Links for the Memories.

BRITISH CULT CLASSICS - Witchfinder General / Digitally Remastered Special Edition / Blu-ray Review
"Meanwhile, the film went into production on a final budget of £83, 000 in September 1967 and some exteriors were shot in Norfolk and Suffolk and the Dunwich coast, in Black Park and Langley Park and the interior sets were filmed mainly in converted aircraft hangers in Bury St. Edmunds. The arrival of Price precipitated frequent clashes between the young director and ageing actor as Reeves desperately tried to reign in what he saw as Price's often florrid and camp performing style. The film was constantly short of equipment and extras and was briefly hit by a British technicians union strike. To cap it all, AIP producer Louis M Heywood insisted on the insertion of some brief nude scenes for the export version of the film, scenes he took great pleasure in 'supervising' on his brief visit to the set in Lavenham and which Tenser directed simply because Reeves refused to do so. "

Towson professor explores whether social media have left us disconnected:
"Reiner, a lecturer in English in Towson's Honors College, says students sometimes pretend to send text messages when they are alone out of fear that if they are not constantly connected to their smartphones, they will be seen as losers." [via]

Noisetrade: Free Comics & Graphic Novels:
"Mike Mignola - Hellboy: The Fire Wolves"

Doctor Who's identity crisis:
"The show is suffering from an identity crisis. It's now, alongside that
programme where they send three car-loving racists to various countries so they can laugh at Johnny Foreigner, one of the BBC's biggest exports. The problem with this is, in order to compete internationally, especially in America, it's lost its quintessential Britishness. It's aiming to be a big, respectable sci-fi show, and that's not what Doctor Who is."

"Twitter's for 140-character short-form writing and Medium's for long-form. Weirdly, there really isn't a great platform for everything in the middle — what previously would've just been called "blogging." Mid-length blogging. Middling."

‘Broken Windows’ and the New York Police:
"The inequity is glaring. With the aim of maintaining order in poor, high-crime neighborhoods, police saddle thousands of young men with criminal records for an offense that the state has largely decriminalized and that white people regularly commit with impunity. Penalties imposed by the courts for possession are usually minimal—dismissal of the case after six months if the person has no further run-in with the law—but the damage can still be considerable, taking the form of rejected job and housing applications or being banned from joining the military and attending certain colleges."

Beast: restaurant review:
"You could easily respond to this week’s restaurant with furious, spittle- flecked rage. You could rant about the posing-pouch stupidity of the meat- hanging cabinet that greets you as the lift doors open, and the frothing tanks of monstrous live Norwegian king crabs next to it, each 4ft across. You could bang on about the bizarre pricing structure, and the vertiginous nature of those prices; about the rough-hewn communal tables that are so wide you can’t sit opposite your dining companion because you wouldn’t be able to hear each other, and the long benches which make wearing a skirt a dodgy idea unless you’re desperate to flash the rest of the heavily male clientele. You could shake your fists and roll your eyes and still not be done."

The other Flatline.

TV I was thinking whilst on the bus again today and something occurred to me about Saturday night's Doctor Who which I haven't seen anyone else extemporise. It's a small point, a directorial decision born by something in the writing.  But I think it explains why Peter Capaldi suddenly felt like he was playing the Doctor and the same man previous essayed by Matthew Smith.

I could well be imagining it, but here goes.

One of the elements of this series, as we've discussed, is how distant the Doctor has seemed. Some of this has to do with the decisions he's taken and how point of view on those and I don't want to dissertation on that all again with the swearing, but the distancing has partly been to do with how the Doctor has worked within scenes and episodes.

Looking back and I can't completely verify this without watching all of it again, but looking back I don't remember many scenes in which the Doctor has narrative agency, in which the scene is about him and his actions, without it being seen through the eyes of another character.

Agency within a scene is often kept pretty invisible unless your attention is being drawn to it and created through a mix of camera angles, close-ups and reverse shots designed to draw your attention to who's reaction in a scene is most important.

A classic example from Star Wars, because everyone uses Star Wars, is in the Death Star scenes at the end of Jedi, which are all about Luke's reaction to the Emperor. Throughout we keep cutting back to his face, in close-up to his reaction of the ensuring murder.

Or most of Citizen Kane.

In Doctor Who terms, when the Doctor and Clara are in a scene together, the narrative agency is all with her. It's been like watching Rose's reaction to the Doctor in Rose for eight episodes.

In pretty much every scene we've been seeing the Doctor through the reactions of Clara and in key moments when we might previously have followed the Doctor somewhere, for example into the crust of the Moon in Kill The Moon, previously we might reasonably have expected to follow him and make the discovery with him.

About the only episode in which this "rule" is properly broken is The Caretaker notably in the moment when he reacts to Clara and the man he thinks is her boyfriend as they walk away.

The Doctor when he's alone indeed has had a fair bit of agency.  Right through Flatline in fact.  But whenever Clara's been part of the conversation, it's still about her reacting to him.

But there are, and again, I'm willing to accept if I've missed one, but there are no scenes in this series in which we see Clara through the Doctor's eyes.

Except, in Flatline, right at the end, we suddenly do.

It's at an interesting moment too - just after he gives his "I am the Doctor" speech.

In the next scene  when he's dropping everyone off and Clara says her goodbyes, whereas previously such things have happened with the Doctor almost skulking in the background suddenly we're getting close-ups, reaction shots from him watching Clara, questioning Clara, who's standing in a mastershot or mid-shot much smaller in the frame.

I don't want to fill your screen with these little screenshots, so go back and watch the ending and I think you'll see it too. Suddenly Clara's back to being the one the Doctor's curious about as per last series and in every shot she's in the Doctor is a presence, over the shoulder, in large close-up or completely within the frame.

That's why Clara, who's been our hero for the past forty minutes suddenly becomes a mysterious, slightly sinister figure again.

At the very end of this scene when the Doctor's entering the TARDIS it seems like we're back with her.  He's walked inside and there's a big old close-up as she considers what he's said about "good not having anything to do with it" her eyes giving every indication that she doesn't understand.

Except within seconds we realise that the agency has in fact passed invisibly to Missy watching that reaction on her iPad.  Which means timing wise, Clara stops being the main figure in the episode from the moment the energy reinvigorates the TARDIS and seemingly the Doctor within.

Peter Capaldi, now, is the Doctor, just as he says he is.

But there's more.  After he literally says "I am the Doctor", there's a rather marvellously dramatic bit of score.  Up until this point too, I don't think we've definitively heard the Twelfth Doctor's theme, if he's had a theme at all.  Indeed in the some of the trailers, the Eleventh Doctor's themes been used.  If we go back and rewatch this series, will we, rather like Bond's theme in Casino Royale and Ode to Joy in the early movements of Beethoven's 9th, hear snatches of a Twelfth Doctor theme still cooking, which only really gain fruition in this "I am the Doctor" moment?

One other note: the Twelfth Doctor mourns the deaths, properly mourns them.  Ok, yes, he says the wrong people may have died, but that's not unusual.  He goes there in Voyage of the Damned, but in a switch it's him lecturing Clara about morality and mortality.

Now, it's possible he's testing her, trying to work out why she's not mourning them too.  Why she's being so cocky.  But I don't think so.  I think he's genuinely being compassionate for once.

It's almost as though when he said, "I am the Doctor" this incarnation finally believes it and his wrestingly back of agency from Clara, the music and his more obvious sentiment in relation to the loss of human life could signify that.  Effectively it's taken nine episodes to get to post-regenerative point the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors did in an hour.

Goodness knows what any of this means.  Could mean nothing.  Could be in the next episode we're back to the status quo of the previous eight episodes, me loathing the Twelfth Doctor, Clara in charge, all that business.

But, and it's a small but, it's also possible, that the Doctor's agency will continue, or we'll be back to the joint Time Lord / companion agency of previous series and that we could reassess his behaviour this series as post-regenerative torpor, about him learning to be the Doctor again.  If that is indeed the case, I wish they'd made it clearer...


TV Well, thank fuck for that. There’s no getting around this, Flatline is brilliant. For the first time this series, well since Deep Breath probably, I laughed, proper real belly laughs and I cheered, oh how I cheered and in the middle of that I was scared, really, really scared. I had, in fact, all of the emotions you’re supposed to have when watching Doctor Who which at its best, in a television drama land full of darkness, nihilism and despair, especially in this genre lately, provides comfort and a something they cannot and which it’s seemed this series it had entirely forgotten about. That indefinable magic. So yes, thank fuck for that, this is the Doctor Who I love and this is the Doctor Who that I’ve been waiting weeks for.

