I've spent the last few weeks catching up on some posts I started last year. That's not because I plan this thing months in advance, but just because I got bored. And a failed hard drive ate the images that I'd intended to use.
It just happens that my relative ranking of episodes finished at much the same time as series 6... just in time for me to start the whole exercise all over again! Which I am - mercifully - going to spare from the internet.
But... the last season of Doctor Who, had I ranked it using my episode-by-episode system would have come first. There are some absolutely corking episodes in there - some better than others, true, but quite respectable. Which is interesting.
Because it wasn't my favourite series.
If you were to sit me down and say "Doctor Oddverse, which series of Doctor Who would you like to watch again?" I'd probably say either three or four.
Three's much derided - many fans were anti-Martha before she even began, and the contrast with Rose was - at times - handled clumsily. But it had some sumptuous moments that were set up nicely well in advance. The fob watch scene in Utopia, for instance, is a personal favourite, and the climax when Martha laughs at the Master is sublime.
Four had Donna. Brilliant for half her episodes, moaning about being useless for the rest of time. Her turning in to a Time Lord and her joy was exhilarating - her loss at the end gut-wrenching in a way that The War Games never was.
I think I liked them because the stories were largely self-contained, and there were character elements and devices that came back - but the closing story brought a new threat and upped the stakes.
Now, The Wedding of River Song is different. Different is good. Indeed, in the ranking I've not done, it would come first, purely for the madness of it, the audacity. But it's far from being an easy story to show to a new viewer. It's drowned in continuity - indeed it actually feels more like part 5 of a 5 part story (possibly more). Now, I kind of like that, but what it does mean is that the series has felt uneven - like Story-Filler-Story-Holiday-Story-Filler-Story in a way that Seasons 1 to 4 didn't.
So I loved it... and at the same time I didn't.
Here's my ranking of the first five Doctor Who finales. Hopefully there will be many more.
The Parting of the Ways
The Doctor faces down an army of Daleks, rescuing Rose in the process. Then he dumps her on Earth. This is possibly my favourite part of the episode, mainly because it shows the viewer that traveling with the Doctor has changed Rose, changed her outlook on life. And then she ends up going all deus ex machina and shiny and it all falls apart.
An army of Daleks and an army of Cybermen pretty much appear on Earth, don't fight each other much, and get sucked off in to a void between worlds thanks to reversing the polarity of the Deus Ex Machina. Fortunately, this gives us the separation of the Doctor and Rose, which leads to some fine face acting from both of them.
Unfortunately, the bond between the Doctor and Rose, and the pain of their separation, which is so effective in this story, then casts a shadow over the next two series. So it kind of backfires.
Last of the Time Lords
Begins with a complete change of pace and a fast forward to an Earth under the thumb of the Toclafane, meaning that there will have to be a big reset button at the end. Martha shines in this episode, wearily walking the Earth, spreading a message - picking up on the themes of the Shakespeare Code without mentioning the fact once.
Unfortunately, the impact of this is to turn the Doctor in to a shiny Deus Ex Machina that can defeat the Master just by - well, it's never quite explained how he does it. Never mind.
There's some great performances in this one, though.
They love these apocalyptic titles, don't they?
After clearing up the regeneration due to a wee bit of Deus Ex Machina, this episode basically comes down to Catherine Tate getting shot and pressing a button. Fortunately, she is more than capable of doing this in an interesting way.
And then she leaves. Not through choice, but in a tear-jerking "you must never remember me or your brain will explode" kind of way. Except that when she does remember him, her brain doesn't explode, but that's another story. Gut-wrenching snatching of pain from the jaws of victory. And as a result, one of my favourite scenes of all of the episodes I'm considering.
The Big Bang
Another one that begins with a complete change of pace, and a return to the world of Amelia Pond and the 11th Doctor's first scenes.
After the monster-fest that was the previous episode, this one is really a fight against circumstance. if the universe has been destroyed, how do you get it back? And yes, it's a reset button, but it's one that they spend an entire episode acknowledging that they are pressing. Time can be rewritten. And shhh... there may be spoilers.
Yes, there's a Dalek, but it's a stone dalek. And it's just one, and it doesn't have a plan or a scheme. It's just there for a bit of jeapordy, which it delivers. As season finales go, it's a small scale story in a small scale universe, but it's wibbly wobbly timey-wimey, the stakes are high and it's funny.
It's also the first season finale that doesn't end with a companion leaving or the Doctor regenerating. Interesting.
Ranking for Episode 13
Rankings Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Next: What can I say about this? I don't doubt I can say something.
Throughout these five years, the series finale has had two parts - and sometimes they've been longer than usual. They've picked up on ideas and plot lines from earlier in the series, and more often than not they've had two very different feels to them. How do I rank them?
Why is it called Bad Wolf? It's not actually clear.
On a television station that we've seen before, the bored citizens of the future play lethal gameshows. It's a chance to show a comic twist on the television of the day, leading up to the big revelation of... Daleks.
And then the Doctor threatens them. And they look afraid.
Army of Ghosts
Torchwood. If it's alien, it's theirs. And the Doctor most certainly is alien. Alongside that we've got ghostly figures from another dimension appearing and cybermen lurking in the shadows of Canary Wharf. Tracey-Ann Oberman is a classy Doctor Who villain, blind to the dangers she faces as she enables the invasion of the Cybermen. And then there is a big revelation. Of Daleks.
The Sound of Drums
After the cliff-hanger ending of Utopia, we're suddenly back to contemporary Earth, and it's at its most gritty with every person, every security camera at the beck and call of the Master. It's a hopeless situation, and we get a Gallifrey flashback, for the first time.
And then, at the end, there is a big revelation when the Earth is invaded, and it's not the Daleks.
The Stolen Earth
Here we learn fairly early on that it's been stolen by the Daleks. But this is a big plan, the stakes are higher than ever before as the Daleks basically threaten to wipe out everything ever. Presumably including themselves. So we bring back every companion that's appeared in the new series. It feels like a big "event" episode. It feels apocalyptic. And the Doctor is about to be reunited with Rose when he's shot by a Dalek and regenerates...
The Pandorica Opens
The Doctor is, essentially manipulated all the way through this one by a gang of monsters, and ends up getting himself in to an impossible prison. And Rory is back from the dead (hurrah!) but he's an Auton (boo! because he's bad but Hurrah! because the Autons are back). And then he kills Amy. Boo, indeed. And River's in the TARDIS, which is exploding, causing the crack that's been following Amy for 11 weeks. It's all in all not a good situation, for any of them really.
And then the universe is destroyed.
Ranking for Episode 12
It's the big cliff hanger of the season. I'm going to try to judge on the episode as a whole though. Tricky. I love Army of Ghosts, for instance, but I'm having to rank it fourth here.
Rankings So Far: Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
No overall impact.
It's almost time for the big series finale, the two parter. And so we get the story that leads in to it... a moment of calm before the storm?
An Earth-bound sequel to an earlier story, with one alien and a high-point that is essentially two characters having dinner while one tries to kill the other. It's got good moments, and cracks all over Cardiff, but the end feels like a cop-out. Some interesting moral questions are raised... and then ignored.
Season 2 has Fear Her and Love and Monsters, so it's on pretty shaky ground. It's a different take on the Monster-of-the-week from some of the previous episodes, but it feels more like 1989's version of Suburban London than 2006's version. And it's got some cheesy moments. And the villain of the piece is basically a cupboard. It would be done better later.
And so to Season 3. This story has a real sense of urgency to it, as the last remnants of humanity flee from the end of the world and from the Futurekind. Add in the return of Captain Jack and the Doctor's reaction to that and you've got an episode that could be really strong on its own. And that's before the twist. The delicious twist that brings together plot elements from earlier in the series in a way that rewards regular viewers. And Derek Jacobi's brief appearance in his second role of the episode just makes me want more...
And this story picks up on the idea of using episode 11 as a prequel to the main two parter. In this case, it's the "Doctor-Light" episode as Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins face the answers to the question "What if Donna never met the Doctor? What if she turned left?"
Critically, it highlights just why a companion is important to the Doctor - why a companion is there to act as the voice of humanity. She is there to stop him, saving his life, saving the Earth a dozen times over.
In this story, a companion selflessly sacrifices her life so an alternative version can live. It's a powerful story, and it won't be the last time it's told.
Season Five's Companion-Light episode plays it pretty much for laughs, setting Matt Smith against the comic actors James Corden and Daisy Haggard in a story about an upstairs flat that eats people, and that was once due to contain a talking cactus. It's a bit of fun, really.
Ranking for Episode 11
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Honestly, I don't see this changing much. I'm slightly surprised, but I'll explain why once I've rated the last two episodes.
Since series 2 of Doctor Who, every series has had one episode where the main character is largely absent. In series 2 and 3, this was episode 10. It'll be quite interesting to see how the episodes stack up.
The Doctor Dances
Ah... the sublime Squareness Gun. A sound consistent explanation for the threat and a plausible resolution, in which everybody lives (back before "everybody lives" became a cliche).
The banter in this episode between Jack and the Doctor is excellent, and Steven Moffat is definitely on form. Not the strongest episode 10, but a strong contender.
Love and Monsters
The first Doctor-Light episode, and it shows. Yes, the Doctor and Rose are intermingled through the plot, but it's trying to stand on the basis of a top-class guest cast and a monster designed in a Blue Peter competition, portrayed by Peter Kay. Not the worst story of its season, but not the best.
Here's an example of how to do Doctor-Light correctly, though. Light touch all the way through, taken out of the action by a credible threat, so the guest cast are essentially trying to rescue him. And the creepy weeping angels are introduced here. Doubtless the forerunners of some very quiet playground games. Clever Steven Moffat.
The only story that might challenge Blink on this list. Series 4 had a Doctor-Light story, but this isn't it. This is Companion-Light, with Catherine Tate appearing in one scene at the beginning and one at the end. The bulk of the story is told on one set, with a limited set of charaters and a threat that we never explicitly see, but hear in the voices of the actors and see in their faces. It's a dark tale, although not the darkest Who has ever told. Chilling, and very strong.
Vincent and the Doctor
Vincent Van Gogh vs the Giant Invisible Turkey of Despair. Lots of metaphor in there, but despite some beautiful moments, it's not going to win this round.
Ranking for Episode 10
I'm giving it to Blink. And Midnight. Shared. Different stories, different reasons.
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 5 > Series 2 > Series 1
Blink brings Series 3 back in to contention, but it;s very close between series 2, 3 and 5 as we get close to the end of time...
Way back in 2010, I wrote some articles ranking each episode of the first five seasons of Doctor Who - ignoring specials, and everything before 2005. The idea was to determine which season I preferred. I wrote 8 entries. This is good for me, these days.
Here's the ninth.
The Empty Child
The dawn of Steven Moffat, gives us a strong period piece, a creepy monster with a playground-friendly catchphrase that is still occasionally heard in gay bars, the introduction of Captain Jack and a brilliant supporting character. The only downside is Rose climbing a rope for no good reason, but that's pretty minor. It's going to be hard to beat.
The Satan Pit
This episode isn't going to do it, though. Not that it's a bad episode, but the Doctor is stuck in a cave for most of it, which is what brings the score down. There's a bit of TARDIS magic, which isn't always great, but the base-under-siege is done well, Ida Scott's worth revisiting sometime, and Toby Zed combines creepy with vulnerable really well.
The Family of Blood
The second half was never going to be quite as good as the book - but the book is brilliant, so that's always tough. The key points are there, though, and Tennant does a great job of face acting when he portrays the Doctor's feelings about his cruelty. But that, in itself, doesn't quite work.
Forest of the Dead
Everybody lives... kind of.
Moffat. Moffat, Moffat, Moffat. Oh how you love playing with layers of reality. Marvellously ripping us out of creepy library story in to Donna's alternate reality - the first of several - and giving Catherine Tate something really meaty and human to get her teeth in to. It's a close run between this and The Empty Child
It's a game of two halves. There's the first 35 minutes, where people talk a lot and not much else happens, and then there's the last ten minutes, when Rory dies and Amy forgets that he ever existed. Twisty and intriguing, but not quite enough to cover up the cracks in the earlier part of the episode.
Indeed, because of that, I'm going to inch it in to fourth place, but to be fair, all five Episode 9s are pretty strong. Perhaps being part of a two-parter helps...?
Ranking for Episode 9
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 2 = Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
I'd thought Series 3 might have been higher up the list, to be honest.
I used to watch more cartoons.
In partcular in my 20s and early 30s, Saturday Mornings used to be the time to roll out of bed, roll out to Londis, grab a roll, roll back, fill the roll with bacon and lie on the sofa indulging in something of the nature of I Am Weasel or Cow and Chicken.
Those days are gone.
Not Saturday mornings, admittedly, but Londis is no longer convenient - would that make it an inconvenience store? - and Saturday morning television has been hijacked by Saturday Kitchen, a Coronation Street Omnibus, and the T4-framed repeats of Friends and Glee. Where is Saturday Superstore? Where is Tiswas? Where are Ant and Bloody Dec?
A little research shows us that Children's Television is still around, but banished in to the high numbers, to numbers that fat fingers can't find in an aftermathematical haze. Not when there is the enticement of James Martin's buns to be had.
I used to watch more cartoons. Maybe I'm growing up.
Torchwood is back in July. Fourth series, third format.
It's really hard to see how they can top Children of Earth, which was stunning. A very British, Wyndham-esque story with a very American sequel. Hopefully it's something new, something greater.
I think it's safe to say I'm looking forward to it.
It's been said before, but it bears repeating. Doctor Who is not science fiction.
It has been at some points in its past. Back in the sixties and early seventies it was almost Quatermass in it's Science Fiction-ness, with Jon Pertwee fighting giant maggots in an eco-parable, Tom Baker fighting giant plants in an eco-parable, Patrick Troughton fighting giant seaweed in an eco-parable, and William Hartnell trying to stop the Internet from launching War Machines across Swinging London Town.
In the late 80s it was decidedly fantasy. You can't battle against knights and Gods and angels and magic planets and not be fantasy. It's not in the rules.
When it came back... it was almost soap opera. Certainly with character themes and arcs and family relationships, at times it felt more like soap than anything else. In terms of its genre-ness, I'd place it almost in the superhero category. Certainly, Tennant's Hero Speeches™ felt like that at times. There were team-ups, there were Giant Daleks, there were alternate universes, and there was a bit where the Doctor flew for no readily explained reason.
The 2010 series then... I kind of didn't quite know what to expect. More of the same, probably. But it wasn't. Moffat described it as fairy tale, and I assumed he meant the tone. I thought the basic programme was the same. But it wasn't. It had evolved, as it always evolves. I've read some fan theories about the next series. About who River Song is. About the relevance of Han Solo. About Amy Pond. And they're great, imaginative theories. But they're all based around Doctor Who as science fiction. Or fantasy. Or soap opera.
But it's laid out in the opening minutes of The Eleventh Hour. The Doctor isn't an Angry God™ any more. He's not flying over London, making sure every major landmark gets pushed in to the background. He's sitting in a kitchen, claiming that apples are evil and delighting in fish fingers and custard. He's not an Angry God™. He's Tigger.
Doctor Who is a fairy tale, and that's why all of the theories I've read about the 2011 series are wrong.
I like Paul Cornell's writing. I am not, however, a huge fan of this story. It just sort of sits there. Yes, it introduces Pete Tyler, and it's suitably tragic, but I think it would be done better in other stories in later seasons.
