Thursday, December 27, 2007

Voyage of the Damned Pedestrian Action Movie

What I find odd in reading reviews of Voyage around the 'net is the curious double-standards people seem happy to employ with New Who.

Having a disaster movie where the two big set pieces were crawling through a small hole in a wall which luckily got bigger in time for the fat people to get through, and crossing a short bridge doesn't say drama and spectacle to me.

But people are happy to make excuses for Voyage, disguised as comment: "a very, very simple story...Christmas is not a time for aching complexity" for instance. No, possibly not - but did it have to be that brain-dead?

Generally people have been praising it as a good disaster movie - leaving aside the two 'great' set pieces above, the action consisted of a short walk with a small metal gun to destroy the baddies, the world's most ineptly shot and ludicrous suicide, a ham-fisted anti-discrimination message which would have looked clumsy in a Very Special Episode of The Cosby Show, all culminating in Kylie killing herself for no obvious reason (perhaps she too wanted to experience the moving homage to Caves of Androzani which was the completely amateur matting of her body falling down the Big Hole?), then being resurrected using Scottie's transporter buffers only to be released as Tinkerbell into space after a bit of anguished shouting from Tennant.

If Big Finish had turned that out not so long ago, the knives would be out for Gary Russell already. But Rusty gets a free pass.

Similarly I've seen any number of posts on mailing lists and message boards which basically consist of slack-jawed astonishment at the poverty of ambition and talent evident in Russell's new comic strip. But who gave him permission to do it?

Or - and I've done this myself - blame for the decision to commission Joe Lidster (a man who, even if you think he can write for toffee, has no TV experience whatsoever) has been laid at the door of (admittedly) renowned nepotist, Gary Russell. But surely Rusty has final say on who writes and who doesn't for everything in the world of Who? Or is that only when it suits him?

In a different medium, fifteen or so pedestrian and lifeless New Series books in a row, and I lost count of the number of emails and webposts I saw which boiled down to 'and obviously no-one has ever shown these to Rusty' or 'clearly Cardiff don't pass these', thereby nicely ensuring Who's Messiah doesn't get his sandals dirty - in spite of the fact that at various points great play has been made of the fact that Rusty personally approves everything from stickers in the DW Adventures magazine to every word of every script.

And yet when *anything* is sub-standard or just a bit mad at Big Finish, Gary Russell gets the blame. The author sometimes gets it in the neck too, but hardly anyone misses Russell.

Now, this is no impassioned defence of either GR or BF, both of whom largely turn out work which is a waste of time and money. But just why is it that when, say, Neverland came out the blame was laid squarely with GR's poor decision making, nepotistic commissioning model and general lack of ability, but when something shit comes out of New Who it's never Rusty's fault?

Here's a more specific example - Gary Russell praises Josef Mengele as a 'genius' in Scales of Injustice. It's monumentally crass and stupid, obviously - but I can't escape the feeling that the adjective was used because GR never bothered to check up on Mengele and is, consequently, simply a sign of a poor quality writer not doing a proper amount of research. It's not a good thing and makes Russell look an idiot, but it's not deliberate. Yet I've seen people crucify him for it.

Meanwhile, Rusty comes out and says for a joke that Hitler would make a good Doctor because he's so 'stern and strong' and...nothing happens.

What the situation reminds me of is when a football team gets a new owner who is an autocratic prick who treats the place like his own private fiefdom, but who owns the club and could shut it down in a second. As a result the fans are terrified to say anything negative about him in case he does just that. Who fans are like that: they have to see Rusty as the Messiah because - as has been hinted - if he walks away then the show could shut down. And - if rumours are to be believed - Rusty likes a bit of sycophancy. Or rather he likes a lot of sycophancy.

I don't buy for a second the idea that Rusty is the saviour of Who. At its core, that belief requires us to assume that Rusty took a broken down and done for pile of tat and polished it up to a gem-like gleam. The truth of the matter, however, is that it's a brilliant concept which was always destined to work, given the backing the BBC had given it in terms of promotion and cash. The only way I can imagine that it could have failed is if the whole thing was presented as some massive and incomprehensible continuity-fest - and no-one genuinely in the position to run New Who would have done that.

No-one.

