Ken's Show: Exploring the Unseen. Press launch at Tate Liverpool.

Art Next year, Tate Liverpool celebrates its thirtieth anniversary and this morning held a press launch in one of the handling rooms, with coffee and danish pastries to explain their plans. The room is less glamourous than you might expect, with its heavy duty floor and white walls, the kind of space you might expect to be used to actually display paintings at the Biennial. But the large wooden storage boxes reveal some glamour with foreign destinations written on with in black marker or printed labels.

Ken Simons began working for Tate in 1974 almost straight from school and particularly as a handler in the Liverpool branch since 1998. As a way of commemorating his long service and imminent retirement and providing a retrospective view of the exhibitions which have been at Tate Liverpool since the start, he's been given the opportunity to jointly curate a show containing the work of thirty artists (one for each year), his favourites amongst those he's been tasked with placing in the the gallery spaces across his career.

After an introduction from Francesco Manacorda, the current artistic direction of Tate Liverpool, Ken offered a brief description of some of his favourite exhibitions across the years, notably the Rothko which opened the building and which I have fond memories of from a school trip. He spoke of how exciting it was to be at the launch of a major art gallery, the staff pulling together to present the space to an audience queuing around the block for entry.

You can read in this post from 2013 what Tate Liverpool has meant to me across the years and this sounds like an inspirational way to celebrate its legacy. The press pack contains a list of the works which will be included but I've chosen not to look preferring to be surprised by some old friends.  There's bound to be a Proustian rush to the exhibition and I want to enjoy the surprise.  With so much work to choose from, I can't wait to see what will be there.

Doom Coalition 4.

Audio Now that the Capaldi era is almost done bar the shouting from manbabies about his replacement, it's time for me to catch up of the Eighth Doctor's adventures, some short stories and audios and this latest boxed set. The upturn in quality continues from last time with a really solid, often strong final selection of stories and a final installment which doesn't anticlimax and due to Big Finish's expanded license doesn't need to allude to Gallifrey's future, can simply suggest that they're all doomed.  Once again, across the set, despite what's said in the accompanying documentaries, these two companions for the most part don't feel as integral to the story in a way that Eighth's previous friends have but arguably such things are more recent innovations and we're rarely bothered by such things when watching classic stories.  Plus that's not a criticism of Nicola Walker or Hattie Morahan who're both remarkable.  The making of indicates that these two will return in a future boxed set series which means we're stuck with this format for the foreseeable future.  God, I miss the stand alone stories.  Eighth never quite seems comfortable here.  Any-hoo ...

Ship in a Bottle

A three hander about the TARDIS team facing oblivion and never giving up hope.  It's an episode long version of the scene from The Stolen Earth in which the Tenth Doctor just gives up until Donna nags him into action.  All three have very specific points of view.  Eighth is hopeless, Liv won't give up and Helen has the very human response of sheer panic.  But for all that, it's not as way out or innovative as some other similar regulars only stories like Scherzo, which seems like one of the franchises bravest few hours as time goes on.  Cantankerous Eighth never sits well with me and his treatment of his friends in the early stages feels a bit like an artificial attempt at some conflict similar to that earlier story, but it lacks the bite to make us genuinely concerned about his behavior and the consequences going forward.  Nevertheless, like Absent Friends previously, it's the stand out installment in this set.

Songs of Love

The flip side of the cliffhanger resolution from the Doom Coalition 3 set and what amounts to an extra installment of the River Song Diaries.  The banner headline is Professor Song visiting Gallifrey, something which would have been impossible on screen this way, before the Time War, still recognisably the place initiated by Robert Holmes.  Her reaction is similar to someone who's lived in a different country for years before being brought back to their parents homeland, aware of what to expect, knowledgeable about the landscape through osmosis but still being disorientated.  Alex Kingston is superb in these scenes as plot threads from River's past but the franchise's future become important and she's able to twist the context to suite her own ends.  Once again your correspondent pleads with Big Finish for a Bernice Summerfield cameo in the next River Song series or a special release possibly also starring Iris.

The Side of the Angels

Like the "other" Master in Dark Eyes, the Rufus Hound version of the Meddling Monk is entirely new to me, having skipped over his previous Big Finish appearances.  A juicier role for Rufus Hound than he was given in the television series, he very much seems to be enjoying the ripe dialogue and flamboyant characterisation.  This is notably set before the Graham Garden incarnation possibly in order to lessen the potential fallout from Eighth of having to deal with the Monk's role in the death of Tamsin and especially Lucie, although the TARDIS Datacore pages indicates that there's some far messier history than that.  Otherwise, the episode is stuffed with the epic remodeling of NYC and an ingenious utilisation of the Weeping Angels, whom Eighth is well aware of, perhaps after meeting them in his Fifth incarnation.  I don't think classic and nu elements mixing like this will ever be any less strange.

Stop The Clock

And so yet another Eighth Doctor story resolves itself around a conquest of Gallifrey.  Overall this is fine, it certainly ties up everything which has come before it and has some excellent business for McGann to get his chops into, but there's not a terrific amount here that's different to similar predicaments with a rogue President of Gallifrey taking control, the genocide of the High Council and an overall sense of doom.  The script is amusingly cagey about who the current President is supposed to be, perhaps so that if necessary in the future, it can be one of the various incarnations of Romana or someone else if necessary.  But please, please, please can the next series have nothing to do with the Time Lords or Gallifrey?  I can't imagine the upcoming Time War boxes are going to be direct continuation of this.  That would be silly.

I Know Places.

Music Hermione Hobby of The Guardian on her brush with celebrity as she held hands with Taylor Swift on leaving a restaurant interview:
"Taylor – I suppose we were now on post-selfie first-name terms – must have seen my terror. She asked in a droll and gentle way if I was “ready for a photo shoot” then took my hand firmly and out we strode. Cameras flashed, voices rose and, like the Red Sea parting, the crowd shifted to allow her into the waiting Suburban. And then I was on my own, walking towards the subway feeling dizzy."
The column also explains why Twitter's pretty much the only "forum" I visit now.

We Don't Give A Damn About Our Friends.



Music Tom at Freaky Trigger's Popular section has a brilliant excavation of the "Sugababes" Freak Like Me, from its samples to its cultural significance:
"You can get an idea of where “Freak” sits at angles to the group’s later sound by hearing the bonus version on their Overloaded singles collection – the “Maida Vale session”, performed live. Here the song is thoroughly de-X-ified, the grimy pulse of the Tubeway Army synth line turned into a rock backing track with occasional keyboard stabs. And the band rush the ending, going straight back into the chorus after “good for me”. It highlights something important about the single – how much in tension the Sugababes and the sound are. On their earlier and later records, the group and their vocal interplay are the focus. On “Freak Like Me”, there’s less room for harmonising: the song and the singers are a dam built against the backing’s electronic flood. At the end, it breaks."
The bootleg that led to Freak Like Me is above. In parts it's like the listening to the Amelle version of Red Dress, so close are the vocal choices [via].

That hand, is it male or female?



TV He's winning, it's a short match oh this is unbearable. Go Rodge. Go Rodge. Yes! Now, it's going to be now. Oh speeches. Well fine, I have time to go to the toilet. What this is still on? Right prizes given. It's going to be now. Oh no there's some walking about. Still talking, more talking, more talking. Oh god when will this end? They're filling aren't they? Fill, fill, fill. More talking oh when will this end.

Finally. Here we go. Aha, they're fucking with us. Hoodie. Is that Captain Jack's coat? Oh yes very clever, just tell us. Oh its a bloke. Look at the shoulders, broad shoulders. Yes definitely a bloke. Sigh. It's going to be Kris ... oh that walk isn't very male. Not sure about the legs though. That hand, is it male or female? I can't tell? Oh here we go, hood off, that eye, I recognise that eye, it's, it is her, it bloody is her, yes, yes, yeeeeeeeeasssss. Clap, clap, clap, clap.

Pretty much sums up my reaction. The bookies got it right again. Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor. Fucking, fucking amazing. Scream. Scream. Scream.

Apart from breaking the gender barrier and all that, here's why Jodie's casting is extraordinary.

We have absolutely no idea what her Doctor is going to be like.

For the most part you can have some idea of a Doctor by the casting. You knew Tennant would offer us chaste Casanova, Matt Smith would be eccentric, Capaldi would be brash.

But Whittaker's an actor of such range that she could play it in all kinds of ways. Although she's often been typecast as wife, girlfriend or sister, almost all of these characters have been different souls. Her IMDb in the ten years since her first screen credit is remarkable eclectic.

Her first interview and all the usual quotes are at the BBC Press Office.  Chris Chibnall decided to cast a woman beforehand and cast the part on those terms.  There's a lovely bit about him approaching her on the Broadchurch set.

