Seven Ages of the BBC.

TV The choice of YouTube thumbnail should not go unnoticed. Metacrisis human Tenth Doctor and Rose forever etc.

Right then, Carol Danvers.

Film While I was eating hoops on toast and watching North West Tonight, entirely unaware that MARVEL was having press conference, MARVEL had a press conference in which they announced what was going to be released at the cinema in the years leading up to my mid-forties. The line-up pretty much speaks for itself and confirms what I thought back when Guardians was a hit. That we're now in a place where MARVEL's three releases for 2017 are a Guardian's sequel, Black Panther and a Thor film and they're entirely confident that all three.

When DC published their list, which must surely have been one of the things which prompted MARVEL to make their plans clearer, the reaction at least from what I saw was fairly muted to vaguely bored.  To an extent they're taking the greater risk, Man of Steel made a shed load, but it isn't universally liked (I hated it and I love Superman) and assuming people will turn out for a raft of films set in that version of the DCU seemed a tad arrogant.  It all depends how well the first JLA film in 2016 does.  Yes, in 2016.  MARVEL has two whole films out before then.

What people did seem interested in was how MARVEL would react.  Now we know and it's very, very exciting even if I'm going to be forty-five by the time the second half of the third Avengers film is released.  The order is interesting though.  Considering it's supposed to be their screen substitute for not having the X-Men, Inhumans seems late in 2018.  Unless it's a placeholder in case something happens with the mutant rights.  There's also the question of what happens at Sony with Spiderman or indeed FOX with the Fantastic Four.  They seem to think they'll have two films at least out for them.  Bless.

The lack of Black Widow is disappointing, but it's also worth noting the lack of Hulk or Hawkeye.  There has to be some narrative reason for this.  Hopefully, she's not going to be Jossed in Avengers 2, she'll survive and thread through the other films on the slate.  It'd be fitting if she turns up in Thor for example, having turned up in the other two Avengers related trilogies, but there's nothing to say she won't cameo in the Netflix series, especially Daredevil or on SHIELD (which probably needs the lift).  All depends on Scarlett Johansson's availability and fees.

The placement of the Captain Marvel film is evocative.  If the third Avengers film, with that title, ends on a cliffhanger, how will Captain Marvel fit into the scheme of it?  Speaking of which who'll play her?  Established actress or newcomer?  Not having read anything Carol Danvers since her echo was inside Rogue's head, I haven't the first clue who would fit.  A quick search on the Twitters suggests Yvonne Strahovski or Alice Eve or Gwendoline Christie.  Margot Robbie?  Rosamund Pike?  Pity Romola Garai's going to be busy with Doctor Who.

Phase Four?  What'll I be watching into my fifties?  Guardians 3 presumably.  A sequel to at least one of these films.  After Infinity Wars, Avengers could be retired in favour of something else.  I'd assumed a Civil War trilogy, but that's not happening now.  Secret Wars trilogy.  First film scoops everyone up and plonks them on Beyonder's world.  Second film has Beyonder come to Earth.  Good god, I'm going to be in my mid-fifties by then.  Crumbs.  This is like watching the Pertwee era and knowing there'll be another three or four Doctors coming soon.

Soup Safari #4:
Sweet Potato at
The Garden by LEAF.

At lunchtime. £3.95. The Garden by LEAF, FACT, 88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ. Tel: 0151 707 4444.

State of Play.

TV Another rerun from Off The Telly, a review of the first episode of Paul Abbot's State of Play, in tribute to the concluding parts of The Code which went out on BBC Four on Saturday for which this surely provided something of a model. Both are about journalists fighting against corruption in their governments, investigating conspiracies and seeking truth to power.  I should get a job in marketing.  After a slightly flabby episode or two in the middle, The Code managed to find a solution which worked in elements from the rest of the series, provide decent conclusions for all its characters and ended on a relatively high note.  The whole series is still available to watch on the iPlayer for the next two weeks.

The BBC announcer advised that State of Play would contain “strong language and a violent opening,” and to prove the point a petty thief is shot in the head in the opening few seconds, whilst a small child looks on. The assassin then goes at it to gun down a motorcyclist who witnessed the incident. The viewer would be forgiven for thinking they were in for something in the mould of a ITV1 cop show, but instead it’s the spark for an engrossing political thriller.

