With Mary Shelley.

Audio Well, then right then, here we go then, after all these it’s time to finally listen to all of the Eighth Doctor’s Big Finish audio stories in order (or as best as I can manage). Even though I hitched on with Storm Warning in 2001 when McGann finally signed with the company, I stepped off again at the end of the first season of the stories broadcast on BBC Radio 7 so like the novels and comics there are tons of new adventures ready to enjoy on top of the revisits. Like the novels, it’s been impossible not to stumble across some of the major events but there’ll hopefully be enough incidental pleasures along with being able to re-evaluate stories which I’ve not heard since their original release. The format for these review posts will be the same as the comics, which as I’ve discovered doesn’t leave much room for opinion over analysis, but we’ll see.

Thanks to Big Finish’s non-linear approach to production we begin with the Mary Shelley stories, developed as a prequel to the original releases building on the initial reference in the original first release Storm Warning as well as veiled material from the Dalek story Terra Firma. The studiousness of these back references mean that it’s not really the ideal stepping on position for new listeners, the franchise’s Byzantine approach to continuity meaning they’d otherwise have to deal with all the mentions of Samson and Gemma Griffin who were introduced as companions that predate Charley in that adventure (to help explain the mention of Sam in Minuet in Hell when the company decided they were creating a separate continuity to the novels before Mary’s Story went out of its way to confirm that yes, actually it is all the same continuity after all).

But in terms of trying to get the Eighth Doctor’s continuity straight, it works wonders. Even though this is supposed to be relatively early in terms of the audio adventures, the figure who appears in these stories is already a matured Time Lord, clear of purpose and psychologically complex with a bit of weariness. You could well imagine that he’s experienced the novels and comics first although its also important to notice that it’s the older version of him who mentions Destrii and Compassion in Mary’s Story leaving enough wiggle room for those who still want to have it that all of this happens in the notorious Greenpeace three months from early on in the novels. This entertaining version mixes everything together and probably would have been a fun way of going about things but I still feel that the different narratives from each company and media should be together.

If that’s the case where is he now? At a certain point he’s left Destrii and he’s travelling alone. Having heard future events already, we can say that once again Gallifrey’s changed, although there’s enough wiggle room in that once comic story too to suggest that it’s all been sorted out again in time for Shada and beyond, notably that Romana’s now the President as established in the Sixth Doctor story The Apocalypse Element (though I’m not sure how she’s back looking like Lalla Ward rather than the third incarnation from the books unless the Doctor did put the planet back together somehow in an earlier version, a bit like a computer returning to an earlier saved backup). None of this really matters I don’t think, though it’s interesting that even the messy version can’t quite square that. James Goss has also confirmed that the Juliet Landau version isn’t Romana III either. See what I mean? Byzantine.

What to make of Mary Shelley? All of the writers have obviously been concerned about simply "creating" Charley 2.0 so that as well as utilizing more archaic language and constant references to her future historic achievements and developing some jeopardy about the implications of her being missing from her own time period and the implications that has especially if she dies in the Doctor's company. One oddness is how little justification is offered either way as to why he would choose to take such an important literary figure on a trip like this with those kinds of risks other than that time hasn't been rewritten that a biography of Mary Shelley can exist in the TARDIS library. Some day perhaps we'll have a story which explores if that library changes whenever the Doctor has an effect on history.

There's also sense of her not really knowing why she's travelling beyond her initial curiosity though as The Silver Turk notices metafictionally we're essentially having a historic figure learning to be a companion with the twin thematic resonance in relation to how that compares to marriage (the Doctor is constantly being compared to Percy Shelley). To that end, she does now and then, as The Silver Turk also predicts falling into a fairly old school companion role of saying Doctor a lot and asking questions. The idea of Shelley keeping a journal (much like Izzy and Charley) does provide some opportunity to reveal her internal thoughts us, not that it provides much warning for the oddness of hearing her tell the Doctor she fancies him in so many words. His reaction's much the same as ours. "Huh? Oh, erm..." In so many words.

