Christmas Links #5

Kiss me, Chromedome: how the Transformers found peace and same-sex partnerships:
"A spin-off comic has shape-shifted the smash ’em up Transformers robots into a world of same-sex partnerships and a leader modelled on Tony Benn."
[Friend of the blog and DWM reviewer Graham Kibble-White writes for The Guardian! -- ed.]

Couple rewrites 'Baby It's Cold Outside' to emphasize importance of consent:
"A couple from Minnesota has re-imagined the classic Christmas song "Baby It's Cold Outside" for a 21st-century audience, changing the song's lyrics to emphasize the importance of consent."

Recipes: from venison meatballs to mulled glögg – food cooked over a birch fire:
"So much Swedish cooking is about fragrance. Since I run a restaurant that doesn’t use gas or electricity, only Scandinavian wood, I appreciate the scent of burning logs and coals as much as I do the sweet caramelising of meat or the nuttiness of melting butter. At home, I often cook outside with birch fires; the smell of wood and spices mingling in the fresh winter air is delicious."

Sight and Sound's Best Films of 2016:
"Time again for our annual international critics’ poll of the year’s top movies. This year we asked 163 critics and curators to name their five best films of the year – and the results are a small triumph for diversity (not to mention a lot of treats still to come to UK cinemas over the next few months). Films directed by women make up the majority of the top five, alongside Barry Jenkins’ gay black coming of age portrait Moonlight in second place."

Christmas Lights Turned on in Bethlehem:
"Hundreds of people gathered in Bethlehem to attend the annual turning on of Christmas tree lights in the West Bank city, marking the start of the Advent season."

BBC One Christmas Advert 2016.
[Fabulously inclusive film about the audience.]

Premature twin family prepare for first Christmas:
"A couple who refused to switch off their baby's life support after her sister died have told how she "never gave up" on her fight for life."

A Grinch stole a Grinch, but fret not, Seattle. Christmas will come:
"I want to highlight a good deed that someone has done this Christmas season."

Record 1,378 Christmas trees at Melton Mowbray festival:
"A Christmas tree festival has again broken its own record for the number of trees in a church."

The Snowflake Trail:
"From 1 December – 3 January Liverpool city centre will be transformed into a festive spectacle by the return of the Snowflake Trail; the city’s very own winter festival of spectacular light and sound that will capture the imagination of young and old alike."

The Lost.

TV Fucks sake. Eight episodes of this woefully middling series (I've come to the conclusion I was initially too kind to Class) and now we're treated to one of the most pat reveals since the cliffhanger ending of the first episode of every old Who story with Dalek in the title. The Weeping Angels. Well, gee. Perhaps its for the best that this "arrival" business hasn't been hinted at for the whole series because then we really might have felt let down.  Then again, I still feel let down even though we were only made aware of it about half an hour before they emerged.  True, it's hard to think of another monster which might have had more currency, the Voord perhaps, but there's something really quite disappointing about having to sit through one of those scenes which is supposed to be some ruddy great revelation and then be reintroduced to a foe which has gone past the point of having made their point.

Who are these governors?  Cyril Nri is obviously not supposed to be reprising his shopkeeper role from The Sarah Jane Adventures, mores the pity, but as it goes so far they are incredibly dull, which means they're not some part of the Faction Paradox or breakaway wing of the Time Lords.  One of the key decisions taken in the Buffyverse has been to not entirely introduce its audience to the senior partners at W R & H, which has kept them deliciously mysterious.  Giving this lot a face and dress sense automatically diminishes them as does their astonishingly cliched if beautifully photographed locale.  In an episode already overstuffed, we're also being asked to care about yet another thing which isn't even in the expositional orbit of most of the main characters other than in a vague sense of the headmistress knowing some things.

Gah.  I'm cross.  Once again, Class fails to tip over into Torchwood's Miracle Day levels of awfulness, settling once again into being, yeah, it's OK.  You're not missing much if you don't watch it, and it has enough decent things in it if you're patient enough, but, shrug.  Rubbish without being downright awful.  The Lost is the epitome of what's been wrong with the whole series.  To repeat:  not enough time given over to making us care about the characters in a series which feels like a much longer stream of episode reduced to just the instalments focused on the main story arc.  Despite the revelation, a show set in the Doctor Who universe which largely ignores the benefits of that.  A lack of clear direction as to what the show is supposed to be having entirely ignored its initial mission statement of being about a group of precarious friends fighting whatever drops through the rifts in time.

Which isn't to say that bits of The Lost aren't just plain mediocre.  The opening teaser montage is frankly godawful, April's sub-Corrs dirge overpowering what should be some huge character beats in a way which suggests that we're watching the truncation of a much longer opening.  The unusual cynical motivating factor of parental murder.  Some of the performance histrionics are incredibly hard to take.  Even taking into the account the fact that people react to grief in different ways, crying simply isn't some actors forte notably when it reaches retching levels, especially when said actors range has otherwise extended to scowls and sarcasm.  The relationship scenes between characters are often rudimentary at best, lacking any sense of wit or reflection of real characters having believable emotions.

Despite the murders, budget limitations simply won't allow for the threat of the Shadow army on the populace to be properly extenuated.  Exactly how far this threat has spread isn't properly extenuated.  We're probably supposed to assume globally but this leads us to wonder why UNIT aren't dealing with all of this, or the remnants of Torchwood or the Attic Team or, well, you get the idea.  Given the level of danger involved, someone would and should have called the Doctor by now and here we are again with the shared universe problem.  It simply doesn't make sense for these teenagers to be left dealing with this threat in the manner with with the Doctor did, our suspension of disbelief unearned and the lack of any reference to him, even in the negative, at this moment, is frankly bizarre.  At least those other series have the good grace to try and explain his absence.

