Monday, June 30, 2008

The quality you are calling is unreachable

Forty five minutes of sitting round a web cam, waiting to make a phone call to someone in a mobile phone black spot.

I've had Saturday nights like that, but no-one thought to put me on telly.

Massively rushed in parts and yet slow as treacle in other...poorl...tten, ineptl...directed and appa...badly...cted this...nal straw...incompeten...dead eyed pl...and then the woman in the Colin Bake...will to live...arrowman, an actor? You must be k...three chinned Iant...Lis was great as ev...horrib...dialogu...where's Mickey and th...shi...The terrib...cial effe...usty wearing the Emperor...w clothes...usual suspec...shi...shi...shi...shi...shi...

Sorry, I seem to be breaking up.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

This is not a meme, son

To re-iterate, this is not a meme. But my chauffeur, Scott, asked the following pretty diverting question in his blog a few days ago, and I wasted a solid 80 minutes on Amazon answering it. Which either means that it's a genuinely intriguing question, or that I'm a sad little man who can't resist making lists.

Anyway, the question:

You are about to go to a desert island forever. You have £50 to spend on Amazon. You can only buy books, CD's or DVD's (assume that you can play such on this mystical isle). This will be all the entertainment you will have on the island for the rest of your life.

What would you spend it on? You can make use of any available offers at the time of purchase and assume free postage. You must provide links to the items and their prices.

I decided to forget about dvds and went for:

Music

Grace, Jeff Buckley £5.47
Must I Paint You a Picture, Billy Bragg, £4.98
No More Shall We Part, Nick Cave - 4.98
Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan - 4.98
The Dreaming, Kate Bush - 4.98

Books

From Hell, Alan Moore - 15.99
The Lord of The Rings, Tolkein - 10.73
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne - 1.80

which (after swapping Buckley for Bragg) left me just enough change for a copy of Doctor Who Monthly from eBay to wile away the lonely evenings (which is cheating, technically, but what can they do to me - I'm already being sent to a desert island with no access to Bit Torrent).

I'm a bit worried that there's a lot of slow music and nothing really loud and rocky, but I've picked two thumping tomes of books so if the cds get boring I can always read for a while. Or talk to a basketball or something.

Anyway, not a meme and I'm tagging nobody but feel free to play the game if you're really bored. Scott would love to think he'd come up with something viral ;-)

And don't you wish you had taste as great as mine*?

* Also, aren't you glad that your life isn't as obviously empty of incident as mine :-)

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Handwave Too Far

I feel dirty today. Dirty and used. On Saturday night, Russell T Davies used me and abused me and lured me into his silken embraces with shiny toys and sugary treats, playing on my well-known fascinations in order to seduce me to his dark, dark side. I was his plaything, to do with as he wished.

And his fiendish plan nearly worked. Oh so nearly...

Turn Left is heroin for fanboys, to juggle the metaphor a bit. Or, if we must stick with the unintentionally dodgy subtext of the first paragraph, a big bag of gobstoppers for the rotting sweet tooth inside us all. It's so slickly done that it's very easy to ignore the fact that it's really the contents of a blender wrapped up in a rainbow coloured blanket, and pretend that it's actually a terribly clever reminder of the Doctor's Godhood and an affirmation that humanity will keep on keeping on, no matter what.

Or is it?

No it's not! It's a big, huge, mental mad rush of sensation and noise and swirly colours and sound and fury and EVERYTHING! Quick, someone get me a bib and keep on spooning the episode mush into my mouth, just in case I stop swallowing the damn stuff whole and start thinking about it instead an...sorry about that. Sugar overload.

It's only after the sugar high has worn off and you're coming down with a bang, that you realise that the whole magnificent edifice is, in fact, made up of nothing at all: the Emperor's New Clothes where even the Emperor and the horse he rode in on has turned out to be made up of smoke and mirrors.

But, crucially, only for fanboys.

Fanboys might wish to complain that it's not even internally consistent with last Christmas ('I'm the man whose going to save your lives, and all six billion people on the planet below' the Doctor says in Voyage of the Damned, but luckily by six billion he meant seven million and by the entire planet, he meant everything south of Northampton and north of the Channel) - or indeed last month (that ATMOS system turned out to be a bit shit and the Sontaran invasion easy to nullify after all, didn't it?).

And they'd be right - apparently if the Doctor dies then aliens will be able to attack Earth with impunity, but fortunately it'll also turn out the Doctor was exaggerating the danger in order to make himself look good, like an IT support guy pretending that rebooting requires a degree and ten years network experience.

But fanboys are basically scum, so we can ignore their doe-eyed bleating and consider what Real People think.

Norms (as the scummy fanboys have been known to call them) are like a different species. A species which matters much, much more.

