The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Keep The Customer Satisfied

I don’t eat out in restaurants very often, rarely more than once a day, but there is one thing about them which really grates my cheese. It’s this; you’ve half-way through your meal, in the middle of conversation, often in the middle of a joke or an anecdote, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence...

...and the waiter interrupts to ask you if you’re enjoying your meal.


So then you have to mumble, yes we are enjoying our meal thank you very much, everything is alright, now would you kindly please F the F off and not come back.

It’s the insincerity of it that adds insult to injury. The blatant angling-for-a-tip-later-on-ness. The attempt to appear helpful and attentive without actually being helpful or attentive.

Because they’re never around just when you’re starting your meal, when you might actually be in the process of finding fault. Oh no. They always wait until you’ve munched your way half-way through the lasagne. Or – even more annoying – they will ask you after you’ve cleaned your plate, as though you will reply, ‘No, I found the meal revolting, but being a total pig I decided to consume it regardless.’

I’d say, paradoxically, the best way for a waiter to deserve a tip is by being invisible. By shimmering, Jeeves-like, into existence whenever the customer wants something and leaving them to get on with it the rest of the time.

And of course, there’s always that little restaurant game we play when the wine is served. Will the waiter serve it to the gentleman or the lady? Are they making sexist assumptions about who wears the wine-tasting trousers in the relationship? And then you’re supposed to gauge whether a wine is okay or not based on one sip – so that one millisecond later the waiter can have filled your companion’s glass up to the brim, as though to say ‘Well, it’s too late to change your mind now’.

Dear reader, to help you out in this situation I hereby present the Jonathan Morris guide to wine tasting. It’s quite simple. You take the glass and raise it to your nose, swirl the wine and give it a sniff, then taste, swill and swallow with one thought in your mind. The thought being;

Could I drink a whole pint of this in one go?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then the wine is a good wine. If the answer is ‘no then it has been corked. Either that you’re drinking at a certain pub in West London known for Doctor Who fan gatherings.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Been reading a lot of Philip K Dick short stories recently. The idea was to put myself into an ‘inspired to have lots of great SF ideas’ frame of mind without having make the effort of reading whole novels.

When I’ve finished the five short stories collections I’ll share my impressions, and no doubt make a list, but a few general thoughts.

Philip K Dick is a popular source of plots for recent SF blockbusters – the list includes Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, with no doubt more to follow. Plus films like The Truman Show, The Matrix and Being John Malkovich which aren’t adaptations of specific Dick stories but which certainly seem to be drawing on his themes.

Those themes tend to be quite high-concept, and all about the nature of consciousness in a universe where what you think you know to be true isn’t necessarily what is actually true. Whether it be the case that you don’t have free will, or that your memories have been faked, or that you’re a robot and you don’t know it, or that you’re living in a virtual reality and the bad guys have already taken over and no-one has noticed. A combination of philosophy and solipsistic paranoia that appeals to the adolescent in all of us.

The other reason I’m guessing his stories are popular is that firstly, many of them are detective stories, with him using a criminal investigation as a way ‘in’ to his fictional universe as the hero discovers that Something Is Not Quite Right With The World, and secondly that his stories are set at a time before computers, with punch-cards and tape-spools, which means there’s a lot of scope for the technology side of things to be sexed up with special effects.

Monday, 28 September 2009

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

We’ve switched to energy saving lightbulbs, the ones with fluorescent tubes. Should the planet turn out to have been saved in the next hundred years, you can hold me personally responsible. It was me, I did my bit, my conscience is not merely clear, it’s gleaming with self-satisfaction.

The exciting thing about these lightbulbs, apart from the fact that it means that the Amazon basin won’t be chopped down by an area the size of Belgium in order to provide stilts for those poor Micronesian guys living on Pacific Atolls, is that they take about two seconds to switch on.

It’s a moment of mystery and suspense. Darkness. Darkness. And then light. Two seconds of wondering, ‘Will the light come on? Has something broken? Did I actually press the light switch properly?’ followed by reassurance and illumination.

And then you can switch the light on and off and pretend that you’re in a trailer for EastEnders. Because that’s the subject of today’s rant.

Trailers over-using the ‘fade-to-black’.

I can’t remember where it was first done. ‘The Phantom Menace’ springs to mind. But it’s just so cheap and corny; whatever footage you have to hand, a few oblique statements, and fade to black. And fade back, another one or two seconds of someone looking apprehensive, then fade to black. With a DOOF! DOOF! sound effect each time the lights go out.

I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it’s been done to death. It’s hard to watch, it’s prick-teasing, and It’s irritating – because it’s clearly designed to disguise a lack of genuine dramatic footage. Let’s face it, you could make Sesame Street look dramatic by going; Elmo looking pensive DOOF! Fade to black. Bert looking surprised. DOOF! Fade to black. Big Bird’s eyes widening. DOOF! Fade to black.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kinky Boots

Before I copy and paste today’s blog from the ‘rainy day’ word document, a couple of quick plugs. The BS1363 and SCART. No, but seriously. One of my Doctor Who audio adventure play things, Max Warp, is currently available for listening-to, free of charge, over on the BBC iPlayer, as it was recently repeated on BBC7. And there’s a new interview with me over on Joe Ford’s Doctor Who books blog.

There is one clear sign when you know a science fiction TV series is about to die. It’s when it has so little fuel left in the tank that the writers have to resort to the most corny, derivative plot cliche in all of science fiction.

The world ruled by women.

Doctor Who had a couple of near-misses; two stories with that idea, The Prison In Space and Mission To Magnus, were cancelled at the last minute. It wasn’t until the second-to-last season that we got The Happiness Patrol; and that was it, the bell of television death had been tolled.

It’s a rule that if a world is ruled by women they would immediately want to wear short skirts and high heels; to become lipstick lesbians, determined to persecute men in some sort of dull, reactionary, misogynist attempt at ‘satire’.

I’m also thinking of that episode of Star Trek The Next Generation which, at the time, was considered so dreadful that BBC 2 skipped it – ‘Angel One’. The original show had got their first, of course, with the legendary ‘Spock’s Brain’.

Apparently there was only one episode of Buck Rogers with this plot. I thought every episode of Buck Rogers had this plot.

But of course the finest example of this sexist nonsense is The Two Ronnies’ sci-fi adventure serial The Worm That Turned, which I can remember thinking was not-quite-right even at the age of whatever age I was when it went out. It was a heavy-handed parody of ‘Women’s Lib’ but it lacked the innocence and joy with which I associate The Two Ronnies; there was usually such a spirit of benevolent seaside-postcard naughtiness you didn’t mind the sexism or racism.

Still, people in charge of sci-fi TV shows; you have been warned. Don’t even go there.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)

Product placement is going to be allowed on UK commercial telly for the first time. About eight months ago I wrote a blog about the future of telly which I never posted – it kind of went out of date – but my main prediction was that product placement was the inevitable next step. I love Chunky Kit Kats.

Why? Because it’s so easy to skip adverts now. Unless you’re watching a show live, you can fast-foward through the recording; or, if you’re using a catch-up service, they’ve already thoughtfully taken out the commerical breaks for you. Which means, when it comes to ITV Dramas, I have the choice of watching a show as-broadcast with adverts, or waiting one day and watching it without. Whilst eating a lovely Chunky Kit Kat.

Product placement won’t solve ITV’s problems in the short term – the amount of cash available for advertising won’t increase, it’ll merely be shifted from the ad-break and sponsorship pot to the product placement pot – but in the long term it’s the only way shows can be funded through advertising. Such as adverts for delicious Chunky Kit Kats.

