If it’s Wednesday, it must be a drama about oil. Is this a new BBC trend? I tried my best to make it through the first episode of House of Saddam, I really did, but it was probably around the ten-minute mark that I thought, “Fuck this for a game of soldiers!” and went back to re-watching season two of The Wire.
The fact that this BBC/HBO co-production seemed to be positioning Mr S. Hussein as an equivalent Tony Soprano or Don Corleone turned me off. Also the fact that the first flashback, only going back to 1979, meant that it avoided a lot of the earlier shit in Iraq that the CIA was supposedly involved in.
Funny that. And the BBC Press Pack declaration that “House Of Saddam is based on two years of detailed research including extensive interviews with members of Saddam's regime, those who worked within his palaces, eyewitnesses and academics” gave me qualms after Burn Up.
But the thing that really put me off House Of Saddam, or rather, had already put me off, was that fucking trailer for the drama that seemed to be incessantly crowbarred between every programme for the past week: where the characters strike their pose and bleed/sweat crude oil. Because of course that's really what it's about, see?
Still, it is marginally better that the mental Holby City promo piece that has been turning up in all the wrong places, looking like something from Agent Provocateur. That kind of sensationalism would be dandy if the series has had a radical overhaul. But it’s obvious the show will come back as the same lacklustre hospital sop for the arsehole audience happy to see it stain the BBC1 schedule.
But even that is better than the fucking Beijing Olympics trailer based on the epic 16th century Chinese folk tale, His Yu Chi, in which the Tang boy-priest Tripitaka travels to India with three supernatural followers in search of holy scrolls. I suppose the gag is that Journey to the West has been turned into Journey to the East, with the resourceful Monkey, pig-monster Pigsy, and water-monster Sandy, end up at the Olympic stadium. Oh, ho-fucking-ho!
I suppose it’s because I never read Tank Girl that I don’t have a reverence for Jamie Hewlett. And I never thought much of Blur because Damon Albarn always came across as a self-important twat in the mold of Bono. So, obviously, Gorillaz was never really my cup of tea. Although produced by Passion Pictures, the sequence, commissioned by BBC Sport was devised in part by Red Bee Media, who also produced the Holby City spot.
Based at Broadcast Centre in west London, Red Bee was previously the BBC subsidiary BBC Broadcast until it was sold off to the Australian company Macquarie Capital Alliance Group. And now the BBC is handing over fuck knows how much in licence fee-payers’ money to have these promos made because there obviously isn’t an in-house department. I suppose there might have been one. Maybe they simply got rid of it.
My introduction to the great Sherlock Holmes was probably during school holidays and came courtesy of the redoubtable Basil Rathbone in the fourteen black and white movies, made primarily during the Second World War years, that paired him with Nigel Bruce, bumbling along as Doctor John Watson. It wasn’t until years later, when I eventually sat down to read Conan Doyle’s stories that I realised how far the film series had strayed from the source material.
The final dozen films, produced by Universal Studios, radically departed from the stories that first appeared in Strand magazine, in some cases taking just the premise from a Conan Doyle adventure, or combining elements from a number of different tales. In the case of 1945’s The House of Fear, screenwriter Roy Chanslor even roped in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None to mix with The Five Orange Pips.
Overall it didn’t matter. The changes did nothing to diminish what is probably still considered the definitive Holmes and Watson screen partnership. Those wonderful films began the Baker Street detective new life far beyond the Conan Doyle stories. So in the years that followed Holmes sought advice from Sigmund Freud in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, investigated missing midgets and the Loch Ness monster in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and appeared as the creation of the crime-solving John Watson in the marvellously silly Without a Clue.
There was also David Pirie’s utterly inspired Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, featuring the student Conan Doyle and his mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell, which should have lived far beyond the short-lived BBC/WGBH series. But in the wake of Jeremy Brett successfully stamping his mark on the character from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, re-reading some of the adventures reminded me of what an admirable job Granada Television did adapting stories not exactly known for their narrative drive.
Which makes it odd that Guy Ritchie, one of England’s premiere idiots behind the camera, has stated that his planned Sherlock Holmes movie will be as authentic as can be to Conan Doyle’s books, where Holmes was “more of an action figure originally.” An action figure? Really? Maybe that’s in a story I missed. Or maybe the future ex-Mr Madge is carrying on showing what a total cock he is.
At least it means that he won’t be messing with The Dirty Dozen for which he had his name down for a planned remake. While Robert Downey Jr. might make an interesting Holmes, it’s more than likely to be Poppycock, indeed!
After reading AA Gill’s review of Burn Up in The Sunday Times’ Culture section yesterday, where he decided that watching the “bloated, wasteful, gaseously hypocritical beached whale of a miniseries” was akin to “being manacled to the table at a Notting Hill dinner party, or being lectured by a vegan vitamin salesman”, I had a nose around to see whether the other broadsheet reviewers had been as accurate. Of course, this was once I had polished off the twin Sudoku challenge in the News Review section.
Apart from still trying to work out what the fuck Kathryn Flett was talking about – which is par for the course when it comes to the pages of The Observer – most reviews agreed it wasn’t up to much. But it was Thomas Sutcliffe, writing in The Independent, who nailed why Burn Up had been turned into a summer schedule toss off:
If you've watched any polemical thrillers at all, you'll know that they generally keep at least one wide-eyed innocent to hand, so that the sort of information that would go without saying for the main protagonists actually can get said aloud at some point. The ignorance of this character is a proxy for ours, a representative cluelessness that allows us to be told what we need to know.
Not just in “polemical thrillers”, such a practice has practically been de rigueur in most dramas where the environment or institution may not be totally familiar to the majority of the expected viewership. After all that was the point of the companions when Doctor Who was first broadcast in 1963. Since then we’ve had the likes of Tim Bayliss transferred into Baltimore’s homicide unit in the opening episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, Andrew Collin as the new junior NHS doctor in Cardiac Arrest, and medical student John Carter in ER, helping the audience find their way.
That said, in more recent cases, introductory explanations to ease the viewers in only went so far. While Carter, for instance, was shown the ropes in the emergency room, easing the viewers into the workings of the sometime chaotic environs, the experienced doctors and nurses already on staff talked amongst themselves in their professional shorthand. It may have been confusing at times, but it meant that the viewers weren’t treated like imbeciles.