And to address the assholes already complaining that the Doctor can't be female, it's going to ruin the programme, the SJWs have won and other bullshit.

Fuck off.  I want nothing more to do with you.

This is going to be amazing.

The New Whittaker.



TV This is one of those slightly obligatory Doctor Who related posts in which you all will have seen the above trailer/announcement but it feels like I should post it anyway so that it's a fixed point in time when looking back through the blog in the future. Plus, I can start the relevant label/keyword for these posts.  Expect my instareaction tomorrow night depending on how long the tennis match runs on for and whether I have to cook the dinner.

Just so this isn't a complete lost cause, here's some added content.  Earlier, Clayton Hickman solicited responses on how we each found out about each new incarnation of Doctor Who.  Here's my list, correcting a few things I got wrong when I tweeted him back:

1:  Wasn't born yet
2:  Wasn't born yet
3:  Wasn't born yet
4:  Wasn't old enough to be watching yet
5:  The end of Logopolis
6:  The Doctor Who Radio Times 20th Anniversary Special
7:  BBC TV News
8:  The Guardian
9:  BBC News
10:  Watching Casanova or as it turned out a midnight press release which acted more as a confirmation than anything.
11:  That random Doctor Who Confidential
12:  The live show.

Oh and for completion sake:

Shalka:  The Doctor Who Official Website

WAR:  The Name of the Doctor (although set photos indicated her was going to be playing someone)

Who's next?  Tonight the betting patterns which gave away Capaldi have started gather again around Jodie Whittaker which given the Broadchurch connection doesn't feel like utter bullshit and a could be a very good thing indeed if you're ticking boxes.  Long career, range of work, bloody good actor.  We'd be lucky to have her.  We'll see.

A Viewing Order for all of the Claire Temple episodes in the Netflix MARVEL series.



TV Claire Temple, so winningly played by Rosario Dawson is my favourite character in the whole of the MCU, films or television. Appearing across the Netflix series, she's always the one thing I look forward to and indeed in Iron Fist she's about the only reason to continue watching later in what's otherwise a quite boring and confused series.

 With The Defenders finally arriving in a month's time, I don't currently have time to binge repeat everything so I've decided to just watch those episodes featuring Temple, see how much of a coherent story they are on its own.

As an aid, I've created this watch this for the episodes in which she features across the series which about three of you might also find useful too:

Daredevil (Season One).

2. Cut Man
4. In the Blood
5. World on Fire
6. Condemned
11. The Path of the Righteous

Jessica Jones (Season One).

13. AKA Smile

Daredevil (Season Two).

3. New York's Finest
10. The Man in the Box
11. .380

Luke Cage (Season One).

5. Just to Get a Rep
6. Suckas Need Bodyguards
7. Manifest
8. Blowin' Up the Spot
9. DWYCK
10. Take It Personal
11. Now You're Mine
13. You Know My Steez

Iron Fist (Season One).

5. Under Leaf Pluck Lotus
6. Immortal Emerges from Cave
8. The Blessing of Many Fractures
9.The Mistress of All Agonies
11. Lead Horse Back to Stable
13. Dragon Plays with Fire

Literally Beaming.

Science Every day, I find myself gaping open mouthed as what seemed like something which could only happen in the future not too long ago is suddenly presented to me. Yesterday it was the ability to stream an otherwise obscure eighty year old silent film from China instantaneously through my television.

 Here's my open mouthed gape moment for today.

First object teleported to Earth's orbit:
"Chinese researchers have teleported a photon from the Gobi desert to a satellite orbiting five hundred kilometres above the earth."
The AV Club has a user friendly explanation but if I remember my Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual correctly, the methodology is almost precisely the same as that imagined in the 60s and developed across the years by successive writers albeit on a much more complex scale --  reprogramming particles in one place so that they're resemble a source pattern.  We're still probably hundreds of years away from being able to move a person let alone a more complex object but good god.  Gape.  Open mouthed.

We Need To Talk About Peter Parker.

Film Spider-man: Homecoming is out and it was pleasure to see its gloriousness at the lunch time showing in Screen One at FACT's Picturehouse in Liverpool. Short audience report.  About ten of us, barely a peep out of anyone apart from me laughing like a hyena on the front row. I'm amazed no one went out to complain about the noise I was making.

Few films this year have made me laugh this much, just as few films have had me this enraptured, hanging on to every moment.  Visually and narratively rich, it's simply one of the best comic book films ever made.  But enough of that hyperbole, let's survey some talking points.

There will be spoilers.

Having never really had much love for the Raimi films, enjoying The Amazing Spider-Man more than most, this feels to me like the most "Spiderman" film of the lot, the one which seems to preserve the essence of the comics, gets the character right.  It builds on what we saw in Civil War, the excitable teenager still happy to have these amazing powers, still discovering what he's capable of.

This is the best Spiderman film ever.

Why does it succeed?  By tossing out everything but the essence of the character and his mythology.  If the Raimi films are akin to the ITV Sherlock Holmes adaptations starring Jeremy Brett and the following two films starring Andrew Garfield are  Sherlock, Spiderman: Homecoming is Elementary.  Loads of recognisable elements reconfigured in the service of telling a good story.

Where the previous films were in a rush to introduce the more iconic elements like the Daily Bugle and JJJ, Mary-Jane and Gwen Stacy, Oscorp and the Green Goblin, probably admittedly with a view to not repeating itself Homecoming offers a much revised version of the Vulture, a younger Aunt May and a bunch of school friends who are totally unrecognisable from those who appear in the comic.

We don't really know the extent to which Spidey's mythology has been added to the MCU's rights database, how much the MCU actually has access to and so working creatively around.  Plus the walled garden approach to their various iterations means we're unlike to see Vincent D'ONofrio turn up at some future point as Kingpin who's another of Spidey's great antagonists.  

Was there too much MCU?  No.  Not at all.  If MARVEL finally have the chance to put Spiderman into their universe why wouldn't they take advantage and allow for his existence to be entirely absorbed into the mythology?  It might even be possible that one of the reasons SONY agreed to the deal was on the understanding that a major player like Iron Man would appear in the film to make it distinctive to their previous offerings.

One of the problems with the previous films was that his existence and that of the villains never quite sat well without being part of some larger universe filled with superhumans.  Spiderman by his nature, along with numerous other "street level" heroes, exists to contrast with the gods and their epic intergalactic battles.  Whenever he becomes involved, he is often the audience's way in to the madness.

Homecoming makes that contrast the key story point, of Peter learning that he's not old enough to join the big guys yet, that he should be content to be kid with extraordinary powers, dealing with neighbourhood problems, not to try and skip his development and to an extent training.  In all of the fight scenes he's clumsy.  He's yet to completely develop his skills.

One of the earlier 60s strips had a newly bitten Spiderman turning up at the Baxter Building attempting to become a member of the Fantastic Four.  He failed badly and it wasn't until many years later (barring a few What If? stories) that he had a chance to join that group, when he was older, wiser and ready.  The five film arc is pretty carefully mapped out from.

Homecoming has some huge moments for long terms fans of the MCU and the ongoing narrative.  The Avengers vacating the New York skyline -- who could they have possibly sold the tower to?  Plus Tony and Pepper are back together.  As we've discussed in the past I bloody love Gwyneth Paltrow and seeing her brief return to acting here was a real treat.  When they kissed I sighed.

That chemistry was one of the engines which made the Iron Man films work and seeing them back together is brilliant (however understandable it was that she didn't appear in Civil War given the tone of that film).  This brief scene is the MCU equivalent of the doorstep epilogue between Tim and Daisy at the end of the Spaced DVD documentary.  Hopefully we'll see more of this during Infinity War.

I wouldn't be quiet if that were my job.



Music Find above the digital equivalent of those films which show jaffa cakes or meat pies on a production line. It's a fascinating look how some parts Spotify work, in particular those whose job it is to programme a playlist. The surprise is the immense amount of work and heart which goes into choosing the tracks, important because of the number of subscribers which use the playlist. If the effects she can have on the careers of these artists isn't overstated, she's single handedly fulfilling much of BBC Radio One's remit albeit on a much smaller scale, though it'd be interesting to know how many artist have broken out because she's decided to add them to the list.

Annotations:

UGWE, Reggie. 2016. Inside The Playlist Factory. In. Buzzfeed.

KOUMIS, Athena.  2017.  Fresh Finds.  In.  Spotify.

Romola on Everything.

Theatre The Stage has a huge interview with Romola Garai about her career, the challenges of being a mother in theatre and screen work and various other bits and pieces. On the West End revival of the RSC's Queen Anne:
“For me it is predominantly about a female friendship that is destroyed by politics, which is rare. Although its a historical play and you feel that Helen Edmundson has done a great deal of research for it, something at its heart feels very personal and leapt out at me. I found the portrait of two women locked in a highly dysfunctional relationship very moving. Because it has lasted since childhood, it has become quite warped in some ways. They could reassess their relationship in a positive way, but they don’t. Sarah, particularly, doesn’t have the strength of character to bring that about and so it explodes, and politics is the thing that initiates that.”
The play runs for thirteen weeks from the 30 June. Do we know what the shooting schedule for the next series of Doctor Who is?

