Sunday, June 29, 2008

The "Eureka!" Moment

I think I get it now. Obviously I’ve been a long time coming to the party, instead spending most of the past few years with my head buried in my hands making guttural noises, but I think I’ve actually, finally, figured it out.

It comes from the realization that, from the get-go, I shouldn’t have ever expected the slightest scintilla of internal logic at all. In fact this latest episode stopped making sense one minute and thirty seconds in. That may not be the record but it has to come pretty darn close.

From then on it just becomes pure pantomime with grand theatrics and grand gestures that hit the high point early on and then punch on up through the roof. When the cast aren’t sure how to play a scene the answer appears to be to shout the lines.

Saturday night, the dialogue wasn’t so much on the nose as on the grapefruit Cagney mashed into Mae Clarke’s face. If it was a reaction it was imperative that the cast simply said what they (and the audience) saw, loudly.

As long ridiculous names were spewed about and every darn character except the robot dog was shoehorned into the plot, it all went into bonkers overdrive. How do you know when the shit has seriously hit the fan? When they upgrade from CODE RED to ULTIMATE CODE RED. That is seriously serious shit.

How can you criticise that? Or the ripped open Dalek that just quivered its tentacles and cackled insanely. That is simply twisted genius. I wouldn’t be surprised if they save the day by firing a trifle around the supercollider.

Of course this understanding may only be temporary, and could simply be one of the rarely reported side effects, like an increased desire to urinate.

UPDATE: I’ve just checked and I forgot to take the tablet today. FUCK!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

444 For 2

Another year gone already, which means that today the Thought Wad is two whole years old. Who’d have thought I could’ve sustained this ongoing yap?

It’s been a strange old year, what with one thing and another. There’s an important line Anthony Hopkins delivers in Oliver Stone’s Nixon:

“Only when you've been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is on top of the highest mountain.”

I suppose the past twelve months have been spent in the region in between. Typically times have been good and bad, even happy and sad, but that’s the way it always goes I guess. I may have lost my grip a couple of times, and slid a little way back down, but luckily I’ve always found something to make me smile as I hold on.

One funny thing has been seeing Thought Wad added to blog rolls and then quietly removed sometime later. Apparently an informed opinion isn’t always what folk like if it counters their beliefs, but a long time back I realised it’s much better to be honest than popular.

So I guess I’ll just keep on going and see where the next year takes me. If you want to come along for the ride, you’d be most welcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

CG Die!

A few weeks back I found myself being directed to YouTube to check out something that was, apparently, highly entertaining. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be an absolute desperate piece of shit. However, in the Related Videos sidebar there was a clip of the last ten minutes of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Naughtily shot in a cinema, with a camcorder at a weird oblique angle to the screen, it was also dubbed into – I think – German, although other European languages are available. Granted that isn’t the best way to see any movie, but it was enough to show how bloody awful this film was.

There had been a narrow window when I had thought about going to see the movie. Being in two minds I waited until I heard the reactions from people who could not only express an informed opinion but were fans of the series and had followed, albeit from a distance, the making of this fourth instalment.

Interestingly, the one thing that really narked them, even more so than David Koepp’s apparently nonsensical screenplay, was that Mr Spielberg had promised fans that, keeping in the style of the previous films, there would be little or no CGI. And Mr Spielberg lied.

You only have to look at both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Last Crusade to see that photochemical effects work, on the whole, could be far inferior to digital effects. While something like The Mummy Returns certainly illustrates how appallingly bad CGI can also be. Aside from budget, schedule and talent, the big drawback with computer effects is a lack of restraint. That’s the thing to remember.

I may have mentioned this before but a commercial that has always stuck in my mind was one that came out in the mid- to late-1980s. It was, I think, for ICI. It may seem odd that I can’t remember what the spot was for, but I do know it wasn’t one product being promoted but a company. I would bet on good old Imperial Chemical Industries.

The reason I remember the commercial was, it was a complete clusterfuck of imagery slapped all over the screen. The reason it was a moving collage of crappery was because the start-up facilities houses were installing Quantel Paintbox. The agency “creatives”, who obviously had knowledge of what this piece of kit could do, sold the idea to the client. The client handed over the cheque; the creatives went down to the Paintbox suite, looked at the menu and asked for fucking everything.

A lack of restraint is a very bad thing. While cinemagoers blame Spielberg for the CGI, it may well be down to George Lucas who, over the past decade, goes about proving that he has completely forgotten how to make his previously adequate films that audiences once enjoyed. Especially given that what I’ve seen of the unnecessary Star Wars prequels, frenetic. computer-generated mayhem seems to be the standard replacement for actual story.

This shouldn’t be confused with special effects. For instance, this afternoon Channel 4 screened Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad this afternoon and that is just magical, even when it’s being shown at a stupid, inconvenient time. The effects in that, almost seventy years on, are just phenomenal. In the time since we’ve rightly applauded the work of Ray Harryhausen and Albert Whitlock and Derek Meddings and everyone who made magic with the most basic materials.

There’s also the non-shouty digital effects, like the helicopter crashes and dust storms created by the rotor downdrafts in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, which augment a film without getting in the way of the story. Even the work done by Weta Digital for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while obviously necessary to create the fantasy elements, managed to create pure spectacle without elbowing the story off the screen.

The really great thing about Iron Man was that it used digital effects as far as it needed to and went no further. That combined with a good script and great performances has to be the reason that in America, eight weeks after it debuted, Jon Favreau’s film has passed the $300 million barrier and is still in the top ten. Meanwhile, other effects-heavy movies open big and plummet by their second weekend because they’re a number of computer generated effects-heavy sequences strung together and very little substance.

All of us can probably reel off the names of films from the last decade or so that prioritized CGI bells and whistles over story. How pointless did the two Matrix films become? How exciting is a car chase when it’s created in a controlled studio and software environment? Compare a digital chase to the visceral chase sequences in The French Connection or The Road Warrior.

Time, money and limitless ones and zeros are gradually beginning to create ultimately soulless and empty experiences. I think that’s why, of late, I’ve primarily been watching films from before the 1980s. Remember them, the films whose credits were either all upfront or a small scroll at the end? These would be films that employed a writer, director, actors and editor, but didn’t really have much need of digital lighting supervisors or compositors. At no point do any of them suffer from their omission from the crew.

