MARVEL UK in the 90s.



Comics Channel 4's Opening Shot was a shorter version of The South Bank Show aimed at young people in the 1990s. Find above, unearthed by VHS Video Vault, the episode about MARVEL UK from 1993 in which the likes of Stan Lee and then MARVEL UK editor in chief Paul Neary, who was the second editor of Doctor Who Weekly, talk about the differences between storytelling in British comics in comparison to stateside and the success of Deaths Head and the like in the US. It's not especially depthful in terms of the history but there is a pleasingly lengthy section about women in comics.

My Favourite Film of 1898.



Film If I was taught anything useful growing up, it was the value of money, or at least I like to think so. Without much to spend, everything bought had to be accounted for. We didn’t splurge and material things weren’t that important. Clothing was bought on market stalls and the like for example and I was brought up to ignore labels, something which is still true. I simply don’t understand why anyone would want to spend hundreds of pounds on single pieces of clothing and always shop around, probably to the point that it would have been cheaper just to buy the first damn thing I saw.

My parents had to be imaginative when it came to treats and incentives. Sometimes this was easy. A sweet van would park at the top of the road every week, Mr K’s, and I’d be given ten pence to spend on chewy chocolate bottles and Sherbet fountains from the retiree in the brown overalls. None of this would happen if I’d been “naughty” in the intervening days. Not that I remember being an especially difficult child which is counter to what my parents have just told me. I have no memory. I asked what they meant by that but the details due to our relative ages now are now sketchy. I expect it was just general childhood misbehaviour.

But the one treat I do remember is being allowed to sit at the front on the top deck of the bus. This was usually either the 80 or 82 from Speke into Garston or the city centre and was one of the most exciting things I could do because it meant I could watch the bus driver through the periscope which was the way they could keep an eye on the top deck before security camera were invented (this all happened in the late 70s or early 80s). It also gave me a driver’s eye view, albeit from a higher angle, seeing the streets and landscape at the front rather than the side. Even though this would be those same journeys, there was always something new to look at.

When I was old enough to travel on buses without my parents, it still took a while before it felt ok to decide to walk up those steps by myself and even when I did, it felt illicit, like I was stealing something which I hadn’t earned or didn’t deserve. Plus by then I understood the dangers of passive smoking and it still hadn’t been banned on public transport. In my teenage years, upstairs was also were the boys and girls hung out together and since I was nervous around the latter, the bottom deck became a haven from all of that. The one occasion I did venture upstairs, I almost had an anxiety attack, I think when the girlfriend of one of my mates looked at me.

Now I’m old enough to enjoy the experience for what it is, the chance to see the world from an unusual angle, a similar thrill as View from an Engine Front – Barnstaple but live and on a road. Now I’ll sit in this position whatever chance I get, looking across tops of bus shelter and roofs, jumping out of my skin as the bus hits the tree tops. My longest trip lately was all the way to Preston although I’ll admit I did read for a bit here and there as the bus traversed the motorways. If you’re not actually driving, there’s no point subjecting yourself to the hypnotism of the monocoloured roads and embankments and street furniture. I wonder where I’ll be next.

Extremis.



TV OK, let's get the important business out of the way first. The Pope's emergence during Bill's date is one of the funniest tv moments I've seen in quite some time. I laughed loud, I laughed hard, again in a way which I haven't for a while either, and was just the thing after what has, for various reasons been a really stressful day.  If Steven Moffat's good at anything it's writing broad comedy especially when it's based on socio-political themes requiring the viewer to appreciate a certain level of intertextuality.  It's the kind of unexpected juxtaposition which is Stephen Poliakoff's stock in trade but done for laughs and if Pearl has a better bit of reaction business this year, it'll be quite the year.

Except, it didn't happen.  The real Bill wasn't on that date.  It wasn't the real Pope.  Her date hasn't really met her yet and so the whole underlying premise of the scene has rather had its fronds knocked  out from under it.  It's a simulation and however much the conclusion, in copying the Doctor into the experience, attempts to give that half of the episode some relevance, unless there's some updated coding in a future episode can't stop me from being really rather disappointed.  Dreams and alternate realities are Moffat's b-plot when he can't work in a paradox and here's another version and by the end of the episode it left me deflated, immediately DMing a friend with "God, that was boring."

Now clearly, that's a slightly unfair assessment.  The execution of Missy scenes are very well executed and it's refreshing to have an episode structured in a similar way to Lost with a flashback sequence threaded through underpinning the action on the island.  Knowing that even the least knowledgeable of viewers would assume that Missy was in the vault, Moffat successfully provides a few twists even if the Doctor is ultimately trapped in just the same position as Rory and the Pandorica, albeit for different reasons.  Some might criticise the Doctor for using his CV as a deterrent again but as I've said previously, there's nothing especially wrong with the Doctor redeploying old tactics if they work, especially a weapon this powerful.

Hopefully this won't be Missy's denouement and we'll have the "surprise" that when the Doctor opens the vault, John Simm'll be in there, the Master revisiting one of his old faces.  It makes sense that she's leaving though; the Master has to be reconfigured to reflect the Doctor and one of the reasons the Ainley model never did quite jibe with either Six or Seven was because he was too much the opposite of the Sixth, right down to the clothes and outlandish personality.  When Romola Garai does take over from Capaldi, she needs someone who'll play against her strengths which will depend on how they pitch her character, if they go period or contemporary.

Plus the metatextual reference to The Da Vinci Code in the Veritas, a book so awful you want to kill yourself.  Or give it to Oxfam.  A lot.   Part of  Dan Brown's modus operandi is to have his readers question the nature of reality and how everything is connected, an experience these whispers and shadows go through when they realise that there's no such thing as a random sequence of numbers (see also Lost again).  But a version of the episode which isn't set in some other reality and have the Missy b-story could have delved deeper into spoofery with a more intricate mcguffin to investigate, which would have felt a bit more "Doctor Who" to be honest (for whatever that's worth).

But none of this can overcome of the shadow of this being an example of just the sort of episode which writer's bibles and creative writing tutors warn us against.  It's is a relatively novel twist to have a character realise they're not real within the dream rather than the character realising the dream isn't real but on rewatching we'll be seeing scenes between characters that aren't actually happening (within fiction framework of the show) and essentially exist to provide the Doctor with an inciting incident for the next episode which previously has just as easily been explained to a companion by the Time Lord in a console scene during the teaser.

That said, there's something about the lavishness of the production design which suggests this won't be the last we'll see of these locales however important it is have them be convincing enough to fool these also not real Bill and Nardole.  Hum.  In the next episode but one, will we see the invasion itself being played out in just these places, these same characters re-appearing on the "real" Earth?  I wish that the show was simply doing stories set in these places; a stand alone episode featuring the Pentagon would be great fun as would a piece at CERN revisiting one of Torchwood's old locales.  Politics and physics have been potent themes in the past.

In this post-broadcast interview for the Radio Times, Moffat says that if you didn't enjoy Extremis, "there’s a space pyramid on the way. And Ice Warriors. And Mondasian Cybermen, and more Missy, and John Simm’s Master. Damn it, we’ve even got Aberdeen."  I don't think he's saying that because he thinks that some viewers won't be sophisticated enough to enjoy this so here's some of the more simpler hokum.  He could be saying that if this is a creative failure, there's another episode along next week.  If I was Patrick Mulkern the interviewer I would have asked for a clarification but he's quickly on to a question about Missy and the vault.

On the upside we do get to see Nardole, a figure who to me is ranking alongside Jar Jar Binks amongst the very worst genre characters, disappear into a puff of logic.  I realised the other day what my uneasiness with him is.  I just simply don't like Matt Lucas.  Little Britain was infused with some horrendous class tourism and Come Fly With Me with its racist black, brown and yellow face and stereotyping does no one involved any favours especially him and Williams.  We look back at the Minstrel shows with embarrassment and yet here's the modern equivalent and I simply can't abide anyone who thinks this is ok.

