Thursday, 24 February 2011

A slightly sadder, slightly better place

Last post I told you how very deeply unhappy I was at the new offerings even from my beloved BBC. A few days on and some cleansing of the palette with a few old Doctor Whos and the World seems a better, albeit sadder place. A long time ago when I was a boy, I first watched Doctor Who on one of those stations that play entire stories in one go. What a brilliant way to find out about this treasure trove of brilliant stories, so so  monsters, sexy companions and stonking great secondary characters. My favourite such character aside from the appropriately loud and overacting Brian Blessed, was The Brigadier. I first met him when in "Robot", the freshly regenerated Doctor is aided by the best army that never existed....U.N.I.T. commanded by the terribly British, always loyal and best mate you could ever have, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart. Eary on the morning of the 23rd of February, the actor who played the role over 170 times, died at his home in London. Nicholas Courtney crafted a character that has become every Who fan's favourite character bar none, unless of course they haven't watched the original run so cruelly interrupted in 1989. The Brigadier was a combination great big teddybear and father figure to every Doctor, companion and as I have found out from so many posts in Galli Base,  fandom. Nick Courtney never shrank away from the role or pretended it hadn't happened like some actors might have. Countless stories I've read where he joined people at their table during conventions and never tired of telling Doctor Who anecdotes to anybody he thought wanted to hear about it. You'd have to ask somebody else where Nicholas Courtney left off and the Brigadier started, but I suspect there are huge doses of Courtney in The Brigadier and that is why we love him so. He leaves a huge hole in the heart of every Doctor Who fan, and those of us who never met him in person are sadder still. We will always have the show, the tapes and the stories to keep us going, but he will be missed immensely by fans who have had to see yet another great contributor to the Who legend pass on. Rest in peace Brigadier, your job here is done. I strongly recommend you read Tom Baker's farewell too.

Not satisfied with taking away a great actor from amongst us, life further distracted us with the slow and bloody dissolve of Libya. I know I promised I wouldn't get hooked on this too, but what with my father having been to Tobruk and El Alamein with Monty, it was something we were going to have a hard time ignoring.  The stories of bravery and battle against insurmountable odds and the cost in lives so far means this revolution must succeed, as the price of failure is not something we would want to even consider. I've resorted to working around Libya coverage and the Cricket World Cup. Sadly missed the hugely impressive show by Pakistan today, but highlights show they are a team to watch. One hopes England don't take any more sides for granted, it could get almost as embarrassing as Australia's poor performance against Zimbabwe. I hear you asking what this has anything to do with the new programmes on BBC this week? Well nothing except that in between the news and the cricket, I had the good fortune to listen to the Cultdown collective podcast live from Gallicon 2011. Apart from loads of excellent reports about panels and goings on in the lobby and the amazing Tiki Dalek, our hosts informed us at the end, that a new costume drama would be starting Sunday night.

South Riding, a BBC drama in three parts, tells the story of rural Yorkshire in the deep dark days of the depression in the 1930's, as opposed to the one going on right now. Because they only have three hours to tell the whole story there's a whole lot action going on. The Lord's granddaughter and her da who's at least as messed up as her mam, the head mistress who is alone and hates all representations of the tory warmongers but is actually pinning for her husband who's life was wasted in the trenches of WW1. Then there's the town council composed of visionaries, a randy old preacher and the developer with a heart of gold. Can Sarah Burton clean up the school, can the walking basket case Midge Carne rise above the unwanted insanity from her genetics, will Lydia Holly climb her way out "the shacks"  to become the next great poet of the working classes? Never having read the novel I haven't a clue, but I can tell you this, I'm hooked. Part gothic novel part reformist propaganda serial, South Riding puts a human face on the unjust and unequal life of ordinary folk just prior to the end of the depression. With just enough drama, blackmail and social injustice to keep your inner historian and your dramatic serial craving in check. As in a previous review, yet again I choose to praise a young actress who is asked to play the deranged and deeply disturbed Midge, Katherine McGolpin manages to play a convincing disturbed girl where she could have overplayed it and been an overly dramatic Shakespearean caricature. While the Midge character is not the centre of the story, she is sufficiently interesting to compete with the far more normal Lydia whose only real ambition is to get out of the grinding poverty her family lives in. If any one group of people seems to be invisible, it's the farmer's daughters who compose most of the student population despite being the mainstream, they are played more as window dressing, albeit really good window dressing. Not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, Kiplington High is the driving force for the whole narrative and ties the various people in it up in the ultimate fate of the school and the community and needs to stand out as more than bricks and mortar. If that means making light of the student body, so be it.