I don’t know if you read the Being Ernest post or the comments that followed, but Tom, qrter, and Lee did a great job in putting forward suggestions for triple bills to watch. In fact, having watched Dr Strangelove before the week before, and The List of Adrian Messenger on Monday night, I finished off my George C. Scott triple by catching Patton last night, as Tom suggested.

Trying to think of older actors and the films they’ve been in, I dug out the Word document entitled Blank Video Contents. While it may be oxymoronic, it lists the eighty-nine tapes that films were recorded onto over the years. Now, I know in this digital age, the idea of watching something on magnetic tape is about as quaint as listening to old 78s, but here are some of the titles of films I had forgotten about...

Gunga Din, Cat People (1942), The Paleface, The Lost Weekend, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Save the Tiger, Seconds, Melvin & Howard, The Front Page, The Killers (1946), The Killers (1964), Stalag 17, The Underneath, Point Blank, The Haunting (1963), Whiskey Galore, The Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, The Naked Spur, Harvey, Kafka, Build My Gallows High, Laura, The Lady Vanishes (1938), Foreign Correspondent, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, Carve Her Name With Pride, The Body Snatcher (1945), The Cat and the Canary (1939), Genevieve, plus nine of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes adventures.

An eclectic mix, certainly, but I can’t see the necessity of going to the cinema for a while. Although before I make a start I should make clear the distinction between computer effects and computer animation. One of the films I’m really looking forward to in the coming months is Pixar’s Wall-E. Along with the trailers and Wall-E vignettes here, check out the ‘exclusive clip’. That is just beautiful.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blissful Ignorance

I finally registered with my local GP yesterday. Well, whoopee for me! It came up in conversation with someone last week that I wasn’t signed up with a doctor and they were frankly appalled and concerned at my cavalier attitude.

I mentioned to her, what I always say, that growing up in the Westcountry, and spending some years on a farm, we would only visit a doctor if a limb had been torn off or a relatively vital organ had been coughed up. Saying that made her eyes widen further than if I had casually violated her.

When I came back from America in 1990 and moved to the flat in North London I eventually registered with my local GP. He was a typically miserable old bastard and I only had the pleasure of seeing him one or twice over the years before a letter arrived from the Local Health Authority stating that he had been set to jail for taking a seriously unhealthy interest in his younger patients.

The woman mulled this over then told me I simply had to be registered, especially if, while I was out one day, I got myself squished by a large moving block of metal. I didn’t really push that, assuming that my shredded remains would be scooped into a bag and handed over to the GP.

So I walked up to the local medical practice and eyed the Audis and BMWs in the doctor-reserved car park. Inside I eventually got to fill out the form and give them the details, which I had already been sent away to find out. (Does anyone know their NHS number offhand?). Just when I figured my job there was done and was about to go, the receptionist booked me in for the initial exam. Huh?

I wasn’t sure how much of my piss was needed for the test but I filed that container to the brim. In return I discovered that I’m 180 centimetres tall – almost five foot, eleven – and my weight is.... Wow, that fucks my BMI ragged! I explained I’d quit the gaspers just before Christmas and this was the unfortunate result. The exam nurse nodded thoughtfully then looked at the question on the computer’s electronic form. She asked if I was a smoker. Huh?

Then came to the blood pressure test. When we were filming for NOF at the Labour Conference in Brighton a couple years back, during a lull in proceedings the nurses worked me over. I discovered my bad cholesterol was low, which was good, but my good cholesterol was also low, which wasn’t as good. Still, I wasn’t a goner.

The only real problem was the blood pressure That problem was, with the cuff tight around my bicep, it took something like five goes before the machine returned an accurate reading rather than a return an error message. Back then in Brighton it was high. Yesterday it was through the roof: 178/108. Apparently that’s not good. The nurse asked when I could come in today to see a doctor. I only came in to register!

This afternoon I pretty much figured out which doctor owned the BMW. That would be the complete arrogant cock whose office I ended up sitting in. After answering his first question he told me I hadn’t answered his question. In the middle of answering his second question he told me to be quiet so he could take my blood pressure. Yeah, that’s going to help it.

Eventually I walked back to the reception with an invite to the local hospital’s Cardiology Department, a form for haematology tests, and a prescription for an anti-hypertensive. The reception took one look at the look on my face and started laughing. I only came in to register, I told her.

“Blood!” she enthused. I told her the last nurse who took blood samples from me was a cross between Nurse Ratched and Rosa Klebb’s ugly sister and so heavy-handed changing the individual vials that the resulting bruise ran from halfway up my bicep and down to my wrist. She laughed even louder. I told her this was all because I had quit smoking and piled on the pounds. She had just started again. Maybe next time I’m in I’ll take her round the back for a gasper. That put a twinkle in her eye.

I plodded around to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled. When the pharmacist discovered this was the first time I’d been prescribed medication she was around the counter, asking about when I ate in the day and explaining the best time to take my daily tablet. I only came in to register, I told her. See you next time, she said. Huh?

So there we go. Apparently, at any moment, I could explode. “Is there anything you can think of that could cause your blood pressure to rise?” my exam nurse asked. Well......

Back when it was announced that Doctor Who was coming back to our screens, and when it turned out that the writers of that first series were real fans of the original show, the big worry was that it would just be an exercise of fan wank of truly epic proportions.

For all its faults, it never actually got that bad... until Saturday’s episode. What the holy living fuck was that? Maybe I missed one or two plot points because all I could hear was a roaring sound in my ears, but there’s no way I’m wasting time on a repeat iPlayer performance.

I suppose using alternate universes where everything is changed is a common cliché in science fiction circles. The Star Trek incarnations would take a trip to their Mirror Universe, usually as an excuse to dress the women up as dominatrixes. That said, it also produced the Star Trek – The Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise, and, from the original series, The City on the Edge of Forever.

So, it’s not always a bad thing. But those stories were set in one instance in time as the characters struggled to set everything right. The Fat Controller’s episode, Turn Left, was set all over the place, like a bizarre clip show filled with silly in-jokes that at no point really made any sense. Billie Piper was so stunned to be back that she stopped acting. How, and why, did Rose keep turning up? Did I miss something there?

Why didn’t anyone tell Catherine Tate she had a cheap and frankly embarrassing black plastic bug on her back? When it died why didn’t it ooze fan wank? And what was the point of the Pompeii seer’s warning when it was an alternate universe Donna. Is that right? So even though she simply sits back and watches events unfold with a nod and a wink, until she’s convinced it’s all about her and does something about it.