If we'd had Gattiss in charge (the other person much suggested at the time as someone who could bring back Who) it would probably have been a more traditional style of show (as his two scripts for the show demonstrate) but there's nothing inherently wrong with that, and as he grew more confident I can easily see elements form his other writing coming in which would be very welcome. And we'd still have Simon Pegg, Gareth Roberts and the cream of Big Finish, all of whom have worked with Gattiss - but hopefully given their head to turn out their own scripts without excessive interference from a writer who too often doesn't seem half as good.

Segueing smoothly, I've now heard from several people that only Steven Moffat gets his scripts passed without massive Rusty input, to the extent that unless it's a direct lift from the original novel, almost every good bit in the fabulous Human Nature/Family of Blood was written by Rusty. Ditto for Rob Shearman's Dalek*. If this is true then Rusty obviously is capable of exceptional writing, because there's exceptional writing in both of those scripts.

But at the same time if we accept that, then he must also in large part have written the Cyber and Dalek mid-season two-parters, both of which were dreadful.

And he wrote under his own name both the excellent Utopia and the Harry Potter-level poor Last of the Time Lords.

He dumped to screen the bad fan-fiction of Doomsday and the moral soft-shoe shuffle of Boom Town, but also the intriguing and genuinely exciting Impossible Planet/Satan Pit (alienating the named author, Matt Jones, in the process). He fills the series with guns disguised as screwdrivers and has whole episodes where the narrative lurches from one US television-friendly set-piece to the next - and yet he may well also have written the archetypal Doctor Who line "Books! The best weapons in the world!."

It's strange and difficult to explain. Maybe he just can't do plot and needs someone to provide a framework on which he can hang his words, and the better the framework, the better the words. Maybe he just doesn't really recognise any fault in his own work but is so wrapped up in self-love that he thinks whatever he does is great - and it's more likely to be so when someone else has taken a first pass at it. Maybe he just sees this as a good way to get major US TV exposure (might explain Torchwood as well) for the show.

Who knows, but it would be nice if people would admit that sometimes Rusty's writing just isn't up to snuff rather than constantly making excuses for him or constructing a hagiography round him.

* about which I'm ambivalent as I thought 'Dalek' - while good - was far less subtle than the source matieral of Shearman's 'Jubilee'
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Monday, December 24, 2007

Too little, too late?

Can it be that the worms are finally beginning to turn at Tynecastle? After literally years of inexplicably 'believing' in owner Vladimir Romanov's false promises and failed masterplans, the crowd at the game against Inverness on Saturday were finally heard to be singing 'are you watching, Romanov?' as we sunk to yet another unnecessary defeat.

Although it seems insane to me that it's taken this long for the blinkers to come off, I'm happy that they have, although I'm still concerned that a win next week will paper over the cracks and the fans will shut up again. It's disappointing but true that - compared, say, to the Hibs' support during the 'Hands off Hibs' days - Hearts' fans are indolent to the point of coma and prefer to hope for the best (or bleat that there's no choice) than stand up for their team.

Of course I could be accused of hypocrisy since I no longer go to Tynecastle and haven't been to a game we beat Livingston 4-1 away during George Burley's glorious reign. But I honestly believe that continuing to go along gives tacit approval to Romanov killing our club, and I said I wouldn't go again after it became clear Romanov was at best an idiot and at worst a liar and a conman.

Sadly, this is even though Cameron is now at an age when he wants to go to games (we're thinking about getting a Livingston season ticket for next season, which is a sentence I never expected to use). I do still support the team financially - even though it becomes increasingly harder to genuinely care with each contemptuous decision Romanov and his lackies make - and I've bought the boys Hearts' tops and books and the like.

There's talk on jamboskickback of a boycott of the Gretna game in the New Year but the decision to wait six weeks instead of boycotting the game on Saturday (where incidentally we ended up with a left-back in goals after the useless and incompetent Lithuanian goalie who has been foist upon us for the last two games got himself sent off) is symptomatic of the 'can't really be bothered' attitude of much of the support. A delay provides more for an excuse to present itself - "well we won a game so things are looking up'.

Or Romanov or one of his performing monkeys will leak some spurious load of old tat to the press, suggesting good times are just round the corner if only the fans give them more time. World class manager, perhaps? Two world cup players? A new stand?

Or come out with a heap of nonsense about betrayal and cheating?

