Monday, 24 October 2011

River Cottage:Veg

You know there had to be a book
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's latest foray into food crusading was launched this week amid much advertising and apparent high expectation. Sadly the promised veg recipes and the idea of vegetarian food in this first programme, are a bland  all or nothing affair. 

Ah but to begin at the beginning. Hugh has decided to become a vegetarian for a few months, ostensibly to save the environment and perhaps to shut up his ultra vegan mates. He has however missed a brilliant opportunity to take up the call of those who reasonably ask us to eat vegetarian once a week at least. The scientists and activist are not demanding we stop eating meat, just that we cut down the amount we eat.  Ironically, he and me and we, those of us who don't order out every night or seem to be at Macdonald's every other day, are not the people these environmentalist are asking to curtail their meat intake. We as a rule eat smaller amounts of better quality meat that is where possible and usually is, .locally raised and fed and not factory meat. One might make an exception perhaps for the Brazilians who revel in all meat orgies that would kill an elephant, but I doubt this programme will run in Brazil.  For the most part, we , reasonable people who eat our fruit and veg, partake of fish and poultry without deep frying it and serving it with chips, are not the problem. 

Assuming Hugh is in fact targeting the processed meat deep fried hamburger KFC brigade, he's fighting a loosing battle with his adopted strategy. The best way to show this lot that veg is not vile, tasteless and bland, is to NOT prepare vile, tasteless, and bland food.  His first recipe is a so called, veg soup, consisting of a few things he's pulled out the garden and boiled to death. There is no seasoning as such, no onion, no parsley, no garlic, no nothing... In the bad old days when we mostly lived on the farm, but we couldn't afford to eat too many of our own eggs and had to sell off our best meat to live, this meal was called a Green man  soup and would have been in point of fact ,  a lot more filling  than the miserly unpleasant gruel that Hugh  produced and moaned over  like it was the greatest thing ever.  A recipe that originally included ginger, some kind of rice or noodle or pulse, if it was about, was turned into something my father would would have turned his nose up at when he was a guest of Comerade Stalin in Siberia. 

The next recipe he trotted out to satisfy the savage hunger was something his go to vegan mate in London claimed he personally invented, called Stuffed lettuce. Having been married to a Chinese woman for over 15 years, I can tell you it's nothing new and if you'd have served that to a Chinese family, they would tell you to start again. Not only was it a nearly invisible ( forget pale) imitation of a  brilliant Chinese delicacy served during feasts, it is part of a full meal that includes, fish, seafood, beef, pork and poultry in small bite size pieces, all mixed a huge amount of a variety of well seasoned veg. And just when I thought I'd seen the last of the red menace that is the pomegranate seed, there they were being sprinkled in to the so called stuffed lettuce. In Israel pomegranate is cheap as chips, and yet not a seed in sight, what they do do , is press the stuff into a lovely tasty juice. This bland parody that was pretending to be wholly original could hardly be the super weapon that will prove to veg shy people they should maybe forget their mam's boiled everything with no flavour.

River Cottage Veg is nothing but a rehash of all the old pretentious hippy types who discovered organic food but never did come around to actual flavour and viewed food from other places as something one did as a dare. And by the way, if you're going to give up meat to save the planet, why bother racking up the carbon footprint by flyng in pomegranates from far flung shores???? Better off eating some lovely local pork or beef or poultry which grew up within a 100 miles of you and had a happy healthy life. Honestly, the premise of  this series is so flawed as to be insulting and condescending.  The people we see on screen, are clearly over privileged suburban tree huggers who haven't known hunger since they ate pot noodle that one time they stopped over at a mates at uni. Real poor people are not clamouring to eat 1960's hippie food, they want nutritions meals that taste good and would in fact love to afford a nice piece of meat every couple of days. As it is, there are entire sections of our society that don't see meat for weeks on end.  Even from my own middle class Polish up bringing, we used meat as an accent on our plate and in our soups, maybe once a week it would be the star of the show. From starter to pudding to the tea to wash it all down at the end ,our meals were ( and still are) sufficiently interesting day in day out that we didn't need take away every other day to satisfy both taste buds and body. I suspect if you ask the child of any immigrant, you'll find the same is true. Traditional British cookery is equally varied and interesting but seems to have fallen victim to fast food and flash freezing.

If this show means to teach us about the full variety of fresh delicious veg we can add to our meals and sometimes even eat exclusively in one meal, it is an epic fail. Only Rabid vegans will feel pleased and even then, if any of them are like some of my veggie mates, they will be bored by the uninspired, bland food on offer. The rest will recognize the less than subtle, evangelical, we are right and you are a murderer tone that runs through the entire narrative  and most definitively is the main supporting plank in the experiment  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is running. If he is in fact taking the piss, it's hard to tell,.but if he is, that's too bad. Veg needs to be better explained and served to an entire generation that only know the stuff from a  tin or a frozen bag. At the very time that family produce patches are becoming common and many are now keeping chickens, pigs and other eating animals in the urban and suburban world, this series turns the clock back 20 or 30 years when the only people eating veg were environmentalists  and recently arrived immigrants. 

Suffice to say that if you are a vegetarian, you will not learn anything new, if you are looking for great new or old recipes to add to your table and get your children eating veg, don't bother. The old stand bys like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay will be a better place to look. Both the BBC and C4 have extensive and varied recipe sections that will guide you through a world of food. If you really want to try proper vegetarian food and you like a curry, try southern Indian food, if you like to see what a plate looks like without a steak or a burger taking up a quarter of your plate, try Chinese or or Indonesian food. Veg need not be a punishment, so do yourself a favour, pass on this year's River Cottage.

Monday, 10 October 2011

May you live in intersting times or How the world regularly goes to Hell and back

Ceauşescu retires as President
There is a quaint notion running through the west that manifests itself in the philosophies of The Red Cross, Amnesty International and press outlets like The Guardian or Times.  It' a simple idea... All proper democratic right thinking governments and revolutionaries shall never ever , ever, harm people or be mean to it's enemies in the delusional belief that the enemies in question will play by the same rules. The problem with this, is that the bad guys rarely if ever play by the rules and count on the good guys to be trapped in the ethical net, thus stopping them from acting more effectively and in so doing, keeping the bad guys in power a few years more or until the people get so mad they just burn the place down and shoot the bastards between the eyes, not always in that order. Do they honestly believe that on the strength of the Hague's track record , people  will trust them to bring countless rulers, officials and other miscreants to justice?

I start from this premise to expose the biggest problem in World diplomacy today. When it comes time to live up to the idealistic values of the United nations , the occasional time when when idealism and self interest coincide, the big powers still come up against the wall of the veto from the tinpot dictatorships ,and nations East, West and South, that would rather cut off their nose than disagree with a powerful ally or regional tail that wags the dog . Compound this with a collection of barely sane world leaders like Ahmajinedad or Hugo Chavez, and you get some truly strange bed fellows. 

Two peas in a pod
Lets start with Hugo Chavez, a man who feels sympathy and solidarity with the people running Syria and those who used to run Libya.. Best mate with South African president Jacob Zuma, who famously moved at glacier like speed to return legitimate assets to the NTC, which they wouldn't recognize as the government until shamed into it.Men like Chavez represent the delusional leaders who when they are finally faced with an exit from power will not go easely or without fighting back dirty or without taking down as many as the can before they die. And yet these are the people who populate the councils of organizations  like The African Union and the UN. The Venezualan leader is so enamoured of his own publicity he can justify the entire destruction of his economy, the free press and democracy so long as he is successful in his people's revolution. Of course he'd love to export his ideas to other places that are deprived of his special kind of love. Like Mussolini and Hitler before him, he has his good points, but I'm not prepared to endure the other stuff just to make my trains run on time.  It's such demagogues on a single brain cell that embarrass the socialist in me. He is what happens when dogma and insanity meet. Dogma of any kind is wrong as it does not allow for dissent, evolution or compromise.