The argument against is, of course, that it will be instrusive and will compromise the integrity of the drama. Maybe, but I don’t really see that happening on 24; advertising aren’t going to want to place their products intrusively in a tacky show. Yes, it may compromise the writer’s vision, but compromises are what writing is all about. That and Chunky Kit Kats.

I suspect the real argument some people have against it is the I-have-a-right-to-get-everything-for-free-immediately mentality that expects others to foot the bill, and the makers to provide content without recompense.

If anyone wants to place a product in this blog, please feel free to send me money. Or Chunky Kit Kats.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Last Man On Earth

Finished reading I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s a SF masterwork, apparently, number two in the set. I shall now have to purchase the remaining 72 novels in order to complete my collection.

It was great. Totally recommend it. Scary, exciting, moving. It’s been made into three movies – The Last Man On Earth, which I haven’t seen, The Omega Man with Charlton Hestons (who despite being a right-wing gun-freak produced three exceptional ecologically-aware movies in the 70’s) and I Am Wicky Wicky Wa Wa with Will Smith, which I also haven’t seen. It’s also got pretty much the same premise as 28 Days Later; although in the novel, the bad guys are more vampires than zombies, they’re fast-moving and savage but also have all the vampire traits of being afraid of garlic etc.

Three interesting things about the novel. Firstly, it has a much more ingenious and original twist ending than any of the movies. Secondly, it treats the whole vampire business with hard science-fiction vigour, finding psuedo-scientific explanations for life after death, photophobia and so on – whilst amusingly addressing the question of whether a Jewish vampire would be afraid of a cross.

The third interesting thing as that, as a novel, it can afford to concentrate much more on the psychological effects of finding yourself the last man on Earth surrounded by bloodthirsty monsters; exploring the grief, the alienation, the loneliness and so on.

Because it was written in the 50’s, this is an apocalypse due to nuclear testing (ISTR The Day Of The Triffids gives a similar explanation for the blindness). Nuclear oblivion was understandably a pressing concern back then in a way that it isn’t now – which isn’t necessarily a good thing, as the actual threat hasn’t gone away, we’ve just got used to it.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Now You're Gone

How did I receive the news that Keisha Buchanan had left the Sugababes, to be replaced by Jade Ewen, meaning that the band no longer has any original members? I received the news philosophically...

Leibniz: That’s it. The Sugababes are all over.

Locke: Why’s that?

Leibniz: Because the new band has no original members. The Sugababes can only be considered Sugababes if they include a member of the original classic Sugababes line-up of Keisha, Mutya and Siobhan.

Locke: But surely if one of the girls being replaced didn’t prevent the band being the Sugababes before, why should it mean that now?

Leibniz: Because, mereologically speaking, as the essential Sugababes have now been entirely substituted, the new group can no longer be considered the Sugababes.

Locke: But they sing the Sugababes songs.

Liebniz: So they are a Sugababes tribute act. But they are not the real thing.

Locke: But if the band has remained a continuous entity, with an unbroken run of top forty singles, they must still be the same band.

Leibniz: No, because in theory Keisha, Mutya and Siobhan could now re-form the original Sugababes and there would be two bands. Like with the Drifters.

Locke: Yes, but that’s not going to happen, because Keisha and Mutya don’t get on and Siobhan has moved in a different direction musically.

Leibniz: I said ‘theoretically’.

Locke: I can understand your point if all three girls had been replaced at once, but they haven’t. The platonic ideal of three Sugababes remains unchanged, and in many ways, their most recent line-up was the best, with hits such as ‘About You Now’.

Leibniz: Ah, but I prefer their early stuff, like ‘Push The Button’. It had a more urban edge.

Plutarch: You know, this reminds me of that thing I was saying about the other day about Theseus’ boat.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

National Express

Today back to London on a Berry’s Coach. Which was fine. The days when Berry’s Coaches were a bane of my life are long past.

The problem was, when I first moved to London, I’d travel back home to Somerset on a Berry’s Coach on a Friday night. And so it would always get spend hours snarled up in Hammersmith, on the A4, and on the M4. So no matter how optimistically the bus timetable might have stated that the journey would take three hours, it never did. And this was in the days before mobile phones, so my dad would end up stuck waiting for ages parked outside Where The Cinema Used To Be.

Worst of all, one occasion I remember, we were almost home – we’d gone through Bridgwater which still, despite the fact that the plastics factory is closed, smells of oven-roasted shit – when the bus driver took the wrong winding country lane and managed to get lost. And then managed to get the bus stuck and lodged between stone walls on one particularly narrow and sharp corner. It was a miserable bitter and sloshy night, and even the fact that I was a few seats down from Auberon Waugh wasn’t enough to lift my spirits. I always got him mixed up with Clement Freud anyway.

Maybe I’ve merged several journeys from hell in my memory. I remember a school trip to the Bridgwater plastics factory where the PR guy said, ‘Our chimneys pump out ozone, which is actually good for the atmosphere and helps replenish the ozone layer’. The fumes must have gone to his head. And some cocky little sod – it may have been me – then pointed out that low-level ozone was poisonous, and was the reason that the whole town smelt of oven-roasted shit.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Down To The River

Went back down to Somerset for a couple of days to see my parents. Who read this blog! Hello parents!

For a day out we went to Watersmeet, on the edge of Exmoor, North Devon, where I had a little walk from Farley Water down to Lynmouth. As you can see, it’s all waterfalls and original woodland with the trees all gnarled with age. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and should I die, and not end up in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey on the strength of my work for Big Finish, then it’d be a good place to dump my ashes. We then went for lunch at the Blue Ball Inn. By then, the mist was clearing and we drove back on the Minehead road – or, as the signs would have you believe, the Road Of 29 Casualties This Year.

My parents have to put up with a lot from me on these trips out. For example, we passed the bit of river where the book Lorna Doone was set, which always means my dad has to comment that the farmer who owns the bit of land next to it is ripping people off by charging to go up the path when, if you go there a different way, you can get there for free. So I ask who wrote Lorna Doone, so my mum will say ‘Richard Blackmore’, so I can ask, ‘Was he one of the Bronte Sisters?’

My parents’ village has a ‘Please drive carefully through village’ sign. I hate those signs. So smug and condescending. And so are the ‘Thankyou for driving carefully’ signs. Just once I want to see a ‘Thankyou for driving carefully. Now you have left the village, please feel free to start driving recklessly again.’

Monday, 21 September 2009

Play It Cool

Chatting with a few writer friends the other day about When Writers Go Bad. Not when writers lose it, in terms of ability, but when they lose it, in terms of self-control, and start firing off emails.

You can see how it happens. The writer is left alone to stew in their own devices. And then, after weeks, months of waiting, they get told that their script wasn’t quite what the producer was looking for, that it will have to be re-written, that it will have to be shorter, simpler, that it might even be easier to give up on it rather than waste any more time.

And the writer, who like all good passive aggressives has been conscientiously bottling up his emotions for months, detonates – and does what they do best, typing extremely rapidly and extremely heatedly, with their better judement obscured by a combination of red mist and, more likely than not, alcohol.

All weapons at their disposal will be used. Sarcasm. Irony. False modesty. They will accuse others of unprofessionalism even as their glass house shatters around them.

It’s something that can happen to even the best writers. ‘There but for the grace of god’ etc. Because writers are egomaniacs – you have to be – and many are sociopaths – but it’s not compulsory – and everyone has an end-of-tether threshold. I’ve written before about the frustration of silence.