Like all good pot boilers, a series of random events play out over the first quarter which slowly begin to knit together. As well as the shooting incident, a political researcher appears to commit suicide. Her boss, a high ranking MP Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) breaks down in a press conference signaling an affair he had been having with her. The only journalist who isn’t interested in the story Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) turns out to be an old friend, who now finds himself in a conflict of interests. Also sniffing around is Della Smith (Kelly MacDonald) who makes the (admittedly expected) connection between the thief and the researcher.

The first real surprise is that all this is being written by Paul Abbot, who of late has become the king of northern comedy drama (Linda Green, Clocking Off, Coronation Street); but this forgets his sterling work on the much blacker Robson Green dramas Reckless and Touching Evil, and his writing on Cracker. He knows his way around psychology, intrigue and suspense. It’s also fairly obvious from the start that both he and director David Yates have homeworked the genre. When we first see reporter Cal, it’s in a dash through a massive open plan office ending with a late entry into a newspaper editorial meeting. It evokes All the President’s Men, and as the show continues beats mirror moments in The Parallax View and a raft of other ’70s thrillers; the drip by drip of information.

Disappointingly, there really isn’t anything all that new here, and in terms of delivering truly new dramatic shocks it runs a poor second to the mighty 24 which it has the misfortune to nestle beside in the schedules. But it’s the handling and spinning of the elements it really excels at. Knowledge of a similar real world investigation helps to make scenes such as the one in which a witness sells a briefcase full of information to Simm’s character seem pretty realistic; whether he would be able to give his disgraced politician friend a room without compromising his journalistic balance is less certain. But we know he’s going to be keeping both parties in the loop, manipulating each until the truth comes out so it feels like part of some larger plan and therefore acceptable.

There are some lovely small character moments: When Della and a police informant (The Book Group‘s Rory McCann) meet for the first time upon realizing they’re both Scottish: “Where are you from?” he asks. “Glasgow” she replies. “Edinburgh” he confesses. In that moment, an instant bond forms. Knowing that said briefcase (now deemed to be quite illegal) is on the premises, the receptionist talks to the editor, asking for a lawyer, “Out of your league, Buffy, try the mail room.” Or – know your place girl …

These are helped in no small part by the performances. John Simm offers a charismatic performance, a classic gumshoe; Kelly MacDonald’s understated delivery as the bringer of exposition is just right and cracks at the right moment; David Morrissey offers a new spin on the disgraced politician, hurt but aware of evident consequences of his actions. Quite how Shakespearean a tragic figure he is to become will unfold. He’s more than a match for Simm as their characters clash over the ideologies of their chosen employment at an inopportune moment.

With a lead in from the unnervingly popular village comedy Born and Bred and opposite yet another cop show (Blue Murder) on ITV1 this is in the perfect position to give the general audience something a bit more intelligent to follow on a Sunday night, and for some reason seems to fit the evening like a glove. Like Spooks and the trashy Trust it’s another example of the BBC taking ideas from across the Atlantic and giving them a British spin. This is very, very good so far; but it would be easy to see everything spiral turgidly and unbelievably into space, suspension of disbelief stretched to breaking point. In this show it really does run very close. This reviewer hopes that doesn’t happen and that in six weeks, when everyone is watching I can have the satisfaction of saying I was there from the start.

Luckily State of Play became one of the classic pieces of television which would end up making the careers of a fair few cast members and whose director, David Yates, ended up shepherding the final four installments of the Harry Potter series before becoming terribly muddled about the future of Doctor Who.  There was also the half-decent film remake.  The 24 comment above is spectacularly wrong headed isn't it?

Link Around You.

Reading fashion magazines doesn’t make you stupid:
"Being interested in fashion is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I don’t think one should be ashamed of taking an interest in anything. Being interested in something does not mean liking everything about that subject, nor does it mean one is utterly uninterested in everything else. Why, since I’ve been writing this column, I have thought about fashion, the career of Steve Guttenberg, the books of Melissa Bank and whether I should buy a Halloween costume for my dog – all in the space of 10 minutes, without breaking even a bead of sweat. And you know what? Most other humans can, too."