The other clear link between these stories is how they're supposed to suggest it's Mary's travels with the Doctor which ultimately influence her literature with lots of little nods here and there ala Timelash and The Shakespeare Code (and it's not often you'll see those two referred to in the same sentence even though they're both doing roughly the same thing).  All four stories are to some extent about extending life through artificial means though in none of them is it clear that Mary's immediately thinking of them as literary sources even as she writes in her journal.  Julie Cox's powerful performance reveals to us a woman who's already exploding with imagination so there's never a chance of diminishing Mary's later achievement, she's already thinking along these lines.

The Company of Friends: Mary’s Story

The Eighth Doctor finally meets Byron and doesn’t think much of him. Or Percy Shelley who also receives a suitably rough ride. There’s a certain element of justifying and explaining why Mary would join the Doctor on his adventures at the end of the story, but it’s refreshing that what is one of the iconic moments in the Eighth Doctor’s adventures is treated with such little reverence, the historical figures portrayed as such feckless idiots, the alternative never quite sitting well. To a degree it’s a pre-cursor to Night of the Doctor as a celebration of the incarnation, hearing McGann listing most of his multimedia companions, right down to Ssard from the Radio Times strips in a similar way to his dying moments before his regeneration. The writer, Jonathan Morris of course wrote one of the also referenced Trix’s best original appearances in The Tomorrow Windows.

The Silver Turk

Sock-faced Cybermen! As projects go this is pretty niche. Recorded two and half years after Mary’s Story but continuing directly on you might well ask who it’s for other than listeners gasping to hear the McGann in a typical format story longer than fifty minutes. Plus it’s a spiritual sequel to writer Marc Platt’s own Spare Parts and it’s refreshing to have real Mondasian Cybermen who can construct whole sentences at a time when the television series has all but reduced them to barely conscious puppets not unlike the wooden marionettes featured here. The other clear influence is Hammer horror though unlike the Hinchliffe years this has some full on, blood curdling scares of a kind that would cause an automatic 18 rating from the BBFC. Clearly Cardiff’s become slightly more relaxed about such things which is all to the good. Not all merchandise should necessarily be aimed at children surely?

The Witch from the Well

Doctor Who does the Witchfinder General via a Moffat loop and trying desperately not to have too much Python. After a slightly subdued turn last time, McGann is incredibly energised here in that way Big Finish Doctors often are when they’re having a ball with the guest cast (mainly chosen by Barnaby Edwards from his Globe Theatre co-horts) and loving the script (a spectacularly assured piece by occasional writer Rick Briggs). He’s tiggerish, his line readings are just right and seems to remember the attitude of the version of the character who appeared in the earlier plays. In the bonus section he talks at length about how he realised that his Doctor doesn’t have one particular attitude, but that there will always be a sense of cloud, an undercurrent that suggests that there’s something in his past that he can’t quite ever forget.

Army of Death

For a legend like the Doctor to exist, especially in more contemporary instances of the franchise, every now and then you have to tell a story which speaks to the legend which isn't about anything other than fighting monsters, toppling unfair regimes and protecting the innocent. Storming cast includes David Harewood (just before Homeland) and one Mitch Benn who sounds like he's having a ball, bless him. Eighth is in "nostalgic" mood too, randomly referring to the Whomobile and The Deadly Assassin in a way which is not usual for him. With so much happening Mary Shelley's story falls through the cracks a bit, though it's a surprise to see that the partnership isn't definitively concluded at the end. Once again we're left with a gap for our imagination to fill with more adventures (and perhaps also Big Finish with future audio dramas).

Geoff Boyle on Digital "Film"

Film DoP Geoff Boyle (Wallander, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) on shooting with digital cameras and how they've replaced celluloid: "People obsess about 'Does it look like film, is it as good as film...' Who gives a shit?" [via]

The Defence of Monaco.

Film Grace of Monaco is in no way the disaster you've been told it is. It's just that it tosses out historical accuracy in favour of pure melodrama, has the aesthetics of a perfume commercial and is attempting to recreate a particular tone of film typified by the late fifties technicolour cinemascope of 20th Century Fox. Brad Stevens offers a lengthier defence at Sight & Sound:
"All the film’s motifs and concerns can be found in its exemplary opening shot, which seems to begin with the camera retreating down a road. This is soon revealed to be an image projected on a screen in a Hollywood studio where Grace Kelly is shooting High Society (1956). As actors and technicians applaud, Grace leaves the set, Dahan’s camera following her from behind. Only after she has entered her dressing room and positioned herself before a mirror do we finally catch a glimpse of Grace’s face, and we see it only via a reflection. Grace’s aristocratic power and control are emphasised by the way she hands some flowers she has been given to an assistant, then begins removing her coat, which is immediately grabbed by another assistant."
It's worth noting I really enjoyed both Diana and W.E. for similar reasons.