Anyone who watched the recent interview with David Simon on The Culture Show would have heard him claim, “exposition sucks the life out of the story,” and in The Wire, the audience had to hit the ground running. In the first season, viewers would begin to understand how the wiretaps would bring down Avon Barksdale as the officers assigned to Daniels’ detail were schooled in electronic surveillance. But when it came to regular police work, like McNulty and Bunk’s infamous investigation of the Diedre Kresson murder, the audience was on its own.
The problem with Burn Up was there was no proper naïf to introduce us into that world. Instead the “wide-eyed innocent” who needed things explained to him, and seemed truly appalled that lobbyists would participate in dirty tricks and smear campaigns to get what they wanted, was the frigging new chairman of the oil company. Not only did he come across as a complete twat and a half, it sucked all plausibility out of the material.
One thing I did notice amongst the column inches was Mark Lawson rather erroneously compare Burn Up to Edge of Darkness. Troy Kennedy Martin’s classic thriller may certainly be the first green drama as it draws on Lovelock’s Gaia theory, but it’s in a class far and above Simon Beaufoy’s daft little eco-drama. Comparing the two, as Lawson suggested, seems utterly pointless.
So many dramas simply announce what arena they’re going to play in and that’s pretty much that. Burn Up didn’t go beyond the oil industry versus the environment while The Last Enemy’s stamping ground was government surveillance intruding on personal freedoms. With very little wiggle room the narratives tend toward the predictable.
While Lizzie Mickery and Daniel Percival’s The State Within and Paul Abbott’s State of Play delved into political intrigue, both dramas were distinctive enough, with numerous overlapping story strands, to keep the audience guessing right up to the end. The reason Edge of Darkness still endures, almost twenty-three years after it was first broadcast, is because of how many different layers Kennedy Martin wove into the drama, making it riveting viewing.
Written as a reaction to both the growing political pessimism and positive responses that emerged from the then heated Cold War rhetoric, Edge of Darkness started on a personal level with a Yorkshire policeman unofficially investigating the cold-blooded murder of his daughter. As the episodes progress, and new characters are gradually introduced, the drama flowers into a full-blown, labyrinthine conspiracy thriller.
Intertwining the nuclear industry with environmental politics, the drama ultimately evolves into a battle of wills between Man’s destructive technology and the ancient power of Nature. Has there been anything recently with that kind of scope? Lawson suggested that in the week Burn Up was screened, “an original use of the BBC's digital channels would have been a simultaneous repeat for Edge of Darkness.”
That’s an interesting idea, except not only would it have wiped the floor with Burn Up but every other hour of British drama on the box.
Does anyone remember the “Europudding”? The term surfaced in the early 1990s to describe the stodgy, virtually unwatchable European movies that were co-productions between numerous countries. As one critic commented, “Europuddings, like certain cheap wines, ought to carry the warning label: Product of more than one country.”
Such a warning should have been branded across Burn Up. As a English/Canadian co-production it certainly didn’t travel well. Who’s to blame for the mess remains to be seen, but you have to consider than in recent years one of the countries has produced quality dramas like Intelligence and Durham County and the other hasn’t.
The really remarkable thing about the second part of Burn Up was not that it was even worse than the first half, but that it seemed to be a completely different drama altogether. All the little dramas built up from the previous episode were practically brushed aside, concentrating instead on the machinations of its “Kyoto 2” conference in Calgary.
Sniffing through the BBC’s Burn UpPress Pack, we learn that writer Simon Beaufoy constantly updated his research so the script was “as current and realistic as today’s front-page news.” Now that’s brilliant if you’re putting together a documentary or taking a break while dragging your soapbox to Speakers’ Corner, but Burn Up proved it can obviously spanner a drama.
According to the Press Pack:
Simon Beaufoy was intent on making the facts that appear in Burn Up as accurate as possible. He explains: “I did a huge amount of research. I talked to people ranging from the CEOs of oil companies to the Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all stops in between. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the UK Government, even – in fact, especially – the denialists.
“I also went to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Montreal to watch the political horse-trading, which informed the way I dramatised the conference in episode 2.
“For example, the tactics of the non-governmental organisations are also all based on facts, right down to the note-passing, threats of funding withdrawal, stalling and leaflet drops.”
And it showed. It would have been relevant if, from the get go, the drama had centred on that kind of skulduggery, as various apparatchiks, lobbyists, NGO twonks and bleeding-heart tree-huggers all butted heads behind the scenes. But it didn’t start out that way. Instead the characters that were expected to be at the heart of the drama were relegated to the sidelines and for the most part superfluous.
So blame Beaufoy for getting too caught up in the research, or more likely the executive producers, or the producers of the various production companies who read the script and didn’t raise a hand, either to point out that the drama lacked any kind of real drama or to simply throw a book of Samuel Goldwyn quotes at him. And that fucking oil company chairman still bumbled about without any staffers!
It probably would be sensible to at least wait until I’d seen the second part before condemning Burn Up as an absolute stinker. But why wait. Watching it was made all the more disappointing because whereas the trailers for, say, Bonekickers pretty much showed it was going to be a big bucket of nonsense, for Burn Up I had high hopes.
It was billed as an eco-drama but so far seems more like six PowerPoint presentations in search of a narrative. Much like the equally disappointing The Last Enemy broadcast earlier this year, which thumped the tub about the dangers of a surveillance society, Burn Up seemed to think we needed to be told about the crisis the environment is in right now. Really? Fuck!!
We should be worried about the environment and what kind of planet will be left for future generations. Except most of the kids I cross paths really deserve to have their skulls split open with a tyre iron. So, give the little maggots swimming lessons as a courtesy and then let them take their chances.
I suppose Burn Up could have worked, especially if a little more threat and tension had been shoehorned into the plot in exchange for the a few less facts. As a co-production between Kudos in the UK and Canada’s SEVEN24 Films, at least the budget stretched to hiring Bradley Whitford, who is also good value. Except from virtually his very first scene, his character Mack, a Christian right-winger and lobbyist/fixer for American big businesses, might as well have had VILLAIN written across his forehead in magic marker.