So yes, Nardole can sod off now as can the other strand in which the Doctor's become a time travelling Mr Magoo.  Because these scenes occurred in a reality conceived by the antagonists there's a deniability available as to the character's reactions, but that can't draw away from the fact that they're effectively playing a person's inability to see, however temporary, however much its because they're foolishly trying to hide their blindness, for laughs.  I wonder how this is going to go down with those who rely on the episode's audio description to enjoy Doctor Who.  Last week, I was applauding the show for making their hero someone they can identify with.  This now?

Best stop then.  Perhaps with just a couple of episodes of the latest season of Sense8 to watch, much of which has been extraordinary, my expectations for something which is truly "out there" have been raised.  But scratch the surface of Extremis and this wasn't anything Moffat hasn't attempted before and produced better and unlike previous instalments, I can't imagine these niggles will go away on rewatching.  Some people seem to be enjoying this series more than me and good for them, but I can't shake the feeling that for the most part, despite a few high points, the Twelfth Doctor's tenure has been a mismanaged, wasted opportunity.  And now this:

Backwards and Forwards.

Film Almost to the second that I posted this, Star Trek Discovery's trailer was uploaded in different versions, just to show that even if it's set in the past this new series is still moving forward:



Which rather makes Turnabout Intruder look even more foolish and shows just how anomalous the classic series now looks within the larger franchise.

Watching The Whole Of Star Trek In Chronological Order.



TV  For the past ten months, any conversation related to television which began, “Have you seen …” was usually answered with a negative from me, the reason being that for the past ten months I've been watching my way through the whole of Star Trek in stardate order, starting with Enterprise, through to Nemesis before flashing back and crossing realities into the Kelvin timeline. When almost the whole franchise was uploaded to Netflix, however much I tried to look away or find something else to do, the pull was too great. So on 11th July last year, the day after completing a binge through Gilmore Girls, seeking solace after the Brexit vote, I sat myself in front of Broken Bow, Enterprise's first episode and with the odd exception (MARVEL series, Elementary, Supergirl, Girls, Stranger Things, more Gilmore Girls) that's been about the only television drama I've watched since. Like my anniversary run through of Doctor Who and the Buffyverse before that, for the most part it's been an utter pleasure and a trip down memory lane, on this occasion to stories I hadn't seen for twenty years and even in some cases for the first time.

My guide on this journey has been The Star Trek Chronology Project, a thorough attempt to put the whole franchise in narrative order utilising the star dates as a guide. As the compiler acknowledges, some of the time the writers don't adhere to their own rules, in The Original Series (TOS), they seem to have been chosen at random and they don't really exist on Enterprise anyway, but become invaluable in the 24th century era as a way of slipping between the various interconnected series. It's possible now to see how Trek was accomplishing intricate cross franchise storytelling years before the MCU, notably the Maquis storyline which begins with TNG's Journey's End develops to set up part of Voyager’s premise, flows between the latter episodes of TNG into DS9 with characters and plot elements passing between the two more overtly than I remember. A couple of Admirals and Cardassian Guls even manage to appear in all three. It's also possible to see how, when viewed in this context, Enterprise so expertly manages to provide the opening movements of some epic battles which are still being fought years later.

That said, from the off, Enterprise feels like a show which was rushed into production with too many voices speaking behind the scenes. Apparently the initial idea was to show the trials involved in the construction of the ship which wouldn’t launch until late into the first season but the studio forced a rethink. That explains the number of flaccid early episodes with identikit premises which would have worked on any of the series with few modifications. In these initial episodes only T’Pol makes an impression, generally being right about everything and continues to be the linchpin of the show throughout. Like TNG, it’s not until a fresher mind, in this case Manny Cotto, that the show fulfils its potential providing prequels to later stories in other series and offering some deep background on the pre-history of the Federation. The ingenious explanation for how the look of the Klingons changes temporarily utilising Bashir and O'Brien's suggestion from the infamous scene in Trials and Tribble-ations is spectacular.  It’s just a shame they never could work out what to do with Hoshi.

Not having seen most of The Original Series since kidulthood, the biggest surprise is how not rubbish season three actually is, despite its stinky reputation. Granted, there’s some rotting gagh in there, notably Spock’s Brain, And The Children Shall and The Way To Eden. But everyone’s in character for most of the time and honestly, there’s probably as many decent to excellent instalments as previous seasons. There were even a few episodes I’d somehow missed first time around, That Which Survives and The Lights of Zetar both of which are pretty good. Parts of the show haven’t dated well. McCoy’s treatment of Spock is flat out racist at times and the gender politics is shocking. Plus both interracial kisses, usually much lauded, in Plato’s Stepchildren and Elaan of Troilus are against Kirk’s will as if to justify them happening. But when it’s good, it’s great: The Corbamite Manoeuvre, Tomorrow Is Yesterday, Mirror Mirror, Journey To Babel (which feels most like modern Trek with its Spock’s family orientated b-plot), The Tholian Web and of course The City On The Edge of Forever (just a pity Joan Collins didn’t heed the words of Edith Keeler and voted Brexit).

Despite the rudimentary, if pleasingly day-glo animation and shonky continuity (where exactly does Spock sit on the bridge?), The Animated Series is authentic enough that it should be considered the fourth season of TOS. With almost everyone back on voice duty and scripts predominantly written by the original live action writers, there’s some remarkable episodes in here amid the sequels and remakes. DC Fontana’s Yesteryear rightly wins plaudits for its depiction of early society and there’s also the strongly feminist The Lorelei Signal in which the female members of the crew end up saving Kirk, Spock et al for a change. There’s nothing in here that is really against canon. Indeed, much exposition is expended explaining how Harry Mudd escaped the android planet. Plus the comedy episode Bem establishes Tiberius as Kirk’s middle name. The brevity of the episodes, twenty-three minutes each, meant I watched the whole thing over three days (17th to 19th October) which did leave me able to hum along to the half dozen pieces of incidental music repeated ad nauseum.

Then straight into the TOS films ending with the first twenty minutes of Generations.  My assessment of them hasn't changed and it's pretty much as agreed critically, the odd numbered instalments weaker than the evens with The Final Frontier at the nadir, Khan at the top.  What's notable is how sympathetic they are to the source, despite Roddenbery effectively having been supplanted by Harve Bennett who hadn't even seen an episode before taking over.  Partly that's so as not to cheese off the fans which had kept the franchise going during their wilderness years, but it's also because if nothing else the rich mythology is a strong foundation to work within so why deny its existence.  Unlike Doctor Who, whose key asset is its flexibility, Trek's engine is its chronology and ability to build on what's gone before.  It's the films which really develop the verisimilitude which would make this possible feature feel like such a real, complex place even if its not always clear where exactly the various empires and quadrants are supposed to be.

Star Trek: The Next Generation took four months to watch but there’s much to be said for taking some shows slowly with having time to appreciate their merits. After the patchy first couple of seasons, which still have the odd classic like Measure of a Man, once Michael Piller became one of the producers the show began to sing. Perhaps most notably of the “exploration” series is how strongly it works to create an atmosphere of having what amounts to a small town floating in space, the crew members and their families, homes, schools, science labs and recreation although it’s also noticeable how often some writers forget as much when putting the ship in jeopardy. Like TOS, parts of it haven’t aged well; the Geordi and Leah Brahms business is just flat out creepy. But it’s somehow even an the initially one-note character llike Troi evolves into a working professional psychologist and diplomatic assistant not to mention commander who outranks Data. Too many favourite episodes to list, but I’m more of a fan of those with the more oddball fantasy elements like The Next Phase, Time Squared, Parallels, Remember Me and Timescape.