But the trick is – and I speak from bitter experience – not to send that email. To give it a night’s sleep, swallow your pride, stick the cork back in the bottleneck, and remember that life’s too short to hold grudges. Because we all know about the cases of Writers Who Went Bad and who made themselves unemployable. That’s the lesson to be learned.

And don’t slag off people who have given you work on the internet. That’s the other one.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Sweet Talkin' Woman

A week or so ago went along to a meeting of my local Labour party to cast my vote in our selection of a candidate for MP for the next election. Normally I am a bean-bag of apathy about these things but one of the candidates had shown such enthusiasm that she actually bothered to knock on my door to say hello, and seemed like both a very nice person and a formidable electoral asset, so I thought I’d tottle along to Blackheath to wield my disproportionate influence as a card-carrying Labour member. I don’t actually carry the card with me, but as luck would have it I found it at the back of a drawer where I keep drawing pins and old buttons.

It was all very lovely. My only slight apprehension about the selection process was that we had to choose, firstly, a non-white female candidate, and then a female candidate (white or non-white) because Labour want to field more MPs who are female and/or from ethnic minorities.

This annoys me, because I believe in equality and meritocracy, and I think part of the problem with the current Labour cabinet is that there are rather a lot of people on it who aren’t there on merit but because their face happened to fit.

And so, basically, I had two votes: A sexist, racist vote, and a sexist vote. On the one hand, I fully support the idea of encouraging people to become MPs irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, age, or any other discriminatory factor you care to name. And I fully support the idea of getting Labour MPs elected. But there is something very cynical about the idea of trying to make the House of Commons look like an advertisement for the United Colours Of Benetton (as cynical as an advertisement for the United Colours Of Benetton, in fact). Even if female or non-white candidates stand a better chance of being elected, that must mean the electorate are favouring candidates based upon sexual or racial prejudices, which is not something to be encouraged or pandered to. The idea that black people will only vote for black candidates is as patronising and offensive as the idea that white people will only vote for white candidates. It doesn’t matter to me whether my MP is male or female, short or tall, fat or thin, or what colour their face is; it’s their politics, competence and integrity that matters. Not their chromosones or level of melanin.

Still, fingers crossed the best person got through anyway.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Zero As A Limit

There’s a new craze in town. The TV show Pointless. It’s’s very good... it’s pointless!

Okay, so it really doesn’t need to be forty-five minutes; I don’t care who the contestants are and I’ve grasped the rules so I don’t need Alexander Armstrong to explain them to me every time. But I watch it on catch-up, so I can fast foward through the tedious bits – I’ve no idea what the theme tune sounds like – and just concentrate on the bits of the game show with the game in.

The premise is simple. It’s like an online ‘rare entries’ contest. They asked one hundred people to list as many as possible of a thing (European countries, singles by Girls Aloud, books by the Brontes) and what the contestants have to do is to think of a correct answer so obscure that none of those hundred people gave it as an answer.

Which appeals greatly to my trivia-sponge brain, where it’s the obscure bits of knowledge around the facts that stick to the sides. It’s appealling to a different type of geekiness.

But they do need to twiddle with the format. Just speed it up, either make it half an hour or have more rounds. And I’d change it so that all contestants in a round give their answers before we find out how correct or low-scoring they were, because as it stands sometimes gets an answer wrong straight away and incurs a pentalty of one hundred points, which means the rest of the round is a bit of a waste of time as everyone else knows they’ve already won. And if there are a lot of potentially pointless answers which haven’t been guessed, we should be told what all of them are, not just half a dozen or so.

Friday, 18 September 2009


How did Derren Brown predict the lottery? My guess? All that stuff about it being difficult to negotiate with Camelot was misdirection. And so was all the talk about there being a delay in the broadcast; it was included delibately to make the audience suspicious about the wrong thing.

All he would have to do would be to get Camelot to run the lottery about ten minutes earlier than normal, to let him know what the result was, and for the broadcast on the BBC to then follow after he has had time to put the correct balls on the podium.

No split screen or fake camera-shaking required. Just playing on audience’s presumptions – we think the Derren Brown show is ‘live’ because he’s got a TV feed showing what’s on BBC 1, but how do we know what was on BBC 1 was being broadcast live? The lottery show has been time-delayed before...

Of course, it would require the co-operation of Camelot and the BBC, but I’d put that down as ‘not impossible’. Given the amount of posiitve publicity they received, I’d even put it down as ‘quite surprising if it were not true’.

That was all fun. What was kind of reprehensible – and entirely at odds with Derren Brown’s normal approach – was the follow-up show that tried to explain how the trick was done in terms of ‘deep maths’ and ‘wisdom of crowds’. The ‘deep maths’ of the coin toss trick was not remotely ‘deep’ – no strange attractors at work, just knowing that if someone’s trying to get, say, head-head-head, someone who is trying to get tails-head-head is probably going to get there first. See Penney’s Game.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Hooray. It’s my birthday. I am now approximately fifteen years older than I think I am. Still, on the plus side, I’m not dead, which means I am ‘for the win’ over Jesus, Jayne Mansfield and Mozart. Losers. If I can get through another year that means I will have lived more life than Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe.

Am I doing anything exciting for my birthday? No. Not at my age. A nice evening in. I’ve enough goings-out and parties for the next month.

Speaking of which, the big day is now exactly one month away. Terrifying. You wouldn’t think there could be anything left to organise, but no, there is.

Today’s news. Out in all good newsagents is the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine. A special edition in which they publish the results of a survey into which are the best and worst Doctor Who stories of all time. This sort of thing is exciting for Doctor Who fans. And so I’ve written the top twenty countdown thing and a two-page appreciation for one of the stories. I won’t say which one, or where it came.

The magazine also includes the news of my forthcoming Doctor Who Big Finish audio adventure, recorded last month, and not out for a good long while or so yet. It’s called Deimos, because it’s set on the Martian moon of that name, and features the villainous Ice Warriors (who occasionally imperilled the Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee Doctor Whos in tales written by the great Brian Hayles and Terrance Dicks). The cast includes Paul McGann, as the Doctor, a yet-to-be-announced actress as his new companion, plus David Warner (of Tron, Time Bandits and Shakespeare on stage fame), Tracy-Ann Oberman, Nicky Henson, Susan Brown, and Nick Briggs, amongst others.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I Started A Joke

Last Friday went to see a live sketch show thing called The Works. I had a sketch in it, so by-way-of-payment, I got to get in free. It’s the second event there’s been – I had a sketch in the first show but it got cut for time.

The performers were – hang on, I’ve got to look this up – David Armand, who many years ago was in some sketches of mine in Swinging, Isabel Fay, who co-organised the event with him, Matt Baynton, Katherine Jakeways, Renton Skinner (who has a knack of stealing every sketch, he’s exceptional and will go far, though you wouldn’t know it from his appearances on Shooting Stars), Isy Suttie and Rosalyn Wright.

My sketch went down okay. It got laughs. The performers had rewritten it quite a bit, which on the one hand I’m entirely okay with – they’re the ones who have to stand up on stage, after all, and I’m all for actors loosening up and naturalizing my dialogue – but on the other hand, I would’ve preferred it to have been left as written, because I am an egomaniac.

It wasn’t the funniest thing I’ve ever written, I don’t think it was the funniest thing I even submitted to the show (but in my experience, what the writer thinks is their funniest thing and what the producer thinks is their funniest thing very rarely coincide) and it was by no means the funniest sketch in the show – the standard was very high, far too high for my liking, terrific writing, excellent performances, and even the ‘mis-fires’ were still more original and interesting than a lot of stuff that gets through to radio and TV.