Not that it got off to the most promising of starts with essentially the same teaser as Fear Her, a civilian turning two dimensional. Flatline has roughly the same premise as both that and Night Terrors and indeed some of the visuals of people disappearing in carpets and walls are spookily familiar. Plus we're in warehouses and tunnels which bespeak Who in the 80s, though much of both Resurrection of the Daleks and Attack of the Cybermen was shot in studio, director for both Matthew Robinson would have killed to have been able to do a complete shoot in real locations. For some reason, I thought momentary Christopher Fairbank had appeared in one of this two. Seems odd from this distance that he didn’t.

I always forget to mention the guest cast, wedging a paragraph in where I can, so let’s do that early for a change. Fairbank is in the Brian Glover role here, his community service supervisor pig headedly cynical right through to the moment he’s saved and beyond, a yes man who under appreciates those who he’s supposed to rehabilitating. Fairbanks does feel like an actor who should have been in classic Who, but its easy to forget now that at the moment when he would have been at that point he was already too famous for it, turning up on then megahit Bergerac in 1987 during his stint on similarly megahitted Auf Wiedersehen, Pet when our show was entirely unloved and unwatched (oddly with the same overnight ratings) (megahits aren’t what they used to be).

As Clara’s companion for the week, the fantastically named Jovian Wade (seriously parents, assuming it isn’t a stage name, well done) had all the hallmarks of an actor on his way up. Acres of back story here, underplayed, especially in that train scene and afterwards when the first person he wants to call is his mother. It’s in the script, but Wade's tone of voice fills in the blanks on someone whose had the kind of life changing event the Doctor usually brings that makes a person reconsider their position. I like that we don’t know especially why he’s desperate to throw his life away, other than perhaps to give Clara an inclining of what it’s like for the Doctor when a total stranger sacrifices themselves.

The central thrust of the episode is about putting Clara in the position of the Doctor and forcing her to make the big decisions. Again, this has overtones of Fear Her in which Rose is the Doctor’s saviour in finding the nearest energy source in order to re-ignite an alien spacecraft. But Tyler made no claims to the mantle or title, whereas Oswald utilises the power, the sonic, the psychic paper to effectively take over the position and mores to the point embolden her to make those decisions. As we saw in Nightmare in Silver, she’s a strong enough figure not to require this backing but the episode is reiterating the point about how the Doctor rubs off on his companions, though it’s strange just how much she seems to want his approval.

The one note of caution about this is in the party newsletter’s preview, writer Jamie Mathieson says, “people have asked if there will ever be a female Doctor. We have a chance to do that here…” Well, yes, sort of, but not really. She doesn’t stop being Clara, and although it shows that it’s entirely possible for a female protagonist within this format to have the authoritative conversations about hope with potential victims, it’s still the Doctor who ultimately saves the day because he apparently has to, because his name’s in the title. It’s the same reason Michelle Yeoh is rescued by Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies even though her spy character is entirely capable of it herself. It’s a trope, part of the structure of this kind of show.

I don’t necessarily agree with this statement (necessarily?), but I understand it. Of course, if you wanted to dive down the rabbit hole, it could be that we were watching Jenna Coleman’s audition to take on the role of the Doctor. My ludicrous theory is that Clara’s this Doctor’s Watcher and that the production team with Capaldi are trying to pull an Eccleston, that he’s also only signed for one season and in the Christmas special for reasons that I can’t even begin to imagine regenerates into Jenna Coleman, hello female Doctor with a Blackpool accent. They effectively merge. Hello, entirely capable new Doctor and also Jenna Coleman leaving the role of Clara.

Part of me wishes this would turn out to be true, because Jenna’s simply magnetic here, though notice how much of “the Doctor” she’s playing owes a debt to her current companion’s previous incarnation. Partly that’s do with stature, the sonic screwdriver looked massive in his hands too sometimes, but her line readings when pretending to the Doctor, consciously or not, don’t have much to do with Twelfth. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but nevertheless, if the Capaldi’s single year rumours are true, and I can’t understand why they would be given who he is and the part he’s playing, having Coleman rather than Garai take on the role wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world however ludicrous that all sounds.

But not as ludicrous as the scene in which the Doctor’s hand pulls the tiny TARDIS out of way of the oncoming train, which by quite some margin is one of the funniest scenes in the show’s history. I haven’t laughed this hard since Brian’s box watching in The Power of Three. Perhaps it’s a small objects thing. Incredible shrinking TARDISes and Time Lords are always funny from the closing moments of The Time Meddler to the miniature Master in Planet of Fire. Whereas in Logopolis we could only imagine what it must be like, now we have the ability to have the Doctor’s eye peering out of the doorway and his hand passing things out of Clara’s satchel.

The episode is also deeply scary. As in Listen and Time Heist, Douglas Mackinnon makes full use of the notion of what we can’t see, of the shadows, of the antagonist existing just out of shot. But in shot, the visuals are stunning, these extra-dimensional beings becoming walking Enya videos, figures that are almost human. In my Mummy review, I didn’t give enough credit to the terrific Mummy, but that was about giving us a new spin on something we already knew well. Flatline presents something we really haven’t seen before and in a way which I’m not sure would be suitable for kids, particularly since we know they’re reconstituted human remains in a different form.  Which is a Mummy too I suppose.  Oh you know what I mean.

Really great action sequences too, especially in that flat with the bubble chair. Originally designed by Eero Aarnio in 1968, you can buy a pretty good approximation from Bubble Chairs Direct it seems should you have my monthly salary available to shell out on something that is entirely impractical in any meaningful sense. The sequence itself is classic Who, contrasting the excitement of being a companion with the comparative mundanities of relationship with a bearded acrobat who also happens to teach. Notice how throughout her conversation with Pink, she gives a decent representation of the Doctor’s rule one, which she then rechristens herself to be something else later on.

None of which was as heart-pumping as the climax, the TARDIS returning to full size and deposited the Doctor in front of the monsters. Yes, the Doctor. Because he’s finally said so. For the first time since Listen, at least for me, Flatline bridges the chasm between Peter Capaldi’s performance and the character whose been on our screens for fifty years. There he is, warning the monsters about what he’s about to do, sonic outstretched, our plane of existence defended, shouting his name. I cheered, oh how I cheered. “There he is!” I gesticulated at the screen, “There he is!” You can see it in Capaldi’s eyes too I think, that feeling that the cloak finally fits, that he’s earned the right to have that stance, in front of these fiends, and say those words.

Not just in that moment, throughout. The Doctor vs Clara dynamic which we all loved in the restaurant scene in Deep Breath and throughout Listen returned. Suddenly when he’s talking about the places he’s been, the things he’s seen, we believe it. He dances, I mean, he dances, that giddy dance which is sure to overtake the Picard "full of win" gif in Buzzfeed listacles in moments of pure happiness. Plus, in the closing moments, he’s clearly very shaken by the loss of life and Clara’s apparent lack of mournfulness, as though he’s noticed his own callousness has rubbed off on her.

Recently I’ve taken the advice of one of those Buzzfeed listacles, which I can’t actually find to link to now, that one is often well served by moments in the day without purposeful stimulus and so I’ve simply been sitting and thinking on the short bus journey to work. It’s during one of those journeys I began to rationalise the Doctor’s behaviour this series thusly: now that he’s at the beginning of what seems like a whole new regenerative cycle, he’s tragically, psychologically reset in some regards so that everything he’s learned about living within humanity has gone so that he’s essentially back in early Hartnell mode when brandishing a rock seemed like a good idea. What we’ve been watching is him getting back into the swing of things.

Not that I think this has necessarily been a great idea, especially since it’s not really been explained in the series and it’s only really something I thought about while looking out of the window onto Princes Avenue. His continued nickname for Danny, PE, remains problematic for all the reasons GKW describes in his review of The Caretaker in DWM and makes an unwelcome return here as does “pudding brains” and the trend of treating most humans interpersonally as though they’re Countess Scarlioni. Nevertheless Flatline sees him at his most Doctorish yet and, thanks to the needs of his lighter shooting schedule spending enough time in the TARDIS that it’s finally beginning to feel like his space.

Frankly, about the only thing that would have improved this episode would have been Muyta, Keisha and Siobhan turning up in person to sing their identically titled song or at least have it playing on the soundtrack. Even the Missy tease is properly intriguing for a change. Did she choose Clara? When she says, my Clara, what could that possibly mean? She was the woman in the shop?  It can’t be parental. Tied back somehow into her being the impossible girl? Sleeper assassin? Well, and indeed then. The fact that I’m bothering to speculate says something too. Three episodes to go, two Moffats but first a Frank Cottrell Boyce. The trees in the trailer are fascinating. Are we about to see a nightmare in East London?