Petite Padme.



Film Here's an other tiny reunion for The Clones Wars courtesy of Forces of Destiny.   Featuring Catherine Taber with her uncanny Portman sounding rendition of Padme, it's a fun bit of business.  Just don't read the synopsis first because it literally is a synopsis, the whole story.

Filtered.

Politics Just after the 20th January, I decided that unlike previous US presidencies, I'd be omitting mention of the leader of the free world on here because he's getting so much coverage elsewhere that it's entirely pointless. But there's no denying that his existence has had a profound effect on discourse and that's especially true of social media, so I'm breaking the rule on this occasion to offer my solution.

Twitter is still somewhere I spend a lot of time online, finding, for all its faults, it a much more flexible and understandable place than Facebook. But the election has led to it becoming somewhat monosyllabic and despite the range of voice in my timeline, he's become the main subject of conversation presumably because of the extinction level element of his existence. When a disaster is ongoing, everybody wants to talk about it.

But it's had the effect of destroying some of the random element of Twitter even amongst the three and half thousand people I follow. Admittedly plenty of those are journalists so it's bound to happen to some degree. But day on day for weeks, I was met with a wave of identical stories about whatever new bile he's decided to post to his own Twitter account or think pieces about what stupid or cruel or weird thing he's done in meatworld.

Then I realised that I could wipe it all out in one swoop especially now that Twitter's filtering tools have parity across all the platforms. I visit the filtering section on Tweetdeck and Twitter and added his surname.

Suddenly my timeline went back to resembling how it did two years ago. All the shock and awe and RTs of whatever he's had to say at three in the morning. Having to look at yet another photograph of his face, which is sometimes enough alone to increase my anxiety levels. Now I can go back to watching people talk about other "important" things without having to mentally filter him out to. He's filtered for me.

He's not gone completely. This doesn't knock out mentions of POTUS or the surname with an apostrophe or when an article or tweets talks about "America" really meaning him. I could remove all of that too, but it's still good to have some idea of what's happening. The volume is lower, there's a lot less repetition. If I miss something, if it's "important" it'll be in the news anyway, either online or television or radio.

Making Merrily We Roll Along.

Film Lately due to not having to be at work, I've been watching lots of documentaries from streaming services, mainly about making films, with this and that. Most of these are about disastrous projects, attempting to turning a project which didn't ultimately find fruition into something tangible.

This morning over breakfast, I found The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, the story of Stephen Sondheim's rare Broadway failure, 1981's Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Lonny Prince one of the key cast member who is now a successful stage director in his own right.

Profoundly moving in a number of ways, it takes the key element of the musical, contrasting the positivity of youth with the cynicism of middle age and through archive documentary footage applies it to the members of the original cast showing what happened to them after their dream turned to disaster.

The trailer is at the official website, but I'd suggest you see the film with as little preparation as possible.  Few documentaries I've seen have captured what it must have been like on Broadway in that era and a cautionary tale of how you can't let one event define your entire life (which is something I need to keep reminding myself too).

10.2?

TV Since this is the first week without Doctor Who in three months, here's my response to the meme which has been floating around:

1. Marco Polo
2. The War Games
3. Invasion of the Dinosaurs
4. City of Death
5. Caves of Androzani
6. Terror of the Vervoids
7. Ghost Light
8. Storm Warning (audio)
WAR The Day of the Doctor
9. Dalek
10.1 Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
10.2 Planet of the Dead
11 Touched by an Angel (novel)
12 Heaven Sent

Nothing too controversial ...

"Oh, it’s a joke, ha ha."

Film Actress Zoe Kazan features in a pretty intense interview in The Guardian which covers everything from her eating disorder to her grandfather and the blacklist and her treatment on film sets. This, for example, is horrible:
“No. I mean. Hmmm.” There is a long pause. “Like, I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed. At work. He’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a joke, ha ha.’ But he was also paying my cheque and then watching me from the monitor as I made out with another actor – so when he tells me I look good, it feels different. I was in my mid-20s at the time. I was not powerful, I did not feel I could say anything.” There is another long pause. “That has got better as I’ve got older, partially, I think, because I’m better at knowing how to shut that down. But it makes you feel guilty, and bad, as if it’s somehow your fault – that you’re somehow giving that person the signal that it’s OK to treat you that way. And none of that is stuff that Paul has to deal with.”
Paul Dano in case you were wondering. They've been together for ten years. I had no idea even after seeing Ruby Sparks.  My gossip filter is incredibly strong.

Short Snips.



Film Disney/Lucasfilm are producing a series of short animations highlighting female characters from the Star Wars franchise and in amongst Leia, Jyn and Rey they've also blessed us with this three minute piece about Asoka featuring the original voice casting from The Clone Wars.  Matt Lanter's Anakin sounds a bit gruffer than of old, which lends it am element of Peter Davison's Doctor at Big Finish, but for three minutes a series which I have huge affection for returns after it was so cruelly cancelled in mid-production.

Given that there are whole voice recording sessions for episodes of The Clone Wars which didn't break out of the pre-visual stage, why not utilise this animation technique to complete them, a style not unlike the original Tartakovsky series?  Admittedly, there'd be a lot more involved in generating another couple of hours of animation and for all I know it'd be just as intensive as producing them in the original full painterly glory.  But this will always feel like unfinished business, despite the story having been continued in Rebels.

"I'll have a P please, Kevin."

Film On the occasion of the release of the new Spider-Man film, The Shiznit collates an oral history of superhero actors complaining about going to the toilet:
"Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming: "I didn't go to the bathroom for like eleven hours or something because we didn't really figure out how to take the suit off quickly at that point. And that's an expensive suit. You do not want to wet yourself in that suit." Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming: "I didn't go to the bathroom for like eleven hours or something because we didn't really figure out how to take the suit off quickly at that point. And that's an expensive suit. You do not want to wet yourself in that suit."
Genre television and film has rarely been very good at explaining how this works. Even having binged Star Trek for ten months, I hadn't realised there was enough to say on the subject that there's a whole Memory Alpha entry on the subject. Not to mention the bathroom on the bridge of the 1701-D.  Here's the Doctor Who version.

MCU TV.

Film Assuming the world doesn't implode in the meantime and none of this matters, here's something vaguely reassuring. Kevin Feige has confirmed that the MCU will continue after Avengers 4 (or whatever it is).

I know this was to be expected what with the apparent plan through to 2026 and further films in the current individual series, but that there wouldn't be the same element of building to an event.

  But embedded in this quote about Spider-man is an interesting number:
"“We are looking at a five-movie storyline — Civil War, Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, untitled Avengers, Homecoming 2 — or whatever we end up calling it — as an amazing five-story journey for Peter Parker,” Feige says. “In the way that the events of Civil War directly inform the opening of Homecoming and his state of mind as he goes back to high school, so too will the events of the next two Avengers movies as he continues with high school. This original 22-movie arc ends with the untitled Avengers in May of 2019 and then two months later it will be Peter and Spider-Man (on July 5, 2019) that usher us into the aftermath and how things proceed from there.”"
"This original 22-movie arc ends"  For ages when defending the MCU and the amount of continuity between the various films which some people don't seem to like, that it's easier if you look at it as a very expensive, cinematic piece of television, as episodes rather than films, it makes much better sense.

Now Feige points out that the first arc of the MCU is 22 movies long, which is the typical length of a US network television series.

With that in mind we can see how much the MCU does mirror many US network television series which typically have stand alone episodes mixed with those which are designed to progress the series long story arc.

This is Buffy.  And The X-Files.  And Fringe.  Except filmed and "broadcast" over an even lengthier period than most of the life of those shows.

So Avengers 4 is in effect a season finale with Spider-Man 2 as the first episode of a next series which will have its own plot threads and new "big bad" which then won't resolve until I'm in my 50s.  Good god.

"Fare thee well to the BBC Archive's old landing page ..."

History The BBC Archive has a new landing page. The URL is a bit ungainly (bbc.co.uk/archive still resolves to the old yellow pages). But the new approach shows promise, highlighting not just the material which is permanently on the website either at the iPlayer or on the BBC's radio pages but also newly repeated archive programmes which are only available for a limited time.  Now if more of the programmes from the yellow site could be transferred over to the iPlayer, that would be good too.

Barry Norman reviews Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me.



TV Back when people watched television, always on my viewing schedule was The Film Programme with Barry Norman. For over a decade until I was old enough to go the cinema by myself, this was the only access I had to most films, the clips and Barry's brief critiques (and then latterly Kim Newman on Channel 4 Daily's Box Office slot).