Mark Gatiss to play Peter Mandelson in Channel 4 Nick Clegg drama Coalition:
"The one-off drama aims to chart the “astonishing rise” of Clegg, a “rank outsider” who became the man who “would decide the fate of the country” after the 2010 election failed to produce a winning party, according to C4."

Publishers want out of Apple’s Newsstand jail:
"Core to the problem is the way Newsstand alerts users when they have new magazines to read. In iOS 6, Newsstand’s home screen icon would automatically refresh whenever a new edition of a periodical was available, giving iOS users a clear indication of when new content was available. That changed in 2013, however, when Apple introduced iOS 7, which ditched the bookshelf style icon for a simpler one that gave no visual cues at all. And the Newsstand app has remained unchanged in iOS 8, the latest version of the operating system."

Netflix: A Love Story:
"We met online. The dating Web site I’d signed up for thought we would be a great match—“Friday Night Lights” was a “top pick,” and we had a compatibility rating of five red stars. At first, I was just looking for a good time. I didn’t know that I was about to embark on something that would change my life forever."

The Author of White Noise Reviews Taylor Swift's White Noise:
"It is possible to be homesick for a place even when you are there. "Track 3," the latest release from Taylor Swift's 1989, explores the dropped pin, uniting the past and present—the now, the then—with the sharp pangs of its own absence. "

Why watching Lynda Bellingham's Doctor Who appearance is the only thing Whovians should do this evening:
"While the late Lynda Bellingham is so often mentioned in the same breath as Loose Women and those brilliant Oxo TV adverts, Doctor Who fans will always remember her performance in the Trial of a Time Lord. She played an Inquisitor, a sort of Gallifreyan Judge Judy who summoned the Doctor to a spaceship and judged him on his time travelling antics - which were largely meddling in the affairs of aliens, and, er, genocide."

The Films I've Watched This Year #40

Film  You'll notice from the list I finally saw Gravity in 3D this week, albeit on a fifty inch television domestically and once again my heart was in my stomach for much the duration.  Unlike Hugo, which is the only other film I've seen in the format and which suffered from the old Viewmaster problem of flat figures in a three dimensional space, or at least it did on the big screen, this is totally immersive and despite this being my third viewing felt like a completely different film.  Finally I understood the awe of the moment when the tear floats away, or how it feels to be with Sandra Bullock inside the space suit as she spins out of control and the sheer ingenuity of only having filmed their faces and recreating the rest in the computer and souring over the uncanny valley.  Like the very best films, even having seen all of the special features, had the magic explained to me, my suspension of disbelief was entirely intact.

Liberal Arts
Gravity 3D

Beauty and the Beast

Two of the films don't deserve longer than half a paragraph each.  Divergent is disappointing, derivative, dull, dumb, diarrhoea.  Cresting on the YA wave, as every review has noted it has not a single original idea to its credit and fails at the first hurdle by offering an apocalyptic world which doesn't make a seed of sense.  Having Kate Winslet play the antagonist is an interesting idea.  Shame they couldn't have given her a more interesting character to play.  Based on a true story, Lawless is nevertheless a tired, generic gangster film with two-dimensional hats which if produced at the time its set, the 1930s, would have easily covered the same material in three-quarters of the duration.  Instead this stretches on for two hours which seriously meander because it can't decide on a protagonist in the way which often happens when there's at least two or three potential leads.

Liberal Arts is wonderful, but also an incredibly difficult for someone who has a liberal arts degree and finds himself mired in the same out in the world difficulties as the protagonist or would do if he'd had inclination for teaching or the ability and so instead is even worse off.  A post-mumblecore romantic drama about a college professor returning to his old alma mater and suddenly having to deal the fact he isn't as young as he feels, it's written and directed by and stars Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother (which I haven't seen), Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins in yet another of his sad man roles (I notice they're making a musical version of The Visitor which should be hilarious) and Allison Janney giving fair treatment to one of those inspiring lecturers you have good memories of crushing on even though you secretly suspected they were a total bore.