The Impossible Planet
I remember lots of bits of this. It's a premiere visit to an alien world, it's a base under siege, and there's lots of running around. But I'm not certain what's in this episode and what's in the next one.
I think I've said before that I like Paul Cornell's writing. Here he shows how good it can be. Let's face it, though, the idea is great and the transposition from novel to screen works really well. This is the story where Martha really starts coming in to her own.
Silence in the Library
In many ways, this story reminds me of Doctor Who novels of the 1990s. A mystery, a mysterious archaeologist, and a creepy villain/monster. The library is well realised, although it reminds me of the library on Herek Secundus. Whatever happened to that?
The Hungry Earth
Not a huge fan, oddly. I think it's because I wanted it to feel more like a Pertwee story, and it didn't. It had a lot of the trappings, but the story was bigger than the realisation. It needed to be more "Seeds of Doom" and less "The Awakening".
Ranking for Episode 8
A tough one, as there's not much to pick between them. But only positions 1 and are clear.
Rankings So Far Series 4 > Series 2 > Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
Only two points separate Series 4 from Series 5. I'm starting to feel surprised by this - I had a preconception about how this would work out, and it might be different...
The Long Game
How do you follow "Dalek"? Badly.
Despite a crazily strong cast, this looked and felt like padding. It was a middle chapter, serving a couple of strong points in the ongoing narrative - but the threat never felt real or relevant. Which is a shame, because there's a lot to like here - great ideas, playing with the importance of the companion, setting up a whole idea of a society. But it just doesn't quite work as well as it could.
The Idiot's Lantern
Another filler. It does stand on its own, however, and it's got some good character moments. The Doctor being interviewed by the police stands out, and the faceless Rose is pretty spooky. In a kind of Sapphire and Steel way.
The premise wasn't great, but I thought this one really worked well - the story kept the pace up, and there were some great character moments for Martha. The sight of her in the escape capsule floating off silently in to space remains one of the strongest images of year 3.
The Unicorn and the Wasp
If you've got Catherine Tate, it makes sense to do an out and out comedy. This is it. An Agatha Christie style story - with Agatha Christie in it. Throw in references to her novels, Cluedo, a bit with vinegar and a classic Christie-style denoument, and add some note-perfect performances from the rest of the cast. Great stuff.
Felt like the budget-saver of the series, but that can lead to some creative ideas. Nice and twisty, and pushing old ladies off the roof will never get old. I found myself feeling hugely nostalgic throughout, as I tried to guess the nature of the villain of the piece. I didn't get it right, and to be honest, I thought my guesses were better than the reveal - but never mind that. Solid.
Ranking for Episode 7
Hard to call, actually. A bit of Space Opera, a bit of Historical, a bit of Contemporary. Episode 7 shows off the diversity of the series. Here's my final call, though.
Rankings So Far
Series 2 = Series 4 = Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
Neck, and indeed Neck. Everything to play for, as it were, as we head in to the back half of the seasons.
Getting towards the middle of the series. A tricky time.
This is a good one, though. Much anticipated as it brought back an icon not seen on screen since 1989, and represented in 1996 through the miracle of Alvin and the Chipmunks. It needed to make the Daleks mean, and it needed to make them a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to a hugely strong performance from Christopher Eccleston, it succeeded.
Age of Steel
Good chunk of underplayed horror in this one. Rose loses a copy of her mother, people die. And there's a great little scene tucked in there with the Doctor and Mrs Moore. A strong conclusion to a strong mid-season 2 parter, although the resolution of the cliffhanger is... odd.
The Lazarus Experiment
Well, I liked it. Much mocked, it's got some good character work for Martha's family, and a nice structure, but the monster was a bit pants. As was "Turn it up to 11"
The Doctor's Daughter
Sadly, felt like padding. This was the beginning, really, of Donna's self-deprecating streak, which I never liked as it never felt real in terms of the character. The whole idea of the Doctor getting a daughter could have been done so much better, too.
Vampires of Venice
Great setting, looked marvellous, something of a slight story, and marred a little by the fact that I'm not sure I heard all the dialogue. As a result, it felt like a bit of a run-around with the day being saved by the Doctor finding the alien gubbins and turning it off. Solid, but not great.
Ranking for Episode 6
Rankings So Far
Series 2 > Series 5 > Series 4 > Series 3 > Series 1
They're all pretty close though. Series 1 or 3 isn't about to suddenly jump in to the lead, but either of the others could. Exciting (for some values of exciting).
Slitheen, Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans, Weeping Angels. Week five is Villain Week.
World War III
Some of the deaths in the previous episode are conveniently forgotten, the Slitheen look different as CGI from costumes, and there's a comedy chase scene.
The Slitheen are one of the few races who don't wear masks half the time for budgetary reasons. They have a few good twists to them, but they are ultimately a bit rubbish.
Rise of the Cybermen
And we've got an alternate universe with alternate versions of characters and a new origin for the Cybermen. Nicely realised, it feels like there's a lot more to this world than is shown on screen. And the Cybermen are suitably monolithic.
Evolution of the Daleks
Bring on the parade of bad science. Magic lightning, random hybrids, so on and so forth. But Daleks in a theatre in the 1930s is pretty cool. Shame that the "Human Dalek" isn't.
The Poison Sky
Picks up all of the elements from the previous story, runs them on to logical conclusions, with a nice good role for Bernard Cribbins. And by throwing Donna on to a spaceship, she becomes critical to the plot - and steps up to the mark admirably.
It's a shame that in later stories she decided she was useless.
Flesh and Stone
It's a game of two halves. We've got the Angels approaching through the forest on the spaceship, we've got Amy walking through the forest with her eyes closed, while all around her people are vanishing, we've got Octavian and his sacrifice. Almost a bottle episode, just a couple of sets.
And then at the end, we have the crack. The none-too-subtle thread running through the first few episodes is addressed, and used, and to some extent dealt with. And it leads back to Amy's home, where she behaves in a not unreasonable manner.
Ranking for Episode 5
Rankings So Far
Series 4 = Series 2 > Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
Only one point separates the first three series. I'm interested to see where this is going.
Aliens of London
Russell T Davies brings us London. Spaceships flying in to the houses of Parliament, UNIT, Television news covering the whole thing. Rose, controversially at the time, tells the Doctor he's so gay, and the monsters are disappointing fart creatures.
The Girl in the Fireplace
Beautiful story, with small character moments, great set pieces of horses jumping through mirrors, good character work throughout, and an almost perfect conclusion. Hard to believe it's the same series as farting Slitheen
Daleks in Manhattan
Clearly, however, this is the same series as Aliens of London. Mind you, it's a great setting, the Daleks are developed a bit, and the design is beautiful. It was rumoured that there were going to be Art Deco Daleks in this. However, all the Daleks in this era were pretty much Deco to begin with. As opposed to now, when they are Playmobil.
The Sontaran Stratagem
It's a "best-of" episode 4 compilation! Threat on contemporary Earth, check. First part of two-part story bringing back an old monster, check. UNIT, check. First trip back to companion's family, check.
It also brings back Martha, once more addressing the issue of what happens to companions when they leave. Martha's arc is an interesting one here, not least because Freema Agyeman spends most of the time playing a clone. Enjoyable, though, and UNIT troops only recruit the handsome ones.
The Time of Angels
Say what you like about Stephen Moffat, he knows how to write episode 4.
Bringing back two of his creations - the much-loved Weeping Angels and the Marmite-flavoured River Song, putting them together in a cinematic story with warrior clergymen, some great misdirection, a bit of Ring and some fantastic dialogue... potentially great.
Not quite as great as The Girl in The Fireplace for me, though. Something about it - the direction, the sound mix, something just made it feel a little less polished.
So, after four stories we have
Ranking for Episode 4
Rankings So Far
Series 4 > Series 2 > Series 5 > Series 3 > Series 1
Series 4 and 2 are very close now, with Series 5 edging in to third position. Series 1 is languishing very much in fifth place, and looks unlikely to change
Next week: Week 5 means classic monsters every year. And the Slitheen.
The Unquiet Dead
Historical setting, high-profile guest star, gag about Wales, bit about Christmas. All good. Except it just kind of misses. The Gelth don't come across too well - they're hard to make out, sometimes. And it's trying too hard to evoke The Talons of Weng Chiang, which it can't do well, because it wasn't made in the 1970s.
And here we have a couple of icons, and proof, if proof were needed that this is the same series that Lis Sladen was in in the 1970s. Some great character moments for Billie and Lis, and Mickey realises that he's the metal dog. All of which makes this episode rise above the thinness of the plot.
Heavy on the CGI, reuse of sets and characters, combining the returning Cat People from Season 2 with the Macra from the 1960s. Another slim plot, bookended with the Doctor talking about Gallifrey - and that's what lifts this story.
Planet of the Ood
In their previous outing, the Ood were an innocent race, used by an outside force, and they all died. All of them. That's not really a very good message, perhaps, to send out to kids. Yes, they had red eyes and went mad and stuff, but here they carry their brains around, and they get liberated from slavery. Which they would probably have done without the Doctor being around, actually.
Catherine Tate is very good.
Victory of the Daleks
I want to like this one more. I want to proclaim it as a hidden gem of a story, with the humour of the Daleks offering tea, the fantastic dog fight, the brilliant reveal of new daleks, and the humanity of the characters - even the robots.
It's got great hopes for itself, but it fails.
Part of the problem is that it needs to be a longer story. The Dalek subterfuge needs to be questionable for longer - there needs to be a real feeling that the Doctor is wrong about them. And then there's the reveal of the new range of toys that look like a marketing group sat down and wondered "how can we make these nasty machines of death less threatening and more cuddly?"
Curse of Fenric handled war better, over twenty years ago. And it had Tomek Bork in it.
Ranking for Episode 3
Series Four extends its lead, but Series Two and Three are close behind. Next: Slitheen, Clockwork, Daleks, Sontarans and Angels.
The End of the World
And in episode 2, we get diverse aliens, Britney Spears, Rose befriending a local, being under threat, a swift resolution, the first mentions of the Time War, and a scene about chips.
Almost as important to get episode 2 right as episode 1, and this does pretty damn well.
Tooth and Claw
However, by series 2, things are very different. The Doctor's established. Rose is established. So we have Scotland, a werewolf, martial arts monks that not only exist for no reason, also vanish for no reason, and the beginnings of Rose being smug in time and space. Impressive werewolf, though.
The Shakespeare Code
Perhaps the role of episode 2 is to set up the strengths of the companion, to really bed them in. It didn't really happen in TEotW, as Rose was damsel in distress with Jabe as assistant. Here we've got Martha's feelings for the Doctor in the mix, some witches, some glib cultural references. It's fun. But not on a par with
The Fires of Pompeii
which is possibly the beginning of the end for Tennant's Doctor. Lots of angst about not being able to change history, you see. Reminding us that Donna will challenge him, will ultimately be more human than he is. And sometimes she'll be right.
The Beast Below
We're still establishing a new Doctor and a new companion. He doesn't interfere unless there's a child crying. Amy gets separated, gets nosy because she's a nosy person, and we get the beginnings of mystery about her crack
Ranking for Episode 2
Series 4 - Series 5 - Series 1 - Series 3 - Series 2
Doctor Who. Which series is best? There's only one way to find out - rank them, episode by episode.
Introduction to the brave new world. Had a lot to do. It introduced us to rubber Mickey, won the day with Anti-Plastic and had a great speech or two about the spinning of the world.
As the first real full story for David Tennant's Doctor, this had some running to do to catch up. Fortunately, bringing back Cassandra and the Face of Boe gave a confident familiarity. The hospital didn't have a little shop, but the leads were both strong. The resolution was pretty glib - mixing together all the cures in the world making something that can cure anything... but that's kind of the way of these things.
Smith and Jones
The first new companion since the series began, coming in cold. Freema Agyeman's Martha comes across as clever, sensible and grounded. The hospital does have a little shop, and the villain is a little old lady with a straw.
Partners in Crime
I'm waving at fat. Enough said. And the sign-language section.
The Eleventh Hour
Some big shoes to fill - for the first time since 2005, we were seeing a new Doctor and a new companion in the same story. Some good parts - not least the whole post-regeneration eating session. Good start to a season, and full of promise of what is to come...
Generally speaking, five good strong stories. Hard to rank them, really, but here goes.
I was nervous sitting down to watch Doctor Who on Saturday. In the five years since Russell T Davies brought it back to Saturday nights, it's been fantastic in places, and faintly embarrassing in others - but on the whole it's been pretty damned good.
I had confidence in Moffat as the new show-runner. I had confidence in Matt Smith based on 10 seconds of seeing him in January. But it was the same nervousness I had when watching Rose back in 2005. What if they changed it too much?
I needn't have worried. A confident production, with enough of the old to be familiar and enough of the new to be exciting. And there was lots of the old. The plot had more than a passing resemblance to Smith and Jones, with a good subplot from The Girl In The Fireplace thrown in. There was foreshadowing to the season finale. There were characters and settings that will recur. There were some great one-liners.
But none of that felt in any way stale. It felt fresh, rejuvenated. Not bad for a forty-seven year old.
The "Supernatural-Comedy-Drama" is a curious beast.
Writers and showrunners often find it hard to balance the components - make it too funny and the dramatic elements are ineffective. Make it too dramatic, and the comedy feels forced. In the case of the recent episode of Doctor Who, make it too sentimental and leave hundreds of hungover fanboys scratching their heads. But I digress.
Being Human - season 2, episode 1 - was always going to be an interesting one to watch. The first season tied up a lot of the plotlines from the pilot, leaving the question of "where next?" - and the second season picked up a month later - with some characters having found closure, some having found new wounds. The episode set up new threads for the new season, while at the same time re-establishing the characters and their desire to be "normal" humans.
I'm a big fan of the fantastic, magical-realism style writing. I like worlds which are almost real, which could be happening just around the corner, and which reflect on our own reality in metaphorical ways. Being Human manages to stay just on this side of the line beyond which lies pure escapism. It succeeds because it is less about vampires and werewolves and ghosts, and more about the problems of fitting in to society when you feel slightly out of it. I think most people feel that at some point in their lives.
BBC one, possibly the nation's most popular channel, interrupted its regular programming last night to bring us a half hour bulletin about the weather. It turns out it's been snowing - a fact which might have escaped me had it not been for the fact that it's been bloody freezing for weeks and there's snow outside. Everywhere.
Due to the lack of competition from other channels, I sort of sat through this, mainly trying to work out what it was for.
Officially, the line from the BBC was that they'd had a huge amount of interest in the weather - an extra four hits on their weather site, people wanting to get travel news and so on. All fair enough, because the local situation affects local people. That didn't really square with what was, really, just an extended news programme.
The content was interesting, though. A lot of human interest stories. Praise for the emergency services. Horror stories of people trapped in snow drifts, power cuts, exploding drains, rabbits caught in headlights. This news programme was designed to make you feel better about being at home, on your sofa, watching television, sandwiched between Nigel Slater and Zoe Wanamaker.
It will probably turn out to be the most popular programme of the week - half mogadon, half schadenfreude.
I've just been listening to Susan Boyle singing her Rolling Stones cover "Wild Horses". It's pretty good.
Of course, it was clear that she had talent and would go on to great things. After all, she lost Britain's Got Kittens solely on the grounds that she was going to go on and do really, really big things, so why not vote for the other guys so that they could get five minutes of fame or something.
The British Mainstream Media, bless 'em, accused the producers of the show - and Simon Cowell in particular - of mishandling her, leading to her exhaustion and wee trip to the Priory, but from what I can gather that's a fine accusation with the benefit of hindsight. Regardless, she now clearly has people. They are probably Simon Cowell's people, and they are undoubtedly managing her, and doing damned well.