Failing that, perhaps the believers can fall back on 'if we protest then Romanov will be driven away and we'll go bust'. To which all I can say is 'good' (and also 'that's what he wants to do anyway'). Let him close us and let us go out of business. We can then reform as a new club - Hearts FC, for instance - and I'm certain that the SFA would find space in the lower leagues for one of the great names of Scottish football. I confidently expect gates would remain high for a foundling Hearts and within three years we'd be back in the top league, but debt-free, conman-free and at least watching semi-decent players giving their all for a team they want to play for - not a collection of Lithuanian third-raters, kids who cost precious little but who the owner can pretend is a guaranteed star of the future, and UK players not good enough to get a move elsewhere.

Thinking that your team getting relegated to the bottom of the senior leagues and playing away from Tynecastle - I wouldn't have thought it possible but I 'believe' that's the most positive possible outcome of Romanov's inept ownership of our club.

ADDENDUM: And the previously silent Anatoly Korobochka makes the first move in the latest conning of the fans

ADDENDUM 2: I hear rumours this morning that Romanov may be about to be investigated over allegations of match fixing, with particular emphasis on this game

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arty Farty, Me?

I have just discovered that I'm not very arty at all.

By chance I happen to have been stacking books I've finished reading in a pile on my desk and when I went to shove them all haphazardly back in the bookcases this morning I discovered that the last 8 books I've read are as follows:

A Celebration of 'The Good Life' - Richard Webber
'Close' - Martina Cole
'Making Money' - Terry Pratchett
'Chicken' - David Sterry
'Timeslip' novelisation
'Dusted' - Buffy Episode Guide
'Hollywood Vampire' - Angel Episode Guide
'Still Getting Away with It' - Nick Courntey

So that's one novel about a male hustler; four books with a link to 70s sitcom or Joss Whedon; one Doctor Who actor autobiography; a Terry Pratchett and a Martina Cole Gangster Bitch novel I pinched off Julie or my mum.

Sadly for my credentials as an interlekshull I probably enjoyed the Martina Cole book most of the three novels - I have a soft spot for the sheer effortlessness involved in reading them, especially after you've read a few. They're not always brilliantly written (but that's not the end of the world since many far cooler books I've read this year have just as many clunky sections) and they all have much the same plot but a Martina Cole book is guaranteed to batter along like a right old bastard, which is exactly what you want sometimes.

Ah, who wants to be arty anyway - read anything you can get your hands on, I say. And bugger those people who say they haven't got enough time even to read the great books which are out there, as though a diet exclusively of the brilliant is the only thing worth aspiring to.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Don't mention the War!

I felt terribly old last night when I was putting the boys to bed and the littler of the two - in an obvious delaying tactic* - asked what games I used to play as a kid.

When I mentioned Japs and Commandos, they didn't know who either side were, so I explained and they went to sleep, clearly unimpressed by the racist games of the seventies.

It was only later that I realised that the Second World War was closer to me in time as a five year old than my five year old self is to the present day.

Où sont les neiges d'antan?, and all that...

* Generally the boys ask questions like that, whereas Alex cunningly asks me to explain Stuff from History and Literature.
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Monday, December 03, 2007

Shameless

As my series of Facebook images from the seventies demonstrate, I am utterly without shame.

Reproduced below, therefore, is the text of the only poem I have ever knowingly written, discovered at the weekend on the back of postcard in a box in the attic eaves. IIRC, I was intending to give the poem to a girl I knew at Uni in an effort to woo her into bed. Presumably I thought better of giving her the poem, and I certainly never managed the wooing either.

Still, in a world where Richard Ayoade continues to get work and Joe Lidster* is going to write an episode of Torchwood, lack of talent is no barrier to success and my few poorly scanning lines are probably on a par with Shakespeare's Sonnets.

[clears throat]

"Where else could I lie amidst such beauty,
As in my lover's arms?
Where else could I hear sounds slip so sweetly
As from her subtle tongue?
For my love is nothing like
Other butterflies I've pinned,
But a mockingbird, high in the hills,
Whistling to the wind."
[bows]

I thank you...

[exits, pursued by a bear]

* Who I'm sure is a lovely person otherwise (this is for the benefit of Mondy, who keeps telling me that he is)
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