Zuma is a different kettle of fish. This man works on the principle that South African interests and the interests of his fellow AU leaders will always be more important than those of the actual people of Africa. His ilk seem to think they can prop up blood thirsty savages like Robert Mugabe and Africans won't mind because  somehow, freedoms and responsibilities , such as we know them in the West are alien to them. Think again , South Africans didn't throw off Apartheid to go on and support the same in Israel or to justify and aid other countries to oppress their citizens as long it suits the suits in Pretoria. For the last two years the AU have had one item in the tool chest whenever some President for life has found himself on the wrong end of a ballot box or gun....Why don't you power share? Stability and continuity are always more important than the eradication of a corrupt regime that has killed and robbed it's own populace. The AU is upset that the NTC and Europe have refused to consider the same tired old proposal in Libya. In case you'd forgotten, they wanted the NTC to share power with Ghadaffi, and work on a slow transition or accommodation that would diffuse the situation. The only problem is that exactly like in Zimbabwe, it would have led to a government where the opposition would have had to withdraw and the old regime would have stayed in power with no change at all. Isn't it about time that the World's various powers and power structures recognized that the source of legitimacy, like it  or not, is a mandate from the people? This paternalistic, some are more ready  than others to choose their own fate bollocks belongs to another century. The AU ( U for useless) has been exposed for the private club of dictators who act out of personal self interest if they choose to act at all that it is.

Bromance isn't dead
China and Russia are a blast from the past when diplomacy was more honest, though no less brutal than today. Tsar Putin and his mate the Emperor of China ask first what is good for us and what will insure our continued prosperity and power. I hear you saying what about the USA?  That's for the next paragraph. These two great and ancient countries sit uncomfortably, especially for the Russians, on the fence between reform and old paranoias that cause them to freeze in horror at the very idea off extra national intervention, even if it's a good idea. The Syrian people are the latest victims, how many have died for no good reason while the world gnashes it's teeth and wrings it's collective hands? Short of a freak meteor accident or particularly virulent case of gastro, Bashar al-Assad will be assured of growing old in his job just like daddy did. And yet if we are honest, what is different in Libya or the Yemen or Tunisia? Nothing except that the people aren't as well organized or the Government is much better prepared to deal with dissent. Oh and the fact that the very same tools used at the UN to sanction the Nato mission in Libya worked mostly despite the rule book and because at least this once Russia and China didn't want to look like they were going to allow a bloodbath in Benghazi. 

Besides certain Arab and African leaders, there is at least one other Government that desperately doesn't want to see the Arab Spring, Summer  and now Fall, succeed. Israel wants nothing better than to continue beating the drums of security and national protection to justify it's illegal theft of land in Jerusalem and the West Bank. With each passing day , and with each act of out of proportion retaliation or settlement construction, they believe they are insuring the survival of their vision of a xenophobic, paranoid Jewish state that would make the original Zionists cringe in shame. Reading the new laws that come out every few weeks is like a roll call of shame that harkens back to Nazi Germany. The only difference is the group of people being persecuted. And yet the Peace quartet is daily rocked with accusations that they are not honest brokers and are working for the interests of one party only. The US political and industrial  establishment have made it clear which side they are supporting, right or wrong. It's hardly baffling, The Israeli coalition currently in power are there due to illegal contributions from the US, and the favour is returned with a disproportionate power of the American Jewish fund-raising machine in helping candidates of all parties who will continue this blind unquestioning support for Israeli policy. And don't just take my word for it, but there is a ( pardon the pun) Greek chorus of Jews the world over, intellectuals, journalists, artists, business people, regular folk and powerful religious leaders who have had the courage to stand against the hypocrisy that closes debate in the US among  American Jews and in Congress.  It's no surprise that the voter participation in the last few elections in Israel has been so poor. Most voters have given up on the incredibly failed system that elects a Knesset filled with right wing religious parties and now a Jewish National Socialist party that  to the eternal shame of all true democrats, holocaust survivors and their families, has several seats in cabinet.  If you're wondering where the real gems like loyalty oaths or you loose your citizenship are coming from , it's them, but sometimes the scary stuff is from the so called centre of the cabinet.  Yet again I am embarrassed by the representatives of the people who just a short time ago where the international poster child for a downtrodden nation just looking for some peace and quiet. Oh how things have changed. At this rate if nothing changes, in 20 years there won't be an Israel. Already the smart money is on going back to Europe where Jewish populations that left in 1946 are being encouraged to return by individual European governments. 

No longer the Big bad or the honest broker
The United States of America, no longer the big bad in the world, has lost so much credibility it is too stretched to maintain a presence in more than one country at a time. Held hostage by it's own refusal to tell it's own people they are are no longer honest brokers, if they ever were, and that as a country the opinion of the USA in world councils in regards the middle east and current ongoing banking crisis is worse than not taken seriously, it's rejected out of hand. The recent vote on Palestinian statehood at the UN had only Canada and one other country on board with the US position that despite 20 years of futile talks, the PLO must return to  the table for more abuse. The US is part of the problem now, as opposed to the ones helping sort things at the end of WW2 with the Marshal Plan. What is worse, is they continue to claim they act in the middle east  on the basis of long standing democratic principles. The same principles that justified the deposing of  South American Presidents and the destabilisation of Sweden's left of centre government in the 1980's.  President Obama  a populist, who if he is a socialist makes me a raving loony Trotskyite  Marxist Leninist Mao quoting orthodox  ultra communist, is barely a Democrat . Obama said as little as possible and sometimes nothing at all to win, being all things to all people. The only reason the Tea party isn't poised to take the White house is that ( We hope) most Americans aren't yet prepared to elect a foaming at the mouth religious loony who thinks the world is 6000 years old and that God carries a gun, and so should all of us. As for the rest of the Republican party, they would have us believe that the free market is the only force able to save the world. So sorry, but without healthy educated workers, driving on safe highways and streets having eaten safe healthy food, you would have no factory and no profits. My brother in law, were he living in any other western country would be in a group home for the mentally ill and not forced to compete with fully able unemplyed people who are having a hard enough time finding work. Along with Russia, China and India, the Americans  are doing all they can to stall international agreements on the environment, money speaks louder than the health of the planet it seems. 

Which leads me to my closing thoughts on the home of the free. The occupy Wall Street event is misunderstood by the rest of the World. We think it's a protest against poverty and  greed, well yes it is, but  not the poverty and greed we know in Canada, the UK , Europe or Japan. We expect comprehensive national health care, a decent education, a minimum wage worthy of  the name and should one not be able to  cope or work or be somehow disabled, the state takes it's responsibilities and even in the most conservative of countries, steps up. Oh we may complain, but in the USA, the protesters are up against a system that believes in tiny government and  a Tea Party that thinks that even that's too much.  No comprehensive free national health care, class rooms the size of a respectable theatre attendance, schools  that are closed to questioning and the telling of information that doesn't match the accepted dogma, most Universities have long ago given up on debate and the outside world, and corporate wage packets for CEO's are 475 to 1  to the value of a worker's pay,  compared to the average in the rest of the world  closer to 11 to 1 .  I doubt we'll see this embarrassing spectacle, but maybe it's time the UN saw a resolution calling for sanctions on the USA to force it to align with the norm in at least the rest of the West, maybe then our leaders won't be so afraid to sort out the Greeks who make non payment of tax a national sport or to finally put a cap on the corrupt international banking system that makes life much harder for those of us living closer to the ground.