Her appearance on America's Got Talent included a selection of clips of Britain's Got Kittens and prerecorded interviews - she wasn't interviewed live. She just got out there and sang. As brilliantly as ever.
And she's had a makeover. Just a gentle one - and that's what's clever. Because her unique selling point is that she is both Beauty and the Beast. Make her too pretty and all you have is a pretty singing barrel. She's been softened. Her make-up is understated, her hair softened. Her dress is simple and black, as if to say it's not about me, it's about the music.
Nonetheless, it's about the careful nurturing and management of the fragile person that is Susan Boyle, warts and all.
Reality depresses me. In particular the slice of reality we discover when we put strangers in a house together and point television cameras at them.
Yes, it's fascinating to watch, and to see in microcosm the behaviours that are enacted around us all day. But it's also desperately sad to watch some of these misguided sociopaths defend their manipulations and confrontations by saying that they were just "being themselves" or "keeping it real".
When did honesty and personal integrity become such a good thing? Valued over other virtues such as diplomacy and sacrifice?
More on this story in the Guardian.
There's some debate at the moment about news. It's been going for a while - over ten years now since the debut of the Electronic Telegraph. The argument goes like this.
In the Good Old Days™ Newspapers were newspapers, devoted to putting news in papers. Television was television, devoted to pictures of things that were far, far away. We had the BBC, which was proper and British and we had ITV which was fun and had annoying regional variations.
In the Less Good Less Old Days, there were suddenly a lot more television stations, and some of them were rolling news channels, devoted to repeating the same stories at regular half hour intervals. Sometimes the stories were new and sometimes they were accurate. It made sense for newspapers and news channels - and indeed entertainment channels - to be owned by the same people. They could share resources - people could get the same news that they trusted by the method of their choice. True, the newspaper/television groups were still competing with the BBC, but the BBC was funded by a compulsory tax, and constrained by various bits of regulation. The BBC wasn't allowed to buy a newspaper, although it could go around publishing Olive Magazine willy nilly. It had to do educational and religious things, which is why we would get Songs of Praise rather than the Bond Movie on ITV. Winners on The Price is Right won cars. Winners on Blankety Blank got a cheque book and pen.
The sad fact is that the revenue model for generating revenue from news gathering and dissemination doesn't really work any more. I don't really think it's realistic to expect it to work ever again. In a Murdoch world, the BBC is restricted, in order to give newspapers a level playing field with their sites, and theoretically allowing them to charge. Access to News once more becomes a matter of choosing to pay for it. I can understand that view. Hell, I can even sympathise. But I think that he is sitting in a chair on a beach screaming at the tide to go back. And the water is already up to his neck. Silly cnut.
Murdoch is in direct competition to the BBC - but doesn't have the same protectionist backing. How can commercial television compete with shows like Who Do You Think You Are?, Coast or Dragon's Den? Endless talent competitions? Three hours of soap opera a night? Commercial television is in a dire state. Thank god there is public service broadcasting and no level playing field.
All it needed was Peter Capaldi swearing like a trooper...
I'm still slightly shell-shocked following last week's Torchwood. Five hours of television telling a Wyndham-esque story with villains of several races, flawed heroes, a genuine feeling of jeapordy and threat. Possibly the best thing to come out of the BBC Wales Doctor Who stable since 2005, and that's saying something.
Torchwood had something of a mixed genesis. Taking its format of thirteen 45-minute episodes forced it into the Doctor Who monster-of-the-week format, and to an extent this was both the charm of the series and its shackle. Concealed in the back of BBC Three, then BBC Two, it produced strong ratings for both channels, but there was something about it that didn't quite work. It was competent enough, but it had so much more potential.
Children of Earth seemed like a risk. One story, five episodes, 9pm each night in the
summer. Part political thriller, part alien invasion story, Children of Earth took all of its heritage - the previous 26 episodes, the entire history of Doctor Who, and a healthy dose of Edge of Darkness, Day of the Triffids and the Midwych Cuckoos, and pulled together a tense, well structured story that felt big and small at the same time, in a good sense for both.
It opened up new characters and new ideas, and brought them together to a natural and not-too-mcguffin-y conclusion. It had monsters with mystery and motive. And it had an open-ended closure that leaves scope for the series to return at some point in some format. Part of the success of the show in my view is that it was less complacent, and more character driven. Part of it was undoubtedly the fact that it was screened over a single week - meaning that the chances of the ending being leaked to the press were drastically reduced, and also that as a viewer, it was easier to invest the time.
Do I think it's the end for Torchwood? Part of me wants it to be, because if so it has ended on a fantastic high. But it's shown what potential there is out there for this type of series, and I'd like to see more of the same. I'd like to know what happened next to Johnson, Alice and Lois, because I think there's so much more that can be told.
On the way to work today, I had something of a revelation.
New stuff happens all the time. New work is created - art, music, graffiti, political speeches, journalism, theatre, cinema, TV shows, web sites, photographs, dirty limericks, malformed half-cocked pub theories, bigotry, food, drink and doodles.
How cool is that?
And what's more, this has been happening for years now. So there must be something out there that I've missed. And so, I thought I'd try to expose myself to something new. Well, new to me.
And so, this week, I have watched the first seven or eight episodes of Smallville.
It's not bad. I wouldn't call it great, but then I wouldn't call the first series of Buffy great either, and that went on to great things before disappearing up itself. It's got a fair amount going for it - the leads are sympathetic and easy on the eye, the effects are great and the scripts don't jar too much.
However it suffers in a number of areas - the plot is the same every week, the message of the week is sometimes layed on with a trowel ("I sometimes feel like I have a secret identity - do you ever feel that way, Clark?") although it's nowhere near as bad as Heroes in that respect. However there's a bit too much of a reset button about the relationships - episodes seem to try to develop the relationship between Clark and Lana only to have everything going back to normal the week after. And when Clark's performing his hugely alien feats to rescue people they're almost invariably unconscious.
I suspect I will stick with it, though - it passes time, it's not something I feel the urge to share with Mr Twinky, my evil sidekick cat, and I'm prepared to give it first-season-benefit-of-the-doubt.
How do I love thee? Let me count the way. Three. Boys in the girls room. And so on.
I've loved "Garbage" since... well, I can't say exactly when but I have one of those memories of listening to their first album intensely over the period when I was playing Civilization II to death, which puts it at... 13 years.
Let's start with the obvious. Shirley Manson and Glen McCoy.
One word you could describe Timelash with is "slightly flawed classic". It's surely among the best stories in the entire 80s era of the show, able to hold its head up high with the likes of 'The Twin Dilemma' and 'Delta and the Bannermen' and say 'look at me, I'm adequate!'
And yes, I know that "slightly flawed classic" is three words.
It's probably best to compare Timelash to Interference, the recent twin novels by Lawrence Miles, who I believe has been quite popular. The two have a lot in common - not least the fact that after his unfavourable reactionism to their slightly flawed classics, Glen McCoy's response was to drop out of Doctor Who altogether and change his name to Shirley Manson.
Timelash on one level, works as a political thriller. The fascinating politics of Karfel, and their eerie neighbours the Bandrils must have insipred Lawrence ("Mad Bandrils, Bad Mandrells") Miles. The viewer's attention is captivated by pondering the complexities of a society rich with mystery. Why are mirrors forbidden? Why is the ruler a Big Brother tyype character talking to people only as a puppet of Professor Chronotis on video? Why is this culture that is so scientifically advanced still dressing like that and communicating in stilted formal language? Why does the wall of their council chamber look like the back wall of a television studio?
On another level, Timelash plays with the same themes as Interference. The burning robot that travels through time is a key - the future affects the past. Time loops. There is also a theme of change - in Interference through the remote and their rebirthing - in Timelash through magic gas that's going to turn Peri into a dinosaur. Add to this the similarities between the way the Cold works in Interference and the workings of the eponymous Timelash and you will start to see the implications of McCoy's oeuvre on the later work by Miles.
On yet another level, Timelash is a fairy story. Paul Darrow elects to portray Tekker as an outrageously camp homosexual and fruit fetishist, struggling to balance the fact that as Maylin, he is expected to father a child by Jeananne Crowley with his craven desires for Dicken Ashworth, himself a repressed homosexual. Or maybe I read that somewhere.
The fact remains that - on paper at least - Timelash is excellent. With the same tight plotting as Unnatural History, the same woeful miscasting as Horns of Nimon and the same themes as Interference, I love it to bits.
Just thought I'd mention that.
Don't forget Shirley Manson = Glen McCoy. Changing the way we view both of them.
Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, there were dragons and wizards and a very clean and tidy medieval town.
Gwen Cooper, formerly of the police and latterly of Torchwood had found herself there after a particularly dodgy night of drinking and promptly decided that the best thing to do was to watch her son get executed and then exact revenge by taking over the body of a singer who looked exactly like she had looked years before. And then singing people in to a trance.
The plan was to kill the son of the Gold Blend couple in a complex revenge killing scenario. However, she hadn't counted on the goth kid from the bus in Midnight, who is the greatest sorceror of his time and able to freeze time and destroy planets just by a wave of his hand escaping her spell due to the mystic power of holding his hands over his ears and going la-la-la I can't hear you.
It was this or the X Factor.
On second thoughts, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.
It's spelled Nike, and pronounced Nikey.
But it was christened Nichael, so that is what it is called by Big Brother in the Diary Room.
When I was a kid, soaps were called soaps, and I'll tell you something. They were nothing like as good as they are these days, when they're at their best.
For a kick off, soaps were definitely for women. Men had sport, and so women had soaps, all about love, and affairs, and a little bit rubbish really, but that didn't matter because the main purpose of soaps was to sell soap powder to their target audience - home makers.
Somewhere in the last four hundred years, though, there's been a change. True, soaps may still be targeted at women and the gayers in the community, but they're the most watched programmes on British television and they're big business and they're hugely competitive. They're now called serial dramas, they've got awards and magazines devoted to them and the drive to win audience has led to a stunt-driven conveyor belt of plane crashes, hostage situations, disaster weddings and family teenage stepson nutter hostage tower block shooting calamities.
There's an odd side effect to this.
There's actually some damn good acting in there. Some well written, intelligent scripts. There's even some consistent character development over a period of years. Sometimes, these things are actually worth watching.
They say that if Shakespeare was alive now, he'd be writing for the soaps. That's probably not true. He'd be writing soppy love poems to a dark lady, tossing off the odd dirty limerick, and he'd have a new blockbuster in the multplex every six months based on a real life true story. He'd have written a cracking screenplay for The Queen, and Helen Mirren would sing his praises. However, if he Dickens was alive, he'd certainly be writing for the soaps, and he'd have come up with some cracking stuff for Christmas Day.
7pm News : Today's issues, driven by media hysteria.
7.55 Three Minute Wonder : Human Rights Abuse: Three women push babies out in clear violation of the rights of the child.
8.00 Eat what I Tell You : Body Fascism and Size-ist Prejudice: Two women move in with an evil dwarf who forces them to examine their own excrement, forces them to feel inadequate about their weight, and lies to them about made up science.
9.00 Celebrity Big Brother : An unbiased examination of how human beings behave without the rule of law.
10.00 Shameless : Class-biased Anti-lesbian Racist Propaganda. An innocent English tax dodger is harrassed by a lesbian and a randomly mentally-ill woman in violation of his basic human rights.
11.05 Shipwrecked : An unbiased examination of how human beings behave without the rule of law.
When is it okay to show racism on the telly?
Let's start with the rabid view, eh? It's never okay to show racism on television. Bang goes repeating the full series of Cracker. Bang goes any storyline in a soap opera that shows racism and the backlash against it. Bang goes any serious drama that deals with racism in an intelligent way.
So we've eliminated that option. It's okay to show racism on telly. So long as it's not portrayed in a positive manner, or goes un-noted and unpunished. We've got to show the consequences. Teeters on the politically correct brink of censorship and propaganda, i know, but what the hell.
Let's look briefly at American Idol. I know it's not an attractive thing to watch, but I caught some at the weekend. Audition shows. Judges mock the contestants "You look like a bush baby". Contestants insult the judges "You should go back home to England". One's personal. One is - debatably - racist. Nobody is going to bat an eyelid. Mainly because it's a lot of nonsense.
So, any racism portrayed on television must be in the right context. That's really, really tricky for a writer. It becomes - if you will excuse the language (and you should, because it has NOTHING to do with race) - a black and white matter. You've got to have an oppressor and a victim, and the reason for the oppression has to be race, pretty much. If you throw in any ambiguity then you've got a whole different kettle of fish. We like to call this sort of drama "edgy".
And then we've got reality.
I genuinely don't know if what I saw on American Idol was racist. I think it was personal. Contestant doesn't like judge, suggests that judge should go home, picking on the most obvious thing. It's like suggesting that Paula Abdul can't sing, or Randy Jackson is a bit overweight. It's cheap, it's personal, it probably isn't in any way fair, and it's just grabbing at something to have a go at.
Unfortunately, American Idol didn't show us the consequences. Didn't show us how it felt to be on the receiving end of that sort of comment. Didn't show the realisation of the meaning of the words that had been spat out in anger. Nobody complained, nobody felt uncomfortable, and as far as I know nobody is suggesting that the programme is banned.
And that's a shame. Because showing racism on television, unscripted, and showing its consequences is probably a good thing, It's probably something that television can achieve better than reality because in reality you can never get the same dispassionate hands-off viewpoint.
It's the sort of discussion that happens all the time on current affairs programmes. I've seen some stonking debates on Channel 4 News about such-and-such a group having their *whatever* rights violated by *whatever* other group. And at the end of the programme, there's no fall out, just a five minute short film about a drop-in centre in Wales.
Maybe sometimes we need to be uncomfortable. Maybe sometimes we need that sugar coating, that disguise of entertainment.
While I loathe and detest soap opera, obviously, it fascinates me. The same basic plots played out again and again in slightly different frocks.
At its best, it's an accelerated mirror of society, highlighting the social issues of the moment and showing many sides of a debate. At its worst it's attention grabbing, overblown, and utterly insufferable.
But my main interest is about the way the plot strands intermingle and entwine, the way the viewer is drawn in to one plot before the previous one ends, to keep the audience hooked.
In many ways it's like a clinically structured version of real life, as I've been reminded this weekend. We're living through the fringes of a number of interesting stories, occasionally touching them, occasionally influencing them. Our own real life soaps are far more interesting than the ones on TV. So I won't be writing about them.
I've been thinking a bit over the last day or so about what "adult" means, when it comes to entertainment. This is mainly down to watching something on television that was fairly heavily signposted as being "adult" by throwing a couple of rude words in early on, and some gratuitous sex.
The basic dilemma is this. Real life contains sex and swearing. Adults can deal with sex and swearing, so it's okay to have them in an adult drama.
But, of course, being an adult means having responsibility. Just because you can have sex and swearing, doesn't mean that you have to. There's a whole train of thought around "If you're being terribly imaginative and grown up then you don't need to resort to sex and swearing" which is tantamount to saying "censor yourself". Nothing wrong with that as long as you still have the choice, but it is getting close to the message purveyed by the Provisional Wing of the National Viewer and Listener's Association in the 1970s when they campaigned against that sort of thing. And ended up publicising it, but never mind.
However, there's a counter-argument. The programme contained adult themes, by which I mean serious moral ambiguities discussed and unresolved, conflict between the characters and characters who were heroic - but not role models. By using swearing so obviously, it clearly marked the programme as one that was targetted at adults rather than children. A few "rude words" act as a deterrent - highlighting that this is the sort of programme that parents may not want to expose children to.