Nevertheless its Deep Space Nine that is probably Trek's masterpiece, a sprawling space opera which after the usual rocky first couple of seasons turns into a deep meditation on the nature of war and the human cost, utilising the future setting to reference almost all the major conflicts of the past century or so.  Like the other nuTrek series, it has its story genres usually about a particular race and I remember hating the Ferengi episodes first time around but now see how the allow the writers to talk about feminism and capitalism in a way which would be impossible with the Star Fleet characters for whom such things have already been overcome.  Dax might well be the cleverest creation that the show ever produced and the transition from Jadzia to Ezri is seamlessly accomplished - the Trill are almost the Time Lords of Star Trek (with apologies to the Q) as the memories but not personality are passed between hosts.  I can't even attempt to choose favourite episodes here.  Glancing through the list its easier to select the one which are just a bit average of which there are too few to mention.

Not so Voyager which is often a desert in its earlier series of derivative stories that pretty much ditch the Maquis culture clash much earlier than drama would usually necessitate.  By the end of season four I'd had enough and with my Who fandom growing apace didn't bother to watch much into the next season back then.  Of course, that's just the moment when the show finds its feet and from about half way through season five, about the time Bryan Fuller takes over, it's smashing.  Partly it's because they have a new toy and there's a period when almost every episode is somehow about Seven of Nine and her attempts to reclaim her humanity, a full on Pygmalion pastiche co-starring The Doctor who himself becomes the focus of a huge number of episodes.  It's delightful even if it leaves some of the blander crew members as nothing more than bystanders until the realities of their situation, the lack of career progress, the idea of bringing up families on board are explored.  If only they'd thought of that earlier.

So in all of the shows there's a moment when each finally realises what it's "about", what the format is capable of.  In TNG that's definitely season three, for DS9 it's four and in Voyager it's clearly five.  In some cases there are enough episodes remaining to explore the potential but in Enterprise and Voyager's case it happens too late.  There's enough in their final instalments to fuel another series or two and I'm rather pining for a season eight for Voyager which explores how the crew copes once they return home.  The final scenes of Endgame aren't quite as abrupt as I'd expected, and its fitting that the show should end with the crew on the ship, but I want to see Seven's first reactions to Earth, how The Doctor gets along, even Harry Kim seeing his parents again after all that time.  Similarly These Are The Voyages is a travesty; I can see why the creators felt like they had to cap off the revival but to have these earlier characters inserted into Enterprise and effectively make its final instalment about them is appalling.

The key problem with the Next Generation films is that although the series was very much about the ensemble with each character becoming the focus each week.  In order to wedge each story into a traditional screenplay structure, Picard and Data are essentially promoted to lead characters on every occasion, with some of their character development rolled back in order to accommodate the hero's journey.  First Contact is the strongest simply because it's also able to give Riker and the rest a sufficiently interesting subplot.  Generations is hurt by having to be a crossover and then wasting the appearance of the classic crew.  Insurrection is helped by simply deciding to make what amounts to a filmed double episode of the series.  Nemesis is similar but never quite feels right, all of the more useful character material in the deleted scenes, cut to make way for generic action sequences.  At least we get to find out what happened to Janeway after Voyager returned home (although I know that in the novels its a bit more complicated).

What's surprising about the "Kelvin" films is how much fidelity they have with the television series, combining genuinely exciting action with character moments in a way which Nemesis entirely fails at.  Plus the opening instalment includes what is, up until now, the final chronological filmed moment in the Prime timeline, as Spock enters the fissure.  In three films, we find seasons worth of incident packed into a few hours, fully embracing the possibilities of the motion picture.  On rewatch, even Into Darkness impresses; although it's clearly weakest when directly referencing old adventures it's no simple retread of Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan.  But it's Beyond which ultimately impresses not least because when watched in this sequence by referencing Enterprise so strongly, offers a decent bookend to the whole experiences.  Even so, When nuKirk mentions the five year mission, it's disappointing that we haven't actually seen those "smaller" adventures.  The IDW comic exists of course, but that still has to tread water somewhat due to the potential for a new film release.

Which is my ultimate take away from all this.  Star Trek is a format which works and works best when it's moving forward.  When Nemesis ends, it's with some sadness because it's the last we'll see of the rich 24th century mythology developed across twenty one seasons of television and four films.  But there's an obsession with the classic series, because of the icons which means that the franchise is currently obsessed with those glories, through prequel series and reboots.  What I would dearly love to see is a series which continues were Voyager completed either directly or further on again so as not to mess with the continuity in the novels with a new crew and a whole other set of challenges in a similar way to Doctor Who's revival.  That Seth MacFarlane has managed to get this spoof off the ground quicker than CBS has got its act together is an embarrassment.  I am looking forward to Discovery, but shouldn't Star Trek be always boldly going forward unable to find reverse?  Now I'm off to watch Galaxy Quest.  It's time.

My Favourite Film of 1899.



Film The first filmed Shakespeare was a one minute short version of King John, the surviving part of a quartet designed to advertise Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s forthcoming production at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Since there are only a few weeks left of this project and it will be my final opportunity to talk about my love of Shakespeare, I thought I’d list some of the screen versions which have meant the most to me or are just favourites and I haven’t had a chance to talk about yet.

Hamlet (1996)

My Hamlet of Hamlets and would have been in there for 1996 if it hadn’t been for the one film per director rule and director Sir Ken's In The Bleak Midwinter having been released the year before. Everything you would ever want to know about my love for the production is in this old 2009 review and in the intervening years my admiration for his achievement has only increased. Admittedly, I’ve more recently become testy about conflating Shakespeare texts and indeed cutting anything out of them, of the opinion that you would slice away half of a Renoir or expect to read an edited Jane Austen novel, but this is such a celebration of the material, presenting as many of Shakespeare’s words as is coherently possibly, I’m inclined to say this is my favourite film of my second favourite play, perhaps even my favourite film of any Shakespeare play.

Measure for Measure (1978)

One of the finest of the “traditional” approach BBC Shakespeare productions (in other words in period costume and set design), I first watched this during English class, my pubescent mind sucker punched first with full on lust for Kate Nelligan’s Isabella then by the implications of the late Tim Piggott Smith’s Angelo’s similar reaction. Their key scenes in Act II are electrically played in this production, as the Vulcan-like Angelo enters full on pon farr in the face of a woman he can’t have and shouldn’t want. It’s the first occasion I really understood the power of Shakespeare after having to endure Julius Caesar the previous year which the mid-teen version of me found remote and archaic. The productions I’ve seen since have often painted Angelo and Isabella in mono terms, whereas the text and this production implies that every character in the play is morally ambiguous. Plus it doesn’t assume that it’s a comedy trying to wring humour out of lines which are clearly anything but.

As You Like It (2009)

For no other reason that it’s a recording of the very production I saw during my only visit to Shakespeare’s Globe (so far). It’s disconcerting to see just how much of the production is similar to my own memory, right down to what appeared to be moments of improv. There aren’t any pauses for the sound of planes which was definite feature when I attended, and it’s a pleasure to actually see the Seven Ages of Man speech which I inexplicably missed on the day due to a toilet break. Here’s the inevitable blog post about that afternoon. Nearly all of the productions from the Dromgoole era have been gathered in a big boxed set which at £80 seems expensive but considering that they’re otherwise £20 individually, really isn’t.

Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Which also contradicts what I was saying about cutting the text and so forth, but Baz Luhrman’s adaptation which retains the emotional power of the play as well as servicing its aim of presenting the text to a young audience. It’s one of the cinema visits I remember most vividly, in the late Odeon on London Road, filled with teenagers who by the end were split directly by gender, boys scoffing, girls sobbing. Peter David writes about a similar experience in his essay, “On The Terrible and Unexpected Fate” that viewers were reacting as though the ending was a complete surprise even though Shakespeare actually tells us the ending in the prologue. Unlike him, I didn’t get up and berate the audience for their lack of observational skills, reasoning that it takes most cinema audiences a minute or two to settle so they probably just missed it. My only other memory is of buying the VHS release and finding a wining noise in the background throughout which after having tried a couple of replacements turned out to be a mastering error.

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

I adore the Branagh film which I saw on its opening day in an otherwise empty screen at what’s now the World of Cine on Edge Lane (Virgin Cinemas back then), and find myself sobbing even when listening to the soundtrack and Emma intones with “Sigh no more…” Joss Whedon’s version wins out for a couple of reasons. For a start, Nathan Fillion is that rarest of curiosities, a Dogberry whose funny yet hopelessly poignant in a way which Michael Keaton’s sweaty mugging never is. It’s also an exceedingly mature presentation; these are characters with inner lives, even minor characters with few lines that are often removed from productions, worn down by everything which is happening outside of the bubble of the house. Plus there’s the fan theory that it offers Angel’s Wesley and Fred the chance to redo their relationship in a strange monochrome afterlife. That Whedon achieved all this between shooting and editing The Avengers is a marvel.

Playing Shakespeare (1984)

Not a production, but a series of instructive filmed workshops presented by John Barton, director and producer of the RSC with members of the company past and then present, including David Suchet David Suchet, Lisa Harrow, Alan Howard, Ben Kingsley, Michael Pennington, Patrick Stewart, Susan Fleetwood, Sheila Hancock, Sinéad Cusack, Mike Gwilym, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McKellen, Richard Pasco, Donald Sinden, Michael Williams, Judi Dench, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Norman Rodway, Peggy Ashcroft and Roger Rees. They present an idea of the rehearsal process at the RSC, how the text has been taught actors across the years especially how it’s verbally presented. One of the more valuable lessons is that when reading Shakespeare you should follow the punctuation rather than the line breaks unless he calls attention to them by putting the punctuation there. Follow that process and the words flow. Any actor who pauses at the end of a line is doing it wrong. If you have any interest in Shakespeare at all, I’d urge you to seek this out.

Oxygen.



TV It's Sunday night and I've just finished watching Doctoroo, sorry, Doctor Whoer. Another epoch busted, although I have a strange suspicion that due to other commitments I did delay an episode some time in the RTD era. But last night, with Eurovision following quickly on, I decided to save one of the treats from BBC One's viewing feast for this evening and so here you are reading some opinions (which you've probably seen articulated better elsewhere) on a time delay.  There's nothing worse than having a whole day to actual think about what's going to be written here, for me to put some actual thought into it.  That rarely goes well.  Incidentally, the Eurovision result was probably about right, although the performer's sister was the better singer and probably should have entered the song herself.  Oh and O'G3EN from #NED were robbed, as was the UK.  Again.

Through the gimlet prisms of a long term fan, the episodes title has something of a double meaning in that story wise,  Oxygen is as familiar to Doctor Who as human lungs are to breathing.  The set up is a classic base under siege (you can mark your four corners on the Who review bingo card) with the TARDIS inopportunely inaccessible, a small group of humans to save and an implacable enemy hell bent on their destruction.  Even if you've only seen The Sensorites, you pretty much know all the tropes to expect, and if Nicholas Briggs hasn't written one version for Big Finish, he's publicised  several on his Twitter feed.  Depending on your mood, the idea of sitting through all of this stuff again can feel achingly tedious or like a comfortable hug from a big, friendly script editor or show runner (depending on the era) and luckily for us, Oxygen is the latter.

Not that our patience isn't tested.  This series's tendency towards rather bland, single attributed  secondary characters continues.  Back in more recent history, even Chris Chibnall was capable of imbuing the denizens of the S.S. Pentallian with enough character for us to find their death's poignant within a 42 minute time span.  In Jamie Mathieson's Oxygen (his best script to date nonetheless) we meet the shouty one, the beardy one, the blue one and the one who dies early.  There's probably an argument that we're seeing them through the Twelfth Doctor's eyes, or rather lack of them now, in that he doesn't have much interest in them as individuals other than to save them, but it doesn't half lengthen the odds in how sympathetic they're going to be to the viewer which is something which used to be important.  Not sure why it isn't so much now.

Nardole continues to annoy especially due to the way the writers have had to find him something to do, often in scenes were the Doctor orders a piece of investigatory information which the Time Lord himself would more naturally discover and more potently having gone through the motions himself.  In one scene here, the Doctor literally stands around while Nardole goes off and finds a piece of eposition.  The Doctor's Daughter might not be a great story, but at least is justifies Donna's secretarial back story by having her develop a piece of admin which goes overlooked by the big picture Tenth Doctor.  We're once again forced to hope that there's some grand plan in place for Matt Lucas's character which'll cause us to retroactively reconsider his participation in these earlier episodes.  Third wheel companions are always tricky and the otherwise anonymous Nardole's amongst the wheeliest.

But having said all of that the rest of the episode just works.  Much of that has to do with the zombies being genuinely creepy with their cocked heads, grey skin and vacant eyes, organic material serving the suits, their autonomy defiled.  With a full zombie neck or limb mastication out of the question, a death touch, so close to a schoolyard tag or tick, is scary, especially when its inevitable.  Unlike the Borg, whose consciousness is assimilated into the hive mind and contributes towards its journey for perfection, the humans in Oxygen are simply necessary organic matter, existing to give the suits something to hang on to.  Yes, yes, who turned out the lights, but at least when the Vashta Narrada get you, with the exception of the echo, your living embodiment becomes nourishing to them as a chicken wing.  Here, your vacant likeness continues.

The political angle is also immensely impressive, especially for those of us who've been on the sharp end of late capitalism.  I've worked in a bank's call centre were every moment of my day to the nearest second is recorded and available for criticism if "too long" is spent on a toilet break or client queries aren't dealt with below a pre-designated average call time.  The failure to achieve any of this would have resulted in missing out on a bonus and a tetchy meeting with a team leader rather than asphyxiation, but the transformation of a human into the biological conduit for a business process is roughly similar.  Given that pretty much all other necessary human sustenance is now being charged for, the act of inhaling and exhaling N2 and O2 plus trace elements isn't completely unbelievable if some kind of mechanism could be devised.

Other elements of the production are a tour de force.  The exterior shots all seem to have been shot with the minimum of CGI giving them an old school pliability and the elements featuring astronauts on stanchions bring to mind scenes filmed at Elstree for the classic series, before videotape was adopted and made everything seem cheap now matter how well shot (or lit).  Murray Gold's music is really helping the Doctor and Bill's relationship to gel and it's impossible not to feel Tennant era vibes when she embraces here tutor and their collective themes swell.  Not to mention that it's great to see our characters in space suits other than those first seen in The Impossible Planet, especially these with their beautifully patterned gold fish bowls.  Were they created especially for this story or do we recognise them from somewhere else?

Taking the Doctor's sight is a dramatic twist and finally potentially give Nardole something new to do as a human guide dog.  That even without his eyes, the Time Lord will be capable of much will surely be of comfort to children who've also lost their eyesight, so let's hope the audio description does the episode justice.  Like his constant amnesia in his Eighth incarnation, this blindness surely won't be permanent, which isn't to say it wouldn't be brave to keep him in this condition right through to the regeneration.  But it has to be unlikely given that we finally have a version of this character who isn't a complete bastard and to leave him in this state would be a cruel cut.  If as is rumoured, the Christmas special will help explain the intervention of his attack eyebrows in the Day of the Doctor, he's going to need his cue balls intact.