If there are any positives they're because Katherine Kelly has been perfectly cast even though she's now being hampered by a mystical pregnancy.  The all too brief training scenes between Quill and Tanya hint at a series which allows its characters to breath and simply enjoy one another's company, with such things working as a b-plot contrast to whatever the a-plot monster is.  You also can't argue with the show's impressive diversity, with not a single white cis male in sight; at a time when people who look like me even if they're nothing like me are in their racist ascendancy, it's genuinely important to have shows which represent the world as is could and should be and often is rather than pandering to the Caucasian patriarchal norm.  Much as I enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane last night, there's absolutely no reason why any or all of those three characters had to be from the same racial origin.

But none of this is enough.  The writer clearly wants us to be invested in the implications of opening the box and wreaking genocide on the shadows and there was some attempts at foreshadowing the moral dilemma in previous episodes but there's a reason why "Have I the right" works in Genesis.  The Doctor is an extremely moral person being asked to do a horrifying thing.  Here the Prince is essentially fighting against a mountain of selfish reasons not to.  He's already decided he has every right but numerous artificial narrative blocks are what's stopping him.  That makes him less than heroic - the script wants us to empathise with him even though he's generally come across as being a self-indulgent arsehole.  After a while it becomes actively annoying that he keeps delaying the inevitable, a blessed relief when he finally shoots Chekhov's gun.

Similarly we should feel something about the death of April.  But it's a female character suiciding herself so that a male character can do the heroic thing (even if, as we've discussed ...) which along with Quill's pregnancy somewhat undermines the show's otherwise "woke" qualities.  Plus since she is only one of the two younger female leads we have to know that she'll be brought back should the show be recommissioned.  And it's a cue for some more of that distracting histrionic acting.  Then having her resurrected in the body of the actual shadow king, whilst pleasingly bonkers in the Chibnallian sense, will obviously be resolved via some magic or other - transferring herself back into her own body, simply ending up there due to some undiscovered mental trap door or an external intervention.

There's a weird arrogance to all of this.  Class thinks its getting another series doesn't it?  Have they already been recomissioned thanks to the injection of cash from international investors?  BBC America have delayed broadcast which isn't a great sign and apparently the first couple of the episodes of the show didn't reach the top 50 on the iPlayer which means it's being watched by less than 185,000 viewers which given the first one has the Doctor's lengthy cameo, the lead character in what's supposed to be one of the cornerstones of BBC One's schedule over the Christmas and in the new year, something isn't working.  As I've said before, it's either poor advertising, a lack of interest from the people who should be, or the show not being good enough for people to want to recommend it to others.

Class will be on the iPlayer for another eleven months and there's still the television broadcast to come.  Perhaps it will find an audience now that it's entirely available to be binged through.  A second series could potentially be a better prospect.  Perhaps having run off most of the unrelatable backstory now, he'll allow his characters to become more likeable, less ambiguous.  The elements are here and if the intention is to embrace more qualities of the key mythology, that at least could make it feel essential, especially if they have any significance within the main series.  As it stands Class is a failed experiment, a self-defeating rudderless concoction presenting itself as a Doctor Who spin-off which for the most part is nothing of the sort.  Can you imagine if this doesn't get a second series?  What a stupid way to end things.

Christmas Links #4

The experts’ guide to a great British cheeseboard:
"You have to have a cheeseboard at Christmas. It’s the law, along with turkey, sherry and sprouts, even if you don’t like them. But no one expects you to put much effort into it; days before Santa’s due, many of us reach for a supermarket selection. “Stilton?” we say, squinting at the packaging. “Check. Cheddar? Check. Something grey that might be brie? That’ll do.”"

The Last European Christmas: On Brexit, Hodgepodge Dinners, and Finding Your Identity:
"Brought up in Scotland, with an Irish father and Italian mother, I’ve never felt British—“Heinz 57 Varieties” was the family joke. And despite living in England for years, it’s painfully clear I’m not English. The UK’s recent Brexit has left me feeling more out on a limb. Who even am I? For those of us who came up along with the EU these past two decades, and who have long been grateful for England’s vibrant melting-pot heritage, the vote is little short of jaw-dropping."

9 reasons why The Likely Lads made the best Xmas TV special ever:
"The centre piece of BBC 1’s Christmas Eve 1974 line up was a final TV outing for Bob, Terry and Thelma. A typically maudlin special, with some out of place obligatory 70s slapstick, its mostly set in the Fat Ox and Bob’s front room. The aspirations of Thelma and the Elm Lodge Housing Estate clashed yet again with Terry’s insistence that inevitably he was just looking forward, at Christmas time, to the past. He’s waiting for that match on Boxing Day lunchtime (Newcastle v Carlisle) to kick off when normality would return…"

The “perfect” Christmas doesn’t exist – so why are women still expected to provide it?
"I couldn’t help but notice a particular supermarket advert last week – I’m guessing this brand’s Christmas card from fourth-wave feminism got lost in the post. Mum cheerfully picks up the mince pies from the bakery, while gleeful Grandma is dispatched to the vegetable aisle. Later, around a packed family table, cheerful Mum’s still on her feet, carrying in the glazed turkey. And Dad? Well, he’s sat at the head of the table. Passively surveying the feast."

Ten Nightmares Before (And During And After) Christmas:
"Strap yourself in for a rundown of ten Christmas movies you definitely shouldn't be circling in the double Radio Times..."

Amazon users have flooded Donald Trump’s $149 “Make America Great Again” Christmas ornament with bad reviews:
"Despite the bargain price tag and the fact it’s made of brass (and finished in 14 karat gold), it has been getting mostly one-star reviews."

Norman, The Man Who Said That Pesto Is Exotic, Is Back In The “Bake Off” Christmas Special:
"In completely EXCEPTIONAL baking news, it has been announced that Norman, NORMAN, is returning to Bake Off for the Christmas special this year."

All aboard! Christmas trains keep holiday spirit on track:
"Forget sleighs. The ultimate Christmas ride requires a train, with tourist railways across the country adding more specially themed holiday excursions every year. “There’s just a psychological bond between trains and Christmas,” says Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains Magazine, who believes the connection comes from nostalgia for holiday train trips to see family and toy railroads circling a decorated tree. He shares some favorite excursions with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY. Be sure and check ahead before visiting, as many trains sell out."

