The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Friends Of Mine

It’s traditional at this time of year for bloggers to give a rundown of all the things they’ve been up to that year, and to list their hopes for the next. I’m not going to do that. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already know what I’ve been up to this year, and if you don’t, it’s all meticulously archived. On top of that, quite a lot of the stuff I’ve done this year will not see the light of day until 2011, or even later, so there’s all sorts of exciting things in the pipeline I can’t talk about and, yes, I physically retched as I typed that sub-clause and I typed it ironically so I forgive you all for wincing.

Similarly, or dissimilarly, my work-related hopes for next year are the same as usual, to keep getting work, for it to be higher profile and better paid, and for imaginative ideas to keep on popping into my head in a state of nervous excitement like Vera Botting from No Place Like Home. Beyond that, it’s just a question of meeting deadlines, doing the best job I can, and writing other things on spec whenever I have time. I liked Vera Botting, did you?

So instead – ha! – I shall be doing a list of exciting things my friends have been up to this year. As Morrissey so nearly put we it, we love it when our friends become successful. Consider it the opposite of schadenfreude. What have they been doing? Well...

Nev has been writing a marvellous children’s sitcom about Hacker the dog called Scoop! He’s also had three incredibly funny and ingenious novels published called The Mervyn Stone Mysteries and writes quite a lot of Private Eye now, apparently. I say apparently because I stopped reading it after one too many Humpty Dumpty analogies. Nev wasn’t responsible for those.

Simon has had a Being Human novel published, I’m not sure if it’s a tie-in novel or an autobiography, and has had another excellent Companion Chronicle released along with his own audio series called Graceless. I hear that he’s been working on the Doctor Who Adventures comic, but I wouldn’t know about that, I deny the very existence of the Doctor Who Adventures comic, there is only Doctor Who Magazine, there can be no other.

Joe had a Sarah Jane Adventures story broadcast on the telly, about The Nightmare Man, and wrote a Dark Shadows audio, which I’ve listened to and it’s excellent so rush out and buy it. I think he’s also been up to some other stuff but he plays his cards close to his chest and is famously a total abstainer so he never lets anything slip.

Tom and Peter have been continuing to edit the marvellous and world-record-breaking Doctor Who Magazine and provide me with work. Round of applause. Together with Scott, they are all total legends. And all the guys who draw, colour and letter the comic strips are legends too.

Barney has, as well as playing Daleks and writing and directing Big Finish audios, wowed audiences worldwide with his interpretation of the character of Rugby in The Merry Wives Of Windsor. I saw it at The Globe.

Will managed to accidentally get the wrong party elected at the general election (whoops!) but has recently taken up comedy song-writing by way of a penance and to ‘put himself out of harm’s way’. He’s also not as fat as he used to be.

Jason has met the legendary Neil Patrick Harris and has introduced the USA to the art of pantomime. However, he seems to have failed to include any 80’s Australian soap stars in the cast, so he still has some way to go before he captures the true spirit of panto.

Clay edited a Doctor Who book thing which was apparently ‘brilliant’ even though he didn’t ask me to write for it. Hmmm. However, despite this glaring shortcoming it was, nevertheless, brilliant. He also wrote half of a Sarah Jane Adventure (according to reports, it was the top half).

The other half was written by Gareth, who also wrote one of the best Doctor Who episodes this year. Not the best one, obviously, that was by Richard Curtis, but one of the best ones. He also wrote a Doctor Who stage musical.

The star of which was Nick, in the role of Ian McChin. I may have got this mixed up somewhere, I didn’t go and see it. Apart from that, I get the impression he’s been extremely busy doing... stuff. He’s also put a lot of work my way, so a quick but immense thanks to him, Alan and David.

Eddie has been writing loads of Doctor Who things, including helping me out with The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster and putting up with me doodling all over his Industrial Evolution.

Rob has been travelling the world hoovering up awards for science-fiction horror short-story writing like some sort of literary Hungry Hippo. He’s also co-written a book about Doctor Who with Toby.

Toby has co-written a book with Rob, and also took a very good show to the Edinburgh Festival called Now I Know My BBC and – even better than that – he appeared in another show playing a tiger. He’s also just been in an episode of Holby Hospital playing Man Who Looks A Lot Like Toby.

Ed seems to have spent the whole year producing and editing Doctor Who documentaries. As a result, he has a wild, stir-crazy look in his eyes and could go postal at the slightest provocation.

James also had a Being Human book published, as well as to-be-honest-I’ve-lost-count-how-many Torchwood audios and Doctor Who talking books. He also wrote a Dark Shadows audio which I have also listened to, it was excellent, stop reading this instant and buy it. He is currently co-writing a proper Doctor Who book with his cat.

Paul has been writing comics. Apparently these are quite famous and important comics, I don’t follow comics but that’s what people tell me, they say Jonny, these comics are quite famous and important. He also had a drama pilot that really should have been picked up. Boo, BBC!

Jim and Paul have both been justifying the BBC license fee singlehandedly each with their work on the BBC Archive and the web sites for Eurovision and Strictly Come Dancing.

Apart from that, the rest of my other friends have been busy doing real jobs, like actual grown-ups.

Oh and Steven has been producing some kid’s TV show, which has been a well-deserved massive success, as we all knew it would be. As if that wasn't enough, he's had a hit detective show as well. Git.

Okay, I think that’s more-or-less everyone. Heartfelt apologies to anyone who has been left out (either because I thought you’d rather not be included, or because I don’t know what you’ve been up to) and even more heartfelt apologies to everyone who was included.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Year Of The Jet Packs

Jonny’s Review Of The Year 2010

The Duffy Award for Album Of The Year –

1: Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels (obviously)
2: KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit
3: Hurts – Happiness







The Daniel Blythe Award for Most Promising New Pop Act -

1: Marina & The Diamonds
2: DeeDee Loves Me
3: Elouise







The How I Met Your Mother Award for Best Returning Sitcom: Miranda

The Rev Award for Best New Sitcom: Mongrels

The His And Hers Award for Most Conspicuously Dreadful New Sitcom: The Persuasionists

The Armstrong & Miller Award for Best Sketch Show: That Mitchell And Webb Look

The EastEnders Award for Best Live Episode Of A Soap Opera: Coronation Street

The Social Network Award for Best Film: Toy Story 3

The Inception Award for Most Disappointing And Incomprehensible Film: Alice In Wonderland

The Misfits Award for Best Returning Drama: Doctor Who (except for those 3 episodes, you know the ones)

The Sherlock Award for Best New Drama: Lip Service

The Pillars Of The Earth Award for Most Mind-Numbingly Tedious New Drama: The Deep

The Lennon Naked Award for BBC 4 Drama That Completely Misses The Point And Where Everything Looks A Bit Beige: Dirk Gently

The Question Time Award for Show That Makes Me Unaccountably Angry: The Review Show

The Obstacles To Young Love by David Nobbs Award for Best Novel: One Day by David Nicholls

The Gordon Brown Award for Most Hilariously Self-Destructively Hapless Politician: Vince Cable

The Haiti Earthquake Award for Most Original And Visually Impressive Natural Disaster: Eyjafjallajökull Eruption

The Go Compare Award for Most Abjectly Humourless Advertising Campaign: Aviva, with Paul Whitehouse

The Nick Robinson Award for Human Being Most Resembling An Aardman Animation: Ed Milliband

The Jeremy Hunt Award for Whacking Dirty Great Nails In The Lid Of The BBC’s Coffin: Mark Thompson

The Pope’s Visit Award for Most Tedious And Please God Let It End News Story: Wikileaks

The Johann Hari Award for Most Annoying Website To Be Linked To In A Tweet: 38Degrees.com

The It’s Snowing!!! Award for Most Irritating Thing To Say In A Facebook Status: “PLEASE put this in your status if you know someone who has...”

