Not Christmas Links #6.

"The widow of David Saunders, 98, said she did not know the body of her husband, who died of Covid-19, would be taken apart at an Oregon hotel where audience members paid up to $500 to attend."

"UK distributor-producer Signature Entertainment has been re-acquired by its original stakeholders after being bought by completion guarantee firm FFI in early 2018."

"... featuring the incredible @lindseystirling ❤️."

"The film and television writer Bob Baker has died at the age of 82."

"Suppressed partygoers prepare to ramp up the glamour, offset by an emphasis upon Covid-compliant celebrations."

Not Christmas Links #5

"There are plenty of fireworks displays across Merseyside this evening."

"Back in early 2015, I'd just started working at the BBC and whilst getting to know who's who and what's what, I discovered to my surprise that large parts of our main websites ( and were only available over plaintext HTTP. My immediate thought was, "Well, here's something I can get stuck into immediately - how hard can it be to get to 100% HTTPS?"."

"As she releases an album inspired by Girl, Interrupted, the US indie icon reveals how a childhood kidnapping and her repressive southern childhood left her with PTSD."

"Photographer Jordi Barreras’s new book, “Already But Not Yet” (Punctum, 2021), was made on the streets of London over four years, from 2015 to 2019. On the surface, it is a book that shows people caught in shafts of light that punctuate the shadows of London’s financial district. Underneath all of that, Barreras’s work is about the spreading influence of corporations throughout our lives."

"Claude Fredericks, a Bennington classics professor, knew Anaïs Nin and James Merrill, and taught Donna Tartt. He kept a journal for eight decades, and persuaded many in his orbit that he was writing a titanic masterpiece. Did he?"

Not Christmas Links #4.

"Imagine walking into a kitchen and finding a dish halted in progress: Root veggies idling by a blazing oven; pork belly wrapped in butcher paper on the countertop; mustard, salt, pepper, canola oil, spices waiting for their chance to season the meal."

"LGBTQ artworks installed after a series of homophobic attacks in Liverpool have been vandalised."

"Twenty-five years ago, Baz Luhrmann laid his scene in fair Verona—and it was like nothing we’d ever seen before."

Post Bach: Preludes, Fugues, and Bach-Inspired New Music (CD review):
"A talented young pianist sits at the keyboard, diligently practicing the music of J.S. Bach. From his back lawn, there is a strange noise, and then an unexpected sight. A blue British phone booth mysteriously appears, from which soon emerges a dandily dressed gentleman whose ears perk up as he hears the sound of piano music coming through the open window."

"Two chicks of an endangered species of bird have hatched at Chester Zoo."

Almost Doctor Who:
Boots Christmas Advert 2021.


TV As it says in the title, find above the new Boots Christmas Advert 2021, in which Jenna Coleman, the actress who played a companion for nearly three seasons in the popular British science fiction programme Doctor Who, bounces in as a completely different character who is gifted a handbag for Christmas by her Nan, which is bigger on the inside.

Hopefully Andrew Pixley will rock up at some point with the making of this thing because the behind-the-scenes on this could be a riot, either because they're all Doctor Who fans having a laugh or everyone including Jenna were completely oblivious to the implications which would somehow make it all the more hilarious.  I'm not sure either way.

For one thing, they make it absolutely clear throughout that Jenna is playing a character called Joy presumably because it ties in with the hashtag #bagsofjoy which appears in the YouTube title and other socials.  Which is either a way of distancing themselves from Doctor Who, or again just makes it look as though their distancing themselves from Doctor Who which again is even funny.

Just to be silly, how would this fit within Doctor Who?  Since the character is named Joy and has a completely different family, we have to assume this isn't sadly, Clara Oswald herself at some time after she's travelled with me, sorry Me.  In which case we have to assume Joy's one of the splinters of Clara, created when she stepped into the Doctor's timeline in The Name of the Doctor.

How did she end up with this magical bag?  The advert opens with Joy in her bedroom approaching the bag and the message from her Nan as though she hasn't seen either before, much less picked up the bag and investigated its secrets.  Mores to the point at the end of the episode, her Nan seems just as bewildered by this dimensionally transcendental gifting machine as anyone.

