The Girl Who Died.

TV Good old Donna Noble. Despite having suffered a Time Lord lobotomy and presumably still knocking around on Earth enduring the new perils besetting the planet (you bet she was on one of those planes frozen in the sky with Wilf underneath looking aghast and hoping his Casanova looking friend is somewhere around), the Doctor’s own memory of her, crying in the console room, pleading with him to show some humanity bubbles to the surface causing the Doctor to once again do something rather against the rules. You might well ask why it’s only now that the memory suddenly emerges given the shit he pulled last year, but nevertheless, this risky flashback to the Russell T Davies era, surely another part of the subtle celebration of the revival’s tenth year on television is utterly gut wrenching. The Netflix stream of Fires of Pompeii’s going to have a spike in traffic this evening.

There’s a hypothesis I’ve been cooking for quite some time about who the Doctor is, or at least how Time Lords are wired internally. In The End of Time, there’s much talk of how the Tenth doesn’t want to go because one man walks away and another takes his place. Still the Doctor, but a different Doctor. The nature of this and how it’s explained has changed over the years because different writers have interpreted it in numerous ways, from Terry Dicks’s assumption that essentially it’s not about the words it’s the actor to the majority of other writers and producers who’ve very clearly tailored his attributes to a given actor. The Eccleston incarnation is a different man to Tennant and to Smith and to Capaldi and more often than not its impossible to imagine them reading each other’s lines.

Here’s my theory. I think that inside each Time Lord there’s a core being, a kind of sub-conscious creature who is the Time Lord who then essentially inhabits each new incarnation like a suit. But rather like a TARDIS it isn’t autonomous and when each new body emerges, it essentially takes control of this core being. In other words, a Time Lord’s conscious being changes around his or her subconscious, which is also an archivist for everything the being known as the Doctor is. So when the Tenth Doctor says he doesn’t want to go, when he talks about it being a kind of death, it really is for him, as his conscious mind goes to replaced by another who has all of his memories and knowledge, sort of, but with a different approach to how they can and should be used. None of which explains the whole Romana business, of course.

When the Twelfth Doctor says he’s been given this face for a reason, it’s because his subconscious pulled that face from his memory as a way of providing guidance for this new man who’s taking control. Except he’s been wildly slow on the uptake. Part of the problem I had last year was if this was supposed to be the same man with all of the memories of the deeds and compassion of his previous incarnations, how could he then act that way? Increasingly its looking like we were witnessing a season long post-regenerative torpor. With his conscious mind on an even keel, his subconscious finally feels confident enough that if it throws up the memory of Donna in the TARDIS crying and of saving Caecilius and his family from the fire he’ll know what to do with it. Last year you could imagine him dismissing it out of hand.

If all of that feels a bit like discussion heavy obviscation its because as I write, I’m not sure what I thought of Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat's The Girl Who Died. My instant reaction is that it’s a hilarious, Pythoneque romp which suddenly takes some very odd narrative turns in order to set up the next episode and that even though Maisie Williams was very good, she didn’t seem to be given enough to do in order for her death to resonate enough to be an emotional gut punch but that you could argue that given the title essentially sets up that death, the paratextual noodlings about this being a multi-episode visit for the actress meant that we knew she wasn’t dead anyway and we were just waiting to see the method of recovery so that she could turn up in an obviously much later setting in the following episode which is presumably were she’ll have a much stronger role anyway.

On the whole, this near stand alone Vikings adventure was just a welcome change. With the exception of The Time Meddler and the iconography of The Curse of Fenric, probably for reasons of cost in relation to convincing production design, this is a time period barely tapped by the television series.  There are also only sporadic appearances in the spin-off material, the key texts being Jenny Colgan’s Eleventh Doctor hardback Dark Horizons about a Scottish village under constant menace from a Viking horde and Marcus Sedgwick’s The Spear of Destiny in which the Third Doctor is caught between two warring factions during a search for Odin’s weapon. Perhaps its because Vikings tend to be utilised as antagonists. I’m not sure, for example, that we’re even told what the Viking warriors here were doing before they met the Doctor and Clara, though the indication is that it’s something the Time Lord probably wouldn’t agree with.