Don't know, jury's still out.
There's a nice little phrase - "to damn with faint praise". So, not being rude, Robin Hood is "quite good". It's enjoyable though, for a fluff of a show and it looks very nice. It has now been on twice.
It's very odd to witness the rebirth of family drama that's not set around the idea of getting back to a rural idyll. I mean, Hamish, Monarch of the Ballykissmacbeth is fine, but it's glossified soap. The adventure series was such a staple part of my life growing up, and my parents life, and yet it was declared dead a few years ago, killed by reality television.j
Of course now reality television is everywhere - at least everywhere on television. You can't clean your house without Jade Goody getting in your face. Kenzie, poor guy, can't get his singing career started because of his reality TV commitments. He's not a celebrity, get him out of there. Don't start me on Sinitta.
But I digress. My generation are now making television programmes. So we get a huge range of misguided tat, and we also get Lis Sladen being dragged back from retirement to headline a kids show that will probably be reasonably good. You get Robin Hood. You get some dross, obviously, like the short-lived live action series of Mary, Mungo and Midge, but on the whole, the theme-of-the-moment appears to be that the staples of 1970s television are back, but with 21st century production values.
How good is that?
Anyone can have a laugh
Anyone can smile
But not on Eastenders...
Last night I had a dream that an entire series of Lost was dedicated to an investigation of the religious history of the world, split in to random chunks as defined by a grid placed over the globe. The pacific was pretty dull, other areas were more interesting, but I did realise that there was an implicit cultural bias.
As usual, I realised this was due to me imposing my cultural bias on the programme I was watching, and that my bias was no better or worse than theirs, per se, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, to see what Wikipedia's cultural overlay was and to look at the political infighting behind each page, to decide which of the topics were controversial, and which of the facts might therefore be merely opinion.
As my brain was about to go in to meltdown, it decided to wake up, just to give itself a rest.
I recently had the pleasure of watching Ant and Dec (does anyone else remember Ant and Bee?) presenting a show in which one could, potentially, bluff ones way to a million pounds. The denoument of the show was a ten second test of nerves. They've been answering questions for an hour, racking up cash, and they both have over £60,000. That's now at risk. They've got ten seconds to decide whether they take their money and run. If they do, their opponent wins a million pounds. If they don't, and they've got the most money, they win the million. If they don't decide to take their money, but their opponent has more, they leave with nothing.
I can't remember their names, but let's call them Phil and Kirsty. Now Phil had a strategy. His strategy was basically never to fold under any circumstances. He told everyone this, and he couched it in phrases that made it clear that it was something he'd read in a book or been on a course about. Self-actualisation. The idea is that if you visualise success, and do not believe that failure is an option, then you will succeed. Not actually a bad idea, really, but it shouldn't be something that you ever say in conversation. Hi, I'm Phil, I'm a success, failure is not an option, nice to meet you. He had a strategy, and a personality. Kirsty just came across as a nice person.
He's probably very successful at his job, but in this instance, he kept his nerve and went home with no money. Kirsty took away her million pounds, and is going to use it to help her family, probably. Which is nice.
Phil didn't win the million pounds, but he was still a winner. He went in with a game plan, and he played the game his way, and that could only ever lead to him winning a million pounds or nothing. He came out with no more than he went in with, so didn't really lose financially. But he did come across as really, really annoying.
Ah, silly season. The time of the year when the most interesting thing on the telly is a bunch of freaks locked in a prison on public display, so we can all pay our metaphorical penny to laugh at the pretty freaks.
This is great if you're an insomniac. You can lie awake half the night listening to half a conversation between two people with half a brain. Between them.
Ah yes, Big Brother. Now in its seventh year. It used to be a fun "game" show. Now it's a form of endurance test, a psychological test for its contestants and a guilty secret for its audience, equally delighted and repelled by the mix of the scary people and the rest of society that chooses to hide away from the long tedious summer of sport.
With nothing but each other for entertainment, much of the time, we get a chance to see human nature at its most raw. And what horrible people we are. We lie, we cheat, we confuse, we are confused. It's an ugly mirror of society, but at its heart it tells us something about the values that society places on individual character traits. Every year it is won by the bland or the underdog. The micro-social scene in which the contestants live their lives and the macro-social landscape of society are hugely different. And that's where the tension lies, the interest.
The one thing I have learned from Big Brother this year - so far - is that bullies prosper, but only in small ways, and never forever.
How do you make a drama about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley? And also why?
The why isn't obvious. On the one hand, it's a real life story of some particularly horrific murders that took place within living memory. "The public" has an insatiable curiosity about these things. Like children, they like to be scared so that they can feel safe. They like their horror larger than life, and at the same time controlled, described, understood. Pigeonholed so that they can forget it.
Brady and Hindley are probably two of the most famous real life villains of our time, though. And they're still hugely confidential and socially a taboo. Their crimes are still open wounds in the heart of our society some forty years on. They have never gone away. Partly that's down to the awfulness of what they did, and partly that's down to an iconic image or two.
But I knew very little about them. That was what interested me most. Oh, I knew what they did, and when they did it, and what they did afterwards, but I didn't know who they were, how they were caught, and I still don't know why they did it, despite devoting three hours of my life to a drama about them.
Drama, you see, and in particular popular drama, has to live within cultural constructs. Stories need beginnings, middles, and ends, and there need to be characters that the audience can identify with. It's possible to write a drama about a killer and portray the killer as a victim, make the character almost forgiveable, almost sympathetic. But not Brady and Hindley. Not when "the public" gets so incensed by them still.
Or at least, by the idea of them, by what they represent.
So, the BBC's adaptation of Bleak House "as a soap" starring Anna Maxwell Martin as an ingenue, comedians playing straight and Gillian Anderson smouldering and doing a lot of what we like to call "face acting".
How's it doing?
Frankly, I find myself loving it. It's ripping along with all of the pace of the original but without any of the usual trappings of Dickens adaptations. The grotesques are underplayed, the simpering characters manage to imbue thier cardboard cutouts with an extra half a dimension, and the wit actually comes through beautifully.
That said, I do expect Esther to reveal that she isn't really a mysterious orphan; she's a freedom fighter from Earth attempting to get to the bottom of Bleak House's true nature. Followed by Lady Dedlock going down in to a cellar somewhere to discover that the battery on her torch is dying and her cellphone doesn't work. Mr Tulkinghorn will turn out to be a convict, and Mr Kenge will do a really rubbish David Beckham impersonation.
When the BBC announced that they were to make a new series of Doctor Who, I was initially sceptical. I can't really help it, it's the way I'm wired. I never expect anything, and that way I'm seldom disappointed and often delighted.
But Doctor Who reappeared, and it was pretty good, and there was something for everyone in there - lots of death, a bit of posession, some flesh on show, Billie Piper and the Moxx of Balhoon. And now, apparently there's an adult spin-off coming.
Now, at this stage it's only mentioned in one newspaper, and there doesn't seem to be a press release on the BBC's web site, so I am still sceptical. But if it's true - and it probably is, let's be honest, then it's an interesting and unusual twist and I'll look forward to watching it.
Update: The BBC has issued it's Press Release. Bizarre bizarre bizarre.
Way way back, many centuries ago, not long after the bible began, someone invented the Video Recorder. Weeks, possibly dozens of weeks later, my parents bought one. I say "my parents". It'll have been "my dad", but back then, they were just one amorphous blob of controlling my life and making me go to school and eat up all my greens and do my homework.
That was the thing... homework. After coming home from school, you had to do your homework. And you couldn't watch television until after you had done your homework, so while Blue Peter and Crackerjack were safe there was a chance that you might miss something gripping like White Horses or Heidi or the Badly Dubbed Eastern European Singing Tree. And that would be unthinkable.
But now we had this big shiny silver box in the corner. It was black, and matt, and top-loading, but that's irrelevant. It was a big lump of flashy new technology, which could tape two hours of children's telly on a single tape, so that you could do your homework, you could play for a while, and then you could watch the children's telly that you missed. And we did, for a while.
I don't know how long we did it for, because I was about ten, and therefore had no idea of time passing. Terms lasted forever, summers lasted forever, friendships lasted forever, so we probably did this forever. Instead of sitting quietly in front of the television for half an hour, we sat in front of the television with our parents for two hours.
I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to my parents for that. I'm really, really sorry.
When I was a kid, punk meant attitude, it meant trying to change something. It meant anarchy and anti-music and rebellion.
Now I am an adult, it appears that punk has returned. Punk now means wearing a bit of eyeshadow, and having heavy guitars behind your melody. It means singing Sheryl Crow songs with references to alcohol replaced with caffeine.
"To punk" is now a verb. It means "to behave like Jeremy Beadle". What's that all about?
Do I have this wrong, am I confused?
"Well you see, they took the Bible literally. Adam and Eve; the snake and the apple... Took it word for word. Unfortunately, their version had a misprint. It was all based on 1 Corinthians 13, where it says, "Faith, hop and charity, and the greatest of these is hop." So that's what they did. Every seventh day. I tell you, Sunday lunchtimes were a nightmare. Hopping round the table, serving soup - we all had to wear sou'westers and asbestos underpants."
Is full-frontal nudity on television:
- never acceptable?
- acceptable in some sort of context?
- to be encouraged?
Is the naked human body:
- a horrendous thing that nobody should ever have to see?
- a beautiful, special thing that one should only share with a lover?
- a natural thing that one should be comfortable with, regardless of shape?
- reflect all aspects of society?
- reflect a responsible view of society?
- shape society?
- be mainly programmes about willies and bums?
"This is not easy to write - as you will readily understand. But here goes - congratulations to all involved... to whoever commissioned it, those who executed it, the writers, the cast, the publicity folk that promoted it, the schedulers and of course the late Sydney Newman who invented the whole thing. I truly enjoyed it and watched it every week with my six and half year old son who is now a fan. A classy, popular triumph for people of all ages and all backgrounds - real value for money for our licence fee payers. PS never dreamed I would ever write this. I must be going soft!"
Is the cult of celebrity in danger of collapsing in on itself in a self-congratulatory blob on the floor? All of the signs are there.
Of course, I'm talking about Celebrity Love Island, a show which I have not seen and will not see. There are a few reasons for this, mainly in that I'm not really aware of any of the "Celebrities" and if I were, would I really want to watch them having a holiday?
Back at the dawn of time, "Reality" television held some interest. It wasn't about reality, of course, it was about artificiality, but essentially, there's something rather gruesomely gripping about watching strangers exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their characters in an environment set up to be claustrophobic and to bring out the best and worst in people.
So far, so good.
So we had the likes of Big Brother, and the sort of Boot Camp talent shows where you got to know something more about the competitors each day or week or whatever. Their charm was the general public.
The first development from this would have been something like Celebrity Big Brother, or the early series of "Oh Look I'm a Celebrity in a Jungle." A step down from the original form, but still kind of worked. Firstly, because the celebrities were B list. People you might have heard of. Once. And secondly because they were being humiliated, abused, subjected to discomfort and insects and that's always funny.
But the genre is spread too thin. Celebrity Love Island, for instance, includes people who are famous for having appeared on other programmes where they were described as celebrities. And the hardship seems to consist of maybe getting a nasty case of sunburn while rubbing yourself off against the son of a famous footballer.
There is no more interest in this for me than there is in reading a magazine in which a minor member of Romanian Royalty and her new husband, who appeared in two episodes of Eastenders in 1997 and a calendar in 1998 show you round their beautifully proportioned lounge. In Brixton.
Bring back the 1970s.
They've got a nice new euphemism for cancelling a long running television program with a strong core audience of internet or other fans.
They call it giving it to the fans. The idea being that the fans of any significantly cult show will pick up where television left off, and continue the ideas, characters and themes of the show in other media - be they books, comics, or excruciatingly bad fan videos featuring Americans trying to be Sylvester McCoy.
So, as Star Trek disappears from American screens, given to its fans, I'm going to write about Daleks. Pretty briefly.
I gave up watching Doctor Who in 1985, some 20 years ago now. I started watching again in 1989, and three weeks later it was cancelled. In about 1993, I started reading spin-off novels. The spin-off novels were pretty good, largely because they didn't have to pander to the nostalgic mass-market. They stood on their own terms, they were sometimes exceptionally well written, and they were good for reading on trains at a time when I was commuting a lot.
They had their ups and downs. There was a brief period when they were relaunched for children in 1996. That lasted about four months. They threw up some stories of extraordinary complexity, simplicity, and imagination. While they've been succesful, their market is fans, they're bought by fans, read by fans, and ignored by the other 6 billion people on the planet.
Same goes for the audio plays, really. But marginally less so.
So I guess where I'm getting to is that a couple of months ago, Doctor Who was taken away from its fans and given back to the rest of the world. I was nervous. It could have pandered to the fans - which would have been a big mistake. It doesn't do that. There are some rabid voices in fandom, denouncing it as the work of the devil and his evil homosexual agenda. There are those who denounce the characterisation, who say the plots are too hurried, who criticise the acting and so on and so forth and I'm quietly somewhat tired of them.
Since Doctor Who left the air in 1989ish, there have been various attempts to create a fantasy series that's suitable for the whole family. Such delights as Bugs, Virtual Murder, and the much-missed Crime Traveller came and went and were, without exception, pretty cheesy. Finally, there's one that's got it pretty much right. I'm really pleased about that, because I'm throughly enjoying it, and making a point of watching it.
The fact that it's Doctor Who is an unexpected bonus.
I've had the pleasure of only watching an hour of television in the last sixty or so hours. I've picked up a book and read a bit. That's always a dangerous thing.
So I'm thinking about stuff. I like to think about stuff. Thinking about stuff is good. Reaching decisions about stuff is bad, obviously, unless they're decisions like "yes, I should shower" or "yes, I should tie my shoelaces before I trip over them". But the sort of stuff I'm thinking about is stuff like "Moral Relativism: Force for Good or Evil", and there's less scope for a clear cut decision there, and instead there's an endless spectrum of beautiful grey areas.
Don't think about that metaphor, it's pretty dire.
So in my grey morass of squidgy thought, I'm wondering about the nature of entertainment.
Quickly focusing in on one small part of the morass of media, the BBC was founded to "inform, educate and entertain". Perhaps one could say that the purpose of television these days is to "entrance, appease and anaesthetise". That's if you take the view that television programmes are the stuff that they have to put on to try to make you watch adverts. But I'm off on a tangent again.
The vast bulk of entertainment appears to be there to save you having to think. "Mindless" entertainment. Soap operas, game shows, even news and current affairs programs like the execrable "Tonight with a vague hint of Trevor MacDonald" or consumer affairs such as the mercilessly self-regulating "Dogwatching".
It seems that the idea of a lot of entertainment is to allow you to switch off your brain. It doesn't take a huge degree of skill to follow the plot of Coronation Street. And, in a sense, it doesn't make you imagine. It may make you imagine what it would be like for you if you'd accidentally murdered your father because he tried to stop you from seeing your gay ex-boyfriend's son's dog handler, but that's very domestic, small scale imagination. You're not going to go out and create a sculpture about that emotion. It's not going to insipe you to form your own views on it. No, you're going to flick over to the other channel and watch Family Affairs or something like that and get really worried about Trina's abortive spiral perm.
