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imageA while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale 'The Enemy of the World' on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the 'high concept' premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don't even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but - although much of the story is driven by this concept - it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).

Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee's swan song 'Planet of the Spiders'. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped 'outdoor' scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters - partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that's understandable). It's a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander's buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker's deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.

Troughton's performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the 'interesting' choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he's utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It's notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don't share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various 'types' - notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah - with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.

It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.
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Since I'm on the LonCon panel to discuss the Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form nominees I thought It might be helpful to get my thoughts in order. And in the case of Orphan Black, actually get around to watching the show. That always helps.

Orphan Black, Season One: 'Variations Under Domestication'
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image

Janet's new deliveries and her reading pile. We've both read the Leckie, Janet's currently on the Stross ("bonkers, and I now know an awful lot more about banking than I used to"), Grant to follow, and the Max Gladstone because, well just because really. Janet loved Three Parts Dead.
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My wife and I have seized the opportunity to attend WorldCon while it's in London this August. It took some determined childcare planning (and our daughters have been duly bribed/compensated with a family holiday) but it's happening!

Not only that, but I'm delighted to say I've been invited onto a panel at LonCon:

2014 Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Saturday 11:00 - 12:00

The actual nominees under discussion are here.

Having never done this before, at this stage I'm feeling slightly under-qualified, but since a few people may be wandering over to this fairly moribund blog, here's a quick roundup of my published reviews.

Film Reviews

V for Vendetta

X-Men: The Last Stand

Spider-man 3

Iron Man

Star Trek (2009)

TV Reviews

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Season One)

Torchwood (Season One)

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

Primeval (Season One)

Doctor Who: School Reunion

Smaller contributions

SF Signal - Mind Meld: Battlestar Galactica Series Finale (waaay down at the bottom)

Strange Horizons: 2007 in Review

Strange Horizons : 2006 in Review

--
Yes, my eldest daughter is currently obsessed by Frozen, why do you ask?
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There was a great documentary by Kirsty Wark on the BBC last week called "Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes". (Still on iPlayer if you want to watch it.) The title is from the hugely popular online video last year, with teh naked ladies dancing. (I point this out because I'm so clued up I hadn't even heard (of) it when it came up in last year's Christmas Quiz. Finger on the pulse, me.)

The focus of the programme was the culture of abuse, insults, sexual threats and misogynistic remarks commonly faced by women online, including high profile recipients like Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez. [EDIT : Perez has just posted examples of the abusive tweets.] Coincidentally my wife was just telling me the other day about the constant unwelcome 'approaches' she faces when online gaming as a female character ("Are you really a girl?" "How old are you?" etc.) and there are examples of precisely that behaviour in the documentary too. Equally there are some in the programme who deny that this is a female-specific problem, and say that rape jokes and abuse faced by women are just one facet of the jokes and abuse targeting men, and that the only difference is women's (hyper)sensitivity. I don't buy that. Sure, abuse is faced by everyone. Men get online death threats, and that's reprehensible too. But to say that women should simply "man up", as one commentator puts it, is to ignore the wider society in which we live, and the sheer amount and extremely misogynistic overtones of the abuse against women versus the generic nature of the trolling against men. The playing field is not level.

I look at society and it seems staggeringly obvious that women are the subject of systematic objectification, exclusion and lack of respect. I know it’s not all women, and not all the time. I know it’s better in our society than in some parts of the world. I know it’s talked about more openly than it used to be. But it's in the way TV shows and films are written and cast. In the age, looks and number of female vs male presenters. In comics. In music. In who gets book deals and recording contracts. In who wins awards. In the fact that the Best Actor Oscar gets announced after the Best Actress one (because, why exactly?) In advertising. In magazines. In who gets to participate in debates. In business. In politics. In the lack of respect for older women, or any women who don’t pander to male ideals of beauty. In dismissive attitudes to rape and domestic violence. In David Cameron 'joking' "Calm down dear" to diminish a female MP's opinion. Even in which members of the crowd the TV camera lingers on. In a thousand thoughtless moments of chauvinism by men who should know better. Including me, quite probably. You get the idea. I’m not going to brainstorm the world’s first comprehensive list of all sexism ever.

This may all sound a bit born-again feminist. I know it’s a bit rich, me saying women are oppressed like it's a revelation. I'm not trying to come off as more-feminist-than-thou. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that, commonly and insidiously, many women face much more of an uphill struggle than many men. In ways so ingrained that often people don’t see them at all, or choose not to. Sometimes it takes real effort for men in particular to step back from the blithe assumptions they’ve benefitted from all their lives.

