The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nothing Compares 2 U

I suppose we must be in a recession now (curse you Tony Blairs!) because the only stuff which seems to be being advertised now is car insurance. It’s the spirit of the age. People don’t just want cheaper car insurance. They want to compare different car insurance companies to get the best deal on their car insurance.

Christ it’s a dull subject. So what do the advertisers do? Well, you’ve still got direct line, the perky talking telephone on wheels, now voiced by the Pocoyo and Harry Potter guy and Paul Merton (who, let’s face it, doesn’t get a lot of voice-over work for a reason). And you’ve still got Admiral Insurance, though sadly no longer played by Andy from EastEnders. Do you remember Andy from EastEnders? I do. And there’s still Churchill the dog. Not sure if he’s still being voiced by Vic Reeves.

But I don’t just want car insurance, I want to compare car insurances! What should I do? Well apparently I should enter a white void, like that bit in The Matrix where Keanu is choosing his weapons, and compare my car insurances that way. Because, let’s face it, it is exactly like The Matrix.

Or you can have an advert full of ‘real people’ talking as though on home videos, which basically means hired actors but made up to have slightly bushier eyebrows and pallid complexions because that’s what real people look like.

Or – and this is genius – you can advertise your insurance comparison site with a talking computer-generated Russian meerkat. I don’t have a car, so I don’t need car insurance, but I love this advert so much I’m tempted to get one. It may even rival the ‘One step at a time, Martin!’ advert in my affections. And check out the website.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

I'm Tongue-Tied

I don’t have a speech defect, as far as I am aware, but there’s one or two words I have a problem with. One of which is sausages.

It’s not that I can’t say it. I can. It’s just that at university, I think it was, at the canteen I would go to, for some reason whenever I asked for sausages the person serving would give me a blank look and ask me to repeat myself. It may have happened a hundred times, it may have happened once, I’m not that keen on sausages so it’s probably somewhere between the two. But for whatever reason, it got inside my head, a niggle of self-consciousness, so that now whenever I have occasion to say the word sausages a litte voice in the back of my mind says, ‘Oh, you’ll have trouble saying this word clearly’.

I don’t. But because I think I will I’m a little surprised and delighted when I don’t get a blank look and am not asked to repeat myself. That said, try ordering anything from Subways and you’ll get a blank look; whenever I go to Subways I fear for the future of our language as every one I go to seems to have people working there who can neither speak nor understand spoken English even though it is their first and only language. Every word they say is slurred and mumbled; every word you say you have to enunciate loudly and clearly like you’re Leslie Philips or something.

Oh, ding dong.

It’s an irony that the one word I have trouble with is a word that even dogs can pronounce. If That’s Life is to be believed. Though I suspect that the dog in question wasn’t saying sausages; it was merely suffering from a bark defect.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Ring Ring

Watched The Ring the other day. Don’t mind admitting, I found it incredibly scary. And yet it contains no violence, no gore... what made it scary was the brilliant script.

Once you get past the first scene, that is, which is incongruously expositional, and has all the hallmarks of a late addition – it includes a character explaining how the video-curse thing works when a) she shouldn’t know this and b) it’s too early for us to know this and c) going by what later happens in the film, her friend should aready be all-too-aware that’s she’s under a curse by this point. Makes me wonder whether this scene was in the original Japanese version. It’s a thing with horror movies that they have to begin with a little vignette, like a short film version of the big film – think of Drew Barrymore’s bit in Scream.

But, from then on, a brilliant script. Not a scene or line wasted. And the effect of such sustained, cumulative, relentless re-iteration of the same disquieting concepts is extraordinary. The invention – and the eventual explanation – is also phenomenal. But there are so many spooky things in this film; the fly, the scribbled-out drawings, the blurred photos, the phone calls, the water... plus everything in that freaky video. Always found them unnerving; you’ll go into a darkened room in the Tate Gallery where you’ll see a montage of badly-shot cod-surrealist nonsense you wouldn’t give five seconds if it was on the telly.

So many spooky things, but all tied together beautifully. Like all great ghost stories, it’s not about jets of blood or shock tactics but about burrowing away into the firmament of suppressed anxieties; of finding yourself in a universe working by another set of malicious, arbitrary and unknowable rules. That’s what’s really scary.

Monday, 27 April 2009

I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea

Now that my Doctor Who adventure, Hothouse, has been released both as a download and is available on CD, I thought it might be fun to present the synopsis of the original idea. Until I re-read this synopsis, I’d forgotten that it started out as a story for the sixth Doctor, travelling without a companion. The title had been given to me, and is possibly why the end result turned out to be a little bit... well, you’ll see. But what’s interesting about it, for me at least, and the reason why I’ve waited until Hothouse was released before posting it, is because in terms of plot structure, the two stories are approximately the same, so please don’t read this if you’ve not heard Hothouse spoiler warning!

Anyway, this story was rejected for being too much of a broad comedy, and I was told to go away and come up with something more serious, and more of a direct sequel to The Seeds Of Doom – whilst keeping all of the good bits from this storyline. I think, in retrospect, this was absolutely the right decision – goodness knows what people would have made of the following nonsense...

(One other point of trivia. The Doctor's 'companion' in this story is called Keeley, as I had Keeley Hawes character from Spooks in mind. The character who plays a similar role in Hothouse is called Hazel. Because somebody - I think it was Barnaby Edwards - suggested she should have a name that was also a type of plant. Ten points to the first reader who can deduce what mental process led me from Keeley to Hazel...)


50-minute subscriber special

Synopsis draft 21 November 2007

We open with an excerpt from a TV show – Hector Mandelbaum’s In Pursuit Of Flavour. Hector Mandelbaum is the world’s greatest vegetarian chef, famous for his ‘Molecular Cuisine’ approach to cooking, which involves a vat of liquid nitrogen, blow-torches, a particle accelerator, an MRI scanner and an array of other hi-tech equipment. He is also famous for his ability to make one vegetable taste of another i.e. his legendary tomato peas.

This takes us to Hector’s restaurant, the world famous ‘Chubby Carrot’ in Chelsea, London. Busy at work in his laboratory, Hector is informed by the head waitress, Marianne, that there is a critic in the restaurant.

This food critic turns out to be the sixth Doctor. He, and the other patrons, are waiting in the dining room for the first course of Hector’s new veggie menu.

The waitresses bring out the Starters and lift the serving dish lids to reveal… Krynoid pods. Open, steaming, covered in cranberry sauce and ready to eat.