There's nothing wrong with switching off your mind. Occasionally. Sometimes you need pure escapist entertainment. I like it as something to fall asleep to. But it's addictive. And the more entertainment I consume, the less I find myself capable of creative thought, of anything approaching innovation. And bizarrely, the more I can quote the bloody Dyson ad, or sing the little chirpy bird thing song.
Today in my head is kind of a scary place to be.
Three weeks in, and once again history is repeating itself. Putting aside for one moment last week's ITV strike, which didn't have the same impact as the one during City of Death, this week the British media have enjoyed a backlash against Doctor Who being Too Scary.
Last time this happened, we got an 18 month gap, then Trial of a Time Lord and Bonnie Langford. Which was a bit crap.
Which reminds me... I've got a fantastic theory about Episode 9. If I'm right, it's rilly rilly kewl.
Once upon a time there was a television series. That's all it was, really. It started in 1963, ran for 26 years, and sometimes made the news on the television or in the papers.
Usually, it was newsworthy when the ratings were great, or where there was a new doctor, or a new companion. In later years it was news when the Daleks came back, or when it was commissioned for a new series or when it was cancelled.
The new series has only been going for five days, and already we've had all of that, plus technical problems with the broadcast, the details of the love lives of the Doctor and his companion, and a huge amount of press about the merchandising of the show.
Oh, and one episode.
Time flies, they say. I suspect they're trying to get as much press coverage in by Christmas as they got in the 41 years beforehand...
I wish I could deny the little flutter that goes through my inner childhood every time I think that later this month I will be watching a new series of Doctor Who. I wish I could turn around and say I wasn't going to watch it, but I am.
As the date of transmission approaches, I am getting more excited. Again, I wish I wasn't. I wish I could approach this with the cool detachment that I view the new series of Enterprise, or the next episode of Desperate Housewives. But I can't. Because I'm one of them. I'm a fan. I may try to deny it, I may point out that I used to be more of a fan, I may mention in passing that I have never been to a convention, but there was that one time that I dragged a close friend to the Museum of the Moving Image in London to see the exhibition there, and there was that time that I went to the Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see The Mind Robber the way it was meant to be seen - on the big screen. Vast amounts of my memory are taken up with trivia and plot, with the sheer mass of junk that is Doctor Who. That's not going away in a hurry. I'm guessing that many fans are the same. And that puts me in a dangerous position. It makes me feel that I have some sort of proprietary claim to the show. And I don't. No more than any viewer has a right to Coronation Street or Days of our Lives or Letterman or The Simpsons or Star Trek or Crime Traveller. I know that. But I'm a fan. Short for fanatic. It's hard to reason with that.
I have been trying to avoid detailed spoilers. There are some that I've not been able to miss - I won't repeat them here, but they're mainly about who's in it, actor-wise and villain wise. I know enough to know that it could be good, or even great from the fan's point of view. I want to keep it a surprise, though. And yet... in the last few days, the press coverage has stepped up. There are some shots of villains out there, and some reviews from the episode that has been leaked on the Internet. And sometimes, I'm thinking "this could be good..." and sometimes I'm thinking "wow". And that's a bad thing, because I feel that I am setting myself up for disappointment.
And yet, when I see pictures, I find myself wanting this more. I want to see it. I want to see the trailers (Tuesday, supposedly). I want to watch the show and be surprised and amused and charmed and I want it to be fresh and nostalgic and new and old all at once.
There are all sorts of reasons why Doctor Who was so important to me as a young'un, and why it remained with me in to adulthood. The main one, though is that it was a programme that sparked my imagination, that gave me a base from which to launch my own games and stories, and the belief that there is room in the world for freewheeling fantasy and spiralling dreams.
I don't know what I'm going to make of the new series. Part of me thinks it doesn't matter, because I still have the old series to stir my imagination and remind me of the breadth of wonder in the universe. I just hope that the new generation has the same reaction to the new series that I had to the original. Wonder, mystery, joy.
The most popular television programme in the Great Kingdom of United Britain is undoubtedly Corontaion Street. It's been on the television continuously since forever, and has recently graduated from being on for an hour a week to having its own channel devoted to real time surveillance of Julie Goodyear. Lasst night, we were presented with the exciting prospect of an hour and a half of explosive fun. What sane couple would devote ninety minutes of their life to watching things blow up in a soap opera?
That's right, we did. We taped the middle episode because it was on during something good, and we watched it guiltily before the third episode came on at the ungodly hour of ten. And it was compulsive viewing and it was excellent and it was rubbish.
Parts of it were very well written. Parts of it were very badly acted. Parts of it had us screaming at the television "don't be so stupid". None of it surprised us.
Back in the olden days, it was possible to watch a television programme with no idea of what was going to happen. Now there are a proliferation of magazines and web sites, and storylines are leaked out months in advance, in an effort to secure that most rare of things - an audience.
With the thousands of channels available, and sports, it's harder for broadcasters to protect their market share. Increasingly, mainstream television is being forced to specialise, to focus on the niches where it is most successful. That's why the shows are the same, year in and year out - draw back the public with the familiar, and while they're glued to the adverts in the middle of "Who wants to Marry a Millionaire", remind them that Trevor McDoughnut's on later. Or stuff like that.
To actually make someone switch to your channel rather than your competitor's is much harder now than it used to be when there were, say, three channels. Part of what the explosion in channels has led to is a need for broadcasters to advertise in non-televisual media, such as newspapers and magazines. It's also led to specialist channels, like "E4: Repeats" and "E4: Repeats, an hour later", or lifestyle channels like "Discovery Homos and Lezzers". We watch that one a lot. Perhaps the ultimate destination of this evolution will be the a personal channel the shows are all targeted at exactly my demographic. The Oddverse Channel, perhaps.
I like to think it wouldn't show Coronation Street.
I never thought I'd rave about Battlestar Galactica.
Assume that all of television can be classified on a scale from 0% ("Mind Games") through some solid stuff around 50% ("How ugly is my wife?", "DIY for numpties", "Potato Swap"1), and up to the unassailable 100% ("QI").
The mini-series of Battlestar Galactica is up there in the 80%+ range 2. Which is suprising, because the original series fell somewhere around the 20% mark. Which meant it was only worth watching if my lego was broken.
It was a combination of things, really. The acting was appalling, and I could tell that even at the age of 9. They had an annoying kid and a robot dog, which I suppose were meant to give me characters I could associate with. Nobody can associate with a robot dog if all it does is bark and look cute. Robot dogs need to have laser guns in their nose, and superiority complexes.3
It was also responsible for my lifelong hatred of Jane Seymour. I don't need to explain that one to anyone.
But Battlestar Galactica retained a small cult following despite, or perhaps because of, the sheer awfulness of it. And they grew up and became television executives, and they resurrected the awfulness of Battlestar Galactica, but with one key difference.
They fixed it.
Gone is the annoying kid. Gone is the silly robot dog that I wanted to see yelping around with its leg in a bear trap. Gone is Jane Seymour. In are the characters that the original characters would have been if they'd had more than half a dimension. Galactica is gritty, dark, and relevant for today, while still being full of space battles and gun fights and killer robots, zap kpow blam and such. I'd recommend you watch it if you get the chance.4
I never thought I'd write that.
1 I made up some of these.
2 If you like that kind of thing.
3 I note with mild disinterest that this week it is once again rumoured that there may be an animated K-9 spin off series. Like that's sensible.
4 And, as ever, if you like that kind of thing.
Many people say to us "Why do you have digital television?"
"Simple," we reply. "BBC Four is full of cultural entertainment stuff, and being of a cultural bent, we enjoy that sort of shit. We are therefore willing to pay a premium to have the option of watching that. And the 24-hour Balamory Channel that the BBC are planning for late 2005."
Naturally, we never watch BBC Four. We watch the same two channels that we used to watch before we had digital television. But the picture quality is much better, so we get our money's worth. Most of the time.
Thanks to the miracle of regional television, we were hounded from our usual haunts last night and forced to find new sources of entertainment. We could have turned the telly off, but I was ironing in an effort to keep myself awake, and Mr Twinky was bored, and you know how it is sometimes. So we span our telly-dial at random and it landed on BBC Four. A programme enticingly entitled Mind Games. A study in psychology, we thought. Zebithaya was looking forward to seeing people break down under interrogation, and laughing. However, it was not to be.
Mind Games was rubbish. We all thought so. Admittedly it had Kathy Sykes in it, who delights in finding even the most bland chunk of science to be amusing and fascinating, but even she couldn't suck it out of the incredible quagmire of bland blancmange that was half an hour out of my life.
The idea is that five people sit round a table discussing logic problems, amusing anagrams, and the sort of lateral thinking puzzles that were popular in playgrounds when I was six. In a couple of cases, exactly the same puzzles.
That said, despite the fact that the idea was a waste of television, and that the presentation brought to mind the infamous cross-European grammar quiz that gets trotted out on all the telethons showing the worst of British Television (alongside the late night Men's magazine programme, which was later used as the inspiration for the entire line-up of Granada Men and Motors) - despite this, I enjoyed the show.
I suspect the reason for this was the fact that I was significantly quicker to reach the answers than anyone on the show. It didn't engage my mind in that 'sit back and let it wash over you' kind of sense that most television does, but it engaged me in a 'see if I can prove I'm still good at puzzles, and better at them than Philippa Forrester' kind of way. It woke me up.
Still rubbish, though. Don't watch it. Ever.
Kathy Sykes is Professor of the Public Engagement of Science at Bristol University. Whatever that means. Presumably it means that there's a degree course in the Public Engagement of Science. Wow.
Mr Twinky's really sweet sometimes. At the moment he's having to be sweet quite a lot, essentially when I tell him some new nugget of news about Doctor Who, whether that's enthusing about the writers, or casually mentioning that the Autons were actually pretty scary in 1970, or mentioning a newly announced cast member, such as Bruno Langley (see picture above). In an effort to make his life easier, I present for you now my views on BBC Wales' forthcoming televisual presentation of Doctor Who.
Let's start by saying I'm a recovering fan. I enjoyed the show, I've spent a huge amount on merchandise, but I also made a reasonable amount of profit by selling that merchandise on eBay to
fools Americans. However, when I want to turn off my brain and enjoy some escapist fun, it's still on my list of things I enjoy, but I like to think I'd never go to a convention, unless I went with my companion, and we sat in a corner and made fun of the Vervoids.
Having said that, I've been trying to avoid news about the new series, partly because I want it to come as a surprise, and partly because I am fully expecting to be disappointed by it. After all, the BBC doesn't have a great track record when it comes to that sort of programme, and taking on Doctor Who has to be incredibly risky, particularly when your core fan audience is going to be gay men in the 30+ age group, from what I can tell.
But, damn it, everything I read makes me a little more interested. Casting news suggests that there will be recurring characters. Not necessarily recurring villains, but people like the companion's Mum. Doctor Who never did that when I was a kid. It was all "let's get in to the TARDIS and forget about the real world, we'll head off and bash Daleks on the head with baseball bats, and scream, and stuff like that, hurrah." There are hints that the series might contain characters who develop.
Also - the rumours about the Daleks - and as far as I know they're little more than rumours - suggest that they'll be well used - far better than they've been used since 1966.
It all sounds far too interesting to me. Damn it...
But if it's rubbish, then remember, I told you so.
In 1973, I changed school. Sort of. My school was expanding, merging with another school, and the building where I was supposed to be hadn't been finished. So instead of going to the place where I'd been going to school for a year, I had to get a different bus to a different building in a different part of town. The school was a longer walk from the bus, through leafy streets that were the colour and feel of autumn.
School finished at one. Maybe half past twelve. I wore shorts and a blazer. I wore a cap which had a button on the top which felt like it should have been possible to pick off. I don't think I ever did.
I can't remember if I walked to my Aunt's house after school, or if she picked me up and we walked back. It was a huge house, on the way back from school to the bus stop. I'd go round to her house and probably have lunch, probably do some homework - which would have been new and exciting. I watched television. Crown Court. Bewitched. Bewitched was better than Crown Court. Television closed down for the afternoon, and my Mum came to pick me up to take me home. At home, I'd get to watch the Magic Roundabout, and probably other things too.
"The thing about Opportunity Knocks was that you got different people on it every week. Much more variety. That's why they called it a variety show. You couldn't make it any more, though. People don't want talent shows. They want reality shows."
Balls, I'm afraid.
We were sitting at home on Saturday evening, waiting for Dermot to arrive so we could then go out partying. We found ourselves caught in the orbit of an hour long show featuring auditions. Some were good, most were bad, the programme was definitely played for entertainment, but if you were to strip off the gloss, at its core it was simply a talent show.
It wasn't a talent show with much talent, either. At its core, it was a pretty cheap "product". It's cheap, it's nasty, it's members of the public doing things on television that they shouldn't even do in private. The buzz-word for this is "reality television". It's edited to hell, and is about as real as Star Trek.
Where the contemporary talent show wins over the traditional talent show is that it doesn't need as much talent. It used to be the case that a talent show would present maybe six acts, they'd be whittled down to one, and the winners of each of six rounds would meet in a final. Seven shows, thirty-six contestants. The new approach gives us maybe a dozen contestants, with one eliminated each week over time. Ten shows, twelve contestants. Less talent, spread thinner.
The trick is in the marketing, as ever. We are encouraged to form loyalty for the competitors, to nurture and support them. In a real sense, we are encouraged to form a bond with them, so that when the finale comes, and the winner is rushed to a recording studio, we're so buoyed up with our own success that we rush out and buy product.
The whole package is designed to make money. We pay for phone calls and text messages to support our favoured competitor, we buy their merchandise when they win, we read about their sex lives in newspapers, we dress up as them on "Stars in their Eyes". Is it any wonder that the shows are so popular with advertisers.
People don't want talent shows. They don't want reality shows. We want what we're told we want. We're told that reality shows suit a sophisticated modern audience, and we believe that because it's aspirational, and because it gives us something to do while we're waiting for Dermot to come round so we can go to the pub. But it's empty television for an empty generation, and any substance that emerges is coincidental and irrelevant.
Up until I was about nine, I lived about as centrally in Edinburgh as it was possible to live. If I had stuck my head out of my bedroom window I could probably have seen into the gardens of Holyrood Palace. I passed the front gate on my way to school. My local park had Arthur's Seat in it. This was my little world.
But as you get older, you realise that there are other places to live out there. We used to have one beamed in to our house everytnight, lighting up our television with its cheery depiction of the corrupt fun of life in Scotland's real capital.
To the mind of a fourteen year old, Glasgow had ideas above its station. Just because Scottish Television was based there, they thought that all of Scotland would be interested in Glasgow's local politics. So we in Edinburgh - my nice little corner of Edinburgh just round the palace - we were continually exposed to this complete irrelevance of news that masqueraded as being "Reporting Scotland". The mind of a fourteen year old is impressionable, clearly.
Looking at it in retrospect, I suspect it wasn't as biased as I felt at the time, but I think of how it would make you feel if you were prone to an extreme reaction.
I've met people who believe that, you know. I've given up arguing with them.
I'm sure that "media types" could argue with me that news coverage reflects the world around it, but I doubt that they could succesfully argue that news coverage does not influence the world it inhabits. Television news, like newspapers, is all about competition, and audience share. It's about being slick, and convincing the viewer that you're worth watching more than the competition.
In the UK, television news tries to compete by being fairer, slicker, and more accessible. Tabloid newspapers compete by using shorter words, having more breasts inside, or having better sports coverage. In the US, news media compete for your attention with entertainment media and use sensationalism, scare tactics ("The damning exposé of manicurists that you CANNOT AFFORD TO MISS").