In The City on the Edge of Forever, which is considered the classic Star Trek episode, Kirk and Spock have to go back in time after a deranged McCoy changes history. Arriving in Depression-era America, they end up at a mission run by Edith Keeler whose vision of the future is alarmingly prophetic. As Kirk falls for Keeler, Spock discovers she is the focal point of this altered timeline.

To restore things to their natural order, Keeler needs to die. Eventually, reunited with McCoy, a duty-bound Kirk has to stop him from saving Keeler when... she steps out in front of a lorry and is killed. Well, how about that?

Previous Davies-scripted episodes have thieved ideas and visual concepts from all manner of films, television and literature – most notably Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for the second series finale. But to steal from Harlan Ellison? Oh, baby! That really does show some balls.

Last year the eleventh episode was a nonsense story cobbled together to simply reintroduce The Master, prior to the two-part finale. This year it’s the same old load of cock in readiness of, from the look of the preview, every character from Doctor Who and the spin-offs coming together for a massive Viking funeral wankfest.

I may have to double my dosage, just in case. If, in a couple weeks time, the line of communication here goes dead it might just be because I’ve exploded.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being Ernest

The massive intrusion of Euro 2008 in the television schedules has stopped me watching the box. I can talk about football. For instance, the average pitch is a waste of nine croquet lawns. But that’s pretty much it. So when I’ve been in of an evening, it’s pretty much been picking a selection of DVDs off the shelves. Last Sunday it was Powell & Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and today Untitled, the director’s cut of Almost Famous.

Over the weeknights I started with The Poseidon Adventure, then turned to The Dirty Dozen, and finally Ice Station Zebra. There wasn’t any method in the choices, just reaching for films that I enjoyed and hadn’t watched in a while. Probably, I was looking for films concentrating on story rather that walloping the audience with brash CGI special effects. Either caught up in the enjoyable hokum, or simply slow on the uptake, it was only during John Sturges’ Cold War drama that I realized that I’d put together a pretty decent Ernest Borgnine triple bill.

I suppose I could have substituted Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, or added it to make an interesting quartet. Or tried to track down the episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants in which he played the Mermaid Man. I knew that Ermes Effron Borgnino was still with us, but at ninety-one years old, I figured he was kicking back and enjoying retirement. Apparently he's still working, and still going strong, which, at a time when a generation of Hollywood players is starting to leave us, is a very good thing.

So here’s the thing, if you fancy it, pick yourself a favourite Hollywood actor/actress and come up with a triple bill of their films (preferably available on DVD) that would make entertaining viewing for a time when there’s nothing else on. Also, think of them as introductions to the actor for people unfamiliar with their work.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

About Midnight

I was thinking of doing that thing where I’d go absolutely gaga championing “episode ten”. You know, saying that while this recent series had its ups and down, the last couple of weeks had been absolute blinders, while the latest one was utterly compelling and absolutely gut wrenching. You can pretty much see where it was going with it, right?

Obviously the inference would be that I was discussing Doctor Who. The reveal, of course, would be that the show in question was actually Battlestar Galactica. But I think I tried that one already, back when the shows were about to start. After finally catching the latest Who episode on iPlayer, I don’t think I could have worked out and carried on a decent pretence anyway. Because, quite frankly, I think my brain is still numb from the experience.

Unconditional love doesn’t wash in the Good Dog kennel. Though the Moffat two-parter was an astonishing piece of storytelling, it doesn’t mean that I’m now a paid-up fan for the series. Everything pretty has to stand by its own merit – although there’s always a little leeway when I’m feeling benevolent – which means Midnight stands and falls on its own merit. And the way I see it, this episode is still tumbling ass over tit, down into a bottomless pit.

I did think that the idea of showing that, without an assistant around to act as a buffer, The Doctor can come across as a self-serving, know-it-all tool. Which makes him sort of like an alien James Cameron. It was great to have an entity that nobody could explain rather than some tired old monster from bygone days. That aside, Midnight appeared to be written by someone who had absolutely no understanding of science fiction and absolutely no respect for science fiction.

A while back I mentioned the Agatha Christie episode and how the appearance of her book, published in the year 5,000,000,000, was simply the icing on an already fucked up cake. Sure, it’s a little throwaway gag, but I found it yanking me right out of the story. The cogs are whirring away and I’m thinking: five billion AD? Why a book and not some slender digital reader? What is literature still doing in the same format? What about the trees to make the paper?

You get something like that and the spell is broken. Like a light sleeper easily awoken, little inconsistencies yank me right out of the story. Of course, funnily enough, the very next week there was a whole library of books – a library the size of a planet, filled with every book every written. But that was fine because the parameters were quickly set up and within them the story made perfect sense.

Here you could begin by asking what kind of name for a planet is Midnight, especially since it’s all diamond shiny? But then that was the least of the barrel load of nonsense that, once tipped out, really stank up the screen. By now I would hope that we all know that science fiction stories still require internal logic. By now I would hope that we all know that people who say things like, “Ah, don’t worry about it! Nothing has to make sense, its just science fiction!” should be dragged away and painfully abused by fire-pissing demons of the underworld.

Let’s just look at the basic scenario here. It’s set on a planet made of diamond where there’s a self-contained holiday resort. Comments so far? How about: if you discover a planet made of diamonds you mine the shit out of it rather than turn it into a holiday destination. That would seem like a plan, but on Midnight the diamonds are “poisoned by the sun” so that nobody can touch them. Also, the sunlight is “exotonic”, which means that it will “destroy any living thing in a split second.” Oh, and there’s no oxygen either.

Remember that scene in Armageddon when Owen Wilson’s character asks what the surface of the asteroid is going to be like? After he’s told about the extreme temperatures, razor-sharp rock and unpredictable gravity, he replies “So, the scariest environment imaginable.” How did this holiday resort, on an irradiated planet, with no atmosphere and direct sunlight that with vaporise you, get Health & Safety certified? And who in their right fucking minds would go there?

The Doctor and Donna, obviously. While Donna sunbathes beneath fifteen foot thick glass, The Doctor is off to see a “sapphire waterfall.” Apparently, an enormous jewel reaches the Cliffs of Oblivion and shatters into sapphires at the edge, falling 100,000 feet into a crystal ravine. Of course it does. I suppose explained that like it should make sense, even though the Cliffs of Oblivion sound like something out of The Princess Bride.

Yet, while the resort looks pretty upscale, why does the caterpillar- tracked transport to the waterfall appear to be so utterly low-rent? Since the windows have to be shielded, meaning there is no view out, why are they travelling by land in the first place, especially since this particular mode of transport takes four hours there and four hours back?

