Joe Biden times a hundred.

 Politics  You may have noticed that despite everything which is happening in the world and my clumsy references to it, one name hasn't appeared.  It still won't.  I banned myself from using it and most often used various euphemisms in its place.  The only occasions when it's crept through have been in link posts as part of pull quotes, this book review, quoting one of the Doctor's lines in this Who review and this post a week out from the inauguration in 2017 about what I thought his presidency would look like through the medium of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi.  I wasn't wrong about him, or that Vanessa Carlton looks like mid-70s Sarah Jane Smith in the promo for the Counting Crows version.

But it's a new, dawn, it's a new day and as John Legend sang at the Inauguration Concert last night, I'm feeling good and I have absolutely no problem talking about the new president Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden. Joe Biden.  

Joe's first inclusion on this blog was back in 2008 as part of a link post where I actually wrote the pull test myself (the thought!) and how I couldn't remember his name during a pub quiz.  I have absolutely no memory of that night or who I might have attended a pub quiz with.  Unless it was some Twitter related event.  Huh.  Then his name wasn't mentioned until last August when Taylor endorsed him.  Finally I used his surname a lot in the title to this post when he was declared winner and again pretty much predicted everything which has happened in the past three months including the Twitter ban (although that came sooner than I expected), not that I wasn't saying anything that cleverer people than me hadn't already.

None of which is to say that I'll be talking about US politics a whole lot more than I have, but it will be liberating to have the option when I want to, especially around Christmas time.  Not to mention that because the Annoying Orange made flesh no longer consumes the oxygen of the Western world, more focus will inevitably fall on our own idiocy infestation in the UK and how their mismanagement means the number of COVID deaths in this country will be one quarter the US total by this time next week despite us having one fifth of the population and a much tinier, more controllable island.  Not that I'll be talking about that much either.  There's another name I haven't said on here since 2012.

What keeps you watching Doctor Who?

TV At the turn of the year a friend online asked me this question and bless them I replied with three paragraphs worth. Unfortunately it wasn't an easy answer. Revolution of the Daleks was not good. Apart from the tired main story, however fabulous it was to see Captain Jack back in vision, his participation was not integral and so ultimately wasted. Here's what I wrote:
"Jodie's incredible when she's allowed to be but she's being under-utilised and in general I don't know what Chris Chibnall is trying to do with it in a way which wasn't the case with previous showrunners. I haven't rewatched an episode since The Woman Who Fell To Earth and one of the reasons I stopped writing reviews was because there's barely anything to say about it. It feels like a mid-table football team keeping afloat while remembering the glory days.

"I don't watch Doctor Who all the time in the way that I perhaps used to. I'll return to things when they're rereleased and I'm still a completist in that way but its the major franchises, MARVEL, Star Wars and Star Trek which make me excited in a way that the RTD era and early Moffat eras used to. There's no comparison in dramatic terms between last night's Who and the Agents of SHIELD which turned up on Disney+ yesterday, and that was a timeloop bottle episode.

"But thankfully even if TV Who feels like its motion going, its part of an echo system of content which includes the novels, comics, BDs and especially Big Finish which is doing some incredibly exciting stuff lately now that they have all the toys. Time Lord Victorious has been a triumph. If anything keeps me as a fan, the special thing, it's that and being part of a sort of community that shares a very particular and peculiar frame of reference."
All of which ignores my excitement at the Doctor's new secret origin and the storytelling potential that brings across the franchise, on and off television.  She now has her own era similar to Star Wars' The High Republic or Star Trek's Enterprise, a whole set of adventures set before the time we already know.  What keeps you watching Doctor Who?  How could I not?

Keep Your Distance.

Life The BBC has a short piece about the police issuing fines because of lockdown breaches in the Tower Hamlets area. They're shown approaching and fining a group of four men using gym equipment in a park in Poplars, breaching the rules (more than one person, also there are signs forbidding the use of the climbing frames and whatnot. "We ain't doin' nothin' wrong" one of them plaintively says as he's handed a £100 fine.  I have no problem with any of this, this I have no problem with. 