Richard Herrings also reviewed the show on his blog. I agree with him about the TV types in the audience.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Return To Pepperland

Last week was Beatles week. They’ve re-released all their studio albums in remastered mono and stereo in terrifically expensive box-sets.

I can’t quite remember how I got into the Beatles. My mum had a copy of The Beatles’ Greatest Hits, a German LP of songs from their first four albums. And my sister did me a tape of the White album that left off all the songs she didn’t like.

I do, however, remember listening to Sergeant Pepper for the first time. I’d ‘borrowed’ a copy from next door, recorded it extremely carefully on a brand-new chrome cassette, then listened to it on headphones, lying in bed, in total darkness, at about one in the morning.

And it was terrific. Nearly all the songs were new to me, all strange and exciting. And, because this was the mono version, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds had freaky phased vocal effects, Good Morning Good Morning was a heavily-distorted freak out, and my favourite track on the album, the reprise of the title song, was like taking a bath in expresso.

It’s hard to explain why the mono sounds better. It’s like the difference between a movie in black-and-white and a movie in colour; if it’s been made in black-and-white, that’s how you should see it. Stereo adds a lot but you lose something along the way. It’s also because the mono mixes are more compressed, heavier, and punchier. You can’t make out the individual instruments; which, to modern ears, is a bad thing - listeners like to discern each individual part – but back then the idea was to create a wall of sound by combining instruments to make new effects (cf Brian Wilson’s production of Pet Sounds).

So if you are a millionaire, buy the mono box set first.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Phantom Of The Opera

And finally, today’s out-takes are from my first attempt at writing a comic strip, Opera Of Doom! from the 2007 Doctor Who Storybook. For the full story of how I wrote this, you’ll need to buy the marvellous The Betrothal Of Sontar graphic novel which includes a whole load of behind-the-scenes stuff. The ideal gift. I would say ‘baby need shoes’ but I don’t have a baby so I’ll say ‘Jonny need coffee machine’.

Been interesting, digging out these left-overs. As I said yesterday, there are loads more, but to find them I’d have to go back through old scripts and novels, comparing drafts with finished articles, and I can’t, quite simply, be arsed. There’s also the slight problem that most of my better things didn’t tend to change from the first draft very much (that’s not because they are my uncompromised ‘artistic visions’ or anything pretentious like that, it’s just because they were strong enough ideas for me to get right first time).

Unlike Opera Of Doom! which took me several attempts to get right, and then the middle bit still needed to be re-written by Clayton Hickman and Scott Gray. Which doesn’t bother me in the slightest – the end result was better than it would’ve been, my name was on it to take the credit, and I got paid in full...

Draft 1:

Panel 6 (new row)

It’s later that night, and the Doctor and Rose are making their way back to the TARDIS through another scenic alleyway. They are approaching a walkway beside a canal.

The Doctor and Rose are in animated conversation, Rose grinning with excitement, the Doctor gesturing flamboyantly. They aren’t even looking at the corpse in the canal...




They are being watched by a figure in the shadows in the foreground of the picture. We see the figure’s breath misting. It is a human, but we can’t make out who it is.

Panel 7

The Doctor and Rose see the corpse in the canal. We have a view from above, looking down at the corpse. The Doctor is crouching in interest as Rose backs away in shock. It is clearly the musician from Page 1. His face is twisted in fear and his hands are raised as though fending something off. He seems to have aged thirty awful years.




Panel 8

Straightening up, the Doctor and Rose turn to see one of the automata from the opera blocking the alleyway behind them. Lit in the lamplight, it is casting dramatic shadows and is absolutely terrifying. Its form is half-covered in its long-cape and tricorn. Its arms are outstretched as though it intends to grab them and do terrible, terrible things.


But even this scary panel isn’t quite as scary as what happens in the next one-

Panel 9

The Doctor and Rose turn back towards the canal – we catch them in an action pose, catching-breath-open-mouthed, hair-caught-in-the-wind, wide-eyed in surprise.

Another automaton is punting a gondola down the canal towards them. It is dressed in a similar way to its fellow, and is also caught in a spooky light. We should get a sense of absolute stillness and elegance. This is an alien killer than doesn’t need to hurry.

Meanwhile the first automaton is behind the Doctor and Rose, approaching, blocking off their only way of escape-


Panel 1

Out of the shadows where he was lurking, Fred appears, half-diving at the automaton in the alleyway. Our image is of him in mid-air, punching it on the mask, bringing it down.

In the background, the Doctor and Rose look on in surprise and delight.


Panel 2

The automaton has been floored, seemingly knocked unconscious, its limbs strangely twisted – it has fallen whilst frozen into a walking pose. It is making strange noises. The Doctor is moving towards Fred, a grin on his face, a hand outstretched to shake. Fred can’t quite believe what he has done, and is looking at the automaton in amazement.




Panel 3

We cut to a close-up of Rose, looking at the automaton on the gondola. Her expression is anxious. We can see the automaton, punting serenely away.


Panel 4

This panel should look almost exactly the same as the previous one, except that Rose’s expression has changed to a sort of incredulous embarrassment, as the automaton on the gondola has only moved about one foot down the canal. We should have the impression that there has been only very slight movement between the two panels.


Panel 5

Fortunately there is an empty gondola moored nearby. Our panel is of the Doctor jumping fearlessly into it with delight, followed by a more cautious Rose and Fred.


Panel 6

Their gondola is now drifting down an alleyway. It’s a beautiful image, the water swirling gently in their wake, the reflected moonlight. Around them are decaying, once-lavish buildings. Ahead of them we can make out the automaton on its gondola, passing under the arched bridge-like entrance to a dark, ominous, torch-lit tunnel.

The Doctor is punting while Rose and Fred sit in the gondola. Fred is half-lying back in his seat, whilst Rose is perched upright, looking ahead impatiently.



Draft 2:

Panel 4 (new row)

The performance has finished. The curtains are drawn, and the audience is standing – partly in ovation, partly to leave.

The Doctor, Fred and Rose are standing up, getting ready to go.




Panel 5

The Doctor, Rose and Fred are making their way down one of the passages of the opera house. It’s opulent, torch-lit, with drapes lining the walls. There is no-one else about.



Panel 6

And suddenly, in front of our three heroes, one of the drapes is drawn back to reveal two of the automata emerging from the darkness, their arms outstretched, their claw-like metallic hands reaching forward threateningly, their eyes staring out blankly. An absolutely terrifying sight. Caught in the torchlight, they cast eerie, twisted shadows.


Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wonderful Christmastime

More deleted scenes. I have loads of these. I'll do some more tomorrow and that'll be it for a while, I'll get back to Writing About Stuff rather than Copying And Pasting Things Where I Can Go Do You See What I Did There?

Today's CAPTWICGDYSWIDT is from the first draft of Flip-Flop. Two versions of the same scene - one from the black disc (which I wrote first), and one from the white disc (which I also wrote first). It's that sort of play. Complicated.

The note which changed these scenes was that there wasn't enough (or, indeed, any) jeopardy in the play and that the Doctor and Mel should be visiting the planet for a reason, a life-or-death reason. Good note. So I had them search for Leptonite, the only substance in the known universe that can put the kibosh on the villainous Quarks.

It's quite tonally different from the finished play - and the dialogue was written to have that deliberately tongue-in-cheek 'arch' quality that Doctor Who had with Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford.



MEL: [SHOUTING] Doctor! What’s happening!


DOCTOR: Just some turbulence in the vortex, Mel.

MEL: I thought the ship was going to shake itself to pieces, and us with it!