Since it is a business venture, and the passengers are paying, the object of the exercise is to take them to this Diamond Palace to see the waterfall, getting them there and back as quickly as possible, and then get ready for the next party. Why not have shuttles, or even a monorail of some kind, running people back and forth?

Then we get to the passengers themselves. Given that the story is about ordinary people feeding off growing paranoia and giving in to the pressure of the situation, it would help to have ordinary people. Really you want characters like the folk in The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, the Rod Serling-scripted episode of The Twilight Zone in which residents of a suburban street start to believe their neighbourhood has been invaded by human-looking aliens.

Instead, aside from a dull scientist who is there to also become an object of ridicule, because it’s just what fuckers who deal in things like science and facts deserve, onto the transport steps the sort of oiks who drag their knuckles around Lakeside or thecentre:mk. Descended from the apes that certainly didn’t touch the monolith, given their default setting seems to be constant arguing, they don’t really have far to go when everyone gets leery and it all kicks off.

With parts of the resort looked like it had been fitted out for a higher class of customer, wouldn’t it have been better if this journey had been taken by a much more civilised group; the sort that would likely include an equivalent of Caldicott and Charters? That way – far from the sort that would start a ruck with, “Did you spill my sherry?” – their descent into primal madness would be that much more frightening.

Instead, nothing seemed to be taken into consideration. Does anybody give Russell The Doughnut notes? Some of the exposition sounded like rebuttals to what some people may have observed in the initial draft. With this sort of nonsense let through unchecked rather than sitting down and reconfiguring the whole thing, I would have loved to be at the table read to see who rolled their eyes and tried not to descend into giggles.

As I said at the beginning, the idea of the Doctor without a companion coming across as a complete cock and an unexplained entity was pretty good. Unfortunately, the execution was completely and utterly fucking awful. Hell, they might as well have made an episode of Holby City where a surgeon turns up for work on a camel that’s painted blue, then, during a heart transplant operation he replaces the dodgy ticker with a cheese and pickle sandwich.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Magnificent Seven

I don't know how long the instruction has been up, but I just noticed that young Mr Jason has slapped me with this tag to:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now.”

I’m not going to able to put much analysis this way about what makes these pieces of music my seven choices. With only 14.6 days worth of music in iTunes I’m obviously a bit of a lightweight. I’ll mix it up and when I find songs that make the right sounds at the right time, they get dropped into a smaller “favourites” folder to go around again.

I’m not great at analysing why I like a particular song at a particular moment. I guess it depends on how the mood takes me, which means they all slip in and out of favour eventually. So these are the seven that are getting the most repeated plays at the moment. They pretty much give the best indication of where my head is at right now.

The top three even have YouTube accompaniment. The rest you can dig out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

If I Don’t See You Again – Neil Diamond (Home Before Dark)

Tom Traubert’s Blues – Tom Waits (Small Change)

Smile – David Gilmour (On An Island)

Goodbye Stranger – Supertramp (Breakfast in America)

The Rising – Bruce Springsteen (The Rising)

The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield (Casino Royale OST)

Till It Shines – Bob Seger (Stranger in Town)

The final instruction is to tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to. Well those seven magnificent are:

Canada’s very own Will Dixon, Great Britain’s great Brian Sibley, the delightful and divine Lara Greenway and The Urban Woo, English Dave when he’s back from loitering around film sets, young Lee Thomson who has been a lazy blogger for far too long, and finally, because he hasn’t already got enough to do with a deadline looming and the computers going crackly, Work Buddy.

Little Victories

For writers impatient to break into television, the continual realisation that there is no one simple way of getting their foot in the industry’s door has to be disheartening. In a way it’s like Willy Loman asking his dead brother Ben how he made his millions only to be told, “When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle. And by twenty-one, I walked out. And by God, I was rich!” What kind of answer is that?

Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais in Conversation, at the BFI Southbank’s National Film Theatre, were quick to illustrate the old adage that, from their experience, it simply comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Introduced to each other as friends of friends in a Notting Hill pub, when the pair decided to start writing together they at least had the advantage of Clement already working at the BBC.

He was on the Corporation’s directors course, the final part of which saw him given a studio for one day, £100 spending money and carte blanche to make whatever he wanted. Rather than waste the one opportunity they might have to produce something relevant, the pair took a sketch they had already written and expanded it to half an hour. It became, in embryonic form, The Likely Lads.

Typically the tape then sat on a shelf with people watching it occasionally but doing nothing more about it. With BBC2 about to go on the air, the channel needed content and though it had been near the bottom of any list, Clement and La Frenais found themselves with a six-episode commitment. As Frank Muir, then the Assistant Head of Light Entertainment, mentioned to them not long after, the show had been picked up simply because it was inexpensive to make.

Even then, their comedy about two young Northern lads stumbling their way through life was still only seen by the select audience that received the BBC’s new channel, rather than the country at large. Once the characters appeared in a sketch written for the 1964 Christmas Night with the Stars television special, and the first series was then screened on BBC1, The Likely Lads’ popularity took off. As Ian La Frenais noted, it was the first time they heard the phrase “repeat fees”, which they liked very much.

Over the course of their ninety minutes on stage, peppering the conversation with typically amusing anecdotes as they discussed their work in film and television, comedy and drama, the one constant was that neither Dick Clement nor Ian La Frenais appeared to take anything for granted. After their initial success it wasn’t until they had the three series of The Likely Lads and their first feature film script under their belts that La Frenais finally give up his day job in market research.

Neither did they immediately have all the answers. When Prisoner and Escort, one of two half-hour comedies the pair had written for Ronnie Barker’s Seven of One series, was given a full series, the initial idea was for career criminal Norman Stanley Fletcher to be the Ernie Bilko of the British prison system. Once Clement and La Frenais visited Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton Prison they quickly realised it couldn’t be solely played for laughs.

Neither seemed sure how to get a handle on the series until, talking with an ex-con about prison life, the one-time jailbird mentioned the “little victories” that helped get him through his sentence. Whether it was simply getting an extra dollop of mashed potatoes in the prison dining hall or finding a way to get one over on the screws, every little thing helped make every day behind bars that more tolerable. With that, Clement and La Frenais had the key to their series.