How did it get in there?  The party at the end of the film seems to happening in a much larger house than the one in the establishing shot at the start, the bay windows being the real give away, so we know that Nan doesn't live with Joy.  She could be a different Nan, the mother of another of the parents, in which case the bookended messages would make no sense.

The most obvious explanation is the bag's a gift from the Doctor.  We know that such bags do exist.  For years the Doctor's sometimes accessorised with a Gladstone bag which had the ability to gift him just the random object that might be needed to get out of a given problem (originally designed by the TV Comic writers so they could get out of a corner they'd written themselves into).

Perhaps after this Clara splinter stepped into to save the Doctor, unaware even of the help she was giving, the adoptive Time Lord decided to leave the gift.  But not wanting to disrupt her existence too much by revealing Joy's true origin, decided to attribute the present to her Nan, hoping that the old dear would be so full of Christmas cheer that she'd forget that she didn't gift the bag in the first place.

But why does the bag have the Boots logo on the side?  Because unlike the TARDIS it has a working chameleon circuit which transforms it to fit its setting and this seemed the least conspicuous.  Perhaps the Doctor's own bag turned into a Gladstone during an adventure in the mid-19th century or when he visited the Titanic (where they were used by the pursers) and got stuck that way.  

Either way, this has made me feel immensely Christmassy even though it's only the 4th November, which is precisely what they're meant to do.  Before you ask, I haven't quite managed to work out how the John Lewis advert is a secret episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, unless Luke's sister was hiding some things about her anatomy.  And a vowel.

Not Christmas Links #3

"A new bookstore in the East Village pays tribute to all our animal friends."

"Listening to the women who alleged abuse, and fighting to get their stories heard, helped change the treatment of victims by the media and the justice system."

"Jon Ronson’s new Radio 4 series and podcast Things Fell Apart tells eight strange, unexpected and deeply human stories from the history of the culture wars."

"A gamer who shares her online name with Netflix smash hit Squid Game says she is losing work because of it."

"... is an exclusive club featuring all the camp, glitz, glamour and dodgy disco lighting you’ve been missing during the past few months, but this time it’s all for you."

"The future looks bright for Team TARDIS."

Not Christmas Links #2

[Editor's note: the second and third episodes are now available.]

A Date With the Grave: 
"No one does a funeral scene like the star of Mountain View Cemetery." 
"Emerging talent Studio MUTT, working with Roger Zogolovitch’s Solidspace, has won the Liverpool City Region’s ideas competition for a new post-Covid townhouse."

"A high school teacher is on suspension after putting on a play parodying Shakespeare that students called offensive and outdated." 

"Legislation for minimum delivery price aims to stop ‘distorted competition’ against independent bookshops."

"Outfits so ordinary they have to be explained."

"A Texas bar is giving Mariah Carey's mega hit "All I Want for Christmas" the silent treatment. Is it too soon to play the holiday classic? Mariah doesn't think so but the bar does."

Not Christmas Links #1

"Scott Mills meets Keisha Buchanan of Sugababes as she picks her Tracks of My Years from artists including Stevie Wonder, SWV, Destiny's Child, Girls Aloud and Britney Spears."

"The Doctor Who series opener was watched by an overnight audience of 4.43 million. Higher than most of S12's overnights."

Mark Gatiss: ‘I’m currently very, very ashamed of being English’:
"The former League of Gentlemen star on his love of low-budget British spinechillers, his loathing of Brexit and a slew of projects opening this winter."

Who is the redhead living in the Tower of London?
"With her flaming red curls, Megan Clawson looks like a fairy-tale princess. So when she walks around the moat of the 950-year-old Tower of London, it's no wonder she draws attention from visitors." 

"Romeo and Juliet is rarely lauded as the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays, an honor that usually goes to Hamlet or Macbeth or King Lear."

"The 1980s was a troublesome decade for many industrial towns and cities across the UK, and Liverpool with its rich industrial heritage was hit particularly hard. Around eighty thousand jobs were lost between 1972-1982 and the city was left devastated by the impact of de-industrialisation."

"After canceling last year because of the pandemic, the 48th annual Village Halloween Parade made its glorious—and spooky—return to New York City on Sunday night."