Getting a better deal, and certainly a more interesting character, was Marc Warren as the colourful sock-wearing government wonk, charged with getting his job done and not really giving a shit about taking sides. In fact, if he had been designated the central character it might have been a whole lot more interesting.
Instead, we had to put up with Rupert Penry-Jones stepped in as Tom McConnell, the vice-chairman, then new chairman of Arrow Oil. He obviously got the job because he had married the boss’ daughter because he had no understanding of how things we done in business and carried on like he had just fallen off the turnip truck.
Stranger still, he carried on his business with absolutely no staff whatsoever. Even when he appeared in the High Court there was no entourage following in his wake. Back at the office not a secretary, nor a PA were in sight. Which I suppose made it easier to head off into Inuit country, spark up some methane that had escaped from under the permafrost and then bang Neve Campbell.
Anyway, in the final part on Friday, the Canadian funding dictates the story relocates to Calgary. Even if it starts to make sense, I think I might dig out the Top Gear Polar Challenge instead and watch Clarkson and May thrash their way toward the North Pole in a 4x4.
A while back I mentioned I was going to avoid watching any film trailers for a long while. Well, that plan didn’t exactly work out. Checking out the dreadful Watchmen trailer I came across this one for Lionsgate’s Disaster Movie and was intrigued. Intrigued is actually the wrong word.
I know I have to come to terms with the fact that most movies today don’t have the wit and intelligence of the ones I grew up watching. Instead they seem to be made for an audience of uneducated knuckle draggers who rock forward in their seats and applaud along to the bright, colourful images.
But Disaster Movie mines a whole new seam of stupidity. This is a film best enjoyed by someone in a vegetative state, twenty minutes or so after the plug was finally pulled. Pushing your face into an angle grinder would be more entertaining.
I have an uneasy relationship with spoofs and parodies at the best of times. Really, it all depends on whether the filmmakers show some love and respect for the source material and know exactly what it is they’re making fun of, or whether they’ve just slapped together a useless, lazy piss-take that is just jaw-dropping awful.
Good spoofs would be the great one-two Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder had in 1974 with the magnificent Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Even Brooks’ High Anxiety wasn’t half bad, spoofing Hitchcock, although of course nobody parodied Hitchcock better than Sir Alfred himself. Neil Simon playfully ripped the piss out of detective stories with Murder By Death, where comical versions of Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Charlie Chan found themselves in a cleverly skewed version of Ten Little Indians.
After that came Airplane!, piling on the gags and non sequiturs as it made fun of the Airport movies in which George Kennedy’s Joe Patroni came to the rescue of crippled airliners. Then The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, skewered the classic police shows, and Galaxy Quest, which did it for science fiction shows with laughs and obvious affection.
But since Scary Movie, which turned an occasional titter into a franchise of diminishing returns, studios have just cranked out more and more skanky garbage like Date Movie, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans. The only real laughs to come from the latter was from reading the broadsheet’s no-star reviews, filled with the splenetic rage of critics who had been made to waste their time on such drivel.
The only good thing to come of them is the audience for this nonsense is, amazingly, finally beginning to wise up. Superhero Movie, which, judging from the gormless trailer, did little more than take the plot of 2002’s Spider Man and replace the spider with a dragonfly to elicit the funnies, absolutely tanked at the box-office. It’s never a good thing to celebrate other people’s misfortunes – at least not in public – but when that giant turd went straight down the crapper there should have been dancing in the streets.
When was it decided that well-crafted jokes could simply be replaced with brainless pop culture references that are instantly dated? What the fuck is that nonsense all about? If Disaster Movie is ostensibly about teens trying to survive catastrophic events and natural disasters, why is the trailer filled with nonsense like the appearance of Princess Giselle from Enchanted or horse face from Sex and the City getting smacked about by Juno? The point of this sort of shit is what exactly?
And anyway, we’ve already had the great disaster movie spoof. In the mid-1970s, after being entertained by Airport, and Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, came The Big Bus. How can you not love the story of a nuclear-powered, double-deck bus making its inaugural non-stop journey from New York to Denver. Where else can you find a bar fight with torn milk cartons? Or a driver accused of cannibalism? Genius.
With the weekend edging towards a close I’ve been idling my time away watching the trailer for Watchmen around preparing a cheese and ham toastie. And God damn! That turned out to be a brilliant sandwich.
As for the trailer; not so good really. Toward the end of last year, when I finally caught up with Sin City, I thought the failure of Robert Rodriguez’s film was that it was simply too darn reverential to Frank Miller’s original comic series. Transferring it, rather than translating it to the screen, Rodriguez was so utterly slavish to the source material that it was just monotone and, frankly, dull as fuck.
Certainly director Zack Snyder appears to have followed the same route for Watchmen and gone overboard when it comes to attention to detail, replicating Dave Gibbons’ beautifully intricate comic book panels with nerdish devotion. Whether he’s managed to corral the intricacies of Alan Moore’s multi-layered narrative into a two-and-a-half-hour running time remains to be seen.
After all, this first trailer is primarily aimed at everyone converging on San Diego next weekend, buying up every box of Kleenex they can get along the way for the repeated viewings. But it does make you understand why Moore wants nothing to do with the adaptations of his work. V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen worked beautifully on the page but on screen, disappointingly, fall flat, looking like their scripts had been ham-fistedly gouged out of the ripe source material.
If anything, they proved that comic book adaptations work better from broad source material, like the recent Iron Man, rather than specific, contained stories. Even Guillermo del Toro’s first Hellboy movie expanded on Mike Mignola’s original Seed of Destruction story with elements from The Right Hand of Doom and Box of Evil as well as developing the characters, rather than stick rigidly to what was on the page.
Still, the most intriguing part of this initial Watchmen trailer is just how fucking awful the CGI work is. I don’t know if Snyder went the same green-screen route at his previous film, 300, based on Frank Miller’s take on the battle of Thermopylae, but playing with a budget of $100 million, the effects work should be better than what’s on display. The brief snippets with The Comedian and Dr Manhattan in Vietnam look shockingly bad.