So how do you get an even break these days?  Here's the list.   

1- Don't have anything China or Russia want so badly they'll prop up a dictator.
2- Don't have anything the USA wants so badly it's willing to prop up a dictator
3- Don't make a move unless you can "Get'er done in a week or two tops" 
4- Make sure the goody two shoes NGOs aren't around when you hand out local justice to people who were never going to be that bothered by the rules themeselves when they were in power. 
5- Make sure you're polite enough not to mention just how cosy your friends from the outside helping you, were with the old fat bastard in charge.
6- Make sure you ignore the PC brigade in the media, the  Non Allingned crowd, the West and the old Communist block. Just do what's right and be sure you're goal and methods aren't nearly as bad the lot  you're replacing. 
7- Make sure you have even odds to succeed and just maybe despite all the diplomatic masturbation and constipation you will win out. 

So where does this leave the Palestinians, the Kurds, Syrians and at least a few Countries too numerous to mention in Africa and Central Asia? Good luck, maybe in a few years you'll be flavour of the week and the dice will roll your way. Till then, never stop fighting, never stop trying, never stop. Maybe  you''l be get a break and enough interests will grow a pair and come to your rescue. It's not all bad, Egypt has, even under the interim military regime, re opened the Gaza Strip to land crossing and business. Saudi Arabia is being dragged into the 21st century by it's own Royal Family, and Hugo Chavez, despite his most fervent desire to do so , still hasn't crossed the line to out and out typical South American despot ( for now at least). 

Till then, to those of us lucky enough  to live in relative freedom , have a government that at least tries  to take care of us and occasionally grows a conscience,  keep your leaders honest and support them when they are doing the right thing, even if it isn't perfect and lily white. More importantly, don't be super critical or expect perfection and Ghandi like serenity from angry people who have had enough waiting around for the rest us to get off our backsides and help them. Lets see how serene YOU are when your abuser of 40 years slips up enough for you to get the upper hand? Here's hoping they get it right and we don't embarrass ourselves too much in the process.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The God Complex or Mrs Williams figures it out

Keep your hats on people. It isn't as bad as it looks. I have it on good word straight from the convention floor, that Karen Gillan isn't leaving Doctor Who any time soon. If anything, she and Arthur Darvill are going to be in the 50th anniversary programme and probably at least till the conclusion of the Amy/River/Doctor story. That said, tonight's ep wasn't about how many eps are left for the Williams family, it was about Amy waking up once and for all to the stark truth that her life is with Rory and always has been. Poor man, he truly is the boy who waited. Maybe finally he'll get a bit of respect from his wife?

The God Complex opens in the prototypical endless corridor set with danger behind every door, a breathless young woman who wears the same clothes Amy did when first we met the adult Amy, is trying to survive what is clearly going to get her. Enter the Tardis three and the running and the screaming begins. Except that it's not all just a bit of jogging before dying a grisly death in some Godforsaken hell that's easy and cheap to film in, (though in this case, I'm sure it is and so saves the BBC a lot of money). The story settles down pretty quickly and we find out we're in a place with no way out ( hums Hotel California to himself), and that other guests have first , been made to face their worst fear, then having been sufficiently scared senseless, they fall prey to the thing that wants them to "Praise Him". As stories go, Moffat has yet again gone back to the roots of Doctor Who, The Doctor is an ancient time traveller and yet again he's knee deep in space and time kaka. No one wants to take over the world or the Universe, it's a nice closed door mystery where with luck, enough of the cast will survive to the end credits to find out what fiend is trying to kill them.

The use of doors to hide a multitude of other peoples fears is a fun excuse to trot out the usual suspects that keep us from falling asleep or getting things done. Mum always preferred the other child, you could never be good enough for your father, you're a geek and can't pull and sexy girls mock you, then you add the clowns, the monsters and the call back villains from past eps and Doctors, and you have a  real fun park of pant soiling  nasties designed put a smile on your face, long as it's not your own personal fear that is. I would of liked some slightly more adult fears like telesales people flogging The Jerusalem Post to members of the EDL,  erectile dysfunction, Graham Norton being told he's got Katie Price, Jedward, Chloe Mafia, and the entire cast of The Only Way  is Essex , the horror of being Linda Lusardi post op,  a WI lady seeing her sponge fall during a competition or an Al Queda   having some nutter in the US claim 9/11 was all a government plot and NOT his work.  Room 11, which appears to be the Doctor's room, seemed to have the worst of the lot. What could possibly scare the Doctor,. a being so old he's been to the  Big Bang Burger Bar at least 5 times and knows the floor show personally? Room 11 we find out contains what Matt Smith reacts to with " Of course, who else". What horror is supposed to fill him with dread? Jedward? Catherine Tate? the TARDIS check engine light, or maybe all those years he spent looking like Colin Baker. We'll never know, but it will be fun prying that nugget from Steven Moffat. My personal theory, borne out of later dialogue and previous times when he's had to struggle, is the deep guilt The Doctor feels for the ruined lives, death and dislocation he has caused over the millennia. As they say in Rocky Horror, time is fleeting, madness takes control. Sometimes with dire consequences. Playing God can be prety harrowing , but clearly not as harrowing as the thing would like, because The Doctor is never troubled enough to succumb. Why should he, he's nearly eternal and knows that in the end. there are few perfect choices, just bad and worse ones . No  need to beat himself up too much about it.

Good Bye Amy?
But he does come to a startling conclusion later, startling only if you haven't been paying attention for the last few months. Amy, since she was a wee lass  has been admiring and building up the Doctor as an infallible thing that will never let her down, she's even constructed a fantasy where she has the Doctor all to herself in every way possible. Meanwhile, and since she was Amelia, poor Rory has been straggling along in her wake like a sad puppy. Thing is, since about just before Pandorica, Rory has  come into himself a lot more and asserted himself many times, most recently In Let's kill Hitler. Sadly Amy has till now failed to notice that she was always first in his book. I think the penny really started to fall in The Girl who waited. Amy, young Amy and older Amy  pin their hopes on the Doctor, but it's Rory who really saves her, chooses her. not the Doctor. Tonight in breaking the faith of Amy in him, he sets her free, finally allowing Amy to see the invisible man whose always been there for her. His last act of the play is most telling, never in the history of Who has a companion ever come back long term to the TARDIS after going home like that. On Corrie it's a cab or bus off the cobbles , on Who it's the TARDIS to your house on Earth. Except this time, the Doctor has even thrown in a flash car for Rory, a Chelsea house for Amy and the adventure Amy fears to make, the one where she stays at home and has a life with Rory. You have to wonder if even this mallet over the head will stick, we'll have to see. Amy is stubborn, but even a mule eventually sees sense and moves in the direction  it's asked to.  I certainly hope so, much as one loves Amy and Rory, their time will have to come an end one way or another.