Now the he's gone which is a tragedy.  Because between Norman, Newman, Kermode, Cox and Cousins, I received my formative film education, with Barry as my first mentor.  Even when I didn't quite understand everything he was saying, I could tell by the tone of his voice if a film was supposed to be important or special.

I wonder what my young mind would have made of this astonishingly conservative review of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, in which he says some snide things about the television series and David Lynch in general.  Lynch is an important example of the canonical auteurs, but Barry's entirely baffled by the whole thing.  RIP.

Romola on Herself.

People Here's future Time Person Romola Garai in the New Statesman's Q&A slot. A few of her answers are especially Doctorish:
"What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?"

"If you’re about to get angry, ask yourself if there’s any way you could laugh instead. I try. Sometimes I end up just laughing in a crazy angry way. Either that or: “Anything you buy that needs ironing is like paying someone to shackle you to a radiator.”
Since I started staking sertraline for my anxiety disorder, I find anger difficult too. I can get angry, but it feels odd, like it's happening to someone else or how I imagine an sentient machine might experience it, as though this incomprehensible emotion is emanating from somewhere and they don't like it.  Most often it registers as a bland frustration.  I could try laughing in future instead.

The Doctor Falls.



TV First of all, squee. Squee, squee, squee, squee, squee, squee, squee. Squee. Squee. Next of all, an even briefer discussion of canonicity in Doctor Who and the (ho, ho) genesis of the Cybermen. It's true. All of it.  When the Doctor says, "They always get started. They happen everywhere there's people. Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus. Like sewage and smartphones and Donald Trump - some things are just inevitable,"  In a single line of dialogue, Steven Moffat simplifies the next edition of Lance and Lars's AHistory (apart from having to explain Trump in the US presidents entry) by making every origin of the Cyberman canonical across all media including the DWM comic strip, by suggesting that every society has the potential for biomechanics which you could infer on Skaro led to a pepperpot shape but on the planets the Doctor lists and countless others a humanoid shape, with or without the capacity to clench their fist and say "Excellent."

Like Asylum of the Dalek, The Doctor Falls allows the costume department to amortise  their stock with the return of the most recent thinner models alongside the more robust Cybus Industries models of Cybermen alongside.  One could theorise from this based on the Doctor's speech that not all of the appearances of these versions were necessarily sourced from Pete's World, but developed independently somehow.  I wonder if any consideration was made to bring in versions from other eras, The Invasion model or whatever was happening in Silver Nemesis.  What makes the Mondasians so chilling is that like the Borg you can still see elements of their human in the costume just as you did throughout the classic era.  The nuWho versions have always been too much like b-movie robots.  We only know their used to be a human inside because we're constantly told.  With the classic era models we can see it.

Much like last week's episode, this episode is pretty unreviewable in the normal way.  Somehow managing to cram all three of the franchise's key tropes, an alien invasion within a base under siege rolled around a pre-destination paradox, plus body horror and a whole lot of regeneration, you could take the view that there's nothing especially new here, that we might as well have read a Michelin iSPY Book of the Documents on Steven Moffat's Hard Disk.  But repetition is a key feature of Doctor Who and as fans we only really complain when we're not entertained, when we feel like there's a point to choosing some of these old favourites other than desperation.  I can think of a host of reasons why I might have taken against the episode in another mood, but was instead enthralled, excited, shocked and boggle eyed throughout.

The underlying story is extremely simple.  House full of kids need protecting from the hoards, a miniature Helms Deep with sandbags instead of elves.  Even this has echoes in other Cybermen stories like Nightmare in Silver (rarely has an episode title reviewed its contents so well).  Samantha Spiro finally appears in Who as the head of the household and even if, in keeping with supporting characters in the rest of the series, her character is pretty barebones, her presence creates some much needed layers even to the point of making me smile when she takes a liking to Nardole.  Turns out Nardole really has only existed to give Matt Lucas something to do because the production team  like him. I'll admit to him being less objectionable here than usual and it is poignant that he's stranded in a BDO waiting for his certain doom once the Cybermen have evolved again.

This impossibly huge colony ship will remain one of Moffat's most evocative ideas, large in scope and fiendish in the jeopardy it generates.  There's a brilliant episode of Star Trek's Voyager, Shattered, in which various aspects of the ship's history exist simultaneously so version of characters from different eras can interact but everything is reset by minute 40 via some spoiler juice.  Not here.  The Doctor et al could theoretically get on the lift up to the TARDIS but due to the time dilation even if they get there the Cybermen could have evolved in such a way as to have beaten them to it and they can't take the chance.  Which means that he also can't use the TARDIS to simply pull the colony ship out of the path of the Black Hole which it presumably would have been capable of considering it pulled the Earth back into orbit in a previous final episode.

Until the final deus ex machina, or rather apud amicam conlectus, Bill's fate is gruesome, just as gruesome as Oswin Oswald's in Asylum, but with the extra horror that she experiences the magnitude of the change for much longer, the distrust and fear of others for someone who otherwise views themselves as kind and benevolent.  Pearl really sells the duel physicality of her status, stiff and artificial in battle, crumpled  and emotional otherwise and there wasn't any other choice that could be made other than to present Bill as human for much of the episode, the on-set camera allowing us access to her thought patterns.  Given that the Doctor had Kroton as his companion for quite some time, not to mention Handles, there was always a chance their travels could have continued.  But having to explain her status every time they landed might have become increasingly limiting.

So she had to go.  In her exit, like her predecessor Bill finds herself in a new state of being and being whisked across the universe (albeit on a less platonic basis) with the Doctor unaware of her fate, in this case, perhaps, assuming she's dead.  Heather's return was a good surprise fully in keeping with Who's approach of bringing back something entirely unlikely which we've probably forgotten about to save the day.  Including the potential for Bill to return to Earth should she want to is a nice touch too.  Up until the Moffat era, tv companions from a contemporaneous to broadcast time period have tended to find themselves back there (Ian, Barbara, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jo, Sarah Jane, Tegan, Martha and Donna all ended up where they started give or take a year) so it's nice to think once she's finished jaunting about the nebulas she might decide to try and finish university.

Having brought John Simm's Master back we discover much of his villainy happened off screen years before even meeting Bill and he's not really given an awful lot to do other than die amusingly.  But he exists as a counterpoint to Missy, to keep us guessing as to whether she would indeed help the Doctor, in the end, or simply follow the path of most villainy.  And indeed, as expected, he inevitably ends up breaking the promise that's usually fundamental to the Doctor's being.  The Master is always cruel and cowardly, laughing at Bill the cruelty he's wrought on the human and cowardly in once again saying SOD U LOTT when trouble descends.  Notice that we don't actually see him regenerate into her.  As ever Moffat doesn't want to give us any absolutes, wants to leave the door open for future creators.  Plus there probably wasn't the budget to show him fighting to get back into his TARDIS.

One of the big tragedies of the episode is that because of the Master treachery, the Doctor will never know that he was right about Missy.  In the end she passes his test even if in her own way, the Simmcarnation having missed the Doctor's advice about never trusting hugs.  "Because he’s right. Because it’s time to stand with him, it’s where we’ve always been going, and it’s happening now, today. It’s time to stand with the Doctor."  It's a beautiful line, beautifully played.  But is this supposed to resolve the whole vault business? The physical evidence still exists.  We're left to wonder what the employees of St Luke's University back on Earth are making of two member of their faculty, a lecturer and a student, having gone missing at the same time and the presence of a dimensionally transcendental hole in their basement wall.  Perhaps the next showrunner will sort this out.

Chibnall was about the only reason I didn't quite buy that the Doctor would actually regenerate here, because introducing the new Doctor before Capaldi's official end date would have made the handover process especially weird with Moffat presumably writing the new incarnation's first lines or having to share a writing credit on his final episode.  A Time Lord deciding not to regenerate isn't unheard of - Simm's Master used it has his "final" revenge in The Last of the Time Lords - but it is if they want to keep walking around too.  Giving him all the elements of a regeneration scene even if they were hand me downs, from the montage to quotes from both of of his previous incarnations death sequences along with some visual homages did sell the idea that this could be it, increasing the power of his decision to fight back the energy.  "NO!"  Rest assured I was still clutching myself in anticipation.

Then Moffat commits his final coup in mirroring Matt Smith's own final series episode with a surprise early visit from one of the Doctor's previous selves in this case the original (you might say) (Oh God, that's amazing).  The original first meeting the first in a new regenerative cycle.  David Bradley, is one of countless actors to play the first Doctor (depending on your point of view) and like the other original (you might say) Richard Hurndall, Edmund Warwick (60s stand-in), John Guilor (from Planet of the Giants dvd and Day of the Doctor), Geoffrey Bayldon (alt.1st.Doctor at Big Finish) and William Russell (who covers for actual Bill at Big Finish along with Peter Purves), all Bradley can do is offer a semblance of Hartnell although he's somewhat aided by having had to play the actor himself to marvellous effect in 2013 (which is what led to his welcome return here).  Judging by his attire perhaps we're supposed to be in Antarctica in December 1986 just moments before his regenerations but he seems surprisingly well considering the events of The Tenth Planet.