Live the life of Ralphie with a Christmas stay in the house used in 'A Christmas Story':

"Watching “A Christmas Story” is part of the holiday tradition for many, a visit to the Cleveland house used in the filming of the movie takes it step further but how would you like the opportunity to go all out and go full Ralphie this Christmas Eve? It’s an experience that could be yours for a price."

10 Awesome Christmas Ornaments for U.S. History Buffs:

"What a wonderful variety of ornaments we can get to decorate our Christmas trees! Here is an array of ornaments perfect for any U.S. history buff, whether that someone is yourself or a loved one."

Christmas Links #3

Will Liverpool get a white Christmas? Odds fall as forecasts predict cold snap:
"Winter has definitely arrived, with Liverpool enduring some of the coldest days of 2016 so far over the last few days."

'It shocks people that I refuse to lie': what parents tell their children about Santa:
"Christmas is just around the corner, and with it comes excitement about the arrival of Santa. But academics Christopher Boyle from the UK and Kathy McKay from Australia warned against going too far when it comes to the Father Christmas myth. They said the Santa story can lead children to distrust their parents."

St Andrews Church Corbridge Christmas Tree Festival:
"Including organ recital - Friday 12:30 to 1:30pm"

Christmas at the Medieval Court:
"Though Christmas was very different in the Middle Ages, many of the pastimes and activities that we associate with it would have been familiar to medieval people. Feasting, playing games, singing, drinking around a fire, decorating the house with evergreens, and giving gifts, are just some of the traditions enjoyed in the medieval festive season."

Domino's just gave up on its reindeer pizza delivery plans for Christmas in Japan:
"Those reindeer turned out to be a lot harder to train than Domino's had anticipated. The American pizza company announced on Thursday it was abandoning its plans to use reindeer to deliver pizzas in Japan for Christmas."

BBC Christmas 2016 - Trailer:
"BBC Television invites viewers to celebrate Christmas 2016 in all its glory across BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four, with a bountiful array of festive delights from the nation’s favourite shows, alongside all-star names in brand new content especially for the Christmas season including ..."

BBC VT Xmas 1996 - Digital Wonderland:
"And now on to the headline feature! John Birt fans look away now as he gets ripped a new arsehole! Featuring a decent Mission: Impossible and Scooby Doo pastiches amongst its parodies in this multichannel parody of Sky." (thanks Darren)

President Obama sings 'Jingle Bells':

"Obama sang the Christmas carol at the White House tree lighting ceremony."

Supermarket solves 'mince pie gap' problem:
"Supermarket chefs have solved a culinary conundrum which has baffled Christmas cooks for generations … how to remove the ‘air gap’ from a mince pie. The pie’s lid usually rises in the oven, creating a space between the fruity mixture and pastry, which can cause the pie to sink when it’s bitten in to and leave customers deflated. But now Asda’s Innovation Chef Mark Richmond and his team have come up with a solution – and taste-tested more than 750 pies in the process – to close the gap in time for Christmas."

Make your holidays less human with the new Daft Punk ornaments:
"If your Christmases have been missing that slick electronic sheen and awesome talkbox/vocoder tricks of a particularly bangin’ Daft Punk track, then your extremely specific wish may have just been granted thanks to a new batch of holiday-themed Daft Punk merchandise. The band has sold Christmas ornaments in the past, but now they have a new set of miniature helmets that should class up even the crummiest of Christmas trees."

Christmas Links #2

Tinsel and Twitter: New Zealand's secret Santa matches social media strangers:
"The game was launched in 2010 by Hamilton man Sam Elton-Walters, who matched strangers on Twitter to send secret Santa gifts to each other in time for Christmas. Participants would drop hints of their interests and hobbies via tweets – or, more directly, write lists of gifts they would like to receive."

Netflix ‘Sense8’ Confirms Christmas Special Premiere Date:
"It seems so long ago that Sense8 offered any update on Season 2, or at least the Christmas special rumored to tide over fans until 2017. Now, Netflix has stealthily confirmed that new Sense8 content will arrive in late December, just in time for the holidays!"

25 Christmas-Not-Christmas movies for December:
"Everyone loves Christmas movies. Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly enough people to justify dedicating an entire channel to them and endlessly looping a few over and over around the holidays. This year though, maybe you'll want to watch something different, something illuminating a different side of the holiday. Not all of the 25 movies below are strictly Christmas Movies, but all of them have something very specific to say about Christmas."

BBC to broadcast behind-the-scenes Nutcracker documentary on Christmas Day 2016:
"BBC Two will broadcast a special 90-minute documentary following the process of staging The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker on Christmas Day 2016 at 4pm."

Christmas isn’t being banned. But we should play along with those who think it is:
"Why aren’t we allowed to talk about Christmas any more? For that’s the question we’re all asking ourselves, surely, in between ordering the turkey and hanging the Advent calendar."

35 great alternative Christmas songs:
"Bored of ‘Jingle Bells’ and the same god awful Christmas songs every time you walk into a shop or turn on the radio? Find salvation with our pick of 30 Yuletide tracks to sooth ears. First up, it’s Cee-Lo Green and The Muppets."

Beaver walks into Md. store, finds only artificial Christmas trees, and proceeds to trash it:
"In St. Mary’s County, Md., at least one badly behaved beaver is ready for holiday shopping."

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree Elegantly:
"Anyone can throw some lights on a tree, but a beautifully decorated Christmas tree can light up the holiday spirit of everyone who sees it. Make sure your tree looks exquisite and classic by decorating with elegance. You'll need some planning time and a budget for ornaments, and then arrange all the decorations in order."