Supporting cast in God Complex were strong as well. David Walliams was brilliant as the cowardly Gibbis  and I enjoyed the asian girl who seemed most on top of the game, Amara Karan playing Rita, would have been a most competent and acceptable companion for the Doctor except for the tiny complication of her death. Rita at one point even seemed a bit too much in control and had me wondering if maybe after all, the Minotaur wasn't the principle villain  but her .  As it is, she proved to be the bridge to the solution. Faith, any faith, faith in a Diety, in one's skills, one's class, one's mentor, all of them were bad, in fact edible. I think I'll risk holding onto my faiths despite the risk of meeting up with a relative of the Nimon. Faith keeps us going when all else fails, it make us do incredible things against all odds and it keeps us sane when evidence would normally indicate we should just give up trying what ever it is we're on about. In my case I'll continue to have faith in Newcastle United, the belief my cat will listen to me, and that the BBC will pay me to write for them.before I get fitted for a free bus pass. It's faith in my friends, the success of other previously hard working but unknown writers who are now overnight sensations, and the knowledge that there is no accounting for the choices of programmes that get commissioned these days that keep us sane and focused. Where was I?  Ah yes supporting cast. They filled out the story nicely and were essential to the ticking along of the story, unlike the frankly silly curse of the Black Spot with it's arghing and pointless posturing. Nothing was wasted in this outing not even the dummies in the dining room. Great throw away lines likes resistance is exhausting, reminded one that you need to laugh at the universe or it will get you. Walliams in particular did well not to draw on any of the Little Britain stuff and showed he can stretch himself past his admittedly large catalogue characters. I hope he's back for more. The monster, a relative of the Nimon was equally good, not your one dimensional beast that roars and destroys, it's a complex being that to has it's needs and wants to be released from it's eternal cycle of trapping and killing.

And it's here that we meet the Doctor of old, RTD would have skirted the issue, but not Moffat, The Doctor , not for the first time or the last in the ep, kills something for it's own good. And presto, there was the big surprise. From the opening scene you're screaming , Castrovalava, The Matrix, it can't be real, well you're right. It's a holodeck right off of Star Trek. Gene Rodenberry would of been proud of the story. The poor beast related to the Nimon is now free and the Universe a little safer for a while.

So why ruin it all and mention James Corden? I suppose armed with a script not improvised by him , he's ok, but I still needed a second to adjust. Maybe they'll have him die a horrible death at the hands of the Cybermen? Perhaps the Doctor will, in a scene that will be cheered in many homes, strand him on a planet where they eat unfunny motivational speakers in trakies. We can always dream.

Have you noticed what the new lead in is now? Celebrity Masterchef, yes a load of bad cooks who were famous for a few minutes for sometimes the most incredibly red tab reasons in the book. The first four have proved mostly useless in the kitchen, except maybe for the man off Holyoaks, he's ok. The rest would be hard pressed to make an impression at a cheap surf and turf restaurant. Which of course they were sent to. Jaunty Road and Greg Wallace could never have been allowed near a proper eatery with this crowd.. One filleted herself, another made the most appalling combinations of flavours and yet another had the pallet of 6 year old who'd never eaten anything outside of KFC and his mam's cooking. Next batch up aren't much better if we're to judge by the low light reel they use to promote next week. And in case you were wondering where it was during the week? Not in it's normal evening slot, but buried deep in  afternoon telly land.  I suppose it's where it belongs, Linda Lusardi who's had so much work on her, she needs to live on the shopping channel to pay for it all is a celebrity because of the  her "body" of work. I googled her old picks, very nice, but seeing her now is like stabbing yourself repeatedly while looking at fit naked women. It just doesn't work. The Blonde woman who sells lingerie, another person who's famous more in the way Ann Summers is than say Lilly Allen, is another hapless murderer of food. I'm not sure who the other alleged celebs are, but I do hope we get a better class of famous people soon or the show is doomed. Some proper actors , a few singers, a politician who's not been retired 20 years or maybe even the food critic at the Gruniad would be nice,  but I somehow doubt it.

If you're looking for a good dose of fun, well written telly, check out on ITV1 the new Doc Martin , just as fresh as ever and no let up in the quality of the stories and scripts. Martin (Martin Clunes) and Louisa (Caroline Catz) are back in Portwenn for another akward slice of life in Cornwall. . It's good , watch it !

Laters all , please don't forget to try Beat Surrender, follow the links on the right.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Night Terrors, a refreshing diversion from the norm.

Well It's Friday night Saturday morning and the next Doctor Who will be on in a few short hours. Much as I am excited and anxious to be sat in the armchair an hour before the devil knows I've tuned into BBC1, I am just now coming to terms with last weeks ep. Night Terrors, a story of a little boy and all that scares him.

Those of us old enough to remember the 60's, even found George's room familiar. From the toys to the wallpaper to the pyjamas. I won't say Terrors was a light hearted trip down memory lane. Nobody wants to recall a time when everything scared the living daylights out of you. Every creak, groan and shadow magnified a thousand times into witches, demons and many armed creatures with flashing teeth that lived under one's bed or in the closet, and then there were the clowns and the creepy dolls, mad Alices they were.  As a boy all of those and much more lost many a night's sleep, I was even partial to the compulsive switch clicking in a certain rhythm, specific number of times, 6 in my case.  Thank you for asking , but I turned out ok after all, the only thing left over is a deep and unrelenting mistrust of clowns. As an aside The Sylvester McCoy story "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", for obvious reasons is one of the most disturbing I've ever seen. What's that you say? Thee are no clowns but the one slumped on the floor in Night Terrors? Yes, was just saying, since it came up in the story, I don't like clowns. Cirque du Soleil besides being deeply pretentious and boring, can at time induce the heebee jeebies in me if one of the  overly artsy clowns shows up, they are like massive stalking spiders, ready to strike and eat you. I also am not fond of arachnids, but as long as they don't bother me I won't bother them.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, Night Terrors, a story that did something that a Who story hasn't done in a long time...that is NOT serve as a platform or filler to move the River/Amy arc along to it's final conclusion, which of course is the death of the Doctor in Utah. What a refreshing thing to see, a script that just told a story. So what it wasn't all original concepts, so what most of my Who mates can point out half a dozen older storied from which it liberally draws on. Truth be told, there hasn't been an original story since Homer took pen to scroll. Here was a 45 minute story that from beginning to end, kept us on the edge of our seats even when we though t we knew what was happening. Much of the credit belongs to Mark Gatiss who, bless his creepy little stories, knows how to  press the buttons that will get even the bravest person under a blanket and peeking out in fright.  It's a pity Hammer studios isn't what it used to be, Gatiss would have been a star there.  The best part of the tale is that it was River free and very nearly, Amy free. I've grown tired of the long drawn out  multi part striptease of the River Song  saga that seems to have started the same day we met wee Amelia Pond. Even Key  to Time had a clear conclusion, this thing seems to have more false stops than the last Lord of the Rings film did. Not complaining per se, just saying that I miss the off world, on world evil nasties that stand on their own and in which the companions are NOT the centre of the Universe.I look forward to the eventual return to normal service where we can depend on the Time Lords, The Tardis, and the Doctor to get into trouble without the help of some central nexus fixed point bollocks . Please The Lord Thy God Steve Moffat, can we have some good old fashioned stories with plastic monsters and doppelgänger principal players who much in the way Brian Blessed put his mark on the role of the future Mr Perri Brown. just made us wonder " what happens next" without having to check our watches on the 12 th ep since a certain story arc has started.