They matter because they'll only buy the plastic action figures, crappy magazines and plethora of tie-in literature so long as they're enjoying the show (fanboys will, of course, buy it all whilst moaning like old women on HRT about how crap the series is now and how Pertwee dumps on Tennant from a height so great that Tennant would need a hell of a long ladder to even see Ol' Big Nose).

Norms love Turn Left. They don't care about consistent continuity or diegetic integrity or any of the other arty, pseudo-high brow drivel that fanboy scum use to pretend that they're seriously criticising an important narrative text and not slaveringly obsessing over a kids tv programme.

What the norms want is the Cybermen going toe to toe with the Daleks because they remember those two baddies from before and it seems a natural story to do.

They want to see the Master dancing across the room to the Scissors Sisters and the Doctor turning into Dobby the House Elf, because that's the kind of thing you get at the pictures nowadays.

They want cat people in traffic jams, Dalek hybrids who resemble Al Capone with his head stuffed in an octopus, the Doctor nailing every young white female in sight, Big Brother spoofs, blow job jokes, farting Slitheen, Scooby Doo chases and Mavis Riley from Coronation Street getting killed by that guy from The League of Gentlemen (presuming they've heard of that).

They want Gary Russell, not Lawrence Miles.

In light of this week's episode, it's also fair to say that they want It's a Wonderful Doctor Who Life, and going by the trailer for next week they presumably also want a super-hero team up of all the good guys at once! It'd obviously be better if the Doctor Who Fantastic Fifteen was up against all the bad guys put together, in a tag team match up of seventies ITV wrestling type proportions, but if they can't have that then the next best thing is having the Daleks fighting against Sarah-Jane and Martha and Captain Jack and Rose and Ianto and K9 and (for all I know) Morris the bionic gladiator from the Iron Legion comic strip from Doctor Who Weekly in 1979.

Bugger, just outed myself as fanboy scum, haven't I?

I loved Turn Left when I was watching it and will happily watch it again, but really - it's not brilliant or particularly clever, it's got some genuinely dodgy directing and acting in it, it contains the series' worst alien baddie (the plastic time beetle from Toys R Us), it only works because Davies fudges the previous stories he references, it has some odd fancies (labour camps in Britain at the drop of a hat?) and is, when all's said and done, an alternative universe story so although everyone dies, it doesn't matter later - or, more importantly, at the time either.

You can handwave most of this away, but there shouldn't be any need for handwaves in such a simple story and - fun though it was - I'm now thoroughly past the point at which the sheer weight of handwaving required is acceptable.

So I loved it and disliked it at one and the same time - well sue me, I'm fanboy scum, me.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Four Hours on Midnight

You know what's most horrendous about the car crash viewing experience which is Midnight by Russell T Davies, OBE?

The most horrendous thing of all isn't the blatant racism.

The most horrendous thing of all isn't the fact that - yet again - the major guest star is gay.

The most horrendous thing of all isn't the inexplicable manner in which the alien menace can freeze the Doctor as well as steal his voice and keep using Sky's body, all for reasons of easy plot convenience.

The most horrendous thing of all isn't the way in which the murder of Sky Silvestre turned out to be the best thing to do after all.

The most horrendous thing of all isn't even the way in which Rusty suggests that - in the face of a loud banging noise and one woman acting a bit weird - every single person would want to kill someone as opposed, say, to acting rationally.

No, the most annoying thing of all in Midnight is that none of the above matters (and I only included it in a vain attempt at bursting Simon and Rob's respective jolly bubbles, as promised last week), or in several cases is even remotely true.

Midnight is great.

Not brilliant, nor even slightly comparable to Dennis Potter as the otherwise generally very sensible Simon Guerrier suggests, but easily Davies' best script and - by my count - the third best script of the season so far.

It's not perfect and has a few points at which script convenience was allowed to overcome further thought (why are there no cameras on the outside of the bus, so that the customers have something to look at on their way to the Sapphire Waterfall? Can the Sapphire Waterfall only be viewed for five seconds at a time? Why doesn't the Hostess just give Infected Sky a good hard push out the door? and so on) but you have to make allowances and compare this to such previous Rusty 'highlights' as Gridlock, Last of the Time Lords and Boom Town.

In that company this is more than Potter: this is Shakespeare. An interesting concept in an intriguingly alien environment, with the Doctor off wandering like a tourist in the company of normal people.

Dialogue is one of Rusty's great strengths apparently and you'd expect it to sparkle here, when there's precious little action to distract attention from the words - and it does, even if there are occasions when some speeches go on a little too long.

In terms of characterisation too, this is a relative triumph. There's no-one evil here, just scared people lashing out at the strange and the unknown. If the desire to kill seems a bit quick to surface, well it's a 45 minute show and having made his bed, Rusty's obliged to lie in it.