Any excuse that it’s probably work in progress is utter bullshit. Who in their right mind would put unfinished work in a trailer? Back on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, once the material for the trailers were decided on, the scenes were fast tracked through the departments so they could be cut in and put into cinemas. They weren’t just slapped together with whatever was on offer and shipped out by the studio.
Still, it might all come together. Although I’m not sure I really care all that much. Instead I think I’ll go back to Rocketeer, which took the late Dave Stevens’ ravishingly illustrated comic book serial and made something perfect. “That son of a bitch will fly!”
Usually I try my damnedest to give BBC2’s The Culture Show a wide berth. After all, there’s nothing worse than an arts programme that tries to be “artsy”. Especially since unnecessarily tarting things up or simply pratting around usually suggests the programme makers have no confidence in the content.
What The Culture Show has going for it is having film critic Mark Kermode and art critic Andrew Graham Dixon as presenters, two men who seriously, and eloquently, know their onions. Unfortunately the show’s main host is the totally pointless Lauren Laverne who comes across as an irritating scrubbed-up skank-whore that should just be just taken out and broken.
That’s really a shame. Especially since last night’s edition had an interview with David Simon, conducted by Laverne. Sitting him down and discussing The Wire would, of course, be too simple. Instead they had to fanny about with Simon coming in handcuffed to be interrogated by her after being “accused of breaking the laws of writing for TV.”
We can only hope that Mark Lawson managed to interview David Simon while he was over in England. In the meantime he does at least play along and we get some interesting comments from him. One of the best has to be Simon’s response to Laverne suggesting that, with its novelistic approach, The Wire has contempt for the average viewer:
“Fuck the casual viewer. Who wants a casual viewer? If you’re a writer, do you want a casual reader? I don’t want those people. Don’t want them, throwing them back. They’re like the little fish on the hook. I’m throwing them back. I want the guy whose coming in who wants to be told a story with a beginning, middle and end.”
He also has a great answer on how to deal with exposition. The whole edition of the show is available on the BBC’s iPlayer for the next week. If you want to go straight to the interview it’s on The Culture Show’s website.
All this of course is preamble to the arrival of the fifth and final season of The Wire on FX on Monday night. After last season’s examination of the city’s failing school system, this time the spotlight is firmly on the ailing press in Baltimore.
In the week that America’s Academy of Television Arts & Sciences continues to show no love for the series, with only one Emmy Award nomination this year (making a grand total of two over the five seasons), a question and answer session on the Entertainment Weeklywebsite reveals the latest fan of the show.
With the San Diego Comic Con only a week away now, and with the first trailer for Watchmen now available to view online, the magazine catches up with its writer, Alan Moore, the comics world’s favourite curmudgeon, to talk about his views on the upcoming adaptation, working with Malcolm McLaren and upcoming projects like the next instalment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
With that out the way the following exchange takes place:
Do you ever relax and just watch television? Selectively, mostly on DVD. The absolute pinnacle of anything I've seen recently has got to be The Wire. It's the most stunning piece of television that has ever come out of America, possibly the most stunning piece of television full-stop. That's a great example of storytelling that takes its time. Absolutely, that is grown-up television! It's novelistic. You get to find out about all these tiny different aspects of Baltimore, to build up a huge picture of the city with all of its intricacies — from the wharf side, to the kids in the projects, to the power structure with the boardrooms and police department and governor's office. And it's got some great writers: It's got George Pelecanos and David Simon. And so many wonderful characters, Bubbles, Omar. So yeah, everything else looks pretty lame next to The Wire.
If you are one of the idiots who still wasn’t watched The Wire, instead happy to snuggle up to the palsied crapola blocking up the schedules, how many more fucking endorsements do you want? If you start now and really make the effort, you should be able to get through the DVD boxsets of the first four seasons before Monday night.
I wasn’t that enamoured with Life on Mars when it was smeared onto the television schedule a few years back. Watching the pilot for the US version that found it’s way onto the steam-driven interweb a month or so ago, I got about twenty minutes in and, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered to watch any more.
After pilots are thrown to the focus groups, the odd nip or tuck takes place. Last year, for instance, Bionic Woman required reshoots when it was obviously decided making Jamie Sommers’ younger sister deaf wasn’t such a sweet idea. This year is obviously no different.
If changes are required, at best only the odd tweak here and there is needed, which appears to be the case with J.J. Abrams’ new science fiction thriller Fringe. Worst case is a complete makeover, which is right where Life on Mars has now found itself.
With David E. Kelley off the project, new producers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec are putting their stamp on the project by rewriting, recasting and reshooting. As I mentioned a little while back I can’t quite see the point of the Americanization of Life on Mars. The original always seemed like it was concocted so the creators could pretend they were making The Sweeney. What’s the American motivation?
That might be why, at ABC's Television Critics Association press tour, Appelbaum told the assembled hacks that they’ve asked permission to change the original mythology of the series. Maybe they’ve got some better ideas. Hiring Michael Imperioli, late of The Sopranos, seems like a good plan. Keeping Jason O'Mara to play Sam Tyler while ditching the rest of the original cast seems like a bad plan.
Obviously the mighty ABC PR machine is gearing up to put a spin on the changes. Hopefully they’ll do a better job than Appelbaum whose explanation for changing the setting from Los Angeles to New York amounted to:
“When you think of the early '70s cop genre, you think of New York.”
...Really? Thinking of the cop shows that washed up on these shores in the 1970s, they all seemed to be set on the West Coast. I’ve said that they should have gone for The Streets of San Francisco with Colm Meaney channelling Karl Malden to perfect his Gene Hunt. Ironside was also set in San Francisco. Police Woman was set in Los Angeles as was Starsky & Hutch and Delvecchio, which came later on.
The only other US cop show from the early 1970s I can think of is Hawaii Five-O, which is even further west. So what the fuck is that idjit talking about? Help me out here... When you think of the early '70s cop genre, you think of New York? No you cocking well don’t.
Oh, hang on a sec, there was Kojak. Which makes a grand total of one. So what else?