Ahh Gingerism
There, got that off my chest, and for the record, I still love Moffat's Doctor, he's giving us the Time Lords back in the fullness of time, never a bad thing,  expanded the inside of the Tardis and given Rory some respect. Best Rory bit this time was when he said "We're dead ...Again" the doctor's probably in some time slippy thing in EastEnders land . At least he (Moffat), hasn't lost his sense of humour. I particularly liked the amusing call back to stories past when he reminisced about great fairy tales like " Snow White and the 7 keys to Doomsday". The opening of the ep is at it's heart a recognition of the power of whatever it is that makes the universe tick.  A small boy prays "Please save me from the Monsters."  and lo there was a text message. Never forget that the Black and White Guardians never went away, they just faded to the backs of our minds where they always were. Call them God, call them higher beings, at least the PC brigade hasn't swept Sci fi clear of the transcendental. Without it, much of the suspension of disbelief, the fortuitous and the outright incredible would simply be impossible to include in an adventure serial type story like Doctor Who. Besides, I like the idea that there is a being who occasionally pays attention to what you want, especially when you're a scared little boy.

Aside from all else, Night Terrors dealt with the very real problems parents have in what could only be described as  Thatcher Redux. A father out of work, a mam who is never there, how does George's dad cope? Very poorly is how, and George feels he's alone with barely a father and no mother. In fact without giving the game away  for those few who haven't watched it, it is the crux of the matter. George feels unloved and unwanted, and the fact that his mam walks in to the story at the end with it all sorted , none the wiser of the trouble that passed in the last few hours, is telling. Gatiss is not alone among writers and other creative people at the Beeb to take on this feminist Holy Grail by the horns. A recent ep of Outnumbered had the daughter outright say she wished her mother  was less worried about her career and more concerned with her.. I'd say that was brave, but the only people who seem to be afraid to say things like this are the politicians who still sing from the Hymn book last updated in the 80's.. Even Shameless has been tearing the indifferent self obsessed full time working mum , the single teen mum, and the mythical super mum who loves with money and short sharp jabs of gifts,  a new one. What with all these people miles from home most of the day ( male or female) children are growing up alone ( I would have, had it not been for my Gran). This added to the me myself and I attitude of people in general through the 70's 80's and 90's, has produced two or three generations each less able to deal with anybody older than themselves, people in general,  or show respect for anything and anyone, a sort of angry, timid, socially inept, person who doesn't trust others and has a hard time bonding with others.  At the end of the day, hell all day long, a child needs guidance and protection, assuming that George will cope somehow is to abdicate ones role in order to achieve some kind of idealism formed in the haze of the 60's and 70's. Like free love, the absent mother and the father who never says no, have proved not to work.  .

The other hallmark of the ep is of course the creepy aspect of the story. Throughout, Gatiss fills the screen with every scary psyche scarring plot device he can find without laying on the mustard too much. The shrunken doll house inhabited by mad Alice dolls, a lift that eats people, the carpet right out of Freddie Kruger eating the land lord. Being turned into a Mad Alice doll, shadows, wind , the mutterings of slightly smelly slightly sad old woman who isn't even aware she's making our inner child  quake in fear. Even taking the rubbish out in a high rise estate becomes an exercise in survival worthy of Paradise Towers. I'm sorry, did I say Paradise Towers? And here you'd made such an effort to forget you ever saw it, my apologies again. 

So what do we learn from Night Terrors? Hug the person you love once in a while, you may think they know you want them around, but they need telling and there's never anything on telly even if you get the super duper Sky box with all the channels.

While I got you, I also watched BBC's  Digging for Britain. It's no Time Team and they kept making sweeping statements that academic work, archaeology and recent finds in the last ten years have put pay to. Rome invaded Britain? Not really, they were invited in and were culturally present for at least 50 years beforehand through trade and culture. The Romans then left in 410 AD. Well yes and no, first of all as stated in the programme, many stayed, but many had no where else to go as they were natives and had just been Romanized. The post Roman Dark age? What dark age? Trade flourished, the basic pillars of the classic education were established in a English University long before the 9th century, the Church continued for centuries and didn't need to be re-established by later day missionaries. The interregnum between the end of the Roman Empire in the UK and the return of Rome through the Church saw in fact a continuous mixed Romano Christian Celtic culture that traded with the rest of the known world. Hardly the mud pit of ignorant toothless peasants scratching a life from dead rocky soil. If you enjoy digs and need a hit between new Time Team eps, Digging for Britain is just enough to catch up on the goings on in the world of metal detecting, and official digs in the UK. Watch by all means, but ignore anything coming out of the mouth of presenter Dr Alice Roberts who seems content to spout out of date history dogma that was set down as recently as 1920. You want an archaeologist that knows what she's talking about, there's always Dr. Helen Geake off Time Team.

That's all for now, see you all after the next Doctor Who, more angry robots and creepy dolls mixed with imminent jeopardy for Rory and Amy.  Can't wait.  

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Just one more cup of tea, then I'll start

Sometimes it's just really hard to get going, so far I've made several cups of  tea, had a bath, watched the news, eaten two bowls of corn flakes and googled online eps of The Nanny.   In fairness I am recovering from the month of August during which both my wife and I hardly had a break from making home made noodles for local Muslims during Ramadan. It takes a lot  of time and energy to make 4 or 5 kilos overnight, leaving you knackered and craving your bed till at least noon or 2 in the afternoon. Multiply this 15 to 20 times over 30 days and you begin to realize just how drained the batteries are.

The last time I felt sufficiently moved to rise out of the noodle induced stupor, I wrote a scathing indictment of all that is wrong with Miracle Day, the latest and possibly worst, longest and most pointless Torchwood offering. Since then I've come close to commenting on Libyan affairs twice, reviewing Doctor Who, wondering aloud if Sci Fi as we knew it even 10 years ago has changed beyond all recognition.  I even had considered writing about the current series of The Great British Bake off.

But I never got any closer than several pots of tea, cleaning my desk twice, preparing several epic meals, going for walks and throwing dirty laundry into baskets. At one point I had even tidied the rubbish bins and reorganized the pantry.  So why the block I wondered, what was keeping me from writing again. Well I could discount the tired to some extent, as in fact I had at least since the last week of August, gone back to watching quality and sometimes less edifying telly. We had a Shameless marathon that took us from the first time Frank Gallagher graced our screens to the rise of the Maguires as the defenders of Chatsworth. Estate. As I said before, I even watched Miracle Day for a bit till it made me want to poke my eyes out of boredom and frustration. In between all of that, were great films on BBC and C4, Outnumbered came back and of course The Rob Brydon Show till just this week brought a gleam of hope to the usually dreary world of chat shows. And if that wasn't enough, we haven't missed a Doctor Who, Top Gear or the footie, such as it was.

"8-2 Brute?" Julius Caesar
I say such as it was, but Man U spanking Arsenal comprehensively 8-2 is the sort of  match you don't soon forget, regardless who you support. To quote a mate of mine ( Keith Telly Topping ok). He'd rather see Northern scum beat Southern scum if it comes down to choosing. but I still had to feel just a bit sorry for the Gunners. The worst result in 116 years, having the rot so plainly show, I suspect even Alex Ferguson thought that there had to be a point where honour was satisfied and the ref could have blown the whistle. I reckon somewhere 10 minutes after the restart would have been the point when the coup de grace would have been appreciated by the North London daycare side that Wenger fielded. Even now I'm looking forward to the England Wales qualifier later today, having missed the disgusting behaviour during the Bulgaria match. In case you're wondering  how I could have passed up such an interesting fixture? I could tell you it sounded boring and that I had better things to do, but the truth is I fell asleep on the setee and missed the entire day.