Like Mathieson’s Flatline, this is about the Doctor in purely heroic mode, the whimsical figure who, as Clara recognises, throws together an otherwise inconceivable plan, in this case by proving to some farmers that they can’t actually be warriors and that its entirely possible to fight without picking up a hand weapon because what else are you supposed to do against a villain who’s taking cues from a Terry Gilliam animation on how communicate with humanity (“A blessing, a blessing from the Lord! God be praised!"). All of which is hilariously played with Capaldi and Coleman at their comedic apogee, the latter notably during the description of the action we’ve just missed as broken villages loll about as we *lol* too.

The Mire are as much a narrative function as an alien race. Apart from having an MO straight from Soylent Green via Jupiter Rising, they generally exist to be a menace in a similar way to the kinds of monster or the week or fortnight or month (depending on the publication era) of Doctor Who Adventures and the solution to punishing them is in just that mode. Giving one of them a human face, albeit modelled after a God, does provide some point of interest, but recognising everything else which is happening the episode, the writer purposefully barely sketches them in. Perhaps for monsters to make their mark in the revival they have to be the key point of the episode, as per the Weeping Angels and we haven’t had anything with that kind of complexity since the turn of the regeneration.  Which isn't to say that this lot won't make good on their threat and return.

Weaving through that is Ashildr's story. To use this word again, the Doctor ruminating on how his choices affect time isn’t especially new, as the overt flashback to Pompeii underscore, but it’s the fact of this version of the Doctor having those concerns, to see the pain of Eleventh during Vincent and the Doctor washing across Twelfth’s face worrying about how saving one person can create ripples coupled with some of the manic rule breaking bravado of Tenth during Waters of Mars, knowing full well that his actions will have consequences even if the Time Lord’s aren’t around to tut at him from under their giant circular hats. Capaldi’s performance in these moments is superb and if you want another example of how he’s answered the question for himself about who the Doctor is, it’s here.

There’s also Clara’s acceptance of Ashildr’s death. Way back in World War Three, when Harriet Jones notices the rather blaze attitude of Rose considering all the deaths which have been occurring in Number 10, the companion suggests that travelling with the Doctor changes you. Clara herself seems to have become inured to death now too, both of the Vikings on the space and unsurprised in some ways here about the girl’s demise even having guessed the cause and that perhaps the Doctor was well aware that this might be the outcome. But this no longer shocks her and indeed it’s the Doctor’s kindness which probably astonishes her more, especially having had to convince him to stay earlier in the episode. This is probably the most mature portrayal of the relationship between Doctor and companion we’ve had in quite some time and equal, particularly in comparison to last year.

The writing in the closing scenes is multi-layered and complex. On the one hand it is exposition heavy, the Doctor explaining what he’s done, why he’s done it and what the results might be, cue Arthur Darvell screaming at his television that he didn’t get a spinning homage to George Pal’s The Time Machine crossed with the Genesis Wave when plastic Roman Rory guarded the Pandorica for two thousand years (while it brought Amy back to life). But it’s also thick with the themes of the opening Dalek two-parter about having the right and the Doctor having created a hybrid (the resurrection scene itself being reminiscent of Laszlo’s resurrection in Evolution of the Daleks). To an extent, the Doctor’s become Davros to Ashildr, utilising alien technology in order prolong her life.

But what’s unusual about all of this is that in televisual terms, this is a cliffhanger in which mystery resides in the results of the Doctor’s own actions and his self-revelation that in allowing his subconscious right of way the man he is now is going to have to deal with the consequences of leaving the gate open. If the Doctor hasn’t saved Ashildr there’d be no The Girl Who Lived. Also, at the risk of thinking too far ahead, these two episodes will also be analogous to The Ark, both in terms of structure, revisiting characters in two different time zones in what’s essentially the same story, and also in that Dodo’s illness is what changed the status quo of the Security Kitchen in a similar way to the Doctor’s actions here albeit on a more conscious level. Bet there won’t be many reviews which make this comparison.

Having written all of that I think am able to have an opinion now and it's much the same as before. I liked it. I laughed a lot and it’s lovely to have the heroic, questioning whimsical Doctor back.  But it's tonally all over the place and  I think bits of it feel rushed and that we’re never quite properly introduced to Maisie’s character early on and there’s a lot of reliance on cross franchise empathy with Arya Stark but that some of this will be mitigated by her return in the next episode and rewatching the two together. We’re five episodes into the series and the whole thing has an undercurrent of reliability which is really comforting. I’m back to looking forward to the next episode again for the first time since the Moffat era 1.0 and how brilliant is that?

Olivia Wilde on Producing.