Soup Safari #15: Mushroom & Spinach at Cornerhouse Manchester.

Lunch. £4.25. 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5N. Phone: 0161 200 1500. Website.

Creative Commons.

Politics Diamond Geezer visits Parliament. The view from the public galleries:
"I really shouldn't need to tell you all this, because goings on in Parliament are broadcast live on their own dedicated TV channel which you could easily watch, but don't. Instead let me tell you a little more about what the cameras don't see, or at least which the director chooses not to show. MPs are allowed to use smartphones and tablets in the chamber and will often sit there checking the BBC news webpage or tapping furious messages. A more traditional means of communication is also available, with a clerk popping into the chamber on a regular basis to deliver, or to collect, written messages. I noted that anyone who spoke on the official record received a delivery shortly afterwards, and also that speakers generally stayed to listen to the speech immediately after theirs before nodding to the Speaker and exiting the chamber."

The Oresteia on 4oD.

Theatre Further to my review of Channel 4's The Celebration, glancing through 4oD the other night, I was surprised and pleased to see that amongst their offerings, slightly randomly, is an in theatre recording of Peter Hall's production of The Oresteia from The National (with music by Harrison Birtwistle).

Click here to see all three parts although it'll also be on the various apps.

The Screenplays project has a thoroughly researched entry about this production and this television version.
"The television version of the National’s The Oresteia was prefaced, earlier in the week, by two accompanying programmes. On Tuesday 4 October, a special edition of the Today’s History series, transmitted under the title The Weight of the Past, connected the themes of the Oresteia with ‘modern instances of revenge as a route to justice’, asking ‘how a society ever emerges from feuds to the rule of law’ (Channel Four Television: Press Information, 1-7 October 1983). This programme was illustrated by extracts not only from the Channel 4 production but also from the 1977 Sicilian film Padre, Padrone (directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani), which had recently been shown on Channel 4, and the recently released Handgun (written and directed by Tony Garnett, 1982)."

My Favourite Film of 2011.

Film Here's some background as to how this list has been compiled.

Firstly I sat at the computer and typed up a list of all the films I decided I really quite liked, off the top of my head, as many as I could, as many as I could remember, and these were then transferred into an Access table and afterwards I went through and added released dates as they appear on the IMDb.

 Admittedly some of those dates won't match the year I saw them but films rarely do anymore, so this doesn't really matter.

After that I went through and took a long hard look at the films listed in the same year and chose one.

Really difficult.

Then I went through and added in all the dates and I didn't have anything listed for then.

Then I went through the annual lists on this blog to fill in the gaps on the assumption that if I liked it enough to mention it then, I must have liked it quite a lot.

Hence Chalet Girl.

I won my blu-ray copy through an online competition from In The Snow Magazine.  Yes, indeed.

Searching for the title bar image, I find now that there was a production blog and that begins here.

Here's what I said at the end of 2011:

Chalet Girl was this year’s secret classic and I suspect the teenage version of me would have judged it the year’s best (which makes this choice about nostalgia for the person I once was). It’s essentially a British take on the Mary-Kate and Ashley cultural tourism series, but throughout it explodes expectations by making the bitchy blonde rival the best friend, putting the handsome suitor at the epicentre of a discussion on class politics and hiring Bill Bailey to play an emotionally crippled Dad. But the key success is Felicity Jones as the eponymous service worker who uncannily appropriates in her tiny form some of Katherine Hepburn’s verve, timing and just general weirdness, taking full advantage of a script which is drenched in buckets full of cynicism and still able to look just plain cute in a ski coat against the snow. it's just a shame the typically mishandled advertising campaign and critical reaction put everyone else off.

I can't really improve on that other than to also notice just how many Doctor Who related actors appear.  Like Broadchurch, it would probably be quicker to list who hasn't been in Doctor Who.

