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:

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.


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 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.