Despite adoring the episode, I do wonder how much of it was comprehensible to newer viewers.  We probably had the same fear during Journey's End, but here the objections are more nuanced.  As has been noticed elsewhere, some viewers are under the impression Bradley is playing Capaldi's replacement and having been through the Morrissey wars of 2009 when otherwise perfectly intelligent people thought he was going to be the next one after Tennant (not helped by the title of the upcoming episode), I can't judge them too harshly.  Even if you know what the first Doctor looked like, unless you're aware of the metatextuality and had seen Adventures in Time and Space, you might not necessarily know who this new person was.  John Hurt was heralded by a loud non-diegetic caption.  The usual social media channels were quick to provide the necessary explanation, but I wonder, yes, I wonder.  Hmm?  Chesterfield?

Which brings is to the end of another year in the life of Doctor Who.  Looking across the Capaldi era in total, there's probably been the usual balance of brilliant, average and rubbish episodes with this series offering the most highlights.  But like the Doctor being a dick arc in season 8 and the futile Me nonsense in season 9, the Monk trilogy was ultimately compromised by poor narrative definition.  Oh and bloody Nardole never quite gelled (to put it lightly).  Yet it also contained some of its best moments.  The first on-screen LGBT+ companion, scripts which confronted society head-on and Peter Capaldi finally being allowed to be the Peter Capaldi on screen that we know in real life.  If nothing else, in this actor, the show's had one of its greatest ambassadors and for that at least we should be extremely grateful.

New York, New York.



Film A brief break from my blog hiatus (I'm catching up on some reading and watching documentaries about films if you must know) because this supercut of shots from New York movies, which after sci-fi tend to be my favourite movies, is too good not to embed here. Gothamist has a list of most of the films included of which I've only not seen Devil, Madagascar and Escape from New York (of all things).

World Enough and Time.



TV First of all, squee. Squee, squee, squee, squee, sequee, squee. Squee.  Next of all a brief discussion of canonicity in Doctor Who and the (ho, ho) genesis of the Cybermen. As anyone who's visited the Cyberpages on the TARDIS Datacore will know, the creation and history of the race is a narrative mess. Lance and Lars's AHistory, the chronology of the Who universe helpfully summarises that "DWM has offered two distinct origins, Big Finish, a third" and that co-creator Gerry Davies provided his own origin story which was published in David Banks's Virgin book about Cybermen.  Lance and Lars then decide that although these stories might seem to contradict one another the're going to spend a page reconciling them anyway, explaining, I shit you not, how the Voord from The Keys of Marinus and indeed Marinus itself could be the Cybermen and Mondas at some earlier point in history with Marc Platt's audio Spare Parts, up until this point the accepted origin for the old Who Cybermen set much later.

Assuming that Moffat is deciding to allow television to contradict Big Finish and everything else which has gone before that hasn't appeared on television ala George Lucas and the Clone Troopers, the simplest answer is the one I've always favoured and which in the past few years the showrunner himself indicated.  Time can be rewritten.  Mondas's history has been changed somehow and whereas before they might have been Voord or the Fifth Doctor became mixed up in their origins, now its something all the more complicated involving a colony ship and black holes and numerous Time Lords.  Presumably we'll discover next week what this has to do with The Tenth Planet.   David Bradley appearing as the First Doctor at Christmas can't be a coincidence.  Unless it is.  Either way for pedestrians who hopelessly dragged themselves through the wilderness years, or indeed people like me whose fandom was born in one of its stormy oases and cherish those stories, thanks to this being a time travel franchise and the existence of the Faction Paradox and what have you, all of this is fine.

World Enough and Time is a return to the Steven Moffat whose work is practically unreviewable in any meaningful way.  By which I mean it's so, so good, so unlike anything else which this series has had to offer that to try and talk about it in the usual sense of "is the story interesting?" or "how are the characters?" you're on a hiding to nothing.  Everything is impeccable.  The performance.  The set design.  The music.  The SFX.  The meticulous direction from Rachel Talalay who is really having a bonzer year between this, Sherlock and whatever acronym they're using for the DC TV shows.  But unlike Heaven Sent, which was also the best episode of its series, he's still working within the confines of a recognisable Doctor Who format, albeit poking it in the eye ("exposition and comic relief").  This week instead of Bill becoming separated from the Doctor by falling though a hole, it's because someone made a hole in her.  Sob.  So let's talk around a few things.

Anyone who's seen Interstellar will be aware of time distortions around Black Holes and its a clever way of introducing a similar two track narrative with Bill becoming another girl who's waiting (a deliberate callback?).  As Eddie Robson notices, during her captivity , it's as though she's watching 60s Doctor Who on the monitor ("rapt even though it was very slow") or as Clayton Hickman adds, from her point of view a series of telesnaps.  Bill's observations of the Doctor's behaviour are just the sort of micro-analysis which fans often conduct when they've exhausted all other avenues of discussion or the professionals when they're trying to distinguish each of the incarnations in prose.  They're the writerly equivalent of the fan versions of merchandise covers with Moffat suggesting some of the descriptions Terry Dicks might have used in a Target novelisation.

Speaking of Target novelisations, is this the final word on Doctor Who then?  Given that he once signed his name as such and the whole WOTAN business, it's really just a confirmation, but there'll still be some who'll question if it is needed.  But think of the benefits.  The Cushing films, TV Comic and annual stories now have some added canonicity for one and it does explain why the title of the programme doesn't include an actual question mark.  Like Ally McBeal and Veronica Mars, his full name is in the title.  The previous approach to this, in the Virgin New Adventures, was to create a figure called "Doctor Who" as a comment on those earlier stories in which the Doctor's characterisation was slightly "off".  But given how much the Fourteenth Doctor's changed in the past three years, the television Hartnell and the one in the comics isn't that much of a stretch even if it's nearly impossible to account for when they're set in his timeline unless he nipped off for a bit in the middle of The Romans.

Was John Simm's reveal supposed to be a massive surprise?  Some on the social medias say they clocked him from the publicity photos although I only realised after about his second appearance when I wondered why the actor was wearing make-up then noticed his eyes and how his voice sounded and so the fact he was John Simm.  How many people were genuinely that shocked when he ripped away the mask?  I have no memory of my original viewing of Time-Flight so I don't know how convincing it was to my young mind even with the Ainley version of the Master talking to himself in disguise.  But were many viewers giving it the full Yana when Simm dropped the accent here?  Despite the availability of the RTD era on streaming and shiny-disc, how many of them will remember he was a younger version of the character and his fate in The End of Tennant?  Having him remind us that he was once a PM was a nice touch.  Remember back in 2010 how we chortled that there'd be no way a meglomaniac like him could become leader of the free world?  Hum.

How did the Master survive whatever it was that happened to Galifrey back then?  Has Missy herself even explained?  Isn't it curious that she doesn't remember anything of these events ala Time Crash - a return of the meticulous Moffat who bothers to even mention something like that as part of the "reveal".  Is it something to do with her "death" and the reason she was in the vault?  Expect a "So you escaped from Castrovalva. I should have guessed" type conversation next week.  This an episode designed to generate questions - not for their own sake as happened towards the end of the last series but with all of the potential that there'll be answers.  There's still the nagging query about how much the Doctor remembers of Clara and if he and Missy have had a chat about that (cf, Eighth and Iris in the novels).  Would he be as quick to try and rehabilitate her given the business which happened at the end of season eight?  How much more tragic is it that yet another of his companions/assistants/friends finds herself in a state of between mortality and being part of the mortality rate amongst TARDIS travellers.

The tear.  Goddam.  How dead is Bill?  As seen in Torchwood, the survival rate for unconverting human's isn't too high.  Judging by the available technology, a brain transplant doesn't look likely ("Ianto? Ianto, it's me. It's Lisa. I'm human again").  Her reveal recalls the gut wrenching worst of The Age of Steel but with the old style Cybermen this even creepier with their sing song voices and human hands.    Plus that episode set alt.Jackie up to be something of a monster which meant we cared less about her conversation than we do about Bill whose clearly not the person who made that horrible joke in her first moments on the series eleven weeks ago.  Giving her the Danny Pink treatment is bold but she can't possibly stay this way.  Could the Doctorm utilise the properties of the ship somehow to drop in earlier in her timeline and save her, with a localised time distortion being outside the web of time as some kind of justification?  Why is she wearing the exact same clothes as in the minisode, Friend from the Future?