As good as the writing was, La Frenais quickly pointed out that what made Porridge was the formidable acting talent of Barker, Richard Beckinsale, Fulton McKay and Brian Wilde. The success of the first series took the pair to Hollywood where they were invited by ABC to remake it as On the Rocks. Typically they arrived in America to discover whatever reputation they enjoyed over here meant absolutely nothing over there. What made the pair visibly prickle were their memories of the studio’s working practises.

For On the Rocks each episode was filmed twice in front of different audiences, after which additional pickups would be shot. Whereas an episode of Porridge filmed at Television Centre would invariably finish in time for everyone to be in the BBC bar by nine o’clock, wondering where they were going to eat that night, in Los Angeles they wouldn’t leave the studio until one in the morning. It obviously wasn’t their only frustration. Although the series was a moderate success, the pair turned down the opportunity for a second year.

Though they stayed in California it was Franc Roddam coming to them with the idea for Auf Wiedersehen, Pet that got them established in the hour-long drama. Roddam put them in contact with a brickie who had to leave recession-hit England for a job in Germany and La Frenais flew to the continent with him to see what was happening first hand. Before they were through the airport the brickie was arrested by the Polizei for past misdeeds, with their per diem for the whole trip managing to keep him out of a jail cell.

That they were going to write the series was obviously a no brainer, but neither of them knew how it would connect with the viewing public. After the show premiered on ITV the pair went to Anfield where Liverpool were playing Newcastle and the terraces echoed to the sound of: “We all agree, Oz is better than Yosser!” After that experience they figured it had sunk into the national conscience. The second series, La Frenais admitted, didn’t work as well because the story wasn’t as pure. Any contrivances aside, the cast and crew also had to deal with the unexpected death of actor Gary Holton.

Back in the 1970s, both Clement and La Frenais decided a return visit to Bob and Terry in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? was essential, even if it meant concerted arm-twisting to get James Bolam back on board. The resulting two series, showing the changes the characters had been through from their late-teens to mid-twenties, proved to be better than the original with its wistful, bittersweet comedy. When it came to resurrecting Auf Wiedersehen, Pet sixteen years on, neither of the pair were sure it was a good idea until they saw the audience reaction to a skit written for a charity gig put on by Jimmy Nail and Tim Healey.

Shooting the original series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet at Elstree, at a time when the studio was also playing host to Never Say Never Again, Clement and La Frenais bumped into its director, Irvin Kershner, who voiced his reservations about the script. The pair suggested they take a pass at the script and Kershner obviously seemed agreeable to the idea but they weren’t brought on board until the film was already under way.

An unofficial remake of Thunderball, with Sean Connery returning to the role as James Bond, while watching the rushes Clement noted that there wasn’t a logical reason in the script for Bond to jet off to the Bahamas. With the crew already out their filming, La Frenais was despatched to Nassau to sort out that particular plot point. Although they already had over a half-dozen screenwriting credits to their name, it was this uncredited rewrite that really got them noticed in the industry, eventually leading to Connery bringing them onboard to rewrite The Rock.

Although enthusiastic about their work, obviously some films worked out better than others. The Commitments and Still Crazy were two they were proud of, along with the film versions of Porridge and The Likely Lads, but not everyone had always gone to plan. Still, there seemed to be some compensation along the way; some little victories to be had.

Peter Sellers may have treated the crew of The Prisoner of Zenda badly but Clement and La Frenais escaped his wrath having spent two weeks in Nice with the actor, prior to filming, reminiscing about The Goon Show and old music hall acts. 1971’s Villain saw them exposed to the full-on celebrity might of Burton and Taylor. When Richard Burton wandered around the studio asking, “Has anyone seen my wife?” a sparks shouted down from a gantry, “What does she look like?”

Over the evening we learnt about their scriptwriting arrangement. Clements was assigned the role of designated writer, first on legal pads, then typewriters, and finally a computer while his partner sat across from him reeling off ideas. La Frenais admitted to resisting technology until the mid-1980s when he adapted Lovejoy for television. Thirty-odd pages into the first script, his wife called him for dinner and he switched the machine off, without pressing that special SAVE button.

Although they’ve had a pretty good run of late, the pair confirmed that for every script that has gone into production, two more sit on the shelf unfilmed. Having recently entered the world of animation by co-writing Aardman’s Flushed Away, and followed it with the musical Across the Universe, their latest project is the animated Ruby Tuesday, featuring music songs by The Rolling Stones.

Having bounced between different genres over the past forty-odd years, Dick Clement has decided that the work can be divided into two categories: stories set before the advent of mobile phones, and stories set after the advent of mobile phones. In the end, the only advice La Frenais could give was that in their experience, good comedy comes from character and situation. For them, coming up with a joke first and trying to build a scene around it would simply be ruinous and the quickest way to fail.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Likely Story

I’m off to the BFI Southbank tomorrow evening to see Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais in Conversation at the National Film Theatre. Creators of The Likely Lads, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, and Porridge their success as a comedy writing partnership is probably matched only by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.

Both now in their seventies, the Essex-born Clement and Newcastle-upon-Tyne-born La Frenais have worked together for 43 years. Equally at home writing, directing and producing comedies and dramas, the pair co-created Auf Wiedersehen, Pet with director Franc Roddam, before adapting The Rotters’ Club and Robert Harris’ Archangel for television.

For the cinema Clement and La Frenais wrote Villain, the gangster drama starring Richard Burton, The Commitments for director Alan Parker, Still Crazy, Aardman Animations’ Flushed Away, and more recently Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, weaving a narrative around songs by The Beatles, and The Bank Job. The pair were also hired to perform uncredited rewrites of Never Say Never Again and The Rock.

I know it will mean missing Euro 2008’s France v Italy game, or Five's rerun of CSI, but according to the BFI Southbank website* tickets are still available for the event which starts at 8:45pm, NFT1. If you want to write for television, it might be an idea listening to what these guys have to say. Just remember to record the episode of Battlestar Galactica on Sky One, seriously.

* Obviously this is based on the actual time of writing. If you get all excited about it and then discover tickets have since sold out, well whose fault is that?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Blessing Way

Yesterday I said to my Yogi, “I’m pleased to see you, and that is a banana in my pocket.” The look she gave me was a delicate mixture of abject terror and confusion. With the minutes ticking down to eleven o’clock and the ceremony about to begin, she had a lot more on her mind than listening to me being a jackass.

Also, since she'd last seen me, I’d had a pretty severe haircut. It’s what happens when the barber is more interested in watching the Croatia v Germany match than what he’s actually doing with the clippers. So she needed that extra split second to figure out who was looming over her. And the lighting wasn’t that great. But then we were in church, and I really did have a banana in my jacket pocket.