The Films I've Watched This Year #39

Film This week I watched some films, which I'll talk about in a moment. On other nights, as well as Doctor Who (which you hear enough about already), Freaks and Geeks (which I'll talk about when I've completed its eighteen episodes) and Australia's The Code, BBC Four's latest transcontinental import this time from Australia which began last Saturday and most people don't seem to have watched due to the scheduling carnage on the other side and not just in Mummy on the Orient Express.  Nothing about it is original.  Some of it's a bit Homeland.  Some of it's a bit State of Play.  Some of it's a bit The Thick of It.  Some of it's Broadchurch in the outback.  There's also lashings of Attachments of all things (or the blogging scenes in Netflix's House of Cards if you want to be kinder).  But it's also entirely gripping, has some fabulous performances and has a bonus of being over in six episodes so you know it's not going to meander on like some US and UK shows with their multiple episodes of filler and red herrings.  There's one scene in the second episode in which what seem like they're going to be huge mysteries that will sustain the thing are explained in about two sentences indicating immediately that there's more exciting enigmas ahead.

The Zero Theorum
The Double

A week's worth of films about lonely men which is just the sort of thing you don't need when you're unmarried and pushing forty (two weeks to go) (yes, Halloween) (I've heard that one) (and that one too).  Transcendence wasn't well received on release (19% RT) which as ever seems to have been born from high expectation, a marketing campaign which suggested it was something it isn't and the kind of pack mentality which also killed the likes of John Carter which was also equally fine if not quite spectacular.  Inception this isn't.  What Wally Pfister's produced instead is a homage to the genre films of the late-70s/early-eighties, The China Syndrome, Electric Dreams, War Games, and um, Capricorn One, but focusing on contemporary concerns about the potential sentience of the web and were it might logically lead.  Coma especially is suggested in the large white rooms that the entity ultimately inhabits.  If there are problems, it's a lack of focus in relation to the protagonist, which should be Rebecca Hall's character, but because there are so many other great actors and Pfister feels the need to service them, her agency is depleted at just the wrong moments.  Except those other actor's characters feel underutilized too only really turning up for expository purposes.  Odd.

The Zero Theorum is a pretty good argument against home working and is just how I imagine it must be for people who work on the Amazon Mechanical Turk.  A bit of a greatest hits package from Terry Gilliam, an 80s retro Brazil with Parnassus's fantasy sequences.  It's obtuse rather than entertaining and it's dispiriting to see him falling back on some of his old tropes when he is given creative freedom for a change (albeit on a modest budget).  For all that, it's good to Christoph Waltz in a complex, sympathetic lead role and the production design is as atmospheric and remarkable as any Gilliam film.  I was also reminded how few of Gilliam's films have strong female characters that aren't objects of desire.  Only two female characters have speaking parts here and only one, MĂ©lanie Thierry's MPDG any great stretch of screen time.  I've never really considered him a blokey director, but apart from The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys, in the both of which he was "for hire" rather than working on personal projects as such, females above the age of tween tend to be damsels.  On the upside, the QR Codes on the street advertising actually work if you pause the blu-ray and scan them, offering extra textual messages and jokes.  If only all films had that attention to detail.

Soup Safari #2: Mediterranean Chicken at Marks and Spencers.

At lunchtime. £3.00. 50p extra for bread. Marks & Spencer, 35 Church Street, Liverpool L1 1DF. (0151) 7088383.

Fan Service.

TV Apologies for this mid-week interlude but Steven Moffat's been speaking to some conference somewhere and until those of us who have to visit a shop to buy the party newsletter tomorrow see what's in his monthly column, this is the first we've heard from him since this series began. For once he speaks the truth:
“You don’t give them what you think they want. That would be mad! The only useful index you’ve got is what you would like,” said Moffat, speaking during a panel session at the MIPCOM conference in Cannes.

“It’s really a strange way to write a story, and an arrogant way to write a story: to give them what they want. You don’t even know what birthday present to give the person close to you! How would you know what everybody wants?” he said."
On the one hand he's quite correct. Many is the show (Lost) which has changed its narrative to fit the requirements of internet discussion board before going a bit wonky. But unfortunately for Moffat, and I'm sorry, I'm really sorry if you're one of the ones who is enjoying this can't find anyone who doesn't agree with you but I think I've met about one person whose perfectly happy with this series and doesn't find it a total shame. So yes, Moffat isn't giving us what we want. But on this occasion it isn't a good thing.

Also since I'm on this, "You don’t even know what birthday present to give the person close to you!"  Actually, this is entirely possible if you know them well enough to know the kinds of things they like.  Failing that there's always the Amazon Wishlist.  I'm 40 at the end of this month.  Also, when it came to The Day of the Doctor, he gave us all exactly what we wanted.  So actually he's wrong about something.

Meanwhile here's a clip from Flatline which is simultaneously hilariously goofy in a good way and yet doesn't quite work because Capaldi and Coleman's performances don't match:

Theory. The reason Clara spent half of the last episode in the train carriage and the Doctor spends what looks like the majority of this one in the console room is how they're coping with the old double banking problem. See also Amy in the TARDIS in The Lodger while the Doctor's missing for a chunk of Amy's Choice.

The Apprentice Recapped.

TV As some of you know, back in the day I had the privilege of writing for the late lamented television review and comment website Off The Telly. In an effort to pull my various bits writing onto the blog, I've decided to post some of these over the coming weeks. Since The Apprentice is back this week, find below a recap/review of one of only two or three episodes I think I've ever watched, and one of those was the week before in preparation for writing this. It's for an episode of the 2006 series and if you're a fan you'll know the personalities.  Please note - it was sub-edited before being posted on Off The Telly which is why it shows the features of good English and grammar.

During last week’s episode of The Apprentice, two particular personalities were highlighted. Jo and Syed found it hard to make a good impression, simply because their estimation of what they needed to do and say, and what was actually required, were so wide of the mark. Where the rest were happy to sit back and carry on nonchalantly as though they really didn’t care if Alan picked them, these two went in with tons of passion from the off – albeit, some of it misdirected. While Jo really seemed to care for the image of her team, Syed just wanted to make himself look good. I predicted then that one of them would be fired before the hour was up. How wrong I was.

Alan Sugar reminds me of an old games teacher I used to have. At the beginning of every term before we could select which sport we wanted to try, he would offer the list (football, basketball, cricket, weight-training etc). Just after my usual selection of bridge, Mr T (for that was his nickname) would say, “There is no two-hour skive, no two-hour ‘go home’, no two-hour going to the shops”. Now here’s Sir Alan with his, “There is no phone-in here, there is no text a number, no panel of judges. I’m the one who decides who gets fired, and I’m the one who ultimately decides who gets hired”.

It’s quite disconcerting (he even shouts and points in the same way) but within the opening titles of the programme, it importantly specifies that, for once, this is a reality game show in which the public can’t vote Penny Smith to stay despite the fact she obviously can’t sing. Time is spent over these crucial initial moments in building up Sir Alan as a captain of industry, with all the planes and paraphernalia. Sadly they don’t mention the joy he brought to millions of school kids who gained friends because they had an Amstrad CPC 6466 with a built in monitor and disc drive. That would do it for me.

Those first few minutes of last week’s show had lulled the audience into a false sense of security. The use of Bill Conti’s music from The Thomas Crown Affair gave the impression this group were like teenagers given the keys to the big house and being allowed to play (I remember a similar scene in the first series of Popstars all those years ago). It wasn’t long before some polite discussions began.

This week over the recap it’s all drumbeats, clock-ticks and guitar riffs. Suspense from the off as some of the blokes rankled at the appearance of Syed, rather than Ben, back at the house. The Bangladesh born entrepreneur looked touchingly forlorn as colleague Samuel received all the hugs.

The gloves were off. Lads (and ladies) let’s get to work.

Tonight’s task was to create a design for a charity calendar for Great Ormond Street Hospital. As with last week, Velocity had an early bird on where they wanted to take the design. Then the solid wall of intuition seemed to crumble. The voiceover intoned, “Early research suggests pets sell the most calendars,” and the ensuing discussion began with the decision as to whether they should go with cats or dogs. The website for an American company flashed up on screen. With all the prices in dollars, would this be their first mistake – basing a business decision on researching the US market. Would anyone notice?

Jo was emotional. Quite rightly she thought the calendar should reflect the ethos of the hospital. It was difficult to watch the group’s reaction as she began to cry, only to be shouted out by her colleagues who were increasingly hostile, sensing a forthcoming kill. Suddenly people who last week could sell a tray of fruit for 30 quid simply by batting their eyelids became, well, banshees. As often happens in these situations, a group who are desperate to plough on with the doing of things failed to stop and listen to all the opinions.

Jo was being steamrollered and she didn’t like it.

Wondering how they’d come to that decision, I searched for calendars on Google and found the exact website which flashed up on screen, Their top seller lately is “Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light” with “Hot Buns” in fourth – although after Sir Alan’s reaction to last week’s escapades, I can see why they’d disregard that idea.