When articles are written about the Twelfth Doctor era, Oxygen is sure to be included in its highlights.  While in some ways still quite simplistic in its characterisation and depth in comparison to earlier eras, partly due to the need to service the series's arc story at the top and bottom of the action, the decision not to soft focus its political message is welcome in the current political climate.  If the Daily Mail hates you, you're probably doing something right.  The trailer for next week's episode is majestic: is that River's diary?  Does it contain secrets about his future and if so, how did she know before her untimely?  Will we discover what's in the vault and does the fact that we know Missy is back mean that it can't be Missy since putting her in the trailer would rather invalidate the surprise?  Or is it a double bluff?  I won't be iPlayering next week, then.

Oh Jean.



Music Last night saw the broadcast of the second semi-final of this year's Eurovision, still uneasily slotted into BBC Four's schedule now that BBC Three's spectral ghost stalks cyberspace. Find above my favourite song of the night, O'G3NE's Lights and Shadow, underscoring just how narrow my taste is. Everything on the usual list is covered:

Are they female?
Yes.

Are there three or more of them?
Yes.

Are they related in some way?
Yes.

Are there close harmonies?
Yes.

(Bonus score) Do they have a group name whose pronunciation has to be explained to you:
Yes.  It's the full Haim.

Apparently Wilson Philips was trending on Twitter last night almost as soon as OG3NE appeared and yes, pretty much, although glancing towards The Triplets (and there's no cut deeper than that).

The group have managed to reached the final and should be in with a chance after winning Junior Eurovision 2007.  But unfortunately this also happened and given the ironic UK vote, they don't stand a chance.

At least they did better than Finland, the best song during the first semi on Tuesday night, which didn't place:



Heart break emoji.

Storyhouse.

Film The Odeon in Chester was always a strange place to see a film, especially the main screen, which had a large projection surface, but the seats were all on a balcony spread across the back wall, the projector on the floor in the stalls, reversing the usual way in which such things are designed. When the Odeon shifted away from single screen venues in preference to multiplex edifices it closed and sat empty for years. Now its re-opening, refurbished as the Storyhouse, a kind of miniature version of Manchester's Home, with a theatre, art space, library and single screen cinema.

The Double Negative has a huge article about the place with construction photos and interviews with the creators:
"Situated close to North Gate retail and leisure development, the whole area is one in transition. The £37 million Storyhouse project – backed by Chester City Council and Arts Council England – is centred around a redevelopment of the 1936 Odeon cinema space, which visitors can now take a sneak peek of ahead of the grand opening. Incorporating core library services for the city, there is an adjoining new build housing a 800 seat theatre, 150 capacity studio stage and rooftop bar. This cultural hub approach – in a similar format to The Atkinson (Southport) or HOME (Manchester) – is intended to foster a greater inclusivity and sustainability for all aspects of the new building and its future activities."
This sounds like just the cultural boost Chester needs. Plus it's in a great area, almost opposite the cathedral and should be a real benefit to the surrounding businesses, the market, and especially the cheese shop.

Binaural Injection.



TV After accidentally listening to the standard sound mix on Saturday, I promised to provide an update once a gap had been found in my busy schedule for a rewatch.  Here we go:

Having spent the best part of a decade watching pretty much everything through headphones at home I've become accustomed to how a 5.1 sound mix appears through headphones in various ways, depending on how the sound design is interpreted by the various dvd or streaming services.  In the most impressive of cases, often those films in which sound has been given extra special attention, the likes of Star Wars or the MCU, the results can be extraordinary; the sound design team, already anticipating that headphones will be one of the ultimate venues for their work, seem to know how best to service the ear in close quarters.

Hearing films through the rather basic speakers integrated into flat screen televisions is always shockingly inferior, so if you are watching films by yourself, I'd say headphones are always the way to go.  One of my first stereo audio experiences while watching a film through headphones was during X-Men on the first dvd release, the scene in which Logan';s being coaxed through the corridors of the mansion for his fateful first meeting with Xavier.  The Professor's voice seems to be speaking from inside the walls, apparently inside the Wolverine's head and it's almost as though Patrick Stewart's voice is in the room with you, shifting around the sides of your head.

On those terms, Knock Knock Enhanced is fine, but its not that much more impressive than the average Hollywood sound mix when done properly.  It's certainly a good episode to choose, the creaking wood of the walls, slamming doors and knocking appearing all around the viewer's head.  The repetition from the vinyl remains in place as the shot shifts along the corridor and the Landlord becomes rather more creepy when he intones or shifts the air before appearing on screen.  The philosophy has clearly been to enhance what's on screen rather than work against it, not to be a distraction.

Where this comes unstuck is the implementation for dialogue and music.  The latter for the most part is a distraction.  There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to record the music binaurally so its mostly just the usual stereo sound mix.  But the words are unnatural in places as the sound designer has to compensate for the rapid edits and so voices begin sentences in one place then shift abruptly elsewhere in the ear because the characters have moved in shot which is less noticeable in the standard stereo because the sound is spread across both ears rather than consolidated in the left or right as is often the case here.  It's the audio equivalent of the uncanny valley.

Does binaural audio even work with pictures?  Perhaps it is different to typical film sound mixes but my ears are trained to accept to whatever's poured into them.  The best experiments I've heard so far have been in radio, where the shot restrictions are not in place and it's up to the listener to provide the pictures.  Characters are free to "walk" around our heads or we're able to "sit" in the middle of an auditorium and hear an orchestra, if not sit amongst them depending on the placement of microphones.  In the end, as the episode raced to its conclusion, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be watching an enhanced version anyway.  Which probably misses the point.

My Favourite Film of 1900.



Film Quite recently, I’ve begun to have mixed feelings about Cyrano and its many homages and remakes. For years, two of my favourite films were the Jean-Paul Rappeneau adaptation starring Gérard Depardieu and Roxanne, the modern retelling with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in the title role. The latter was one of my formative movies, on heavy rotation on video and then DVD. As a bullied kid, I held CD Bales up as something of a hero, especially in the scene when he throws insults back in the face of the drunken idiot in the bar. Oh how I’d wished I’d had that confidence at school.

But lately I’ve become concerned about Roxanne’s role in the story. I can appreciate why the Cyrano’s lack of self-esteem means that they don’t believe that the object of their desire could love them back. That’s pretty much my entire life. It’s rather insulting, that Roxanne who is capable of treating them as a friend might not think of them more intensely. For my own part, I’ve even had women flat out tell me that they like me in that way and I’ve distanced myself from it, afraid that they might become disillusioned or disappointed if they knew me better.

Does she then deserve to be lied to in this way, to have the handsome fellow bare false witness and pretend to be something they’re not to take advantage of them? However romantic it may seem for Cyrano to be the source of the poetry and be using Christian as an avatar for expressing his feelings doesn’t it mean that she and her heart are being taken advantage of? Although it’s not the only occasion in literature and film or life a woman’s been seduced through subterfuge you might then question the extent to which we might consider her consent for subsequent sex.

On hearing that she’s been lied to, and the mechanism, the natural reaction should be to reject Cyrano and move on with her life. But in all the versions I’ve seen, Roxanne is somehow able to abstract the way his letters make her feel from the person who was fictionally the face in front of them and then shift those longing towards their original author. As is so often the case in romcoms, the resolution comes because the woman forgives the man for his idiotic mistakes.