It was a celebration of first Holy Communion, though certainly not for me. I know politics and religion are topics best steered cleared of, so I won’t bother making any claims that Gordon Brown is about as effectual as a fart in a wet paper bag when it comes to leading the government. But there’s probably no harm in saying I don’t do church services, or religion for that matter.

I mean, I vaguely remember going to Sunday School classes when I was an innocent wee nipper, but that didn’t last long. After the prep school’s annual Christmas service it’s pretty much come down to five weddings and two funerals. The last time, for a service, was my aunt’s funeral just over four years ago. That really wasn’t a good day.

I’m all for folk wanting something to believe in, but organised religion frankly annoys me. That said, I do love the magnificent edifices people built to worship in. Travels abroad meant spending quality time in the Byzantine Basilica di San Marco in Venice, or Montreal’s neo-Gothic Notre-Dame Basilica, or Grace Cathedral perched on Nob Hill in San Francisco. And of course there’s always the last ten minutes of A Canterbury Tale if I don’t get the chance to be out and about.

This Marylebone church was obviously not in their league but still pretty darn impressive. Along with the Agent’s youngest daughter, the Yogi’s son was amongst the two-dozen children taking their first Holy Communion. She had invited me along to the morning service and afternoon reception at the Agent’s flat, which was nice.

Getting off at the stop on Baker Street, I wandered into the coffee shop opposite to order a latte to go. Putting on my suit I’d noticed one particular side effect of giving up the gaspers, so when the sultry young barista tried to tempt me with her pert pastries, I opted for something from the fruit bowl.

Except, I didn’t clearly think it through. Walking down the street with a coffee in one hand and an apple in the other would be perfectly acceptable. But a banana seemed odd, especially in this part of town. Misjudging how close I was to the church, the banana was secreted away before I found myself milling around outside as cars and cabs drew up to the kerb and the families and children taking part in the service arrived.

Before I saw my Yogi, or indeed the Agent, the Actress appeared, back from a recent assignment. After hugs and kisses were exchanged I took her aside and apologized profusely for something I’ll have to write about another time. There as a spectator too, both of us unsure as to what was about to unfold, it meant we could sit together and try and work it out between us.

The seats were close to the white marble pulpit in which stood the official event photographer. He also had a video camera on a tripod. Judging from where it was pointing, and with the central aisle seats assigned to the children and immediate family, we had what a theatre would describe as restricted view. Or, rather, no view at all given the marble colonette before us.

While there was a programme containing the order of service, without a direct line of sight we couldn’t see any cues from the priest. It may also have been that I was admiring the stained glass windows and the organ, situated above the sanctuary in the triforium, rather than pay attention. Without a proper introduction, by the time I figured out my place in the Entrance Hymn, I was two verses behind, singing about “love shared” rather than “joy shared”.

The confusion reminded me of the Metallica gig at Wembley with Work Buddy, The Governess and The Bubbly Blonde. Neither Hattie nor I knew when we should have been standing, leaping about, slamdancing, punching the air or making horned demon signs. Obviously this service didn’t require the audience to be that energetic, but what was on the page didn’t always translate.

The only thing that did seem to go to plan was the Homily, but as the children took turns in reciting the Bidding Prayers the two-year-old in the arms of the woman behind us suddenly kicked off, drowning out everything going on at the chancel. In total the ceremony lasted just over an hour, which was certainly long enough, especially since a good proportion of the youngsters in the congregation were beginning to lose what little concentration they had.

Once the ceremony was over it suddenly turned into a wild photocall with first the children lined up en masse, then each individually, then each child with immediate family, standing before the altar as the flashes bounced off the gilt surrounds.

After that we all pretty much needed a drink, especially the members of the congregation who had gone forward to receive Communion after the children had been seen to, apparently now only allowed to be given the wafer by the priest, without the wine. Everyone retired to the Agent’s flat for an afternoon of food and drink, basking in the sunshine everyone had prayed for.

I was home in time for the televised highlights of Trooping the Colour. I thought someone had mentioned something else was happening in Central London.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

River Runs Through It

Toward the end of the 1980s I found myself working for Richard Williams on his long-cherished feature, The Thief and the Cobbler. I was probably there for only six or seven months, and it was tight schedules we were working to, but I knew pretty much all the staff from working at Disney and it was a really fun time.

The animation, including work by Ken Harris and Art Babbitt, set against Errol Le Cain’s astonishingly luxuriant backgrounds, was just astonishing. There were times when we’d sit back and watch the scenes that had been painstakingly put together over twenty-odd years.

There was one scene inside the palace when The Thief comes down a flight of stairs, takes the corner wide as he makes a turn, his shoes slapping on the marble as he gains enough traction to carry on down. It’s a gag Harpo Marx performs in Duck Soup, which I mentioned as the scene unfolded, naturally assuming it was an homage to the original.

I remember Dick saying that you should never copy something unless you can make it better in the process. Watching the animation, The Thief still retained a centre of gravity, but brought to life with a pencil meant the character could, for just a few extra frames of elasticity, thumb its nose at the laws of physics without it going over the top.

His comment has always stayed in the back of my mind. It’s what rises to the fore and drives the incandescent rage brought on by half-arsed, lazily written dramas that steal ideas and imagery from other, more celebrated sources and then does pretty much fuck all with them because the writers simply don’t know what to do with them.

It also reminds me of the line in Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm says: “You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could...” Lazy motherfuckers! Hopefully there’s a special place in hell waiting for every one of them.

The inherent problem with science fiction is that the existing conventions have already been lazily recycled over and again, down through the decades across the media. I wasn’t impressed with Moffat’s first Doctor Who story, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, because the concept of aliens trying to heal an injured human and not getting it quite right was already a tired idea during the era of the pulps.

Counting off the days in the wake of Silence in the Library, the main concern was that the second half wouldn’t live up to expectations. There’s always a danger anyway with two-part dramas that so much effort is put into setting up the story that it then simply dribbles away to a less than satisfactory resolution.

Thankfully, Forest of the Dead did absolutely nothing of the sort. Instead, Moffat refused to fall back on so many of the existing conventions of science fiction. Given that the Vashta Nerada had been established as unstoppable and something to simply run away from, cut from the chase and wisely spent the time concentrating on the mystery of CAL and solving the conundrum: 4022 saved. No survivors.