Besides I can't blame the writer Andrew Davies for being so torn when he had to choose which parts of the story to highlight. Between the all star cast of character actors and actresses and the established names like Peter Firth, Penelope Wilton and John Henshaw, it's little wonder the classroom full of girls was treated as more of an amorphous blob than a cast with potential. If the next two instalments are as action packed and move along as quickly without loosing too much of the sense of the story, South Riding will be a joy to watch and surely far less empty and confusing than ITV's Wethuring Heights was. If you're looking for fun costume drama with lots of ooohs and ahhs, South Riding is what you need to fill the void left over after Lark Rise to Candlford  ended it's run after four series. My only question to BBC drama is, why only three eps?

Raymond Blanc returned on Monday night for a second series of his "Kitchen secrets". In a half hour of what could only be defined as cookery crack cocaine, Chef Blanc shows us 3 minutes moules marinières to die for. The rest of the shellfish dishes are all as intoxicating, and if you have basic cooking skills, not anywhere near as daunting as you would think. Unlike a certain cookery programme that started last week, inspired by Raymond Blanc, I am checking the state of the treasury and planning a seafood extravaganza for as soon as I can clear an evening for the time it'll take to eat and wallow in this delectable bounty of the sea. Kitchen secrets series two is a gift in 8 parts, the next one being Cakes and Pastries. Take the time to record these master classes in fine cooking so you too can impress. You may not dress a plate like a Michelin chef, but if you follow the instructions, there is no reason you can't be eating like one.

On the subject of "that other cookery show", Master Chef plebs version , ran episode three in which we were told "Today's culling is going to be ferocious!". And Greg Wallace was right, what he didn't reckon on was the culling was in his stomach should he eat all that was on offer. We had raw spuds, cling film in poached egg, flat Yorkshire pudding and seriously underdone fish.  Vegetarian Jackie impressed me with her Thai dish that included shrimps, I certainly hope she continues like this if she hopes to win Masterchef. The new kitchen stadium wasn't at all as bad as I thought it would be and the notion of frying up an omelette was quickly dismissed. John, Gregg, have you been reading my notes???? Yes the secret ingredient was in fact egg, but they had to use the egg in innovative and original ways. In other words.... cook normally.  You had the usual pastas, batters and mayo as well as a lovely pudding of custard and meringue made from egg whites and egg yolks. Clearly not the dumbed down US version some of us had feared. And yet it wasn't entirely removed from the x factor histrionics. We found out one contestant wanted to do this for her father by cooking his favourite....roast beef. One hopes it wasn't the roast beef that killed him or else John and Gregg are in deep trouble. (Search for my standard apology if you think I have just been insensitive and cruel).

WI snoot Amy Willcock
The normal standards of Masterchef seem to have survived, They selected 5 hopefuls to cook Sunday dinner roast and judged them with the help of WI snoot Amy Willcock. At least we know the indigestion and poisonings will have been limited to the first three eps.  However it must be noted that WI Amy displayed a more than slightly condescending tone when cute young oriental cook Elizabeth subbed out spuds for taro. Amy came as close to being apoplectic with discomfort as I'd ever seen her and in the process caused me to question her integrity and palette. Apart from that, the tears and the emotion over some pretty basic cooking was sometimes so overwrought you had no choice but to laugh. How some of the school boy errors could be blamed on nerves is beyond me, but if I must get my jollies from dropped pans and unfortunate combinations of bland food, why not have fun with it. It's not like I'm going to learn anything from THIS lot. The final 12 seem on the surface to have at least some cooking instincts that should produce a few laughs and won't kill our hosts. I do however have one complaint, the promised culling did not include Daleks, guillotines or firing squads, nor was there any attempt to get at least three of them to promise they would never ever again cook. So it's not Raymond Blanc, but it's not as bad I thought it would be. Tomorrow the 12 cook for ALL the Masterchef winners ever. Here's hoping the guests won't regret coming out to eat.

And on that bombshell I leave you to your cricket and Nicholas Courtney memorial reading.

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