It’s why it drives me mad when blowhard sideshow-acts like Jeremy Clarkson or Godfrey Bloom poo poo the very idea that sexism still exists. Or, God forbid, claim that men are the disadvantaged ones. These are the high profile crackpots. Almost reassuringly barmy. Obligingly self-satirising. The high profile UKIP donor who says he doesn’t think women should wear trousers. But for every crackpot there's an army of men who've never been near the 'Have I Got News For You' studio but who'll nod along. Why should women even *want* to wear trousers when men prefer to see women in skirts? (Yeah, women. Explain THAT.)

In employment law, the classic feature of unfair discrimination is that you only see the stereotype, not the individual. Someone will decide that women can't work in construction because they’re physically weak. Never mind that some women could beat me in a fair fight. (Okay, most women). Or they’re too emotionally fragile, or it’s improper, or it’s too dangerous. Leave that nasty stuff to The Mens. Recognising and challenging those preconceptions, treating people as individuals, recognising all the ways in which society is constructed to favour and pander to the desires of (straight, white) men, should not be controversial things.

At the risk of making this all about me, I sometimes feel paralysed in talking about feminism online because, although it’s a subject that I feel a passionate affinity with, it seems presumptuous of me to imagine that I can really understand. I worry that I’ll simplify, offend or patronise. I fear that even though I may imagine I’m a feminist, I’m wearing my own unchallenged sexist assumptions on my sleeve. (Memo to self: donate sexist arm-band to charity shop). I read powerful, illuminating articles on sexism like this or this and I feel that I have nothing to add. So I tend not to say anything at all.

But it's worth saying something, no? I try to be aware of my stupid assumptions, sexist and otherwise. I try to be conscious that the playing field is not level. At least it's a start.

("Join us tomorrow, when our topic will be: Religion, which is the one true faith" - Kent Brockman)
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I just posted on Twitter the perhaps depressing truth that “At this stage I assume that any party with the word "English" or "UK" in the title is racist until proven otherwise.” And received from a random human being the, I hope you’ll agree, amazing reply: “So you are not pro England or Britain, but favour the rest of the world? That makes you the racist.” Even more amazingly, their twitter profile unironically includes the words “I’m not racist but...” Marvellous.

I know such sentiments are not new. But it feels as if the prevailing political narrative has now shifted pretty far to the right when it comes to immigration. It’s the normalisation of such transparently xenophobic, if not outright racist, sentiments that leaves me feeling frustrated, exasperated, powerless. The major political parties are queuing up, not to argue the value of diversity, not to remind us that we have nothing to fear from change, but to compete for how tough they can look on ‘controlling our borders’.

The UK is not alone in this by any means, with parts of Europe and Australia cheerfully demonising anyone who has the gall to think their country is lovely. It starts of course with ‘dastardly foreigners’ but then, even more perplexingly, travels back along the family tree to second or third generation immigrants like a racist genealogy show: “Who Do You Think You Are and Why Don’t You Go Back Where You Came From?”

It would be instructional to trawl back through the political debates of the last decade(s) to see how we got here. How worries about immigration came to be blandly accepted rather than challenged. I feel like I can glimpse a vicious circle where someone lands a punch with some statistically rare horror story about a sponging terrorist asylum seeker, that gets picked up by the right-wing media, that connects with the public, that the other parties have to respond to. (I say ‘have to’ on the unspoken assumption that they’re spineless and desperate enough for power to compromise their principles, just to lay my biases out there on the table.) And that begets further scare stories of the made-up or cherry-picked variety. And then mainstream news outlets like the BBC decide that the ‘public’ are worried about immigration. Immigration is an issue. It’s going to decide elections. So they start reporting the cherry-picked the stories too, which leaves those picking the cherries in the driving seat (...of their cherry-picking vehicle. Bear with me here.) And then a party like UKIP, that trades in ... racist cherries... has a small victory, and that seems important because now the public are worried enough about immigration to vote for complete twats. So it must be bad. And naturally you need to report the complete twats, because in some sense they’ve come to represent the whole issue. And that party winds up looking like a serious contender, one of the Big Four, and somehow you’ve made the extremists look electable. And cherries look bigoted.

All of which still leaves me sitting here in my cosy little liberal democracy looking in blank incomprehension at the popular rise of the far right.
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As usual, hastily-written thoughts straight after viewing the episode for the first time...

Spoilers for Doctor Who - The Name of the DoctorRead more... )
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"We come from the lowlands / Dream of high ground."

On first impressions From the Lowlands ('Being the second part of The Alphabet of Hurricanes') feels like a perplexingly spare, small record. An EP with ideas above its station. Certainly not the same kind of diverse, confident affair as its predecessor.