When it came to the revelation that Donna had been saved into the virtual world, the initial fear was, please don’t let this get within sniffing distance of a riff on something like The Matrix. Oddly enough, there was a brief glimpse of the interior of The Hub in this week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica that looked like the real-world power plant from the Wachowski’s film.

Instead we got something very different. Giant super computers always tend to be vengeful, like Skynet, or Colossus, or even AM that preceded either of them. Instead with CAL we got a computer traumatised from doing toe right thing. Even then it was still just part of a very clever, very human story.

The backbone of which continued to be River Song and the gentle teasing out of her future relationship with The Doctor. In fact, River’s description of her Doctor could be interpreted as Moffat slyly stating his intentions of where the character will go once he takes the reins for the 2010 season.

Throughout the episode the narrative constantly threw idea after idea at the screen rather than snapping up just one of them and running with that. Taking that approach it created one of the best pieces of adult dramas on television this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if a whole lot of the little kiddies that had been given the willies the week before sat on the sofa scratching their head as the story unfolded.

Having just blathered on about films that should have ended sooner, friend of the blog Jaded and Cynical mentioned on the previous post that he felt that Forest of the Dead could have done without the extended coda. A grumpy bastard myself, I like to see characters die, especially when they really deserve it. But this time I think Moffat got it right.

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I’m going soft in my advanced years – for the last time I must have had grit in my eye!! – but those final fifteen minutes of the episode were as necessary as the previous half hour. After all, how could such a vital character as River Song be introduced and then callously snuffed out?

The bittersweet resolution even meant that CAL was no longer alone either. It showed marvellous ingenuity and compassion, and at no point did it feel forced or fake. It even reined in Catherine Tate, giving her a chance to act rather than simply be shouty-shouty. Which means that four days later I’m still trying to fathom it.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Stop Right There

I started watching Minority Report last night. I’m really not sure why. I mean I certainly wasn’t going to see it through to the end. Not because it finished way past my bedtime for a school night, but simply because it was a thoroughly stoopid movie that I never much cared for.

Prior to the theatrical release back in 2002, some PR woman had pushed tickets my way for a special screening down at the National Film Theatre. If I remember rightly there was also a special on-stage discussion afterwards involving various scientists and futurists. Obviously they had been roped in to yack about the viability of the future world depicted in the movie.

After all, shouldn’t we be suitably forewarned that, in years to come, cars will run down the sides of buildings on special tracks and breakfast cereals will have their own utterly annoying animated packs. Of course there was also the really important stuff to be clued up on, like it’s best not to carry your original eyeballs around with you after a transplant.

The fact that the emphasis of the event seemed to be on the look of the film rather than the narrative sent up early warning signals that we hoped would be dispelled. Except once the film began it was clear Minority Report was stuffed with more then enough of the usual science fiction tropes even before being infused with the typical blend of Phil Dick paranoia and mentalness.

As for the talk, we didn’t stick around. By then we didn’t care. As soon as the credits arrived we were up out of our seats and hightailing it for the exit. The friend I took along wasn’t impressed with the film. The following year I dragged him along to an early morning critics screening of The Matrix Reloaded in IMAX. That time he wasn’t impressed with me. When I called regarding The Matrix Revolutions IMAX screening I think he pretended he was his own answerphone message.

Straight after the Minority Report screening we zeroed in on the nearest restaurant. Over the meal we came to the conclusion that the film would have been a better, at least as far as we were concerned, if it had finished earlier. It’s obvious that over the past few years most films are too long. Did, for instance, Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End really need to be over two-and-a-half hours long?

When people say a film could lose twenty minutes, they’re probably right but I always want to ask then which twenty minutes in particular. Our opinion of Minority Report was that there were specific instances in the narrative where, if the screen went black and the credits began to roll, it would been have a better film.

The first instance was when Cruise’s John Anderton is caught, tried for the murders he didn’t commit and placed in the suspended-animation pokey. I suppose that would be the end of the film’s second act, right? It would be a real downer, but by then the real killer had been revealed, the story had pretty much all been explained, and if it hadn’t, there’s nothing wrong with a little ambiguity hanging over everyone. Sure, the bad guy gets away with it but so what? At least it would be something different.

If the downer ending wasn’t to everyone’s taste we figured the next ending would be the “European” or “1970s” ending. That would occur when the government official who turns out to be the killer takes his own life rather than shoot Anderton. There was a pretty good reason for his action, but I didn’t get this far last night to be reminded of it. Wasn’t it that the pre-crime officers would have to continue their work knowing that it was fallible?

We certainly could have lived with that. But damn it, it had to keep going until it reached the big, syrupy Hollywood ending where the pre-cogs were taken out of the tub, unplugged, dressed in their Gap clothing and left to bathe in the glorious afternoon sunshine. Frankly, it made us want to vomit ourselves inside out.

Carrying on eating, we tried to think of other films that should have stopped a reel or two earlier so that things were left a little more ambiguous and left to the audience to decide what happened rather than wrapping everything up with a neat bow. The only one I could come up with was The Abyss.

That’s great movie about blue-collar underwater roughnecks finding themselves in extreme and unexplained situations. Especially when Michael Biehn’s character starts wigging out from the pressure once he’s in possession of a nuclear warhead. It’s fine up until Ed Harris has to go deep into the abyss and encounters the floaty aliens in their tie-dyed spaceship. Whether it’s the longer, extended special edition or the straight theatrical release, right about that time the whole film goes to hell.

You could say, let’s ditch the whole alien premise but then that’s what causes the sub to crash right at the beginning. So... I figured it should end with the first floaty alien watch Ed Harris’ Bud Brigman gradually run out of air after he’s deactivated the bomb. Meanwhile, in the damaged Deepcore the handful of survivors haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen with them or up topside.

At least then there would be none of the frozen tidal wave shit, or having to set eyes on the horrible scale models used when the space ship rises to the surface. Or, worse than anything else, watch a conclusion based on the idea that love will win through and solve everything. In fact love means never having to decompress. I mean, for fuck’s sake! What was THAT all about?

Sure an ending that leaves everyone in the dark, literally, is going to bum some people out but maybe it’s what the characters and situation deserve. Sometimes, when the audience wants to be treated like adults, it’s what they deserve. Anyway, there has to be films that you’d prefer to have seen chopped back. Say your piece while I grab a bite to eat and check out the latest pornography.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Enjoy The Silence

I’ve had a really strange, really unfocused week. Maybe the Bank Holiday had something to do with it as those days always throw me. Even if that was a contributing factor, there had to be more to it than finding myself watching the opening minutes of The Sound of Music come the middle of Monday afternoon.