Over the past few years, while I’ve had a problem with the BBC’s revitalized Doctor Who, more people seem to have had a problem with me having a problem with the show. To not love it, apparently, is very wrong. In fact, it would probably be easier if I mentioned that I tore the front legs off kittens for a joke or catapulted OAPs onto the northbound carriageway of the M1.
Without poring over the previous posts in minute detail, I’m sure I’ve given my reasons quite plainly and explained my opinions quite well, rather that simply shout, “It’s a load of cocking shit!!” before rapidly moving on to something else. But there have still been the odd comments from obvious avid fans who still can’t quite comprehend my reaction the show.
It may be that if I start off a post by saying that watching whichever episode is in question is like having my face pushed into a bowl of lukewarm fucktard stew, they go into shock, meaning that the reasoning that follows becomes inane chatter in their heads that they simply cannot compute. So maybe this needs a different approach.
The first memory of me watching Doctor Who isn’t my own. Instead my mother tells of the time she stood in the doorway and watched my older sister and me leap up off the sofa in fright as Cybermen burst out of crates at the end of an episode. I brought that particular nugget up in conversation once and was informed the story in question was The Invasion. Patrick Troughton was playing The Doctor, with Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury as his assistants, Jamie and Zoe.
The transmission dates put it about three months shy of my fourth birthday. I certainly don’t remember watching it. Back then I was probably just as interested in The Woodentops or whatever else was on Watch with Mother at the time. I don’t really remember any of the further stories until the appearance of the Autons – which would be either Spearhead from Space or Terror of the Autons.
Either way, Jon Pertwee was ensconced in the role as The Doctor, exiled on Earth, working with UNIT to challenge whatever new threat that came calling, including Roger Delgado’s The Master. Looking at the story titles, The Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils clearly ring a bell, as do Three Doctors and The Green Death, and The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders from Pertwee’s final year.
But I guess what’s actually more important is when I stopped watching Doctor Who regularly. Perhaps surprisingly that would have been the end of the fourteenth series, which finished with Robert Holmes’ Conan Doyle/Sax Rohmer pastiche, The Talons of Weng-Chiang (if indeed I even saw that adventure). I was quite surprised by that, expecting to have watched for much longer, but reading further story synopses drew a blank. Then I looked at the dates and things started to make sense.
Simply put, later that year we moved. Instead of living on the fringes of Dartmoor we relocated to the south coast of Devon. From being in the middle of fucking nowhere I found myself in a decent town that, back then, had three cinemas. The Saturday ritual soon became working at my folks’ new business in the morning and then catching a movie in the afternoon. Rushing back indoors, in time for Doctor Who, was no longer a priority.
Though I stopped watching regularly, I must have caught the occasional episode over the next few years. For instance, I remember the half-robot captain and his rubbish robot parrot in The Pirate Planet and thinking it was complete bollocks. (And that alone reminds me of a friend who is of the opinion that having Douglas Adams as story editor is what tipped the original series into decline).
Because of course, by then, Star Wars had come out. Certainly it would have an affect on the show. I don’t think I’m wrong is saying that not long afterwards the series became inflicted with a desire to pile on special effects, but ones done with whatever spare change was left over from the miniscule budget. Obviously they put a lot of effort in, but the results still looked pretty risible.
Watching Doctor Who when Barry Letts and then Philip Hinchcliffe were the series producers, there were physical effects and the various monsters, but the emphasis was on story because they knew their limitations. With location filming shot on film and studio-based scenes shot on videotape, watching it, at that age, the series didn’t seem any different from other adult-oriented dramas of the time like Colditz, The Pallisers, or Bagpuss.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the people wildly applauding the return of Doctor Who back in 2005 had been there in the late 1980s, watching the fag end of the series run itself into the ground. Compared to those final years, you could probably have a new show consisting of a ferret wearing a top hat pissing into a metal pail and people would applaud its genius.
So the oohs and aahs of an excitable audience, rolling over onto its back to have a tummy tickle because the money truck has backed up to the front door of The Mill, which means there are spaceships crashing through Big Ben or a sky full of Daleks, or the stunt casting pulls in little Kyle, means absolutely fuck all to me.
I’ve been perfectly happy to watch Doctor Who it when it’s been good, generally annoyed when it’s been not so good, and utterly pissed off by Russell T' Doofus’ scripts. I remember having an uneasy feeling from the very first episode, Rose, when it became obvious that (as I mentioned back near the beginning of Thought Wad) “[he] so wants to be Joss Whedon writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it makes his sack ache.”
He certainly has to be applauded for writing nice little character moments, but a story with a satisfactory beginning, middle and end seems to be beyond his grasp. If his utterly nonsensical, deus ex machina-heavy narratives were transferred to a different, more viewer-friendly genre, viewers would be up in arms. To wave it aside as “being science fiction”, thereby allowing narratives to be utterly preposterous, is the excuse of complete cunts.
It should be about story. It should always be about story. That may be difficult for the younger generation of viewers suckled on shooty bang-bang computer games and repeated viewings of The Little Mermaid. Growing up, the television programme I probably watched the most in those early, formative years was Jackanory. Airing daily, there may have been the odd illustration on screen, but primarily it was just an actor in a chair, facing the camera, reading a story. Nothing else was required.
Somehow I’d missed the page in The Sunday Times’ Culture section offering tickets for the previews of WALL•E. Because my details were already in their database I got an email the next day reminding me about the screenings, so I figured it was worth booking a seat. The only drawback was they were on Saturday and Sunday mornings, which could only mean theaters filled with kiddies buzzing their way through a sugar rush.
The last time I was at a preview like this it was for the godawful Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, a film so bad that even before the midway point the audience it was aimed at had lost interest in the screen and was rampaging up and down the aisles. Unfortunately the PR woman who had invited me asked what I thought of the film. I tried my very best to be diplomatic and then never heard from her again.
Still, this time it was Pixar rather than Dreamworks Animation. Except rather than revelling in the antics and witty banter of mismatched buddies, WALL•E is a virtually dialogue-free love story between two robots that fronts an ecological parable. It also uses the songs Put On Your Sunday Clothes and It Only Takes a Moment from Hello, Dolly! as recurring motifs in the narrative.