Except, I live next to a park and it isn't safe more me to go walking there. One of the assumption that the virus can't be transmitted outside, and although the potential is greatly reduced, it's not impossible especially if you're engaging in activity which involves heavy breathing, like running.  The narrow pathway around a large section of the park is usually full of joggers, few of whom are social distancing, none of whom are wearing masks.  On occasion, people even stop to have a chat making the situation more precarious.

But such activity is if not mandated, encouraged.  I don't understand why enforcement is being carried out in some scenarios and not others, why four blokes in a park wrongly using gym equipment is policed, but groups of people jogging together on narrow pathways, inches away from each other and impossible to avoid if you're just out for a walk is given a pass.  But the lack of masks is the worstRunner's World recommends it and 78-year-old Joe Biden is fine with it.  If you're in a place were social distancing is knowingly impossible, why risk it?

The upshot is I've given up my daily walks for now.  Pretty much anywhere I've tried strolling with intent, especially around the park, I end up dodging into the road to distance from people and with my heightened anxiety the process becomes far too stressful to be of much use not to mention dangerous.  On occasion, I've had to stand facing a tree, bush or wall with my hood up to let a person by, like a hedgehog curling up to avoid danger if only to reassure myself.  Perhaps all of this is just paranoia, but a risk still feels like a risk however risky that potential risk might be.

Arden Shakespeare Third Series Complete Works.

The publication of this complete works ends Arden's decades long process of editing the third series of Shakespeare's plays, begun in the 1980s with the first play, Henry V, printed in 1995.  Although there was a similar volume in the meantime which included material from the second series, this is the first to collect the Third's more eclectic approach to presentation in a single volume.  Arden's had four different publishers or imprints since work began.  Work on the fourth series began in 2015, the results of which won't be released for some time yet.

This complete works follows roughly the same structure as the individual volumes.  There's an introduction offering a general overview of the production of the plays which includes a short biography of the writer, the works in performance and print and their legacy.  The language is slightly less academic than usual, perhaps because there's an expectation that a wider audience might purchase a complete works for the shelf and the paperback in particular is a very reasonably priced option in comparison to some.

After the poems, the plays are then presented in alphabetical order from (ironically) All's Well That Ends Well through to The Winter's Tale, unlike the Oxford Complete Works presents them in date order or the RSC edition which mostly follows the First Folio.  The Oxford just has one version of Hamlet and two Lears, but the Arden does the opposite, having previously offered Q1 & F in one volume with Q2 in the other.  It also includes Double Falsehood which even the most recent edition of the Oxford forsakes in favour of a page explaining the existence of Cardenio.

These are the plays as they were originally published, pruned of their footnotes but retaining the editorial presentation choices.  Sir Thomas More has additional labels noting which hands in the original manuscript held at the British Library wrote each section with different fonts utilised if this occurs in the middle of a speech.  The Lear uses san-serif Fs and Qs to denote which passages are singularly present in each version of the play. 

Each play is heralded by a single page introduction, essentially an abstract of whatever the original editor thought was important in the individual publications.  A bibliography at the back of the book lists hundreds of books and websites covering all aspects of Shakespeare scholarship, a whole degree course across six pages.  This is followed by an index of sonnet first lines, the first lines of the songs across the plays and finally a glossary, which means I finally have an explanation for what a "fardal" is.

Despite already owning the majority of the Arden Thirds thanks to review copies and my own wages, this is still an invaluable possession.  Alphabetising the plays makes them much easier to cross reference between texts and the various introductions are a swift reminder of what to look for when encountering the plays, finding a decent middle ground, both scholarly and accessible.  So congratulation to Arden for reaching this milestone and I can't wait to see what the fourth series has to offer.  Arden of Faversham perhaps?

Arden Shakespeare Third Series Complete Works. Edited by Ann Thompson, David Scott Kastan, H. R. Woudhuysen & Richard Proudfoot is published by Bloomsbury. 2020. ISBN: 9781474296366. Review copy supplied.

Babylon 5 Looks Like a Big Pile of Shit.