Thematically it's somewhat High Fidelity at a safe distance in relation to letting people like what they like and also Wonder Boys and its ilk, not to mention most of Woody Allen's career in terms of embarrassing the viewer for not being as literate as its characters.  Is it possible for people read this much?  One of the reasons I haven't read worked through my inferiority complex about the bigger books, genius authors is reading seems to take so damn long for me whereas in these films its almost as though they're knocking off an Austen in a week.  Which isn't to say there isn't one particularly good sequence about the longevity of reading to create some balance.  The film also features one of the best sequences I've seen about what it's like to discover classical music.  Not since Guardians of the Galaxy have I'm been quite so obsessed with a Spotify playlist.  All hundred hours of it are available here.

As you know I'm a bit obsessed with watching the Toronto Film Festival industry videos in which the heads or at least marketiers from Vod companies of various stripes wrestle with what the future will be.  Always but always two films are cited as the canaries, Margin Call and Bachelorette which has sat in my Netflix queue for months.  Released primarily as a video on demand product, it's become the by-word for how the kinds of mid-range commercial films which have been squeezed out of cinema other than for short runs to get them noticed by the press to help promote the Vod release can still attract relatively big stars and generally break out of the kind of stigma which made direct to vhs or dvd difficult to sell.  For more on this, see the discussion about day-and-date release models and sigh with pride as it becomes apparent that the UK is best at this (thanks to Curzon and the like) and France lags behind due it actually being illegal there.

Is Bachelorette any good?  It's fine.  Written and directed by Leslye Headland based on her play, it is a straight down the line commercial comedy, which would be easily dismissed as the Asylum equivalent of Bridesmaids, where it not for the main cast of Dunst, Fisher, Caplan and Wilson and that it's an old school stoner odyssey which just happens to be primarily be about women.  Bits of it are horrible and it's never entirely clear the extent to which we're supposed to be laughing at or with the protagonists or just plain hate them, which on reflection is pretty realistic.  It's also surprisingly problematic gender wise when the best man and his friends enter the narrative and whip the agency right from under the bridesmades to some extent shaming their behaviour in the process, teaching them lessons like a team of Petruccios (not that they're entirely successful).  Luckily, the My So-Called Life conversation in the middle saves everything.

Apologies if this is you, but there's an entirely incorrect review of Maleficent in SFX Magazine this month which gives it three stars, hates the fact she doesn't turn into a dragon and that she's the only fleshed out character while all the others gain nothing on the original cartoon.  Each in turn.  It's a five star film if ever there was one on the strength of Anglina's cheekbones alone.  Given that they monocapped and realistically recreated the faces of Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple such that I thought they'd Hobbited them and dangled them from wires against a green screen, I think they would have transformed Angelina into a dragon if they'd wanted to but since the point of the piece was to underscore how fairy tales are at their core folk tales and so will be told in different ways they decided to not.  I didn't miss it.  Plus why simply recreate the cartoon in live action?  The films at its least interesting when it's doing exactly that.

But the third charge is just bizarre.  The point of the film is to flesh out Maleficent as a character, to make her three dimensional, flipping the usual structure of a fairy tale film on its head where its the heroes who fight against two dimensional villains whose motives are simply that they're bad.  Whilst its also true that it means we're watching Darth Vader's six film story arc compressed into 90 mins, it's a solid attempt to give this fairy tale depth and nuance.  I really do miss Angelina as a screen presence.  Apart from the Panda films, this is her first screen role since Salt and The Tourist in 2010 which is too long.  I notice her directing debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey still hasn't had a UK release.  There's a Netherlands R2 release available on Amazon but it's strange that no one has picked it up.  Anyone have a clue as to why?

In The Forest of the Night.

TV Right, before we get into this, and be warned, I’m really, really not in the mood, I want you to watch the following...

As the various onscreen credits and business explain, that’s a promotional film for the World Wildlife Fund, directed by Stephen Poliakoff starring Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton and if I can be so bold, and yes, I bloody am going to be so bold, it’s a better episode of Doctor Who, even though it’s nothing of the sort than In The Forest of the Night in which Frank Cottrell Boyce seems to have had similar aims but fails quite spectacularly simply because he is actually writing an episode of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who’s a flexible enough format that now and then it’ll take risks with is tone or premise to do something which is entirely outside of what it might be expected to do. The Short Trips and Side Steps anthology’s an example of this. Robert Shearman’s Scherzo. Kate Orman's Year of Intelligent Tigers. Anything by Paul Magrs. Vincent and the Doctor. The Natural History of Fear. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and unfortunately for In The Forest of the Night it’s the latter but for dozens of tiny reasons rather than one big flaw. Death by a thousand cuts, or as is the case here, splinters.  I have a feeling I'm going to be here all night.  Good job the clocks are rolling back and I'm getting an extra hour, I'll need it, not that I expect any of the following to be in any way useful for interesting, the textual equivalent of waving a white handkerchief in the air on a stick (which is promptly disintegrated by CGI stealth glitter).

