The Zygon Invasion.

TV “You're middle-aged, that's what it is. No offence. Everybody middle-aged always thinks the world's about to come to an end. Never does.” Yes, thank you evil Zygon clone of Clara. But you try turning forty-one. All day I’ve been considering the implications. Forty-one’s a weird age. It’s not a milestone like forty and it doesn’t somehow unlock the secret of life, the universe and everything as I expect forty-two to do. You’re just sort of verified as being in your early forties. About the only revelation I’ve had is that my favourite colour’s electric pink after having tried to convince myself for many years, probably because of societal norms, that it’s royal blue.  That's resumably why I also love Cath Kidson shops as much as I do even though I have barely a use for any of it.

Today has also brought presents which apart from a Frozen bluray, soundtrack cd and 2016 calendar also included the first Doctor Who episode broadcast on my birthday which I’ve actually been able to watch, not having been in this world in 1964 when Planet of Giants was broadcast. Thankfully Peter Harness’s The Zygon Invasion wasn’t a disappointing end to an otherwise brilliant day, but the first story this year and I think in a few years, which made me gasp on several occasions and had me applauding at the end. Which is why I’m happy to spend the final couple of hours of today writing about it although as we both know, if I didn’t do it now, the results would be even more disastrous than you're about to witness. Best get all of this out now before I’ve really had a chance to think about it.

Bold and necessary opening. Anyone else wonder if there’s a reason why there are all of these reminders of the show’s past, recent and otherwise? It’s potentially necessary here to somewhat explain why there are twenty million Zygons living on Earth for casuals who haven’t rewatched the fiftieth anniversary since it was beamed into our retinas through screens large and small and might wonder why anyone would do such a thing, but every story this year has featured some kind of flashback. At first I thought this was part of the non-celebration of the tenth anniversary of the revival which isn’t happening, except the augmented publicity shot of Bill wiping his glasses from The Celestial Toymaker hanging on the wall in the UNIT Safe House makes it seem as though they’re trying fit every incarnation in somewhere.

Before heading off into the more deliberate discussion of the rest of the episode, let’s consider why this might be. Partly it could be to give Capaldi a more subliminal version of the montage which provided Matt Smith with his entrance in The Eleventh Hour, something he was denied. Or it’s a forward reference to an upcoming episode which explains his cameo in The Day of the Doctor (because Moffat hates loose ends). Or someone in the production team is playing Packham and trying to fit them all in somewhere before the end of the season. Either way, we await the McGann cameo with great interest (and I haven’t entirely disregarded the notion of the actor himself turning up in some capacity). Unless the Doctor’s Amazing Grace solo is an astonishing inside joke.

Anyway, back in the episode, we have an all too rare example now of the television series underpinning its japery with some contemporary real world allegory, in this case religious fundamentalism with direct hits made towards ISIS in particular, the terrorist organisation rather than Sutekh’s sister. If Aliens of London made fun of the apparent intelligence that which led to the war in Iraq, here’s The Zygon Invasion ten years later considering some of the consequences and somehow also commenting on a refugee crisis which hadn’t even gained publicity when the story was in-production. With Spooks and W1A off-air, someone has to do this sort of predictive texting, I suppose.

Given how well regarded the Zygons seem to be amongst the public (and David Tennant) it’s surprising that this only their third proper television appearance, although their spin-off mythology is deep, spanning videos of the kind which aren’t allowed to mention which series they’re based on, novels, audios and comics. Just look at the Datacore entry, through not too closely because there are plenty of spoilers for excellent stories worth tracking down, notably the Eighth Doctor trilogy of which some of tonight’s episode is particular reminiscent especially about how they might integrate into our society. Like the Daleks they’re gifted with an particularly distinctive vocal sound, all gurgling consonant, which even on audio immediately brings to mind their physical form.

