audiobook version of Morris's book had on me back in 2011.  It's one of those occasions when a spin-off novel transcends its form and deserves to be considered alongside the so-called more important works of the decade.  Even if reading Who novels isn't usually your sort of thing, if think you'll enjoy the Louise Wener book, you'll probably like this too [via].

The Art Museum

Although my monthly visits to London have scratched my itch for see world class masterpieces of the kind which rarely reach Liverpool, it's still a huge proposition to see some of the world's treasures and although you simply can't replace the experience of seeing a painting with a photograph and a small one at that, it's nevertheless still hugely bracing to be able to compare and contrast objects from across the world in numerous venues all on one page [via].

Scala Cinema, 1978-1993 by Jane Giles

On the face of it, this is just a working history of a repertory cinema, a record of the films it presented in its multiple venues through reproductions of its monthly fliers, of most interest to those who spent that decade and a half within its walls.  But it's also a record of a time lost, when the only way to see these films was on the big screen and sometimes through a print which was barely holding itself together as it passed through a projector.  It's also a cultural history as the Scala offered a haven for people in sub-cultures and lifestyles otherwise shunned by the rest of society [via].

William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

Thanks to computer analysis, the authorship of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries was in even greater flux this decade so that we've finally been able to test whether some of the plays erroneously included in the later editions of the Folio have any elements of his writing within.  This edition's discussion notes offer much detail on who actually authored the likes of Locrine and The London Prodigal and finally ties up whether Arden of Faversham should be included in the canon.  Which it should [via].

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

This was the other approach, to take a completists view and attempt to construct a hard chronology of Shakespeare's writing, including the plays and fragments of plays that he is agreed to have written in their correct place alongside entries for his lost plays like Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won.  It also faces up to centuries of dogma about who wrote or rather rewrote some of the texts which appeared in the First Folio, a text which yes, preserved many plays which we would have lost but nevertheless had a shoddy approach to representing authorship [via].

Why I'm No Longer Talking About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Growing up, Eddo-Lodge found that much of the teaching about black history was from a US perspective and the much of her book is about righting that oversight and providing a fulsome and detailed of the UK experience across fifty-six pages offering some balance with a tour of the international slave trade, the windrush, the 80s riots and Stephen Lawrence.  The country continues to be in the grip of structural racism with a patronising attitude to criticism because the people making the decisions have really lived the experience [via].

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

A monumental work which has the potential to change cultural consciousness, this is endless paragraphs and chapters of pointing out just how male-centric all aspects of society are, from the health service and research, through the world of work, right through to the devices we hold in our hands.  The author's audiobook reading was minutes of intense listening punctuated by my audible curses as I realised just how blind I'd been to even the toilet problem.  Hopefully by 2030 this will look like a quant artifact of a bygone era.  Right now, it's vital [via].