The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

I'm Free

Plug time again. But no, you don’t have to spend any money. This is a free thing. Gratis. Involving no outlay whatsoever.

This week BBC 7 are broadcasting my Doctor Who audio play from last year, ‘The Cannibalists’. I’ve never actually listened to BBC 7 myself, I don’t own a digital radio, but that doesn’t matter because you can listen to selected highlights on the BBC iPlayer. So why not give it a listen? It features Paul McGann as Doctor Who, Sheridan Smith, Phill Jupitus, Phil Davis and Nigel Lambert. You don’t need to have listened to any of the other adventures to understand it. It’s extremely violent, in a way that you can only really get away with on radio.

But on top of that, this Saturday, the 3rd July, has been designation ‘Big Finish Day’. They’re selling copies of their first 50 Doctor Who plays at a mere £5 pounds each, which includes, by yours truly, the rather marvellous ‘Bloodtide’ and the rather bitter and misanthropic ‘Flip-Flop’. I say ‘bitter and misanthropic’ by way of recommendation. Why not add it to your shopping trolley alongside ‘The One Doctor’, ‘The Chimes Of Midnight’, ‘Master’ and ‘Spare Parts’?

But on top of that, the cherry quite figuratively on the cake, they’re making the first part of my new Doctor Who audio play ‘Cobwebs’ available for download for free. Yes, that’s right. For download. It features Peter Davison as Doctor Who, plus his companions Nyssa, Turlough, and for the first time in goodness-knows-how-long, Tegan. An absolute pleasure and an honour to write for and it’s rather flattering that it’s being used for a promotional thing. It’s a sort of ‘Aliens’-y piece, claustrophobic, hopefully quite atmospheric and scary, and with a time-travel paradox which has been Worked Out Properly. Episode one also features Raymond Coulthard, who has been in things like Casualty and Hotel Babylon and Extras but who is probably best known in this house as Young Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Actor

Just finished The Understudy by David Nicholls. He wrote Starter For Ten, which was a marvellous book made into a reasonably accomplished British movie, notably mainly for a remarkble piece of film-stealing slapstick by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Understudy doesn’t seem to have made as much of an impact. There’s no film, and I bought my copy from Lewisham library for 10p because they were getting rid of it because not a single person had taken it out of the library. So sorry, David, if you’re ego-surfing.

I’d recommend it, though. Not a great deal happens, but that’s not really the point, it’s more about a detailed and occasionally extremely witty depiction of the life of an actor; it’s doing a compare-and-contrast between the life of heart-throb darling of the gossip mags Josh Harper, a life of wealth and fame, and the life of his understudy in a West End vehicle about the life of Lord Byron, the unluckily named Stephen McQueen. The plot sees Stephen entering into Josh’s world, meeting and falling in love with his wife Nora, whilst trying to get back on good terms with his ex-wife Alison and his daughter Sophie.

So you get vivid descriptions of the celebrity life, of ghastly showbiz parties and dingy private member’s clubs and all the ego-madness of fame, compared with Stephen who spends his life between a bedsit in Wandsworth eating microwave ready-meals and in the attic dressing room, occasionally working as a corpse in TV detective dramas or as a squirrel in a kids’ straight-to-DVD. Quite depressing, you may think, but Josh is a Billy Liar figure, deluded about his own talents, forever dreaming of the day he will get to play the lead.

Even though the book’s from 2005, what I enjoyed most about it was that even now it feels like a period piece; it would be unfair to say it was dated, but that in a hundred years time, you’d read it and get a good sense of what 2005 was like, the year that (Insert Name Of Random US State Here) Fried Chicken took over south London. It’s beautifully written, but in the end I suppose it’s flaw is that neither the life of a failing actor nor the life of a successful actor are particularly appealing or sympathetic, which must make it a hard sell.

Except at 10p, of course.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Globe Alone

Congratulations – and thank you for volunteering to be a steward at the Globe Theatre. We hope you will find it a rewarding experience, and greatly appreciate you giving your time to help us make the theatre a success.

Before we begin, a few guidelines on what is required from you as a Globe Theatre steward. As you might expect, our patrons come to the theatre expecting an enjoyable night out at the theatre free from distractions and interruptions.

And, as a Globe Theatre steward, it is your responsibility to do absolutely BUGGER ALL about this.

We can’t stress this too strongly. No matter what may happen during the course of the evening, your role is simply to stand there, watching the show for free.

Please remember the following rules:

If you notice people are talking constantly and loudly throughout the show, you should do absolutely BUGGER ALL about this.