Recognising the pods, the Doctor tries to warn the other customers – these things are lethal! The other customers disagree - they are delicious! And totally harmless as the ‘stings’ have been removed. The Doctor asks for a doggy bag for his ‘pod’ as he’s suddenly lost his appetite. Particularly when the main course arrives – slices of roast Krynoid tendril in a white wine sauce.

We cut to the Doctor dissecting the pod, back at the World Ecology Bureau, with WEB scientific advisor Doctor Keeley Bright. The Doctor, we learn, had been called in to investigate the restaurant after the WEB grew suspicious after sighting a Krynoid pod in a TV programme about Hector discussing his never-ending search for new and exotic flavours. (We hear an excerpt of this).

The Doctor, still posing as a critic, confronts Hector at the restaurant. He tries to warn Hector of the dangers of Krynoids, but Hector denies all knowledge – his supplier provides them with the ‘stings’ removed; he’s never had any trouble. He refuses to divulge the name of this supplier. And he will not stop serving them – they are his most popular dish, with people travelling from all over the globe to sample his Krynoid cutlets.

After the Doctor has left, Hector discusses the situation with Marianne, his assistant/lover/head waitress. The Doctor is becoming a threat. He must be dealt with. Hector knows just the thing… he has something spicy in mind!

Back at the WEB, the Doctor and Keeley discuss where Hector is getting the Krynoids from. WEB have been monitoring the restaurant for the last few months and have never seen any being delivered. He must be home-growing!

They work late into the night, and an extra-large vegetarian pizza is delivered while the Doctor is working in the TARDIS. Thinking the Doctor ordered it, Keeley tucks in – and goes into shock, severely poisoned. Emerging from the TARDIS, the Doctor discovers Keeley on the brink of death, and manages to rush-diagnose the nature of the poison – super-hot chilli peppers – and save her life. He then explains that he didn’t order the pizza – so who did?

It must be Hector. And there is nothing that arouses the Doctor’s suspicions more than someone attempting to kill him… the Doctor suggests they break in to the ‘Chubby Carrot’ and find out what is really going on there. Keeley isn’t sure – it would be against WEB policy – but the Doctor persuades her. It can be their little secret – no-one need know they are there.

Later that night, we hear them exploring Hector’s laboratory. The Doctor is bemused by the amount of scientific equipment at Hector’s disposal – whatever happened to good old-fashioned pots and pans?

They venture downstairs, through a sealed door, into a hydroponic chamber. There they discover the horrific truth – dozens of human beings, strapped to the walls, all infected with the Krynoid virus, all green and half-vegetable. Hector is using people as growing-beds for Krynoids! But conscious and aware of what is happening to them. They cry out to the Doctor for help.

The Doctor identifies some of the human beings – critics who gave Hector bad reviews, plus fat American tourists whose only crime was to ask for ketchup to put on their chips. They explore further and discover more of Hector’s experiments – Krynoid cows, Krynoid sheep, Krynoid pigs.

The Doctor and Keeley are then disturbed – as Hector and Marianne discover them. The Doctor suggests to Keeley they run for it – but then Keeley turns a gun on the Doctor. She is working for Hector! She was the one who provided him with the Krynoid cutting in the first place (WEB took cuttings at Harrison Chase’s house after the events of The Seeds of Doom). It has all been a trap!

Hector explains. In his ‘pursuit of flavour’ he has been trying to make the most delicious Krynoid possible. He has worked out to best way to prepare one – it involves submerging the whole Krynoid in liquid nitrogen before smoke-drying it over an aromatic applewood fire. He has tried making Krynoids out of every type of animal, and has found that ones made from human beings taste best – sweet and crispy. So whenever someone visits his restaurant he disapproves of, he makes sure they eat something that disagrees with them – before sending them downstairs to be eaten by something that disagrees with them.

Now it is the Doctor’s turn. Hector he has the Doctor strapped to the wall and places a Krynoid pod beside him – complete with sting – to begin the infection/experiment. He gently thaws out the pod and it begins to open…

The Doctor shouts at Hector that he is mad. Not only is what he doing horrific and immoral, but technically Krynoids made out of human beings aren’t strictly vegetarian! If he’s not careful, he could lose one of his stars for this!

Hector and Marianne then leave, heading upstairs, with Keeley guarding the Doctor. The Doctor points out to Keeley that although she is in Hector’s employ, Hector was prepared to kill her (with the pizza). No doubt when she is no longer useful to him she will be the next to ‘Go Veggie’. But if she sets him free, he will keep quiet about her treachery.

At the last possible moment, Keeley decides to help the Doctor. But as she releases him, the Krynoid stings her and she becomes infected. She finds she can communicate with the other ‘Krynoids’ present and they beg the Doctor to let them die – Hector has been force-growing them, injecting them with growth hormones, force-feeding them. All in pursuit of a better flavour.

The Doctor attempts to reason with the Krynoids, who want their revenge on Hector, but he is knocked unconscious by Keeley. When he awakes, she has gone – and he is alone, on the floor of the kitchen, with Hector about to throw him into the nitrogen vat. There is a struggle, and despite the Doctor’s best efforts, Hector falls in and is frozen to death. The Doctor muses that Hector has received his ‘just desserts’ and that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.

The restaurant is now open, and Marianne heads downstairs to fetch fresh Krynoid supplies – only to become possessed by the Krynoid. She sets the creatures free, and they run amok in the restaurant. As Marianne makes her escape, the Doctor shouts to the patrons to run for their lives before he overloads the various devices in the kitchen and causes the restaurant to explode - destroying all of the Krynoids inside in the process.

But it’s not over yet. The Doctor catches up with Marianne, and de-possesses her of the Krynoid, but not before he has found out where Keeley (infected, and rapidly turning into the ‘giant green turnip’ stage of the Krynoid) has gone.

The Royal Hospital! Where the Chelsea flower show is taking place...

And sure enough, live on TV, people visiting the flower show are attacked by the flowers. And the revenge of the plants is spreading – Blue Peter presenters are attacked by the Blue Peter garden and there is death on Gardeners' Question Time. Alan Titchmarsh is missing, presumed compost.

The huge Krynoid that used to be Keeley is now towering over Chelsea and nothing the army can do can stop it (as we are near the Royal Hospital, the army is led by a sprightly Clive-Dunn-esque Chelsea pensioner and retired Brigadier called Geoffrey, who has taken command in this moment of crisis).

It is almost time for the Krynoid to release its spores across England.

At the flower show, Marianne is killed by some rogue plant life. The Doctor arrives, and appeals to Keeley’s human side to fight the Krynoid side. If there is still a human part of her left, she ‘knows what to do’. As he says this, he presents her with Hector’s ‘special’ pizza. ‘It’s cold, but it’s also hot hot hot…’

The Krynoid swallows the pizza, which causes its metabolism to overheat as the human part of it is poisoned and spontaneously combusts. (If you think the super-spicy pizza is too silly, the Doctor could be using hi-tech anti-Krynoid equipment from Hector’s lab). The Krynoid collapses and the army surround it and destroy it with flamethrowers.