As we saw last month with Listen, Doctor Who's a flexible enough format to encompass ruminations and mood pieces and In The Forest of the Night wants desperately to be one of those.  But sadly it's the kind of episode in which the title itself is counter productive.  It might be called In The Forest of the Night but the whole episode is catastrophically set during the day (even if it's suppose to be because it grew during the night, half of the world was in daylight anyway) (unless the writer is expanding the meaning of the lines in Blake's poem to suggest that the sun is the "Tyger, Tyger burning bright" and "the forest of the night" is space, but that doesn't work either) .  Such stories need to have a point of view and in ITFOTN (whose acronym fittingly sounds like a brand of Ikea chair) seems like it wants to tell the whole story from the point of view of the children, ala ST:TNG's Lower Decks and perhaps it might have worked if it'd stuck with that.  But throughout the format relentlessly reasserts itself, as to a large extent do this seasons's tedious character arcs, confusing the point.  It's not explained, for example, why there's a bus advertising the fictional construct Doctor Who in full view at one point.  Next week perhaps?

Arguably the premise isn’t actually awful.  Covering the planet in forests is an interesting global threat and there’s always something evocative about cities overrun with plant life, with the film version of A Sound of Thunder a notable example. In the Whoniverse, Jim Mortimore’s Blood Heat offered up an Silurian ruling alternative universe in which London has been returned to the Jurassic period.  Cottrell Boyce brings poetic license to his version as the forests are simply there, flouting logic in a way which tends to happen in poetry and art and has happened before in Doctor Who. If we’re ignoring logic for a week, which includes the missing population of London, the whole notion of these trees then being able to somehow cushion the planet from a sunspot isn’t entirely objectionable even if we then might worry why the giant space chicken at the centre of the moon hasn’t also been cooked.

The problem is that Cottrell Boyce then attempts to apply his expected audience reaction to such things to his characters which has the effect of making them all act like morons for the entire duration of the episode. While the world’s governments are attempting various schemes in order to try and destroy this woody invasion, and to be fair it is an interesting approach to have the Doctor working well away from the authorities rather than running headlong towards them ala Aliens in London in order to work alongside them, with the exception of him, our characters seem to embrace the idea, are quite happy with this new state of affairs, Cottrell Boyce deciding that for his big idea to work he has to effectively infect his characters with the spores from Star Trek’s This Side of Paradise, such that the whole things a big, crazy adventure, even as Nelson’s Column falls to the ground and shatters into pieces.  Perhaps he's been watching Fight Club.

It’s in the opening moments in particular and Clara’s reaction that my sense of belief absented itself from our flat, went down in a lift, left the building and began running naked around Sefton Park and is probably still out there in the dark freezing its knackers off. On the one hand you could argue just as she does, that since the Doctor exists there’s nothing to worry about, but you’d think she’d have taken time out to phone her parents, other friends, family members and the like to see if they’re ok. The phones seemed to be working, after all. I appreciate that you can’t really hold a fictional construct up to realistic ideals and that it was rare in the past for a companion to be on the phone to their Mum every time there’s a global catastrophe, but it’s this thought which lodged in my brain and derailed my appreciation of the thing.  Actually no, the whole thing derailed by appreciation of the thing, but this was probably the start.

There’s a chain reaction because I then noticed just how unrealistic the school group is, which is odd considering Cottrell Boyce’s many awards for children’s literature. Apparently modelled on Kelsey from The Sarah Jane Adventures rather than pretty much every other subsequent tween character on that series, I can only imagine that what’s happened is the writer’s taken what works on the page when writing for a particular demographic and reproduced it in a script for Saturday night television, which means that nothing they say sounds like anything a human being, even a small human being would and even though they’re often gifted with moments of inspiration, there’s not a moment when you don’t wish that this group of presumably clever younger actors hadn’t simply improvised their dialogue Outnumbered-style on the expectation that they’d produce something more reasonable.