So, there was the potential for their concentration to slide right under the seats and the auditorium to turn back into the roiling madhouse it was before the lights went down. But after the anarchic theatrics of Presto, the short preceding the feature, the theater fell virtually silent. Short of the odd cough, belch or cry that kiddies seem to randomly blurt out, they hardly made any sound other than laughter as they concentrated on the story unfolding. It really is a phenomenal movie.
The GP Nazi ripped open the envelope I handed him. He unfolded the piece of paper inside and almost immediately tossed it onto the desk. I angled my head to glance at the schematic pattern of the EKG tracing of my heartbeat.
How does that look? I asked him when it appeared he wasn’t going to be at all forthcoming. Somewhat begrudgingly he gave it the all clear. So that was that sorted out. What about the blood tests? Bad cholesterol was low. Good cholesterol was low. There was no indication of any thyroid problem or diabetes either.
I forced the smile off my face. The results didn’t seem to be pleasing him. He took my blood pressure. I didn’t say a word this time, just sat back and tried to relax. It was considerably lower than before. He waited a couple of minutes then took it again to double check. And that was lower, but obviously still not enough for his liking even though it had only been a couple of weeks.
The little label printer was already spitting out a piece of adhesive with my information on it. That wasn’t going to be good. He slapped it down onto a form for more blood tests. This time they didn’t require me to fast for twelve hours before the nurse slipped the needle in.
I was also handed a new prescription, this time for a couple box of vasodilator capsules to go with the existing Amlodipine, which I’m sure will be nice. Breezily, he told me to return a week before they ran out, although I could come back earlier if I started suffering any of the side effects. Huh?!
The plan to try and catch up with the summer movies this year has gone completely array. It started off well, back in mid-May, when I saw Iron Man, but since then, nothing. It could have been that it was such a perfect summer movie there was no point seeing anything else.
Anyway, June seemed to be dominated by the fourth Indiana Jones movie, which left everyone looking down in the dumps. What clips I saw, including the last ten minutes, didn’t seem that inspiring. Instead I stayed home with Frank Darabont’s 2003 draft, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods. It was a particularly good read, especially since it omitted the irritating kid. Why George Lucas turned it down only goes to show the man has more money than sense.
Thinking back to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, made back in the early 1980s for $20 million, compared to the $185 million spent on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull twenty-seven years later, it made me wonder why Lawrence Kasdan hadn’t been invited to write the new film. Dreamcatcher may have been a piece of crap but that was five years ago. Isn’t it time to let the guy out of Hollywood Jail?
Indiana Jones seemed to loom large over the new BBC archaeological drama, Bonekickers, although the title Cock Knockers ultimately seemed far closer to the truth. It was if the viewer was having Time Team (with a matronly Lara Croft running the show), CSI, and Waking the Dead rammed down their throats, along with a hint of The Da Vinci Code, only for them to wildly percolate around before being expelled in the most massive belly laugh.
I never bothered reading Dan Brown’s book because people told me not to bother, and I found the film adaptation mildly diverting because it had quite an interesting central idea. Expect rather than a film, I thought it would have worked far better as a four-, five-, or six-part miniseries. That way more time and effort is used up to decipher centuries-old clues.
The problem with that film, and with the episode of Cock Knockers, was that someone comes along and solves each puzzle at each stage almost instantaneously. When it comes down to the fact that people had been scratching their heads down through the ages because they hadn’t picked the right book off the library shelves, it all turns out to be a bit rubbish.
Mercifully, last night the telephone rang long before the episode had ended and I had a long chat with Work Buddy, which was far more entertaining. In fairness I caught the rest on iPlayer this evening. Before it started, the Parental Guidance box appeared, highlighting the fact that with Adult Themes involved, Bonekickers: Army of God may be unsuitable for young audiences. Obviously that statement should have finished three words earlier.
Although I would like to know how, having spent the whole day down in a muddy trench, they managed to stay so clean. My memory of living in the countryside was that any activity involving a shovel and the turning of any soil usually ended with everyone involved covered in mud. Unfortunately, on television these days, the crap seems to stay in the script.
When the six-part Doctor Who adventure Genesis of the Daleks was first broadcast in 1975, I may only have been ten years old but I got the fascistic overtones Terry Nation was alluding to in his story. After all, I already seen Where Eagles Dare twice at the cinema and regularly pored over those A5-sized Commando comic books where the Hun regularly got a sound drubbing, so I was pretty much clued up.
Just in case anyone didn’t make the connection so easily I’m sure Davros’ sour-faced henchman, obviously dressed in black, wore something approximating an Iron Cross around his neck. While the Daleks weren’t destroyed outright, come the end of the story, they were entombed in a bunker. Whatever one says about Nation, subtlety was never one of his strong suits, but he’s a wallflower compared to what was served up over the weekend.
Anyone with any sense knows by now that the season finale of Doctor Who was just a big bowl of wrong. There were a great many things that made me shape my head or laugh out loud at the sheer preposterousness and utter shitness flung up as the episode unfolded. There was also one thing that seriously riled me. That came once the UNIT girl set off on all the Osterhagen baloney.
Really, she could have been zapped off to any damn place once she pulled the ripcords. But that idiotic Welsh fucktard had to make it Germany, specifically outside Nuremberg. Then he had to have a swarm of Daleks gliding through the forest announcing, presumably, “Exterminate!” in some garbled, nonsensical electro-‘Allo ‘Allo! German, rather than the actual translation, which is Ausrotten!
I’m not easily offended, but that struck me as being utterly fucking distasteful. To compound it, portions of the read through were shown in the Doctor Who Confidential episode that followed. The camera captured the moment when, after the little slappyhead doing the Dalek voices finished that particular part of the script, instead of someone around the table raising a hand and suggesting the scene was completely crass, they burst into cheers and hoots of laughter.
One other thing that struck me, was remembering how much I hated being lied to when I was a kiddie. I’m not exactly cock-a-hoop about it now, but as an adult there are more things to worry about so you tend to mutter a few obscenities and move on. As a youngster, where your world is that much smaller, lies have much more impact.