All over London, plant life returns to normal. The threat is averted.

Geoffrey thanks the Doctor for his contribution, and asks him if there is any way the people of Chelsea can show their gratitude.

The Doctor considers for a moment. ‘Yes… I’d quite like a bacon sandwich. I’ve had quite enough of vegetables for a while…’

(Possibly this whole story could be narrated in the first person by the Doctor to Geoffrey as they tuck into their meal)


Sunday, 26 April 2009

I Fought The Law

A little thought exercise that occurred to me whilst out jogging. If I were put in charge of Robin Hood, what would I do to make it the sort of show that would appeal to someone like me? i.e. someone in their mid-30’s but with the tastes and lifestyle of someone in their mid-20’s.

Not intended as a criticism of Robin Hood as it stands. It’s worked for 3 years. But how could it be made even better? Bearing in mind that AIUI the current Robin and Sheriff are going to be written out at the end of this series...

1) Make Robin a girl. After all, Robin’s not a gender–specific name. Early 20’s. Gorgeous, obviously. Someone who can handle herself in a fight. Think Buffy. Even better, think Faith.

2) Even bearing in mind idea 1), there should be more girls in it. Half the cast. Half of the merry men should be female. Half of the villains should be female. Not for PC reasons of equality, or for the un-PC reason that boys will tune in to watch girls who kick arse, but because it makes the show more interesting. You can simply do more in terms of character dynamics if it’s not about blokes all the time.

3) Following on from 2) – different baddies each week. Maybe some could be in more than one episode, but our heroes need to face a variety of threats.

4) Following on from 3) – more diverse plots. Doctor Who does this brilliantly. Every episode should be ‘the one where...’, a mad, out-of-left-field idea which hasn’t been done before. Give people a reason why they dare not miss it.

5) Horses. Robin should ride horses more and do more horse-based stunts.

6) Incorporate pop music. Like in A Knight's Tale.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


I still use travelcards on the underground – sometimes it works out cheaper than Oystering – and sometimes they don’t go through the ticket machine first time and the red ‘Please seek assistance’ light lights up. And then inevitably – oh so tiresomely inevitably – the person behind me will tut. As though it’s my fault. As though somehow they are in the disagreeable presence of some oik who can’t even slot a travelcard into a ticket machine properly.

This is why it’s good that it’s illegal to carry shoulder-mounted bazookas on public transport, because as surely as I am typing this, if I was carrying one, I would swing my barrel around and turn that person into a charred crisp.

What is it with tutting? The implication is that someone feels that someone else is doing something wrong, something vulgar, but rather than come out and say what their actual bloody problem is, they merely make a noise of superior admonishment. As though the person really should know better.

The worst ones for it, though, are newsreaders. Fiona Bruce in particular. There’ll be a story about, oh, Israel bombing Palestine, the economy turning into a game of Ker-plunk, or a celebrity being killed, and then it’ll cut back to the studio and she’ll ‘tut’ disapprovingly before moving on to the next story. As though her opinion of the news is ‘well, they could have done that better, clearly they’re not trying hard enough’.

It may only be a small thing – but if we don’t take a stand against it now, where will it end? Pretty soon we’ll have newsreaders rolling their eyes after the news stories. They’ll be giving sarcastic boggled-eyed gawps of surprise. They’ll be doing ‘ooh, that was a interesting piece of news, I’m so excited’ mimes with jazz hands.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Did You Ever Have A Dream

There is nothing more tedious than someone talking about their dreams, so apply matchsticks to eyelids because that’s what today’s blog is about.

I’m not going to bore you by talking about the fact that most of my dreams seem to take place in the same imaginary city; that’s between me and my psychanalyist. And I’ll save for another blog my recurring nightmare that I’m back at university and I have an imminent maths exam which, no matter what I do, I am doomed to fail because I’m missing a crucial page from my notes. That’s so bleeding unsubtle it doesn’t merit discussion.

No, instead I’m going to test your attention span by talking about that thing where you wake up with an idea that’s come from a dream. Like when Paul McCartney dreamed up ‘Yesterday’. Or ‘Yellow Submarine’, that came to him in a dream too apparently. And ‘No Values’ off Give My Regards To Broad Street, but in that instance he should probably have gone back to sleep.

A dozen times or more I’ve dreamt of something so funny that I’ve woken up laughing. I can’t imagine any better way to start the day. It seems a pathetic-non-claim-to-fame to mention it, but the best example I can give is when I dreamt of a scene in Coupling where Steve was talking about why Jeff wasn’t around any more – because he’d gone on holiday to see the lesbians of Lesbos and had forgotten he had a life to come back to. I mentioned this dream to Moffat and, incredibly, he put a much funnier version of this gag in the show.

And, last week, I woke up with a fantastic idea for a movie. In effect, I’d done a whole day’s work before I’d even opened my eyes.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Little Wonder

Watched ‘Ashes to Ashes’ last night. Well, I watched the first ten minutes.

This blog isn’t intended for negativity, but in a spirit of constructive frankness, what was my problem?

Well, for me, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ has always been a not-quite show. I think it’s that the character of Gene Hunt made a kind of sense in the 1970’s where his outdated attitudes were always being questioned, but he makes no sense at all in the 1980’s where he’s simply become a cartoon, an anachronism spouting overwrought but oh-so-quotable crowd-pleasing pop-culture-referencing wisecracks.

The show’s format doesn’t hang together. ‘Life On Mars’ was compelling right up until the point where the clever explanation the writers had been building towards turned out to be neither clever nor an explanation. (Spoiler) As was once pointed out to me, it’s bizarre that given the choice between ‘Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?’ they went for the least interesting option - the one the series had been saying it was all along! ‘Ashes to Ashes’ first series had a similarly nonsensical ‘twist’ explanation.

This episode started with a fun recreation of ‘Grange Hill’ which unfortunately looked nothing like ‘Grange Hill’. Then, in a later scene, Alex is walking through Soho and says to herself, apropos of FA, ‘It’s all restaurants now’. Exposition solely for the viewer’s benefit – telling us something we a) don’t need to know and b) already knew.

A few minutes later, it happened again. ‘I know it’s been hard for you, the city awash with new money and new crime and we’re asked to police it with one hand tied behind our backs’. That’s not dialogue, that’s a line from the pitch document. I felt embarrassed for the struggling actors... and decided to leave them to it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Running Round Town

Another day, another jog. Fitness improving with surprising rapidity. There’s a point you pass, a metabolism thing, where you’ve warmed up sufficiently to, in the words of the Spencer Davis Group, ‘keep on running’.