With so much of this series being influenced in the 70s show, it shouldn’t be too much of surprise to find Harness channelling Hulke and Holmes, though not having read any pre-publicity, I don’t know the extent to which we’re seeing the writer’s political leanings inhabiting his scripts or if he’s simply utilising this “stuff” to help underpin the drama and place it within a understandable context. Plenty of the dialogue is on the nose though, especially from the Doctor who notes at one stage that if they start bombing even these interlopers it has the potential to radicalise the lot. There is not much here for the Daily Mail to enjoy. “Well you can’t have the United Kingdom. There are already people living there. And they’ll probably think you’ll want to pinch their benefits.” Bdum-tish.

If the episode’s approach to thematic underpinning and actual source material is of the 70s, the structural twist is that in an era which has otherwise attempted to ape the pacing of that era with long scenes filled with lots of dialogue in single locations, this is a story which instead sees a return to the pacier crosscutting and action orientated plotting of earlier period of the revival before the show took a Deep Breath. At one point there’s three whole sub-plots running simultaneous with secondary characters, including, as it turns out, a Zygon officer (albeit in a form which isn’t obvious until the end). If the Capaldi era so far, for the most part, has felt a bit cramped and claustrophobic, this is the show explaining where the budget’s been for half a season demonstrating that it can still look like a feature film if it wants to.

How deliberate are these choices? Who knows, but the effect is startling, luminous. This feels of a piece with the likes of the aforementioned Slitheen fest and the Sontaran showdown from series three, and not just in its use of doppelgangers and one particular in-joke about a certain “controversy”. The Davies era in particular had this kind of inter-seasonal variety within its DNA, with Midnight and Turn Left emerging one after the other and none of which is to say that next week won’t simply be about Twelfth going Jack Bauer on a Zygon for half an hour in the UNIT equivalent of Guantanamo until he’s discovered the location of the real Clara (epic to small being a typical two-parter arrangement in the revival). Perhaps if the change of pace hadn’t been quite so deliberate back in the days of last year many of us might not have felt quite as disorientated (though having the Doctor act like a complete arsehole didn’t help much).

It’s also true that with the exception of the aforementioned axe-habit, the wilder excesses of the Twelfth Doctor are toned down to the point that he’s almost the fabled generic Doctor in places, showing a remarkable amount of courtesy and decency. The story would have worked equally well with the Eleventh Doctor probably although as with Time Heist, it seems strange when he doesn’t intervene to stop the UNIT soldiers from being kidnapped and killed by the Zygons, though it’s also true that geographically he is much further away from them than the poor sod who had his brain eaten. Once again Capaldi seems very happy about this, relaxed and on his game. No wonder he doesn’t seem to be in much hurry to move on having apparently signed for his third season.

The Time Lord's attitude to Osgood’s interesting though, oscillating between wariness and warmth. The treatment of her return is especially well handled, helping to shore up the idea that not all Zygons are evil or at least no less capable of evil than humanity by making the notion of whether the Zygon or human version died at Missy’s hands largely irrelevant (although I think it’s implied that as fans assumed it was the former). Ingrid Oliver continues to impress. Even in her introductory story, a character that pre-publicity indicated was going to be the revival’s equivalent of Whiz-Kid, parodying fans, is instead a love letter to them, to us, and Oliver’s tapped into that, though it’s notable that her adorkableness has sharp edges on this occasion for obvious reasons. The question marks on her lapel have newer resonance.

It’s close to midnight so perhaps I should start closing out but not without mentioning the whole Clara business. The companion substitution here is handle much better here than in either New Earth of The Sontaran Stratagem with elements such as the conversation about Truth or Consequences which previously seemed like a fairly typically explanation for sudden companion insight ala 42 now revealed to be part of the Zygon plan. The critics who simply don’t like Jenna Coleman won’t be convinced by any of her superb work here but the subtlety with which she indicates this different version on a second watch is startling. She’s both Clara and also somehow not. The look she gives on realising that she’s been uncovered is utterly mind bending, right up there with Sarah Clarke’s Nina Myers as she gazes through the security feed in CTU on 24.