So I hear some of you wondering out loud how it is I wasn't able to rise even once since my Torchie review despite being thrown a bone when forced to watch 5 minutes of the latest candidate for worst UK game show ever ( Thanks again  Mr Topping) ... EPIC WIN. This exercise in annoying made Don't scare the hare, ....ermmm look less shit than it actually is. I watched a butcher identify meat with his feet. Seems all games and game shows at the BBC now need to rhyme. Surely this would of been just the thing that the doctor ordered to break the writing duck, but no, I wasn't moved, not even after seeing the host call on the pop up co-compare in a white suit make insipid jokes and be so embarrassing that small children would think they were at a particularly bad panto.

I can only assume that my biggest stumbling block was the fear that once started, I'd have to dive back in to another season of Srictly reviews and pretend to care what happens to talentless charvs and hapless chef wana be's who's big talent is stacking chips in the shape of a log cabin. Is that really all there is??? I sincerely hope not. While I can always turn to Dave, Yesterday  or even ( GASP) ITV 4 for old Sweeneys, I despair of the state of British telly when the best on offer is Top Gear, Doctor Who, Sherlock and a few decent crime dramas and maybe the occasional comedy. This Summer was supposed to be full of great filler  to while away the long hot  mystery months when there is no football. Instead we got a few half hearted efforts from BBC4 that placated the more intellectual among us, but below the medulla oblongatta, where Ideal, The IT crowd or Big Brother for Posh people ( Apprentice), live, there was a gaping hole of repeats and uninspired "hilarious" programmes from the same minds that gave us the truly awful Big Top.

I will freely admit to being addicted to the Libyan revolution and the news stations that one has to watch to be up to date with it. Big winner here is Al Jazeera English. A  brilliant station that has kept me abreast of important things like cricket, football and  English looters while also and importantly, providing me with obsessively detailed reports on battles, diplomatic moves and now the reconstruction of the new Libya. I'm sure the BBC has had much the same thing, but Al Jazeera was all too often too hard to turn off long enough to find out. Kudos to Sky News for having the first live pictures out of the newly liberated Tripoli and Martyr Square. It takes a special kind of crazy to get that kind of job done.

Sign the petition NOW if you haven't yet
Or it could have been the sudden appearance on Face Book of the petition to stop the powers that be from dumbing down BBC 4 in a move explained as an "economy" motivated policy. Why would anybody want to dumb down BBC4? Since when is it a criticism to say a programme or a station is TOO smart? What prize idiot at the BBC or the Government considered for even a second the possibility of  cutting funding to the flagship station in the BBC crown? As bread winner, BBC 4 does more work on a quarter of the budget that the brain dead BBC 3 gets. BBC4 provides 80 % of all English language programming to educational stations across the globe. Then even more translate the shows and spend even more at the BBC. And if that wasn't enough , these servants of Jeremy *unt want to stop broadcasting quality  foreign language material like The Killing, Wallander and Spirale. .

What ever happened to Leon Trotsky?
Is it any wonder I hadn't had the spirit, the energy or the desire to dive back in? A few extra quid in the account from writing would help, but this too will come one day, till then, one must endeavour to continue to endeavour. OK, this it it, I'll write those reviews right after I've read the news paper, had another cup of tea and fed the cat.

As per usual, this and all other entries written under the influence of the most excellent Beat Surrender, still channelling The Stranglers, The Pistols The Pogues and Ian Drury on BBC Radio Newcastle. Catch Nick Roberts online by clicking on BBC Radio Newcastle  Saturday listen again section, look for Beat Surrender.

Friday, 19 August 2011

R.I.P. Torchwood 2006-11 or Miracle Day mess

At long last, it has happened. Russell T. Davies has allowed his creation to be killed off by a combination of American money, being full of himself and the absolute crime of trying to sell tuna as filet mignon.

Back on 22 October 2006, a small band of odd warriors of all things not important enough for the Doctor to sort, broke on the scene and launched a love affair that lasted to about a week after "Children of the Earth", when certain obsessive fans girls wanted a mildly needy poof resurrected. By all accounts, that should have been the end, the final curtain  for a franchise that did what it said on the tin. Sci fi for adults on a personal scale where explosions were mental and devastating consequences were of the type you could feel all too easily. Individual relationships between characters and the rest of the world as well as with each other were compact and told a story in in the way old fashion Sci Fi used to. Torchwood treated us as adults with enough imagination and smarts to understand what was happening without having to include healthy doses of automatic weapons fire and macho posturing . It kept the connection with the Whoverse from whence it came and most importantly, it assumed a certain connection with the reality of the rest of the World and how government works in practise. In so doing, the stories, including Children of the Earth managed to be as disturbing and as riveting as they were.

Give me a room full of ministers condemning an entire subclass of people with the stroke of a pen over any helicopter spewing metal death at a harmless Welsh cottage on the orders of the CIA. The moment I knew American money was pouring in and the setting and cast were being sent across the pond, I had a terrible horrible feeling. From the first frame of  "Miracle Day", it became obvious that Torchwood had become utterly detached from any sense of reality such as was till then understood by RTD or the BBC. It failed on a number of levels which I shall now outline.

1- Miracle Day became an action shoot em up thriller with more bullets than story in a matter of minutes. It's combination of X files and 24 with a dash of right wing jingoism, was immediately evident to even the most untrained eye. There is an assumption of a level of power of the United States that never existed, not even in the most fevered imaginings of a Tea Party nutcase. The be all and end all attitude of America right or wrong that includes the resurrection of the Russians as adversaries, in current circumstances  speaks to writers who still haven't figured out that the US hasn't been a world power for at least 10 years now and more to point has it's begging bowl out hopping not to have ten shades of shit kicked out of it by the Chinese. That the story became that unhinged so quickly immediately put me off the rest of episode 1, a condition I never recovered from thereafter.

2- The writing was moved from Cardiff to an office in the USA ( I don't care what the official line is), and the clear lack of understanding of anything outside of the USA and the Cardiff team's lack of any comprehension of what Americans think or know or how they live, combined to make an already bad story into a shambolic script that would have sapped the spirit of even the best actor in the world. Which of course it did  with immediate and tragic effect to John Barrowman and Eve Myles. The American cast wasn't as affected as it was used to this level of shlock one must assume.

3- The abandoning of the connection with the Whoverse for the flimsy bizzaro notions that only seem to work in exploitation action horror genre shlock.  Forget that the so called drug would have to get past so many trials and filters to be used on a world scale and would thus be stopped in it's tracks, forget that it's too preposterous for words, How does this in any way fit into the continuum that is the world of Doctor Who from where it sprang or The Rift which fuels all the basic stories?

4- Perhaps most damning.... the loss of the need to tell the story ( however silly or strange) in a reasonable fashion or length of time. Miracle Day makes some filler episodes of Lost seem like action packed super vitamins of intellectual horse pills.

5- Lastly, the people in the US who watch ScyFy and other such stations have been watching Doctor Who and the real Torchwood, among other offerings, for years on telly and online. They are smarter, better educated and have a low tolerance for bullshit. To produce a puff piece aimed at what I can only assume is the lowest common denominator, insults the original viewers who expected better and misses the mark of what the adolescent  non geek American viewer is looking for. To be blunt, the average person who watches ScyFy would watch BBC 4 if they could. To dumb down Torchwood to such an extent puts RTD in the company of Guy Ritchie and his entirely awful Sherlock Holmes.