The goal is to get as fit as was a couple of years ago. My best-ever jogs were along the Thames path (North side) west to Charing Cross; along the Thames path (South side) to Waterloo; the same, in the other direction; and along the Thames path (both sides) east to the Thames Barrier (and back). Which might not sound that far, as the crow flies, but I am not a crow, I’m a lardy shortarse, and the Thames path is very meandering and often not clearly indicated, so you have to factor in a couple of miles of getting lost and retracing routes. I’m not sure how long my best-ever jogs were; something over ten miles.

But it means I know bits of London other people don’t know. I know that the Greenwich Millennium Village (as seen on BBC idents) is directly downwind of a rubbish tip. It means I recognise pretty much all the locations from Spooks. And I even found, near West Silvertown, a bridge which goes over the DLR line and then goes nowhere. It looks like it might be leading somewhere but turns out to be closed off.

The other vivid memory of jogging is the music I associate with certain places. I associate Kate Nash’s super-motivating Pumpkin Soup with battling through the elements on Blackheath; somehow it just all came together in a moment. I associate ABBA - the Album with Wapping High Street, and I associate The Beatles’ Revolution 9 with sprinting through the dodgy bit of Lee (which is all of it) during the hours of darkness.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Same Old Feeling

I always feel slightly fraudulent when someone asks me what type of lager I’d prefer. Because, really, I don’t think I can tell the difference. I wouldn’t be able to pass the Pepsi challenge. It’s not that all lagers taste the same; it’s just that in some pubs, a Stella will taste like a Fosters, and in another pub, it will taste like Carling. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that all the taps run out of the same barrel or that they just plumbed the different barrels in at random.

It’s not so much the taste that’s important, it’s the associations, which fall into two categories. Firstly, there are all your own idiosyncratic memories linked to the brand; that hot, summer day when a certain cool refreshing drink was just perfect, that teenage party where the girl you fancied took her top off, that soul-destroying nightclub in Southampton where you drank something which made you feel nauseous for several days afterwards.

Then there’s the associations brought about by advertising, of humorous campaigns and catchphrases of days gone by, of reassuring rustic Frenchies, of no-nonsense Australians, etc.

The reason why the advertising is so important is because the lagers taste the same. They’re not selling a taste, they’re selling a dream, a lifestyle, a myth. That’s the only difference. It’s the same with anything where the product is essentially identical; cigarettes, perfumes, phones, banks, cornflakes, cars.

Which is, of course, one of the evils of capitalism, but it’s also a basic part of human nature. Because people are, as Martin Gore once so perspicaciously observed, basically the same. The only difference is in the presentation, the way the other person makes us feel about ourselves, which is at once both utterly trivial and a total deal-breaker.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Shower Scene

There is no minutae too trivial for the land of internet blogs. And so, bearing that in mind, I had my first cold shower of the year yesterday.

Why so notable? Don’t know. It’s a thing. It had been a hot day, I’d been out for a jog, and so I decided to turn the cold tap on full and the hot tap on not at all. It was as cold, not as ice because then it would’ve literally been ice, but as cold as water not very much warmer than ice. It was almost painful.

But the reason I do it is that, firstly, it feels marvellous. Makes you feel all fresh, hearty, tingly and super-awake, like you’ve just woken up as Brian Blessed. Which is quite a feeling, as I’m sure Brian Blessed would confirm.




Secondly, there’s the saying that you should do something every day that scares you. I’m not sure that’s entirely sound medical advice, particularly for people who are only scared of dangling from great heights, or putting their heads into crocodiles’ mouths, but nevertheless it’s something I strive to do.

And cold showers scare me. Not like a phobia, but just enough to mean there is a little dance of trepidation of shall-I-or-shan’t-I-go-under-the-water-yes-I-shall BLOODY HELL IT’S COLD.

What else could I do to scare myself? I suppose I could watch the bit with the twins from The Shining (note to comedy writers: referencing films is not funny, and referencing The Shining is even less funny than that.) Or I could go on the internet and read fans getting angry about extras on Doctor Who DVDs. Or I could almost-but-not-quite fall backwards in my chair.

No. Cold shower it is.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

James Bond

Watched Quantum Of Solace for the first time last night. Thoughts.

It’s not much like the short story, which is an unrepentantly misogynist tale of why women should not be allowed to join golf clubs.

The guy playing the villain was excellent. Reminded me of someone I know. And the henchman in the toupee, hilarious.

Couldn’t follow the plot at all. This isn’t unusual, I can never follow the plots of James Bond films, but it would’ve helped if what exposition there was wasn’t mumbled, drowned-out and thrown away. No idea why Bond went to Haiti at the beginning. No idea what was going on with the CIA and ‘Guy Haines’, a character who seems significant but doesn’t actually appear in the film.

It’s kind of a rule that all Bond’s second movies will be a mess because they are rushed into production before the script is finished and have to be cobbled together in the edit. Quantum is no exception to the rule, but it’s not another Tomorrow Never Dies.

But I can’t remember the last film I saw which was so ruined in the editing. It’s dreadful. Rather than giving us interesting dynamic camera moves, it’s all about switching between different viewpoints. Or even more distractingly, endlessly cutting away to sports events, opera performances, someone having their toenails painted. The grammar in the action sequences is all over the place. No idea who is where or what they’re doing or why. It’s all breathless and frenetic – which is good – but if you can’t follow what’s going on, it becomes tedious.

As an example, at one point James Bond does something ingenious with an anchor to stop a speedboat. What he does, I do not know. I even rewound the DVD to check but still haven’t a clue.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Average Person

One thing that really I can’t stand is when they use vox pops on the news. It inflames my ire, it really does.

Why? Firstly, it’s misrepresentative. As anyone who has the most elementary knowledge of statistics will know, taking the opinions of three or four people who happen to be walking down the high street at the same time that the TV crew happen to be there isn’t a statistically valid sample. At best the result is meaningless. The rest of the time it’s not merely unlikely to be representative, it’s perpetuating a manufactured lie.

What sort of people are likely to be walking down high streets during the day time during the week? Shoppers. People with disposable incomes. Not people who are at work. Not people who are stuck at home. Where’s their vox pops?

And look at the people they interview. Nobody too unsightly. Nobody with an incoherent regional accent. Nobody with a disability. Nobody wearing a logo. There’s an insidious process of discrimination going on. Even though the TV crew will try to portray a ‘cross-section’ of people, it’s a United Colours of Benetton cross-section. It’s not as if they pick the first three or four people they see.