The Rob Stradling Award for Person Most Likely To Post A Comment On This Note: Ian Potter

Friday, 17 December 2010

What If...


If you are reading this, then you must rush out and buy the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, out this week. It has all sorts of exciting Christmas stuff in it, much of it fascinating, much of it hilarious, a little of it impenetrable, but that’s only to be expected. No, what is particularly exciting about this issue is that it has a stunningly beautiful comic strip with artwork by the phenomenal Rob Davis and colours by Geraint Ford. Script-wise, it’s one of my better efforts. It's called The Professor, The Queen And The Bookshop.

Already rushed out and bought it? Marvellous. And thank you very much. So if you’ll forgive the self-absorption, here are a few words on the background to this story.

It’s an idea I had back when Big Finish were doing their Unbound stories, which were based around Doctor Who ‘What if...’s. A ‘What if...’ that occurred to me was ‘What if... Doctor Who had started thirty years earlier.’ Which gave me the idea for a Doctor Who story, but one as written by CS Lewis, or E Nesbit, or John Masefield. Those authors who mixed up ideas of time-travel and travel to other planets with magic carpets and talking animals. However, by the time I’d had the idea Big Finish had stopped doing the Unbounds, so the idea got filed in the back of my mind under Lost Opportunities.

Anyway, seven years later, I finally got the chance to write the story, as a comic strip. Because of the limited space in a one-issue story, and because it would have been far too confusing, the editor Scott Gray – who never lets me get away with anything less than my very best - suggested to me that it might be better to make it just a Doctor Who story as written by CS Lewis, but including as many Doctor Who elements as possible. And there are quite a few, there must be a couple of dozen at least.

In effect, it’s a mash-up, like those remixes where it’s the vocals of one song over the instruments of another. There is probably some clever literary term for this, I don’t know what it is, this all happens by accident as far as I’m concerned. It’s not Doctor Who, and yet very Doctor Who at the same time, because the Narnia stories aren’t all that far removed from Doctor Who anyway. The strip takes the first two Narnia books, combines them with various Doctor Who stories, and becomes a synthesis of the two. Doctor Who ‘in the style of...’.

The other thing it does, another happy accident, is that it’s another ‘What if...’, the ‘What if...’ being ‘What if... Doctor Who wasn’t science fiction’. Without wishing to get drawn into an argument about whether Doctor Who is science fiction or not (of course it is, it’s just not hard science fiction) it does show that Doctor Who can still be recognisably Doctor Who even with all the science fiction taken out and replaced with magic. Because the science fiction elements are just trappings; myths with technology.

I think it works. I’m very proud of it, and Rob Davis did a superb job with it. I think maybe the idea of a magical time-travelling bookshop would have made a good children’s novel – if it had been written eighty years ago. I’m not sure that second-hand bookshops have the same romance for the youth of today. Another one for the Lost Opportunities file.

Anyway, next month the Doctor Who comic strip* is back into more familiar territory. Gothic horror!

* Other Doctor Who comic strips are available. I don’t read them so I don’t know if they’re any good or not. Please don’t tell me if they’re better than mine, that would only serve to upset me.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Night Work

At last, the long-awaited second and dare I say it final half of my review of albums I got this year.



New Vaudeville Band – Winchester Cathedral – A greatest hits. Bought this for a fiver because I liked the title track and Finchley Central. The New Vaudeville Band were, more or less, a bit that dropped off the back of The Bonzo Dog Do Da Band in the 1960s. It’s all that Vivian Stanshall-style cod-1930’s crooning. If you don’t know who Vivian Stanshall is, watch an early Stephen Fry performance, that’s Vivian Stanshall. Apart from a few decent songs, and covers, there’s the original version of A Kind Of Hush. Yes, the Herman’s Hermits version was a cover. I also downloaded You’re Driving Me Crazy by The Temperance Seven.



Robbie Williams – Reality Killed The Video Star – Only downloaded this a week or so when I suddenly realised I didn’t own it. Which is odd, because I really liked the two singles. While I was at it, I bought the new tracks off his greatest hits, plus a few b-sides I was missing. What’s really annoying, though, is that you can’t legally download the b-side of Shame, a quite good track called The Queen. Anyway, I haven’t really given it a proper listen, it sounds okay so far.



Royksopp – Junior – Downloaded this on the strength of Happy Up Here, which is kind of like Air before they went really, really boring, or all those bands like Daft Punk and BRA that were good for one single each during the mid-90s’. It also reminded me of Mirwais' Naive Song, which nobody reading this had probably heard of. Anyway, this is a very fine album, very cheerful, and with The Girl And The Robot you have the best Kylie Minogue song ever recorded not to feature Kylie Minogue. Honestly, Pepsi challenge, you’d swear it was Kylie. I first listened to this whilst walking off calories around Poplar and Leamouth at sunset, and it was kind of the ideal soundtrack.



Scissor Sisters – Night Work – An album of two halves. On the one hand, you have more or the same, which is what I want, if a band ain’t broke don’t fix it. Basically, the first half of the album is all great. Okay, so Fire With Fire veers dangerously close to U2, but Night Work, Whole New Way, Any Which Way are all fab... and then it all gets a bit dull and generically 80s for the second half. Scary Monsters syndrome. And it’s a pain in the arse listening to a song trying to work out which 80's song it’s reminding you of. A disappointment.



Scouting For Girls – Everybody Wants To Be On TV – The thing with Scouting For Girls, you really have to be the right mood to listen to them, and so far, I haven’t had the mood. Plus the iTunes download sounds really trebly like it’s all been mastered wrong, so I can’t really review this. I was disappointed, though, that it didn’t include their excellent cover of London Calling by The Clash, because if a band can get Radio 6 muso farts and Q Magazine readers frothing at the mouth with anger and indignation, they must be doing something right.



Sophie Ellis Bextor – Trip The Light Fantastic – This came out a couple of years ago, and for some reason the next album hasn’t exactly been forthcoming, so I downloaded this to listen to on a bus journey down to Taunton and back. The songs are strong, lots of lovely synths, what more do you want? If I Can’t Dance kicks arse, Catch You, Me & My Imagination, What Have We Started? are all terrific, Blondie-ish pop. Plus there’s a song called Only One which sounds exactly like a knock-off of The Feeling, and which turns out to have been written by The Feeling. Only problem is, having listened to it on the bus journey down to Taunton, it’s now indelibly associated in my mind with the M5 motorway and Bridgwater bus station.



The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood – Comedy songs, hooray! Well, that’s not quite fair, in between the comedy songs are Scott Walker pastiches. I’m still being, when they’re good, The Divine Comedy can be sublime. This album is in the same mould as the previous two; again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The first track is tortuously dull, but things liven up with The Complete Banker and At The Indie Disco, Assume The Perpendicular, The Lost Art Of Conversation, Island Life and I Like tread a fine line in McCartney-esque whimsy, When A Man Cries is heartbreaking, and Can You Stand Upon One Leg makes you want to hit Neil Hannon over the head with a hammer. I mean, it’s almost funny the first time, but after that... this is why there’s such a thing as b-sides. So about the normal hit and miss rate for a Divine Comedy album.