A few highlights or lowlights as you please, of strange logic in the story thus far. Captain Jack is affected by a clearly chemical created drug that causes him to become mortal while the rest of the World apparently becomes immortal. What horse shit! Whatever made him immortal was far more powerful than any drug Bayer could ever make. Another gem is the anti hero peado killer who didn't die. How in any world could he become some kind of religious leader?????? And why would churches empty after no one dies? Should be the exact opposite.

Miracle Day is about as much about the real Torchwood as a cheap knock off  a Dolce and Gabana hand bag could ever be taken for the real thing. It reminds me of the nasty plastic toys in the shops masquerading as  Star Wars Toys.... Galaxy Wars, which in no way resembled the original power sabres et all and broke the first time you played with them. Miracle day is what happens when a perfectly good UK programme crosses over and is "adapted" for American audiences. It's a dog's breakfast of gristle, fat and a few original features floating in a soup of  sparkle and flash that the original went miles out of it's way to avoid. Now if that was it, a bad adaptation that would be an improvement on what has happened here. A recent friend of mine on Facebook summed up Miracle Day in the following words.

Erik Engman You can probably watch episode 1 then all the "Previously on Torchwood"s then the last episode. 

It's all filler with a few minutes of content at the end. In fact according to Erik, episode 5 or 6 was written by the same criminal who wrote the killer cat episode of X-Files. Surely in all of the USA there had to be 12 writers better than this person??? But it would seem few people with a reputation wanted to touch this turkey. 

Are there any redeeming features to Miracle day? I'm told Eve Myles aka the delectable Gwen Cooper has some funny lines and looks pretty good on a motorbyke. Hardly a reason to watch an entire ep let alone anything after episode 2. As a plot device, the problem of that many undead people on earth using up the planet's resources had to come to the logical gruesome conclusion of concentration camps and ovens. that they waited till ep 5 , is testimony of how long they plan to stretch this simple 4 parter into an epic fit only for marketing shampoo and life insurance to bored people on cable. And on the ovens, let's talk for a minute. I'm not offended by them, not in  the least, but by what power have Congress or the White House to impose this on the World? Through  some sort of invisible long lost super power tool, by means of  a mega corp on the rerst of the World? Then ignoring the current geopolitics by making the Chinese the good guys but the EU evil, is so ludicrous as to stretch credulity past the point of suspension of disbelief. 

Another casualty of this debacle is the now seriously overexposed John Barrowman. His truly awful variety show Tonight's the Night, comes as a nail in the coffin of a once interesting actor who straddled bisexual, gay and straight sci fi. I now have to ask myself how much of early Barrowman brilliance is down to good writing and how much is him. I sincerely hope he bounces back from this, but If I'm honest, and when haven't I been brutally honest? This confluence of shite upon utter shite cannot be good for his career. 

The problem now is that even if from episode 6 through the end, it gets better, I am already beyond caring. And if I am beyond caring, how many people who are the alleged target audience, are also past giving a monkey's how it ends? The fact is that noise from the US backers indicates that there will not be a series 2 of Torchwood USA. Critical reaction and poor ratings are not making the kind of buzz the producers were expecting, and that spells doom for the new format. Will the great celestial Auntie in London green light the commission of more old style Torchwood now? I seriously doubt it. 

So here I sit angry and grieving the destruction of one of my favourite programmes by it's creator in the name of the all mighty American dollar and US ratings. There is no way back from this now. Torchwood as we knew it ended when the credits rolled on Children of Earth  and  were dead and buried the moment Gwen Cooper turned into Mr and Mrs Smith. What was left barely breathing was then pummelled to dust by the misguided and poor writing of people who seemed to think the CIA was more powerful than the British House of Commons and the Cabinet. And where the Doctor finds new and innovative ways to explain the TARDIS to new travelers, the concept of Torchwood was so poorly explained  in episode 5 that one wonders if they weren't maybe just a wee bit too embarrassed by Miracle Day to even go there. The scripts and acting are ham fisted and not much better than the stuff you see in bad  University short films. I almost wish  they hadn't bothered or that some evil troll at the BBC would have had it "put on hiatus" like they did to Doctor Who. Perhaps then I'd still have the memory of the wonderful programme I used to enjoy. 

I will always have my memories of Ianto, Owen , Toshiko and Gwen as well as the Bat cave under Cardiff. Torchwood then was like the unfashionable back end of the Whoverse where all manner of scum, scoundrels and hangers on would congregate around "The Rift". Captain Jack Harkness and his collection of off the radar police, would explore the grey area of intergalactic, timey whimey morality that is the seamy underbelly of the rosy universe The Doctor skims over most of the time. I miss the weird cursed gadget of the week or the well intentioned never clearly good or bad visitor who only reveals their intent when you least expect it and most of the time catches you off guard. The interpersonal relations of people who no loneger exist in the real world were equally interesting. They vaguely resembled the effect of spending too much time playing Halo or being permanently wired to your  work for so long you lost the ability to communicate with normal people. Living in the bubble of the lair reduced them to space travellers light years from the rest of space ship Wales, UK, Earth. And yet there was a logic to the whole thing, Torchwood London, The Doctor, 10 Downing, U.N..I..T. ( albeit evil), had a continuity that made it all feel familiar and worth investing time in.

This imposter on telly at the minute is not the Torchwood I know and clearly not what RTD at his most misguided probably wanted. Can I blame him for this? OH YES, but he's not alone in shouldering blame. Pity that regardless how it ends it's probably the end of what could have been a long run of realy fun Sci Fi. You know it puts me in the mind of when Blake's 7 got so seriously wrong. Seems history is doomed to repeat itself after all.  I've decided to take the advice of Erik, Come the last ep, I'll watch to see how it ends....maybe. Or perhaps I'll just ask somebody who watched. Frankly I'm not that bothered one way or the other. 

EDIT: Sept 10th, the finale has played inthe USA, I have in the end asked somebody who watched, how it ended. Seems I was right, episode 9 was sort of the end, then 10 was a steaming pile of filler that whimpered it's way to the credits in a haze of bullets and WTF illogic in no way connected to the Whoverse. I'm glad I passed on it  

Bring on Doctor Who PLEASE!!!!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Doctor's wife or The love of a man for his car

Well I have been banging on for such a long time that we needed more Tardis, and now we get so much more than we could have hoped for. Neil Gaiman the prototypical Who geek turned successful writer went where most of us wanted to, INSIDE THE TARDIS. About bloody time I say, but The Doctor's wife is  more than just a nostalgic trip to Tom Baker and his mates running around an old Victorian hospital, We've been getting wee dollops of candy from the Lord Thy God Steven Moffat, but this is more like it. Can't have been fun for him getting all those e mails and other missives screaming for more Tardis, much like Isaac Asimov when begged for more Daneel Olivaw  stories, he tossed off a 5 page thing for a pulp mag and our reaction was, nice start, but we assumed you were going to write a book. What followed was a string of great books that are asking even more questions long past the cheeky death ( how dare he) of the Sci Fi legend. Like Asimov, Moffat now is prepping us for the big box of Belgian chocolate truffles coming our way.