The line between reportage and opinion is blurred and erased on an hourly basis. As a society, we've been groomed to demand information, to demand it quickly. How can we expect our journalists to respond to that without making judgement calls, and without basing their presentation on their own perception of society's priorities?
Thanks for all your comments on that last one. Gosh. Some of you thought I was too gentle on Ms Emin, others thought I was too harsh. I'd aimed to be as non-judgemental of her as possible, so I guess that's a reasonable reaction. Instead of giving my views on her, I gave my views on some of her work, and some views of a hypothetical man on a hypothetical omnibus. That's what I did. At least that's what I'm saying I did, but I may have gone back and edited the entry. Who knows?
And of course, as it's now Thursday, the man on the Clapham Omnibus has completely forgotten about the destruction of a quantum of British Cultural Heritage, and has started arguing with the woman on the street about The Big Brother Five.
For those of you who have missed it, The Big Brother Five is a fantastic and innovative new idea in television. You take five non-entities from "the street", give them a brief makeover and put them in to a sealed environment, such as a glass bowl, refridgerator, Finland or a house in England somewhere. You follow them with cameras 24 hours a day, and you feed them occasionally. So far, so tired and banal you might think.
However, there are also seven actors in the house. They may not realise that they're actors, and may think of themselves as pop-stars, television hosts, or newspaper journalists. But they're actors, there to show themselves off and get as much publicity for themselves as possible. Without exception, they are completely insufferable.
Add to this another twist. Rats in cages. Yes, on a regular basis, the 'housemates' are locked in a room, and forced in to a mask wherein is a hungry rat. They have to denounce their previous misbeliefs about the state, learn to love conformity and hate dissent. A public telephone vote determines how convincing they've been, and if they fail to convince, the rat is released, with obvious, if harrowing, consequences.
And behind it all is the threat that two of the 'housemates' may have sex. Or possibly more than two.
It's hoped that this will be an annual event - hurrah! This year's contestants include at least one person with controversial opinions, at least one homosexual, at least one radical activist, at least one pretend radical activist, and at least eleven people that - while entirely representative of a varied cross section of the society that spawned them - you would never want to get trapped in a lift with.
Question: from the competitors on this fantastic new and innovative show, who would you 'do'? And why? Or why not?
As often happens when I leave the country for a few days, momentous things have happened. Twelve annoying people have moved in to a house together, with the sole aim of providing entertainment. The long running situation comedy programme "Friends" aired its final episode in the United Kingdom. This ended with the six main characters choosing to remain friends rather than travel in to space with the alien Nazis, and solve crimes, in what would doubtless have been a fabulous spin-off series. A tent burned down in a warehouse in London, along with around a hundred other works of art. And as a result, a slightly ridiculous self-parody has parodied herself once again. You know who I mean. Tracey Emin.
Ah, Tracey. Tracey, Tracey, Tracey.
She's got a point. But let's start by defining Art. I can't define art for you, any more than you can define art for me. But for the purposes of argument, let's say that Art is "the products of human creativity", as that seems pretty wide-ranging. So we can be quite comfortable that the works destroyed fall in to the category of Art. Let's not discuss whether modern Art is 'good Art' or 'bad Art'. I like you, and want to stay friends.
Happy? Good. Now it gets more interesting. Let's continue by considering the validation of Art. I can pick my nose, leave the residue on a tissue, and call it Art. When I was two years old, I probably did. Nobody paid ï¿½40,000 for it. No matter how many times I asked. The value of Art is defined by the beholder and not the creator. Further, the financial value of commercial Art is based on the price that someone will pay for it. There's clear overlap between Art which is popular and Art which is an investment, but just because one person is willing to buy a piece of Art does not mean that it automatically becomes popular.
"The majority of the British public have no regard or no respect to what me and my peers do, to the point that they laugh at a disaster like a fire."
I can't argue with that. In terms of the damage and loss involved, this is actually pretty awful. Aside from the loss of Emin's work, there are reports that the world has also lost works by Chris Ofili, Gavin Turk, Sarah Lucas.
For me, personally, there are two names that stand out from the list. Rachel Whiteread is one. She's pretty damned brilliant. I'll be writing more about her later in the week. The other piece feared lost is Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell, which we saw when we were in London in March. It's a frankly incredible piece - a sort of giant model railway model telling of deformity, torture, war and sex. An incredible piece, and a dreadful, dreadful loss.
And Tracey Emin's tent. The public, that nebulous entity that reads the Daily Mirror, really doesn't like Tracey Emin. And she does nothing to redeem herself, by coming across as arrogant and defensive in equal measure. She gained a notoriety with her "My Bed" that's very hard to dispel, despite the fact that the piece is incredibly personal, and definitely worth seeing. It's also quite a difficult piece, and one that really doesn't stand on its own. It's one of those pieces of Art where to appreciate it fully you need to know something of the background to its creation. It's the sort of Art that needs its creator to continue to defend it and define it. And critically, it's the sort of Art that you need to be in the presence of to have any real understanding of it. After "My Bed", she was pretty much pigeonholed by the media as a gobby bullshitter, full of her self importance.
"We really don't need to laugh at the culture in our own country."
She's right, but she's not the right person to say it. She's the 'gobby bulshitter who sold her bed and called it Art'. By saying that we don't need to laugh at culture she just cements her image in the public mind. It's the use of the word 'culture', you see. By using it in this context, she is (at least in the mind of the man on the Clapham Omnibus) claiming that her work is cultural and has intrinsic merit. But she's also implying that it's got more 'value' than some of the other elements of our culture. There is an implicit suggestion that modern Art is 'Good Culture' as opposed to, say, Coronation Street. But the fact is that the impact on the cultural make-up of British Society is far less influenced by a fire in an Art Warehouse than it would be by the destruction of sets at Granada's studios.
Big Brother. Friends. BritArt. Coronation Street. All sides of British Culture. All fleeting and temporary. All to be treasured, if you want. To be valued, if you want. To be laughed at, if you want.
Whatever you want.
I fled the United Kingdom in early 1998, and I haven't lived there since. A large part of this was due to Teletubbies.
I'd conveniently forgotten this fact until I was reminded of it by Vaughan's comment on yesterday's post. He's absolutely right. Following the success of Teletubbies, BBC Two had planned to roll out the same approach across a significant part of its programming. I was lucky enough to download some information on this at the time -information that has subsequently been withdrawn from the Corporation's web site. Indeed, if you talk to anyone employed by the BBC at the time, you will find that they have been sworn to secrecy, and will almost certainly deny that this proposal was ever mooted. However, I saw it, and saved it, and then lost it in a hard drive crash.
This is what I can remember of it, though.
The reasoning for the plans being aborted should be fairly obvious, although I understand that there was a brief trial run, and that as a result copies of videotapes of the 3 August 1997 edition of Newsnight regularly trade on ebay for two-figure sums.
The other night BBC Two turned forty. Luckily, although I live in foreign, our antiquated television set was able to pick up a shonky picture and we were able to enjoy the festive extravaganza that was the BBC's lavish production.
Well, it was a three hour clip show, really. Lots of soundbites from people who worked on BBC Two over the four decades its been around.
And more or less every controller of BBC Two put their success down to luck. Every great success was modestly downplayed, and instead, we were told
We were very lucky. It was a time of great change in society, a time when people felt that anything could happen, and we were lucky to be in a position to tap in to that
and various variations on that theme.
They were right, of course. Programmes such as Not the Nine O'Clock News, Newsnight, or This Life erupted into a world where society was going through great change. They reflected that society, and in some cases shaped that society.
It's all twaddle though. Meaningless twaddle. As though trying to back that assertion up, I'd like to consider "Teletubbies".
Teletubbies burst on to the world in 1997. The world was going through great change. All over the world, women were rising up against their menfolk, rightly inspired by Girl Power, and telling anyone who would listen what it was that they 'really, really wanted'. Britannia was Cool, Tony was your mate, and small children were running round playgrounds ruining the ending of Titanic for their friends ("Kate Winslett sinks"), and in to this world pop four baby-faced, brightly-coloured soft-toys with speech impediments. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. By careful use of flimed inserts, the show reflected the multicultural world around it in a way that few programmes have managed since (with the obvious exception of Balamory. Go, Miss Hoolie).
There's no denying that Teletubbies changed the televisual landscape for the under-twos, and thence for their parents. But so successful was the show that it made greater waves than that. We had the endless debates about whether Tinky Winky was gay, whether his bag was a magic bag or a handbag, whether carrying a bag actually made him gay, and whether showing a potentially gay character to children at that sort of age was a good thing. Actually, we didn't have any debate at all, just a few bad headlines in the tabloids, but that's beside the point.
Actually, all of the last two paragraphs are beside the point. I have, I am afraid, digressed again.
We're living through a time of change now. Yesterday was a time of change, and tomorrow will be one too. The world's changing all the time. Sometimes in bigger ways than others, it seems, but a cultural change that creeps in over a decade is as valid a change as a short sharp shock, and possibly more lasting. So to claim that one's success is down to luck and a climate of change is sheer foolishness. It's just luck.
Of course, I don't think that the success of any of these shows, Teletubbies included is just luck. I think it's skill, either in spotting talent, in writing, or in research. And I'd have been much more interested to hear the series of controllers of BBC Two giving credit where it was due, rather than crossing their fingers and hoping for another success.
I moan about television endlessly. In spite of this fact, I barely watch any. Sure, I'll be there in the room while it's on, sitting in front of the television, even, but I'm usually playing some game or another on the laptop. As a result, some programmes just wash over me, and the ones that grab my attention are usually those that have something worth listening to.
In addition, I've claimed at various points in my life to be a 'writer'. Part of that claim has to include an arrogance that I can recognise something that's well written - I may not always be able to produce well-written prose, but I should be able to recognise it when I've written it.
Last night, I half-watched an episode of ER. ER is a medical soap opera, set in and around the Emergency Room of a Chicago hospital. The 'gimmick' of the show is that it is relentlessly fast paced, with multiple storylines, and characters who seem at times to be superhumanly capable, and at other times to be the most annoying self-centred arrogant prigs on the planet. The show is reasonably popular, and is currently in its tenth year of production. It's interesting to look back at early episodes, and see how slow the show was at the time. It's accelerating, careering out of control.
And yet it can pause. It's a venerable old soul of American television, and as such it can play with its format slightly, without alienating its core viewers. While Science Fiction is struggling at the moment to find its niche, with long running shows like Star Trek losing audience and facing oblivion, ER can have the quiet confidence to - for example - lose its main character for half a season, and then devote an entire episode to explaining where he's been.
Which brings me to last night's episode. NICU. Essentially, it's a story about two trainee doctors spending three weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Both characters are written sympathetically - we're supposed to like these women, supposed to feel that if we had to go to the Emergency Room, they're the sort of doctors that we'd like to have.
But they're flawed. And they know they're flawed, it's how they're written, they can't help it. But the episode ends with a small moment of validation for one of the characters. One of those moments that we all need from time to time. Just to be told that we're in the right place. For a second - just for a second - I looked up.
There's something about David Jason.
I've got nothing against him, personally. I've got no complaints about his acting skills - and why should I? I never watched any of the shows I've mentioned above. Seventeen years ago, I enjoyed him in Porterhouse Blue, and while I was never a Dangermouse fan as such, I watched the show from time to time and enjoyed it.
However, he's been taken to heart by the British public, and is therefore worth shunning. I watched some Only Fools and Horses, didn't think that much of it, and before I know what's happening, he's a catchphrase and the show has run for eighty-five years and includes forty-six individual "absolutely final" episodes. Lovely Jubbly.
But the nail in the coffin, the point at which he became completely unwatchable
was when Darling Buds of May became a huge success. This was the show that roughly foisted Catherine Zeta-Jones on the world, for which we must be grateful and resentful in roughly equal measure. It was also the show that cemented Jason as a "family" name. Perrrrfec!
So obviously I could never watch him again. Frost was a huge success automatically, regardless of the quality of the show. I'm prepared to believe that the show was very good indeed. But I couldn't watch it. Not without seeing the man's face plastered across the cover of every low brow newspaper in the country, not without visualising the millions of housewives watching the show solely because it starred Del Boy.
As far as I'm concerned, I know it's my loss. I can't take him seriously as an actor.
I've argued in the past that British Television is among the best in the world. Admittedly, not recently, but at the moment, I'm finding it hard to even begin to justify that assertion. The only things that I would classify as 'must-see' at the moment are American, and the funniest programme appears to be a ruggedly realistic drama series set in a ficitious town near Manchester, where all of life is to be seen, in full horrible realistic detail. However, it's sponsored by Cadbury's and I refuse to watch it.
Cinema isn't inspiring me. The only film I'd want to see, Big Fish, I've seen already. I'm toying with Dogville, but none of Brother Bear, Scary Movie Three, Master and Commander, or Girl with a Pearl Necklace really grab my attention.
The last thing on television that grabbed my attention in any way at all was last week's Sea of Souls, where I was seduced by the promise of quirkiness and wound up glossing over the flaws of the plot due to the fact that I was wowed by the technical feats of the production. I'm quite prepared to watch something that makes no sense at all, as long as there's something there to catch my imagination, some flicker of potential.
A quick glance through tonight's television listings reveals
I appreciate the need for television to entertain. I appreciate the need for television to pander to the very lowest common denominator. But surely there's something out there for a vaguely intelligent man in his mid-thirties to watch that doesn't involve watching other people buying houses?
Ah, Sea of Souls.
We watched this on Monday and Tuesday nights, thinking it was a two-part psychological thriller starring Shona Spurtle.
What fools we were.
It turns out that Ms Spurtle was little more than an amusing diversion, and the series is really about Her off East is East and Him the Irish Actor that isn't called Colin or Cillian. So not all bad, then. And Bill Paterson.
It's Scottish, of course, which is why it's fronted by a Scotsman, an Irishman and an Englishwoman. I've always had a soft spot for BBC drama produced and set in Scotland, and I don't really know why. It's nothing to do with the familiar setting, as almost all Scottish drama that is set in a city is set in Glasgow, or in pretend Edinburgh (it's Edinburgh in the long shots, but Glasgow close-up) - and I don't know Glasgow that well. It's not the accents, as for similar reasons I often find the accents in Scottish drama to be largely impenetrable.
I suspect it's the ability to do something quirky and not-quite-mainstream, such as the classic Tutti Frutti, the not-so-classic Playing for Real, the classic Takin' Over the Asylum, the fascinating The Key and the downbeat and realistic Monarch of the Glen.
Or perhaps I'm just wibbling.
Anyhow, I enjoyed Sea of Souls. It didn't blow me away (regular readers will know that very little does), but it was good enough to make me want to watch some more. And in the dearth of entertainment that currently passes for television ("I'm a former celebrity, feed me insects!"), I'll clutch at that straw.
In the future, there will only be two types of people. Property developers and the rest. And Sarah Beany will be Queen.
From the top of her beautifully restructured two-up, two down in Stepney probably, she will pass judgement on the decisions of her lowly subjects, very gently mocking their hubris and their belief that just because they love the idea of walking on little metal bottle tops turned upside down, so will any possible buyer of their property.
Lesser property developers will be banished, in to an off-white oblivion. Or something like that.
Last night, we watched Proof, the ambitious new drama from RTE. This tale of corruption, journalism, prostitution and human traffic is a cheery contemporary piece, and one of the main characters has a fantastic flat, apparently.
Fifty-eight minutes in to the hour, there it was. Blurry and out of focus, but definitely our kitchen.
And as the closing credits rolled, the phone started ringing...