DOCTOR: The landing may have been a little on the bumpy side...

MEL: Bumpy? I’m not inclined to use rude words, Doctor, but if I was, I’d use several to describe how “bumpy” that landing was.

DOCTOR: We’ve arrived bang [PAUSES AT CHOICE OF WORDS] on target. Christmas Eve on the planet Puxatornee in the year four thousand and ninety.


MEL: When you promised me a Dickensian Christmas, Doctor, I was imagining roasting horse-chestnuts and ‘God Bless Us, Everyone’. Not... slums and workhouses.

DOCTOR: That doesn’t look like the Puxatornee I know.

MEL: What were you expecting?

DOCTOR: Cobbled streets and curiosity shops. The last time I visited here it was brimming with good cheer.

MEL: When was that?

DOCTOR: It was the year the Proxima Centuari All-Blacks did the double... four thousand and twelve.

MEL: That was seventy-eight years ago! Things are bound to have changed since then!

DOCTOR: For the worse, it seems.

MEL: It does look awfully grim. The sort of place that would have Lowry setting up his easel.

DOCTOR: I wonder what caused the shift in their fortunes...

MEL: You want to explore, don’t you?

DOCTOR: Don’t you, Mel?

MEL: No. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just go back in time and visit the planet while it’s still nice?

DOCTOR: No. I must find out what happened here.

MEL: Oh, all right.

DOCTOR: That’s the spirit. We’d better wrap up, it’s snowing heavily out there.




MEL: [SHOUTING] Doctor! What’s happening!


DOCTOR: Just some turbulence in the vortex, Mel.

MEL: I thought the ship was going to shake itself to pieces, and us with it!

DOCTOR: The landing may have been a little on the bumpy side...

MEL: Bumpy? I’m not inclined to use rude words, Doctor, but if I was, I’d use several to describe how “bumpy” that landing was.

DOCTOR: We’ve arrived bang [PAUSES AT CHOICE OF WORDS] on target. Christmas Eve on the planet Puxatornee in the year four thousand and ninety.


MEL: When you promised me a Dickensian Christmas, Doctor, I imagined street urchins and plum pudding. Not... rubble and ruins.

DOCTOR: That doesn’t look like the Puxatornee I know.

MEL: What were you expecting?

DOCTOR: Street fairs and food stalls. The last time I came here it was a picture of prosperity.

MEL: When was that?

DOCTOR: It was the year that Droopy-electrix had their first number one... four thousand and twelve.

MEL: Seventy-eight years ago! Things are bound to have changed since then!

DOCTOR: And not for the better, it seems.

MEL: It does look dreadfully grim. The sort of place that would have Edgar Allan Poe reaching for his notebook... Doctor, wouldn’t it be simpler to just go back-


MEL: What’s that?

DOCTOR: The level of background radiation is slightly higher than I would like... No, I must find out what happened here.

MEL: Oh, all right. If you’re sure it’s safe?

DOCTOR: We’d better wrap up. It’s snowing heav
ily out there.

Is Everybody Here On Drugs?

Another cut bit. This one goes all the way back to my first novel, Festival Of Death, and is, ISTR, a continuation of the first scene of Chapter 5 - a parody of Hunter S Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas where the lizards take drugs and see each other as humans. Again, questionable use of the English language health warnings apply - aaargh, all those sentences in the passive voice!

There was a rapid flapping sound. Hoopy wound down the digidisc player. The sound was originating from outside the ship. The fluttering intensified. It seemed to come from every direction.

Hoopy checked some instruments, but he had no clue what they were trying to tell him. He twirled in his seat. ‘Bisc, man. Bisc, get on it. We’ve got trouble.’

Biscit awoke, snorting. His eyes revolved around the cockpit. ‘What goes?’

Whatever it was began to scrape and hammer against the space-hopper’s hold. The Indigo Glow juddered under the assault, its engines thrumbling in pain.

‘Holy prophet!’ yelled Biscit, jumping to his feet. ‘Space bats!’

‘Space bats?’ The front viewscreen suddenly flooded with black shapes, hundreds of leathery wings and screeching beaks. ‘Freak me!’

Biscit wobbled over to another instrument panel, jammed a few levers, and tugged a periscope down from the ceiling. He circled, glued to the eyepieces. ‘They’re all over the
Glow. I’m going to have to burn them off.’ Biscit started thumbing at the ship’s weapon systems. The Indigo Glow shuddered with each shot, and some control banks exploded into flames. Their collection of lava lamps and mad fossils clattered to the floor, and Xab vanished under his seat.

‘Careful, dude,’ said Hoopy, steadying the joystick. He began to laugh hysterically. ‘You’re freakin’ shooting at the freakin’ ship! Aim away!’

Biscit kept on firing, like a lunatic. Hoopy turned in his seat, roaring with laughter. The whole cabin had gone soft-focus and swimmy, dancing with brilliant lights, plumes of sparks spraying like multicoloured fountains. The warning lamp glowed a friendly shade of red. Somehow, the music, the explosions, the scampering bats, the engines and Xab’s whimperings all synchronised perfectly.

At the periscope, Biscit was changing. His face was pulsing, shrinking into a pale, watery pink. Hair was sprouting from his forehead, and his spines were receding into his back. To Hoopy’s drug-addled eyes, Biscit was transforming from a reptile into a human being. A soldier, in camouflage, hollering like a red-faced maniac.

Hoopy’s ribs ached with laughter. These drugs were totally surefire.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Tide Is High

Something a little different today as we travel back to 2000 and Bloodtide, my first Doctor Who audio adventure for Big Finish. I compiled all the deleted scenes from this play at the time – a consientious habit which I immediately lost – and later sent them to Ben Cook for consideration for The Inside Story.

Most of those deleted scenes were ‘background chatter’ or ‘historical colour/showing off research’. But more fun are these scenes from a pre-first-draft draft of episode four.

Health warning! It’s a writing technique to bash out a rough draft in a deliberately hammy and amateurish way before going through it again and worrying about the dialogue, just to get the scenes down on paper in some form, and to have an idea of what needs to be said, by whom, and in what progression. This is because it’s easier to write fast if you’re not concerned about it being any good, and it’s easier to rewrite if you’ve already got the conversational flow sorted out. So this is deliberately crap; people say what they mean, they use exclamation marks a lot and there’s a fair bit of swearing... but what’s more worrying is the amount of stuff that made it through to the final draft...

Scene 71


You, ape creatures. Load the containers of bacteria into the submarine.

We obey.

You puny creatures, I control your minds so easily. Is all prepared?

Ready to go, skip.

Excellent! My devious plan is almost near completion! Heh heh heh.

Scene 72


Here, load them here. Careful!

That is the final load?

Yep, that’s your lot, skip.

And now we are all set. Shevak’s plague is all ready. Except - where the fuck has Shevak got to? Where is Shevak?


Scene 76


…If that is the case – then I shall kill you all and create a new race in your place. Any species can be manipulated. I am God, you know.

Leader Tullock. The submarine is ready for departure.

Okay. I’m ready to go now. We shall leave for the human settlement at once and wipe all the buggers out. Yes, we will wipe the humans from the Earth, heh heh heh.



Scene 78


All engines check. Check. Check. Rotors running. Silurian submarine all powered up and ready to go.


Excellent. Right, let’s get this crate out there.

Righty ho, skip!

And I shall rule the world, heh heh heh.


Hello there. Bunker calling submarine. Bunker calling submarine.

What is this?

Hello there ! It’s nice to hear from you. Don’t rush off.

You – you are in the control room?