Even having rationalised Clara and Danny’s behaviour, especially his door impatience, as reefer madness, there’s really no excuse for the lobotomy carried out on the Doctor. For all my comments about the brilliance of Capaldi, the Doctor really doesn’t come out well here either, mostly because the story is structured in such a way that he spends half of it ignoring the evidence which is right under his nose and the other half simply waiting for a thing to happen. It’s ambiguous as to whether he really thinks that the voice of a small child broadcast across a phone network would be enough to stop a global calamity, but given that most of the forest seems to be covering parts of the globe which would be incapable of destroying the forest anyway it doesn’t feel like it matters much. I’m also now worried about that family, in general. No way the media’s going to leave them in peace.

There’s also a cloying mawkishness; from the moment we’re told little Ruby’s sister’s gone missing we know full well she’s going to be available for a teary reunion at the end.  This sugary sap is layered throughout making an especially big deposit when Clara telling the Doctor to leave and let her and the rest of the planet burn to a crisp apparently quite happy for him to bugger off and leave them to it, which is quite the turn around from Kill The Moon. The Doctor’s protestation that it’s his planet as well should be lovely, and Capaldi tries his best with it, but within this episode it becomes a real teeth rotter. Plus the whole scene’s undermined in seconds anyway because it’s simply a reason for the Doctor to finally put two and two together. Another of the episodes problems is the preponderance of apparently meaningful encounters which are nothing of the sort.

Perhaps it this point I could and should acknowledge a few things, notably that other opinions are available. Glancing around on the Twitter post-broadcast there were a few people who seemed very satisfied with the episode and good for them. Even as I think about what’s in the previous thrumpty paragraphs, I know that some of it comes across as mean spirited especially towards its writer and that it’s entirely possible that in a different mood or indeed a different context, for example in a specially built theatre at the Natural History Museum for which this is surely aimed, I would have been better disposed towards it in the same way you tend to be when franchise properties are utilised for educational reasons (though it’s important to note that there was predictably less science in this than Search Out Space, the special Doctor Who episode of Search Out Science).

It’s also worth noticing just how beautifully directed the episode is, Sheree Folkson, who in her long career has given us three episodes of The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star, half of RTD’s Mine All Mine, all three episodes of RTD’s Casanova, The Decoy Bride and an Ugly Betty and her DP on this Mark Garrett also in his Who debut off the back of the last series of Silent Witness filling the screen with lustrous green vistas which look extraordinary across 50 inches on BBC One HD (yes, I have a new television) (it’s a long story), a technicolour version of the Mandalay films logo, including tiger, stretched across forty-odd minutes. But they even managed to find new ways of shooting the TARDIS interior, wide angle lense from point of view of a child, the Doctor’s attack eyebrows swooping in from above. If ever there was an episode which demands a score-only option it’s this.

The episode’s other great benefit is Peter Capaldi who catches the spirit of what’s trying to be accomplished and goes with it offering us a version of his Doctor filled with relaxed benevolence even as the script is working against him. Again, I wonder about the order in which the episodes were recorded and whether there has been some grand plan in relation to soften the edges of his incarnation, Hartnell’s arc across the year, from joking about human remains floating across the top of a pool to being deeply unhappy about being unable to save a group of children from certain death. More and more, the absent Doctor is returning and a lot of that has to do with Capaldi finally finding a way to temper the harshness of what he’s being asked to do underpinned by modes of written behaviour, which show a clear transitioning from C Baker to T Baker.

The rest? Honking, absolutely honking, best left to decompose with the rest of the compost which will surely be one of the by-products of all the vegetation which has to be left over once the majority of the global forest’s been disappeared by the least convincing Clarke’s Law testing alien substitute for magic since the fairies in Torchwood’s Small Worlds. It’s ironic that the writer of the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony would produce a Doctor Who script worse than Fear Her which itself featured the actual London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony, but that’s precisely what Frank Cottrell Boyce has managed. Reading back through his preview interview in the party newsletter, unlike some of the Pelican authors last year he seems like he’s seen Doctor Who before, so it’s unfortunate that he’s turned out an episode which fits in perfect with some of those Kindle misfires. Sigh.