So Doctor Who is coming back to BBC One in the form of a new live-action series. At some point. In the future.
Some people will think this is fantastic news. Some people will not be particularly bothered by it. Some people will think that it's a really bad idea, that it should be left as a memory.
And there are some rabid fans. People who will leap on it, dissect it, rip it apart and say it devalues the legacy of a children's television show that ceased production 14 years ago. But they'll praise a piece of badly paced shit made in 1965 that they've never actually seen. There are fans who will harp on endlessly about whether or not it counts as real and not see the irony. There are fans who will spend months trying to work out how it fits together with the original show, the books, the audio dramas, the 1973 stage show, the lollipop cards, the comic, the 1960s Dalek movies, and a short story that they wrote when they were eight and got a B+ for.
We like that sort of fan. They're funny.
In an official statement issued by BBC Drama Publicity, it has been announced that Doctor Who is coming back to BBC One in the form of a new live-action series.
The much-awaited comeback will be written by acclaimed TV dramatist Russell T Davies and produced by BBC Wales.
The BBC has said it is far too early to discuss possible storylines, characters, villains or who might play Doctor Who - and no budget has yet been set.
I'll believe it when I see it.
This weekend, I immersed myself in Fame Idol. Not content with just watching one of the two rival teen talent shows on offer, I skipped between the two in a manner which could only have been made easier with picture-in-picture.
Famous Academy seems to have been butchered. The stage set has been cut down to a fraction of its former majesty, and the idea of the 'teachers' picking three 'students' to go on probation seems to have been shelved in order to make room for more bickering. And there's plenty of bickering and not enough campness yet.
Poop Idle on the other hand seems to be slavishly copying its format of recent times, right down to the cheeky banter and the blatantly insane contestants. There's something deeply satisfying about watching these auditions and knowing that even at the height of my singing career, I would never have wasted anyone's time like that.
Big Bother 4 appears to be over for the year. I hope that Alex or Spencer won. But it was probably Sada.
Mr Twinky doesn't watch these programmes much. He prefers to recline with a Strawberry Daiquiri and read Orwell.
While, seemingly, everyone in England is off work enjoying the sun, and a few brave but lardy souls are braving the cameras in Weston-S-Mare for ITV's tabloid newsertainment shows, Dublin is overcast, clammy, likely to be thundery and the telly is still shite.
Tonight's summer travesty.
Another night in the bath, I think...
Being a quick trawl through tonight's TV schedule, complete with sarcasm!
Alternatively, I will be sitting in a warm bath, sipping chilled white wine, reading.
If you're feeling kind of tedious
If life is seriously mediocre
Here's how to get that adrenaline flowing
Just step aboard a Boeing going high!
We're living the high life
We're living it well!
We're living the high life
Where everything's swell!
We're up in the sky
We're flying so high
Oh my oh my!
We're living the high life...
The High Life!
The High Life is a gem of a series. Perhaps it's because I'm Scottish, perhaps it's because I'm gay, perhaps it's because I've spent a lot of time on short haul flights. But almost everything in the series rings true for me. In a kind of Molly-Weir-as-a-professor-looking-for-a-secret-recipe-for-tablet kind of way. How can you go wrong?
Nul points! Nul Points! Even Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran did better than that in 1977 with 'Rock Bottom' and they were shite!
It's just like my life was in 1994, in many many ways. I wasn't going through a 'nothing good ever happens to people from Falkirk' kind of phase, but I was working for someone who believed that he was a Vulcan. Or a clown. And I had a colleague who could be described as Hitler in Tights.
I have a hunch the henchman is half-hearted in his horribleness.
Oh, deary me.
Last night's classic television.
Two posh women being bitchy about a dinner party which turned in to a car crash, on Channel 4. Pure entertainment, with lots of sarcasm. Like How mucky is your house? but without the rubber gloves.
Talking To The Dead: Everyman looking at the experience of a range of people with mediums. Served to convince me, absolutely, that most of them are complete charlatans. Only one had any credibility, which he got by working as a barber, not charging for his services as a medium, and getting things uncannily right in a number of circumstances. I could go on for hours about mediums, and I probably will at some point. But the high point of the show was the woman who wasn't entirely sure going to a medium was a good thing to do, so went and had her tarot read to find out. Pure schizoid class.
Round about now, we're going through the Eugenics Wars. You probably haven't heard about them because they've been covered up. But the name to look out for is Khan Noonian Singh. He's going to be big.
In twenty one years we'll have the slightly controversial reunification of Ireland. This is completely unrelated to the Bell Riots, which are going to happen in the same year. Or the events might happen the other way around. But they're both going to happen. Believe me. But anyway, fifty years from now the third world war is going to break out. That's going to be messy, you know.
Sixty years from now, we'll make first contact. However, the first aliens we meet will be boring and not great at partying.
See, loads to look forward to!
Whatever happened to Channel 4?
It is - to be fair - the channel that I probably watch most. Because it's full of programmes aimed at the arse-end of my personality. The part that likes to gloat. My life is better than their life. My house is nicer than their house. My boyfriend is better than their wife. And so on and so, in a sense, forth.
Two highlights of the current schedules typify this.
In For God's Sake, Tidy Up, a nicely dressed young man goes to people's homes, gets them to paint their walls and put their ghastlier items of furniture in to storage. This program is won when the contestants make a profit on the sale of their house, or when the audience decide whether or not the presenter is gay.
In How Dirty is my Home? two cleaners come in to a home and clean it. It's half an hour of housework and sarcasm. It's like Trinny and Susannah, cult stars of Yes, your bum DOES look big in that, only with rubber gloves on. I mean to say, half an hour of cleaning and tidying, and that's entertainment?
I wonder what's next?
Moby Dick, The Water Babies and The UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose were the three Books of Knowledge which survived the fireball and were kept at the UK Habitat on Ravolox.
Think about me when you're living your life, one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller in his old police box, his days like crazy paving.
You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
Just a wee rant about TV writers complaining about Reality Television.
Ten years ago, during the week, you could be guaranteed a few soaps, some sitcoms, some current affairs programmes, a holiday show or two.
These days, sitcoms are banished to the dark corners of the schedules, in unlikely homes like late night on Channel Four. Prime time is home to the super-soap. The two part drama on a Sunday and Monday night, so you end up watching neither part. The double episode of Coronation Street. And endless shows about food, makeover TV, reality shows and property development.
And you know what? This is a good thing.
Well, not really a good thing, in the sense that every time we watch one of these shows we realise that we really do need to buy a dilapidated barn. Or a semi in Ranelagh. But a good thing in the sense that change is a good thing. If we lived in a static world, we would stagnate.
Television is a business, not a charity. And as in all businesses, it's a matter of supply and demand, of cost and profit.
If someone is stealing your market share, there is a reason for it. Analyse that reason, and compete. Don't moan about the fact that you're losing out. It doesn't get you any sympathy.
I don't know where I draw the line on this attitude, though. Do I believe that the government shouldn't subsidise the farming industry, for instance? Or that a country shouldn't be allowed to invade another one half way across the world in order to secure an oil supply, rather than investing in renewable energy sources? Dunno.
This week The programme on television that I am looking forward to very much is called 'The Book Group'. It is on on Friday on Channel Fore. It is also on on Thusday but that is repeats so I have already seen that.
I think this programme is good because it is very funny, and because it makes me laugh. Although sometimes it is a bit surrele and bad things happen to people.
My favourite character is Rab, because he picks his nose and he wear shell suits and loves footballers.
Well, clearly I only saw one episode, but I thought that it was comedy of pathos, and I'd like to focus my comments mainly on the accents, which were nasal and quite devoid of cadence
Pot. Kettle. Black. Bit of Calling.
It's probably best to read the article from The Observer last month. It's an interview with Naomie Harris.
She was in White Teeth, you see. And she shone. She was in 28 Days Later, and she was noteworthy. She's in The Project, currently on BBC1. It's a show that boasts an array of unattractive, badly drawn characters, and it would be barely worth watching if it wasn't for the charms of Derek Riddell (photo to follow, I promise) and Naomie.
She's had three major pieces of exposure in three months. Apparently now she's between jobs. What happens next? Either she burns out, or she goes on to greater things.
Prejudice. Protection. It's an odd one.
For example, 160 people complained about a kissing scene in "The Bill", that aired before 9pm. The ITC threw it out, because their code concerning such things isn't gender-specific. Good for them.
I wanted to contrast this with a story I heard at dinner last night, about an Irish paedophile getting a life sentence for his offences against five under-age boys. I can't find anything about this on the web to back this up, but allegedly if the offences had been committed against girls, the sentence would have been much lighter.
There's something horribly unequal about that. And I'm not suggesting that in this case the sentence was too light.
85 episodes. No story development. G Force fights Spectra. That's it.
Anyway, it's a classic. Mark and Jason had a whole rivalry thing going on about who was the 'bigger man', despite the fact that they looked virtually identifiable. It was like a cartoon version of Blakes Seven, that way.
7 Zark 7 sat in his underwater cell, moaning about not being able to join in, oblivious to the fact that he was just an extra character added in to give the show padding. Ironically named Tiny. Princess, permanently prepubescent, whose idea of fashion is 'a big 3 motif'. Keyop, whose mother was on serious non-prescription medication throughout pregnancy.
And Zoltar. Not until anyone cried 'make my monster big' would there be as an ambiguous a villain... almost enough to put you off your choco pops.
I wanted to write a piece of analysis about Six Feet Under. It was all to do with the fact that it's aimed firmly at a gay audience. Not just because the most complex characters are the gay characters, or because of the episode aired in the UK last night where the majority of the plot related to homosexuality. The whole show is infused with small touches that are aimed firmly at the gay viewer. And I wanted to note that, to remind myself of the fact.
I've told myself that I love the show because it's a very good quality show. And that may well be true, but I'm the target audience for it, and I believed the hype.
I wanted to remind myself that I've seen through the facade. That I know that I'm just a demographic when it comes to this show. I'm advertising revenue. I'm not going to stop watching it, though.
When I was in my early twenties, there was this thing between me and Lara Flynn Boyle. She never knew about it, of course, and that's probably all for the best, given the inevitable disappointment that I would have been for her. She was my reason for watching Twin Peaks, her and James Marshall. But James Marshall's not important right now (and man, it's hard to write that). And why isn't he important? Because he didn't go on to become the scariest thing in the Universe. Lara Flynn Boyle did.
I'm not referring to her strange shift of characterisation in the later episodes of Twin Peaks. I'm referring to her appearance in 'Men in Black II; this time it's much the same again, but with Lara Flynn Boyle in it'. Not the role, not the character, not even her acting ability. Her appearance.
'Body of an underwear model' she says, and this may indeed be true. But her face... let's just say that time probably hasn't been kind to her, but it's very very hard to tell.
And scarily, her pasty pancaked complexion was, perhaps, the most memorable thing avout that film.
Meanwhile, James Marshall went on to appear in Soccer Dog: The Movie.
Don't blink. You might miss something.
Now, I'm probably not allowed to mention this, but I haven't signed anything to say otherwise. We're pimping out our flat to a major multinational company. Tomorrow, they're bringing a few stray actors, and a camera or two, and they're making themselves at home in our flat. By the miracle of modern technology, within a brief space of time, this will mean a small amount of cash for ourselves, and that our flat will be visible all over Ireland. People will look at the Indian throws that we use to disguise the threadbare bits of our suite and go 'That doesn't really go with the sideboard, does it?' People will look at the floor in the bathroom and go 'Tish,' and people will want to buy the product because they aspire to having attractive pieces of art on their walls like what we do.
It's been a quiet week blog-wise, because it's been a busy week work-wise. Socially, the nearest thing I've done to actual activity was watching another episode of Six Feet Under. It's still getting better and better, maybe five weeks into the first season. It's found its right balance of quirkiness and moralising - and let's not try to hide the fact that it is an intensely preachy show, with every episode contrasting life and death, and the lessons that we learn from death but fail to apply in life. The main characters are all beautifully flawed. Love it, love it, love it.
As is hopefully evident from my description of Saturday night, a quiet life is definitely called for just now. And that's even missing out some of the details - like who is emigrating to the US in a month and therefore left us three bottles of spirits. Or the precise details of the hangover afterwards. But some things are best left to the memory, or the imagination, or forgotten.
British Television, I used to proclaim proudly, is the best in the world.
I was stating this from Hong Kong, of course, where I was living in a world of imported programs on Star TV, or TVB Pearl, and commuting to the mass-channel heavens of five star hotels where I could watch all of the HBO that I wanted. I genuinely believed that it was true.
Mind you, I was living in a country where movies were punctuated with adverts at greater frequency the longer the movie went on. Important speeches punctuated by warnings about the fraud frog - or else, the other way around. But it gave me a chance to consider the differences, and the similarities between the two main sources of English language broadcasting.
In the UK, we're exposed to selected, purchased programming from the US. We're exposed to all of the UK programming. On average, we can expect imported television to be of better quality than domestic. In the US, BBC America is insanely popular, but it only shows the best of British shows. It shows Jonathan Creek, or Keeping Up Appearances, rather than something like Gardener's Question Time. In the UK, we get The Simpson's - interminably, and Friends, and Will and Grace. We tend not to get shows like 'Baby Bob' or 'Newhart'. Great US hits like the excrutiating 'The Nanny' are banished to the 4.30 am slot, as well they should be.
In comparing the two products (and products they are) from a position in either market, you're not comparing like with like. Looking at the products from outside - I think I stand by my initial assertion.
There's a row going on over Heinz Winckler, the winner of South African Pop Idol.
It's not because of his name, though. Like Korben in the British version who named himself after a character in The Fifth Element, here we have a winner who named himself after the actor who played the Fonz, and a brand of Tomato Ketchup. But that's not what the fuss is about.
It's not about the fact that his shirt is one size too small either.
It's about vote rigging and racial prejudice. Apparently (and I have no evidence to back this up or deny it, although it does seem plausible), he was simply not as talented as his black rivals. The claim is that because the show's audience was 80% white, black contestants did not get a fair shot at pop stardom.
It's probably true. Pop Idol isn't about talent. It's about popularity, and desirability. It's about the whole package. Given the audience make-up, the chances of impartiality are slim at best. And, everyone involved would have known that from the outset, including the competitor who came second.
There's an art to knowing when to jump on to a hardware juggernaut, careering out of control towards mass market acceptability. For instance, the CD-Rom drive. When I first got one, this was a luxury item - now it's a PC standard. On the other hand... Betamax.
The trick is to get new technology at the stage just before it's cool, but just after the price starts dropping. At the moment, flat screen televisions are still the sort of thing that only corporate money can buy. But a boy can dream.
When they were introduced in the UK, the Mini and the Colour Television cost approximately the same.
Six Feet Under has just hit the UK. Apart from the obvious charms of the show, I found it to be well written, interestingly directed, and with plenty of possibility for future development. Given that it's set in a family funeral business, the humour is necessarily dark, and obviously, that works for me too.
I don't know how realistic it was in its depiction of the whole "business" of funereal arrangements, though, from the insensitive brutality of seeing the body in the morgue through to the sanitised sterility of the funeral, through to the insistence of the funeral director on adhering to a code of conduct, when faced with a variation from the norm. Classy telly, though.
Despite the fact that I'm addicted to it, I do think that Big Brother is a deeply flawed fundamentally boring piece of television. Watching a dozen objectionable people struggling to come to terms with student life, but without the added fun of going to lectures isn't entertaining. And while it's amusing to watch them having a completely miserable time of it, they don't have any real incentive to stay in the house, beyond the fleeting celebrity than may ensue.