Tennant too is a bit of a revelation. As I've mentioned before he's not good at anger, but he's very good at frustrated and given a chance to actually act as opposed to shout or lark about, he rises to the challenge superbly. Lesley Sharp turns in a nuanced and, as several people have described it, technically proficient performance as Sky Silvestre, but all the cast are fine. A particular mention should go to David Troughton, who nicely plays up the fact that the pompous and rather bullying Professor is probably the most humane of all the humans on board.

You could perhaps quibble that the ending, with the nameless Hostess killing Sky in order to remove the danger of the alien interloper, is a bit of a cop-out, but viewed as an example of the Doctor losing it is tan excellent pay-off (his prideful boast that 'I'm clever' is the first thing to really alienate the other passengers, after all, and the other character most defined by intellectual pride, the Professor, is the last of the humans to try and side with the Doctor). Maybe the Doctor's hubris will turn out to be a season long plot point and he will pay for it in due course.

Similarly, the fact that the front cabin has been wrenched off doesn't make a great deal of in-story sense (nor why the alien was battering away at the walls in the first place) but it nicely ramped up the tension and when everything else is so good, it's far easier to be forgiving.

I'm still glad Rusty is leaving because his vision for New Who is almost diametrically opposed to mine, but it's a curious pleasure to have a chance to praise him for a really good script before he goes (and before the anticipated wankfest of the final three episodes of the season comes round the corner, all bloated, self-congratulatory and vile).

Sorry Simon, Rob - I just can't find anything to be properly negative about...
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shelf Life Update

Craig Hinton was a lovely, very funny man, and a talented author who died far too young at Christmas 2006.

In tribute to and rememberance of him, Jay Eales, Adrian Middleton and David McIntee have put together a collection of short stories, entitled Shelf Life, each with some kind of link to Craig and his life and work. Included is a brief Iris story of mine, entitled 'No Place Like Home' - I'm no writer, but I don't think it's entirely awful, and there are any number of proper writers in the book to make it well worth buying. All profits from the book go to a charity nominated by Craig's family.

It's not out yet, but the cover art is, to whet your appetite...



Pretty nifty, eh? I think Craig, as a big comics fan, would have liked it.

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Library Pictures

My son Cameron isn't a huge fan of Steven Moffat, having been scared witless by The Empty Child and pretty freaked by Blink. It's his only failing, bless him, because The Moff is the best Doctor Who script writer since...well, ever really.

That said, I think Silence in the Library was Moffat's most Coupling like plot, to the extent that I was a little distracted by the level of contrivance involved in his manoeuvring the story to the conclusion he wanted. We get two pretty major sf concepts literally stressed to death during the story: the information stations with human faces (that's DEAD human faces, as Donna shouts just in case any viewer hadn't figured that out) and the slightly silly but very effectively done communicators which allow people to speak after they're DEAD (and which appear to provide prove of an afterlife, in passing). And nothing else is mentioned at all about the technological marvels of the 51st century during the other 44 minutes - which is handy as it's a combination of precisely those two concepts (plus a cool skull in a space suit which reminded me irresistibly of Pirates of the Caribbean) which provides all the horror of the cliffhanger. It's well done and genuinely creepy, but the fore-shadowing also felt just a tad heavy-handed and it goes on for faaaaarrrrr too bloody long. As Simon points out in his review it used to be the case that "the sight of a companion's face stuck on a sculpted android would have made for an effective cliffhanger", as opposed to Silence's over-kill combination of what felt like twenty minutes of a skeleton in a suit booming 'Who turned out the lights?' and Donna's face chuntering on interminably like a stuck single. Anyway, why would the Donna face keep repeating the phrase 'Donna Noble has been saved' over and over again? And didn't they say only dead people had their faces stuck on the wall like the new range of products from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation? And why would a swarm of shadows want to hirple about in a spacesuit in the first place?*

Some random cool bits, though - both the name Nashta Verada and (for the first time since the series came back) the nice musical bit which followed the Doctor saying 'Nashta Verada' for the first time.

The shadows as devouring piranha was enough to freak Cameron out and have him go upstairs to play his PS3 instead and the dust motes in sunbeams actually creeped me out a bit too. Less scary was having the shadows as a reasonably chatty negotiator and general good guy 'blob in a suit'.

The 'little shop' joke was funny as was the joke about confusing the escape pod and the loo, and the design inside the Library was lovely (pity the city outside looked like every other alien city in New Who). Tennant did angry well for one of the few times thus far. Alex Kingston was good without being brilliant, which is basically what I expected from her, but River Song** is much less cool than Bernice Summerfield.

Less cool altogether - Miss Evangelista and her bonding with Donna was rushed and felt false, inserted simply to give some pathos to her death two minutes later. Donna doesn't always have to be wandering about looking for lame ducks to be pals with. As elsewhere, there's a purpose to it, since it gives her a reason to help Donna when she's initially lost in her alternative future, but equally it feels just as heavy-handed as the foreshadowing in Silence.