Soup Safari #3:
Golden Vegetable at the
World Museum Cafe.

At lunchtime. £3.50. World Museum Cafe. 5th Floor. William Brown St, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 8EN.

Romola on women in the entertainment industry.

Theatre Romola Garai's appearing on the New York stage, at The Roundabout in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink, and has given this extensive interview to The Interval (a virtual home for female voices of the theatre) about the play and more generally about women in the entertainment industry both in relation to the stories being told about them and how they're treated:
"The industry that I work in is incredibly sexist. When I got to about 26 or 27—when I got old enough to understand that was a problem and why it was a problem, and the way that at the earlier stage of my career it had enabled me and then was actually disabling me—I think it became very important to me to connect with other people who felt the same way. So I think it has inevitably drawn me towards writers who are writing strong female characters, to casting directors who want women to be at the center of narratives, and to people who have the same kind of concerns."
Her top five female characters is very, very correct, especially number four. Very much number four.

Interviews on Richard Ayoade.

Film You may have seen this really rather funny interview from C4 News last night in which Richard Ayoade entirely deconstructs the short interview format for the vacuous process that it usually is.

Like Simon Amstell he's clearly very uncomfortable publicising his wares. But he's pretty genial with Krishnan, which is quite a development from where he was in 2011 publicising his film Submarine on Kermode and Mayo's film review. He talks about the process and the work, but Simon's clearly very thrown by the intensity:

No Fish.

Food Hadley Freeman has much the same reaction I do to fish:
"I manage some of the salad – the squid, surprisingly, is totally fine, as long as I force myself not to think about the Milky Eye – but the mackerel was always going to be my Waterloo. I want to like it, I really do, but the texture and taste cross the boundary from “weird but OK” to “weird get this out of my mouth NOW"
The only fish I'll eat is in batter or breadcrumbs, one of the white ones, cod probably. It's the aroma, the texture in the mouth, the weirdly salty taste and how it feels in my throat as I swallow. I have tried, even one of the white ones, cod probably, without the batter or breadcrumbs and I have the same reaction.  Not just me then.

Have I Got News For You. An Old Review.

My first review for Off The Telly, way back in 2002, was of the first guest celebrity edition of HIGFY, a week after Paul Merton provided emergency cover, a week after he and Hislop eviscerated Angus Deaton (aided by Christine Hamilton) when it became apparent his position at the head of a quiz satirising the weekly news had become untenable when he himself had become the topic of the weekly news.

TV The high profile sacking of Angus Deayton from his role as host on Have I Got News For You has left the BBC with something of a problem. As with many shows, the topical news quiz worked because of a specific chemistry that had built up over many years between the presenters. Unlike other panel games where the host and team captains are as interchangeable as the guests (see They Think It’s All Over) it was always difficult to imagine the show without any one of the three.

In fact we saw the effects some years ago when Paul Merton took a series off to get his head sorted out, to be replaced by Eddie Izzard and Clive Anderson amongst others. Funny men in their own right, but without the specific wit and knowledge of the news displayed by Merton. Izzard was particularly numbing as he frustratingly offered “jam” as the answer for everything. And since the show has only recently become a cornerstone of the BBC1 schedule any change would no doubt affect its ability to entertain.

Merton tried his best last week under extreme pressure (no time to prepare, Deayton’s chair still warm). In a familiar studio but forced to put on his Room 101 style presenter hat, he was by turns squinty and nervous. The writing was probably as good as usual, but the script filled with the nuances of Deayton’s speech patterns lay there coming from his lips. During the missing words round he suddenly became Roy Walker on Catchphrase telling the guests that their joke answers were good but not correct. Now and then he seemed to glance over at Ross Noble, borrowing his seat for a week wondering if he would ever be back there.

Tonight he was much more comfortable as team captain again, as the second guest presenter in as many weeks Anne Robinson took charge. She had been one of the names that had been mooted by bookies as a possible permanent replacement along with John Sargeant and Chris Moyles. As is usual when such lists appear, none of possibles fitted the bill, the closest being Stephen Fry, although his showing during a special episode as part of last year’s Comic Relief didn’t inspire confidence. Of the rest, Robinson seemed an odd choice and so it proved during the show.