It's not long before those first impressions are confounded. Ruthlessly stripped-back tracks such as the opener, 'Lately's All I Know', worm their way into your brain with melodic hooks that belie the starkness of the production (or indeed its subject of bereavement). The cover of 'Sloop John B' counterpoints a melancholy take with rich harmonies, the beautiful title track blooms into a choir of voices, and when 'The Alphabet of Hurricanes' finally makes itself known as a song rather than an album, it's as an epic 8 minute affair heralded by lush string arrangements. Lyrically it's also one of the strongest compositions on a collection of sincere songwriting that's almost painfully confessional, even for Tom McCrae. Two tracks, the perky 'Fuck you, Prometheus' and the maudlin 'All That's Gone', confront failure to achieve success: "time has worn a hole in me /the place I keep my dreams". Another two tracks, the opener and the lovely 'Ship of Blue and Green' contemplate death and loss. And yet the overwhelming impression is not of gloom but of melancholy beauty.

It's not the most commercial of offerings; as an introduction to Tom's music it's unlikely to convert the unfaithful. The closest thing to a single here is 'Belly of a Whale' which is very agreeable but never quite soars, or the sprawling closer. The actual single, or at least the one with the online video, is the low key 'Nothing on the Dry Land', my nomination for the least remarkable song on the album.

Ultimately this album has an intimacy that means it never quite escapes the feeling of a maxi-sized EP, but with a full-band album already recorded for release next year maybe that's exactly what this wants to be. It's certainly a more addictive experience than it may first appear.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

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Hastily-written thoughts straight after my first viewing...

Spoilers for Doctor Who - Asylum of the Daleks.

Read more... )

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

TV roundup

Jan. 20th, 2012 11:13 pm
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It's ages since I said anything about any television series that doesn't involve Time Lords, so here goes.

Eternal Law )

Castle )

The Big Knights )

Sherlock )

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I'm inside with my friends
We build fires and pretend
That the night could just bend on forever
While outside in the frost
Are the wolves and the lost
And we sing to the dogs or whoever

Singing don't let me into this year with an empty heart
With an empty heart
Don't let me into this year with an empty heart

Books meme

Mar. 5th, 2011 08:08 pm
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Books I am currently reading:

'Confessions of a Conjuror' - Derren Brown. I'm not very far through it, but so far it's part autobiography, part free association -- an intriguingly stream of consciousness collection of thoughts and observations on magic, life, art and Brown's own past. The observations are framed by a well-written, painstakingly detailed account of an evening spent roving a restaurant as the house magician.

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction recently. The last fiction book I read was probably 'The Naming of the Beasts' by Mike Carey, the fourth in the enjoyable and intelligently pulpy Felix Castor series.

Book I am currently writing:

None unless you count my twitter account. (I did once write a fantasy novel in my teens, but the least said about that the better.)

Books I love most:

Tough call this. There are books I read and re-read obsessively in my youth, books that have moved me to tears, and books that have dazzled me. But the one that made the biggest impact on me in the last decade was undoubtedly 'The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark' by Carl Sagan. It's a book about open-minded skepticism, the spirit of scientific enquiry and the debunking of pseudoscientific thinking. It chimed with my views on the Universe so precisely, and helped to crystalise them. I've read other similar books since, but none that bettered it.

The last book I received as a gift:

'Why Evolution is True' - Jerry A. Coyne, probably the best pop science book I've read on evolution. Some of Dawkin's evolution books (such as Climbing Mount Improbable) are more rewardingly in-depth and feature more mind-blowingly complex examples. However as a comprehensive introduction to, and collation of the evidence for, evolution by natural selection this is far superior to Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. It's just a shame it's unlikely to ever be read by anyone who isn't already convinced.

The last book I gave as a gift:

'Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency' by Cressida Cowell. A gift for my daughter whose seemingly inexhaustible thirst for 'stories' is highly pleasing (even if she's more than slightly obsessed with Miffy at the moment). We saw David Tennant read this book on CBeebies Bedtime Hour over Christmas, which he did brilliantly, subsequently dipped our toe in the water with the other books in the series, and followed up this one. A droll and witty book full of surreal imagination and a firm 'self-rescuing' type of heroine.

The nearest book on my desk:

'Servant of the Underworld' by Aliette de Bodard. It belongs to my wife whose seemingly inexhaustible thirst for books of all genres out-strips even our daughter's. According to the cover quote it's about an Aztec priest of the dead who tries to solve a murder mystery so I'm guessing it's the pre-Columbian equivalent of Cadfael.

Last book I bought for myself:

'The Final Solution' - Michael Chabon. A spare, elegant tale of Sherlock Holmes in extreme old age, and the spectre of the Holocaust.