Which returns us to the start of the episode and the Doctor's regeneration.  Apparently, Moffat's original plan for the 2010 season if Tennant had decided to stay on was to have his regeneration in the opening teaser and then spend the rest of the season tracing backwards/forwards to the moment and explaining how he got there.  Is Moffat's resurrecting the idea here?  It doesn't seem like a fake out.  The Doctor looks physically older, broken, his jacket frayed at the edges, his hair even less unkempt than usual.  It's not unusual for the Doctor to enter this moment in defiance ("I don't want to go...") and given the setting, an icy world, it's entirely possible we're seeing the final moments of the Christmas special.  Although, I haven't completely ruled out the idea that in fact Capaldi is going to regenerate at the end of the series, but somehow return as an earlier version to help his new incarnation to find her vortex legs.  Imagine if they could pull off this reveal next week, finally making up for what didn't happen in 2005.

Which brings us to one of the more interesting conversations in the episode about the fluidity of Time Lord genders.  The Doctor jokes about not remembering if they were a woman in the past but unless this is some shocking tease from the writer taking the piss out of a section of the fan base, explaining the old Master to newbies, or the new Rani's a bloke, this has to be foreshadowing for when Romola Garai (or, I'll concede, whoever) emerges next week or at Christmas.  Moffat rarely writes this sort of scene without a reason.  He's apt to do this kind of introduction, to clear the air, to justify some new twist.  Another notable example is Eleventh's phone call in Deep Breath which was a way of reassuring fans who'd joined during his USA breaking tenure that it was OK, that the show would continue without him (even if he failed to mention that some of us would end up hating his successor within a few episodes).  All of which depends on lead times.  Did Chris Chibnall make his choice early enough for Moffat to write the dialogue and someone to film it?  Late pick-ups?  It's going to be Kris Marshall isn't it?  Sigh.

A Quick Word About De-Caffeinated Coffee.

Beverages Seeking refreshment at IKEA Warrington yesterday after finding just the right set of shelves for once, I decided to visit the cafe for some apple pie and coffee. Large signs everywhere advertising filter coffee, freshly brewed with some nice pictures of same. I duly paid the 0.95p at the check out when took the mug to the dispensing station only to find that there is indeed freshly brewed filter coffee - unless you want decaff in which case its sachets of Kenco Instant.

Not being able to have caffeine for medical reasons is the worst at the best of times but having to pay the same price for a couple spoonfuls of the same stuff I'm stuck using at home instead of what's available to everyone else, well, it's the worst. I bristled. I considered taking it up with a manager. But then realised it would have been a corporate decision so took the damned instant.

For those of us living in a decaff world, options are limited. Some supermarkets, even the Tesco Metro in Clayton Square don't have non-caffeine products in the beverage section which means we have to looking further, harder. But it's even worse when you're in a restaurant or cafe and have to deal with it. Last time I visited The Garden cafe in FACT I was charged extra for decaff and the situation on Virgin Trains is similar to IKEA, a sachet of decaff Kenco for the same price as filter. Over two pounds in that case.

Decaff is presumably less popular than the "proper" stuff which is why these other arrangements are made. Why have an extra machine for something which is selected by just a fraction of the potential audience? Starbucks can justify the expense presumably because they have the volume of traffic, although they only have one type of decaff and it's only available as Americano, not as filter coffee.

If nothing else, this has made me appreciate what it must be like to be a vegetarian or vegan in a carnivorous world where restaurants cater for the larger market first and almost include veggie food as an after thought. At some point in the future I'll hopefully be able to return to caffeine and the kick (oh the kick) but until then I'll keep cherishing those place which make an effort to include everybody.

"Hatred can become like food, it gives you this energy that you can like, live off of."

TV This Guardian piece about shows cancelled before their time features many shows championed by this blog, including Party Animals and My So-Called Life:
"“So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff, just for fun. Just ’cause it seemed like if I didn’t I would die or something.” Gripping from the very first lines of Angela Chase’s internal monologue, this was as gut-wrenchingly true to a girl’s high-school experience as it’s possible to get. My So-Called Life catalysed every corridor crush, every parental let-down, every wild urge to be free. Even seemingly simple moments like Jordan Catalano approaching Angela in a hallway made a million teens shiver."
Pleasingly includes many a UK show and probably all present and correct. To the list I'd probably add the Sally Philips starring Bridget Jones done properly work place comedy drama Rescue Me ("It's James Lance!"), NY-LON (Rashida Jones before she was famous) and North Square (everyone before they were famous).  Also points for not mechanically including Firefly, because arguably Serenity allowed its story to have a natural end.

Free Tickets for Led Zeppelin.

Film After watching the only ok tragicomedy Love Happens tonight due to my addiction to watching deeply average Jennifer Aniston films, I wandered into YouTube searching for Mark Kermode's review. He didn't or if he did it isn't up there for posterity.

 Instead I stumbled upon this clip from back in 2007 when the Good Doctor appeared in the last half hour of Simon Mayo's own show and sometimes met the guest before. On that day it was Jeremy Clarkson and it's frosty if polite. But the key moment is towards the end when Clarkson mentions who he received his Zeppelin tickets from:



Oh, ok.

Elizabeth Wurtzel interviewed by Liz Phair.

Film A piece on the Interview Magazine website on the occasion of a reissue of Prozac Nation. This paragraph in particular resonated:
"I see sexism everywhere, and I think it has to do with that. I've begun to blame sexism for everything. I've become so overwhelmed by it that, even though I love Bob Dylan, I don't want to listen to Bob Dylan, because I don't want to listen to men anymore. I don't care what men have to say about anything. I only want to pay attention to what women do. I only want to read women. I'll tell you how intense my feelings about this are: You know The Handmaid's Tale, the show, which is feminist in its nature? Because men are behind it, I don't want to watch it. That is the extent to which I am so truly horrified by what is going on."
Increasingly I'm drawn to women's stories in film and female-led films because I've also felt like I've seen enough man stories already. But the other point about The Handmaid's Tale has also been a concern - the key creator of the series is male. But the gender of the writing and directorial staff is roughly fifty/fifty so to an extent I'm ok with that especially since the source material is from a female author.

Let's hope that the success of Wonder Woman will lead to more films which don't just have a female protagonist but also director and writers which is something even that film didn't accomplish.

"Either shut him up or shut him down!"

Film You will have heard that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have creative differenced their way out of the Han Solo film with three weeks of principle photography left. As ever their fans have suggested this is all a Disney/Lucasfilm problem but I'm taking rather an Ant-Man approach to this, that Edgar Wright's directorial style was never going to fit within the MCU as it is now.

As the Hollywood Reporter suggests Lord and Miller across all of their films have favoured an improvisational approach, and however much I like their work, I thought it was an odd choice that they be hired in the first place especially with Lawrence Kasdan writing the script. Why get Kasdan to do the work if you're going to allow the actors to throw it all out or talk around what's on the page?

Plus it doesn't fit with Star Wars, with its high adherence to a "canon" and in defining the back story for one of its iconic characters.  However far away from the house style Rogue One strayed, it was still quite recognisably a Star Wars film, especially after the reshoots and we don't really know the extent to which what happened was due to Gareth Edwards straying from formula.

Perhaps they thought Lord and Miller would like the Russo Brothers in MARVEL take whatever their sensibilities they have but remain focused on it being a Star Wars film rather than something of their own.  But it sounds like they wanted to do a 21 Jump Street and bend someone else's property around their own ideas, which again, I don't think you can do with Han Solo.

We'll probably have some inkling eventually of what occurred, especially in the run up to the release of the film.  The interesting thing will be how much is going to be reshot with the new director and who will eventually get the credit.  Will it be a joint credit or will the new person receive final name?  There's no way Lucasfilm would release this with the modern equivalent of Alan Smithee.  Probably.

Updated 22/06/2017  Ron Howard's taken over, which is reassuring.  Here's my guess.  Massive, massive reshoots and the film is pushed through to a December 2018 release and he'll get sole credit.  No idea why its being released as a Summer film anyway.  Star Wars is the perfect replacement for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as the end of the year treat.  Slash film has some unverified accounts of what happened behind the scenes and it sounds like they weren't delivering the Star Wars film as expected.

Not Adam Curtis on Slides in Films.

History One of my favourite past times is looking out for culture which is almost but not exactly like some other source, conscious or not.  Probably my favourite is Miami Rhapsody in which David Frankel seems to have attempted to make a Woody Allen film even to the point of casting Mia Farrow in a key role.

 Now, here's the Adam Curtis version:



The loopy political connections, the giant text over archive footage, featuring a shot of Reagan's attempted assassination.  Did Fandor know?  About the only thing missing is River Deep, Mountain High running over the conclusion. Plus it's always good to be reminded that we do live in the reality were Robert Altman directed Robin Williams playing Popeye.