When Jo then held up a piece of GOSH publicity, it was abundantly clear the girls didn’t even want to consider the charity’s own branding. As ever, they were going to do their own thing. Within the show’s editing process, Jo had gone from being slightly annoying to quite sympathetic.

In the Invicta camp, Samuel was subjecting his teammates to a training session on how to brainstorm. In excruciating detail he talked through the various approaches until his highlighter ran out of ink. As usual, Ansell attempted to take charge as the group couldn’t decide what they wanted, or how. Margaret Mountford, Sir Alan’s aide, wasn’t happy and told them so. When they finally came to a decision it was as simple as the girls’ … and just as gut-wrenching. Babies. Dressed in work clothes. Syed dashed off the list. “This baby’s gonna be a doctor, this baby’s gonna be a businessman, this baby’s gonna be an astronaut, we’re gonna dress them all up in this”. Poor babies.

As Syed and Paul wandered through a prop department hunting for appropriate dressings, things were looking increasingly dodgy. Paul dithered over whether they should include handcuffs in the politically correct “policeperson” picture. “We could handcuff them together, but we don’t want to look as though we’re handcuffing kids”.

The cracks in Invicta continued to show as Syed, Ansell and Paul had the inspired notion of actually buying some charity calendars so they could get some leads on design and pricing. Alas, Syed garbled the reasoning behind the plan to Sam – he said it was to see if they could guess how expensive they were – and it went no further. Despite this failure, the “business bad boy” actually appeared for the first time as someone with good logical ideas. In the ensuing confrontation over pizza with Samuel and Mani, he was by far the clearest and most level-headed. Almost robotic.

At Velocity, Nargis had called a meeting for all the girls who sat around drinking wine and agreeing with each other. Except for Jo, who was in the kitchen crying. The following day, there was a telling moment, which remained unhighlighted. As they left the house, Alexa reached forward to touch Jo, who was walking ahead of her. We didn’t find out what was said, but it was odd the voiceover suggested one set of circumstances, while these details offered a different narrative.

As the day progressed we were shown a montage from the photo shoots. Michelle explained the high concept behind their cat project. “We don’t want anything climbing out of plant pots or anything like that. We want something that’s quite contemporary, quite sharp, quite classy”. Meanwhile, the boys’ babies were not even dressing in uniforms.

Problematically, they were totally naked with bricks and film cans keeping their modesty. It made for uncomfortable viewing. But not as uncomfortable as witnessing layout man Tuan producing the design and choosing a font horrifyingly like Comic Sans.

Before the rest of the team arrived, he complained to Mani (who had just returned from mangling Thomas Jefferson into his pitch) that there would soon be another six people arguing over the thing’s colour. In the end, predictably they argued over the whole layout. The resident desktop publisher adjusted his glasses and kept his mouth shut. We couldn’t blame him. While the gang debated, like Jo before him, Tuan was shut out and tearful.

As the third day dawned, Syed, Samuel and Mani were haggling over the item’s retail price. Samuel thought they should go for something a few pounds more than the internet.

“You think?” Syed said pointedly. If they’d gone to a shop and had a look as he’d suggested they would have known. Syed said he was feeling uncomfortable. Mani dropped the f-bomb and tempers finally flared. But, yet again – and I hate to say this – Syed was right and Mani was annoyed about that.

The pitching sessions began. At Harrods, Mani was trying to sell a calendar to a man looking directly through him. It wasn’t clear if Mani thought they had chemistry, but it seemed to me his presence was only being tolerated, especially when the question of money came up and he still didn’t have an answer. Although they had this straight by the second encounter of the day, they weren’t going to win with Virgin Megastore (“It’s not particularly nicely produced if I’m being honest … the inset pictures are quite dated looking … the use of colours has a little bit of a look of desktop publishing about it … I don’t think we’d be able to pay anything more than £2.70, £2.75 for this.”).

However, none of this was quite as excruciating as Nargis’ work. Beforehand, she’d advised everyone to stay quiet even if she was making a hash it. Painfully nervous, she actually interrupted the Virgin man when he had the audacity to ask how much he’d have to shell out – and she too, didn’t have an answer for that.

For all her ability to take charge in meetings, she simply couldn’t handle the random stress of a presentation. Each time she lacked the flexibility to answer simple questions, desperate to keep to the form of her pitch. Everyone watching The Apprentice tonight now knows there are six million cat owners in the UK alone, and that the majority of them live in London. I’m going to take that to my grave. Then the man from the Calendar Club asked: “Why are you selling a cat calendar for children?” Jo wondered about this two days ago. Nargis was flustered. She told him he’d find out if he just let her finish the presentation. “Oh, OK. Oh there’s more …” But what’s this? In the final meetings at Calendar Club for the boys and Harrods for the girls, no matter how awful the pitches were they liked the product. Calendar Club man even congratulated the boys on the design. Because he knows. Because he buys a lot of calendars. Lord.

Then the tension ramped up for the boardroom. Initially, it looked as though the girls had won. They’d managed to sell to all of the vendors and made £7000. But wait. The man from Calendar Club had bought a shed-load of the things from the boys, and they’d made £10,000. For all their indecision, a random variable had meant they’d turned a profit.

Nargis was shocked. She swallowed visibly.

In the ensuing “burn-down” session, Sir Alan pointed out cats had nothing to do with the hospital. Although this reflected well on Jo, her rambling self-assessment made little headway with the mogul. He looked pained. “Jo, will you excuse me for one moment and allow me to appraise the situation?” Karen, who was also brought in for the reckoning by Nargis, was the biggest surprise here. We hadn’t heard much from her, but her strong negotiating skills came to the fore. Sir Alan used her as counsel regarding Jo’s attitude. Could she be redeemed? And then, just when she needed to shut-up and let Nargis take the flack, Jo was back presenting her case, even interrupting Sugar. Frankly I want to her to win on the basis that she seems to be the most real of all.

Nargis was fired. Good.

Given that she was the second team leader to be given walking boots in as many weeks, I would have thought no one else would want the job. But in the preview for next week, it’s clear Jo is next up – no doubt in the team’s hope she’ll finally go overboard. But you know, I’ve a feeling she’ll still be there in the final week.

Her and Syed. What do you think?

Neither. Michelle and Ruth. Michelle was hired.

The Links Effect.

Airbnb, the home-renting website, has been great for me, but I have misgivings:
"There were a few hiccups as we got used to being landlords abroad. The eight-hour time difference made emergencies a 24-hour potential distraction. Getting keys to our tenants required gentle exploitation of friends who worked or lived locally. The cleaner I employed to shine the place up between guests couldn’t get through a snowstorm to put the pieces together after a pair who had departed leaving a mess, so my host ratings went south for a little while. But overall, it was a good experience that allowed us a lifestyle we’d not have had if the site didn’t exist; it took away most of the donkey work and the fees they charged were much more reasonable than a letting agent on the high street."

Operations Ome Ce, Stonegarden: Racketeering investigation 'disrupts' Barrio Azteca gang:
"When El Paso police, state troopers and federal agents carried out a series of raids last month, it was the culmination of a three-year investigation targeting the Barrio Azteca gang, which has been hit with repeated blows using a federal racketeering law created to break the Mafia."

DC Digital Announces Wonder Woman '77:
"The Wonder Woman TV show ran for three seasons from 1976 to 1979, with a movie-length pilot in 1975, but the ’77 of the title is more than just an echo of the Batman ’66 name. The first season of Wonder Woman was set during World War II; the second season, which began airing in 1977, moved the action to the 1970s, and it’s the 70s-era Wonder Woman that DC Digital intends to revive for this series."

Whatever happened to ‘lost’ work ‘Love’s Labour’s Won’? The Royal Shakespeare Company might have the answer:
"We’ll never know – Love’s Labour’s Won is, well, lost. Although mentioned in a list of Shakespeare plays in a book by Francis Meres in 1598, it was not printed in the First Folio collection of his works, and no copy survives. But one theory is that, rather than a missing work, Love’s Labour’s Won is an alternative title for a play we do have (just as Twelfth Night is subtitled “What You Will”). The most likely contender? Much Ado About Nothing: it works, date-wise – it’s thought to have been written in 1597/8, and yet it is notably missing from Meres’ list."

Off Prompter: Joe Biden explained:
"The most common is the Biden crime of passion. In March, during a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, he was talking about health-care reform with reporters outside Butterfield’s Pancake House, when he spotted a young woman on a bench and bounded over to enlist her as a prop, pitching her on the need to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act: “Do it for your parents! Give them peace of mind!” he implored. After he had moved on, she explained to reporters that she couldn’t sign up because she was a tourist visiting from Canada. (“I just didn’t know if I should say.”) Some of this is just salty. On April 29th, in a White House event on protecting students from sexual assault, Biden said that, where he came from, when “a man raised his hand to a woman, you had the job to kick the living crap out of him if he did it. Excuse my language.”"