Where I once saw a hero, I now somewhat see a villain. In choosing to lie to her, Cyrano puts his own feelings above hers, which is wrong and stupid. But it feels like only a man could then write a scenario in which he’s subsequently rewarded for his mistaken moral ambiguity. He’s learnt his lesson and so therefore coupling will ensue. This feels wrong to me, despite the incidental pleasures.  Perhaps it's right that the first silent version only includes a battle.

Knock Knock.



TV Good evening folks. Well, I finally did it. After three weeks of threatening to watch Doctor Who on the iPlayer rather than broadcast, that's exactly how I experienced Knock Knock for the first time, with the annoying DOG in the top left hand corner and the ability to the pause the show if I needed to go to the toilet in the middle (I didn't). This was not, as I'd originally thought it might, because of apathy but due to the online version being released in a binaural version with 3D sound.  After producing Spearhead from Space in colour, pioneering online activity and being one of the first dramas to be broadcast in HD, Doctor Who's innovating again.

When I began writing this paragraph, I was all ready to provide some commentary on what that was like, except as I've just discovered, I haven't actually seen that version.  That version appears separately on the iPlayer under "Doctor Who Enhanced" rather than with the rest of the series,  So I waited an hour and watched it on the iPlayer for no good reason.  Let this be a warning to you.  I wonder how many people will have made the same mistake and not noticed any discernible difference, especially since it's just the standard version, the one I watched, being promoted on the main page.  Expect paragraphs added at the bottom of this when I've had a chance to see it again.

Luckily, even without these enhancements, Knock Knock holds up, an decent example of the period house subgenre of the base under siege (see also Chimes at Midnight, Tooth & Claw and arguably Ghost Light), in which Doctor Who absorbs elements of the haunted house genre but provides an alien rather than spectral antagonist, the Time Lord and his friends running along brick corridors rather than metal.  Mike Bartlett's script also glances towards cabins in woods, with young people as protagonists.  They don't really conform to the expected social stereotypes - purposefully they're pretty blank ciphers (although I liked them more than more of the characters in Class).

Not having seen Doctor Foster (much television drama, not much time)  Even if I can't see the extent to which his particular style is carried over, it is an example of the policy for hiring showrunners to write episodes has paid off.  Judging by his DWM interview he's clearly a fan and even manages to remember Harriet Jones was prime minister in the Whoniverse once.  Apparently the character of Harry is supposed to be the grandson of Doctor Sullivan, a nugget which was cut before it reached the screen.  This doesn't contradict anything in his biography, even taking into account the decade were he went missing ... somewhere ...

The teaser trawl through the dramas of finding a house are pretty accurate, although when I was trawling through the student accommodation office in Leeds, I didn't have an realtor to aid me, instead relying on taking down telephone numbers from cards were the rent seemed reasonable (at that time £35 a week) (I'm that old) and turning up at the given rat hole.  The second year house was a palace even if the people I shared it with were awful and in the third year I ended up in an appalling shed with some lovely people.  Swings and hyperspace bypasses.  You can read more about my university accommodation adventures here.

None of my landlords might have been up to much, none of them were as creepy as David Suchet's brown suited bantay, a brilliant one off creation who's sure to have increased the sales of tuning forks over the coming weeks.  The key to his performance is to pull back, understate everything, his mysterious existence causing us to hang on his every word.  But notice how later, once the identity of his charge is revealed, he remodulates his voice to underscore the change in the dynamic, as poignant and pathetic Michael Sheard in Pyramids of Mars when his childhood friend his killed.  Actually Sheard would also have killed as the landlord, albeit in Bronson mode with a more deathly stare.

Just about my only reservation about the episode has nothing to do with its content.  As has been too often the occasion now, the key reveal, the big revelation, has been ruined during the publicity, with the caretaker's mother appearing in all the publicity, notably the two page spread in the round robin email of our knitting circle (which also, ironically has "spoiler warning" in a giant red circle over it) (no kidding!).  I appreciate the argument for the much maligned Radio Times cover with the Dalek hybrid, but I did feel the integrity of the surprise was somewhat muted, especially since it seemed like it would be the return of the creatures from the The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

Nevertheless, it was nice to see one of my favourite actresses, Mariah Gale, who The Guardian's theatre critic, Michael Billington once said gave the best Juliet he'd ever seen (five stars) and was a brilliant Ophelia opposite David Tennant in the RSC production from 2009.  That she manages to give such a compelling performance despite the restrictions only makes me wish that she was able to combine more screen work with the her stage work, which seems to be her primary focus.  I've just noticed she plays Isabella in the Measure for Measure from Dominic Dromgoole's late era at the Globe.  I'll have to check my finances.  Those dvds are expensive.

After my initial caution, Bill's turning into a perfect fit for this new, friendlier Capaldi and their chemistry, whilst lacking the sexual intrigue of Rose vs. Tenth, certainly has some of their sparks.  She's very much a return to the companions of old, old in this case being the RTD era, without some underlying story arc significance, at least for now.  Well, ok, Donna had something on her back and ended up being essentially the Chiswick equivalent of the Watcher, but like Bill, it was never about her being a mystery to be solved.  It's a shame that a character this rich should appear so late in Moffat's run with only eight episodes remaining (though she's tailor made for Big Finish).

Anyway, Capaldi's in his element, clearly enjoying the chance to play the character how he must have hoped he always would do.  It's still a shock to see just how benevolent, friendly and warm he's become and I can't accept that this man would have insulted Danny Pink as much as he did in those terms.  How long has the Doctor been on Earth looking over the vault.  Has it been the decades he suggested in The Pilot?  Though notice how his attitude changes with Nardole; he's far more authoritarian in his company, pushy.  One might even suspect he doesn't quite trust this assistant, despite everything.  Huh.  Oh and it's either the Master or Missy in the Vault.  Or himself.  I think.

Updated! 09/05/2017.  Does the binaural 3D audio add much to the experience?  Having spent the best part of a decade watching pretty much everything through headphones at home I've become accustomed to how a 5.1 sound mix appears through headphones in various ways, depending on how the sound design is interpreted by the various dvd or streaming services.  In the most impressive of cases, often those films in which sound has been given extra special attention, the likes of Star Wars or the MCU, the results can be extraordinary; the sound design team, already anticipating that headphones will be one of the ultimate venues for their work, seem to know how best to service the ear in close quarters.

Hearing films through the rather basic speakers integrated into flat screen televisions is always shockingly inferior, so if you are watching films by yourself, I'd say headphones are always the way to go.  One of my first stereo audio experiences while watching a film through headphones was during X-Men on the first dvd release, the scene in which Logan';s being coaxed through the corridors of the mansion for his fateful first meeting with Xavier.  The Professor's voice seems to be speaking from inside the walls, apparently inside the Wolverine's head and it's almost as though Patrick Stewart's voice is in the room with you, shifting around the sides of your head.

On those terms, Knock Knock Enhanced is fine, but its not that much more impressive than the average Hollywood sound mix when done properly.  It's certainly a good episode to choose, the creaking wood of the walls, slamming doors and knocking appearing all around the viewer's head.  The repetition from the vinyl remains in place as the shot shifts along the corridor and the Landlord becomes rather more creepy when he intones or shifts the air before appearing on screen.  The philosophy has clearly been to enhance what's on screen rather than work against it, not to be a distraction.

Where this comes unstuck is the implementation for dialogue and music.  The latter for the most part is a distraction.  There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to record the music binaurally so its mostly just the usual stereo sound mix.  But the words are unnatural in places as the sound designer has to compensate for the rapid edits and so voices begin sentences in one place then shift abruptly elsewhere in the ear because the characters have moved in shot which is less noticeable in the standard stereo because the sound is spread across both ears rather than consolidated in the left or right as is often the case here.  It's the audio equivalent of the uncanny valley.