Yazoo – Reconnected Live – Such is my insane Vince Clarke completism – I must have downloaded a half dozen or more different remixes he’s done in the last year, busy chap – I actually bought this whole album just to get one bonus track. I mean, it’s a lovely souvenir of seeing Yazoo live in Brighton a couple of years ago, it sounds great, Alf is belting and Vince has given the old songs added bollocks, but live albums don’t really do it for me, as a rule. No, I bought it to get Get Set on CD, a track which Yazoo recorded for a theme tune for a kids Saturday morning TV show, which they planned to release as a single, and then promptly split up, and forgot all about. I’ve blogged about it before. I remember, back when I worked at Mute, suggesting they do a Yazoo greatest hits solely so that this long-lost track might finally see release, as it’s a pretty decent song. I was told the master tapes didn’t exist, Vince swore blind they had never recorded the song, and so I let the matter rest and went back to quietly fuming about the fact that they’d decided not to include The Other Side Of Love on the greatest hits either. And now it turns up, almost as an afterthought, on a live album, when really it should’ve been dusted down for the box-set and remasters they did a few years ago. Oh well. I’m just delighted to finally own it. Maybe in another twenty years we could get the demo version of Only You...

And that’s it, that’s more-or-less all the albums I got this year. I hope you have enjoyed this fascinating journey through the darkest recesses of my musical taste.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tiger Suit

A complete and utter definitive review-type-guide-thing of all, well most, of the albums I got this year. Having already reviewed Marina & The Diamonds and Gabriella Cilmi.

Part 1.



Amy MacDonald – A Curious Thing – A rather good album, more of the same from Amy, starts strong with Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over, Spark, Love Love, An Ordinary Life, and then, apart from the folksy This Pretty Face, it goes a bit blah, as I don’t think ballads are Amy’s strong point, and by track nine I was hoping each track was the final song, as from that point on, they all sound like final songs.



Fleetwood Mac- Rumours & The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac – I know, embarrassing, all Spotify’s fault. In my defence I will say I think early Fleetwood Mac are still utterly redeemable, it’s only when they go all corporate and commercial that they get good, and yes, Mick Fleetwood presenting the Brits like a bewildered scarecrow being pestered by a small, noisy, pink, angry poodle, we haven’t forgotten, but I like all the singles from Rumours, I like the Formula One theme, and to be honest, I’d say it was on a par with stuff like Wings, 10CC, ELO, Supertramp... that lot. And even though half of Rumours is on the Very Best I had to download the other half, because they left off Songbird. So, would I rather jack than Fleetwood Mac? Too early to say. "And now here's the Four Tops..."



Harry Nilsson – Personal Best – Another one I downloaded after getting into Harry on Spotify. Previously I was only aware of him from his bog-awful John Lennon collaboration Pussy Cats (in the 1970’s, what with artists expected to deliver two albums a year, you’d occasionally get albums recorded when the artist was in no fit state. This is such an album – see also Dark Horse by George Harrison). Before Pussy Cats, though, Nilsson had a remarkable career. One which he quite presciently outlined in his song Mr Richland’s Favourite Song. He started out by writing Davy Jones songs for The Monkees – Cuddly Toy and Daddy’s Song – and by covering Randy Newman – Simon Smith And His Dancing Bear (one of two songs performed by the Muppets, the other being the surreal Coconut). Then he wrote some quite sublime songs like Without Her, One and Together, recorded several Beatles covers (including an early mash-up You Can’t Do That) and of course did covers of Everybody’s Talking and Without You. Which aren’t really representative of his extremely idiosyncratic style; a haunting, beautiful voice, McCartney-ish melodies and touching lyrics. Genius.



Hurts – Happiness - Only got this recently, I know, I’m six months behind everyone else, it took me a long time to hear the appeal of their Bristol travelogue, Wonderful Life, but it wasn’t until I heard Stay and a song more Human League than the Human League, Better Than Love. The tunes are slow burners, the synths are nice and diddly, and the production ornaments them with strings and cave-echo drums to good effect. My only criticism would be that every song is trying to evoke the same epic looking-out-over-the-city-at-night atmosphere, which gets a bit samey after a while.



Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygene & Equinox. I resisted for decades. But despite Jarre’s relentless unfashionability, despite his performance style, eventually I gave in because, well, because late 1970’s synth albums sound like Doctor Who. Oxygene is the better album – bits of it were used in the background of Hitch-Hiker’s – and listening to it I suddenly realised where, ahem, Vince Clarke may have drawn some inspiration for the Erasure tracks Rock Me Gently and Dodo. Although I am still profoundly ashamed to own these albums, I do love them, they make me feel 7 years old again, sitting down to watch Doctor Who And The Warriors’ Gate, the fourth (and best) season of Blake’s 7, Tomorrow’s World or The Adventure Game. But Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and early Human League are better. And it could be worse, could be Mike Oldfield.



Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You – On the one hand, the songs aren’t quite as good as her first album, but on the other, it’s produced by Bernard Butler, so it sounds like a secretary talking down the phone describing her day in remorseless detail while filing her nails as Phil Spector backing tracks boom through the ceiling from the flat above. The singles are great – Kiss That Grrrl, Do-Wah-Doo – plus a great song called Early Christmas Present, there’s a brilliantly sweary track with attitude called Mansion Song, and Kate even sings on Take Me To A Higher Plane. But some of the other stuff is a bit blah, I’ve Got A Secret gets boring very quickly, and there’s a hidden bonus track which is a terribly 90’s thing to do, so points deducted there.



KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit – This album, from [PHIL PARKLIFE FROM TIME GENTLEMEN PLEASE] The woman I’m going to marry [/PHIL PARKLIFE FROM TIME GENTLEMEN PLEASE] is absolutely 100% brilliant. She has it all, the songs, the voice, and now she’s only gone and stuck some bloody synths on it! Some of it is bonkers, some of it seriously rocks, some of it’s heartbreaking, all of it is totally sexy and Push That Knot Away even goes a bit Fischerspooner at the end. Would easily be my album of the year were I not already betrothed to Marina & The Diamonds. Plus points are deducted for the bloody awful song Golden Frames, which sticks out like a sore thumb and sounds like the sort of thing The Beautiful South would do on Later With Jools Holland. The rest of it, though, is 100% brilliant.



Lulu – Most Of Lulu / Lulu’s Album. Again, in my defence, I should make it clear this is the Mickie Most-produced stuff only. And, well, they’re just fantastic 60’s pop songs by the likes of Nilsson, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, quirky, catchy, sung extremely well, and arranged by John Paul Jones out of the Led Zeppelin. Standout tracks are Show Me – which has an unbelievably cool intro, which was used as the theme tune to the 60’s Lulu TV showLove Loves To Love Love – sampled by Fatboy Slim – and Boy. Even the oh-so-kooky Eurovision songs are passable, if you’re in the right mood.

Part 2 will continue inevitably.

Angel



Blimey. December already. Which means only one thing... time to do a new Xmas playlist on Spotify.

Despite all my good intentions, and a scrawled list of fascinating things I really must get around to blogging about, it’s all gone quiet up my end. My excuse is that I’ve been so busy I've had to type simultaneously on two keyboards, like Bruno out of Fame. I remember an interview where Douglas Adams said how exhausting he found it to script-edit Doctor Who and write the second series of Hitch-Hiker’s at the same time. Compared to my month, doddle. Compared to my month, holiday.

Anyway, the exciting news, which I have trumpeted voluntarily on the Twitter and the Facebook is that I’ve been commissioned to write a Doctor Who novel. It features the eleventh Doctor, as portrayed by Matt Smith, plus his companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). It’s called ‘Touched By An Angel’ – though that may change, these things occasionally do – and is due out in June 2011. It’ll be about 50,000 words long, hardback, and that’s about all I can say about it, for one very important reason: I haven’t started writing it yet. But fingers crossed it will be exciting and terrifying and hilarious and heart-breaking. You can already order it from amazon.co.uk. I may be reminding you of this again in future.