Not all of the episode works; some of the points are belaboured and the mechanics of just how all of these Zygons could exist secretly within the population not entirely explained convincingly. But this is the kind of story in which everyone on the production team is engaged, especially Murray Gold, laying in a version of Clara’s theme just before her substitution, notes which go entirely unheard for the rest of the episode. Director Daniel Nettheim (whose previously helmed four episodes of K9!) takes full advantage of wide angle lenses in orbit of the Zygons, entirely unafraid to show us their rubber visages.  Then it ends on a really solid cliffhanger.  My guess is that Kate's playing fake Clara at her own game and pretending to be a Zygon.  Let's see shall we?

The Globe's Hamlet plays in a Jordanian refugee camp.

Theatre Shakespeare's Globe's global tour of Hamlet, an attempt to perform the play in every country in the world hit problem with Syria, where, for obvious reasons they couldn't get permission or the insurance to perform. So instead they played to two hundred Syrian refugees at a camp in Jordan and The Guardian has a photograph journal of the moment:
"The children were keen to play and interact with the visitors, though this made the UN administrators nervous. Visitors are encouraged to stick to their itinerary. The mandolin provided a way for one of the actors, Miranda Foster, to connect with the enthusiastic kids at the camp - she made chord shapes with one hand while teaching them to strum the chords."
Don't forget to hit the play button on the accompanying audio which has music from the production and actors talking to representatives from the camp.

Soup Safari #53:
Broccoli and Parsnip at Café Rylands in The John Rylands Library.

Lunch. £3.75. Cafe Rylands, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH. Phone:0161 306 0555. Website.


Comics For all that I might say that I don't buy comics, here's the list of comics I'm currently buying regularly:

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
Angel & Faith
Star Trek (the movie version with all its related spin-offs) (yes including Green Lantern)
Secret Wars
Lois & Clarke

We'll return to the bottom one shortly.

You'll notice the lack of Doctor Who: that's mainly because there are so many releases that to keep up with them all would be a messy and expensive business even though some of them are really good I hear. I'll be picking up George Mann's Eighth Doctor series though, for obvious reasons.

For a while I did collect the SHIELD comic, for about eight months, until it became clear that it was simply going to spend its issues recreating bits of the television series within the 616 utilising their versions of the characters who aren't really the ones from the television, however much they attempted to re-engineer them a bit. I'm replacing it with Devil Dinosaur and Moongirl.

Nothing about DC new 52 reboot has interested me. As a Who fan I understand and appreciate the notion of renewal but in the 52verse, DC seem to have taken a group of characters who through some strange alchemy have worked perfectly well for decades and survived through successive reboots which have still kept their core elements and after throwing all that out, from everything I've read, introduced shadows of them.

But Lois & Clarke does the interesting thing of bringing back the original Lane and Superman and put them in that universe, still trying to help but keeping under the radar. The first issue does a good job of explaining this status quo and of making us quite certain that these are people who existed pre-Flashpoint (the event which sparked the reboot).

The professional reviews seem to like it and judging by the comments underneath, more regular readers seem to appreciate the return of these characters, salivating at the suggestion that perhaps they'll end up replacing the version that's in the 52 however unlikely that is.  There's now the added problem that whenever there is a major disaster happening elsewhere, readers may wonder why this Kal-El doesn't pitch in.

They were reintroduced in the Counterpoint crossover event, a sort of parody of Secret Wars in which chunks of different realities appear on the same planet and the heroes therein fight each other, designed to cover publisher DC's house move to LA from New York and I realised as soon as I'd finished that opening issue that I wanted to read their first reappearance.


Comics chains no longer carry back issues. Neither Worlds Apart or my usual haunt Forbidden Planet keep issues older than at least three months outside of the inside of graphic novels or trade paperbacks.  Apparently its because comics simply don't sell after three months other than the big titles.  By then, people are simply waiting for the trades.