Film Olivia Wilde has decided that the only way to get the kinds of films she wants to appear in to be made is to take a more active producing role. After gaining some experience on Joe Swanberg's superb Drinking Buddies, she's now going to champion female filmmakers, beginning with Reed Marano, an otherwise cinematographer who's new film Meadowland, in which she's starring and producing (trailer above). Buzzfeed interviews:
Wilde was also motivated by her desire to support a female filmmaker in an industry where directors who are women are still consistently overlooked. In her quest to get funding for the film, Wilde was confronted directly by the gender bias she was rallying against.
“It was incredibly difficult to get financing,” she said. “Reed Morano has DP-ed Oscar-[nominated] films. She is no newbie. Of course she’d make a great director based on [her] experience. So for me, it seems like a pretty safe investment. I wonder if it would have been easier if she were a man. I suspect it would have been.”
The piece is diplomatically short on detail. We don't discover who refused to fund the film and the reasons they gave (presumably because to break those confidence could affect future projects).  Let's hope the funding process on Marano's next film, Lioness, coming in 2017 film and starring Ellen Page is much simpler.

Dunham Massey.

During the First World War, this Georgian house, set in a magnificent deer-park, was transformed into a military hospital, becoming a sanctuary from the trenches for almost 300 soldiers.

To mark the centenary we have turned the clock back. Discover what life was like for the patients and how members of the Grey family helped injured soldiers to recuperate. Spend time in the ward, nurses’ station, and operating theatre as you experience the Stamford Hospital as it once was.

Dunham Massey has one of the North’s great gardens, with plenty to inspire throughout the year, including a stunning rose garden and one of Britain’s finest winter gardens.
Heritage Let's begin with some route talk. When I last visited Dunham Massey for the other project, I travelled all the way to Altrincham from Liverpool Lime Street, changing in Manchester then took a bus out from there.  This time, having consulted the ever useful Moovit app, I trained-it to Warrington then took a number 5 bus out to the house shaving a whole hour off the journey each way.  Not that it was quite that easy: at the travel office I asked for a train+bus ticket and the clerk busked and just gave me a Warrington rover ticket for the other end which was entirely invalid for the journey so I had to pay the fair to the property again on the bus.  On returning to said office to ask for my money back I was told that refunds due to clerical error required a £10 fee - so we pay them ten pounds even if they're the ones that make the mistake.  Imagine that system in other retail situations.  A complaints form is in the post.

Dunham Massey's the first place I've used my National Trust membership card which arrived in the post on Saturday.  The covering letter is short but still somehow made me weep. It says, "This is the start of something exciting.  Goosebumps, wonderful memories and many stories to share [...] Your membership isn't just the beginning of your journey with the National Trust.  It's the start of finding a a place you love."  Even if that wasn't written by Sharon Pickford, Members and Donors Director despite the letter having her facsimile signature and instead someone in the publicity department, it's still just the sort of poignant Doctorish sentiment which I needed, for various reasons, at the moment I read the words.  This is very much the reverse of "You wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have you as a member."

As you can see from the above synopsis, the house has changed dramatically since my last visit.  Whereas then it was about displaying the history of the house across the generations, and I urge you to revisit that entry for a potted history of the building and its inhabitants, currently the interior has been changed to reflect a single three year period in its history, when the ground floor rooms were transformed into hospital wards and operating theatres and the then current owners of the house, the Stamfords and Greys aided in the care of soldiers who were broken and ripped apart by the war.  Based on photographs and eye witness accounts, halls have been turned into a replica ward,  recreation room and nurses quarters with an operating theatre set up at the bottom of a stairwell, the upstairs rooms largely changed too to recreate how the living areas would have been like at that time.

Judging by the reproductions of contemporary photographs in the spaces the accuracy is stunning, right down the patterns on the blankets, the playing cards on the bedside tables and the curtains on the modesty blinds.  When the display began, the house administration apparently assumed there wouldn't be much change in visitor numbers but these increased to such an exponential degree, pretty soon timed entry was introduced at ten minute intervals, but from my experience yesterday, the spaces were still very busy for a stately home on a cold October Wednesday afternoon.  Even with these crowds in the spaces, it's impossible not to become swept away into this history, aided by the sounds of patients in pain emanating from the bed clothes and diagnostic boards at the end of each outline the injuries some of these men had to endure.