I’m extremely excited to be writing this book, and extremely delighted to be asked. I haven’t written a Doctor Who book since, er – Jonny looks it up – around this time back in 2003. Blimey. Of course, I’ve done lots of things since then, but not a New Series book, so hopefully it will still have some novelty value. And I will be doing my best to make it worth the wait.

On the other hand, I’m rather nervous at the prospect. My main memories of writing my previous three Doctor Who books (discounting the many excellent and groundbreaking Doctor Who novels I wrote during my childhood that have inexplicably failed to find a mainstream publisher) are how difficult and stressful it was. And what I nightmare I was to live with. Books are hard work.

But this time I will be different. I am determined. This book doesn’t have to be quite as long, for a start. And I’ve got a lot better at meeting deadlines since then (not perfect, but better). And this time I’ve experience on my side, and I’m a writer full-time, so I’m not trying to fit in writing a book around running the Erasure Information Service. Plus nowadays there are all sorts of labour-saving devices that didn’t exist then, like Wikipedia, the TARDIS Index File, a DVD player on my computer, Microsoft Office Word 2007.

Plus – and this is the important thing – I’ve had seven years of desperately wanting to write a Doctor Who book. So, touch wood, this one should be fun.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

You Don't Have To Camp Around



Went to see the latest Harry Potter film in the cinema the other day. It was bloody freezing. The cinema, I mean. Cineworld at West India Quay. It’s normally pretty good – much better than the apocalyptic Greenwich Odeon, where you never have to pay to see a film because you’re always being given vouchers as an apology for the standard of the last film you watched there. Honestly, seeing Wall-E with tramlines skittering across the screen like it’s the Keystone Cops, that’s irony.

Anyway, HP7. Good points; the first half-hour or so, it hits the ground running, and all the leads gave decent performances. Bad points; well, to begin with, Helen Bonham-Carter was incomprehensible, again, and Rhys Ifans, who you’d think would be ideal casting for a bohemian hippy, underplays the part so much that he just comes across as mildly bored by the whole Voldemort thing. Bill Nighy is also weirdly twitchy. But the first half-hour, all the stuff in London, all the stuff in the Ministry of Magic, is lots of fun.

The main problem, though, is that after that first half-hour, from the moment they put up that bloody tent, the film loses momentum and inexorably grinds to a halt. The next, what, two hours consist of maybe fifteen minutes of exposition, fifteen minutes of plot development, and about one and a half hours of rugged scenery. Honestly, it was like watching a cross between Highway and A Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. At any moment I was expecting to see Pete Postlethwaite striding across the moors talking about winter fuel payments.

And it’s all coincidences. Harry just happens to find himself in the right part of the New Forest where a magic sword is hidden in an icy pool. Hermione just happens to spot a symbol on a gravestone. It’s aimless and frustrating. They materialize right next to where some Death Eaters (I think) are hanging out. They wander into the Ministry and end up finding the Horcrux amulet by accident. I realise this is a fault with the book, yes, but this was an opportunity to fix all that. None of these coincidences have to be so for plot reasons; look at the third and fourth films, which sort-out and boil-down the plots of those books beautifully and economically. But with HP7, I was mentally script-editing it as we went along – for something to do while watching it, more than anything else – “Oh, we could have come into this scene three lines later, and we really should have left it by now.” “This scene hasn’t developed plot, theme or character, no-one would miss it if it was gone.” Some scenes are just painfully slow, laboured where they need to be building pace.

One last example. About an hour and a half into the film, Ron wanders off. Half an hour later, it will come as very little surprise that he comes back again. In between those two points, absolutely sod all happens. Really. Sod all. You could have gone away, had some chips, read the paper, and come back and not missed a single story beat. There might be some confusion as to whether are heroes are searching for Horcruxes or Deathly Hallows, but nowhere near as much confusion as if you’d stayed actually watching the film.

And the ending. It ends on, hang on I’ll check – page 389 of the book. It’s not a completely arbitrary place to stop, but it comes after yet-another-escape, not a particularly exciting or important one – Dobby turns up to free Harry Potter, raising the question of why the bloody hell he never bothered to do that before in this film or any of the preceding 4 – and the whole you-know-bit is thrown away - like so much of the story, it happens off-screen. I was hoping this film would open the book up a bit more – because unlike the books, the films have never restricted themselves to only showing scenes featuring Harry – and show us some of the exciting stuff going on elsewhere while our heroes are working their way through locations from one of those shows where Alan Titchmarsh stands on hills and talks about Wordsworth.

Oh. And I haven’t even mentioned the vision with Harry and Hermione snogging in the nude. It was greeted with embarrassed laughter, I’m afraid. Watching it, I cringed from both ends at once. It just felt cheap and gratuitous, and even if you look really, really closely, you don’t get to see anything at all.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Future Is Now



Just finished Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon. It’s a ‘SF Masterwork’. I can’t remember why I wanted to read it, I must’ve read about it on Wikipedia and been intrigued.

First published back in 1930, Last And First Men not only pre-empted HG Wells The Shape Of Things To Come but exceeds it vastly in terms of scope. It is based around a similar conceit; that the author is acting as a conduit for a telepathic broadcast sent back through time from the distant future, and that the resulting book is not so much a novel as a fictitious history of events yet to take place. It starts in the present-day (i.e. 1930) and proceeds to cover the events of the next 2,000,000,000 years. It starts off quite detailed and sedate, but accelerates exponentially until, by the end, it’s covering the events of millions of years in a couple of sentences.

The book’s modern introduction quite cheekily suggests that readers should skip the first five chapters as they are dated and repetitive, which is true, but I think dismissing these sort of novels because they didn’t get the immediate future exactly right is missing the point slightly. What matters is not so much how much they got wrong, but what they get right, and Last And First Men is actually quite on-the-ball in terms of the Americanisation of world culture, for instance. That said, there is an excruciating bit about two world leaders having sex with a young woman on a desert island which is not only absurdly wide of the mark in retrospect, it’s baffling in terms of a 1930’s perspective.

Once you’ve got past the first five chapters the book hits its stride, and concentrates on its main theme – the future evolution of the human race. The book covers eighteen different human species, of differing attitudes and mental capacity, including water-based variations, flying humans on Venus, and by the end, a telepathic gestalt human race which has the ability to see back through time into the life of every human who has ever existed. Along the way they have a war with the Martians – who are a sort of floating cloudy jelly – wipe out the Venerians and have god-knows how many fallings-out with each other. As it goes on, the novel is increasingly concerned with ideas of philosophy, and at points where it’s discussing intelligences beyond our understanding, it’s a bit hard-going. But on the whole the journey is thought-provoking and worthwhile.

The book’s big influence is that it’s one of the first novels to discuss ideas like terraforming, group consciousnesses, and the idea of humanity deliberately genetically re-engineering itself to become more intelligent or to be able to survive in a different environment. I would’ve borrowed some of the ideas for a thing I’m writing but, alas, I handed it in before I got to the useful bits. I wouldn’t be the first to expand upon ideas found in this novel; Stephen Baxter’s evolution and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation spring to mind.

But in some areas it’s quite at odds with accepted SF ideas; in Last And First Men, for instance, mankind discovers nuclear power and then destroys the secret (although later on it is rediscovered and causes a world-wide apocalypse). Most unusual of all, though, is that this future humanity is one which barely attempts interplanetary exploration, except when absolutely necessary, and even after two billion years it has still not moved beyond the solar system; presumably either Olaf Stapledon thought such an eventuality was impossible, or would get in the way of the story he wanted to tell.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

No Surprises



Gradually getting back into this blogging lark. I’ve even made a list of a dozen things to write about, and that’s without Getting Me Started On Politics.