Options on Ebay and Amazon are expensive due to postage.

Then one of my contacts in Forbidden Planet pointed me towards Level Up, a games/music/comics shop in the basement of Grand Central Shopping Centre, the old Methodist Hall on Renshaw Street, the Liverpool equivalent of Affleck's Palace in Manchester.

It's basically perfect, everything you'd hope a comic shop would be, with its long boxes of back issues in the centre, older issues on the walls, retro games and dvds and well, yes, it's great.

Asking at the counter I was pointed to a long box containing complete sets and near the front were the Superman issues of Counterpoint at a price cheaper than they would have been on original retail.

Afterwards I promised I would talk about them on the internet and here I am plugging away.

Of course having read those back issues, I now realise I also need the main Counterpoint series to get the whole story and we're back to all the reasons I don't read too many comics.  But at least I know now where I might be able to buy them.

"Important changes to your LOVEFiLM By Post membership"

Film Uh-oh. With streaming in the ascendency particularly Netflix, I've been wondering just how long the Lovefilm outpost of the Amazon empire could survive and indeed how many people still use it.

So when I saw the subject line "Important changes to your LOVEFiLM By Post membership" on an email my heart sank to the inevitable that my ability to borrow silent films from the 1920s going to be curtailed and I'd finally be required to pay Murdoch money to watch newer television shows.

Happily it's not quite that but it's still a hit though interesting from a business perspective.

When Lovefilm was absorbed into the main body of the Amazon website and became an adjunct of Prime all but the unlimited per month offers were cancelled and the subscription charges split.  So whereas with Lovefilm I was paying £9.99 per month for two disc at home unlimited plus streaming, it became £4 for the discs and £6 for the streaming.

Realising I wasn't actually using the streaming, what with not having a decent app on my television I cancelled that pretty quickly which has meant for a couple of years I've been paying £4 per month to watch on average about fifteen discs a month.

Recently I signed back up to Prime after taking advantage of a special offer and so now the streaming's back and I have an Amazon Fire Stick so I can actually watch the odd thing if I want to but that's by the by.

Charging four pounds a month for that service was unsustainable and I imagine a lot of people will have done the same as me.  This must cost Amazon a lot of money, even taking into account people who subsequently signed up after the change and paid £7.99 per month for the same thing (£6.99 with Prime membership).

Now they've answered.  As the FAQ page about the change describes:
What are the new plans and prices going to be?
From February 2016, customers will be able to select from three membership plans: 2 rentals per month with 1 disc at home at £4.99 per month, 4 rentals per month with 1 disc at home at £8.99 per month (£7.99 alongside a Prime membership), or unlimited rentals with 2 discs at home at £11.99 per month (£9.99 alongside a Prime membership). If you would prefer to update your plan to one of these, you will be able to do this on your LOVEFiLM By Post membership page from February 2016.

Will I still get a discounted By Post package as a Prime customer?
Yes. Your LOVEFiLM By Post plan will be discounted whilst you also hold a Prime or monthly Prime Video membership. If you have an Unlimited rental membership, your plan will be discounted by £2.00 per month whilst you have a Prime or monthly Prime Video membership. If you have a light use plan with 4 disc rentals per month, your plan will be discounted by £1.00 per month with a Prime or monthly Prime Video membership.
The upshot at my end is that my charge is going back up to £9.99 per month thanks to having the £2 discount due to my Prime membership.

Even though that's a huge leap, I'm still keep subscribing.

In pricing terms it's an utter bargain when compared to actually having to buy films to watch them especially the older back catalogue titles.  Netflix and Amazon Prime function well as Blockbuster Video substitutes in supplying newer films but neither of those have a copy of Josef Von Sternberg's Dishonoured available, a film which hasn't been on terrestrial television since 1994 according to the BBC Genome.  A physical copy of this film which I'll probably only ever watch once is £6.18.