Five Plot Point Breakdowns: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
"1. INCITING INCIDENT -- In the little town of Whoville, the Whos joyously prepare for Christmas. The Grinch (Boris Karloff), who lives in a snowy mountain cave above Whoville, hates Christmas and wishes there was something he could do to make it stop. (00:03:33)"

Millard woman catches Christmas light thief on camera:
"A real-life Grinch is stealing holiday cheer from a woman's front yard, Millard resident Nicole Albers said."

Christmas Links #1

Transport For London's festive guide:
"If you're travelling in London around Christmas and New Year 2016, service changes, planned works and events may affect your journey. This page provides you with travel advice during the festive period."

Ignore the foodie scrooges: I love ​a​ ​high-street ​​eggnog latte​:
"I love Christmas drinks. I’m not talking about swirling aged brandy around a big, old glass or having a champagne tipple on Christmas Day; I’m talking about the Starbucks red cups, the Costa range in their Christmassy cosies and the heavenly, lethally sickly McDonald’s spiced-cookie latte."

Hipster Nativity Set:
"It’s crazy to think that the Wisemen followed a star in the sky to find Jesus, rather than using Google Maps, but who are we to judge? These Wisemen arrive to the birth of Jesus in style, rocking their favorite hipster outfits, and tricked out segways." [via]

Grinch Christmas Cookie Recipe:
"It’s cookie season and this year delight your kids by serving Grinch Christmas Cookies with this ultra fun and adorable “3 sizes too small” green heart cookies. Easily made, this cookie brings the season alive with one of my very favorite icons, The Grinch! Even better, this cookie recipe that includes boxed cake mix and cream cheese, means for a delightfully delicious cookie that is excellent with a glass of milk or just on its own. The thing about some Christmas Cookies that you see out there is that the decorating itself can be hard and time-consuming. These are absolutely not. Just with a little food dye and a little heart to represent the Grinch and you are on your way!"

An Impassioned Defense of Extremely Bad Christmas Movies:
"Listen: The world is a desperately sad and dispiriting place at this particular moment, and we all need to make time for self-care. This year, three beers and and the new Frank Ocean simply will not do. You need more. You need the highest-possible dosage of cheese. You need the Christmas-themed TV movies you can only find way the hell up on your cable dial, between the home shopping channels and the religious stations."

Christmas pudding pricier after Brexit hits pound:
"Britons are facing a jump in prices for traditional pudding ingredients as the Brexit vote has sharply weakened the pound. However, the cost of Christmas dinners is almost unchanged from a year ago despite a rise in pork and vegetables."

This epic Christmas display won’t light up this year due to neighbour feud:
"A Minnesota family’s popular holiday display won’t be turning on the lights this year, because one neighbor didn’t like it."

6-Year-Old Sells Artwork to Buy Christmas Gifts for Kids in Need:
"Thanks to the kindness of one 6-year-old, almost 400 kids in need will be receiving Christmas gifts this year. Jedd Winebarger of Castlewood, Virginia, has raked in hundreds of dollars by selling his artwork and using the profits to buy presents. “I love to help children and see them happy like me,” Jedd said."

Hiking group plans to place new Christmas tree atop Camelback Mountain:
"Shortly after hikers and city officials solved the mystery of why a 15-foot Christmas tree was removed from the summit of Camelback Mountain less than 24 hours after it was placed there, the leader of the group responsible for the tree says they will put another tree on the mountain and believe they will be allowed to keep it there."

We review the weirdest Christmas crisps:

"This year the supermarkets have gone a bit crazy with their crisps. Rather than the usual festive bit of snow on the packets, Tesco, M&S Kettle's and Tyrell's have gone ten steps further and created some flavours you would not expect to see in a crisp. Or, in one case, popcorn."

The Christmas Moment.

Christmas Most years at around this time I have a Christmas moment, a dislocated feeling, a bit warm but always with deep recognition, that Christmas is coming. It's either a snatch of music or seeing a decoration in the street or hearing two people talking about a present they're going to buy or a festive film on television (here's what happened in 2012). Sometimes it's simply a commercial which on the one hand leads to a sense of betrayal because the Christmas moment has been manufactured, but now and then it's just what I've needed. See if you can spot the moment during this Wes Anderson directed H&M advert when the Christmas moment happened:

On one level this feels like one of those YouTube "What if?" parodies (What if Wes Anderson Directed X-Men? etc). What if Wes Anderson directed a Christmas advert for a clothes company? But at this point Anderson seems entirely cognisant of his stylistic tropes to the point that he takes advantage of the viewer's understanding of them to intensify the effect, especially the camera pan which replaces a shot/reverse shot. But it works otherwise. I've shown this to someone who has never seen a Wes Anderson film before and she was enchanted.

If only this film existed.

About Having decided to rest the My Favourite Film posts for December, there was a gap where the logobar for this blog should go. After deliberating on a few film related choices, and don't think I didn't momentarily think about trolling you all with a shot from Love Actually, Hugh and Martine waving, I settled on this instead.

It's a shot of the nativity scene that was in my bedroom two years ago.  Here is the whole of the image:

Probably a few things to unpack here.  The embroidered "happiness" symbol was a present from Mum about fifteen years ago.  Yes, that is a Motion Picture Spock.  The three wise men, Mary, Joseph and lone Shepherd Mum and I made together when I was still at infants school which I've used every year since.  An old hand painted Christmas card.  A snowy scene featuring the Cantina Bar from Star Wars and just off to the edge the wing of an angel designed by Quentin Blake which was printed in The Guardian's G2 supplement.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did.

TV Last night in an idle moment, I straw polled social media: "How many of you have watched the Doctor Who spin-off Class? It seems to have generated almost zero buzz." The answers were pretty much as expected. No one is watching it. It's not something that really interested them and because they've not heard amazing things about it have stuck to that decision.  Some of these people are long term Doctor Who fans who you'd think would watch anything televised set in the Whoniverse and yet, even though this thing is free and available on demand they simply can't be bothered.