Writers join fight to save Liverpool’s libraries:
"Author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, born and based in Liverpool, put his name to the campaign, slamming central government for the cuts. “Imperial Britain was built on the playing fields of Eton. Innovative, creative, generous Britain – the Britain of Tim Berners-Lee and of the Beatles, of Alan Turing and JK Rowling – was forged in her public libraries. Now Eton is closing the libraries,” he said."

The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum:
“When you go to the library,” said James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, ‘I read 100 books today!'” Yet that’s essentially how many people experience a museum. “They see as much of art as you see spines on books,” said Professor Pawelski, who studies connections between positive psychology and the humanities. “You can’t really see a painting as you’re walking by it.”

Off-Centaur. Jonathan Miller on John Updike's The Centaur.
"This is a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features."

Radio Station Lays Off All 47 of Its Journalists, Will Play Beyoncé All Day Everyday Instead:
"Houston's one and only 24-hour news station is closing up shop and replacing all its journalists with the perfect homage to the very best thing Houston has ever produced, yes, Beyonce."

Details of the exceptions to copyright that allow limited use of copyright works without the permission of the copyright owner:
"The personal copying exception permits you to make copies of media (CDs, ebooks etc) you have bought, for private purposes such as format shifting or backup without infringing copyright. For example the exception would allow you to copy content that you have bought on a CD onto your MP3 player, provided it is for your own private use."

Mummy on the Orient Express.

TV We live in interesting times. As is often the case, especially in relation to the web, opinions are polarised, confusion reigns. There seem to be loads of people who’re very happy indeed with this latest series of Doctor Who and the character of the Doctor himself, exclamations that it’s the best season since the show returned and that in Twelfth the Doctor they always wanted. Then there are those who’re entirely disappointed with the whole thing, which they find highly derivative and that the Doctor, their hero is somehow absent. Someone even told me that they felt like they've lost a friend.

Opinions are opinions and there are many available and if you’re in the former constellation you’ve nothing to worry about. If you’re in the latter, well, you’re possibly like me hoping against hope that the Doctor’s general attitude which, to disappointingly quote a correspondent in Radio Times (who hadn’t even seen Kill The Moon yet), is “angry, defensive and doesn’t seem to like the human race very much. […] no light and shade in the character, the humour and compassion have been lost” is part of some arc plot, the reason why he asked up front about his face and enquired to Clara if he’s a good man or some other power governing his actions.

In the midst of what feels like open warfare (the kind in which long term fans who’ve written books on the topic have said they can’t be fussed with the next episode) comes Mummy on the Orient Express which will no doubt confirm to some that we’re essentially watching the pre-Capaldi era rewritten with the aid of the Oblique Strategy Cards which just for fun and to try and keep myself awake I’m going to utilise a bit in writing this review. “What is the reality of the situation?” Oh um, here we are on the Voyage of the Damned ramming into The Curse of the Black Spot with The God Complex floating in the wreckage.

In his first piece for the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Miller says of John Updike’s The Centaur, “This is a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features.” I think that’s about where I am with this season of Who. When faced with an episode with such ostensible fine qualities like Mummy on the Orient Express, doing some very good things, there’s still that nagging feeling at the back of my mind that it’s not quite gelling, that the level of familiarity is just too strong this time and not in the same way as in classic Who where the Dalek’s same old plans was comforting. Next week looks like Fear Her with Chloe Webber replaced with Banksy.

“Fill every beat with something” Which is fine. It is. If I thought the show was being particularly meta, it’s just possible that like Charlie Kauffman’s Adaptation which is ironically rubbish in its closing act, it’s testing viewer's resolve, putting in the same position as Clara in really, really hating this man we’ve so previously loved, and by extension the programme but know that we’ll be tuning in the following week anyway. The above mentioned Radio Times correspondent says that they won’t be watching it again until Capaldi regenerates, but they’ll have tutted through Kill The Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express too probably.

“Look at the order in which you do things” Yes, should get on with saying some things about it. For the past couple of weeks I've been a bit wary about rewatching the given week's episode. No sense of that here, I can't wait to see it again to catch its many nuances. Jamie Mathieson is a real find, someone who unlike most of the other writers in the Moffat era hasn't been a show runner, but is very capable and shows that a more open script policy does work even if the material which ultimately makes it to the screen is a bit derivative. Not that we can tell yet if it's meant to be deliberately so. Who is Gus and why does he sound like Tannis?

It’s certainly scary, the teaser teaching the viewer what they should be scared of thanks to the on screen clock actually telling us when the moment of death of the onscreen character is about to occur, brilliant paid off at the end as the sixty-six seconds which the Doctor had in which to save himself. Just the sort of Hitchcockian tension which hasn’t surfaced often in the show across the years and especially not in this form even if arguably it’s a simply a chronologically rigid version of the time between receiving the black spot and a visit from a supermodel shaped siren.

“Work at a different speed” The characters are meatier creations too, or at least feel as much thanks to the performances, Daisy Beaumont providing real emotional resonance to Maisie, a character who ostensibly exists for Clara to have a girly chat with thanks to the absence of such on Earth and Frank Skinner, the Cribbins of the affair, so scared that he’d let the side down when talking to DWM and it’s fair to say didn’t. At all. In those closing moments when the Doctor’s offering him passage on the TARDIS has an actors scripted words belied the sparkle in his eye. Seriously, if they wanted to make him a companion next year, well, they just should. As Joss Whedon notices, comedians make really effective actors.

“Only a part, not the whole” The Voyage of the Damned fake out was fun, turning the audience’s trailer expectations of seeing the parody ending of The Big Bang turned into a full episode. If someone was starting to write about the episode before it had even gone out, one might have been led to try to find clearer connections between the two so it’s lucky that I didn’t do anything of the sort. Clearly the idea is that that the Doctor’s supposed to imagine that they’re from Sto even if he also doesn’t ever thing anything of the sort. But you could forgive him for at least trying to allow himself a moment to think that. They even having a pop singer.

“Is the tuning appropriate?” Ah Foxes. I can count the number of artistes that I’ve seen in real life who’ve appeared in the television programme on one hand for loads of complex reasons to do with not wanting to ruin things by meeting my heroes. But it has happened, a few because they were in Shakespeare productions and Bonnie Langford who passed on Great Charlotte Street in Liverpool next to the 86 bus stop because she was in panto that year. And Foxes. Foxes is the one I saw on purpose. She had a set at Liverpool International Music Festival this year and since the stage was literally across the road from my house I couldn’t not go.

In the event she was very good even if it wasn’t the most attentive of teenage audiences (who seemed more interested in trying to kill each other, gangs creating sinister looking circles, paramedics and police storming into the crowd at various intervals, that sort of thing), good enough for me to download the album that night and listening to it pretty much solidly since. It’s in the same kind of synthpop area with Little Boots without ever quite tripping over in the folktronica of Ellie Goulding. Her signature song, Clarity is entirely unrepresentative but like Lady Gaga’s move back towards jazz, designed to show that she can actually sing. In octaves.

“"Look closely at the most embarrassing things and amplify them"” Now that I’ve presented a good example of why I don’t review music, ever, how did this addition to the growing list of this franchise’s foxes do? She did very well in her thirty seconds of screen time, though like UB40 in Speed 2: Cruise Control it was little more than a cameo and it seems her character of “Singer” may not have existed after all which in an episode heavy on societal stereotypes, men the experts in science, women the experts in entertaining and emoting, is a bit of a disappointment. When this was announced it seemed like a full blown part in the mode of Miranda Raison or Kylie.

Why cast her then? Her voice, that voice, which with its melancholy undertow as her in Clarity, is the perfect fit for a counter intuitive cover of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, coming at us like the soundtrack to a John Lewis advert for funeral services, with its horrendous thematic implications for Clara, who when faced with a choice between a boring life on earth with the man she loves and the all of space and time with an alien she can barely stand to be in the same room with, she chooses the latter, just as we all would, even if he isn’t the man he once was. “Why can’t I quite you?” The promo featuring the whole song is unbearable, this song, these words, but in this form, against often up beat shots of explosions! Running! Grins!

“Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor” Notice how there’s less of a sense of the companions being lost in time. Last week Courtney was able to update her Tumblr and here’s Clara casually phoning her boyfriend from her bunk. Such phone calls used to be magical interruptions conducted in moments of high tension, when Rose is first dealing with the notion of being in the far future or Martha on board the SS Pentallian. Clara ringing him for tech support was the first indication of a change and now she can contact her boyfriend in the right order. If only Rose’s call in The End of the World had landed some time in the middle of her missing year.

