The Time Has Come But ...

TV  Here we are then, the first teaser or final trailer for The Power of the Doctor, the 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker's swan song.  It's bitter sweet.  Such a good incarnation, such a dodgy showrunner.  Chris meant well but never quite managed to decided what he wanted to do with it.  It happens and as is always the case with Doctor Who, I'd say in the end there were probably the usual selection of great, average and rubbish episodes, from an, ahem, certain point of view.  I look forward to watching them again soon.

Typically for Chibbers, this looks like a throw everything at the screen and hope something sticks affair.  It's certainly more action orientated than some recent regeneration stories continuing Flux's style of multiple characters in various locations, stuff happening all over the place.  Unlike Flux, I hope that the focus is squarely on the Doctor (unlike a lot of the previous three seasons when that hasn't always been the case) and that it wraps up whatever her story arc has been for the past three seasons.

Then, a few months after that, we're well into the show's 60th anniversary year even though the magnificent 50th was only ab0ut six months ago or something.  Back then, I did the j-word and watched the whole of the series in order.  This time, I'm going to spend as much of the year as I can catching up on all the spin-off stuff I haven't gotten to yet, the many hundreds of Big Finish I've bought and put to one side, all of those charity shop novels, work my way through the annuals, as well as rewatch everything since The Day of the Doctor which was the end goal last time.

Th e John Rylands University Library Folio (30)

Books  This another folio I've seen in person, back in April 2016 on one of its rare outings on display in the historic wing of my old university library.  I remember it being quite low in the case, presumably so as not to disrupt the various items which were already on more permanent exhibition.

Earlier than that, back in 2007, it featured in Othello Retold, part of the Blast TV strand which showed young people being given the opportunity to participate in a cultural event in this case 50 young Manchester-based MCs, musicians, dancers and visual artists script and perform a version of the play in conjunction with the rapper Akala (other segments included work experience at 1Xtra, making some short films and a competition to create a fashion show).  It was broadcast at 5am in the morning, presumably so that schools could set their video recorder.

In the segment, a group of the participating kids are shown the John Rylands Library and then introduced to two volumes, a quarto of Sonnets and the First Folio, which has been opened on the first page of Othello.  As with the rest of the programme, the tone is about bridging the gap between the apparently elitist Shakespeare and more contemporary art forms, how libraries such as this should be accessible to everyone (although the voiceover indicates that only the librarian is allowed to touch the book).  

The Shakespeare First Folio's concordance tells us that a manuscript note found inside the volume indicates this is the copy Lewis Theobald used for his edition of the plays (published across several volumes), although as the text notes "there is no other evidence to connect Theobald to this copy".  From there, it passed through some really significant hands, starting with Martin Folkes, President of the Royal Society and it was then sold at auction to Dr John Monroe, the "physician at Bethlem Hospital who was brought in to consult on George III’s first bout of madness in the late 1780s.

On his death, he passed it the foundational scholar George Steevens with whom he'd worked on their own edition of Shakespeare (posthumous edition viewable here).  Then when Steevens died it was passed to George John Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer and sat in the library at Althorp until 1892 when John Poyntz Spencer, at around the time he became first lord of the admiralty (Lady Di's ancestor), who sold it to Mrs John Rylands the founder of the library which was built in memory of her husband the cotton merchant.  The Folio has been ever since with a slight change in ownership in 1972 when the library was merged into Manchester University.

But up until 1972 the university library had another edition in its collection.  In a blog entry from earlier this year, James Peters explains that on the 12th and 13th of July that year, a week before the University became trustees of the John Rylands, someone broke into the main library at night, an exhibition case was broken and the volume was stolen.  Despite an extensive search over many years it has never been recovered but there's enough information about it to warrant a complete entry in the Rasmussen book and a number, 218.

The Code of Flesh (BBC Audio Exclusive).

Audio  Released this week, Andrew Lane's The Code of Flesh is a sequel to his The Scent of Blood from last year.  Reporter James MacFarlane from the previous story is in 1890s Cardiff investigating "anaesthesia frolics" in which a doctor demonstrates the use of ethers on invited guests, some of whom disappear shortly afterwards.  The Doctor's also on the case (which is presumably why Torchwood's steering well clear) and hijinks similar to the previous audio ensue.  It's fine.  It's more of an atmospheric piece than the previous story with a conclusion which requires a fair amount of lamp-shading in the dialogue by way of justification, although it does have an interesting way of tying into the Time War.  It feels like less of a novelty than the previous story, although Dan Starkey's equally impeccable reading keeps it listenable.

Placement:  Somewhere at the start of the Time War.

The Victoria and Albert Museum Folio (24)

Books  Back in the halcyon days of 2016 when I could afford a monthly visit to London and because you could still book such a trip months in advance for under £35 return, my first visit was to the V&A to see the theatrical display during which I was surprised to find his Shakespeare Folio on display, which as you can see was open to the first page of Twelfth Night.  This same volume has subsequently appeared on television.