That’s right.

How did you escape from the cell – the two guards sent for you-?

We overpowered them. We killed them. You know, you Silurians aren’t all that powerful. It’s quite easy to over-ride your telepathic abilities and kill you. We’re stronger than we look.

You lie. You are a puny species.

These new nuclear reactors, I find they overload so easily, don’t they? All it takes are a few minor adjustments and you’re minutes away from a major explosion. Whoops, eh?


I want to meet you. That’s all. The control room. You’ve got about fifteen minutes before this place explodes. Over and out.


Shall we leave-?

Check the Doctor’s story.

He’s right. There’s a build up of nuclear things in the reactor.

No! No. I will meet with this Doctor. We shall kill them even if I have to do so myself. You, and you, stay on guard. You, come with me. We will see how he stands up against the will of the Silurians. He will die. Horribly horribly. And then we’ll leave. Heh heh heh.


Scene 80


Find the submarine he says. Ah, here it is. It’s huge. Affix the sonic emitter. Fiddly, but done it. Piece of piss!

And what are you up to?

Oh fuck!


Scene 86


The Myrka! It’s out there, it’s bouncing off the side of our ship. It’s getting closer again.

The Myrka – but how? There must be a sonic emitter – quick – check the sub!

Range now twenty yards. Ten yards.


Five yards. Massive electrical charge detected.

No! My dreams of conquest!


Thursday, 10 September 2009

...And Tomorrow The World

The following scene comes from Chapter 11 of The Tomorrow Windows which, if I remember correctly, was the last part of the book to be written and was written in one 24-hour last-minute rush fuelled by red wine and diet coke. What has affectionately become known as the Lidster method. As a result, I know I wrote the chapter but have little recollection of what I actually wrote.

The chapter was a (heavy-handed) satire on the democratic process, that it tends to lead to political short-termism – in the book’s example, no-one is prepared to spend the money to build a rocket to destroy the asteroid that is going to destoy the planet. A deliberately absurd reflection of our own world and global warming:

‘I could say that my opinion was a fact too,’ Dreylon sneered. ‘The point is, we live in a democracy, which means that my opinion is as good as yours. You are perfectly entitled to believe that we are going to collide with the moon, just as I am perfectly entitled to believe that we won’t.’’

And people vote for people they trust – but unfortunately sometimes confuse trustworthiness with credulity. The following scene is about Vinkle, the President of the planet Mineau (re-named Jarkle in the finished version). It was cut down, I think, largely because it seems to drift into an 80’s edition of Spitting Image or an episode of Dead Ringers... Vinkle being the President of the planet Mineau.

Vinkle became distracted, and picked up his desk phone. ‘Hello?’ he said to the receiver, then shook his head. ‘No-one there.’

‘And now,’ said the advisor. ‘From the beginning…?

Vinkle read. ‘The oppositional policements are additionally deficitious. Their proposed increasements would require ten per cent tax!’

‘A ten-percent tax

Vinkle frowned. ‘Increase?’

The advisor sagged. ‘We’ve been though this. Either a ten per cent increase in income tax, or an increase in stealth taxes.’

Vinkle blinked as he tried to remember. There was a pause of what seemed like a hour. ‘What are stealth taxes?’

‘They’re taxes you know nothing about.’

‘Isn’t that all of them?’

The Doctor approached the desk. ‘President Vinkle, a word…’

Vinkle looked up, and then over his shoulder. ‘Is the President here?’

‘You’re the President,’ said the Doctor.

‘I am?’ A smile dawned upon his face, then he pulled out a stubby whistle and blew. It gave a loud quack. Vinkle looked around expectantly.

‘What’s he doing?’ asked Charlton. The Doctor gave a search-me gesture.

‘I’m trying to attract the attention of the duck,’ Vinkle confided.

‘What duck?’ said the Doctor.

Vinkle turned to his advisor. ‘I thought you said there was a duck here?’

His advisor deflated. ‘I said the
buck. The buck stops here.’

‘Buck?’ said Vinkle. ‘Isn’t that some sort of goat? Not sure I want a goat in my office. Might scare the duck.’ He slurped at his carton again. ‘Mmm, I like my juicy drink.’

The policy-under-advisor diplomatically ushered the Doctor, Prubert and Charlton out of the office and drew the double doors shut. ‘The president is, as you saw, hard at work, and does not wish to be distracted.’

Charlton sputtered for words. ‘Distracted?’

‘The President is… very easily distracted. People, noises, movement. Reflective objects. It is best that he is left to his… highly demanding schedule.’

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Tomorrow Never Knows

Today’s ‘deleted scene’ comes from the first draft of my 2004 novel The Tomorrow Windows, which was originally something like 100,000 words before losing a tenth to bring it down to, well, you do the maths.

The following was cut from Chapter 4. Can’t remember why I cut it (except for length) or indeed why I kept it in its own special file. But I did. At this point, the character Charlton Mackerel was called Winston Bull.

Re-reading this now, I think Russell T Davies was reading my mind for ‘Love & Monsters’. My tin foil helmet must’ve been faulty that week.

I haven't tweaked this first draft at all; see how waffly, overwrought and poorly-punctuated my writing is before I start cutting down it and sorting it out.

Winston grew up, but he never lost his dream. He listened to miserable music, joined some miserable societies, and went to parties where he met some miserable girls.

Four important things happened to Winston at university. It would’ve been five but none of the girls were interested.

Firstly, he enrolled in the
Galactic Heritage Society. He had read through one of their leaflets and been struck gobsmacked. Planets were being devastated by unpitying developers. Where once there had been sniffing, hedgerow creatures there were now landing parks and StarMarts. The Galactic Heritage Society fought for planets to be preserved and protected. Particularly those planets with unspoiled inhabitants and ethnic cultures. Winston, he decided, would save planets. Just like his hero.

Secondly, he accidentally came across the Tomorrow Windows, and discovered the secrets of time. Just like his hero.

Thirdly, he decided to stop being miserable. It was getting him down. Instead, he would exude benevolence. He would start wearing multi-coloured waistcoats, and a knee-length Edwardian coat, and cravats and spats and floppy hats. He would grow his hair wild and curly, and wear a scarf even when he didn’t need to. He would be cheerful, and upbeat, and wouldn’t spend any more time with girls. Just like his hero.

Fourthly, he gained a hero. The Doctor.

They had all heard the rumours, of course. The mysterious adventurer in space and time with his glamorous assistants, who travelled the universe, finding wrongs and righting them. Many considered the stories to be a bit of a joke. They were intended for children – though never childish - and some students said you could only enjoy them if you were being ironic. Kitsch and camp.

But when Winston joined
DocSoc, he discovered that the myths, whilst extraordinary, unbelievable and often deeply unconvincing, were not myths at all. They were all true. Wonderfully, beautifully true. Together the members of DocSoc searched through the histories of the known planets, striving to find a mention of their favourite enigmatic time-traveller. This was problematic, because descriptions tended to differ, and accounts of his appearance were inconsistent – there was very little continuity to the rumours. Sometimes he would arrive alone, other times with a young boy, or girl, or pet robot. Sometimes the stories were so ludicrous and contradictory the society would have long debates about whether they counted or not.

Of course, serious historians didn’t believe a word of it. They claimed that the Doctor was a fictitious construct, interpolated upon history, probably as in-joke by other, less serious historians. Winston, who underwent many of their lectures, felt it was because the historians wanted history to be as dull as they were. For many of them, the most adventurous thing they had done in their life was to grow a moustache.