The Halloween Apocalypse.

TV Good evening. How are we all? Personally, after my birthday meal, I'm stuffed to the eights with kebabs from the Quick Chef and a not just mince pie but an M&S mince pie and currently drinking a hot chocolate. Well, as the millennials say, that was a lot.  Perhaps I could have done with less of the dry chips and rice, but the sauce the chicken is cooked in is so, so good.  If you've never been to the Quick Chef, I can very much recommend it.  It's the Turkish cafe at the top of Hardman Street in Liverpool, round the corner from the Philharmonic Pub and it's excellent value.

Oh, you thought I meant tonight's Doctor Who was a lot.  Well, yes, that too.  When the various announcements as to what this condensed season would look like coalesced into a six-part serial with a single title, one that Martin Belam notices in his Guardian recap is the first on television since The Armageddon Factor in 1979, we still didn't really know what that meant, especially in a contemporary context which expects every episode to be an event, with newer audiences probably less tolerant of whole instalments set inside prison cells with very little action.

The Halloween Apocalypse is probably exactly what we should have expected.  Like all serialised Who of old, it's fifty minutes of set up, introducing the range of characters we'll be interacting with over the subsequent five episodes, and the overall story.  It's The Keys of Marinus, if the exploration of the planet in the opening episode had been intercut with brains in jars, a shaggy old trapper, the murder of Eprin and a few shots of the screaming jungle long before the OG TARDIS team arrived.  It's Doctor Who but with a Game of Thrones structure.

Your mileage on this will depend on how accepting you are of ensemble pieces and hyperlink dramas in general.  Having written a dissertation about them (have I mentioned?) I'm very much looking forward to seeing how all of these characters fit together and how many of them actually have anything to do with the Flux or were just part of a script which had already been prepared and jammed into this shorter season through some flimsy framing material.  Hopefully in episode five, they'll all mime along to Aimee Mann's Save Me together like the denizens of PTA's Magnolia.  

Does it work?  Jonn Elledge has expressed it well on the Twitters, "Well, I have no idea if that was good but I really enjoyed it."  Like all six parters, we won't know if any of this buzzy narrative has paid off for another five episodes.  Chibbers is a known quantity when it comes to offering an interesting setup then squandering it by the end (season one of Broadchurch excepted) so no matter how spectacular the existence destroying capacity of the Flux looks now, in chapter six, we might well discover that it was simply Axos having a brain fart.

And I did enjoy it.  Some of it's set on my home turf, so how could I not?  Ok, so the TARDIS lands in front of the wrong football ground and what was supposed to be Lark Lane clearly wasn't (not even Linnet Lane round the corner has houses that big) but the spirit of the place breathed through in a way which could only be the product of someone relatively local.  At least name dropping Lark Lane isn't something anyone with only a glancing knowledge of the geography would do.  No recourse either to mentioning the city's other main, musical export.  For a change.

Apart from the obvious alien intervention, the history of the Williamson Tunnels is completely accurate by the way.  Although the wikipedia wavers on their purpose in its opening paragraph, if you visit the site, they're pretty certain that as depicted here  Joseph Williamson was largely digging the vaults in order to give local people paid employment.  They're currently re-excavating it because in the years since construction Liverpool Corporation filled it with rubble from demolitions and other detritus.  Local people also tipped their household waste down there.

This year's Liverpool actor in the series, John Bishop, is fine.  As Dan, he's not really given much to do other than be a Liverpudlian and he does this very well, especially when faced with a being imprisoned on a space craft, dog-faced aliens, someone from Sheffield and the TARDIS ("I had a mate who had one of these ... I think his was a bit bigger actually ...").  It'll be interesting to see if the writer gives Bishop more challenging material or stays within the actor's potential limits.  Mum loved Bishop's stand-up, until it mostly became anecdotes about being a celebrity.

As I write this, I'm currently reading Paul Hayes's superb The Long Game: The Inside Story of How the BBC Brought Back Doctor Who about the internal BBC politics between the TV Movie and the announcement of this revival in 2003.  Time and again, creatives and accountants across the hierarchy note that if Doctor Who were to return, it would have to have special effects which could compete with whatever was coming out of Hollywood and so implicitly not the wobbly sets and costumes that Extras belatedly made fun of when the show had returned to air.