Secrets of the Museum is a behind the scenes documentary series about the conservation work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a sort of institutional version of The Repair Shop.  In one episode, the fifth in series one, we're given an extensive look at this First Folio as Jane Rutherston, Principal Book Conservator is shown doing paper repairs to thirteen tears on various pages and part of the spine which has broken due to having been out on display on the same page for too long.

During the introductory passage, RSC stalwart Alexandra Gilbraith is invited in to chat about the book and provide some context for viewers ("Am I allowed to touch it?" "You are allowed to touch it.").  Rutherston suggests that single plays, the Quartos, were printed for the actor's use, which isn't confirmed, especially since a lot of them were pirated version to give rival companies access to the plays.

The book's pretty identifiable from the folio survey book which describes the binding of "brown goatskin with blind fillets as a double framed border with double ‘V’ at the bands. It is slightly scuffed.  In the programme we see a glimpse of the spine which has "six bands" and "‘shakespeare,’ is gold- tooled in the second panel and ‘london,| 1623,’ appears in the third panel. There is no other decoration."  

This binding was apparently from the time of the first identified owner, Reverand Alexander Dyce, Anglican Minister and editor of Early Modern Plays, with two different editions published in his lifetime (his work can be seen at the internet archive).  He bequeathed the book to the V&A on his death in 1869, along with his collection of 15,000 items which included books, paintings. prints, rings and art objects.

Late, the conservator is seen repairing the volume, indeed fixing many of the problems itemised in The Shakespeare First Folios book.  A small dab of wheat starch paste is applied to the spine to bring the worst break back together and fibres from the inner bark of the mulberry tree are glued to the tears.  It's a very satisfying watch.

Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder at the World Museum.

TV  Oh, hi Mark.  It's always good to have a familiar face at the start of something like this and here's the maĆ®tre d' of the macabre, the star of the Web of Caves, Mark Gatiss, to introduce us to the programme and the theme of the exhibition, the interrelatedness of Doctor Who and real world science.  He has a difficult job, though, being upstaged by the replica of the first Doctor's TARDIS console first seen in his drama An Adventure in Space and Time and most recently in the Fugitive Doctor's time capsule, with its retro controls and letraset labelling.  But the overall feeling in this opening room is, you're amongst friends.

Finally.  Back in May when WoW opened, tickets were at a premium, with slots only available days in advance.  Knowing that the exhibition would be open until just after Guy Fawkes Night, I relaxed and decided to wait until the school holidays were over when the space would hopefully be a bit quieter and the day and time would be in my hands.  Then, having studiously avoided spoilers so well, I forgot that it existed and having been reminded by someone passing though on the socials, quickly ordered a ticket for a slot this morning.  Between this, the Sugababes concert and the Tudors exhibition, Liverpool has been having its own feeling listless cultural festival.

Which is why I feel a bit obligated to write about the experience.  Did it live up to expectations?  Yes.  What were those expectations?  Well, having read the publicity, I knew this wasn't going to have as extensive a display as Llangollen, Blackpool or the Doctor Who Experience (which seemed very impressive based on the shots in The Five(ish) Doctors) mostly because of the tension that Mark suggests in his opening statement is in the DNA of the franchise, between giving the kids what they really want to see, the bug eyed monsters, and the educational aspects buzzing away in the background.  Come for the Daleks, stay to discover how electromagnetism works.

So the element that most Doctor Who fans will be here for, the props and costumes are mostly collected around a series of scientific themes, although they're usually broad enough to allow for a fair amount of license.  "Welcome To The Lab" features such things as the Emojibots from Smile, the Kerblam Man from Kerblam and in honestly the creepiest exhibit of the whole show, the prosthetic heads of Matt Lucas and Greg Davies from The Husbands of River Song with their follicle perfect recreations of their faces.  On pikes.  There are a lot of heads in pikes throughout the displays.  Poor Madame Vastra.  Yikes.

Does this synergy work?  For the most part.  Each of the labels tries to find some scientific connection with the real world.  The K1 robot (taller than I expected) offers a short explanation as to its original purpose, then says: "Four decades on from this story’s first broadcast, robots built for difficult and hazardous industrial tasks are in operation all around the world. Luckily, so far none of them have killed their creators, gone on a rampage and grown to an enormous size."  The text is clearly written by fans of the show who're also steeped in science and they get the slightly irreverent tone just right.  

Interspersed with the exhibits are screens in which experts explain the science behind some elements at I'd say about a BBC Four level of complexity (from about five years ago before they began repeating old BBC One programmes from about five years ago).  Professor Clifford (no, not that one) discusses how time travel might work and the TARDIS can be smaller on the outside.  There's an excellent and quite lengthy discussion with Kevin Fong about the resilience of humans and how micro-organisms help to keep us alive but also how vulnerable we are, even on our own planet.