Then there’s the process of what quotes they use. Soundbites – they don’t want anyone too well-informed, because that would look suspicious. Instead, and this is the real problem – they are chosen to represent what the journalist presumes the public thinks. Who are voicing opinions that echo the journalist’s prejudices.

Imagine a story where the journalists selected ‘vox pops’ of the most scared people they could find giving voice to their most paranoid, unfounded fears. It would create an impression of general panic. But you don’t need to imagine. That’s exactly what they did with Northern Rock.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Show You The Way To Go

Out for a jog yesterday, as part of my annual ‘thing’ whereby I get thinner during the summer and fatter during the winter, like some sort of reverse squirrel. Fitness gradually increasing – made it to General Wolfe and back!

Just as I was bounding across Blackheath heath, a car pulled up to ask me for directions, causing me to interrupt my enjoyment of OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’, which is surprisingly motivational jogging music (‘Efficient, logical, effective – and practical! Using all resources to the best of our ability!’)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a fatal flaw when it comes to giving directions, which is this: Even if I don’t have the faintest idea as the location of the place the person is looking for, even if I don’t have the first clue how to get there, even if I’ve never even heard of it, I feel behoven, in the spirit of wishing to be helpful, to give out some directions regardless.

Yes, it would probably be more helpful not to give directions if I don’t know what I’m talking about, but somehow that seems rude. Better, surely, to think of a place that you do know, that might possibly be the place they are looking for, and give directions to that instead. It’s not that I deliberately give out the wrong directions. I give out the right directions – to entirely the wrong place.

So if you’re ever lost, and seeking help – don’t ask the fat guy in the Tintin t-shirt making strangulated ‘Aaaav got a telly-graph, in my hand!’ noises.

Other things. Watched the first episode of the Sarah Connor Chronicles last night. It’s all Skip’s fault. It was very good, but – aaaaargh! – it started with a dream sequence! Thematically valid and ingeniously done, but still. Aaaaargh!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

I Write The B-Sides

Sitting here, if I look to my left, I see shelves filled with row upon row of CD singles. But I don’t see CD singles. I see row upon row of marvellous b-sides.

B-sides are, I think, what turns you from someone who quite likes a band into a fan. It’s because they’re so idiosyncratic; they’re like shared in-jokes, free gifts, a rummage into the ‘experiments’ drawer, or legendary-lost-albums-that-might-have-been. It’s the b-sides that give you a real sense of what a band is about when they’re not trying to be commercial.

All the bands I love have great b-sides. Take The Beatles. You could compile all their b-sides, from PS I Love You to You Know My Name and you’d have a CD as good as their greatest hits. It would be a damn quirky CD, certainly, but a damn fine one.

The same goes for Suede – you could compile an album from their first two album’s b-sides and it would be better than either of those two albums. Oasis seemed hell-bent on giving their fans value for money with two or three great b-sides per single; I wonder if Noel regrets doing so, as those tracks are vastly better than their recent singles.

The Boo Radleys were all about the b-sides; oh, how I loved getting hold of those Boo b’s. Blur, The Beautiful South, the Lightning Seeds, the Divine Comedy too. More recently, the Sugababes, Duffy and Robbie have all delivered quality flipsides. And all Erasure fans know their b-sides lie somewhere between Paradise and a Dreamlike State.

As for the bands I’m not that keen on... well, their b-sides showed them for what they were, too; happy for their fans to waste money on filler, on crappy remixes and ‘live versions’. I’m looking at you, Catatonia.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Theme From An Imaginary Film

Here’s a couple of films I would love to see made. I would’ve made a list, but most of the films I would like to see made are my Secret Special Ideas and I’m not going to reveal them to people unless they’re willing to pay me.

But number one my list, I’d love to see:

The Muppet Midsummer Night’s Dream

How can they not have already made this? The script’s out of copyright by several hundred years, it’s both ‘highbrow’ (because it’s Shakespeare) and ‘lowbrow’ (because it’s Muppets). It’d need to be done like The Muppet Christmas Carol; you want the original plotlines, jokes and all the important bits of dialogue in there, but you also want Statler and Waldorf heckling the play at the end. I’ve even worked out a cast.

Oberon, Titania – guest stars
Puck – The Great Gonzo (assisted by Andy and Randy pig)
Helena, Demetrius – guest stars
Hermia – Miss Piggy
Lysander – Kermit
Quince – Scooter
Bottom – Fozzie Bear (obviously!)
Flute – Sam the Eagle
Starveling - Pepe
Snout – Seymour
Snug – Bean Bunny

And so on. It’d write itself.

And number two:

Yellow Submarine II: Return To Pepperland

I can’t understand why they haven’t done this. It’d be mind-blowingly fab. It’d be a combination of a surreal plot, free-association wordplay, the trippiest, most psychedelic CGI (possibly in 3-D?) and all the fantastic Beatles songs which weren’t in the first film. Or maybe they were, that’s not important. It’s not an issue that fifty per cent of the Beatles are dead; you’d simply use voice artists as the first film did. You’d have to bring back the Blue Meanies, too. And the lovely Glove.

Just imagine what you could do, imagery-wise, for songs like Tomorrow Never Knows, Glass Onion, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane and – of course – Octopus’s Garden.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Under The Bridge

On Saturday we visited Tower Bridge. For five quid, you can go up one of the towers, saunter along the top, have a mooch around, saunter back along the top, and have a mooch around the engine rooms from when it was all steam-powered.

Quite fun. There was the seemingly-obligatory video re-enactment movie, starring Timothy West as Horace Jones, the guy with a dream of a bridge that combines both bascule and suspension systems, featuring Clive Swift as the pen-pusher from city hall who doesn’t believe it can be done. But Timothy West won’t play by the rules, dammit, he’ll build a bridge his way or no way at all.

After you’ve sat through that, and looked up at the life-size dummies of builders in the rafters, you get to saunter along the top bit. Which I’d kind of not been looking forward to, what with having vertigo, and remembering the rather exciting climax of James Herbert’s 1948 with the guy caught in a shoot-out with Nazi plague zombies. And people say I have no taste in literature.

But it wasn’t like that. There’s no drop, very little sense of height. Just a nice view, and lots of informative pictures of other bridges. The thinking being, ‘Hey, if you’ve enjoyed this bridge, here are some others you might enjoy...’ Of which I’d already done Golden Gate, Forth, Ironbridge and Brooklyn. Turns out, I’m well on the way to become a bridge-spotter. I think cantelever bridges are my favourite. On balance.