So I wonder how the little nippers, expecting a regeneration, expecting one of the companions to cark it felt when it all turned out to be untrue? Welcome to the world of cynical publicity stunts. How’s that for the loss of innocence? Still, a happy side effect was it left egg all over the face of the hack who, over on The Guardianarts blog, decided to trumpet the notion that the show teaches kiddies about empathy and melancholy. I bet that hard bump in the road bounced her ass right off the goddamned bandwagon.
The real fallout from all the puffed up Davies-generated hype was the growing realization that, as the episode progressed, there was precious little story and no fucking drama. Instead it was like some maddening game of trumps. The Daleks show their Z-neutrino energy Reality Bomb card because rather than have to go to the effort of conquering the universe, they’ve decided to destroy all of reality in one go.
The companions lay down their Warp Star (wired into the mainframe) card. It looks like something out of Men in Black so I assume letting that off is a bad thing. Then UNIT Girl pops up with the Osterhagen Key which will set off nukes buried deep in the Earth that will be triggered “if the suffering of the human race is so great, so without hope, that this becomes the final option.” Well, that was a good fifteen minutes ago, and if we get to hear Vera Lynn sing We’ll Meet Again, I’d say go for it.
Of course the Daleks play their teleport card, which trumps the lot. Until the TARDIS turns up with Donna and Doctor Two. Anyone with a functioning brain could see Tennant wasn’t out the door. Still it gave everyone a couple of days to have a song and dance about it. The regeneration that didn’t happen created an “instantaneous biological metacrisis”. What these three bullshit words obviously mean, when put in that order, is that the severed hand simply regenerated into Doctor Two.
With the Z-neutrino energy Reality Bomb about to go off, Doctor Two has his Z neutrino-something reverser card. Of course he doesn’t get to play it because Davros swats him with his energy blast from the hand card. He gets Donna too, at which point I was expecting someone to turn into a mouse.
Why a mouse? Well, back in the early 1980s TWBA’s Mike Couzens and Graham Watson created “Kipper”, their multi-award winning commercial for Lego (UK). This is pretty much what we got on Saturday night except the spot, directed by Ken Turner, is shorter and far more entertaining.
Of course the Daleks were routed as Donna, The Doctor and Doctor Two merrily shouting meaningless techno-blather at each other as they flipped switches and pressed buttons. Only then was it all over, surprising well before the end of the episode. But then this extended finale wasn’t really about telling a story. It was all about The Fat Controller waving goodbye, with great big gobbets of spunk dripping off his fingers having indulged in so much fan wank.
That meant that all the little name checks sprinkled throughout the series, all the little incidents and asides, meant fuck all in the end. For the past few years Davies has tried to get the hang of introducing the season’s “big bad”, following in the footsteps of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and faltered ever darn tootin’ time.
Had Rose built her “Dimension Can Opener” because in her alternate universe – which apparently runs ahead of time - she had already see the effects of the Reality Bomb? You would think so but it turned out that she just wanted to see The Doctor again, even if it meant all the alternate realities and different dimensions were collapsing around her.
Then again, it was pretty clear she was going to be remarkably ineffectual. If you’re jumping from an alternate reality to set things right, come tooled up, but bring along a bunch of hard-as-nails troopers who are here to “chew bubblegum and kick ass”. But, oh dear, we get Useless Mum and Rubbish Boyfriend, both come to join hands for this big, Friends Reunited-in-space, sugar-frosted happy ending.
After all the hugs and kisses the Old Companion skipped merrily off home to her Kyle XY while UNIT girl and Rubbish Boyfriend apparently joined Torchwood. While it looked like Doctor Two was created so that, being half human, he could cut through any moral dilemmas and happily destroy the Daleks, instead his real function was to live happily ever after with Rose. So that just left dear old Donna.
Whenever the nutjob Dalek Caan, who looked like someone had sicked up an eye omelette, mentioned in his jingle-jangle voice that “one of them in going to die!” I always hoped that the Daleks would stop, turn to him, and explain that no, they’re all going to die. Got that, you mentalist? The plan is, we’re blowing up all of reality, they’re all going to die.
Since nobody dies in this sort of nonsense, it had to be a special kind of death. With a head full of Time Lord history, Donna had to have her mind wiped, returning her to her old self. While Pixar’s The Incredibles posited that if everyone is special then no one is, according to The Fat Controller, if someone is ‘ordinary’, they might as well be dead.
Is that what he was getting at? Here we are, all sitting at home watching the goggle box, how deathly dull is that. Who’s going to put their head in the oven first? As much as Catherine Tate bugs the living shit out of me, the last few episodes showed that, amongst all the eye-rolling and general gurning, she could actually act.
That said, they could all learn a thing or too from Bernard Cribbins. That final scene, on the doorstep in the rain, showed that The Fat Controller can write utterly marvellous character moments. The absolute shame of the past four series has been that he can’t do narrative, relying instead on fandom circle jerks. Hopefully the next full series will change all that and the whole audience will get what they want.
Well, it’s Saturday, so we know what’s coming. I imagine something I say in the next day or two will annoy somebody, especially when it looks like the bridge between the two episodes is probably just a bullshit publicity stunt.
So for anyone who think this might get their dander up, here are a couple of Old jokes recently posted on the Art Deco Dining Pavilion to help you lighten up and see the funny side.
The first comes courtesy of writer Peter David:
The family wheeled Grandma out on the lawn, in her wheelchair, where the activities for her 100th birthday were taking place.
Grandma couldn't speak very well, but she could write notes when she needed to communicate.
After a short time out on the lawn, Grandma started leaning off to the right, so some family members grabbed her, straightened her up and stuffed pillows on her right.
A short time later, she started leaning off to her left, so again the family grabbed her and stuffed pillows on her left.
Soon she started leaning forward, so the family members again grabbed her and tied a pillowcase around her waist to hold her up.
A grandson, who arrived late, came up to Grandma and said, “Hi, Grandma; you're looking good! How are they treating you?”
Grandma took out her little notepad and slowly wrote a note to the grandson: ‘They won't let me fart.’
The second is courtesy of author Adam-Troy Castro:
In an old people’s home, ninety-year-old Mabel is having a hell of a time racing her wheelchair around the corridors at high speed, taking the corners on two wheels, shouting, “Vroom! Vroom!”