Frozen Rock.

Film The instrumental version of Fixer Upper from the ULTIMATE EDITION soundtrack to the film Frozen:

Is Fraggle Rock isn't it?

Oh Fant4stic.

Film Fantastic Four trailer, oh sorry Fant4stic trailer (eye roll), in "not as shit as we were expecting" shocker. It's not Chronicle 2 apparently, with little evidence of a "found footage" aesthetic but about the only thing which would indicate this is a FF film is The Thing. There's a clear attempt to keep this as separate as possible in tone to the MCU but one of the elements the original two rubbish attempts got right were the aesthetic (mostly) and the humour (almost).  But as we always remind ourselves, The Phantom Menace trailer made that look like the best film ever so its entirely possible this could be false advertising.  Still more interested in the Ant-Man film though.

Winston Churchill’s funeral in HD on BBC Parliament.

TV This Friday, BBC Parliament will be broadcasting the state funeral of Churchill from the original archive film masters. At the About the BBC blog, James Rowland, Senior Media Manager, BBC Archives describes the restoration process:
"While planning the project the BBC Archives team discovered that a section from the funeral footage, reportedly featuring two buglers inside St Paul’s Cathedral playing The Last Post followed by Reveille, was missing from a transfer that had been made from the print of the original film many years ago. When the team checked the original film they found, to their relief, the missing section of approximately 3 minutes and 35 seconds was safely preserved on the original film. Up until the Eighties it was relatively common, although not permitted, for users of the Archive to physically cut sections out of the film to use in their programmes with urgent deadlines such as current affairs and we think that’s what may have occurred with the print of the funeral which was later transferred to tape and added to the archive holdings."
BBC Parliament isn't in HD on Freeview yet, but fortunately this will be on the iPlayer afterwards which should be.

"Le professeur Moriarty chez Sherlock Holmes."

Film William Gillette: Five ways he transformed how Sherlock Holmes looks and talks:
"A 1916 silent movie featuring Sherlock Holmes - long presumed lost - is due to have its premiere in Paris. It stars a man who changed the way we see Conan Doyle's famous sleuth forever."
This is the silent which was discovered towards the end of last year. The short clip behind the link is mesmerising and also feels like like we're watching the real Holmes going about his business.

Ariane Sherine interviews Charlie Brooker.

TV Sherine and Brooker are old friends and colleagues so the conversation enters some surprisingly personal areas:
"We met when we were both working in television. I was a jobbing episode writer on £12,000 a year; when Charlie was with me, he was generous to the extent that he wouldn’t even let me pay for bus tickets, and bought me self-help books when I was struggling with anxiety and depression. On meeting him in 2005, I had just escaped an abusive relationship which culminated in violence during pregnancy. Charlie was friendly and kind and safe, and though he alone couldn’t restore my faith in people (that would take years), he made me realise that though there were people in the world who would try to hurt me, there were also those who would try and help."

Happy Burns Night! (from one of them).

The Pre-Gap. Etc.

Music The Guardian's Jude Rogers lifts the groove on hidden tracks:
"CDs allowed the inclusion of a song in the “pregap” – the space before track one, only accessible by pressing rewind (interestingly, this still cannot be read by computers while uploading tracks today). Ash put their debut single, Jack Names the Planets, in this space on their album 1977; Super Furry Animals put pregap tracks on 1997’s Guerrilla and the 1998 compilation Out Spaced; and Unkle, the James Lavelle/DJ Shadow outfit, inserted a track teeming with samples of their influences on 1998’s influential Psyence Fiction – it would have been difficult to get clearance to use all these pieces."
The wikipedia has a list of albums with tracks hidden in the pregap.

"The truth is much more mundane"

About Suw Charman-Anderson debunks five social media myths:
"The idea of the “digital native” is a pervasive one, telling us that young people somehow innately understand technology whilst older people are social media dullards incapable of truly understanding how it works. This idea is nonsense. The truth is much more mundane: Technological capability, interest and access varies as much amongst young people as it does amongst older people. And whilst young tech users may relate to their technology differently, that’s doesn’t mean that they have developed a deeper or more comprehensive understanding than older users."