(Similarly, if someone else draws your attention to people who are talking constantly and loudly throughout the show, you should still do absolutely BUGGER ALL).

It’s a long-standing tradition that people go to the Globe with the most massive, view-obscuring back-packs possible with which to inflict injuries upon other patrons by ‘accidentally’ whacking them into other people’s faces when turning around. As a steward, it is your responsibility to do absolutely BUGGER ALL about this.

It is expressly forbidden for people to record or take photographs during a show, so if someone is clearly doing this, which is of course very distracting for everyone else and extremely disrespectful to the actors, you should do absolutely BUGGER ALL about this.

And finally, you’ll probably find that during the course of the show several people’s mobile phones will ring. Some will, after three or four minutes, notice this and rummage around in their massive, view-obscuring back-pack for the offending item before switching it off. Many will simply let it ring out obliviously. And quite a few will answer it during the show. ‘Hi, yeah, I’m at the Globe Theatre, no it’s okay to talk, it’s just some fucker in tights chatting to a skull.’

It should go without saying that you should do absolutely BUGGER ALL about this.

Let those be your watch-words. No matter what happens – heated arguments, fights breaking out, the actors on stage losing their place during the boring bit of Act IV of Macbeth – you should just stand there and do nothing. You are there, remember, simply to watch the show for free and FOR NO OTHER REASON.

Or, if you like, you can chat away to your fellow stewards, take photos and talk on the phone. Why not? Everyone else does it.

And if any of the poor mugs who have paid for a ticket dare to complain – take personal offence, and remind them that, as a steward, it is not your job to assist members of the public. It’s – yes, that’s right, you’ve got it – to do absolutely BUGGER ALL.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Island Life

Just finished The Web Of Air, the second prequel to the Mortal Engines quartet, in which Fever Crumb, of the first prequel, has now joined a peripatetic theatre troupe who visit the island of Mayda, a city built within the remains of an impact crater. There she meets Arlo Thursday, a young boy intent on discovering the secret of flight.

The appeal of these books for me is twofold; firstly, they’re usually extremely well-plotted, page-turny stories with memorable characters, shocking twists and a consistent desire to avoid doing the obvious, and secondly, the world of Mortal Engines, a world of incredible imaginative invention by Philip Reeve, at first simply a world in which giant cities rumbled about on wheels, but growing with each book into an ever-more detailed world, with numerous societies, locations and now an ever-developing back-story, as we learn how the world of Mortal Engines came into being. The first prequel, Fever Crumb, felt very self-contained, as it set up the villain of Mortal Engines and the mobilisation of London, so I was surprised to discover there would be a second prequel and, it seems, a third.

I greatly enjoyed it... but it wasn’t all I had hoped for. The invention is there, as the island of Mayda is beautifully described, with its houses on rising and falling funiculars, and its mutant intelligent seagulls, but as that was the only setting for the book, there wasn’t that sense of exploration and wonder that the other books have. And secondly, more problematically, the plot doesn’t really kick in until half-way through; for about half the book, Fever Crumb is just wandering about the island chatting to people, it’s all very talky and expositional with characters discussing off-stage events. Eventually somebody gets killed and Fever is fleeing for her life and it shifts into gear, but even then the story felt rather pedestrian and inconsequential, like the low-budget episode half-way through a TV series. It’s more an experiment, a character piece, but an experiment that doesn’t quite work.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Apparently EastEnders has gone a little bit rubbish at the moment. I say ‘apparently’ because of course I don’t watch it. Not because I don’t like EastEnders, but because I like it too much, and after watching pretty much every episode of the first fifteen years I don’t want to get sucked in again, in the same way that a drug addict might refuse the offer of a nice soothing shot of zesty heroine. It’s the hard stuff.

The reason it’s gone a little bit rubbish, I’m guessing, is because the recent episodes have all be re-edited and had scenes re-shot because a planned plotline, about prostitutes and murder, has been dropped in favour of a plot line involving absolutely no prostitutes at all. For similar reasons, last week Coronation Street had episodes delayed because a planned storyline about somebody going bonkers with a gun unhappily coincided without somebody in the news going bonkers with a gun*.

This is because of a fear of ‘causing offence’. Which is why I’m writing because, basically, that’s a load of nonsense, isn’t it? If your life has been genuinely affected by a tragedy – if you were in the thick of it – you may have better things to do than watch a soap opera. No, it is fear of ‘causing offence’ to those who are not directly involved in the tragedy, but who have experienced it vicariously through the gawping rubber-neck of the media. The sort of people who phone or email in to complain.