No one is talking about it.  Granted my Twitter feed is currently top heavy with people fearing the upcoming apocalypse emanated from across the Atlantic or how there isn't a satisfactory political  opposition in the UK for various reasons. But despite me also following loads of Who fans etc about the only person who bothers to tweet about Class is Patrick Ness himself, excitedly dropping trivia about the making of an episode but despite having 47.5k followers his tweets rarely receive replies and often from people who've either never seen the thing or want to offer some disparaging remarks.

It'd be useless trying to explain why that is beyond the show itself not being good enough for people to want to recommend it and create some word of mouth.  It's rarely in the top ten on iPlayer and official figures haven't been released yet.  Perhaps this will change with a tv broadcast, we are in uncharted waters in terms of how the show's being released, albeit for a public broadcaster (Netflix and Amazon have weekly shows too).  But this has the stench of failure that really shouldn't be the case with something that has the Who brand.  People even watched Torchwood's Miracle Day.

The commentary I've managed to ferret out for The Metaphysical Engine is that it's the best of the series mostly because the annoying kids aren't in it and isn't that problem when they're supposed to be the focus of the series?  Well, yes it is.  I don't necessarily agree, the kids can be quite entertaining when they're not being quite so horrible to each other and crack a few jokes, but it's fair to say Quill has been the saving grace of the series thanks to Katherine Kelly's acidic delivery and Chaplineque body language.

If the episode works at all, it's because Ness effectively decides to write one of those questing Doctor Who stories with numerous locales ala The Keys of Marinus, The Key To Time or Seasons of Fear, with its own Time Lord figure in Headmistress Dorothea flying a dimensionally transcendental travelling machine through the kinds of metaphysical realities which used to be found in Eighth Doctor novels instead of the usual alien worlds.   Such stories have the added element of mystery or what this new locale is and what they'll find there.

Pitching up in other people's belief systems and afterlife is novel and the execution, especially of the Arn, atmospheric, helped immeasurably by Wayne Yip's cinematic direction taking advantage of the landscape (Yip's previous work includes Misfits which suggests why he might have got this gig).  He also really knows how to seek out and take advantage of the micro expressions in Kelly's face, the side eye, the upwards motions of the side of her mouth, her seemingly telekinetic ability to control her hair.  Every close up is compelling, especially when she's at rest.

Plus the idea of telling a side story which explains where a character who was otherwise absent in the previous episode is pretty novel even if it decided to simply re-use material from last week rather than reshoot those scenes from completely Quill's POV.  The old BBC Books novel The Face of the Enemy offered a similar idea, with the Master filling in while the Third Doctor and Jo were off experiencing The Curse of Peladon.  That also featured Ian and Barbara and Osgood's Dad.  If only Class embraced the Who mythology with that kind of abandon.

So why did I literally nod off in places other than not being able to drink caffeine for medical reasons and my anti-depressants making me drowsy at inopportune moments?  Bluntly, it's because there's not a lot to care about.  I didn't empathise at all with Quill's quest; hers and Charlie's backstory is c-grade generic Star Trek material at best lacking the necessary foothold in human reality (RTD's Zog problem writ large) and, I suspect, due to the slender running time of the series we simply haven't had time to really get to know her character to the point of wanting her to succeed.

The long conversations about the nature of being a warrior are fine, and well played, but in identification terms they're a step too far for most of us, I suspect.  The stakes are counter intuitive.  We're being asked to cheer on someone attempting to return to her default setting of killing machine which is subconsciously a bit of a no-no.  At least when Spike had his chip removed in Buffy, having already marked himself out as a beloved character, we pretty much went with him, right up to the point where he gained his soul.

It's just all so blah.  Not awful, pretty watchable.  It's competently written, so there's nothing to get angry about as I did through Torchwood.  I can barely build up the anger to shout about Quill being subjected to a cross between a mystical pregnancy and "bun in the oven" syndrome which is pretty objectionable not least because there's a whole raft of questions about how intercourse works between two unrelated species pretending to be human and what the results of that might be.  If the viewer's left asking such obstetrical questions at the end of an episode like that, something isn't right.

Soup Safari #74: French Onion at The Railway.

Dinner. £12 (including main course of Steak and chips). The Railway, 18 Tithebarn St, Liverpool L2 2DT, Phone: 0151 236 9799. Website.

Oh Edward.

Life Just been confronted with some bad news whilst looking through The Guardian's archive. The man who I reported to whilst working on the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association project, one of my key mentors, one time Fine Art curator at the Walker Art Gallery, Edward Morris, died in September. He was seventy-five.

People who've read this blog for some time will know him at the author of the book Public Art Collections in North West England, which I used as guide for all of those trips to regional art galleries which I wrote about here. Quite often I'd refer to him and quote him in those reviews, as though he was on those visits with me, which he always was in textual form.

His obituary is inevitably filled with details I never knew including that the awe inspiring sculpture gallery in the Walker, was curated by him and part of his legacy.  That display was one of the reasons I became interested in art at school and ultimately led to me applying for voluntary work at the gallery.

Of all the people I've met over the years, I can't imagine who I'd be if hadn't known him.

West Ruislip.

Travel Here's some really excellent reporting from The Londonist about one of the capital's "parliamentary" train services:
"There's a 'ghost train' service running in and out of London Paddington. It is rarely advertised and attracts few riders. It runs to and from West Ruislip, once a day, on weekdays only.

"This 'parliamentary' train is a little-known service kept open only to stop the lengthy process of shutting the line down completely due to lack of use. This means that if you ever have a need to get between Paddington and Ruislip at somepoint mid-morning, there is a train service that just might be suited to you."
I'm sure there must be someone who "collects" these things. And gets annoyed when the route is changed and they have to go back again.

My Favourite Film of 1919.

Film In a (sight) change to the usual format, I'm simply going to post my favourite film of 1919. It's the first screen appearance of the unsung animated hero, Felix the Cat. It's called Feline Follies and despite the primitive animation is utterly charming:

Felix would have a relatively long screen history, but unlike Bugs or Mickey, not tied to a single studio as his thorough wikipedia biography explains.  Although a cartoon series appeared as late as the mid-90s, the version I was most recently aware of was in the Nintendo Entertainment System game at which someone has become expert enough to record a play through in under an hour:

Sadly it's a Super Mario knock-off which follows the damsel in distress trope.  Hopefully someone will give the character some greater dignity soon.