On his visit to Earth, Winston had spent some time looking through the books and archives, searching for mentions of the Doctor, and was delighted and surprised to discover how frequently, and how egregiously, the Doctor would turn up. There he was, sheilding himself from arrows with an umbrella in a corner of the Bayeaux tapestry. And on an egyptian scroll, sandwiched between a jackal and a man with the head of a squid. He was even on television, fending off a Martian invasion.

And now, thought Winston as he wound his scarf around his neck, now he had actually met the Doctor. Whenever they spoke, Winston could hear his own words, sounding foolish, and was nervous and embarrassed. The Doctor was much shorter than he had expected, and older, and more softly-spoken, and it was odd, as sometimes the person would resemble the two-dimensional image from the photos.

Winston left his room, and prepared to meet his hero.

More from The Tomorrow Windows... tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Revolution 1

Today, and for the next few days, unless I have something else interesting to write about, I’ll be posting up things cut from Doctor Who stuff what I wrote. Like DVD deleted scenes. With my own fascinating, fascinating commentary. I feel your excitement.

So with no more ado, one of my most recent things, The Glorious Revolution. The following bits were cut for time/word count, all from the second half of the play (because it was much longer than the first half) and were chosen largely on the basis that they could be removed without anything being missing. All these cuts are from the first (12,000 word) draft – the final third draft being about 9,500.

First a little addition to the ‘kidnapping the King’ scene, referring back to the rumour Jamie has started about the arrival of an imminent Irish army.

The guards carried the basket for us all the way to the street outside. That done, they were about to return to the shelter of the palace, when one of them stopped and turned back as though he’d remembered something. ‘Wait!’
‘What is it?’ I asked, hoping he wouldn’t ask to check the basket...!
‘Tell everyone you know, we’re expecting a great army of Irishmen to turn up in London later tonight,’ confided the guard, tapping his nose. ‘But it’s supposed to be a secret. You got that? So you tell everyone you know!’

And shortly after that – having established that the Doctor had purloined the King’s Great Seal from his bedroom – a scene with an extra bit of historical colour but which doesn’t further the plot and might end up feeling irrelevant.

But I - (SEES SOMETHING) Wait... what’s that you’ve got?

The King had noticed what the Doctor was holding - the Great Seal of England. He tried to grab it, making the boat lurch to one side, almost causing us to topple over. The Doctor held the seal above his head, out of the King’s reach, like in a child’s game, so the King lunged at him - knocking the seal clean out of the Doctor’s fingers and into the murky depths of the Thames.
‘Whoops, butterfingers’, admonished the Doctor. ‘Now, I don’t think you wanted to do that, did you? People will think you did it deliberately...’

And finally a great big chunk from near the end – they’re on a boat to France.

“I used to believe in you, your majesty. I used to think you were worth fighting for. But now... you’re just a coward, aren’t you? A miserable coward!”
The King clutched his handkerchief to his face with a self-pitying groan. I decided to leave him to his misery and joined the Doctor and Zoe up on deck. We were gliding through a marshy estuary, a crisp wind filling the sails.
‘How’s the King?’ said the Doctor, gazing out at the endless grey water.
‘Ah, he’s a broken man, alright,’ I said. ‘He’s given up entirely.’
‘What?’ The Doctor turned to me in alarm. ‘Oh! We can’t have that...!’
‘Why not?’ I said. But then I knew the reason why. A sharp, wrenching sensation hit my stomach, just as before, followed by a whooshing in my ears. I tried to catch my breath, to steady myself, but I... I... what was I saying?


Of course. A second temporal fluctuation.


You’ve influenced your own past again. If King James doesn’t attempt to regain the throne, there will no be Jacobite rebellion, no Battle of Culloden. And you will never have met the Doctor.

I’ll never have met who? Who am I supposed to have met?

The King must be defeated - but determined to fight on -

Ach, like Robert the Bruce?

Yes. Just like Robert the Bruce.


This time more drastic measures may be required. So - tell me. You were sailing out into the English channel. What happened next?

What happened next? We... I remember that as evening fell, the most terrible storm rose up out of nowhere. The heavens opened with a crash of thunder and hailstones the size of a man’s fist hammered onto the deck. A great wind threatened to tear down the sails, and immense, surging waves tossed and span the yacht like a wee toy. We sheltered downstairs, clutching onto the beams as the floor lurched, rose and fell. All the while, there was an ominous creaking, as though the boat itself was about to splinter apart.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Celebrate The News

Big hoo-ha over on the Media Guardian website last week about James Murdoch’s claims that the BBC is anti-competitive, discouraging other companies, such as the one owned by his dad, from making a profit by providing news on TV and the internet.

He was wrong a million different ways, morally and logically, speaking from transparent self-interest, but never mind that. He’s also wrong about the idea of news being a resource that is provided ‘competitively’.

If News International has a threat, it’s from Google News – a website which corrals together stories from all the different news sites. News, in itself, is not much of a resource, which is why there is so little of it in newspapers and TV news programmes. Usually whatever it was that’s happened can be summed up in a couple of sentences and almost certainly will be.

If you’ll excuse the alliteration, the commodity that is competitive is comment – the discussion and insight which goes around the news story. There’s very little of it on the BBC news site; they, like Dragnet, are ‘just the facts’. But that is the USP ‘quality’ newspapers like The Times; not the news itself but the intellectual rigour with which it is discussed. A USP which ain’t so U any more because of blogs; but one which can and will remain a commodity that creates revenue.

The other threat to News International is that the market catered for by downmarket tabloids – the papers which barely deal in ‘news’ at all – the combination of celebrity, female nudity and prurient crime-and-disaster rubbernecking is overwhelmingly better catered for by the internet. Not by the BBC, but by sites like DigitalSpy. Why pay a subscription to the Sun website to see Lily Allen topless, when you can just type those words into google?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Broken Train

Yesterday, in addition to sitting a cat – I have been banished from the flat for two nights – I went for a jog. I’d loaded up my mp3 with every Erasure 12” mix in chronological order (not the 12” remixes – that would be a surfeit of riches) up to ‘Always’; after that things got a bit ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’.

Top fact: One of the best motivational tunes to jog to is ‘I Could Be So Good For You’ by Dennis Waterman. In many ways, he invented Britpop.

Saturday’s jog entailed Greenwich park, through the Greenwich foot tunnel (as seen in 28 Weeks Later) and then left around the Thames Path of the Isle of Dogs to Limehouse (chingka-chingka-dink-dink dink-dink-dink!) along to Wapping and the Tower of London. Which coincided with the 12” of ‘Stop!’.

I still had happy legs so considered crossing the river and jogging back home again. Maybe not along the Thames Path, but just straight down the Old Kent Road. But I had a cat upon which to sit, so decided to be sensible and get the DLR back (not carrying cash, but with an Oyster in my pocket).

Except the DLR was only running as far as Canary Wharf, so in the end I had to jog back through the tunnel (still as seen in 28 Weeks Later) and through Greenwich to home. There was a replacement bus service but it was a replacement in the sense of ‘not moving either’ as one of the drivers had developed a preternatural dread of turning right at junctions. Resulting in one jogger feeling a little bit smug as he bounded past stationary traffic making all the people in cars feel a little bit ashamed that even the fat bloke was getting home faster than them.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


What has happened to Mastermind?

There’s a simple rule. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Mastermind is not a show that needs revamping. It works. It is sufficiently ‘sexy’.

Instead now it starts with John Humphries introducing the show, the contestants and their specialist subjects, before getting them all to stand in a row looking like twats.