For some plainly irrational reason the television schedule started to annoy me. I know it’s easier now to record programmes and create your own schedule, but you still have to find the time to watch the damn things. It’s bad enough leaving shows to iPlayer and then forgetting about them until it’s too late.

Kiss of Death, on BBC Monday evening, was something I should have left to iPlayer and completely forgotten about. Six years back Boomtown went the same route of telling a story from the perspectives of different protagonists. What irritated me then as now was, as interesting as the concept is, every time the drama started to gain any momentum it rewound and we saw it all again from another character’s point of view. Just because something works for Kurosawa doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone else.

Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story came off slightly better but only because, like An Ungentlemanly Act, which recounted the invasion of the Falkland Islands, it took the facts and gave them a dose of Ealing comedy. Luckily it was the Ealing Studios of Michael Balcon that made undisputed classics like Passport to Pimlico and not the Ealing Studios of today which is run by the fucking stem cells who made St Trinian’s.

Which meant that, while entertaining, Filth was obviously distanced from the truth. Then again, a serious drama about some prude who decided to be the country’s moral guardian would have any sane audience punching the television screens until they’d shredded their fingers. Still, it had a couple of decent, if easy, jokes like Whitehouse’s husband seeing cocks and balls in her art class’ mixed-media abstracts before pointing out that, acronym-wise, calling the group Clean Up National TV wasn’t a good idea.

For all the shortcomings of last week’s television, everything was forgiven because it was the start of Springwatch. There’s something very peaceful about watching the various birds nest, eggs hatch and chicks fledge. Around that hour I spent most evenings getting reacquainted with the Fleming novels that I had picked up the week before. And then there was yesterday evening.

The little circle of drinking buddies would always make time to rag on me about Doctor Who. It became something of an entertainment for them to regularly wind me up and then let me go off on what I saw as the shortcomings of the revived show. Sitting down with them last Friday one asked what I thought about Moffat taking over from the Fat Controller. I surprised all of them by announcing that I thought it was brilliant news. Yesterday certainly confirmed it.

Last year’s Blink remains, I’m sure we’re all in agreement, a masterpiece of storytelling. It’s simply the Doctor Who episode for people who don’t like Doctor Who. One thing Lucy mentioned in the comments a couple of posts back was that she didn’t know a single kiddie who liked Blink because it was too scary for them. If Blink came on a bit too strong for those little wusses, hopefully Silence in the Library was more akin to their delicate Westcountry sensibilities. Instead of living statues it’s creatures that live in the shadows, ready to strip flesh from the bones in an instant. If that stills scare the little blighters senseless, well, there’s just no pleasing some awkward buggers.

A heady mix of thrills and scares was what I remember Doctor Who always being about. If that leaves a spot of wee on today’s sofa cushions or the need for clean pair of sheets in the morning, well that’s the price you pay. Colliding the ordinary with the extraordinary, the power of suggestion preying on fertile imaginations was always far better than pissing good money away on bad prosthetics.

However vicious, Vashta Nerada certainly had the previous episode beat. The Agatha Christie episode might have seemed like a fine idea but it just idled around dropping a whole lot of her book titles – Cards on the Table; They Do It with Mirrors; Sparkling Cyanide; Crooked House; The Honey in the Trap – into dialogue like it was some kind of party game. Didn’t the earlier story involving William Shakespeare make the same continued references to his plays?

Beyond the wordplay it seemed like any research had come from a half-hearted game of Cluedo rather than reading the Poirot and Marple novels, or even the Tommy and Tuppence stories. And I’m sorry but how utterly desperate for cock does a woman have to be to fuck a giant alien wasp? I mean, come on, that isn’t the done thing, not even in the Hindu Kush. I suppose all that could be overlooked as a bit of flummery were it not for the copy of Death in the Clouds, published in the year five billion. Sure, it was probably meant as a throwaway gag to round off the episode but the sheer incongruity of it, and the questions it threw up, suddenly stuck out like a sore thumb.

While recent episodes continue to confirm that Doctor Who is still alarmingly inconsistent in terms of storytelling and overall tone, luckily Silence in the Library (and hopefully the concluding second part) seems to be this series’ upturn. It’s certainly the polar opposite of The Doctor’s Daughter, which, while adhering to the format of the adventures I remember watching as a kid, fell flat on its face with a story that was not only rushed but complete and utter bollocks.

Whereas Russell T Davies’ incessant “magpie tendancies” constantly infuriate me, Moffat never lets any allusions either hinder, or lazily stand in for the central narrative. With nods to Kurd Lasswitz’s The Universal Library and Borges’ The Library of Babel, the conceit of a library that takes up a whole planet, entrusted with a copy of every book ever published, was just inspired. Of course the real tip of the hat was to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife.

It may simply be that Moffat looks for the most obvious route and then chooses a different direction. A warning delivered in a calm, monotone voice is a far more skin-crawling proposition than having a character bellow it at the top of their lungs while they flap around. Then there’s River Song, Moffat’s very own Clare Abshire.

As an adult watching, this is the kind of character that I want to see – someone alive with emotion rather than simply being a useless cartoon going through the motions. Sure I want to know how the characters are going to extricate themselves from the perilous situation and discover the mystery of CAL, but ultimately I’m more interested in the relationship between Song and her “pretty boy”.

The scene where she compares diary entries prior to the ringing telephone was a remarkable piece of writing and acting. The casting of Alex Kingston deftly illustrates that hiring a good actor over headline-grabbing, anaemic stunt casting is always the better of the two. Interesting too that the old, worn diary’s cover resembles the TARDIS in look.

Anyway, let’s leave it there before I geek out far too much. For everyone who thinks I loathe Doctor Who, I suspect this’ll show that it’s actually pish-poor drama that I’m not cock-a-hoop about. Of course, after next week the remaining four episodes are written by the outgoing Fat Controller, so I’m not sure how jubilant I’m going to be about the rest of the series.

The trailer looks like the show is gearing up for the usual over the top, end of year, end of the pier, fan-wank pantomime. Is that supposed to be Davros? Jesus fucking Christ! Interesting that in Moffat’s episodes the dangers have been new and different, rather than plucked out of the back catalogue of bullshit villains.

Obviously it’s still going to take time to completely convert me. In the meantime, damn, I can’t wait for new Saturday to come around.