BBC Children in Need 2016: Fantastic Beasts Special.

TV Having assumed that Doctor Who's participation in Children in Need was going to just be the clip of the Christmas special and not wanting to see anything of the Christmas special before broadcast, I entirely overlooked Capaldi's participation in the above skit which is bit like the old Record Breakers specials.


TV "A mixed reaction so far then." The parish circular's letters page this month is almost completely filled with reader commentary on Class, mainly the first three episodes and it's fair to say that as often the case with the mains series, the first impressions run from very positive to utter despair. The general consensus is that it isn't as good as either SJA, Torchwood or its obvious source Buffy The Vampire Slayer, barely feels like it's set in the Doctor Who universe, runs a bit rote and generic, all criticisms which even appear to an extent in one of the positive reviews, albeit to give the writer something to defend against.  It's notable that DWM itself isn't carrying reviews of individual episodes, although that was also true of the other spin-offs which in some cases even waited until a shiny disc release.  Perhaps they've decided to wait until the television broadcast.

Here we are at episode six so it's about time to grab the confession stone and say how I'm really feeling about the show.  Despite being relatively positive about the first three episodes, the subsequent two parter simply didn't work for me and numerous problems are piling up in the negative column.  Apart from Tanya and Quill, I simply don't like any of the characters enough to make the emotional connection of wanting to see what happens next with them.  Also, what's the point of setting the thing in the Doctor Who universe if you're not going to make a virtue of its rich heritage?  For a show call Class, only two and a half episodes have been about the school with its panoply of story opportunities.  None of the actual plots have been that interesting and almost all of them feel like a rehash of something else without  the necessary clever spin.

There's nothing especially wrong with doing a detention episode; most teen shows set in high schools get around to it eventually.  As here, they tend to be a way of knocking out a cheap installment because it's all set in a single place be it a library or classroom, and in putting all of your characters in a room and forcing them to talk, you can effect change in the relationships going forward.  One of the best episodes of Dawson's Creek was their detention episode, Detention, a loving homage of The Breakfast Club (as these things usually are) in which all of the emotions which had been bubbling under rose to the surface.  My So-Called Life also managed to sneak one into its slender episode count and even though that has Rayanne inadvertently handcuffed to the wrong bed instead, the results were the same as the friends rally together.

The set up is relatively ingenious, with the aforementioned sentient mineral forcing everyone to go a bit Edge of Destruction oscillating between blind panic and wanting to murder each other in between confessing their darkest thoughts.  In most shows, a longer lead time manufactures incident which leads to such thoughts amongst the regular characters which will inevitably spill out due to being stuck in a confined space together all day.  Here the stone force them to confess their secrets in a much shorter time with a modicum of plausibility.  Transferring them all to another dimension without an exit creates an extra level of claustrophobia, just like a prison, of being stuck in a place for an eternity with people you can only barely stand the sight of.  Or travelling to London and back on by train as is the case with me once a month at the moment.

But as anyone who's watched large section of the Davison era without the dvd commentary turned on will know, watching people who say they're friends but really aren't bicker incessantly isn't especially entertaining, especially if they're not particularly witty by design.  However much you can withstand Detained presumably depends on how much you're invested in the characters and since as we've discussed Tanya's about my limit, I could really care less about the emotional lives of the others especially since the confessions they make aren't particularly revolutionary or unexpected.  The writer is so desperate to see his characters in conflict, he daren't have April and Ram confess actual love for each other and give us a warm tickle and a reason to root for them.  In his universe, everything has to be hard.

Plus as we've discussed, because the audience is having to constantly fill in the blanks in some of these friendships the emotions wrought here don't ever quite hit as hard as they should.  When Tanya describes how she feels about herself in relation to the older teens, we haven't seen this lot working as a group for long enough across these episodes to see the dynamics of that unfold.  They only realised they were friends at the end of #1, they're barely together in #2 and the structures of #3, #4 and #5 keep all of them relatively isolated.  We haven't even had a simple scene of all of them hanging in a coffee shop or in the school canteen.  In rushing to hit these emotional beats, the writer hasn't done the necessary narrative spade work, so interested is he in making Quill the most autonomous and interesting figure in a show which should be about the kids.

Which leads us to next week which looks to be mainly a spectacular Quill showcase which will explain (a) why she locked them in detention and (b) where the budget of this episode went much as Midnight then Turn Left did back in the day.  We've returned to what looks like double banking, folks.  Again, it seems like another episode not utilising the school rendering the notion of setting it in Coal Hill entirely superfluous.  See above.  Hopefully it'll be anomalously amazing even if it has nothing much to do with what we expected this series to be about given the Doctor's own mission statement right up front.  Will we finally meet the Senior Partners School Governors and will they turn out to be some classic Doctor Who monster in an attempt to steer the ship back into port?  My money's on the Monoids.

Soup Safari #74: Potato and Leek at Tate Britain.

Lunch. £6.65. Djanogly Café at Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG. Phone: 020 7887 8825. Website.

The Mother of All.

Politics At just the moment when it feels like politically the world is going to crap and I'm going to be spending my forties wondering exactly what went wrong, I decided to kick against the doors of democracy, metaphorically rather than actually and visit the Houses of Parliament. The initial plan for yesterday was to walk first through Tate Britain's hard chronological display of British art then have a wander around the local area.  But after eating dinner at the Pizza Express in Millbank and realising what time it was, this quickly transmuted into dashing up to Parliament so I could stand outside Westminster Clock at six o'clock and listen live to Big Ben and his bongs, which I've heard over the radio so many times after PM on Radio 4.