Now, I’ve emailed in to complain in the past. I think it’s fun, and hilarious, the disproportionate amount of attention you get, and I delight in abusing that power, and because occasionally it’s warranted, because if people didn’t email in to complain, we’d still be getting cartoon characters jiggling at the bottom of the screen during Doctor Who’s cliffhangers.

But people who complain about plotlines in soap operas mirroring reality – that’s just bonkers. Firstly, because soap operas are supposed to mirror reality, albeit it through the distorting mirror of sausage-machine sensationalist melodrama, so what you are complaining about is essentially a soap opera getting it right, and being too realistic.

Secondly, taking offence on somebody else’s behalf is none of your business; if I was involved in a tragedy, I would have no problem whatsoever with there being a slightly similar turn of events in Emmerdale or Hollyoaks. I would be honoured that the manner of my demise might be topically commemorated in such a fashion. But not Doctors, you have to drawn the line somewhere. I don’t want my death to be overshadowed by a cameo from someone who used to be in ‘Allo ‘Allo.

And thirdly, and climactically for this rant, there’s the sheer idiocy of complaining about the content of a show which was written and filmed weeks, if not months, before the incident . All you are complaining about is a coincidence. You would be perfectly happy to watch murder and mayhem any other week of the year, but not this week. And yet people phone in to complain – often pre-emptively, taking offence on somebody else’s behalf in advance – seemingly on the assumption that soap operas take place in real-time, or filmed on the day of broadcast, and that any similarity between fictional events and whatever grief-porn happens to be masquerading as news this week is due to the show’s makers suffering an appalling lapse of taste.

The stupidity of it. These are, presumably, the same people who, if a fictional character is seen in a television programme getting a phone call, try phoning up the same number in an attempt to talk to that fictional character.

It mainly seems to affect television. Films and novels don’t quite get the same treatment, because obviously they have been prepared months earlier, and theatres don’t get the same treatment, because idiots don’t go to the theatre. That said, they are not entirely immune to the lunacy. But generally if I see a murder being reported on the news, and then happen to watch a DVD, or read a book, which turns out to have a similar theme, then it is my responsibility - and because it is my responsibility, if I feel a little uneasy by fiction being too close to reality, I have no-one to blame but myself. We are grown ups. We are responsible for our own choices, and if we happen to watch a show that offends us, that's our own silly fault, and not the fault of the people who made or broadcast the show.

But the real lunacy – even greater than the lunacy of the complainers – is that the people who run television take any notice of them. Who even cancel or re-edit their programmes before any offence-on-behalf-of-another has been taken, pre-empting the pre-empters. It’s utterly patronising – treating all viewers like the small vocal minority of idiots – and surely serves only to reward and encourage these idiots to phone and email ever more frequently and for ever more spurious reasons.

I mean, obviously it wouldn’t have been a good idea to broadcast The Towering Inferno on September 12th 2001, but get a sense of perspective about these things, tell people before the show that no offence is intended and that it was made weeks, if not months ago, and abdicate all moral responsibility for the content of the show by sticking up a helpline number for anyone affected by the issues at the end, but, well, don’t arse about with shows for fear of causing offense to people who are only tuning in in the hope of finding something to take offence at. Because the impression given is not ‘look how responsible we are’ but ‘look how pathetically keen we are to show how responsible we are that we are co-opting this tragedy to demonstrate what great lengths we are prepared to go to to avoid causing offence’.

Oh, I might have to email in to complain.

* (Remember - guns don't kill people, it's the bullets you have to watch out for).

Monday, 7 June 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Labour went wrong. Summing up my thoughts so I don’t have to think them any more.

To nutshell, the reason I think Labour lost the election – or at least, why they didn’t win – is because you have to give people something to vote for. And with Labour, the frustration of the last five or so years is that the Labour government didn’t seem to be doing very much of anything really, and what it was doing was not the sort of thing you’d expect from a Labour government. It was, on the whole, being a bit crap.

I mean, example; the whole nonsense with identity cards. A ludicrously expensive and unpopular way of (arguably) reducing civil liberties in order to cut down on fraud (arguably). This is not why I joined the Labour party, why I continue to pay my membership fees. I can’t imagine it’s why most of our MPs ran for parliament, so it must’ve been even more galling for them. It was a bad idea - one that was at odds with the ideology of the Labour movement - so to stick with it, seemingly out of an unwillingness to admit that it was wrong, was political madness.