And some more questions which have either just popped into my head or have been inadvertently (yeah, right) nicked from other people's reviews.
  • Why does everyone of the 4022*** except Donna come out of the hard drive dressed entirely in black? [it was the fashion 100 years ago amongst bibliophiles?]
  • Are all of Dr Song's friends saved by the updated Sonic Screwdriver and then deposited into the hard drive or are they just computer constructs created for her to interact with?
  • Why are they all dressed in white?
  • Why was Donna's husband using an alias in the library, other than to provide some fake poignancy?
  • If the shadows are deadly how come the people who got killed were all in the light?
  • Why not just turn on all the lights to get rid of the shadows, since they - initially at least - do appear to be actual shadows rather than aliens who look like shadows
  • Why is the Doctor so thick at so many key points (relationship with Dr Song, natured of 'saving') other than plot convenience?
  • Why was archaelogist and time-travelling adventuress River Song re-incarnated in the Library as Laura Ashley wearing middle-class mum?
  • Finally, the Doctor sending Donna away again - there's a future point to that, surely, and it not just another clumsy contrivance, designed to get her into CAL's world?
Looking back at that list, it's hard to believe that I really, really enjoyed this two parter, but I genuinely did. I think it's the best Who episode since Cornell's Human Nature/Family of Blood from last year.

But having started this review by saying that Silence was hampered by Moffat employing Coupling's almost geometrically convenient plotting, I now find myself claiming that Forest in particular is actually almost as full of plot holes as one of Rusty's less well thought out efforts. That can't be right, can it? Steven Moffat can't have turned in something which is shiny and good on first viewing but turns out to be a bit generic and shallow on closer examination, can he? Doctor's daughter, Doctor's wife...it's all going a bit Family Affairs as the Moff gears up to take over - and that can't be his intention, can it?

I'm so confused all of a sudden...

Other reviews of one or other episode which are especially worth reading: Simon, Marie, Rob, Millenium Dome, Mondy, Lawrence and Stuart (with very funny opening paragraphs).

[included from a mailing list post I made prior to watching Forest of the Dead, and included here only to demonstrate my own very minor cleverness: Speculation - given that the Ood said that the Doctor's song was going to send soon, could this be a reference to Dr River Song? Perhaps she dies the first time she meets the Doctor?]

* You know, Simon and Rob have ruined this for me, with their oh so rational reviews picking holes in something I had chosen to believe was perfect. Pair of selfish swine.
** Was I the only one reminded of Firefly's River Tam here?
*** And shades of The 4400there.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

For No-One

In an unexpected change from the usual witterings about Doctor Who and old telly, this is going to be one of those posts no-one ever reads about what I've been doing lately.

I've been on holiday in Florida, spending a week touring the state and then a week in Orlando doing the theme park thang. It was fabulous, a really, really great holiday - and that in spite of the fact that it was in the company of my entire extended family.

Highlights included:
  • Getting sun poisoning on our first day there, after my beloved daughter removed the towel I had over my legs whilst sunbathing on Clearwater Beach (I'd been jet ski-ing and thought my sun tan lotion might have been rubbed off) in order to dry her face. Actual Sun Poisoning! How messed up does that sound? Allergic to the sun! I expect to break out in People Poisoning any time now, and am confident I'll be living inside a plastic bubble by the end of the decade.
  • Getting invited to a lesbian wedding (which sadly we couldn't attend, as we were moving on that day). 'Looks like Harold Lloyd marrying Shrek' someone was heard to remark, but lovely people nonetheless.
  • Walking naked and drunk along Cocoa Beach
  • Spending a week in the villa Jodie Marsh had her honeymoon in (all the more interesting once someone explained to me who Jodie Marsh actually was - a sort of cut-price Jordan, if you imagine such a thing being suffered to live and not being exposed on a hillside as would seem natural)
  • Getting lost in downtown Tampa in the early hours of the morning and twatting the curb with the car in a fit of pique
  • Meeting a massive pesticide mutated redneck named after Winston Churchill who congratulated me on 'that guy at Scotland Airport kicking shit out of those muslimics' and further promised that, were there ever another 911 style terrorist attack, he personally would shoot the first American of arabian descent he met (that one's more a point of horror struck fascination than a highlight, though J bursting into his hotel room whilst drunk to lambast him for finishing her Jack Daniels was very funny)
  • Watching the shuttle launch live. Genuinely awe-inspiring.
Other than that, I went on an upside rollercoaster for the first time ever (can't say I enjoyed it much), went on the brilliant new Simpsons simulator ride and decided that Revenge of the Mummy is the best ride in Orlando.

Also a Tom Tom is the best thing ever.

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