There’s a new issue of Doctor Who Magazine in the shops. It comes in a plastic bag this month, for three reasons. One, because there’s a free poster. Two, to discourage people from reading it in Smith's (“What is this, a bleedin’ library?”). And Three, because the actual cover is a desperate cry for help. :)

My contribution is, of course, the comic strip, the fourth and concluding part of the epic The Golden Ones. Will Axos destroy Tokyo and take over the world? It looks quite likely on page 1, looks rather less likely by page 10. Along the way, there’s some stunning artwork by Martin Geraghty, inked by David Roach, coloured by James Offredi and lettered by Roger Langridge. They, along with editors Tom Spilsbury and Scott Gray, deserve all the credit. I just come up with the jokes and paragraph-long descriptions of things that might look cool. This month’s strip contains sort-of references to Godzilla, Harry Hill and Jon Pertwee’s catchphrase. I can’t wait until next month’s, though, it’s a Christmas special, with stunning artwork by Rob Davis, and an idea which will make people either go ‘Ahh’ or ‘WTF?’

Elsewhere in the magazine – I read it all, you know – there’s an interesting article on the differences and similarities between Doctor Who and soap opera (it’s a much better article than that dreadful one they once printed about it being a game show, and that other one about it being a comedy). In the article Gareth Roberts “asserts”, quite correctly, that the big difference is that Doctor Who stories are about surprises, the viewer not knowing what will happen next, whereas in a soap opera, the viewer does know what will happen next and the fun comes from watching the characters find out.

Where Gareth is wrong is where he says this “never happens in Doctor Who. Not once! Ever!” when I can think of three examples off the top of my head (I’m sure if I engaged Story-By-Story Fact Search I could find more). They’re all good examples of why the ‘audience knows more than the characters’ approach isn't a very effective way of telling Doctor Who stories.

First example is The Gunfighters, in which Doctor Who lands in Tombstone, Arizona shortly before the events of the OK Corral. However, in this story Doctor Who is written as a complete buffoon, so throughout the story the audience knows what is going to happen next while the lead character is in complete ignorance. This, I would suggest, is one of the reasons why this story is so frustrating and dull to watch; Doctor Who, rather than being one step ahead of the audience, is about twenty yards behind them.

Second example is The Two Doctors, where the story begins with the second Doctor and Jamie visiting a space station, which is then attacked by Sontarans, who kidnap the Doctor and take him to Seville (don’t ask why). After which we then spend the next hour of the story with the sixth Doctor and Peri as they investigate the deserted space station trying to discover what has happened. Not until the third episode, when everyone has got to Seville, does the Doctor start to find out stuff that the audience doesn't already know.

And the third example would have to be Daleks In Manhattan. In the first ten minutes or so of the first episode, we’ve seen that the Daleks are up to no good, building an antennae on top of the Empire State Building and turning people into their pig slaves, including the unfortunate Laszlo. We then spend the rest of the episode watching the Doctor, Martha and Tallulah finding this out; the Doctor analysing a green blob to discover that it comes from Skaro, home planet of the Daleks, Tallulah spending ages talking to Laszlo before she realises a) he’s Laszlo and b) he’s been turned into a pig... and so on.

(At this point some pedants may go ‘Ahh, but Jonny, doesn’t Rise Of The Cybermen have the same problem?’ To which I would reply, “No, it doesn’t, Rise Of The Cybermen had an extremely well-structured script in which the audience never knew more than the Doctor and his companions, and where the characters and monsters were introduced in clever and surprising ways, which was then undermined by the last-minute addition of a pre-titles sequence which contrived to give away all those surprises in advance.”)

Actually, I’ve thought of a fourth and a fifth. The Dominators & The Mark Of The Rani. And a sixth. The Time Monster. A seventh. The Twin Dilemma. An eighth. Fear Her. Must disengage Story-By-Story Fact Search. But it’s no coincidence these tend to be the least well-regarded stories amongst fans.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

I Am The Resurrection



Out now is another great Doctor Who audio play from Big Finish, by me, called The Resurrection Of Mars. Honestly, it’s really good. I’m not just saying that because I wrote it. I’m saying that despite the fact that I wrote it. I listened to it last night and the cast, the sound design, and the direction were all fantastic, and that’s nothing to do with me. It’s the second half of a two-part story, the first half being last month’s Deimos, which ended on a hopefully surprising you-thought-the-story-was-all-about-that-when-in-fact-it’s-all-about-this cliff-hanger.

I couldn’t even remember what had happened in the story, because I wrote it so long ago – the first drafts were delivered on the 26th June and 6th July 2009, back when I was an unmarried man of a mere 35 years - and the second drafts were delivered on the 17th and 19th July. This is fun, this is like writing an Andrew Pixley archive about myself. After more revisions at the beginning of August, the play was recorded on the 19th and 20th August. I mention this not because it will be of interest to anybody, but because it illustrates one of the ironies of writing; you turn something around something quickly – it’s very unusual, and very fraught, to be writing something 2 months away from the recording date - and then it comes out 18 months later.

It seems to have gone down pretty well, which is always flattering, though it’s difficult to find good reviews encouraging when there’s a voice in your head saying “Maybe you were a good writer once - but that doesn’t mean you’re a good writer now. You’ve peaked, that’s what it is, you peaked 18 months ago, and now all you have to look forward to is irreversible decline.”

Torturing myself by listening to the bonus bollocks on the end of the download – they put these little DVD Extra features on, featuring light-hearted interviews with the director, the cast, and in moments of rare desperation, the writer. I always have my nervous, job-interview voice, which is all hesitant and gabbly and pitched a couple of tones above my normal speaking voice. Which is so disappointing, because in my head, I sound exactly like Jimmy Stewart. Anyway, in this interview I mentioned that as a preliminary thing to writing this story, I wrote a 2,000 word essay on What My Story Would Be About, The Themes It Would Explore and How These Would Be Illustrated With Dramatic Situations. Remind me about it in a month’s time, I’ll stick it up on this blog.

Anyway, you can download the play from here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

This Is Not About Me



Only a brief update today.

In the, let’s face it, extremely unlikely event that this blog has not already given you more than enough of me spouting my words of wisdom, some additional words of wisdom have found their way into some fanzines/websites. Yes, that’s right. Interviews with me. Which weren’t my idea.

First up is a fanzine called The Finished Product, put together by a guy called Kenny Smith. Previous issues have featured me nattering on all about Max Warp (issue 3) and The Beautiful People (issue 5) and the latest issue (issue 6) contains all manner of devastating insights about the typing of The Mists Of Time, the story initially given away as a promo with Doctor Who Magazine and which will be released, box-set-style, in June 2011. Read it and weep. Tears of joy. It also features an interesting article about the adaptation(ish) of the Big Finish audio Spare Parts into the telly story The Age Of Steel, which includes Startling New Facts.

For more info, email thefinishedproduct@hotmail.co.uk

Secondly, a web-based magazine called Mass Movement. Take a look at their website, it’s all heavy metal bands. And there’s me, the fan of Erasure, Mika and the Scissor Sisters. I feel rather flattered. And slightly out of place, like the time I went to see a friend’s heavy-metal band wearing a rather nice jumper. Nevertheless, the interview itself is a fascinating read. Well, it was a fascinating write, your mileage may vary. In order to download the magazine, you need to click on ‘magazine’ at the top of the page, then the tinyurl in red, and then you have to ‘expand’ or ‘unzip’ the file.