Things didn’t begin well. In a move which was supposed to provide context but in fact gave little cause for confidence, Robinson advised she “hadn’t watched the show since 1995″ (and she was going to present the thing?) and a clip of an old episode was presented as the reason why. Merton was off on one of his old tirades, this time about Anne Robinson’s wink as presenter of Points of View. It was a classic piece of nostalgia from when the show was arguably at the height of its powers, the late Paula Yates the guest, that very episode being the one in which she called Ian Hislop the “sperm of the devil”. For a moment some viewers might have hoped that this episode was going to get a repeat showing. No such luck. We were cruelly brought back to the present as Robinson stumbled through some japery about giving Hislop some extra points up front for Paul’s cheek. Merton tried his best to milk the moment but it didn’t really work.

The sinking feeling continued as Robinson stumbled through the introductions of the guests, John O’Farrell and John Simpson. These are hardly ever the best jokes of the show. Last week Merton didn’t even try. Here it wasn’t clear when O’Farrell’s introduction had ended – pregnant pause then laughter. This was something that continued throughout the show. The audience often seemed to wait for Robinson to get the line out, so that they could work out how Deayton would have said it then laughed. In many ways this isn’t Robinson’s fault. She isn’t a comedienne and is more used to the ad-libs which are written for her on The Weakest Link. But often after shows, Deayton was allowed to re-film his fluffed lines (seen on some of the series videos). This privilege didn’t appear to be available to Robinson which lessened her impression overall.

Luckily Hislop and Merton were largely on form in their savaging of the host. Hislop in particular was keen to turncoat her by bringing up her time on The Mirror under Robert Maxwell. Robinson squirmed uncomfortably after the reminder, and there was some sport as she turned against the Private Eye editor, who was relishing the chance to trot out his old (admittedly funny) Maxwell jokes. Oddly (in this edit) Merton’s last infamous television meeting with the former Watchdog presenter on Room 101 didn’t warrant a mention, although he did get one of the best lines. At a moment when the show was flagging Merton shouted “Bank!” crippling the audience. When told by Anne that she was pleased that he watched The Weakest Link Paul explained that he “only ever saw the last five minutes because The Simpsons was on after it.” Even the host smiled at that one. For a moment there was chemistry and spirit amongst the group.

The one thing Deayton was good at was shutting up at the right moments and letting the team captains speak. Presumably used to lengthy recording blocks when you can’t fall behind, Anne must have assumed she had to get the entire show recorded in half an hour and kept talking over the guests and captains. At one point she told an indignant Hislop to shut up so that she could say something. As his forehead furrowed he must have wondered whose show it was. Since the programme had become the story the guests felt slightly beside the point. John Simpson was like a walking (or seated) re-run of his past appearances, so we got to hear again about the interview with Gaddafi in which the Colonel farted constantly. It’s a surprise his rainforest psychedelic drug experiences didn’t put in an appearance, but that may have been in poor taste. But he was up to the challenge when Robinson tried to make something of his proclamation that he had liberated Kabul. Simpson told Robinson: “Do you know the burkha covers your entire face? Perhaps you might like to try one.”

Filling the role of the guest no one outside Whitehall had heard of was John O’Farrell who offered a couple of good one-liners but failed to make an impression because he became Robinson’s whipping boy. At times she seemed to be victimizing him as though he was a guest on The Weakest Link. There the host has a habit of constantly referring back to the one thing she knows about a contestant and here it was again – his failure in an election. It hadn’t been all that funny in her introduction, but it came back up time and again.

And so half an hour passed. On the evidence of tonight’s performance Robinson won’t be the permanent presenter of Have I Got News For You, but the experiment will have helped Hat Trick and BBC bosses to decide what they won’t want from a new host. While it’s difficult to see Deayton being invited back next series, it’s equally hard to see the show’s continuation without him, despite the best efforts of Merton and Hislop. The last name to be mooted was Johnny Vaughn. Personally I would prefer Johnny Vegas. He couldn’t be any worse than Anne Robinson was tonight.

Ouch.  Anyway as we've seen the show did survive, went from strength to strength and now has a regular rota of very competent presenters many of whom are arguably better than Deayton ever was.  Which reminds me that I haven't watched last Friday's episode yet.  Thank goodness the iPlayer's been invented since then too.

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."