By the time I'd reached Parliament this had turned into a question "I wonder if you can visit the public gallery in the Commons?" which after speaking to a policeman on the gate and then a steward who handed me a giant laminated green ticket found an answer in the positive.  While the chamber is in session it's entirely possible to simply ask for entry and assuming they believe you to be of good character, carrying no knives or pepper spray, visit our key place of government and watch proceedings live.  So after standing on the street and listening to the epic spectacle of the massive clock singing, which was just as a breathtaking as I'd always suspected, I joined the short queue snaking downwards to the reception were the security checks are carried out.

After my belongings had passed through the x-ray machine and I'd stepped through the metal detector, I took the short pathway up to the larger building and not predicting the geography stepped straight into Westminster Hall.  You know the slight moment of disorientation you feel whenever you unexpectedly see a famous person in a context other than on a screen or in a photography or both?  My gasp was loud enough to echo around its walls.  "Westminster Hall!" I said out loud, arms outstretched.  "Westminster Hall!"  A steward approached and asked if I needed any help.  I told her I was visiting the public gallery of the Commons and she gave me a green slip on which I would declare my intention to disrupt proceeding and directed me towards the large steps at the far end.

Anyone who's seen the innumerable documentaries filmed in this space and The Complete Walk's  version of Richard II will know just how vast this space is, and unlike religious architecture, almost unbroken by furniture with the potential to diminish the spectacle.  Even having seen the former at state events, it's impossible to imagine its stone walls ever being full.  There were perhaps at least a hundred people in there last night milling around, waiting for various events and yet this looked like a small gathering.  As the Parliament website explains, the hall has been rebuilt and restored numerously since opening in 1097 and the result is frankly awesome and impossible to describe as this paragraph has demonstrated.

The walk to those stairs towards the chamber appeared to take little time.  Unfortunately, only as I reached the bottom step did I realise I needed to visit the toilet and found myself asking the two policemen with large rifles (only the second time I think I've seen guns in real life) where the bathroom was.  At the other end of the hall near the gift shop which meant I'd be making that walk a couple more times.  On the upside it also meant I visited the gift shop and bought a jar of jam and a Christmas present.  It's worth pointing out that this shambling about always happens when I visit tourist spots.  Usually when I reach a Tate or V&A it's at least half an hour before I even look at a painting.

Back across the hall, up the stairs and some more stairs and yet more stairs, more security checks and eventually I'm standing in the public gallery at the House of Commons.  The seating is slightly disorientating.  The front couple of rows aren't accessible from the back but it takes a little bit of mental somersaulting to notice and so you're stuck searching around the seating area trying to find a way through.  Eventually I took a seat at one corner with an angle across the all too familiar commons chamber, which is protected by large sheets of what looks like bullet proof glass that also has a noise cancelling effect.  Fortunately audio from the space is piped through speakers on the back of the benches, near invisible behind brass grills which seem otherwise decorative.

There are screens fixed to the wall above the public gallery relaying the feed which also is also broadcast on BBC Parliament, mainly concentrating on whoever's speaking.  The chamber was pretty empty, the bill under discussion is Technical and Further Education Bill proposed by Justine Greening, the The Secretary of State for Education.  When I arrived, David Rutley, Tory representative for Macclesfield was speaking although I was too busy simply enjoying being in the space and watching the routine of the chamber to listen.  As you enter, you're handed a card which explains some of the traditions on one side and the geography of the space on the other, although we're sat too far back to see anything but about a quarter of the space, certainly not the bar of the house.

Architecturally the public gallery is the same as the chamber.  For some reason, I'd expected wooden benches ala many courtrooms, but the seating is just the same as in the chamber, which gives the space a sense of unity.  Worth noting that the chairs aren't especially comfortable and like you often see with MPs who're there for a long session, I found myself sitting diagonally with my arm across the back.  Which isn't to say there isn't plenty of legroom, but not enough to cross your legs and it's  impossible to sit backwards which is philosophically important, I suppose.  Would we want our MPs to forced to sit to attention or have the facility to recline.  Not that the MPs did seem to be paying much attention anyway.  Many of them were sat looking at their iProduct screens.

But don't ask me what this Bill was about other than something, something education.  There was some "Order! Order!" when one of my favourite MPs, Lucy Powell, heckled her way into Hansard:
David Rutley

Progress in technical and further education and in apprenticeships is vital for the life chances of those seeking first-time employment. I therefore strongly support the Bill. I support it because it seeks to open clear, defined, aspirational paths to success, and it has the potential to help create much-needed parity of esteem between academic education and technical education, as has been talked about during the debate. That is ​further evidence that we on the Government Benches are the real workers party and that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is at the vanguard of that movement.

Lucy Powell

There is nobody behind him, though!

David Rutley

Let us move on—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)

Order. We cannot have sedentary remarks and remarks from behind the Chair. That is simply impossible.

David Rutley

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Lucy Powell 
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to put it on the record that it was I who was speaking from a sedentary position. The Minister is indeed at the vanguard, but the only other discernible member of the Government is the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is standing behind the Speaker’s Chair.
If only all of life had a Hansard and everything you say one day could be accessible on the internet the next. You'd never need to remember anything.  Although wasn't there a Black Mirror once about just this?  Ok forget it.

Once you've sat down, there isn't an awful lot to see that's new if you've spent much time watching BBC Parliament.  People shuffle in and out of the space constantly, both in the chamber itself and the public galleries, guided tours and groups of college students on what must be Politics courses.  Most don't stay very long and neither did I, about ten or fifteen minutes.  But there's something about being in a space, smelling the air, creating a memory.  I can't deny despite my slightly frosty attitude to the main parties that I wasn't a bit starstruck on seeing Greening herself, Powell and Tristram Hunt in the chamber, not to mention Robert Halfron who was so impressive in Michael Cockerell's BBC documentary, Inside the Commons.