The Doctor's Wife is a full tilt stand alone story that takes us right past the rooms and reveals the soul of the machine itself. There are some who would accuse Moffat of romanticising the essentially male notion of vehicle love by making the soul of the Tardis a woman. He certainly isn't the first to do this,  in Andromeda the former Hercules flirted with and almost got romantic with the ship's human simile communication's protocol. To be fair , she was fit as .... But this never stopped any man including Kirk or Scotty or the Doctor from resorting to unique and sometimes violent  means to get the result he wanted. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the whole Idris personality, but she does work on a lot of levels and is an alternative explanation why the Doctor has always ended up "Where he needed to be".  Used to be it was the Time lords  letting him off the hook for nicking an old type 40 in exchange for putting out some fires and sometimes saving the bacon of Gallifrey itself.  So can we buy a sort of sentient being half tech  half energy falling for the Doctor so long ago? The romantic in me would love to, but I have never wanted to make love to my bike car or stereo, I may call them "her" but I'm no way romantically involved despite appearances to the contrary. Idris is more the manifestation of the romance novel side of fandom. I'm guilty as charged, I too was well hooked by Rose and would have loved to see them settle down in a quiet corner of Gallifrey and have lots of little Time Lords and Ladies, but such is the world of Doctor Who that even the Daleks were soon rolling their eyes over all of it. Idris as a one off is a brilliant character I loved from the first words she uttered and loved even more as It dawned on me ( about 2 minutes in) , that she was the heart of the Tardis. Her uncanny ability to be as confused and new to emotion as any newly liberated bit of software worked really well, she even took the opportunity few others have the right to, to bollocks him over never reading the instructions. BUT again I keep wondering what that would have been like if Idris was a bloke, a regular guy , a mechanic nerd, techy  type who would have also argued furiously with the Doctor about building the Franken Tardis.

As a story the ep stands out as one of the best stand alone stories you can watch out of order any time in any era and appreciate. It's the kind of territory the nutter crowd ( myself included)  love to delve into. How does the Tardis work? Why does it shudder along so and where ARE the rest of the Time Lords? The planet made of half digested Tardi along with Aunty , Uncle Nephew and Idris was a master stroke of setting. Somewhere in E space there is a malevolent entity that feeds on Time Lords and their machines. I  half expected the junkbots to sing Dare to be Stupid  for a second , but the feeling passed and the place felt like a proper fearsome place where things go to die. For the first time this series, a monster is in fact well scary, it even looks like House ( Michael Sheen)  could have got away with it and gone on to create havoc in N space. I would have loved to see it go off and threaten the Time Lords in the Slo Time envelope around Krikkit. In fact I won't be in the least bit surprised if eventually Gallifrey makes a massive come back  when just that sort of malevolent entity causes the Tardis and co to save the High Council from the shinies. In fact I'll be deeply disappointed if it doesn't happen in this series. But as I pointed out to Keith Telly Topping this last week, TLTG Moffat rarely disappoints.

Ah and yes about the interiors, more hints as to where things are, The Ponds get a new  bedroom and the old control room gets jettisoned. But what a spectacular tease. White corridors with the usual circle panels. Next time  doors too please, but still worth the film to see Rory , yet again , be killed. This time even though  you knew it was probably a massive mind game, you let yourself be drawn in. It's classic Doctor Who where a monster or evil thing mentally abuse the audience for a bit. The Master was an erm... master of this sort of thing. The safest place in the universe suddenly and not for the first time becomes the last place you want to be. Kept us on the seat of our pants till the end. Neil Gaiman really delivered in terms of dialogue and concepts. Some say there are no new ideas just the way you combine the old ones, and it's true, but what Gaiman did was a loving carefully crafted old fashion psycho thriller when the sets were made of foam and  the words had to carry much farther than most writers allow for now.

Special mention has to go to the well fit actress that plays Idris. Suranne Jones, Karen MacDonald for a few years on Corrie who annoyed me no end, but here she was brilliant, sexy and classy. A performance that oozed with the reflection of crazy the Doctor had  patted, caressed and beaten into her/it  for years. If you're going to play a one off and that one off is the human personification of the Tardis, you better do it well. Steve MacDonald's ex wife did that, I just hope they don't make the mistake of bringing Idris back, that would be wrong for so many reasons, not least of which  would be that it would cheapen the character.

The follow up bit of fun of the best ever Doctor Who Confidential on BBC 3 was a proper treat. A trip into the history of the Tardis complete with old clips and set pieces designed to bring you to the point of tears it was so moving. Seeing all those clips with several incarnations of the Doctor cursing . loving and otherwise talking to the Tardis over the years made me feel like we'd lost something along the way recently, and that made me very sad, but I suspect it's also a message from the powers that be that the Doctor we wanted is back and no one is apologising for it.Having Neil Gaiman narrate bits of script walking through the set had it's moments as well, less so for me as performance but proof I wasn't wrong for my own script writing style and methods, shows what a load of isolated old farts know.  Any road... I liked it and so will you if you missed it.

Moldova, my pick to win
All in all, not a bad day that started with football and ended with Eurovision and a not so last place nul points performance by Blue. Was tarnished slightly by the fact that super eedjits Jedward pipped Blue for a slightly higher placing, but then again Eurovision, the song contest good taste forgot, is not known for appealing to people who listen to the Undertones. I suppose it's an improvement that a song that is a direct rip off  of Snow Patrol won. Could have been worse, could have been Belgium and the acapella  tone deafs. Thank you Doug Morris for this factoid, The Damned offered and were refused as representatives for this great nation. Would have made Lordi look silly. If there was any justice, Moldova would have won. And if you love great music, I urge you not for the last time, to listen to Beat Surrender every Saturday night on BBC Radio Newcastle, hosted by the most excellent Nick Roberts and Doug Morris when when Nick is off filming a wedding for the big Radio One big weekend foofera, don't ask , I don't know why either. Jamie Wilkinson pops in to sub as well but not as often as he used to. And of course listen again, just look for Beat Surrender.

Need to get a few things off my chest too.  First up is the BBC history literature thing, The Viking Sagas, was supposed to be the telling of how the sagas were written and even offered up the hope of significant segments being read in some logical manner that would lead one to want more. Instead Janina Ramirez, wet behind the ears romance novelist and bad interviewer  reacted in  patently prepared sequences to information she already knew, then repeated  with great surprise as if the previous speaker had been talking in old Norse.I had to turn it off after 20 minute it was that painful. I thought you needed more than just being a former Goth Chic to get commissioned for a real BBC 4 programme? Shame on the BBC, such a great chance to tell an exciting story wasted on this not ready for telly grad student Dan Snow wanna be.

Next is the returned Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of crisps. BBC 3's flagship youth comedy from 10 years ago, still has the feel of the original , but seems a bit tired and is running out of ideas. Stripped  of it's most manic residents, Runcorn feels more like the party after the party. You keep expecting something good to happen and it almost does, and then falls short of the template set in the first few series. Tim Claypole is cheaply outed as " a gay" for no apparent reason but cloying drama worthy of Corrie. It would have been much funnier if we'd have met Helena first and found out she was a post op ex trany, but no they just let him blurt it out. His nymphomaniac sister is a poor replacement for Crazy Louise and while not without some merit, just barely earns her spot in the cast.  Having watched the other series I feel the need to watch this and even enjoyed it enough to sit through the full 30 minutes, but it's not nearly as good as it used to be. If you are a fan,  watch; if not, pass on it. I'd hate for you to think this was the best it ever got.

Next week promises a lot of new beginnings and the start of football free land in those mystery months they stuck in between May and the end of August. I'm told by the currently builder infested Keith Telly Topping to not despair as there are all kinds of things on the way and we still have lots of Doctor Who to come. So relax and enjoy the break by taking in the sun should  it deem to come out.