Does binaural audio even work with pictures?  Perhaps it is different to typical film sound mixes but my ears are trained to accept to whatever's poured into them.  The best experiments I've heard so far have been in radio, where the shot restrictions are not in place and it's up to the listener to provide the pictures.  Characters are free to "walk" around our heads or we're able to "sit" in the middle of an auditorium and hear an orchestra, if not sit amongst them depending on the placement of microphones.  In the end, as the episode raced to its conclusion, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be watching an enhanced version anyway.  Which probably misses the point.

Defenders of Hell's Kitchen (Defenders).



TV Finally, finally, footage from The Defenders and frankly eight episodes isn't long enough. Look at them all talking to each other and bantering. As expected Claire Temple's the catalyst in bringing them together. Although I wish the trailer hadn't spoilt a couple of the key moments, it's nevertheless interesting to notice how Iron Fist suddenly has a personality, for example. Oh and how elements from previous series are being pulled together in a way which indicates we should treat this as the next series for all the characters, as has been the case with The Avengers films, rather than a detour.

"surface emotional manipulation"



Life Let's briefly catch up. How are you? Strange weather we're having.

ITEM! The new edition of the General Election is the usual shit show, with only the minor parties, by which I mean the Greens, having anything like a clue but no hope of influence. Of course there should be another referendum on whatever the inevitable Tory majority stumble into in two years with an option to Remain in Europe. Of course there should. But logical ideas for giving us people the chance to change our decision is the last thing on the minds of this xenophobic, self-serving bunch of retirement dodgers have in mind. If Labour adopted this policy their poll numbers would shoot up, but since Corbyn's as much of numpty as the rest of them but amateurish in his communication its unlikely to happen. We're fucked. We're seriously fucked. Unless, as I keep suggesting to anyone who'll listen, as I suspect, Brexit won't happen. I have a feeling. Something in my gut. Or at least something in my gut which isn't related to my anxiety disorder.

ITEM! My anxiety disorder continues. I awake every morning with a knot in my stomach which doesn't ease until I've taken the correct medication and my usual porridge breakfast (oatmeal for those you watching outside the UK). The medication continues to have weird side effects in terms of being able to emotionally process some films properly - although I did get a tight throat and real tears for the first time in six months the other morning watching What You Leave Behind, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finale so my heart isn't completely in stasis. To some extent, it's become a decent barometer for how much a film is utilising surface emotional manipulation or genuinely presenting something heartfelt. The sertraline version of me takes less narrative bullshit, in other words. Frankly, I'd be much happier if I could experience the range of human emotions, but it's precisely that which got me into this mess to begin with so for now, I'll keep popping the blue pills and keep an eye out for the end of the story. Morbius.

ITEM! Saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2 this afternoon with about ten other pretty well behaved people in Screen One at FACT's Picturehouse. You'll notice the lack of voluminous "We Need To Talk About ..." post because it doesn't really merit that attention. It's a fine old time, but nothing more. Having established the excesses of the world, as everyone's noticed, it lacks the shock of the new. But for all that it's still a couple of hundred percent more entertaining and original than the majority of film blockbusters in production (as per MARVEL's spec). The meta theme of the MARVEL universe is the dysfunctional family and that continues, albeit on a more cosmic scale. Plus it establishes a whole bunch of my favourite characters from the comics as at least existing in this verse even if they're not given a terrific amount to do. What's especially noticable and not a spoiler, is the film is set not long after the first one, which means it has to be set just after Age of Ultron and so before Ant-Man, Civil War and Doctor Strange. We'll see how that effects the group's appearance during Infinity Wars.

ITEM! The old gas showroom on Bold Street, previous container for a temporary HMV, Argos, REX and a weigh your books emporium amongst other things now houses the LIV Organic and Natural Food Market. Visiting on opening day, not all of the stock was quite on the shelves yet, but a boggling variety of fruit teas, just the sort of thing for someone who, thanks to his psychological stresses can no longer stand to have more than a couple of milligrams of caffeine at any one time even if the decaff coffee selection is a bit pitiful (because what's the point) (sigh). Chatting to the manager about the aims of the shop as I sold to him the benefits of Rooibus tea, an American woman was literally skipping through the isles, grinning in a way which looked like it had the capacity to break her face shouting, "This is the happiest day of my life". Which just goes to show how much the shop is needed in a Liverpool still spurned by Waitrose. I've since returned to check if their coffee selection has improved and experimented with some chicory, discovering quickly that chicory is the beverage they must serve in hell.

My Favourite Film of 1901.



Film A bank holiday revised repeat. Here's an account from back in 2008 of seeing Mitchell and Kenyon's Liverpool As Seen from the Front of an Electric Car from the Pierhead to the Circus for the first time. It's available on the BFI player here.

Originally posted 14th May 2008.

A couple of years ago there was a screening in Manchester of Mitchell & Kenyon’s football films. M&K were two Blackburn entrepreneurs who for a period in the early part of the last century set about filming people and work and play and then charging them to see their life projected that evening at various locations including fair grounds and libraries and it turned out St George’s Hall. I’ve thought since then how wonderful it would be to organise such a showing at that venue again and last night I got to see what that looked like as hundreds of people piled into the main hall to see a selection of their films of Liverpool, in a screening organised by the BFI and Liverpool University.

My version of the event was a plasma tv running from a Matsui dvd player with about thirty chairs. Instead, the main stage was filled with a giant screen, showing images from a state of the art projector sat on the organ balcony and an audience covering the whole floor. The programme selected highlights from over two hours of footage shot in the city, generally places with large gatherings of people such as football matches, parades, the return of soldiers from the Boer War, the leaving of Cunard ships from the Pier Head and oddly a reconstruction of the arrest of a criminal.

Except that’s a very broad description of the marvels we saw, blurry scenes of the past put into context by the guest speakers, Julia Hallam from Liverpool University and Vanessa Toulmin from Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive, who’d also commentated on the football in Manchester and has apparently presented over a hundred and thirty similar shows throughout the country. Vanessa seems tireless and has the same enthusiasm for the subject that I saw two years ago.

I went with my Dad and he was particularly impressed with the musical accompaniment provided by Stephen Horne, who at one point played the flute and piano simultaneously creating a spooky atmosphere to accompany the recreated Arrest of Goudie (a film which demonstrates exactly how difficult it was to spin a narrative when you’ve only very long static shots to work with, establishing shots lasting many minutes). Now and then Horne imported familiar melodies including You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Leaving of Liverpool, which created some wonderfully post-modern moments, different eras of the past combining.

Seeing images such as the giving of medals to soldiers even I can’t but feel that we’ve lost something in our stupid cynical world. True, some of the audience in the footage of the May Day Demonstrations look bored stiff (with the exception of one particularly enthusiastic gentleman waving his hat in the air) but it was at least a regular gathering in which the entire community could become involved and which by the looks of things hadn’t been hijacked by commercial concerns (with the exception of the ice cream man perhaps).

The Capital of Culture year, with collective experiences such as this screening are proving that actually such things are still possible. Usually in screenings I’m quite obsessed about talkers making noise during the main feature. Here it seemed positively encouraged, a collective brains trust attempting to work out exactly were in Liverpool particular films had been shot, or exclamations of surprise as the older demographic of the audience saw shops and streets that have long disappeared.

Thin Ice.



TV Thank fuck for that. After a couple of disappointing episodes and the kind of ennui I haven't experienced for this franchise since the darker days of season eight, I really did almost iPlayer tonight's Doctor Who and viewing when I had the chance and watch some old Star Trek: Voyager instead (forty odd episodes to go).  But feeling a bit guilty about cheating on Who by mainlining five episodes of Trek per day and being pretty mean spirited in writing about Smile despite its best intentions, I decided to give this show another chance, what with it having provided me so much comfort over the past couple of decades.  That's the problem when you're this close to something.  It'll annoy you and annoy but you'll keep coming back just in case some of the old magic returns.