Not so excited by the old pumps. It’s something I try to keep secret in polite company, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really ‘get’ the appeal of hydraulic lifting systems. It’s just one of those crazes that has passed me by.

But well worth a visit.

more pics on flickr

Monday, 13 April 2009

Waiting For A Train

Back when Room 101 was on television, like everyone else I started thinking what I would choose to put into my ‘Room 101’ given the chance. I may blog about some of them. There’s Westbury station, that’s a definite. The flatulent wheezing sound made by people squeezing near-empty salad cream bottles, I can’t stand that. And revolving doors. And Argos stores – if I’m not mistaken, there’s a passage in Dante’s Inferno when the narrator reaches the ninth level of hell, and discovers ‘they’ve got an Argos’.

But first on the list would have to be pubs in stations. Can’t stand them. As a general rule of them, the closer a pub is to a station, the less good it is. I don’t quite know why, but for some reason, they get rougher, unfriendlier, they have less charm and become more squalid. But if you think that pubs near stations are bad, they are paradisiacal compared to pubs actually inside stations.

They are places that no-one, no-one, would ever want to come for a drink. The only people who drink there are people who are waiting for a train and want to be pissed by the time they get on it. They are desolate, miserable, post-apocalyptic, sterile, clammy, tacky hell-holes. They are not true pubs. They are pits of existential despair that are merely feigning to be pubs. They are also over-priced and usually offer a very poor selection of draught bitters.

The worst station pub in the world is the one above the WH Smith’s in a two-story greenhouse in Victoria station. Last time I was there, a man stood in the middle of the floor and, quite brazenly, pissed himself. The staff kept serving and didn’t even bother to mop it up.

Because he was the landlord, aaah.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Mr Churchill Says

Visited the Cabinet War Rooms on Friday. They’re extremely difficult to find, the entrance being hidden away near St James’ Park, but they’re well worth tracking down. Apparently – and I’m not an expert here – we had some sort of major falling-out with Germany a while back, which blew up into this whole big dramatic fracas and people died. I’m surprised we don’t hear more about it; it would make a really interesting subject for a film.

The main disappointment is that you don’t get to see the lower levels, with the low ceilings and sleeping quarters and that special room where people would go if they wanted to straighten up. They’re closed to the public, I think some of them are flooded. But you do get to see the room where Churchill hobnobbed on the transatlantic telephone, the room where he did his speeches, the room where he had meetings. It’s all as it was the day war ended; even down to the positions of the armies on the wall-maps.

Oddly, it’s not remotely claustrophobic. The corridors are quite narrow, and obviously there are no windows, but the ceilings are high and the rooms are spacious. The main discomfort would seem to be from all the cigarette smoke.

There’s also a Churchill museum, which offered too much information for me to take in. It’s also one of those museums where everything is gloomy and spot-lit and where there are loud tape recordings on loops – basically, they’re doing everything they can to give you a migraine. I don’t know why they can’t light these places properly. It’s as if they’re trying to make it look like CSI.

Other weird thing. I could be wrong, but I swear the guy doing the audio guide was the narrator from Look Around You.

more pics on flickr

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Five Years

It was exactly five years ago today that I met my girlfriend (now my fiancée, and soon, my contractually-bound better half). I’ll try not to embarrass her with a Richard-Curtis-movie public display of sentimentality; you can take that as read. Suffice it to say it’s been five years of D laughing at my terrible jokes, making better jokes for me to laugh at, five years without a single argument, five years of cuddles, five years of encouragement and comfort and being totally simpatico in Choice of Viewing. Five years of happiness. The best five years of my life – which I expect to become the first half of the best ten years of my life, the first quarter of the best twenty years. And so on.

Five years ago today wasn’t the first time I met D. I’m reliably informed that I had been introduced to her by my mate Dave in March 2003, on a visit to Edinburgh, but I have no memory of meeting her, which I think tells you all you need to know about my powers of recall. I think I’d mentally tagged her as somebody-else’s-girlfriend and paused the record button on the mental video.

The second time I met D was at the wedding reception of my redoubtable chum Simon Guerrier and his even nicer wife, D. It was at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich, and would’ve been at about 7 in the evening. I’d arrived at the last minute before being late (a bad habit of mine, then) and I spent the meal at a table with, IIRC, the lovely Peter, his not-invisible wife and his kids.

Later in the evening, we must’ve been introduced. I remember squeezing onto a chair next to my friend John to speak to D. She assumed John and I were a gay couple (a misunderstanding I later worked into a sitcom script). And then later in the evening, at another table, possibly with a highly sozzled Nimbos in the vicinity, we got chatting, about Douglas Adams and other shared passions. It was one of those effortless conversations that just took flight; like a pinball accelerating from being bounced back and forth before whizzing up the ramp to ‘ding-ding’ all the lights (and where you’re left going, ‘but all I did was press button to move the flipper... how did I end up scoring so incredibly well without even trying or knowing what I was doing?’)

Then we danced, very badly, to Love To Hate You (thanks my DJ friend P knowing that I have a physically inability not to get up and dance to Erasure songs, it’s like a compulsion). I didn’t get the slow dance, an eternal source of frustration. But then later that evening, when we were both hanging around not wanting to leave giving each other meaningfully glances, it became obvious, even to me, that I really should make some sort of first move. So I did, and what happened next is the last five years.

The best decision I ever made and I didn’t even realise I was making it.

I realise this entry’s over three hundred words. But if I’m not prepared to break my rule to write about this then, frankly, there would be something wrong with me.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Anniversary Waltz

Time to crack open the vimto and parp those party blowers, this is the one hundredth blog! Celebrating and commemorating a whole century of glorious missives about nothing of any great importance with bits in bold at the beginning.

Who can remember where they were, the first time they read ‘Under Three Hundred’? No-one, frankly. It’s not that memorable. It’s not like when we all heard the news that Lady Diana died, we all remember what we were doing then. We were listening to the news.

How long can I keep this going for? A while yet, I’m afraid. For each blog I’ve posted I’ve written another which I’ve put aside for those inspiration-free rainy days or when I have too much else to do. The idea being that if I am killed in a freak yachting accident (which would have to be an extremely freak accident, as I don’t go anywhere near yachts during the normal course of events) my blogging can continue from beyond the grave. Though I haven’t prepared a ‘if you are reading this that means I am now dead’ blog. Maybe I should. Might be a laugh. Might also be tempting fate.

I don’t quite know how many people read this. As I occasionally get responses from people I don’t know, and occasionally people I do know tell me they read my blog when I thought they didn’t, the number is probably slightly more than I think but not as many as I would like. Which sounds about right.