Psychologically, my approach is to think of it as paying for the past in the future, that having paid £4 per month for all this time and knowing full well that wasn't sustainable, I'm repaying a loan.  Or at the very least all of that postage.

Beyond that, what can this mean?

Well, first that Amazon aren't ready to leave the rental disc model just yet.  I can't think of another similar service now, not since Lovefilm went out and bought all of the competitors then was purchased by Amazon (always a bigger fish).  Blockbuster has gone too.

But the increase in price also suggests that there's a dwindling subscriber base and so it won't last forever which again is to be expected.  How long before dvds and blu-rays in and of themselves become scarce or films simply start skipping a physical release altogether?  That's already started with minor releases which haven't even seen the inside of a cinema.

I give it a year or two then ... don't know.  When the inevitably happens I won't suddenly have nothing to watch.  There's my own collection, Netflix and Amazon Prime albeit with the slightly long wait for films to go to stream.  If BFI Player+ gets its act together and actually has an app on more television platforms that looks like it could be fine.

Nevertheless, having used the service through its various iterations since 2004, it'll be a difficult habit to break.

RSC's Volpone to be streamed by the BBC.

Theatre Beginning this weekend, the BBC's On Stage season will televise three plays, offer some more on radio and have a lot of documentaries about theatre. The quasi-film version of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser starring Hopkins and McKellen does look marvelous based on the clips, but once again there's a sense, as is always the case with television these days, that theatre is something to be talked about rather than shown, far cry from days past when it was a Sunday night theatre.

But hidden in the press release, right at the bottom is:
RSC’s Volpone
BBC Arts Online
We’ll capture Trevor Nunn’s brilliant adaptation from Stratford as co-commissioned by The Space.
That's it. That's all it says.  The RSC's page is here.  Hopefully like the many operas and ballets it'll simply be available to stream on the BBC Arts website for six months, the first semi-televised broadcast of a Ben Jonson play on the BBC since the mid-60s (according to the BBC Genome).

Steven Moffat on the Doctor's Hearts.

TV The New York Observer has a very thoughtful interview with Moffat which actually manages to get him to talk about some things in a way he's not really covered before. Some of it reads like a busked version of one of his DWM columns but it's useful and interesting to hear how he currently thinks of the character:
"We know that as an incontrovertible fact that he’s been a father in his life, and it’s not something you can dismiss or ignore. He’s capable of all that. I think he just doesn’t. This is my theory, and just the fact that I write it right now doesn’t make it more important than anyone else’s theory. I don’t think he’s incapable of feeling real love at all, in fact I think he’s quite badly susceptible to crushes, but he doesn’t seem to do anything about it. He seems to have taken the position that that is no longer what he does. He’s something of a gentleman, really, and to do all that would mean proper commitment, in his book, and he’s not really good at proper commitment. "
There's also a useful pointer right at the end as to what the Christmas episode is going to be like (even if when I read the final sentence all I could think was "Well, you wrote it...").

My Favourite Film of 1975.

Film There's a weird moment right at the end of The Adjustment Bureau which I'm about to spoil, so here's a trailer for The Brother's McMullen to cover the gap between you getting to the end of this sentence and allowing your eyes to look somewhere else for long enough to close this page or click somewhere else or whatever it is that you need to do.

If you're a film fan and watching The Adjustment Bureau and you've been paying attention you'll notice that actress Jennifer Ehle from Pride and Prejudice as well as a great many other things plays a bar person who interacts meaningfully with Matt Damon's political candidate figure. As the film spins towards its climax and there's much talk of a chairman and the Matt and Emily Blunt, his dancing love interest burst onto the roof of the said bureau, you fully expect Ehle to burst wander through. Instead, Anthony Mackie brings the news they'd hoped for and says that the chairman isn't who they might expect and that it's different for everybody.  People have been a bit sniffy about the film but I find it enchanting, clever and witty, and a lot of it has to do with this climax.