And the same goes for privatisation, for the PFI scheme, and so on and so on. Of course, sometimes it turns out that the pragmatic thing to do is a compromise, but you shouldn’t end up in the position where the justification for a policy is ‘this would probably have happened under the Conservatives anyway’.

Which brings me to the war in Iraq. Which was entirely honourable, courageous and necessary, but where members of the government created the opposite impression but deciding to make up some extra, tabloid-friendly reasons for going to war. But the war wasn’t a mistake, I’m not voting for any leadership candidate who claims it was, and anyone who wheels out the whole ‘we should bring our brave boys home and leave these countries to be run by towel-headed wife-beating religious lunatics, it’s not our problem’ argument can bugger off, Diane.

The failure of the government to draw a line under this and move on was, I think, partly because for the last five years, it had lost all momentum. It was kind of embarrassing for Labour’s manifesto to be promising to end hereditary peers – you had 13 years to do that, FFS! In fact, there’s so many policy areas where the frustration was that Labour had 13 years to sort things out and didn’t – not just the constitution, but reducing poverty, making the tax system fairer, reducing Murdoch’s power over our media, ending the ‘market’ in the NHS, ending school league tables – a long, long list of things that Labour should have done when it had the chance and didn’t. Why did a Labour government undermine the BBC and let ITV go to shit? Why didn’t it impose punitive taxes on the banks that created the recession? Why did it take them so bloody long to wake up to protecting the digital economy? Why have we ended up with a more unequal society than 13 years ago? Why the FUCK were there appointed peers in the Labour cabinet? Why the FUCK was most of the rest of the cabinet made up of incompetent time-servers? And why the FUCKING FUCK were Labour members of parliament caught fiddling their expenses??? (We expect that of the other lot – but at least they’re good at it.)

That’s not what I joined Labour for. And I think that for people to vote for a party, it has to stand for something. Not for being ‘progressive’, but having a sense of purpose. And actually doing things to make the country a fairer place, rather than just talking about possibly maybe doing something one day if they get another five years.

You had 13 years to do that. Why didn’t you?

So what should the new leader do? First thing; chuck out all the shit policies and start coming up with policies that people, both within the party and without, might consider worth supporting.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Staying Power

Just finished reading Lustrum by Robert Harris. It was excellent, you all must read it, but probably to get the full effect you should read the first book in the trilogy, Imperium, first.

While Imperium covered Cicero’s time as Quaestor , Lustrum is essentially a novelisation of the year spent by Cicero as Consul. I say’ novelisation’ rather than novel because the book follows historical facts – and as there are great many historical facts known about Cicero, it doesn’t leave a great deal of room for invention. But instead Robert Harris has concentrated on bringing the facts to life; giving us a sense of the personalities of the various senators, the atmosphere of Rome, and most of all into turning history into an exciting, un-stop-reading-able, political thriller; Cicero masterfully defeats various plots against him, and becomes a hero to the nation, only for adoration to go to his head, which leads him to make bad alliances, and for him to lose the respect and trust of the people as past mistakes catch up with him.

Of course, the thing all reviews have to pick up on is that this is sort-of analogous to the second half of Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister (just as Imperium was sort-of analogous to the first half; with Illyrian Pirates providing an equivalent to the War of Terror which leads the Republic to compromise its principles and its freedoms). To be honest, though, this sort of spot-the-subtext-second-guessing does the novel a disservice; yes Tony and Cicero were great public speakers, who gained and then lost popular support because necessity meant they made friends with people who brought troubles upon them, but beyond playing the selective-description game that’s about it. It’s just a damn fine political thriller where everyone wears togas.

And if, like all sensible people, you’re a fan of HBO’s Rome and the BBC’s I Claudius, it kind of works as a prequel, covering how Caesar and Pompey rose to power and how the toppling of a few select dominos ultimately led to the fall of the Republic

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Family Jewels

Okay, so I’ve blogged out my comic strip, and my Litefoot & Jago Jago & Litefoot, what else? BBC 7 are broadcasting another of my Doctor Who plays in a few weeks time, don’t worry I’ll remind you, anyone who hasn’t listened to my Doctor Who play Bloodtide from many, many years ago (and let’s face it, that’s nearly all of you) have very little excuse not to have listened to it now that it’s been reduced to £5 (it can’t really get any cheaper) and mainly that’s it, save for things I can’t talk about.

Oh, my friend Paul has a drama pilot thing on BBC 3 tonight. It’s called Pulse. Not sure what it’s about, some sort of horrific goings-on in a hospital.