What have learned? I’ve learned that it’s easy to write three hundred words on practically any subject. The only problem is that half the time I end up running out of space and having to stop abruptly before I’ve arrived at any sort of point.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


‘If Charles Dickens was alive today, he’d be writing for Coronation Street.’

No. No, he wouldn’t, and oh how that statement gets me worked-up. Charles Dickens – famous for creating his own characters – famous for social realism – famous for campaigning to improve the lives of the poor – wouldn’t write for a soap.

Not unless he really, really needed the money.

It’s kind of an extension of the argument that, today, we don’t need one-off TV plays because we’ve got shows like Coronation Street or Holby City or whatever. Which I think, actually, does those shows a disservice.

You see, soaps are brilliant. I love them. The only reason I don’t watch them any more is because I get obsessed. I’ve watched more Eastenders, Casualty and Brookside than is healthy, I know those shows backwards - but they’re not ‘drama’ in the same way as a one-off TV play. They’re doing their own thing, they’re their own genre - domestic melodrama. And the same goes for ongoing series.

Writing for a soap is all about continuing a previously-developed storyline with previously-established characters. Writing for an ongoing series is all about making up a new storyline for previously-established characters. While writing a one-off TV play is about making up a new storyline and the characters. It’s a different ball game.

I’m not advocating a return to ‘Play for Today’, or at least the videotaped, set-in-a-suburban-living-room version of the show that people remember. That died out in the 80’s for a good reason – one-off TV plays switched to film. A Jack Rosenthal TV play from the 80’s looks pretty much identical to a cheap British Channel 4 movie from the same time. So, please, no more ‘Play for Today’. I want ‘Film for Today’.

Oh, and if Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d be called Paul Abbott.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

In The Army Now

The BBC had a bit of a thing about the Second World-War during the 70’s. I’m guessing it was generational; the commissioners and writers having grown up or served during the war, the audience at a point where the memories turn to nostalgia rather looking-back-in-horror.

Anyway, they did loads of shows. Maybe they’d just bought a job-lot of German uniforms or Clifford Rose had incriminating pictures of the Director General. There was Colditz, Secret Army, Kessler, Tenko. ITV had A Family At War and Danger UXB. And David Croft, who presumably spent the whole of World War II giggling like a loon whilst jotting things down in his notebook, wrote far too many episodes of Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Allo Allo.

But this blog isn’t about any of those, its about Private Schulz, as lent to me by my chum Simon. It’s what now would be called a ‘comedy drama’ but which then would merely have been described as a ‘bloody good idea for a story’. It concerns a petty German criminal, Schulz, who – in search of a quiet life – accidentally ends up working for the SS, masterminding a scheme to bring down the British economy by forging millions of five pound notes.

That’s the starting point. It gets complicated as it takes us through the whole of the war. Apparently it’s all based on stuff that really happened.

Although it was recorded in the early 80’s, back when the BBC had no money, it still holds up today. Mainly because the two leads – Michael Elphick as Schulz and Ian Richardson as his boss, Major Neuheim, both of whom are exceptional, and because it’s has a script by the great Jack Pulman. One of those writers who it is impossible not to prefix with the word ‘great’.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Forgotten Man

Hero time again, and possibly a controversial choice. Chris Langham.

Chris has had a pretty remarkable career. He wrote for Spike Milligan and the Muppets, he fails not to giggle at Michael Palin in The Life Of Brian, he was one of the Not The Nine O’Clock News team. He wrote and starred in Kiss Me Kate, one of those shows where nobody appreciated how good it was at the time. He starred in the sublime People Like Us. He was BBC 4’s Mr Dramatized Biography.

He was one of those peripheral comedy people in the 80’s – someone who was always good, but who, for some reason, wasn’t getting the parts. As it turns out, it’s because Chris had troubles with drink and Bolivian marching powder. But he was still brilliant; his After Dark segments of Alas Smith And Jones were (if you’ll overlook the cliche) a masterclass of comic timing.

And, a few years ago, he wrote and acted in Help, one of the wisest, funniest, most honest, most moving sitcoms ever. It probably won’t ever be repeated, which is a tragedy, not just for viewers, not just for Chris, but particularly for Paul Whitehouse who gave a lifetime-best performance. In fact, he gave dozens of lifetime-best performances. The whole show, performance and writing, was stunning.

But then, just as he was getting Seven Second Delay off the ground, he did something which was, to say the least, mind-bogglingly stupid. Something which made him tabloid pariah number one. Something which ended his career just as it was getting started.

But he’s done the time, he’s more than paid the price, and I, for one, would love to see another show written by him or starring him. And I’d love to work with him. Because he’s still a hero.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Bogey Music

This blog is supposed to be positive, but it’s much more entertaining for me to use it as a soap-box for rants. So, much as I would love to inspire you with thoughts of wonder and joy, instead I will spend another under-three-hundred-words moaning about a bane of my existence.

Ice cream vans.

Or rather, one particular ice cream van. The ice cream van that has driven up my road, every single day, for approximately ten months of the year, for as long as I’ve been living here.

It always announces its presence in the same blood-chilling, bowel-tightening fashion. A descending tingle-jingle-jangle. Not a melody, merely an overture.

Because then it begins. Colonel bloody Bogey. The same sodding tune, every day for the past five years. ‘Hitler, has only got one ball etc.’.

You may have noticed me wasting away during the past half-decade. It’s not bulimia. It’s not anorexia. It’s just that I now associate ice cream with Nazis. It’s pavlovian. It’s like with Alex in A Clockwork Orange. The mere thought of raspberry ripple brings to mind black-and-white footage of Adolf getting terribly shirty about someting at the Nurembourg rally. And that bit of footage with all the blonde girls bouncing a giant beach ball around the field, that.

For the love of God, of Jesus, of Yahweh, Buddha, Ganesh, Mohammed, L Ron Hubbard and all the other magic guys – please, find another tune.

Oh, there it goes again. There should be a law against it. A very specific law, against that particular ice cream van, playing that particular tune, in my particular street. This may sound trivial but my sanity is at stake. Something has to be done or I will be forced to take the law, and an anti-tank missile launcher, into my own hands.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Rock The Boat

Red-letter day, a Richard Curtis movie. Would The Boat That Rocked disappoint the guy who thinks LoveActually is The Greatest Film Ever Made?

No. It was great. Hilarious, heart-warming, exciting. All the familiar faces from Curtis’s previous films (playing largely the same characters) plus the cast of the IT Crowd. It’s a loosely-plotted ensemble piece where each character has an up, a down, and another up. Ralph Brown reprises Danny from Withnail and I; Tom Sturridge does a fine job as Hugh Grant, and Philip Seymour Hoffman takes a part obviously written for Jack Black and does something much more interesting with it.