The financial incentive is £70,000. That may sound like a lot - indeed, it doesn't sound too bad. But other programmes offer prizes closer to the £1 million mark for doing a hell of a lot less. Also, the rewards for staying on the programme are limited. If you expect to be thrown out within a couple of weeks, you might as well walk.
There needs to be an incentive to stay. Either social or monetary. If I was in charge, I would give the 'housemates' more to do. More mini-tasks with mini-rewards. Controlled input from the outside world. And I'd ramp up the prizes. £1m for the winner. £500k for the runner up. and lower prizes for people staying less long. And for that sort of money, you can demand adherence to rules by reducing prize money for non-compliance. The prize is easily the cheapest part of this deeply flawed and fundmantally boring piece of television.
When I was young, being a gold painted man was about the scariest thing that could happen to you. If Doctor Who was to be believed (That was the theme of childhood then - somewhere between clapping if you believed in fairies, and hiding behind the sofa if you believed in Daleks. I clapped and hid. Having grown up, many of my best friends are fairies, although I don't hang out with many Dalek acquaintances), gold painted men came from space, bringing axonite.
Axonite was great. It could turn into more or less anything, for example, a cheese sandwich, a herring, or a nuclear power plant. It was going to solve all the world's problems. It was obviously a hoax, an evil scheme that had to be foiled. Tin-foiled. And foiled it was. Hurrah. Merely by using some sort of technobabble and a couple of none-too-special effects.
Of course, in 1970s teledrama, merely being gold skinned is not enough to prove ones evil nature. Gold is good, so to prove that they've really got evil intentions the Axons would mutate suddenly into big blobby tentacled things, that were clearly up to no good. Two years later, those orange blobby things would reappear, except painted green, and the viewing public would believe that they were Krynoids. But that's beside the point.
Strictly speaking, of course, the Axons weren't painted gold. They were wearing tight fitting body suits.
Which means that they had no nipples at all.
And I've now seen my first ever episode of Big Brother. I've been aware of this show before, but I watched some of it this week. What a load of tosh.
On a cerebral level, I can see why it becomes addictive, I can see why people will dip in and out of it, in the vague hope that something interesting happens, or that somebody shows some flesh. I can see why people would view it as the only real alternative to spending a summer watching football. It's clearly insidious, viral television, working its way into your life via office gossip and its sheer pervasiveness. The set is fantastic. The idea is possibly genius. The show is undoubtedly tosh.
I think that the problem is the lack of dehumanisation. As far as I can tell, the guards are not granted the right to take actions that would strip an individual of their humanity, and thus by treating them as equals, they are letting the prisoners gain the upper hand. They have no threat. As a result, any action they take to try to gain control is easily circumvented, and their frustration and lack of organisation grows.
You probably won't have any great reaction to the web site that documents the Elstree Prison Experiment. I know I didn't. This experiment is much more controlled than the Stanford Experiment from 1971, and while it makes interesting watching, there's no real sense of purpose to it.
For a kick off, it's quite clear who is in control. The experimenters. 100%. The only tension that's being created is the tension that they're putting in to the situation. They make the rules, and both the guards and the prisoners are equally bound by those rules. So the guards are prisoners too. Sure, it's fascinating to observe the development of relationships over time, but there's no scientific basis to this experiment - like the original. There's no control group, against which the experiment is measured. I'll keep watching the show, though.
I can see it now. Slightly dumpy woman in twinset and pearls, and tall cute bald man in a tailored suit dragging innocent young architect around town to look at jobs.
"This one has the location that Darren is looking for, but the work may be less challenging to him. The office needs a lick of paint, but will that put him off...?"
Coming up, after the break, Susan finds a job that offers Darren twice the amount of money that he's looking for, but does involve full frontal nudity. Is Darren prepared to get his kit off for cash...?
There's a line near the end of the second season of Spaced, about how friends are families for the 21st century. Where does this leave your actual relatives, I wonder? And what about relations who are also friends?
Such things are, perhaps, imponderable.
So, let's just say that this series remains classy, and well worth watching for the myriad of cross-media references. And reproducing the entire ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Definitely for people with too much sofa time.
I've only seen Richard Burgi in two things: 24, and a TV Movie called "I Married A Monster". He's not been any sort of outstanding actor in either of them, but he does attract my attention whenever he's on the screen. He has a sort of brooding air that he does very well, something that makes you not want to trust him - combined with the sort of jutting jawline that wouldn't look out of place in a gentleman's top-shelf magazine for gentlemen who like gentlemen. I'm now up to date with 24 as shown in the UK, and he's just been hit by rocks.
Most people reading this won't see the new Eircom advert. But when you see it, bear in mind that the people making the advert left coffee cups all over our window ledge, and as a result had to get yelled at.
The curious thing is that the first we heard that there was an advert being made in the flat next door was from a film crew yesterday. Our neighbour didn't think to let us know.
Obviously, it's now our neighbour's fault. I have resolved to call home every half an hour, so you may be able to hear my phone ringing in the background when the advert is aired.
So I fell asleep during the second episode of 24. Fortunately, the BBC has a minute by minute breakdown on their site. Much hyped to be one of the important series on television, it follows the central conceit that each hour long episode takes place in an hour of real time.
One of the characters is played by Richard Burgi. I don't like his character at all. There's something about him that just screams 'stranger danger'.
Like Zillions of others, last night I watched "When Louis Met...Ann Widdecombe MP". I've said some unflattering things about Miss Widdecombe before, largely because she's said some unflattering things about me. It wasn't anything personal on either part, really. But I digress.
The fascinating thing about watching these programmes is the obvious fact that Louis Theroux, the presenter, has always agreed guidelines with the victims beforehand. And he always steps over those marks. You know he's going to do it, and you assume that the victim knows as well. Which makes me wonder how much editorial control the victim has over the programme.
For instance, Theroux interviewed Widdecombe's mother, without Widdecombe herself being present. On the one hand, you can understand Widdecombe's desire to protect her mother. On the other hand, the mother, a sprightly nonagenarian, acquitted herself well in the interview, and both she and Ann came across as "better" people as a result. Fascinating. And it makes you wonder how much is scripted.
The main message that came through to me is that there is something very sad - in a tragic sense - about Ann Widdecombe. At fifty-three, she sees herself as too old to marry. That's her call, fair enough. But she cares for (and clearly loves dearly) her mother and her cats. She seems to have sacrificed a lot for her political career. And she's taking this with immense dignity.
As usual, a fascinating portrait.
The picture on the left is of a young man who has no taste in sweaters. Nonetheless, he has overcome this potentially debilitating social stigma to win the chance to make huge amounts of money for a record company. And I was glued to the television for most of it.
Pop Idol had almost everything a gay man could look for in entertainment - tears, comedy, eye candy, and it was a musical! And it had a surprise ending, when the odds-on favourite narrowly lost to the young man with no taste in sweaters. But there will be more than one musical career arising out of that programme, that's for sure.
And now I have my Saturday nights free again. How will I cope?
The clash of the titans. It's been called the biggest media event since Chas and Dave got married in 1981. It's bigger than Big Brother, sweatier than Temptation Island, and not a million miles removed from Opportunity Knocks. It's two days until the final of Pop Idol.
I'm not hugely ashamed to say that I watch this program with the sort of wicked fervour that its creators hoped to engender. Britain's biggest talent show to date, running for five months (although it seems longer), running through four formats and winding up on Saturday night. It's a foregone conclusion who will win, and that the attractive and charismatic hosts will bleat endlessly about how many people have phoned in to vote. But there's still a slim chance that the outsider will win, and that will be enough to keep people watching.
I'm gripped, I tell you, gripped.
I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms from Farscape. It's airing on BBC2, but they're so far ahead that I am left waiting for the series to arrive on DVD before I can watch it.
And, as usual, when I think about these things, I look them up on the web and find that they're about to be released. Typical.
The charm of the series remains Ben Browder, and in particular his interaction with hormones, but the series has also had other attractions. Critically, it's probably the template for "Enterprise", which shares a lot of the thematic resonance. I do write a lot of nonsense, sometimes.
Ah... Monday nights. Sadly, soon to change beyond all recognition, but at the moment an island of pleasure in the midst of a world of other things. Television worth watching for four hours. Not to be sniffed at. One of the highlights of this is
The Office, a classic series that - like The Royle Family - presents a set of grotesque characters that are only a step removed from people that you know, or indeed are. Class.
There are so many reasons to hate this show. Despite that, I love it. You may call it 'fag and slag' if you want, you may laugh at the stereotypical behaviours or some of the characters, as the stars Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes chew their way through scene-stealer after scene-stealer, and you may even chortle quietly at lines like
The only real reason to hate it would have to be that they called a lawyer 'Will' and a designer 'Grace'. Which came first - the names or the occupations? If she'd been a flower-arranger, would she have been called Rose? If he'd been a personal trainer, would he be 'Gym'? Ponder.
Well, what a surprise. Television presenters and producers are in the business of making money. This usually means pushing up the prices of advertising space. So they want to make programs that are popular. Which means smut and bad language.
Sunday's screening of The Frank Skinner Show, in which guest Boy George was seen talking about masturbation and homosexual acts, sparked more than 20 complaints to the Independent Television Commission (ITC).
While this is undoubtedly true, I am reminded of the old argument about the 'off' switch. Or maybe even a remote control.
No prizes for guessing the source.
Someone I know was on University Challenge last night. I spent most of the half hour looking at him, wondering if he needed a haircut, or a proper shave, or both. Or to lose a couple of pounds. A bizarre experience in itself.
On the other hand, I discovered that I remember what a Kronecker Delta is. And it's not rude.
I am living in a country which has yet to experience Moulin Rouge. This allows me to gloat, obviously, and to show a degree of pity. However, I find myself watching Lorraine Kelly interviewing make-up artists for the minor characters, and I wonder... why?
In related news, British TV is still the best in the world. Now improved by the addition of all the great recent US shows, old episodes of Fame and ER, and the fact that itv2 carries Letterman. Quickly checking my preferred cable provider in Dublin, I find that I can't get it there however.
Logging on to BBC news and seeing the headline Doctor Who returns to the BBC excites me in ways that I can't fully explain. Part of me wants to see the show return, part of me wants to bury it, and a large part is completely amazed that I actually care about it at all.
Sometimes, it's confusing growing up.
Some people have it easy. They're the ones who know that they're gay or know that they're straight. They're the ones who can pigeonhole themselves and never have a moment of doubt.
And then there are the rest of us, and there are more of us than you might think.
If you're seventeen, socially awkward, and don't have a definite Knowledge of your sexuality, then you're probably going to be straight. By choice. Because as you know, sexuality is a choice. But that's another argument. You're going to pigeonhole yourself in to the conventional closet, because it's safe. If you're socially awkward, conformity is a wonderful thing because you can feel like you belong even though you don't.
And that's the thing. You don't belong. And you think it's because you're socially awkward.
Nobody makes people choose to be straight. People do it to themselves. You can blame society, and you might be right. But ultimately, it comes down to the choice of playing safe, or risking something, maybe everything (but probably nothing) on admitting publicly that you are different.
And this brings us to Willow Rosenberg (supporting character, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), who falls right in to this category. She put herself in the 'I like boys' group, and tried to do the right thing. And it worked, and it might even have been love. But there's a difference between love and LOVE!, and trust me, if you don't know the difference then you've never found the second one.
So, after the self imposed denial, comes the self acceptance. And that's not easy. It involves re-assessing every relationship you have with everyone you know. People can be cruel, people can feel wronged because you, in your confusion have innocently lied to them. So you ease it out gradually. It's a long slow journey between waking up in the morning with a member of the same sex beside you, and beginning to use the word 'gay' to describe yourself in polite conversation.
Which brings me to me. Because that's where I think I am now. I've more or less reached the point where I identify solely as gay, and don't make any claims to the contrary. More than that, although I've had sex with women, and I've been in love with women, I was gay at the time, just gay and confused and in deep denial that I should have been able to identify at the time. And I feel that there's got to be some way to show the youth of today and tomorrow that confusion is okay, and getting over the confusion is okay too.
Back to Willow for one last point. She's been through this. This is what I went through. This is what millions of people go through. She's become a role model, not by showing how wonderful it is to be gay, but by showing that it's okay to take a bit of time to get used to the idea. And for that, I hope that the youth of tomorrow are grateful.
Twin Peaks is a damn fine cup of television. Just watching the first few episodes of this brings back memories of the early 1990s, particularly since the whole program seems to have been lifted from the early 1980s. There's some truly corny dialogue in places (deliberately so, I presume) and some insipred weirdness. And there's the killer BOB, who would be really cheesy if it wasn't for the fact that he is scary as hell.
Okay, so I know that the series is going to go downhill rapidly, but I've still got silent drapes, Lara Flynn Boyle being unconvincing, things to do with cherry stalks, and Heather Graham's penguin joke to look forward to.
There's only two bad things to say about the new releases of Cracker on vhs. Firstly, they're too infrequent. I've been waiting for this one for months, and it will be at least another 7 weeks until it arrives. Which is a bad thing.
The other bad thing is that I am sure they will all be released on DVD ridiculously soon and I will regret buying them all on video. Time will tell on that one, I suspect. In the mean time, tightly plotted psychological drama is something I'm missing. When the highlight of the week is the ER: West Wing double bill, more quality stuff like this is needed.
We're the last people I know to find Spaced. I hesitate to call it a sit-com - although that is what it is at heart - because it's so much more. It verges on pastiche, it verges on self parody, it veers off at tangents, and it is utterly, utterly watchable. Dosage: two episodes per night because it's so worryingly addictive.
Note to self. Anything that is recommended by Douglas is always worth checking out.
Spearhead from Space is perhaps the slowest moving Doctor Who of all time, saved from complete mundanity by the novelties of colour and Perthuis. Worth watching for Carry John, I guess. Three episodes in, and the bad guys have been pretty secretive and not at all threatening. No sign of a plan yet, just people chasing around the countryside looking for flashing balls.
The final episode gave us a plot, but by then it was too late; ennui had set in. Despite that, the final monster was very funny.
The actor who portrayed James Whale's lover, killed in the war in "Gods and Monsters" is possibly better known as "Ensign Pretty-boy" from a particularly memorable episode of Voyager.
Today's news for everyone else. Mr Twinky is now on Season 4 of Voyager and Season 5 of Deep Space Nine. We are now starting to get to the good bits.
Odd episodes from the second season, airing on Monday nights in the Philippines. Last night: the one with Zhaan budding due to lack of food.
Some things I like about Farscape: "Don't move! Or I'll fill you full of... little yellow bolts of light!"
"Nobody knows you here. It's only people who know you that want to kill you."
"All right, one quick trip to the pharmacy coming up. Out the door, turn left at the creature."
Today I found a site that aims to chronicle the turning point of television programming, the point where a classic show turns in to runny excretia. It's a vast archive of opinion, all carefully classified so you can see at a glance what everyone hated. It's also cross referenced by cause of catastrophe, such as changing the actor or actress playing a role, or hiring Catherine Oxenberg.
Who wants to wrestle a millionaire?
What do I want to see in the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager? And indeed who cares? Personally, I'd like to see the ship get back to the Alpha Quadrant maybe six or seven weeks before the end of the run, and focus on some of the problems the crew face there - with Seven being the obvious problem. And then a movie-length finale where some of the crew nick Voyager and go on the run from the Federation for some reason - perhaps even leading in to the currently elusive Series Five?
But we'll probably get heartwarming schmaltz.