Then into the titles. And then repeat all the information given in the pre-titles again. This is because the people who make television programmes think the viewers are idiots with the attention spans of goldfish with ADD; there may even have been a BBC memo that This Is How We Do Things From Now On.

As each contestant does their specialist round, it now goes WHOOSH and the contestant is floating around in heaven – I think that’s what it’s supposed to be – where they get to say what their specialist subject is and why they have chosen it.


This is the thin end of the wedge. Before long, it’ll be the X Factor and they’ll be saying ‘I'm doing this for my gran, who brought us up and is now on her death-bed...’

Then there’s a STUPID LIGHTING EFFECT from The Weakest Link. Why? All you have to do is turn the lights off. That’s it. No need to go to do an extra little fuckabout.

It’s because Mastermind is all done in the studio; it used to be a ‘roadshow’, shot in a different university or town hall every week. It was genuinely catering to the regions. Now each series is knocked out at Elstree in a week.

And they’ve disposed of John Humphries’ sphincter-tighteningly embarrassing ‘little chats’ with the contestants. These moments were always so joyous; the inarticulacy, the forced attempts at joviality, the complete lack of interest radiating from John Humphries.

And the specialist subjects are ever-more dumbed-down; people choosing sitcoms, pop groups, children’s books, anything requiring little or no academic study. I think Blakes’ 7 crossed the rubicon of stupidity. I don’t even like the show very much and I knew all the answers.

Oh well, at least they still have the theme tune. Here’s my singalong lyrics:


Look at the chair
Look at the chair
Isn’t it shiny!
Look at the chair
Look at the chair
That’s real leather!
Here are the geeks
What a prize bunch of freaks
They’ve been studying for weeks
Yes they have, oh yes they have...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington

What really dates sitcoms from the 60’s and 70’s, apart from the sets, videotape stock, make-up and content, are the daughters. I don’t know the reason for it, but whenever there is a daughter in a sitcom the actress concerned will start doing Daughter Acting.

What is Daughter Acting? It’s many things. A tendency to sigh a lot. Some very loud, posh, emphatic enunciation, as though in a theatre. As though in a provincial theatre performing a farce by Ray Cooney or Brian Rix or even Alan Ayckbourn. Big acting. Acting as big as the perms.

Examples? Reggie Perrin’s daughter in the original series. Wolfie Smith’s girlfriend in Citizen Smith. The daughter in No Place Like Home, the one with William Gaunt drinking sherry in the greenhouse. Anything on ITV.

I don’t fault the actresses; if it was one actress, yes, but it seems to be a near-universal rule; something taught at drama school.

If anything, it’s the writers fault, because the part of the daughter was always so painfully underwritten. She gets exasperated at men a lot, that’s it. It’s why sitcoms of that era are so male-dominated; the writers only seem to know of women as tottie, as wives, as mothers. As the set up of a joke where the punchline is delivered by a man.

Evidence for the prosecution; the last BBC Hancock episode, the one they rarely repeat and try to pretend never happened, ‘Son and Heir’, in which Hancock tries to find a girlfriend and discovers that Galton and Simpson really can’t write women.

But it’s the exception to the rule that makes you realise just how good (and ahead-of-his-time) Johnny Speight was, how under-rated Una Stubbs is, that the only properly-written, believable daughter from that era is in Til Death Us Do Part.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Stuck Inside A Cloud

Couple of additional thoughts about Troilus & Cressida. In order to fix the ending, the battle has been built up into something quite impressive, even if it has few casualties; Troy overhearing Cressy flirting with Diomedes was performed as a sort of immersive eavesdropping, Troy and Ulysses being able to see and hear Cressy and Diomedes and chase them about the stage without Cressy and Diomedes knowing; and Pandarus’ rather perfunctory closing speech was expanded into a proper climactic full-on rant by incorporating reprises of his lines from earlier scenes. Good ideas all. But maybe not good enough to make up for a play which feels like it ends because Shakespeare ran out of writing paper.

Last few days I’ve been making up stories for things which, if the stories I make up are good enough, will be things for me to bore you about next year. It’s surprisingly hard work to be original. Do you want a narrow brief, with settings, characters and developments all stipulated? Or a wide brief, where you can write whatever you want but have no idea where to start?

It’s good to have a ‘shopping-list’ of things to include in a story, because then you have a starting point, a few bones of the skeleton. Then it’s about trying to fulfil the requirements in an interesting and original way.

But where to get ideas? Three places. One is the bottom drawer of ideas I’ve had for other things which weren’t used because they didn’t fit. It’s not an endless supply but it’s healthily bulging. Another is from reading, listening or watching to other people’s stuff; not to nick their ideas, but to get your brain into an idea-buzzing frame of mind. And the third is by going to Gregg’s and buying some coffee.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Went to see Troilus & Cressida at the Globe last night.

Quick moan. People who talk at the theatre. Oh, drop dead. And, in particular, drop dead when you take mock offence when somebody asks you to be quiet. If you’re bored, leave. If you desire to discuss the play, it can wait, no, really, it can. And if you need someone to explain the play to you as you go along, you’re in the wrong theatre.

Oh, and if you’re a 'Globe Steward' – your job is to stop people from talking. Not to stand there watching the play. Not to chat away yourself.

I’m afraid the moan came first because the ceaseless moronic muttering was my main memory of the evening. But – happy place, happy place – what was the actual play like?

Well, it’s not one of Shakespeare’s best; the plot is both all over the place and frequently nowhere to be seen. The characters are thin and develop illogically, the beginning is dull and talky and the ending’s inconclusive and anticlimactic. And, no matter how clever Shakespeare was, these are not good things. He was not trying to write a bad play; his genius was that he succeeded without trying.

So any production is about trying to compensate for its shortcomings. I’d say, on balance, this production doesn’t. Matthew Kelly was superb as Pandarus, and most of the cast did a reasonable job – though a couple of them were so wooden I had flashbacks of my own turn in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m not saying I could do better; I’m saying I could do equally badly. I’m not sure it’s the actors’ fault, I think the director may have led them down a bad path. But I couldn’t make out a single word Cassandra was saying.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Going Underground

One more thought regarding 28 Weeks Later. The idea of repopulating Britain by starting with the Isle of Dogs. Very silly indeed. You’d start with somewhere with fields, away from the disease threat of a built-up area. Like in Survivors but with fewer fairy lights on the stairs. Still, Isle of Dogs exploding. Very cool.

Ran through the Isle yesterday, jogging from London Bridge to Island Gardens. I was tempted to sprint through the Greenwich foot tunnel, like in the film, but by that point it had got dark and I was starting to feel like I was in the first part of a Crimewatch reconstruction. ‘Witnesses remember seeing a fat sweaty man in a Tintin t-shirt...’

Oh, and that bit in the film where they out-run the fireball through the tunnel. There’s no way they could’ve done that in four minutes. And, er, if an explosion is causing a fireball to shoot through the tunnel, it’s going to be causing even more billowing flame to shoot directly across the Thames, even more rapidly.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that a poison gas which is clearly denser than the atmosphere would quickly percolate down into the underground. Oh, I have.

In other news, look out for the new E4 advert for How I Met Your Mother, it’s hilariously cheeky, and a marvellous, insane new advert for something called something like ‘Send Us Your Gold’ in which a terrifying, wide-eyed, unblinking Robert Webb look-alike implores the viewer to send him their rings.

We’re currently re-watching GBH on DVD, the old Robert Lindsay/Michael Palin series written by Alan Bleasdale as MBH wanted to watch something like State Of Play. It remains brilliant, with the added bonus that absolutely everybody in it went on to become famous in something else.