Apparently there was originally a chairperson who was supposed to be in the film, but it was decided, either by George Nolfi or the producers, reports differ, not to pin down a single figure in case audience members had conjured their own ideas.  Except Ehle wasn't that either - actress Shohreh Aghdashloo actually shot scenes including a version of this one, before being dropped during reshoots.  Yet, by having an actress as prominent as Ehle in that role, however small, and in conjunction with Mackie's character's line, we still can assume that she is the chairperson especially since she's a conduit of communication between Mackie and Damon (the note).  There's nothing in the film to say she is just as there's nothing to say that she isn't.

There are plenty of other similar one or two scene cameos or jolting appearances by prominent performers in films either because they've had a whole sub-plot cut or they were doing a jokey favour for the director ripe for filling in such blanks.  Elizabeth Perkins has a close-up on the final press conference scene in The American President and having asked in two different forums over the years (rec.arts.movies.past-films and AskMefi), no one has a clue why.  In my mind she has a whole hidden subplot as a journalist trying to discover the truth of the romance between Annette Benning and President Michael Douglas and some of the things he's referring to in that final speech are because of her attempted reporting and what we're watching is seeing her being won over.

Oh erm. There are plenty of other similar one or two scene cameos or jolting appearances by extras who look like prominent performers in films such as the woman who isn't in any way Elizabeth Perkins who has a close-up on the final press conference scene in The American President and having asked in two different forums over the years (rec.arts.movies.past-films and AskMefi), no one has a clue why.  Presumably because it wasn't her. Though seriously, look at this picture. It's not just me is it? I mean there are people on those forums who saw this person and agreed that it must be her.

Anyway, in my mind she has a whole hidden subplot as a journalist trying to discover the truth of the romance between Annette Benning and President Michael Douglas and some of the things he's referring to in that final speech are because of her attempted reporting and what we're watching is seeing her being won over. But it's not Elizabeth Perkins.  Except look at this photo from Moonlight and Valentino in 1995:

They're not that different. are they? I mean the eyebrows perhaps.  The nose.  The mouth.  Yes, alright she also looks a bit like Melanie Lynsky, but Melanie Lynskey wouldn't have been old enough.  She was only eighteen.  But that woman's older than eighteen.  Anyway, it's not either of them so let's move on.

Then there are the films in which actors were entirely cut out but you can sort of feel their presence.  Andy Garcia was in Dangerous Minds as Michelle Pfeiffer's love interest.  There are apparently a multitude of actors in the trimmings on Love Actually including David Morrissey (presumably playing another character seducing his employee so no great loss).  The always brilliant Sienna Miller has just been cut from Black Mass (Johnny Depp's apparent comeback for people who didn't understand Transcendence)  Terrance Malik is habitual about this enough that there's a listicle.   None of which explains why Merlin isn't in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Tim the Enchanter?  Oh purlees.

The Doctor Donna.

Audio Even though it's late, this shouldn't go without mention. Look at them. Look at them. The Big Finish logo over David's shoulder, the URL above Catherine's head, Nick doing the interviewing honours. Truly we are blessed and on the day The Underwater Menace is released on dvd too.

The full press release is here with news about writers (Jenny Colgan!  James Goss!  Matt Fitton!) and stories, oh the stories.  So many questions about how they'll sound, if they'll attempt to mimic the era or try something new and who the rest of the cast will be.

Oh and oh if it isn't listed as Volume One suggesting there'll be more of them, perhaps we'll have a whole extra season's worth or more.  Or Billie or even Freema can be convinced to return.  Or Jenny because that would be hilarious.

Interesting narrative questions. When in the fourth season will these be set?  Also there's an odd cloud over them thanks to the end of Journey's End because we know now what Donna's fate will be.  Will they foreshadow?

Matt next?  Chris?  Matt seems not unlikely especially if David's signed up although he doesn't have a lot of distance from the thing yet or perspective.  Plus unless they give him a new companion we're then in the territory of having to get Karen or Karen and Arthur back.

Nevertheless, bwilliant!  Allons-Y!