To a large extent, The Halloween Apocalypse is the end result of that expectation or mentality.  For the most part it looks extraordinary and presumably even more so on a 4K TV.  There's a certainly ballsy ambition for a tv series on this budget to even attempt the three second shot of a civilisation being completely destroyed in a wave.  The show now has the capacity to look like a feature film, to bring to the screen that which could only previous be described in Lawrence Miles novels or Nicholas Briggs audios.  

The sheer number of locations and scenes, like Game of Thrones, will have been a result of some very clever scheduling in the production schedule, like a hyper-intensive version of the work done to pull of the various season length cameos in The Big Bang but with the characters appearing before we know who they are.  Like that story, it gives Doctor Who a scale and a sense that we're properly watching a wanderer in the fourth dimension.  If nothing else, they've truly turned the COVID restrictions into a virtue.

But, the most effective moments, the scariest moments, were also the most human moments, on the street and in bedrooms. From the grim reaping of the Ravagers (no not those ones) to the posh Dave Lister moaning about his job, as RTD has previously recognised, humanity is the best of narrative anchors in a sci-fi context.  For me, it's Annabel Scholey's Claire which makes the most impact here, with her Sally Sparrow like non-sequential meeting with the Doctor and Yaz, clearly very versed in how to deal with a Weeping Angel.  Who is she and where has she gone?

At the heart of all this is the Doctor and Yaz and finally, finally, they've slotted into the classic dynamic of interpersonal interdependency, of an obtuse Time Lord infuriating their human companion, of a deep, intense friendship which can only end with the two of them sharing a bed, as they literally do here, albeit for a few brief cherishable moments which don't mean anything.  If Big Finish do nothing else with this ruddy franchise, they have to give us all of the adventures between these two leading up to Flux.  You could fit a hundred stories in that gap.

With more screen time (sort of), we finally get a thirteenth Doctor with an agency comparable to her male colleagues, who doesn't simply exist to provide something for the dozen other characters in the TARDIS to react to.  Admittedly, we have seen confronting the villain scenes before with her, but the moments in which she fervently swaps Northerns with the Karvanista hit harder, perhaps because the Doctor has a mission to discover more about her secret origins.  But why exactly isn't she willing to tell Yaz everything.  Aren't they friends?

Similarly, Yaz is a more rounded figure, flying the TARDIS, dealing with Dan's quizzing about the mysteries of the Doctor's life.  We don't know how long they've been together now, but she's a new surety and its a joy to watch her and the adoptive Gallifreyan working in-sync.  There's still a lot of character-based heavy lifting going on in throw away lines like about herself as being a former police officer.  If she's now consumed by her life in the TARDIS, we might wonder how long it is since she visited her family.  Cue Jackie's speech from Parting of the Ways.

All of which ends on a pretty nail-biting conclusion with massive intergalactic destruction intercut with shots of the characters with whom we've just been introduced (all Kuleshoving the end of the universe even though most of them probably don't know its happening given that they're in a completely different time zone).  Jodie tries desperately not to end things on some cliffhanger acting but the edit doesn't do her any favours by cutting away in the final moments when clearly a Trial-like zoom up her nostrils seemed to be the ideal order of business.

Just one final thing before I go off and read the Gallifrey Base reaction (!).  Is this the first time the title of the story has appeared with the title of the series in the main titles?  I can't think of another.  Even though Trial has its semi-official story titles, in the credits its listed as Parts One to Thirteen and The Key To Time doesn't appear anywhere in the credits of season 16.  It makes sense, sticking Flux random at the top of the episode title page would have looked ridiculous.  FLUX (colon) Chapter One (colon) The Halloween Apocalypse.  A typeface apocalypse more like.

Except Flux has also been adopted as the title when this series of episodes is released on DVD which means we're more than like not going to get something with "The Complete Thirteenth Series" written on the side.  Unless this and the subsequent three specials aren't going to be treated as one of those and after all of this, Russell first run back is going to be called that.  Or Chibbers is of a suspicious nature and they're just going to skip over that particular number.  Even though the present incarnation is incorrectly labelled just that ...