Sony's Spiderverse now in the MCU.

Film News broke last week that Sony were developing a Venom film and possibly something with Black Cat and Silver Sable but that they would not be in the MCU ala the X-Verse. My reaction was of course, please stop, but there's an interview now with Amy Pascal, producer of the films sat next to Kevin Feige in which we discover that indeed they will be set in the MCU. From Twitter:


The io9 version of this story becomes quite vexed about continuity and contradictions but really what we're probably seeing is something akin to the television arrangement, ABC and Netflix, stories set in the MCU without impacting what happens in the main Disney films.  In which case, why not?

Of course where this leaves my theory about the Watchers in the Stan Lee cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 representing different MARVEL film universes which still have an underlying connection through him.  Unless the third one is from the Tim Story Fantastic Four films.  Yes, that'll be it.

The Eaters of the Light.



TV A few years ago, deep in the thickets of the Matt Smith era, I often noted on here how the only way to experience a more traditional stand alone adventure was to listen to an AudioGo exclusive cd or read one of the novels. Amid the split seasons, story arcs and experiments with the format, those stories in which the Doctor and his companion(s) (depending whether Rory was dead that week) turned up at a place and protected the local population from some monster didn't really exist, at least not without some link to the whatever the central mystery of the season was.  Meanwhile writers like Una McCormick, Oli Smith, James Goss, Gary Russell and friends turned these characters around a more familiar narrative idea albeit experimenting with an epistolary format or some such.

The Capaldi era and more specifically this season has seen a return to these kinds of stories, apart from prologues and epilogues referring to whatever's up with Missy.  Smile, Thin Ice, Knock Knock, Oxygen, Empress of Mars and now Rhona Monro's The Eaters of the Light all fit within that category.  For the most part you could imagine a prose version for each of them recorded by a past season luminary like Dan Starkey or Keeley Hawes to music which sounds almost but not exactly like Murray Gold (to sit alongside the current crop from BBC Worldwide which have pretty much carried on where AudioGo left off).  None of which should be assumed to be a criticism.  The audio reading of one of those spin-off novels, Johnny Morris's Touched by an Angel is my favourite story of that era in any media including television.

It's why this season has felt most "Doctor Who" of the Capaldi era.  Indeed much of what initially happens in Monro's episode is near identical to last week.  The Doctor decides to investigate mystery.  He's quickly separated from Bill who becomes trapped after falling through a hole and they each meet different factions in this particular environment who will ultimately have to unite in order to battle a common foe.  But there's something inherently comforting about that, inherently Saturday night.  Genre is about giving the audience what they expect whilst changing the formula just enough for them to give them some originality.  Last week the Empress of the Ice Warriors emerged, this week an inter-dimensional being that wants to suck the life out of everything.  Insert contemorary political commentary here.

But the key difference is in Monro's ability to utilise the scenario and explore ideas about how young people are thrust into positions of authority and responsibility and then chide themselves for making a mistake or poor decision because of how they've been psychologically crafted by external influences.  This gives the episode a darker tone than usual in which people in their late teens find themselves making supreme sacrifices for the greater good which for all the episode's attempt to make it seems like a positive decision, about enemies working together, creating eternal music together, is nothing but nihilistic.  That's something the AudioGo standalones were often unafraid of too - their textual brevity often gave the writer leave to end with a sombre or ambiguous conclusion.

All of which is helped immeasurably by a strong set of "locals".  The Picts and Romans are both archetypes with the teenage wing of the Ninth Army opposite the cast of Brave but the performances from this young cast really sell the pathetic nature of their predicament.  Cleverly, both sides are simply extrapolations backwards of more familiar figures of recent times, with British Army squaddies underneath the Italian breastplates and millennials with swords on the other side.  Offering a veneer of strong words over an interior riddled with fear makes them perfectly relatable even if their individuality doesn't reach much beyond a few traits.  Though it is good to see the show bother to touch on Rome's more open attitude to gender and sexuality and in a surprisingly nuanced way.

Amongst the current time team, Capaldi has some of his very best scenes and speeches of the era, "Time to grow up.  Time to fight your fight."  This is a Doctor who's entirely in control of how he treats people, with sarcasm when its necessary and compassion when its essential.  Once again I ask - why couldn't we have had this man for the other two seasons, why did we have to sit through that hateful jerk who makes season eight so unwatchable?  Meanwhile Bill reveals her growing authority, stands up to the Doctor as he watches yet more humans sacrifice themselves on his behalf, due to his all too perfect ability to persuade them to do so through his sheer presence.  Mackie's performance has developed ten fold across the season and shows real facility and relish when the material demands it.

Those spin-off stories would also enjoy the opportunity to visit underserved locations while the television series was either off world, Wales or somewhere within the M25.  Here we are in 2nd century Scotland with its epic scenery and unlike Tennant in Tooth & Claw who had to pretend to have an accent that was really his, Capaldi's able to speak as broadly as he wants.  In an interview with this month's association manuscript, Rona Monro indicates that Moffat did a final pass on the script and added some extra jokes -- I wonder how many of these were the digs against his native land.  That's a brilliant interview incidentally, demonstrating how much of a fan of this show Monro is explaining a playwright of this renown would not only return to the show after all these years but do so with such an understanding of how it's constructed.

If there's a particularly weak element it's the adversary, another in a long line of monsters which seem designed to be difficult to merchandise.  Lovecraftian CG creatures are fine and god knows the last thing we need is something like the Mandrills or the Fisher King blundering around.  Plus I used to complain about the armies of identical aliens who populated the Russell T Davies years. But it's another week without a new iconic monster that the Doctor Who Figurine Collection could slap on their cover in between a Monoid and a Machine Gun Dalek.  True, we glimpse something inside the portal but they're barely on screen long enough to make an impression.  What is Neill Gorton doing these days?  Four episodes of Class, a Red Dwarf and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Nothing on Who since Last Christmas (the episode not the chronological days).  Well.

Let's talk briefly about the Missy business.  What if she's being sincere?  With the John Simm Master making an appearance next week you could foresee a situation in which the Doctor and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain fight to influence her intellectually and emotionally with the latter fearing that she might become his equivalent of the Valeyard or The Eight incarnation of The Eleven, the good one.  The close up at the conclusion of this instalment seemed to be waiting for snidely eyebrow raise but none was forthcoming.  Since Scream of the Shalka, there's seemed to be some merit in having the Doctor's arch enemy as his companion and now we might actually get to see again what that looks like.  There even seemed to be an uncomfortable beat of romance somewhere in here.

Another fine episode then in a series which began lightly and has gained weight.  Not all of the AudioGos were brilliant sometimes hampered either by weak writing or a disappointing reading.  No one seemed to get Amy's accent right, not least Alexander "Xander" Armstrong who didn't even bother when it was his turn, preferring to read all of the dialogue and descriptions in the same way.  But in the final embers of Capaldi's era, there's a genuine sense of the show finding its feet, its purpose and thank goodness.  Even if I still can't see the point of Nardole, who was especially objectionable here, but I was able to tune out for the most part as you can see from this otherwise positive review.  Hopefully during the finale we'll discover what he was actually here for.  It had better be good.

"All the world's waiting for you, and the power you possess."



Life Let's catch up again.  Like most of you, I sat through the utterly thrilling evening that was the latest General Election through the elation of thinking that a Tory Government might not be certain to realising, oh shit, they're going to make a go for it and taking some homophobic misogynists with them.  Labour were within a 2.5 swing of becoming the biggest party and it's entirely possible to infer that some of the constituency losses were because of the date chosen for the election and students not being registered at home in time.  As soon as same day registration and provisional ballots are introduced in the UK, the better.  I said recently that the universe is not without a sense of humour and even though I don't believe in god much, I believe that.  Thursday night was a prime example.  Some applause too for the BBC fielding one of the most diverse presenting teams in history, with I think more women than men which just added an extra poignancy to the evening.

That Wonder Woman is one of the greatest comic book films of all time goes without saying and a triumph considering the astonishingly poor material surrounding it in the DCCU (or whatever Warners are calling this).  Bus Dodge only really became a decent film once Diana smirked with pleasure at the fight (a moment improvised by Gal Gadot who then had to explain why to her director) and her solo entry is that attitude writ large across two and a half hours.  The surprise for me is how funny it is but without stepping on MARVEL's goofier toes seeking a slightly drier, subtextual approach reliant on wordplay (the boat conversation a notable example).  Plus it subverts the male gaze by taking it out of the equation.  I can't think of a single occasion in which they cut to Steve Trevor to see his reaction to her beauty in a typical way.  For the most part she's viewed with a contagious awe.  Amazing.  Amazing.