The House of Lords wasn't in session last night so I didn't get the chance to also see the snoozers.  After leaving the Chamber I wasn't sure where else was open and quickly discovered not much after I attempted to walk towards a door only to quickly be chased after by a security guard who directed by back up towards Westminster Hall just in time to hear the seven o'clock chimes from inside the building, which didn't vibrate in the way I'd expected it to.  Nevertheless, whenever I watch those feeds now, I'll have an idea of how it feels, rather than having to imagine it.  The closest I thought I'd ever get was visiting the set used for television's First Among Equals and other projects at the old Granada Studios Tour in Manchester, yet there I was in the real thing last night.

My Favourite Film of 1920.

Film  My first experience of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was at the Liverpool Biennial 2006 when I was working as an invigilator at Afoundation in Greenland Street building, in the furnace section of what’s now Camp and Furnace, or the big room with the long tables and caravans.

Goshka Macuga’s Sleep of Ulro installation included a giant wooden architectural construct directly influenced by the sets in the film, particularly in the studio bound moments when Caligari is apparently being chased across the landscape.

At The Furnace, visitors could run up such a space then find themselves trapped in a dead end, much like the structures on screen.  The piece required many invigilators, because of safety concerns, although it was almost impossible to keep our eyes on everything.

Culture 24 has a much longer review with images here and there's a shot from above at Getty Images which provides an even better idea of the scale of the piece about how it mimics the architecture within the film.  There's even more at /seconds.

Brave-ish Heart.

TV One of the problems with antidepressants, at least the anti-depressants which I've been prescribed is that they leave you with a generally pleasant feeling all of the time. In a week when the emotional reaction should be sadness and anger, my mouth has continued to be slightly pointing up at edges, each new twist of the metaphoric political knife making an impact on the factual storage areas of my brain rather than the emotional centres.  As the election results inevitably revealed themselves on Tuesday night (inevitable because its 2016), I was generally just numb and in subsequent days, I've found myself laughing at barefaced cheek of the everything.  I want to roar like Katy Perry but instead, I'm rolling my eyes, shaking my head and moving on to the next thing.

Another side effect, not including the grogginess, intermittent nausea, headaches and diarrhea is that it's short circuited my reaction to film and television.  Dramas which are supposed to be sad or scary barely register as such because I simply can't cry, which is a strange given that before this, tears were my favourite release.  The nearest I've come to wet face was watching Spock die in The Wrath of Khan the other week, but there's a good chance I was simply pretending or at least, feeling sad for not feeling sad enough.  You could argue this is a small price to pay for not enduring the horrors of an anxiety which have gripped me for nearly a year, only just about able to commit to being human some days, but I gave up drinking so I could be sure of my own sense of self and now this.

As a result, I'm second guessing my reaction to Class or at least this two parter.  On the one hand I'm enjoying it while it flickers away in front of me, but not to the level of caring much about the characters or becoming engrossed in the storyline.  Everything looks spectacular and shiny but some of the scenes seem to proceed far further than is required in enunciating the action, speechifying to a level of redundancy and a general sense, as with the first half, that the writer had an idea of what was supposed to happen in the episode but couldn't quite manage to calculate how to construct it within the constraints of budget and time and having to service his range of characters.  In other words, why aren't I enjoying this more?

The blossom story hits against the usual shared universe problem of having us wonder why, if this is threatening the planet, neither UNIT or Torchwood or indeed the Doctor aren't on top of it.  At a certain point I wondered if Ness was going to confront this head on and have them indeed dissipate without the kid's participation as a way of reflecting what it must be like to be in that world, with global terrors coming and going.  But on reflection that would have been undramatic within the sphere of a show which is trying for the most part to remain self contained.  It's never a threat which quite has time to establish itself though, the half-hearted body horror never really expressing how it must be affecting the wider population.

April and Ram's trip the Shadow Kin's homeworld coalesced better, partly because of the inherent retreat to a more Whovian structure of a Doctor-figure talking a companion through the world on which they've landed.  Some of the humour felt more belaboured than usual - it's inconceivable that April wouldn't know what Lord of the Rings is, even if (and I can't believe I'm saying this) it was released around the time she was born.  When they reached the Shadow King's lair, it wasn't quite clear how the battle was to be structured and there was much standing around waiting to fight, swords aloft almost as though the characters were waiting for the parallel storyline to catch up with them before heading off into the fray.

Nevertheless you can't criticise the ambition.  As with previous episodes, and as I said last week, it's packing a lot in, like an old WB show's narrative in warp speed.  On top of this the Prince's moral decision about the fate of his own kind and the interloper from Wolf Ram & Hart the "board of governors" and Quill's potential chance to remove her Behavior-Modification Circuitry whatever it inside her head which makes her enslaved to Charlie.  It's a brave choice to retreat to the sensibilities of early First Doctor and be faced with alien characters who don't especially feel like they have a duty to keep mankind safe, such things only really being a result of wanting to remain healthy themselves or protecting their immediate loved ones.

A couple elements of the writing left me a bit squinky.  Despite what I said last week about the show not having a typical white cis male character, it is disappointing this week to have the trope of a gay character threatened even if it doesn't lead to the nauseating prevalent cliche of having them die in the regendered equivalent of fridging.  Then there's having April, for all her talk of having her own strength, albeit augmented through alien intervention eventually being talked into deciding not to kill the Shadow King by her abusive father apparently having to remind her of how she only became that way due to how he treated her and her mother.  The potentially more exciting approach would have been for her to ignore his advice and kill the King anyway.  But having set up the tone of the show and the characters, Ness has to write himself out of a cover in a less than satisfactory manner.

Glancing across other reviews indicates that the general sense is that was sub-par in comparison to previous episodes, so it's quite reassuring that this isn't just the drugs talking and that I haven't missed some vital connection.  The performances remain superb overall, especially Sophie Hopkins, who lends April a real sense of awe, her eyes positively agog at what's happening to her, the power coursing through her.  Ditto Katherine Kelly, who finally revealed the anger and grief burning in Quill's soul.  But perhaps in trying to break out of the more modest ambitions of previous installments and creating something epic, the show loses some of the intimacy which could make it distinctive.  A show called Class should be spending more time at school.