Weaknesses? Well, it’s not a romantic comedy. The female characters are underwritten, with no motivation other than to seduce our heroes and break their hearts. I suppose you could say it’s embracing 1960’s attitudes.

My other two quibbles are firstly that there is little sense of time passing, because although the film takes place over a year, it’s always summer, even when we cut away to radio listeners in the UK. I’m guessing this wasn’t done by choice or an oversight, but a budget issue; after all, part of the romance of pirate radio is the thought of them broadcasting through wind and hail.

Quibble two is the conclusion. The final irony of pirate radio is that the stars it created rapidly became part of the broadcasting establishment. I’d like to have seen that. It could even have given the antagonist, Ken Branagh, some resolution; he could've been given the job of running Radio One and we could’ve seen black-and-white snaps of the cast on the steps of Broadcasting House with their former nemesis lighting their cigars.

Oh, and it should’ve been called Rock The Boat. And why isn’t there a boat on the poster?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Money, Money, Money

Like snowflakes, no two people are ever exactly the same. We all have unique fingerprints, iris patterns and DNA. And, deep down, there’s a bigger, even more fundamental difference...

We all play Monopoly with slightly different rules.

It’s a strange fact, but whenever you play Monopoly with someone you've never played it with before, you always end up disagreeing over the rules. ‘Oh, the way we play it in our house, you can borrow money off the bank and pay back ten-percent each round’. ‘Oh, we’ve always had the rule that if you can’t afford a station you can swap it for a property card of equal value’. And so on.

The reason for this is simple. No-one, throughout the entire history of creation, has ever bothered to read the rules of Monopoly. Everyone has just sort of picked them up from playing the game with their parents. Which means that, as a perfect example of a Dawkinsian meme, the rules of the game have adapted and evolved through successive generations, until the end result is that you effectively have two divergent species of Monopoly – two unrelated Monopoly players who can not only not agree on any common rules, but who are now playing two entirely different games. It’s probably how the game of chess originated – by a family who had made up their own rules for draughts.

Let’s face it, no-one understands how the ‘auctions’ rule works. Half the people playing the game at the moment probably don’t even realise there is an ‘auctions’ rule. Everyone has their own unique system of playing the game. They could probably be identified by it, by a forensic scientist, though the mind boggles at what contingency might involve trying to identify someone via their own idiosyncratic Monopoly gameplay.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Scream And Run Away

Watched Severance the other day, chosen because it was written by James Moran, bloggist of renown and writer of the magnificent The Fires Of Pompeii and one of the good episodes of Torchwood. Actually, he’s writing everything at the moment; I imagine him to be like Bruno from Fame, tapping away on multiple keyboards simultaneously.

Severance was marvellous. A flawless example of how to make a low-budget film, and end up with something which doesn’t look like a low-budget film, but merely a film in which nothing particularly expensive happens. Apart from a bus flipping over.

The plot was well-constructed, with clever twists, clearly-defined characters, funny jokes, gratuitous female nudity, gruesome-but-not-too-gruesome deaths. Strong cast, well-directed... basically all good.

If I had to come up with criticism – a quibble to account for the missing ‘one’ from of a score of nine out of ten – it’d be that it includes a dream sequence. I’ve blogged about this before, it’s a particular bugbear of mine. Basically, Tim McInerney’s character is in love with this girl, we see her seduce him, then it all turns violent... and turns out to be all in his head.

My problem with this scene – which accounts for less than one minute of the film – is firstly that it’s unnecessary and doesn’t tell us anything about the characters that we’re not told more elegantly elsewhere. Secondly, that in a film like this, where its impact is reliant upon the audience buying into the situation, knowing that everything they see counts and has consequences, that to include a dream sequence works against that.

But on the other hand, there’s a great scene with a guy with his foot caught in a bear-trap, a lovely moment of black comedy as the people trying to free him make the situation worse.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Day After The Revolution

There was a protest in London yesterday. As tends to be the case with these things, what it was protesting against was nebulous and contradictory (ISTR the ‘Countryside March’ included groups both for and against access to footpaths). And, as tends to be the case, most of the protesting was done by people who don’t have to work for a living (when did I become so right-wing?)

I mean, I’m a socialist, but what’s more annoying – having a gibbering idiot argue against you, or having a gibbering idiot argue on your behalf?

Anyway, what struck me was this. Two photos of half-a-dozen oafs attacking the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland (because, you know, man, it’s the windows that are the problem).

Look at how few protestors there are. And how many journalists are filming and photographing them.

You don’t get that many journalists in one place by accident. Either they were tipped off, or the hooligans outside the RBS waited until enough cameras had gathered before mounting their attack. In other words, it was staged. Entirely for the benefit of the media.

Would those oafs have attacked those windows without the coverage? No. The journalists were complicit in the vandalism. They were encouraging it, because every one of them had been instructed by their editors to get a photo of a fight. They could have stepped in to prevent this act of vandalism but chose not to. One hopes they would’ve stepped in if those thugs had been assaulting a human being. But maybe not.

I don’t know what makes me more angry. The oafs, the journalists, or the way these ‘look what these morons did to get on the news’ pictures are reproduced unquestioningly by the media, by the BBC, and others who should know better.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


We all know of Jeremy Bentham the social reformer, the campaigner against slavery, the champion of the rights of women, the advocate of animal rights, of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the orginator of the philosophical school of utilitarianism – ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.

But what often gets overlooked is that, whilst he was doing all these things, he was also writing for Doctor Who Weekly. Whilst he would spend most of the day developing the principles of government and civil liberty, during the evenings he would put all that aside to write up synopses of early William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton adventures and compile ‘Fact Files’ for such august luminaries of the silver screen as Jackie Lane and Richard Franklin.

Sometimes, inevitably, his two roles would become confused. Who can forget the edition of Doctor Who Weekly where the ‘Matrix Data Bank’ included a critique of the work of John Stuart Mill? Or when, in his ‘Fragment on Government’, he broke off from a discussion on the merits of free trade to answer an inquiry from the ubiquitous Graeme Bassett of Grimsby to identify all the monsters seen in flashback in The Mind of Evil?

The influence of Jeremy Bentham on Doctor Who fandom is immeasurable. Without his nurturing influence, it wouldn’t be what it is today – yes, it’s all his fault. Remember that next time you’re passing his stuffed remains in the cloisters of University College, London. That’s why Doctor Who fan gatherings were called Panopticons; not, as you might suspect, as a reference to the capitol of the Time Lords, but as a tribute to his concept of a prison where the prisoners feel they are being constantly stared at. Which, having been to a couple of conventions, is a pretty accurate description.