So apologies for what has been an inexcusably self-regarding blog post; but then, if I don’t blow my own trumpet, no-one else is going to.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

I'm Proud Of The BBC



It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever there’s a story about the BBC on the Media Guardian website, the first half-dozen or so comments will be from pseudonymous idiots moaning about the license fee. I suspect it’s the work either of one obsessive individual or some right-wing affiliation such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance. As the next dozen comments will inevitably be reactions to this trollery, it only serves to undermine intelligent debate, and TBH, the sooner The Guardian installs a paywall and prevents people from posting under pseudonyms, the better.

Two thoughts on the license fee, though. Thought one. I agree that it is a problem that it isn’t progressive, and suggest that it could be made more progressive by making the charge per television set, or by charging more for HD (in the same way that, with the advent of colour, the BBC charged more for 625 definition over 525). Really, the BBC should have charged more for digital, if the government hadn't been so desperate to sell off the analogue bandwidth to telephone companies; as it stands, there are hundreds of hours of BBC 3 and BBC 4 dramas, comedies and documentaries that the vast number of license-fee payers have never had the opportunity to see – many of which deserve the opportunity to reach a larger audience. In the best of all possible worlds, the BBC would be paid for out of general taxation, whilst still having a charter guaranteeing funding and political independence; but that’s not going to happen, not under the floundering lack of leadership from Mark ‘Shall I punch myself in the face, to save you hurting your fist?’ Thompson.

But it’s the civil liberties argument that pisses me off. It trundles predictably along the lines of ‘The BBC should be subscription-only, so only those who watch it need pay for it?’ Which is moronic for two reasons. One, how the hell do you make access to radio and BBC websites subscription-only; and two, in order to enforce a subscription to the television channels, even more resources would have to be directed towards checking up on people, on fixing television sets and digital boxes to prevent access for non-subscribers, that the result would be even more expensive than detecting license-fee non-payment and would result in a greater loss of ‘civil liberties’. No, what this argument boils down to is the one repeated on the internet ad nauseum; ‘I want to get something for free that other people have to pay for’. Nobody is seriously suggesting they would voluntarily stop watching the BBC; they would just do so via their computers, consuming content that other people have funded. (See also: Books, Films, and Music).

My second thought is that both ITV and Sky are examples of how bad the alternative is; ITV because in its ever-more-desperate attempt to chase ratings, it has demonstrated itself to be ever-more crap at achieving them for anything other than soaps and ‘reality’ competitions; and Sky because it’s just such a bloody rip off. I mean, with Sky you pay a subscription AND you get adverts; they must think their viewers are complete mugs. They wouldn’t get away with that in USA. It’s ironic that the guy who runs it complains so much about the BBC, when Sky’s business model is entirely reliant upon the existence of the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5; those channels import the first series of the latest US dramas, they take all the risk, they pay the promotional costs, and they build an audience, only for to Sky come in and out-bid them for the rights to broadcast the remaining seasons. Sky’s modus operandi is to poach other’s successes; they cannot originate their own.

And finally, the most basic, cheapest Sky subscription is approximately £120 year. For that, you get a fraction of the content provided by the BBC, and you pay for it all over again by watching adverts. To give you some idea of the value for money, for £120 you could buy box-sets of the latest series of:

House
Glee
Desperate Housewives
True Blood
Stargate Universe


i.e. all of Sky’s top shows. For you to own, watch again and again, with full bonus bollocks and with no adverts, or watch once and sell on ebay. And for the price of an HD subscription, you could buy them all on Blu-Ray and have money left over.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

I Am Not A Robot



On Monday went to see Marina & The Diamonds at The Roundhouse.

[PHIL DANIELS] That is the woman I’m going to marry. [/PHIL DANIELS]

Have been to the Roundhouse before, but not for gigs. I was surprised how pleasant the venue was; no queuing around the block, professional staff, no sticky floors. The sound quality is very good - the interior looks like a giant version of Vince Clarke’s old studio – and the only niggle is that short-arses like me prefer venues with sloping floors because of the better sightlines. Still, a universe away from shitty sub-student’s union venues like the old Astoria, with its ghastly community-centre mural of musicians who looks almost, but not quite entirely, unlike the people they are supposed to be, and its bendy plastic beer containers, and its head-in-a-bucket echo, and the bloody pillars everywhere, and oh, suffice to say, I was cheering when they pulled it down.

The support act, whose name eludes me, had a great singer but hadn’t quite found the tunes. The audience was largely bright young slim boys and girls with stripy black-and-white tops and McFly hair, but thankfully I was not quite the oldest or the fattest bloke there. I’m surprised Marina didn’t have more of a gay contingent, as her music is very much in the same genre as Kate Bush and Sparks, in other words, ‘both melodramatic and disorientingly weird’. I was delighted, though, that the audience was more into dancing and singing along than filming the whole show with their bloody phones.

She came on after a James Bond title sequence, and spent much of the show centre stage, where a wind machine was conveniently placed to blow her hair out of her eyes and make her look like she’s spending the whole show driving a convertible. Oh, I’m being sarky, but only because I’m not comfortable with publically admitting how stunning I thought she looked. I’m a happily married man.

And the songs sounded fantastic. She did her album (reviewed here), the non-album track Rootless, and a new song, Jealousy, which sounded sublime and quite Kate Bush-y. It was kinda odd when she did Shampain, as on her blog she moans about having to sing it, which as an old music biz hanger-on I’d say is probably a mistake as the fans like the illusion to be maintained that the artist is having a good time. But what do I know?

In summary; brilliant singer, brilliant songs, brilliant show, you weren’t there, you missed out.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Lost In TV



So last Sunday I attended Missing Believed Wiped at the NFT, an annual event presenting the best, or the oddest, stuff that has been recovered and returned to archives in the last year. Because, as I’m sure we’re all aware, up until about 1980 the guy whose job it was to set the BBC video was a little bit forgetful and tended to take a nap when episodes of Top Of The Pops or Patrick Troughton Doctor Whos were on, and it wasn’t until a Doctor Who fan forced his way into the BBC and threatened to cause a scene unless they stopped using old episodes of Z-Cars for firelighters that they actually got their act together. Or something like that, you’d have to ask Andrew Pixley.

I went last year, I wrote about it, so what wonders did Dick ‘my name couldn’t sound ruder if I tried’ Fiddy have for us this year? Well, to begin with, there were highlights of the Library Of Congress ‘haul’ (a ‘haul’ being the collective noun for missing episodes of television). My thoughts follow.

Colombe – Quite poor sound quality. Peter Sallis looks young. Sean Connery has not yet learned how to act; he would be better described as a grumpy slab of incomprehensibly Scottish scenery.

Romeo & Juliet – An almost unrecognisably young Jane Asher. Very stagey, but not in a bad way. Noticed a joke I hadn’t noticed before. Would watch the whole thing.

Auto Stop – David Hemmings on a studio-bound beach chatting to a girl. Very Angry Young Man, dialogue awkward mix of naturalism and cod-meaningful clunkiness. I get the feeling lots of plays in the 60’s were like this.

Dr Knock – John Le Mesurier and Leonard Rossiter, not sure what to make of this, good performances but out of context it was just confusing. Would watch the whole thing.

13 Against Fate: The Friends – Even more confusing, the beginning of an anthology series, it looked like The Lotus Eaters or somesuch but the direction was awful, very poor grammar, and the writing was pretty dreadful.

1984 - The 1965 re-make, in which Peter Cushing is sadly missed, and Nigel Kneale has decided to ‘jush’ the whole thing up with a comedy opening that looks like something out of The Goodies. Oh no, he’s driven a sand-buggy into a NUCLEAR MINEFIELD! Would watch the whole thing.