“Question the heroic approach” All of which said, I’m still not happy and for many of the same reasons as last week even though the episode is very much about explaining this incarnation and in richer and with more emotional clarity. We’re supposed to see him as continuation of the pre-Tennant form, of the man who in the face of death can’t mourn because there’s too much work to do saving lives.  Provocatively on the beach ala the torture scene in Mindwipe,  Clara slumbering amongst the dunes, finally he's gifted his version of C. Baker’s “I’m the Doctor, whether you like it or not” or indeed Eccleston’s “this is me, right here, right now."

“Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities” Beautifully played by both, directed skilfully by Paul Wilmshurst in the style of an idle moment in some ancient BBC costume drama, I still watched in an abject state of not understanding quite what they were doing. Cheering a heroic figure without sentiment is a difficult ask. Why it works with Tom in Pyramids of Mars, but not Capaldi, I can’t say other than that there are moments when you can see his love of humanity on the surface. Eccleston was brusque at times, but he still stopped for a moment in number 10 and apologise to a corpse for not being their quick enough to save their life.

“Abandon normal instructions” Now we have a Doctor who is more interested in the information he can gain from a dying man than the fact of his death. Perkins’s protestations here and similar queries by characters in previous stories demonstrate this is supposed to be a feature of the character, but I simply don’t understand why it would, could or should be. And also why, in relation to consolidating on the work of Matt Smith, you’d take this kind of a risk. As we’ve seen on other shows, and even this show in the past, viewers are fickle. If they’re not liking something, they simply won’t bother catching up once The X Factor has finished.

The props are there. The psychic paper makes a triumphant return this week as do the jelly babies, albeit from a cigarette case which is funny on first inspection but then oh so terribly wrong, which might well be the perfect metaphor for this incarnation of the Doctor, whose lack of understanding of humans now extends to the ones who used to be his best friend. I appreciate that this is a more sweary repetition of my comments from last week and the week before, but all I see is Capaldi acting his socks off with a character that’s as hollow as a tree would be if it was the same age and who simply doesn’t make any kind of sense within the unfolding text.

“Just carry on” But it is an unfolding text and that text surely wouldn’t be spending so much existential time questioning the nature of its lead character in this way if it wasn’t leading up to something and as I’ve said to people who ask, and people do ask, there’s every possibility that like my original positive review of Fear Her, this is all going to look a bit foolish. There has to be a reason why Clara hasn’t asked him why his personality isn’t what it used to be, even taking into account his attack eyebrows, its because somebody else surely will, just as there has to be a reason why he’s talking about himself as though he’s always been this way, as though he can’t even remember stopping for a moment in number 10 and apologising to a corpse.

“Simple subtraction” If I wanted to try to look at this from the perspective of this amazing show doing interesting things, it’s that we’re seeing a mirror of last season’s arc which was about the Doctor trying to understand Clara, and instead we have Clara trying to understand the Doctor. She’s playing him, being the wide-eyed human on a great spirit of adventure, both handles down on the console, but really she’s going in with her wide eyes open trying to find out why he’s become this person she doesn’t recognise. It’s always bugged me that we didn’t see a post regenerative console room scene at the start of Deep Breath, a Pudsey Cutaway.

“A very small object –Its centre” I don’t know. Possibly. Maybe. But that’s what happens when the thing you love confuses you, sends you reaching for rationalisations, makes you question exactly why you do love it. Of course the very best thing about Doctor Who is that it carries on, that there’s so much of it and it’s ok not to love all of it.  Even if there isn’t some clever, clever on-screen resolution to all this, Romola Garai’s incarnation will be along in a few years reading Abi Morgan’s scripts and pissing off a whole different group of fans. Assuming it survives. Next week’s episode title is just asking for trouble.

No MySpace, just no.

About For months, six months possibly, I've been experiencing worrisome incidents when visiting this blog myself to check how items have posted or layout changes. Now and then I've heard random noise, sometimes music, sometimes people talking and sometimes, usually through Safari on ios, a pop-up purporting to be from asking for permission to see the current location.

After scanning my computers a dozen times for malware and viruses and checking the code on the blog several dozen more and finding nothing wrong and no ill effects elsewhere, I pondered and pondered and pondered, The West Wing scene featuring Toby Ziegler and his bouncy ball on repeat in my head because watching someone think is about the only recourse you have if you don't have any thoughts of your own.

I googled and googled. I used Twitter search and this morning, just now in fact after having the pop-up appear again on my ipad I googled and googled again and finally used the correct keywords in the magic combination and stumbled up this blog, a blog about solar energy written by someone trying to get the word out.

It's Site Meter.

For years, since I began this blog practically, I've had the little sitemeter square in the sidebar. Back then it was something you did, that you had, and when this blog began was about the only way to track how many visitors it was getting all thirty of them usually via Google. Since then, even though I've moved on to blogger's own counters and the like, I've kept it there as a historical curiosity.

Also since then, sitemeter's been sold on to another company and as part of its monetary strategy, has begun funneling ads through the sitemeter code on other websites and for months, six months possibly, that's been a pop-up advert for myspace. It doesn't appear with every visit and on most browsers it's blocked, apart from the audio which plays in the background, and on Safari ios asks for a location first.

Well, I've deleted the widget now and after reloading the blog a few times in ios Safari, the pop-up has gone too. None of you complained about seeing this thing yourselves so I wonder how many of you did. Did any of you notice? What did you think? Who you do trust? How do you know? Did Justin Timberlake know?

"I hate the fact that I have to hate this"

Film My lack of interest in the Star Wars expanded universe saga continues but I did spend five or fifteen minutes reading through's length, well researched article about how fans of the now dumped continuity are campaigning for its return. Caught between two banthas, of not wanting to shit all over part of its core readership whilst simultaneously trying demonstrate the sheer pointlessness of the exercise, the writer nevertheless manages to capture a flavour of the human wreckage that results from detailed continuities being rebooted:
"The members of the campaign to save the EU come from all walks of life and represent a diverse array of Star Wars fan constituencies. There are people who love the prequels and people who hate them. There are people who love The Clone Wars and (in far greater numbers, it seems) people who hate it.

Regardless of their particular interests, one thing unites these hardcore EU fans: They are deeply frustrated by the the decision to classify the EU as "Legends" and to only selectively incorporate its elements into future stories.

"I won't spend one dime on Star Wars until they make it crystal clear how much money I've wasted over the past thirty years," wrote Tony Castronovo.

In an interview, John Sadler, who helps run the "Alliance to Save the Star Wars Legends, Expanded Universe" page, said that the canon decision "really screwed over the EU fans."

These fans, Sadler said, "are the ones who helped keep Star Wars alive after Episode 6 came out and they are the ones who are invested the most in the EU." According to him, these fans "were told that those books/comics were official Canon [sic] for 30+ years."
Nothing illustrates fan interactions with this cross-platform media franchise is how in fighting against Disney and everything they've stood for, they've nevertheless adopted its language, describing the EU as Legends, as per the hashtag, #BuyLegendsOnly!, as though even if they do only buy Legends it'll change Disney/Lucasfilm's mind.  Disney/Lucasfilm don't care what you buy so long as it has the Star Wars logo on it, indeed they'd be pleased as punch if material from the discontinued continuity, the longtail, continues selling alongside the nuWars (sorry Graham).

Bip.... Bip.... Bip....

Music After six months of inactivity, Mutya Keisha Siobhan's Facebook page was quietly updated today:

The references to "heart failure" and "life support" in this context is interesting considering the title of their only release so far in this incarnation.  "New team!" "Amazing album!"  Does that mean that there's now some zombie album knocking around which was deemed unreleasable or some such?

Of course it's possible they're just rereleasing Flatline to coincide with the new Doctor Who story of the same name.  Yes, it's probably that.

Richard Curtis: Love Actually was a "catastrophe".

Film Apologies for recreating the same click bate headline I saw on about three other blogs with its implication that Richard Curtis (who at this point I'd welcome back to Doctor Who with open arms) and his opinion of his own film has evolved. It hasn't really. He actually just describing the editing process:
"The only nightmare scenario that I’ve been caught in was Love Actually, which worked at the read-through, and when we finished the film and I watched it edited it was … a catastrophe,” said Curtis in comments first reported by the Radio Times. “Because there were 12 stories, [finding the right order] was like three-dimensional chess … And that was enormously difficult to finish or get right.”
The editing left the film riddled with plot holes and continuity errors as I described in the original post-mortem.  He only finished in as much as he didn't do anything else to it.  He didn't get it right.

Hamlet #36:
Zach Appelman.

Hamlet played by Zach Appelman.
Directed by Robert Richmond.

Audio The Shakespeare Folger Library, in conjunction with Simon & Schuster have begun a new series of full text audio recordings of the plays based on their own texts and inevitably, probably, Hamlet is amongst the first off the battlements.  The packaging is pretty basic, a cardboard box with the cds in a similarly cardboard inlay with the cast and credits printed on the first of the three cds, which was difficult to refer to when I wanted to confirm that once of the voices I could hear was John "Q" De Lancie.  It wasn't but I didn't find that out until I had to swap discs.