Anyway, this is my blog, what next? Pop music recommendations, I think. The album of the year in the Jonny household is undoubtedly The Family Jewels by Marina & The Diamonds. It’s quite hard to describe the music; journalists usually just say Kate Bush meets Sparks, but there’s all sorts of other things in there, the main one being originality. It does have that odd Sparks quality of being a bit like how a pop song would sound if the person who had written it had only ever read about pop music in a book, as the lyrics and the melodies are all wonderfully peculiar – Mowgli’s Road, for instance, is a sort of nightmare about having a crisis of confidence and being chased by cutlery (and of all the many, many songs about cutlery pursuit, this is definitely in the top 10). Then there’s Hermit The Frog, which sounds like Enya singing Wings, a combination to be treasured. It’s bonkers, basically, but compellingly re-listen-able-to. Best of all, though, is I Am Not A Robot, a totally genius, barking and heartbreaking tune about, well, about not being a robot.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Another blog, and another something I should have been plugging a month ago, but never mind, it’s not as if this blog has any effect anyway. But as of last month, I’m the writer of the comic strip in the official Doctor Who Magazine. There are other Doctor Who magazines out there for kids, which are also official, but Doctor Who Magazine is the biggie, grown-up magazine. And it’s had a comic strip running, more-or-less continuously, since the magazine started in 1979, when it was written by Pat ‘Charley’s War’ Mills and John ‘Judge Dredd’ Wagner and drawn by Dave ‘Watchmen’ Gibbons. Since then, writers have included Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Grant Morrison, Andrew Cartmel, Dan Abnett, Gary Russell, Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Alan Barnes, Scott Gray, Robert Shearman, Nev Fountain and Dan McDaid, and artists have included David Lloyd, Mike McMahon, John Ridgway, Bryan Hitch, Lee Sullivan, Arthur Ranson, Mike Collins, Martin Geraghty, Roger Langridge and Rob Davis.

So it’s quite an honour for my name to be added to the end of that list. In addition, a couple of Doctor Who TV stories have been ‘inspired’ by comic strips from the magazine. For me, as someone who’s been following the comic strip for 30-odd years, it’s a massive, vertiginous responsibility.

I’ve already done half a dozen or so comic strips – the most well-received being one about a group-therapy session for failed Doctor Who monsters called Death to The Doctor! and a goodbye-to-Donna strip called Time Of My Life. But now I get to do long, complicated story arcs!

My first story is called Supernature (I intend, wherever possible, to name my stories after Erasure b-sides) with quite simply stunning artwork from Mike Collins. I’m particularly pleased that the story has some Real Science in it – in the current issue you’ll see a cave which looks like the inside of the Mandelbulb. I couldn’t be more delighted with it – though I am equally delighted with the artwork for the second story, an attempt to write a Doctor Who as a Bollywood Musical. And I expect to be blown away by exactly the same amount by Rob Davis’ artwork for the Xmas comic strip, which I wrote last month. But before we get there, well, I’ll just have to end with a mysterious ellipsis...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Living Dead

The return of the blog. Well, possibly. Not sure it’ll be daily again, one of the main reasons why it lapsed was because I had too much other typing to do, which is marvellous but means it looks bad if you’re asking for an extension to a deadline whilst nattering away about your favourite ABBA album tracks on the internet. And the other reason was that, being busy typing means not a lot of time left to do interesting things to write about.

But anyway, enough excuses, back to the main reason for this blog – plugging stuff. Got a few bits and bobs coming out over the next few months. Which you must all buy. Buy my stuff!

Just released is the box set of Jago & Litefoot ‘Series One’ (and not Litefoot & Jago as I keep calling it). The box set is a bargain at whatever it costs as it features four brand-new Victorian gothic-horror-history-comedy melodramas for our intrepid heroes, pathologist Professor Litefoot and theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago, as brilliantly portrayed by Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin. The characters first appeared in a Doctor Who back in the 70’s called 'The Talons Of Weng-Chiang', if you know that one, and these stories continue in a similar vein; gloomy London backstreets swirling with fog, the clatter of Hansom cabs, colourful characters and grisly deeds. Think Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, that sort of thing.

My story’s the third in the run, ‘The Spirit Trap’ and is all about a table-tapping fake psychic (or is she?) called Madame Vanguard, played by the legendary Janet Henfrey, probably best known for depicting Dennis Potter’s teacher in Stand Up, Nigel Barton and The Singing Detective. I was at the recording and have heard some of the finished product, it sounds magnificent. Buy!