The ticket to exhibition is a pamphlet filled with facts about the hospital.  It tells us that Dunham Massey was one of 3,244 auxiliary hospitals created to treat the wounded, designated between April 1917 and February 1919.  By the time of its closure, 282 soldiers have been treated.  But the effects of the war continued for both them and the house owners who even after returning the various rooms back to something of their original state won't ever have been able to think of their home in the same way.  Indeed much of the belongings and treasures which went into storage in one of the large hallways stayed there until the house was handed over the National Trust in 1976, subsequent generations losing track of what was there.  That room is partially returned to that state in this recreation, furniture covered in flysheets, the walls covered in many more paintings than usual.

Verisimilitude is aided by a group of actors playing various inhabitants of the hospital who wander through the spaces in costume playing short scenes, about sixteen different in all.  The effect is frankly unnerving, like seeing ghosts stepping through time like an episode of Torchwood.  We're asked not approach them, but we daren't as these fearless players,  offer their short performance pieces in a way which is entirely convincing.  There's the flirtation between patient and nurse, the rivalry between amateur and professional caregivers, the pain of post-traumatic stress and the tragedy of wife visiting the hospital searching for her husband and heading away empty handed.  I've nothing but admiration for these players who can remain in character amid the gaze of visitors with their cameras and noise and disinterested chatter.

The version of me who visited the halls for the paintings would have been disappointed if he'd left Dunham Massey until now.  Although a couple of the rooms have been turned into exhibition spaces to highlight the treasures of national importance, the silver and whatnot, in seeking to bring the atmosphere of war the designers of the display have quite rightly returned luxury items into the shadows, the artworks I venerated last time are barely visible amid the low lighting and any information about them has been removed.  They'll all be back out again next year when the interior changes again with a new emphasis on an even earlier inhabitant, the Booth family of whom there was apparently scandal.  But for at least another month until the current exhibition closes, it's about stepping into the war period.

Stepping outside after a couple of hours, I decided to finally take the ranger tour of the grounds, which was supposed to be an hour's duration but stretched out for an extra forty minutes as ranger Bob, who's apparently been visiting the house and gardens since the 1950s offered thorough, interesting explanations for everything from the hollow trees still charred by the effects of the blitz to the slaughter house used as part of the park's utility for breeding deer during the Georgian period.  Their descendants are still in the park and were always in eyeshot as we walked around, the tour group gasping with excitement every time they hopped past.  My favourite fact was that the house's Mill originally used for grain, later wood, was the model for The Old Mill by Atkinson Grimshaw which is displayed in Leeds Art Gallery and I remember vividly from when I was a student there.

In other words, on the whole this was a happy, contented day and there's little doubt that if I lived in the area, the grounds would be somewhere I'd want to spend a lot of time (they're open 365 anyway due to being a legal right of way).  Even having received my card, part of me's become quite nervous about visiting too many houses, too quickly.  Glancing through the handbook I see that the National Trust owns a variety of different kinds of property but I don't want to become as blase as I did during the art collection project or treat the visits as a chore or box ticking exercise as can sometimes happen.  The trick with this will be to take things slowly, relish each visit for the privilege that it is.  Plus the revisits, oh the revisits.  Dunham Massey changing its interior again during the the closed winter months means I'll be back again next year.

Jennifer Lawrence's Wage.

Film From Lenny, Lena Dunham's new newsletter:
"It’s hard for me to speak about my experience as a working woman because I can safely say my problems aren’t exactly relatable. When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need. (I told you it wasn’t relatable, don’t hate me)."
Unarguably, J-Law's the most famous actor in American Hustle thanks to the two franchises she's talking about and yet they thought it fair to pay the three blokes more money.  Shame on them.  I daren't think how much Scar-Jo is getting at Disney for The Avengers films in comparison to her co-stars.

My Favourite Film of 1977.

Film The first film I saw at the cinema was Pete's Dragon.

At least I think it was. Having asked my parents, they seem to agree that it must have been though they don't know why they chose that in the end. I think it might even have been that my Dad wanted to see it and since it was of a low enough BBFC rating I was brought along too instead of asking someone to babysit me.

If it was at this first release, I would have only been about three years old so you'll have to forgive me if I don't have some wild anecdote about seeing the film. The only image that's lodged itself in my greys is of a little boy, which I have to assume is Pete, dancing along the road with the dragon which on reflection might have been from a trailer montage at the beginning of a VHS release for some other Disney release later.

The only solid memory I do have is of walking away with Mum and Dad, down the stairs from the 051 cinema on Mount Pleasant to the underpass, this being a rare example of me at that age being in town relatively late, I'm assuming past ten o'clock. From what I can gather this would have been early 1978 (oddly enough at about the same time as Star Wars and it's pretty typical of things that the giant animated dragon film would be my first cinema experience).