That was Monday.  Tuesday was spent in the company of the BFI's new BD release of the restored print of Abel Gance's Napoleon, a stunning achievement both from its director and the film historian Kevin Brownlow, who gathered together material across fifty years attempting to recreate the original vision.  Throughout it's entirely possible to forget that it was made over ninety years ago.  Gance produces shots and cuts with relatively primitive technology which are tricky even now on digital materials.  What surprised me too is the range of different types of storytelling from what's effectively a teen film through war sequences and a romance.  Even on the 22 inch screen which sometimes rendered the image incoherent, it's impossible not to become swept up in the grandeur as hundreds of extras fill the screen giving the impression that Gance was actually there shooting a documentary.

This weekend I was given a Bodum ePEBO Electric Vacuum Coffee Maker, which is something I didn't even know existed beforehand is the without shadow the best coffee machine I've ever owned.  Looking like something straight out of Morbius's laboratory, it speed heats the water in the bottom jug which them shifts up a spout into a vacuum-filled fish bowl were the coffee rests, continues boiling and brewing then returns the bottom, repeating the cycle one or twice until its done.  Even the decaff I'm forced to drink tastes rich and full bodied.  The process works equally well with various leaf and fruit teas after I've emptied the contents of their bags into the bowl producing a perfect cup each time without the bitterness which sometimes comes from leaving a bag in a mug stewing for too long.  Since this is something which is usually outside my price bracket, it's been a lovely treat.  Pity I'm so scared of breakages.

The Empress of Mars.



TV Good evening ladies and other genders, I give you my favourite episode of the series so far. No purportedly clever opening paragraph here, no wandering off into some personal blogging cul-de-sac in an attempt to put off the inevitable shrugs and sighs, The Empress of Mars is a winner, baby, and that's the truth (that's the truth).  Woo-hoo.  If this is Mark Gatiss's last episode for the television series (not that there's any indication of that), it's a pretty good summation of his favourite tropes and ideas, a televisual Last of the Gaderine so authentically Who that it demonstrates once again  that for all Steven Moffat's reliance on showrunners nervously turning out a first Who script which in the end feels like the work of someone who only thinks they know the franchise, it's no replacement for someone who has it running through their creative veins and written more stories about the Doctor than anyone else this series.

When reviewing Gatiss stories in the past, it's always been customary for me to stick up for the writer early and so here we are again.  Apart from Sleep No More, which I thought was a misstep but Graham Kibble-White adored enough in the friends publication that I'm looking forward to re-evaluating when I finally get around to a binge through the Capaldi era after Christmas (I've only ever rewatched about the first five episodes of series 8), there are few of the writer's stories I haven't at least admired and have indeed thought better of in retrospect (notably The Idiot's Lantern and Night Terrors) even taking into account how much of them are filtered through a show runner rewrite or whatever an actor decides to improvise on set.  Of everyone I hoped would take over when Moffat leaves, he was at the top of the list, but it's understandable he's reneged on attempting to tame this all consuming monster with so many of other creative vices available.

What makes The Empress of Mars so special?  Simplistically but resolutely because it feels like "real" Doctor Who, which is paradoxical given how much of the past few episodes have attracted my dismay at their derivativeness.  Except there's a big difference between pastiche and appreciating the core elements of a series, and simply lifting wholesale from previous stories.   An unfavourable review might point to how we're watching a group of humans blunder into defrosting another tomb full of monsters having seen that process before with Cybermen and Silurians with the Doctor mediating at the centre, or relying on some less xenophobic element of humanity to do some such.  That Gatiss recycles his notion from Victory of the Daleks of humanity arrogantly putting an alien race into servitude even though in reality they're the ones serving their captive visitor in some other cause.

Yet as the preview in this month's fan circular demonstrates, all of this is a feature rather than a bug, from a writer who had the bug to feature all of his great interests in one script.  He says he wanted to do "Tomb of the Ice Warriors", to finally show the "monsters" on their native planet even if it isn't at the height of their empire (still too expensive) and to have them facing up against a Victorian opposition in a homage to the film adaptations of Wells and Burroughs.  To somewhat repeat the point, it's someone writing from a position of knowledge about what's gone before and doing more of that rather than assuming they're creating something new which has actually been done before but for some reason no one's bothered to tell them because they probably haven't noticed.  Or they have but just don't care, forgetting that viewers can actually watch old episodes again.

But perhaps the biggest difference in The Empress of Mars is that Gatiss isn't trying to put some "modern" spin on all of this; he's gone out of his way to produce a script which would work just as well in any era.  Again from DWM, something which would pass the "Dad" test of being simple enough for anyone to follow.  There's a version of this story which fits just as snugly into an old school four or six episode structure with the Doctor and Bill spending a whole episode in the cell and Friday's reveal as the first episode cliffhanger.  Second episode cliffhanger is the reveal of the Tomb.  Third the Empress.  Fourth the opening of the tomb.  Fifth the Doctor standing between the humans and Ice Warriors guns pointed at one another.  You'd have to have some other story strands but yes, that would work a treat.

Dialogue wise too, with the exception of the film references, the Doctor and Bill are in full on generic Time Lord and companion mode and with a few tweaks, Tenth and Rose or Tom and Sarah could easily be slotted in almost as a homage to Sir Terrance's dictum that the Doctor himself doesn't change, it's about the actor's interpretation.  Capaldi has the opportunity to be the benevolent alien and Pearl an exposition sponge and in a week of uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, there's something rather comforting about that.  When the Doctor runs after Bill as she falls down the hole in the ground, I don't remember seeing Twelfth treat the moment with such irrevocable terror.  For some reason, the Doctor's likeability rating always goes up when he seems to care about the well being of his friends and Capaldi's charming here.  Imagine if he'd been like this all along.  Imagine, imagine.

Unlike most episodes this series, we're also greeted by a supporting characters with relatable back stories who we care about when they die.  Deliberately referencing Zulu, Gatiss offers a mix of naive young officers, grizzled old hands, villainous racists and shaky commanding officer.  What I especially enjoyed about these red coats is that that they're actual Victorians on Mars in Victorian times, not the results of a times coop or Autons or some other replica.  If only there'd been the budget for a flashback to their voyage aboard Friday's ship, the juxtaposition of these moustacheode fellows and interstellar technology recalling the crew of the R101 roaring against the Triskele Uncreators in Storm Warning (yes, I know they were Edwardians but go with it).  Look everyone, I'm referencing old Eighth Doctor spin-offs.  That's how energised I am with the episode.

The Ice Warriors too are brilliantly realised, developing what we've seen before rather than wiping away ala the Silurians.  Perhaps noticing that the CGI unsuited version in Cold War wasn't quite as good as it could be, this lot remain in armour and although I miss original destructive imagery and sound from the 60s, the new flesh compactor is just horrible.  The simplistic leadership of Iraxxa the eponymous contrasts well with the simple minded buffoonery on the human side of the argument.  Thank goodness we're witnessing a Moffat loop - without the Doctor, these two would slaughtered one another.  Iraxxa actress Adele Lynch only has to tv credits, this and a couple of episode of The Bill in the 90s.  Her Spotlight entry indicates she's mainly worked on stage and that she's a capable dancer, which is ironic considering the most actors playing Ice Warriors can do is stomp around a lot.  I wonder how she ended up here.

All this and a couple of moments of pure unadulterated squee.  Does the BBC have to get permission for Pauline Collins to reprise her role as Queen Victoria in pictorial form?  On top of that, Alpha Centuri with Ysanne Churchman reprising the role from the Peladon stories she last played forty odd years ago,  having last appeared on television as "Woman in Street" on Alan Bleasdale's Oliver Twist adaptation for ITV in '99 (along with half of Christendom) and better known as ill-fated Grace Archer.  Even Big Finish recast her.  Gatiss almost set this on Peladon itself and this whole business leads naturally to wanting a sequel set there with all the usual attributes of an uncertain ruler, intergalactic saboteurs, human miners and a cameo from Ageddor.  The story's also set in 1881, the year of The Gunfighters and I like to think that the Last Chance Salloon is being hammered out down on Earth while all this going on.

Even the Nardole scenes didn't grate too much this week, even if as usual they only seem to exist so that Matt Lucas can be in ever episode because they like working with with him.  One of these weeks I long for his "and" in the opening titles to be replaced with one of Mark Strong's "but"s.  Perhaps its because it is a classic Who move to have the TARDIS unavailable in a tricky situation and we now have the added mystery of why she decided to fly off without them, refusing to land until Missy became involved.  Incidentally Michelle Gomez's version of the character has quietly passed the Rubicon into absolutely haunting.  There are numerous ways she could have played those final lines and in choosing honest concern, backed up by Murray's glorious Ligeti-tinged vocal cue, we're left in pieces in a way which demonstrates that evil is always more potent when it's entombed, waiting to be uncovered.