To which I'll say again, thank fuck for that.  Although Sarah Dollard's Thin Ice isn't arguably up to the very highest standards of what the show can do, it's just the sort of assured format embracer which has become quite rare lately, too often limited to spin-off books and audios, in which the Time Lord and his plus one simply problem solve, beat the bad person and save as many people as possible along the way.  Although that's arguably true of Smile, this provided a much more realistic dynamic between the Doctor and Bill as she discovers what he's capable of, supporting characters worth rooting for, an enemy with a recognisable face and a relatable locale.

Which is odd when you consider how much of Thin Ice feels familiar.  There's a Beast Below the Thames being exploited by humanity for the scientific results of its existence (see also Planet of the Ood).  There are homeless street children straight out of The Empty Child.   The Doctor forces his companion to make a choice between destroying or saving a unique lifeform which is threatening humanity (albeit without him recklessly buggering off in the middle as he did during Kill The Moon) deciding that she should take the moral high ground.  But unlike some instances, it's forgivable because the results are so pleasurable.

Once again that's mainly due to the chemistry between Capaldi and Mackie.  It's wonderful having a team who are simply enjoying each other's company again, there isn't some element of suspicion, something not seen since probably RTD's final year, so desperate has Moffat been to create conflict inside the TARDIS.  They're finishing each other's sentences, not making every argument the end of life itself.  The "How many people ..." conversation has had versions before, but never resolved as economically or as much warmth as when Bill pulls her tongues at the Doctor and he returns his wordless appreciation.  The show's arguably always at its best outside of the grand gestures.

Apart from when the Doctor punches a racist.  Like the Prince t-shirt before, this could be interpreted as a loving homage to recent events even though this was filmed months ago.  When Martha joined back in s3, her presence in less woke time frames was treated lightly and euphemistically but it's measure of how much as changed in recent years that the show feels like it has the confidence and duty to confront the issue head on and quite bluntly in places ("History's a white wash.").  The writer's research of the period is admirable; notice the understated portrayal of the domestic staff in the racist's house.  Will the children keep them on?  Give them better conditions?

As a slight detour, it's also noticable just how much of the Doctor's dialogue and Capaldi's performance has shifted towards the Baker of Season 17.  Throughout we find a benevolent bluffer with the potential for darkness, pleasantly bamboozling the likes of the pie maker and the shit miner to give him the information he wants and later facing the villain with a poetic, if ineffectual speech noticing their moral decrepitude.  But unlike recent episodes (both of them) where the bantz are all surface, this is very much about creating a believable bond within the TARDIS and furthering this budding friendship.

Plus it's funny.  I laughed out loud when the chemical make up of the fuel bricks is revealed and when Bill herself manages half a syllable of profanity, because nothing works better than potty humour in unlikely settings.  Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a TARDIS Datacore entry on the topic so I can't confirm but this has to be a first, as least in the main series, at least since "Boll-".  Torchwood was pretty much all about effing and jeffing and even though Bill didn't manage to get all the way to it, this was still a pleasant surprise.  There has to be some shit in the spin-off media though, and I don't just mean ... [cut to next paragraph].

From a colder perspective, as Dickens knew, the homeless street urchin trope are the easy slam dunk of sympathetic jeopardy attractors and are this story's equivalent of the Cute Overload or Emergency Kitten Twitter feeds.  But throughout the Moffat years, in his bid to remind us that this was originally a show for children, he's been unafraid to make them central to the stories and continues because like Smith before him, Capaldi clearly enjoys the challenge of acting with them.  But it's rare that a child has actually died and if I've a question mark about the episode at all, it's how younger viewers might react to this scene, especially as the Doctor seems more intent on saving his screwdriver.

Bill's reaction is the key to all of this.  I rather skirted past the "How many ..." conversation, but this Doctor's approach to death has always been open to scrutiny.  Quite often he's failed to intervene in situations when he could quite obviously have made point at least, generally in Season Eight, and this seems like another example.  Except Bill somewhat accepts that he's a big picture kind of guy, that some deaths, however tragic, cannot be avoided.  Later in the episode, when the surfaces of the Thames is about to be ripped apart, she decides to prioritise her new friends above the strangers who can't be helped, a judgement the Doctor has had to make time and again.

Like the street urchins, casting Nicholas Burns as the villain is flagrant shortcuttery, given his track record in such roles.  But he's only rarely played complete evil.  His key skill is smug arrogance or characters with very punchable faces like Nathan Barley.  There's a version of this story in which he's layered in from the start, whole Holmesian scenes in which he's colluding with an underling regarding their mysterious discovery intercut with the Doctor's investigation, but there really is something to be said for figures with creepily smooth faces hoving into view two thirds of the way in like an end of level boss or the murderer in an episode of Elementary.

All of which is enveloped in a near perfect expression of Victorian London, shot by veteran tv director Bill Anderson with just the right visual gene splicing between the language of costume drama and the need to have people running places and dodging things.  A lack of realism between the merging of actual people and CGI is compensated for with a painterly quality, with the Doctor and Bill's underwater meeting with the creature evocative of the posters for 60s Jules Verne adaptations beloved by Mark Gattis and the rest of us.  Expect an episode later in the run which takes place all in one room to compensate for the visual splendour.

If there's another slight hiccup its the episode doesn't complete at the obvious moment in the house, but cuts back to Earth in order to justify Matt Lucas's screen credit.  DS9 often has brilliant scenes, usually set in Quarks, in which numerous series regulars are stuffed around a table for contractual reasons and chat about something unrelated to a story which concerns Odo falling love or Worf handed discommendation by the Klingons again.  Nardole's return here, as with last week, although related to the main season arc, feel superfluous and to some extent hurts the main story of the week by reducing the available screen time (which could arguably have benefited Smile a bit).

The upshot is having given the episode a satisfactory conclusion, the writers then have to ramp up the tension again with another cliffhanger.  Perhaps if, like Agents of Shield, a logo had popped up making this feel more like a coda scene than an unexpected five minutes more episode it would have flowed better.  Perhaps it'll work best during a rewatch, when the three episodes are seen in close succession, with this final scene wrapping up the mini-arc of the Doctor defying his orders about leaving the 21st century and taking Bill on a very long journey.  Perhaps I'm simply picking nits more than usual.

Since Moffat wants us to case about this thing, what could be the vault?  I had actually thought about it being the Simm Master before reading Dan Martin's recap but as he says, he's knocking just three times for the most part.  But given that he was in that trailer, it feels too obvious.  Which leaves us with either something which'll be revealed in the coming weeks or my current suspicion that we're watching another Moffat loop and something horrendous happens to Bill, who Nardole is deeply suspicious of and would explain why the Doctor's decided to teach her, his past self having agreed to take care of her before meeting the younger version of her on purpose in the future. Or something.

"Look at it this way, Dawson ..."

TV This blog's so old, I was reviewing episodes of Dawson's Creek during the original broadcast. For old time's sake, here's James Van Der Beek being brutally honest to a Guardian interviewer about the aftermath, especially how he can't quite seem to find visual safe harbour:
"In the 14 years since Dawson’s Creek ended, Van der Beek has taken all sorts of roles in mainly short-lived sitcoms, including Friends With Better Lives, made by the people behind Friends and Frazier. When that was pulled after eight episodes he took a role in police procedural CSI: Cyber but it was “a desert for me, creatively. There’s a lot of standing around and laying expositional pipe.”"
Dawson was actually probably something of a hero if I'm being honest; certainly his love of films somewhat represented my own attitude and was one of the reasons it became my primary hobby - for better or worse.