Having thought about this event across the years, there's one anomaly which has always, not so much bugged me, as given me pause.

Back then, in the 1970s, we lived in Speke which for the uninitiated is a suburb way out in the sticks of Liverpool, so far out that it was part of Whiston until 1932 when it was bought by Liverpool Corporation from the original owners, the Watt family (and indeed so old that it was originally owned by Christmas).

Going to secondary school ten years later involved a half hour bus ride to Penny Lane (yes, that one) so going into Liverpool city centre by bus in '77 would have been something of an achievement.

Which is why we'd usually see films at the Woolton Picture House (see Star Wars). A few years later there was an ill-fated evening trip to see a rerelease of Herbie Goes Bananas which we missed because the newspaper listing was wrong. It had already been replaced with Videodrome. I cried and cried in the rain outside the telephone call box as my Dad phoned home to tell her.

Or we'd make the semi-slog to the Cannon Classic on Allerton Road but that only tended to be on extra special occasions or if I was being taken by relatives. That's how I saw most of the Bond films in my youth, though I slept through most of Octopussy. If I'd been especially well behaved I'd be bought a hot dog which was a Cannon speciality.

So why did we travel all the way into town for Pete's Dragon and why wasn't it on locally? Aha, perhaps we met Dad after work - he worked in the city centre.

Hold on ... I'll ask my parents about that too ...

It's quite simply. Mum says its probably because that was the last place where it was still showing. The 051 was a second run house in those days.

Either way, that answers that question.

Moral: Ask your parents about things you can't remember. They'll tell you stuff.

Miranda July interviews Rihanna.

Music And she's star struck, bless her. A really well written piece in the style of her first person books:
"Souls are funny things. They stay constant even when the outside changes, or when the heart makes mistakes. Souls don’t really care about good or bad, right or wrong — they’re just true. Everlasting. It makes you sound dumb to talk about this stuff, which is why no one could tell me exactly what it was about Rihanna. But millions of fans don’t seem to need it explained to them. A soul just knows a soul. I never told you she was pretty because that’s not what I experienced. My understanding, from the moment she sat down, was that we were in love. We were the most in love any two people had ever been. The sun was finally setting. We’d been talking for almost two hours. I just had one more question."
Don't forget to watch the interview with Miranda about interviewing Miranda. It has one of the most Miranda July moments you'll ever see.

On The Doctor and Strategies.

TV Just a short note.

One of the running themes of reviews of last night's episode of Doctor Who, Before The Flood, including mine to be fair, is how the Doctor's solution to returning from the dead, hiding in a box for several centuries, has been used as a plot device before, notably in the shape of the Pandorica and by Captain Jack in Torchwood. Oh and the passing of a message via a hologram resembled Blink.

This is a common complaint you see about the programme. That the Doctor uses such and such a device, or the narrative takes such and such a familiar turn and isn't that boring and repetitive and why couldn't the writer have tried something new.

Well now, and I'm including myself in this, stop.

One of the inherent problems with a television narrative, especially if it resolves itself around a single protagonist, is that their arc has to be more fluid than it would be in a more self-contained text like a film. To an extent, the characters have to remain relatively static or at least change more slowly than they would over ninety minutes.

Doctor Who has been running for over fifty years and it's only in considering last night's episode that I realised that the Doctor going out of his way to find another solution to the problem for the purposes of narrative originality would be have been illogical and frankly unrealistic.

In fact, a strength of Doctor Who, his way of "learning" if you will, is that he's gained the ability to repeat game plans across time, to know when a survival strategy or approach to repelling an alien invasion works and being able to replicate it when the situation requires or the opportunity arises.

As with so many things, this was even turned into a character point during the Eighth Doctor novels when he and Sam Jones actually gave such strategies numbers, rather like the Eleventh Doctor's "rules". When she left he was somewhat bereft because he'd shout a strategy number at the new companion who wouldn't have the slightest clue what he was on about.

Most often the Doctor does have to utilise bespoke solutions in unique situations.

But when we talk about how the Doctor uses similar approaches for dealing with Bootstrap paradoxes it's because he's realistically realised how best to deal with them and is making the necessary arrangements. Blowing the dam in Before The Flood to create that piece of expected history in the same way as The Fires of Pompeii, albeit with a smaller death toll.