Let There Be Light – Very odd this, it’s a drama-documentary by Alan Plater but which starts off as an episode of Please Sir! before one of the characters talks to us, then takes us back in time to see how schools used to be, one hundred years ago. Baffling but intriguing. Would watch the whole thing.

Bath – The Queen Of The West – A travelogue with the original Dimbleby walking around in front of blown-up photographs of the interior of Bath Cathedral. Bath looks pretty much the same now. If it didn’t, this would be more interesting.

Sing Me A Fantasy – Oh god, this was wonderful! Apparently a TV station was losing its franchise, so on the last day, they made this bizarre comedy-musical about a man marooned on a traffic island, only to discover it’s a desert island where Kenny Lynch is making ‘I won’t need sun-tan lotion!’ jokes. Would buy on DVD to watch again and again.

Manfred Mann At The Concorde Club – Either the film was playing at the wrong speed or kids in the sixties were taking some serious drugs. At this point in their career, Manfred Mann were a very dull rhythm-and-blues band. Interesting mainly to see that in the 60’s, kids really didn’t know how to dance.

The Lulu Show – Now, I loved this. People I were with, were bored. I thought it was great. I love Lulu (Mickie Most era only, I hasten to add), I like hearing her do songs she didn’t do on albums, and it’s historically interesting to hear her perform a Eurovision submission by ‘Elton John And Bernie Porpine’. Plus there was a great bit with a conductor doing an insanely jazzed-up version of Downtown; the conductor being the best dancer on the show, even though it featured Pan’s People. Would watch others in this series.

Secombe Here! – A variety show seemingly from the days before the flood. Extremely hard work to watch for most of it, because in those days television was black and white and NO SHADES OF GREY INBETWEEN, so everyone drifts about like a ghost, and variety shows were lots of sing, lots of dance, and not much else. If I tell you the trampoline act was the highlight, you have some idea. But in the middle of that, there was an okay hypnotism sketch with Spike Milligan, and even Secombe’s intro was playing with the format, having him in the audience heckling the show rather than presenting it.

And then at the end, Secombe dresses up in musketeer gear to sing an operatic piece, very well... and then Spike and Eric Sykes come on as musketeers, and the three of them end up having a sword fight. Which is quite funny. And then the rest of the cast on stage pull out swords and join in the sword fight. Then Spike, Harry and Eric take the sword-fight off stage, past the studio cameras – and the cameramen pull out swords and join in the fight. Then members of the audience pull out swords and join in the fight. Then we’re out in the theatre foyer, again, more people pull out swords. Then we’re outside the theatre, Harry or Spike is hailing a taxi, a taxi pulls up, and the taxi driver leaps out with a sword and joins in the swordfight.

Then we cut to the BBC continuity presenter talking to us about the rest of the evening’s schedules and the weather... and then Spike, Eric and Harry leap onto the set and the continuity presenter pulls out a sword and joins in the fight. The fight then moves across the studio to the news presenter, in front of a photo of Big Ben, he pulls one of the hands off the clock and joins in the fight.

Honestly, it was hilarious. Really brilliant, playing-with-the-form stuff, and at a time when television had barely started, long before Monty Python and The Young Ones and Alexei Sayle did a similar sort of thing. I’m not the biggest fan of the Goons, but this was great.

The Frankie Howerd Show – And a bit of a comedown. This must’ve been the last in the series or something, because for a script by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, it was very thin on jokes. The show was, Frankie comes on, waffles, makes jokes about the producer (as Ronnie Corbett would later do in his monologues), talks about being tired, we flashback to the night before where rehearsals aren’t going well, where Frankie can’t sleep and where he has some unexpected guests, and... that’s it. All in all, a bit of a disappointment.

At Last The 1948 Show – A reconstruction of a previously missing episode, bringing together recently found footage, off-air audio and sketches included in a compilation. The most famous sketch was the Four Yorkshiremen, best known because the Pythons did it for their Hollywood Bowl show. Before that, though, were two quickies about Police/MI5 Banquets, Aimi MacDonald demonstrating her juggling skills (brilliant), Cleese and Brooke-Taylor being reunited with a couple of nerds they had met on holiday (very How To Irritate People, particularly the punch-line), a sketch about a dentist being distracted by his dental assistant which then takes a turn for the surreal, and best of all, Tim Brooke Taylor performing the Chartered Accountant dance.

So there you go. In a way, it’s good all these programmes were lost, because if they hadn’t been lost, they couldn’t have been found, and no-one would ever have had the chance to see them again.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Senses Working Overtime


Have been a bad blogger, sorry. Sorry it’s been so long since my last spurt of wisdom.

Two excuses. Excuse one is that I’ve been extremely busy on half-a-dozen different writing projects, and when you’ve got people breathing down your metaphorical neck, it’s hard to find time to type recreationally. Plus after a hard day writing, it can feel like you’ve run out of words, that it’s just more work. Plus it Looks Bad; if you’re overdue delivering a script or article, it’s not a good idea to give the impression you have lots of time to spare on bloggery for no money. No, the people with the money must come first.

And secondly, because I’ve been busy, I haven’t done that much to spurt about. Not been to the theatre or the cinema since the last blog. I suppose I could review some of the films I’ve seen on DVD, TV shows on telly, albums I’ve downloaded, but the need hasn’t felt pressing. I intend to get around to writing my thoughts on The Secret State by Peter Hennessy and Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet. And Tony Blair’s A Journey, when and if I ever finish it. And all the other books I’m currently half-way through reading. Plus we had a lovely wedding anniversary party. And, ooh, those politicians have made me angry.

It’s not as if I don’t have things to plug. The last three issues of the very fine Doctor Who Magazine have featured a comic strip by me called The Golden Ones, which will be concluding in the next issue, out next week. It seems to have gone down pretty well, the artwork and colouring has been fantastic, the Axons are monsters whose return has been long overdue, and everyone loves an alien invasion. If you’ve liked the first three parts, be warned, part four will take the top of your head off.

But I’ve got a few things to spurt about now. I’m on a diet, which I find utterly fascinating. I went to the BFI for Missing Believed Wiped, so expect a spurt on that. And then I went to see the gorgeous and unbelievably talented Marina And The Diamonds at the Roundhouse, so I must commit my thoughts to posterity on that show before I forget them. Plus there’s Nev Fountain’s brilliant Mervyn Stone books, I must recommend them. But, alas, I’ve already gone over my three hundred word limit, so that’ll all have wait ‘til tomorrow.

Monday, 18 October 2010

You've Got A Friend


The great thing about The Social Network is that everyone comes out it looking like an arsehole. Mark Zuckerberg, superbly played by Simon Amstell, is a passive-aggressive sociopath nerd. His friend Eduardo Severin has no understanding of the appeal of Zuckerberg’s ‘Facebook’ creation and, despite majoring in business, makes poor business decisions. Sean Parker is a complete idiot; he’s a dickhead who thinks he’s cool, which is why casting Justin Timberlake to play him is so interesting. And the Winklevoss brothers, both played by the same guy, are exactly the sort of private-school-educated rowing-club idiots that give higher education a bad name. That said, Harvard comes out of this film looking like a whole university packed with arseholes. And nearly everyone in this film is a misogynist.

Aaron Sorkin takes a bunch of unlikeable characters, and makes them interesting, and gives them great dialogue. Occasionally there are classic Sorkin moments where someone is asked a very non-sequitor-ish question simply so that another character can give a slick comeback; this seems to be the entire point of the Rashida Jones character. It’s all beautifully structured and put together, using a flashback device in an artfully understated way. The opening scene is a bit full-on, one of those scenes where you wish you could switch on the subtitles in the cinema, but after that it settles down.

Anyway, recommended, go see.