All of the discs explain this was recorded at Omega Studios and Audio School in Rockville, Maryland.  The cast is from the States who keep their accents, which might seem like a redundant statement, but I have heard similarly US produced versions in which the cast effect "British" accents.  Sometimes, tonally, it is confusing.  The smallish cast often doubles up and I'm sure I heard the same actor playing different characters in the same scene, especially the battlements.  Many audio productions can offer a range of regional accents to provide an extra clarity this does not.

As expected, due to its educational purposes, this is a pretty neutral rendering, director Robert Richmond realising that the target audience of teachers and students do not really wanting to deal with an eclectic interpretation of the text.  The audio design and music are basic, with simple suggestive stop effects and, I think I heard, two different synthesised musical jingles depending on whether the text is shifting between scenes or acts.  The intent is presumably for the listener to read along with a text, probably Folger's own.

The neutrality extends to the performances which dedicate themselves for the most part to textual clarity.  At times the irony of the text is ignored (Horatio admitting to Hamlet he's seen his father's spirit), at others its somewhat pantomimed (Gertrude's course correction on the identities of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).  But it's difficult to fault this kind of production when you're aware of the intent, that the creative decisions have led to a purposeful blandness that can only really be apparent to someone who's seen/heard this many productions (albeit not recently...).

Polonius is largely played as though he drifted in from one of the comedies, probably Much Ado, notably when Ophelia's describing her strange visit from Hamlet to him, her father very pleased that he's taking an interest.  As sometimes happens, the Ophelia actress, in this case Emily Trask, really comes into her own during the descent into madness.  She also poignantly plays Gravedigger II later, which if this was on stage would provide the spooky image of Ophelia posthumously digging her own grave.  Ian Merrill Peakes's Claudius sounds disconcertingly like Jacobi.

In about ten days, Zach Appelman begins a two month run as Hamlet in Hartford.  His prince is not especially mad.  It's more that we hear the more adolescent, uncertain man in the private moments, but play-acts a kind of aristocracy in public.  As the production winds onward, particularly through the closet scene, the latter becomes his default as he gains a clearer direction of purpose.  His breathing, which earlier is raspy, the words difficult to say, reduces, increasing the coherence of what he's communicating. But like the rest of the production he's never, ever difficult to understand right up to and including his final words.

Folger Shakespeare Library presents Hamlet By William Shakespeare is out now on cd. Review copy supplied.

The Films I've Watched This Year #37

Film As I said last night, I've been ill this week and binged on television. Completed the horrendous third season of Veronica Mars which like Doctor Who now, Buffy in its sixth season, the even numbered seasons of Friends and season five of The West Wing demonstrates that even the best series can go off the rails through a number of unforeseeable creative problems.  Thank god for the second season of The Newsroom which is as peerless as the first, even if it also Sorkin working through the same creative demons that dogged Studio 60 that spring from him not complete The West Wing himself.  Time and again I  applauded the screen in my lonely room, especially deep into the season when these acting giants, Fonda, Waterson and Gay Harden are supping away at this screwball dialogue, the direction buzzing, just buzzing.  If Hollywood was worth a damn any more, another rom com with Fonda and Redford would be greenlit, these two old pros bringing it once again.  Though not a sequel to Barefoot in the Park.  Well, ok, maybe.

Crime d'amour
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Veronica Mars

The essential problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that the Raimi films exist, which was also the problem with the first film of course, but here the effects are much more severe.  The really iconic moments having been snaffood for those earlier works, Marc Webb and his screenwriters are stuck trying to do something else knowing full well their target audience still has that imagery knocking around in their brains which is a shame because by some measure these feel more like the comics than Raimi's films ever did.  Garfield's a superior Peter.  Stone's playing the perfect Gren.  Paul Giamatti's a fabulous Rhino.  Spidey's connection to the city is enunciated much more clearly and the pacing of the narrative, rushed through in the opening installment there is played out at a much more leisurely pace.  I can take or leave some of the mythology manipulation, but it's within the DNA of the comics title for all kinds of narrative ookiness to occur, for such discoveries to be made.

The gravitational pull of Oscorp is problematic, especially as its related later in the film and how it suggests its connection to a range of other characters.  There's narrative short hand at play here in setting up the moribund Sinister Six film.  If only Sony and Disney could have come to some arrangement about the cinematic universe.  If only.  Without that backdrop, this iteration feels the need to justify why all of these superpowered beings exist in such close proximity, whereas the MCU offers the justification of just because.  It's a similar issue which seems to be brewing at WB/DC were Snyder's even apparently making Wonder Woman a result of Krypton exploding for some reason, as though having her moulded from clay by a God is somehow less problematic.  Either way, despite the Transformers moment, it's still a lot more watchable than Spider-Man 3 even though that at least had the unabashed lack of embarrassment about introducing the world to alien life for, you know, reasons.

The essential problem with Veronica Mars is that it ends.  Having endured s3, even though this isn't a monumental return to form, probably for reasons of budget and scheduling Piz, Wallace, Mac and Weevil are short changed and the mystery isn't that surprising, but Kristen Bell is extraordinary at this, and as soon as the voiceover kicks in, there's a sense of "and we're back".  All of the strengths of the series in its earlier years are here, the chemistry between Bell and Enrico Colantoni as her father, the class struggle, the corrupt police department and the sense of her investigations as a calling and addiction, not something she simply does as a lark but because she can and so therefore she has to.  There are a few stunt cameos but not so many that it gets in the way of the story too.  It's affectionate without being cloying.  If they ever do get around to making the My So-Called Life reunion it should be just like this, though you sort of expect by now it'll be more akin to The Big Chill.  Who would they bump off?

Like I said, the essential problem with Veronica Mars is that it ends.  For all the way its shot, this is still television and if nothing else this feels like a pilot episode for a new series, especially at the end when Veronica marks out her territory.  Don't read further if you haven't seen this yet.  Still here?  Gone yet?  Good.  Everything about it breathes set-up.  Wallace is back at Neptune High.  Mac's as Kane Software.  Weevil's back with the gangs.  The old information network's being put back in place.  That doesn't feel like an ending but a beginning and there's a desperate moment right as the screen turns black when you realise that the next episode isn't on the disc.  Plus it's more clearly what the show was leading up to than the silly FBI reboot which made the mistake of trying keep the spirit of Veronica Mars while removing everything which made it different to other shows.  You can take the Mars out of Neptune but you can't take the Neptune out of Mars.  Which probably works just as well as the moon being a giant space egg.

Kill The Moon.

TV Apart from the usual timeslot three things almost mitigated against me reviewing Doctor Who’s Kill The Moon tonight. After enduring itchy eye syndrome last week, this week I caught the September bug, which put me to bed for three days. There are still headaches. On the upside, I’ve binged through the second season of The Newsroom and the second season of Continuum which desperately seems like it wants to be The Wire with time travel but ultimately ends up being Fringe-lite. The second reason is Catherine Bennett’s storming Onion-like parody of just these kinds of blog posts in The Guardian this morning which is so on the nose most of the commenters don’t realise it's satire and which threatens to destabilise the process. Plus it depended on the quality of the episode. Yes, well, wish me luck. Let’s see how far I get before the paracetamol stops working.

The optimal condition to be watching Kill The Moon is on painkillers so with that in mind let’s start with the easy stuff. As readers of Lance and Lars’s AHistory will know, c 2040, The Seeds of Death featured a world dependent on T-Mat technology with spacecraft left as museum pieces. I can’t quite square what happens there with the Mexican survey ship, but the existence of this tubular transporter explains why Earth doesn’t have much in the way of a space programme so they have to pull this space shuttle from a museum with the events of Kill The Moon becoming the inspiration for Earth to properly return to the stars which ultimately leads to Bowie Base and all that Waters of Mars business which will become important later. Oh hold on, Adelaide Brooke says she first landed on Mars in the early 2040s. Time can be rewritten. Cracks. Rebooted universe. Faction Paradox. Breath. Breath.

Breath because Kill The Moon doesn’t have any “easy stuff”. It’s difficult, difficult and if you’ll excuse me, lemon difficult. It’s the kind of episode, which is everything Doctor Who should be doing and nothing at all that Doctor Who should be doing. Unpicking the recursion in that sentence shouldn’t take long but like the apparent fuzziness of the Doctor’s perception of time, which is rather a better explanation here than in Cold Blood, it means that you can’t categorically say whether this a good episode of Doctor Who or not. I do have another way of explaining that, but I’ll keep it for the final paragraph because at a certain point I’m going to have to end this thing and I need to lead up to something. I’ve even already written it so I’ll have it at the bottom of this Word document as I type as an ever-present reminder, rather like the flash forward in tonight’s teaser.