She is taking one long corridor at high speed when ninety-year-old Milo, an ex-cop, steps out of his room, palm out in the universal sign for STOP. Mabel stops. Milo demands, “License!”
Mabel reaches into her bathrobe and comes out with a crumpled piece of tissue.
“Everything's in order,” Milo says. “But obey the speed limit!”
Mabel thanks the officer but is back to vrooming the instant his back is turned. Another full circuit of the corridors, shouting “Vroom! Vroom!” I mean, she's going for a land-speed record.
Until she comes back to Milo’s corridor, and again he stops her, demanding her registration this time.
So she reaches into her other pocket and hands him a piece of lint.
“Everything’s in order,” Milo barks. “Don't make me stop you again.”
But Mabel will not be denied, and so she pours on the gas the instant she's out of sight. Nurses, orderlies, old guys with walkers, are all diving into open doorways to get out of the way as she passes by in a blur, taking another left, another left, another left, completing the full circle, SHINING-style, until she rounds that last corner and sees an especially stern Milo standing in her path.
Except that this time, he has doffed his own bathrobe. He is naked, his dingus swinging.
Mabel screeches to a halt. “Oh, no, officer! Not the breathalyzer test again!”
With the Screenwriters’ Festival 2008 over, I was reading Paul Hoggart’s piece on the Broadcast website about Barbara Machin’s opening address on the Tuesday morning. The creator of Waking the Dead and writer of the recent Kiss of Death, which played with narrative as it shifted back and forth in time, telling the story from the point of view of the main characters, Machin’s impassioned plea was for less formulaic and more innovative television drama.
As Hoggart writes:
Her view is that in an ultra-cautious ratings-driven climate it is getting harder and harder to pitch unusual ideas. “I’ve talked to so many of my contemporaries in the past three weeks, and they all feel the same.” Her complaints echo the regular grumblings of critics and commentators dismayed by “safe” formulaic drama, or tired viewers who complain that their weeknight primetime schedules are cluttered with reality and lifestyle shows, long-running serials and samey generic drama.
Obviously that was going to get the audience’s vote, and Hoggart reports that her speech was greeted with enthusiastic applause. But, homefield advantage aside, is there really a “chilly climate” for innovative drama? Hoggart asks the opinion of Jane Tranter, Head of BBC Fiction, who, with a budget of £250 million, commissions all television drama across the four BBC channels.
[Y]ou might expect Jane Tranter (another speaker at the festival) to bristle at the critique - and her impatience is clear when we speak. She cites a string of recent BBC productions which have added something new to drama: broadcasting Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Dickens’s Bleak House in soap-opera length episodes, echoing the author’s original part-work publication; the cultural time-shifts involved in the concept of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes; the rejuvenation of Doctor Who; the structure and scheduling of Five Days last year, and Criminal Justice this week.
While that’s a good response and the award-winning Bleak House was a spectacular piece of drama, here’s the thing... it’s THREE FUCKING YEARS OLD! And that’s from the transmission date, so if you take it from the time it was commissioned, well, that makes it even older. Doctor Who is over three years old since it debuted and Life on Mars over two years old, and we don’t even want to go into how long that took to get on the screen.
I’ve read this obviously well-rehearsed, default answer for a while now, as it has bobbed up in the press, so much so that it could almost be accused of being a broken record. One thing I’ve learnt from working at animation studios and production companies and even back during the dark days at The Esteemed School of Art is: Resting on your laurels is a very, very dangerous thing to do.
On the subject of TV-related merchandise it pretty much comes down to typically unimaginative selections of tee-shirts, mugs, and posters. Action figures and bobbleheads are sometimes included, leading a vast selection of toys if the show in question is, you know, for kids.
But then, listed on the NBC Universal Store website there’s this:
Which is pure fucking genius, even if, irritatingly, it’s a limited-edition, exclusive for the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con.
Yesterday I handed in my invite to the Cardiology Department at the local hospital in return for an EKG. First I had to find the darn hospital, which turned out to be not where I expected it to be. Still, I suppose the walk did me good.
I remember hospitals as being oppressive and incredibly unappealing concrete lumps, riddled with corridors lit with harsh strip-lighting that still managed to appear dark and foreboding, and scented with the lingering aroma of cheap antiseptic valiantly trying to mask the smell of something far more unpleasant. This was a Community Hospital, whether that made a difference, and quite new. It may take a few years to fall into a desperate state. In the meantime there was a lot of blond wood.
The first reception I walked into was the wrong reception because it was the Walk-In Centre reception. The smiley receptionist pointed me in the right direction while a dozen or so waiting patients sat immobile. I hurriedly walked out.
With its modest glass-walled atrium, the proper reception looked like it was fronting the corporate headquarters of a rather successful minor company. With a bright, cloudless sky above bathing everything in warm sunlight, the right receptionist had a bright welcoming smile. Arriving in the middle of an electric storm I wondered if she would have a face like thunder.
The Cardiology Department was, of course, on the ground floor so that patients didn’t have to overdo it getting there. Past reception, the wide corridor curved around to the right while the glass wall showed off what was either a half-arsed attempt at a Zen Garden or the hospital builders’ ingenious method of disguising the unwanted rubbish left over from construction.
I turned right where I was told to and kept walking, carrying on past all manner of signs and graphics relating to other departments until I came to large double doors through which I could see the Walk-In Centre reception. To my left was the entrance to the Cardiology Department. Still, I guess the walk always helps.
The test was simply to record the electrical activity of my heart, which isn’t very exciting. It might have been if, once I was lying down and the nurse was attaching the electrodes, we were surrounded by Herman Rosse’s marvellous sets or the equipment designed by Kenneth Strickfaden, while thunder rumbled far in the distance.
Instead the room was typically NHS bland. But the nurse who called me into the room actually said, “Pop your top off and climb up on the table.” If only she’d been wearing a tight little uniform with a shorty-skirty and black stockings. Then again, that certainly would have queered the results, which went straight into an envelope, sealed and addressed to my new GP Nazi.
Once it was done and I was dressed again I found an easier exit that got me outside in time to stand in the wake of a bus surging down the road. Still, I figure the walk did me good.