It’s a strange feeling watching a film about such recent history. Facebook is still so new that some of my friends have only just joined, like mad luddite technophobe peasants. The film goes into some detail about who had the idea, when in retrospect it seems obvious. In fact, not just in retrospect; Facebook was just doing what MySpace and FriendsReunited were doing, but without the clunkiness and having to pay for stuff. FriendReunited is a good example, because for a long time it had more members, but it lost the initiative because it stuck up paywalls and because it had limited functionality.

The film also addresses the area of privacy, an ever-present concern with Facebook as new people join, forget to check their privacy settings, or allow an application access to their information. But that was, I think, Facebook’s USP – it’s a look-at-me-site where you choose who can access it.

That said, it can only be a matter of time before something else comes along and all the bloody Farmville-type games drive people off of Facebook for the sake of their own sanity.

Before the movie there were a few trailers for films no-one in their right mind would ever want to go and see. Some Planes, Trains & Automobiles knock-off with someone in it who isn’t Jack Black but who might as well be. A film called Red which seems to be basically a US remake of New Tricks with Bruce Willis in the Dennis Waterman role. Plus a film which I can only describe as Mike Leigh Hammers Another Rusty Nail Into The Coffin Lid Of The British Film Industry. Thank goodness for LoveFilm, that’s all I can say.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Single Bloke


Last night watched the first part of Single Father, a new BBC drama thing starring David Tennant. I won’t be bothering with the rest.

Why? Well, to begin with, it was so remorselessly tragic it became ridiculous. Nearly every scene was an attempt to jerk tears. Nearly every scene was like those clips they show at the Bafta awards, loads of histrionics and dribbling noses. With ‘calling lump, could you make your way to the throat please’ music throughout.

Now, I have no problem with this sort of drama. I loved Cold Feet, and every episode was pretty much all about making you cry. But first it made you care about the characters, and it did that by making you laugh. Not so with Single Father. It was all about death and nothing else.

That said, the actually scene where David Tennant’s character is informed of his wife’s death was astonishingly mis-handled. He rushes to the place where she works (because this is set in one of those parallel worlds where nobody owns a mobile phone) only to be informed that his wife has been involved in a tragic accident. He breaks down in tears, and it’s so beautifully acted you can almost hear the applause from the Bafta audience.

Except... his next thought is to ask about his children. At no point does he ask how is wife is. All he knows, all he’s been told, is that she’s been in a road accident. He hasn’t been told she’s dead. So the fact that he doesn’t ask whether she’s alive or not is kind of a glaring omission. And for the next ten minutes I was watching, confused, waiting for the moment he’d receive the bad news, as I wasn’t sure whether all the characters were fretting over the news of an accident or the news of a death.

Anyway, David Tennant’s character is so grief-stricken at the (lack of) news, he speeds down a motorway, only to be stopped by some policemen. Who chat to him and then leave a man they know is suicidally depressed by the side of a busy road to make his own way home by motorbike.

And then there was a caption saying ’10 Weeks Later’ or somesuch and I started swearing. Because the first 10 weeks, that’s your story. That’s the journey we care about. But that’s also the bit that’s going to be extremely difficult to write, and is going to require serious research. And I hate those captions, because they're always about the writer skipping over a difficult bit – when it’s difficult bits that are the most interesting to watch, and which give good writers a chance to show what they can do.

Reading some of the comments this programme has received on the internet from people who’ve been through similar experiences – this show didn’t seem to have been researched at all. It felt more like those Mitchell & Webb sketches about the lazy writers. Because by the end of the episode, we were well into soap-opera territory, of troubled kids and adulterous affairs. Such a pity, given the great cast.

Oh, and it was probably the most fairy-lights-on-the-stairs programme I've ever seen.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Warriors Of The Wasteland


Yesterday saw the release on download of my latest Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish ‘Deimos’. I expect the CD release will follow simultaneously. The story features the eighth Doctor Who, as portrayed by Paul McGann, his companion Tamsin Drew, played by Niky Wardley, with other characters played by David ‘Tron’ Warner, Tracy-Ann ’Eastenders’ Oberman, Susan ‘Torchwood’ Brown, Nick ‘Hello Mum’ Wilton and with Nicholas ‘The League Of Gentlemen’ Briggs as the villainous Ice Warriors. As you’ll note, all these actors share the same coincidence of having middle names which are the same as films and television programmes they’ve appeared in. Funny that.

The play was recorded way back in August 2009, back when I was 35 and unmarried. It was written over about 3 weeks in mid June/early July 2009, just after I’d delivered The Eternal Summer. With barely two months between starting the script (the synopsis having been written, developed and approved the month earlier) and the recording dates, it was quite a rapid turnaround, which is kind of ironic given that it’s being released now I’m 37 and a few days away from my first wedding anniversary. Is it any wonder I sometimes have morbid fantasies about being killed in a road accident and having all my yet-to-be-released bits-and-bobs seeing the light of day after my tragic death, Salmon Of Doubt style.

As Deimos was so hot on the heels of The Eternal Summer, and would be a job with no room for fannying about, I decided to do the opposite of The Eternal Summer and write something which would be very robustly plotted and tightly-structured. With strong, broad-strokes characters (but which develop) and, most importantly of all, an actual, conscious Theme. It’s all about forcing our heroes to make difficult moral choices, and seeing which way they jump. Inspired by an interview with Paul McGann saying he wanted to do a Doctor Who story about what makes the Doctor tick. Well, Deimos was my attempt to tell that story.

Buy it now.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

It's A Crime


Over on the Big Finish website, they’ve announced the forthcoming release of another Doctor Who audio adventure by me, The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster. It’s also mentioned in the current issue of Doctor Who Magazine, which also features part 2 of a comic strip I wrote called The Golden Ones.

The play was written in late April/early May of this year and recorded on the 12th and 13th of July. It features the Colin Baker Doctor Who and Maggie Stables as his companion Evelyn (both of whom I last wrote for back in 2000 with Bloodtide) plus John Pickard as Thomas Brewster (a character I created back in 2007 in The Haunting Of Thomas Brewster) and Anna Hope as DI Menzies (a character created by Eddie Robson, also back in 2007, in The Condemned). One Doctor, three companions. Or is there more to it than that? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to buy the CD or download the files, okay, there’s two ways to find out, I’ll come in again, there are only two ways to find out, and both of them involve waiting until it is released in January 2011. It also stars David Troughton as the gangster Ray Gallagher. David Troughton has been in loads of things – most memorably, as Bob Buzzard in the sublime A Very Peculiar Practice – plus a few Doctor Whos over the years. Apparently he’s related to one of the Doctor Who actors.

The most unusual, and for me interesting, thing about writing this one was that because I had included a character Eddie had created (I’d written a synopsis including a female police officer character in the hope that it would occur to the producers to suggest I replace her with DI Menzies) and because Eddie’s story would include a character I’d created – Thomas Brewster – that rather than have us both write several drafts of our own stories, we’d switch, and write the second draft of each other’s story. Fresh pair of eyes, objective distance and all that. And then do the third and final draft on our own stories ourselves. The result being that the story that no-one is yet abbreviating to TCOTB is about 75 per cent me and 25 per cent Eddie, and Eddie’s story, Industrial Evolution, is about the same ratio but the other way around. So fans of Eddie can attribute all the good bits in both plays to him, and blame me for all the rubbish bits. Of which there are, of course, none.

Anyway, the point is, I think both plays were much, much improved as a result, with us both punching up each other’s dialogue, fleshing out each other’s characters and spotting and solving each other’s plot holes. As an experiment in co-writing, I think it worked, and one I’d be happy to repeat.