And of the things which, lets be honest, most of us would be going for?  I'm very aware that most of you have already seen this but spoilers, I guess.  The majority of the costumes and props are from about the past ten years, so that's the Capaldi and Whittaker eras and often some of my very least favourite stories, the Skovox Blitzer, the Teller, the Wheezy, Clara's space suit from Kill The Moon (which is tiny!).  But its impressive to see how well the creatures have been fabricated in a way which gives them the best appearance on television, which is especially true of the imposing Fisher Kind from Before The Flood who you can have loom over you at one point.

Perhaps its because I'm of an increasingly certain age, that it's the smaller props which are the biggest draw.  In the opening room there's a display cabinet containing what looks like all of the Doctor's sonic screwdrivers from the second Time Lord onwards, including Eighth's from the TV movie (his only prop in the whole show), along with Missy's sonic umbrella and River's sonic trowel.  They also have Mike Tucker's re-creations of the ships from Shada created for the 2017 reconstruction, Skagra's spacecraft, the Think Tank space station ad The Nosferatu.  Absolutely beautiful.

If something did nag away at the back of my mind, it's which props were originals and which were recreations.  Much of the time, the labels contain the words "screen-used" which adds authenticity, but part of me wishes that like an art exhibition, all of the items had some provenance.  Which Dalek is this?  What were the circumstances of its creation?  Was this K-9 produced for an earlier exhibition or did it feature on The Sarah Jane Adventures?  Is that really the prop Paul McGann held in 1996 or some made since for a different project?  I know most people don't care about this stuff, it's all just photo ops, but ..

At the price of an old classic series DVD release on, did I get my money's worth?  Probably?  I guess?  There's a lot of empty space in the exhibition so that it can be spread through the horse-shoe display gallery in the museum necessitating lots of walls with text displays and a massive diorama of a publicity shot from In The Forest of the Night (some people like that episode, I suppose, and it was written by a local boy).  Of the classic props, there are a few of the usual suspects in here, but this is probably as close as I've been to Morbius and Omega and in a well lit room for a change, rather than near darkness with a green light projected against them.

Nevertheless there's something quite magical, as well as expressively weird about being able to attend an exhibition dedicated to a television show you've loved for many years which has in this case has clearly been created by fans for fans, something which hasn't always been the case over the years, when its sometimes felt like the props have all been thrown in together in the shabbiest of conditions to make to exploit our loyalty.  I was quite emotional on more than one occasion as the years peeled away at the sight of a Super-Voc robot head or Handles.  If Worlds of Wonder shows anything, it's that time travel is possible.

The Morgan Library & Museum Folio (172).

Literature  The Morgan Library & Museum owns two copies of the First Folio and I was able to identify which copy this is using the Rasmussen book, mostly from a description of the binding ("the cover design has a goldtooled square within a square with floral gold tooling within the inner square and at the corners") but also due to an incident which happens on screen during a segment of the BBC's Shakespeare Uncovered about Macbeth presented by Ethan Hawke.

Part of series of programmes broadcast in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics cultural festival which included the likes of David Tennant on Hamlet (which I reviewed at the time) and Trevor Nunn on The Tempest, each hour long programme is about what you'd expect them to be with potted histories of each play, an exploration of their cultural significance and performance clips usually from the BBC and also Shakespeare's Globe with which this was a co-production.

The tone is reverential.  In whispered tones, Hawke explains the location of the folio as its wheeled on the pictured trolley and placed on a clear perspex stand so that the actor can forthrightly enter the library room via the rotunda and encounter the book ("Curator John Bidwell has retrieved it from the vault").  Hawke hesitates before he touches it then begins leafing through the pages because frankly who wouldn't.  At this point we notice he's kneeling on the floor in front of it.

After a shot of the title page of Macbeth, he says he's seen his favourite speech, then notes how strong Shakespeare's body of work is that when you reach the end of Macbeth, "you're already in Hamlet".  Eventually he settles on a page and says, "it kind of suits the end of the Scottish play that there's a slight burn on the final page of Macbeth.  Somebody was upset and their cigarette fell as Macbeth fell", at which point he runs his finger over the burn mark and makes a hole in the page.

This same hole was then subsequently noticed by whoever later visited the folio to assess it for the descriptive catalogue and noted in the "repairs and damage affecting text section: "Macbeth ll6 tear repair 62 mm from foot affects three letters. ll6v tear repair 59 mm from foot affects 61 letters. nn4 hole affects two letters b23" (my italics) (nn4 simply means this is the fourth note - these observations of very densely printed).

The library takes its name from its founder, the banker and collector John Pearpoint Morgan, yes of J.P.Morgan fame, and he thought of this as being of inferior interest the other two in his collection.  Apparently numerous other parts of the text have been lost to damage and this folio has been extensively been repaired with some of the missing text having been replaced with a manuscript pen facsimile (rather like on of the Folios at the British Library).

At the conclusion of the segment, Hawke "reads" his favourite passage, the Tomorrow and Tomorrow speech, although he clearly knows it by heart.  He then stands turns around and walks away as a Shakespeare expert describes were Macbeth is psychologically at that point in the play, the folio having played its part in telling the story and gained another tiny addition to its history.