TV Just before Christmas, between lockdowns, I was lucky enough to visit a charity shop or two including the Barnardos on Smithdown Road. Imagine my amazement on finding, all alone on the shelf, the complete Babylon 5 DVD boxed set for just £25. Knowing full well that a new lockdown was imminent, I decided that this was to be my new bingeing project, at least a few months worth. I duly bought and almost broke my back carrying it home, this heavy beast with the equivalent of seven seasons of television inside.

Then, between Christmas and New Year I began watching it. The pilot episode is notoriously patchy, as so often pilot episodes are, although I've been a fan of Tamlyn Tomita, who plays deputy command on the station, since The Joy Luck Club which she made the same year. But there was enough for me, despite her recasting, to want to settle in and see the rest of the series, for which I've always had fond memories since its original Channel 4 broadcast.

Then during episode one, I began to see a problem I'd already had wind of but wasn't quite prepared for - how ugly it actually looks. Like much mid-90s TV, Babylon 5 was originally broadcast in the 4:3 aspect ratio, but like FRIENDS and other WB shows at the time, had its live action sequences shot on film in 16:9 in an attempt to keep them future proof, which definitely worked on FRIENDS, whose HD transfers are gorgeous.

Sadly, to save money, the CGI sequence were created in 4:3 which was fine at the time since the TV audience wouldn't know different, but ran counter to the point of shooting the rest of it on the assumption that future generation might want to have a more cinematic experience. When it came time to release the series on DVD, the studio was keen to release it in widescreen but oh god, the CGI, the CGI.

As this old Engadget post explains, the decision was made to remaster the 16:9 footage and then to zoom and crop the CGI sequences to fit the frame even during live action sequences. Which means whenever there's any CGI on screen, the image noticeably loses what already weak definition it has and the composition becomes distractingly cramped.

The effect is to pull the viewer out of the story every time a computer generated shot occurs, either in the space sequences which are often rendered incoherent or the live action scenes when on occasion there'll be a cut to some mad close-up in the middle of a sequence breaking up the rhythm of the piece. Even worse are the moment when there's a crossfade from a CGI sequence to a fully live action and the latter remains zoomed in.

On a couple of episodes, the CGI sequences haven't even been cropped. They've simply been stretched to fill the 16:9 space even in those transitions making the whole thing almost unwatchable. Quite why they didn't bother on those occasions isn't clear, although its true that they tend to be episodes which less CGI than others so they could simply have decided to use their meagre budget elsewhere.

This decade old page takes a much more detailed look at just how awful these transfers look also pointing out how a decent upscaling result could have been achieved and also that the NTSC and PAL (Region One and Region Two) transfers also differ in numerous subtle ways in terms of framing. The author becomes increasingly both cross and resigned to the horrors across the length of the article.

The upshot of all this is I'm finding it incredibly difficult to watch Babylon 5 in this form.  The first season is reputationally a bit of a slog, but there's plenty in there to enjoy but every time there's a CGI shot I'm pulled out of the story.  Plus the colour timing is incredibly drab even though my TV is collaborated to make Technicolor pop.  

As the Engadget article explains, there are craftspeople willing and able to set about creating commercial HD masters of the series, and that there might even be excellent 4:3 transfers which could be spruced up for release ala Star Trek.  There are some "remastered" SD versions doing the rounds on streaming services, which do look better but apparently have new problems like missing scenes.

It's incredibly frustrating to think that the WB is willing to spaff millions towards a mediocre director to create a bloated version of a superhero film failure in order to placate a group of 4Chan refugees, but can't find the resources to create dynamite restorations of one of the seminal science fiction shows of the 90s.  Doctor Who fans have been incredibly lucky.

Now I'm left wondering if I can carry on watching Babylon 5 in this compromised form.  Perhaps in the past when watching films in the correct aspect ratio was a dream and I frankly didn't even know what the term meant I would have been more forgiving and wouldn't have noticed.  But it's difficult to forget all of that when you've become habitually laser focused on such things.

Perhaps I'll just watch FRIENDS again.