Kill The Moon is excellent, the kind of challenging television Doctor Who can and often is capable of.  The kind of episode you can show fans of Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones when they have the audacity to suggest it’s just some kids show. It’s morally complex, asks difficult questions about what humanity is and can be capable of in relation to saving itself and has some of the best performances, writing ("My Granny used to put things up on Tumblr.") and direction in television right now, doing all of this on a Saturday night between Strictly Come Dancing and Casualty. None of which is that new (cf, The Aztecs back in 1964) but at a time when, as someone suggested to me earlier today, “Saturday night television is rubbish”, here’s something which plainly isn’t and which arguably deserves its present timeslot. When the Hugos pop around again, expect Kill The Moon to be on the list.

Storywise, we’re effectively being handed a do-over of The Beast Below gene-spliced with The Waters of Mars. Like The Beast Below, humanity is essentially given a choice as to whether to let a giant space creature live or die in order to save themselves. Like The Beast Below, humanity chooses to save itself, which is something we do every day when we eat meat, wear skins and test animals for probably the very thing which is keeping me healthy enough to type and like The Beast Below, when a single time travelling member of humanity decides to override the that decision and let the giant space creature live, everybody does. Actually now that come to think of it, it’s also the same decision made about the Silurians over and over again, although the wind blows in the other direction on that, with the Brigadier's nonchalant moustache hovering over the YES (or is it NO) button.

The journey to that decision point is chilling. Preview clips suggested this was going to be something akin to The Ark in Space, a trad bit of base under siege, the writer having been told to "Hinchcliffe the sh** out of it" (source: DWM) and earlier in the episode, with its onion like structure that’s exactly what we were gifted, director Nick Hurran making full use of horror of shadows and Jenna Coleman’s saucer-like eyes screaming terror through their irises. Perhaps family programmes aren’t allowed to sustain that through forty-five minutes, but you can still imagine a range of old school actors, directors and special fxperts watching such things and grimacing as they remember the intense studio lights they had to work with. Actually you don’t have to imagine, just choose to a dvd commentary from any of the 80s Whos and listen to the pain.

The other half of the episode is The Waters of Mars if the Doctor had decided to sod off and leave them to it. The similarities with Mars can’t be unintentional. How heroes spend the episode wearing the same 43K2.1 era space suit the Tenth Doctor wore in that episode. Once again we’re greeted by another pioneering and surely famous female astronaut whose impossibly whisked back to her planet at a instant of certain doom.  Once again we have an important celestial body at risk. This latest series does seem to be very directly commenting on and reproducing iconic moments from RTD era, from The Girl in the Fireplace to Dalek to Blink to School Reunion and now this, which is also texturally similar to The Mysterious Planet/The Satan Pit.  Oh look, the paracetamol's stopped working.

By drawing attention to these similarities, new Who writer Peter Harness (welcome) and whoever illuminate the differences. In Mars, Tenth was aware of the temporal outcome and says that he can’t change it until he does which fulfils my old theory and that whole fixed point in time business is really just about whether the Doctor has knowledge of the future of a place and time and can only change things if he doesn’t. In Moon, the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t remember what happened, so could stick around and change things but curiously doesn’t, leaving the business at hand to Clara instead, almost as though he’s washing his hands of the whole thing when in reality he’s done nothing of the sort.

In Mars, Tenth counter-intuitively stays even though he knows the temporal outcome and decides to change it therefore displaying his Time Lord arrogance. In Moon, Twelfth doesn’t apparently know the outcome but goes anyway knowing that Clara will make “the correct decision” therefore displaying his Time Lord arrogance. On both occasions, there’s a human at the other end, a human to tell him what a rotter he’s been but again the difference is, whereas in Mars the Tenth Doctor realises the damage he’s done leading to hijinks, mayhem and marriage to Liz 1, the Twelfth Doctor simply stands there with a bewildered look on his face unable to comprehend his wrongness, which as far as he can see, unlike The Waters of Mars, wasn’t that big a decision in the imposing method of stuff.

Courtney’s now a companion too.  Why would he do that, and what is it with the show’s view of youngsters this age that they’re so cynical and bored with the whole thing until they’re frightened out of their wits? The episode was apparently originally written for Matt Smith (yes, really) and she's filling in the gap left by the Maitlands.  Figures (source: DWM).  Also, what about the Moon in the Whoniverse then? Giant space egg. The TARDIS Datacore entry’s already been updated but glance through the rest and you’re now reading about a bunch of colonies and bases being massed on the side of an egg shell. Shrugs. This is the sort of premise changing new information which will ripple through for quite some time. Unless, cracks. Rebooted universe. Faction Paradox.

Challenging, challenging stuff, aided by some remarkable performance from the small cast. About the only bum note is that due to the truncated base under siege chunk, acting legends and ‘verse veterans Phil Nice and Tony Osoba barely have enough time to get into their space suits on before the spiders bite them open. Despite the haiku-like characterisation  Hermione Norris is a tour-de-force, as morose as someone on that mission would be when face with three time travellers who seem strangely reluctant to save her planet. Ellis George is making the most of her first screen role. But the plaudits are with Capaldi and Coleman who’re both utterly mesmerising especially in that final scene with Clara burning with anger and hatred and disbelief with this man who was once her hero now, as Lundvik encapsulates succinctly, “a prat.”

Yes, well, fuck that. Intuitively, I can see what Moffat and the gang are trying to do here. They’re shaking things up a bit. Emphasising as the pre-publicity suggested, the Doctor’s alienness, reminding us that he’s not human, that he’s an Time Lord from Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, the man who thinks that it might be possible for humanity and the Silurians to share the planet, who doesn’t favour one species over another. He doesn’t do hugs. Faced with the same moral dilemma he was handed in The Waters of Mars, he’d have been back in the TARDIS way before there was even the hint of danger to himself. An attempt to do the pilot version of the First Doctor or C. Baker “properly” not to mention The Cartmel Masterplan. Blah, blah, blah, see previous blog posts in this series.

Yes, well, fuck that because ultimately, in the end, for the series to work, the Doctor has to be a hero. The episode pays lip service to that, with his attempts to save Courtney and his speech about how humanity having seen this magnificent vision in the sky decides to go have a look at it, but at no point, and this is important on so many levels, should we as an audience hear a character describe him as “a prat” and agree with them, not be on his side. When Clara describes his actions as cheap, pathetic and patronising, we should not be nodding along. Simply put, it breaks the show and saps it of its uniqueness. In Kill The Moon, we have the absence of the Doctor syndrome writ large, we have something akin to Time Lord Victorious as status quo.

Yes, well, alright language, but between this and last week’s cavalcade of wrongness, we’re in very dangerous territory in relation to how the show’s treating its audience who’re almost in the same position as Clara in the episode. If the production team are challenging us with this aren’t they also patronising us for liking what came before? Is it somehow wrong of us to want a likeable main character going on a great spirit of adventure were moral discussions are implicit rather than explicit, as is ability to inspire humanity to do great things, in which he’s the one fighting monsters rather than giving a decent imitation of being one himself? As I’ve asked previously I wonder how this plays with the core audience. How do kids feel about Capaldi? Have they simply switched their allegiance to Clara as the protagonist?

At the risk of reviewing the gaps, I was desperate for Clara to say she missed the earlier version, really stick the dagger in.  Perhaps if, when Clara left the TARDIS, in the reverse shot Capaldi could have given some indication of the conversation having had some meaning for him but there’s nothing but a blank expression. An acting choice to be sure, understated emotion, but this is veering on Bresson-like in its ambiguity. At least he didn’t shrug. We have to assume and to hope that what we’re seeing from Capaldi and his Doctor here is some kind of arc towards being able to accept hugs, to remember what it is to be the Doctor, but at this point I’m pretty desperate for Clara to hit him so hard he regenerates, no matter what the recent correspondent to the Radio Times thinks.  Much as I wanted Capaldi and still do, I don't want him like this.

In other words, this might be a brilliant piece of television drama, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Judging by the trailer, next week’s episode looks like it’s going to be Clara-lite which means we’re back to double banking with a similar shooting structure to season four rather than mostly leaving both lead actors out for the week (seasons two and three) or clearly only shooting them for a couple of days on a few sets (The Long Game). The narrative implications of that are that Twelfth will have his first full on protagonist appearance. After that perhaps Flatline will be Doctor free then we’ll have a big reunion for Frank Cottrell Boyce’s In the Forest of the Night. Please understand, for everything I’ve said this past few weeks, I’m not discounting some grander arc like narrative which will explain all of these choices. I just wish, well, I just wish.

Soup Safari #1:
Potato and Leek at Lunya.

At lunchtime. £3.95. Lunya Catalan & Spanish Restaurant, Bar and Deli. 18-20 College Lane, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 3DS. 0151 706 9770.