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Last night we went to the soon-to-be-refurbished Newcastle Theatre Royal to see Yes, Prime Minister, a new stage play from the original TV writers. With an all new cast, naturally.

Read more... )

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On Friday we went to the beautiful and impressive Sage in Gateshead (i.e. South Newcastle but don't let them hear you say that) to see Tom McRae supported by Brian Wright. It's by far the nicest venue we've ever been to, all glass and aluminium and polished wood and airy spaces. Maybe we've been going to the wrong gigs.

Steven Moffatt describes Doctor who star Matt Smith as an "elegant shambles". That pretty much describes this gig. Almost from the word go the bassist had problems with his amp, and Tom was forced to extemporise with a version of I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning (read from his own tea towel merchandise) while Things were done, none of which appeared to make much noticeable difference. Then it turns out cellist Oli Kraus had been urgently recalled to the US where his wife was having a baby, resulting in a large cardboard standee of Captain Jack Sparrow acting as hilarious stand-in for the whole gig (ably supported by the stylings of Brian Wright on his slide guitar). And just generally there was a spirit of fun, constant messing about: trying to get the drummer to crack up when the entire band was singing close harmonies; Brian whistling cheerfully during Still Love You; seguing from Still Love You into a version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" ("Tombrella"). Tom was in a chatty mood and it was a hugely enjoyable, relaxed occasion, and the bad were so tight and well-rehearsed they rose above every disruption.

I'm terrible at remembering the order of a setlist, but the songs were:

Mermaid Blues
Me and Stetson
I Ain’t Scared Of Lightning
Walking 2 Hawaii
Dose Me Up (End Of The World News)
Summer Of John Wayne
Streetlight
Please (up tempo version)
Still Love You (plus 'Tombrella')
Karaoke Soul
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
Draw Down the Stars (The Girl Who Falls Downstairs)
Bloodless
Boy With The Bubblegun

Given that we saw the opening gig of the Alphabet of Hurricanes tour, it's both remarkable and pleasing how much variation there was between the two shows. I got to hear a number of personal favourites, including Mermaid Blues, Walking 2 Hawaii, Bloodless, Karaoke Soul and Summer of John Wayne. There was also a lot of variety. Mermaid Blues was a stunning 'cold open'; pure A Capella, just Tom's soaring voice in a silent room for the entire song. Really great. Streetlight used the whole band in close harmony for the chorus. Draw Down the Stars was sung solo but with looped backing harmonies and lyrics from The Girl Who Falls Down Stairs near the end. Bloodless was sung entirely acoustic and off-mike, resulting in the audience spontaneously singing along to almost the entire song (something I don't normally like as the crowd invariably expect the album version note for note, but which really worked here).

Brian Wright provided some superb and at times frenetic guitaring, and sweet backing vocals. He opened the gig with a solo acousitc selection of some of his own fine songs, including one of my favourites, Radar, plus Former Queen of Spain, Striking Matches, and War on Wilcox and a newer song I liked but can't name.

If I've a complaint about the evening, it's that the room could have taken many more people, and those missing people really missed out on some good music. But the sound system was perfect, the view was perfect, and the audience were appreciative. A great experience, warm and inclusive, in a stunning venue.

I also picked up 'The Streetlight Collection' containing 18 of Tom's b-sides & rarities, only about seven of which I'd heard previously. 'Out of This' is outstanding and should definitely have found its way onto an album.

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Frankly if there weren't a few plot holes in THAT there's no justice in the world.

Spoilers for Doctor Who - The Big Bang )
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Haz voted.

We're in an ultra-safe seat and I voted against the majority party. D'oh. My wife went on this website that calculates that votes in this constituency are worth the equivalent of 0.059 votes (based on the probability of the seat changing hands and its size.) But I still feel it's worth voting - important, even to vote. If nothing else I'll have kept down the depressingly non-zero proportion of the vote here that goes to the BNP.

We took Anna along so that she could watch us vote. At 9 months I don't think it made a big impression, but by the next general election she'll be nearly 6. How scary is that.

My gut says that despite all the polls showing the conservatives with a narrow lead, they'll actually end up with a straightforward majority, just because a) I'm feeling pessimistic, b) I suspect human nature means that when it comes to the crunch most protest votes against Labour are going to go to the traditional opposition party not a perceived wildcard like the Lib Dems.

Most polls don't seem to take into account things like marginal seats but bafflingly assume we live in a proportional representation utopia. I'd be extremely interested to see what a hung parliament looked like, though. It's tough to see how it could be worse than the status quo, which amounts to the usual suspects being decisively, dynamically, excitingly... self-serving and short-sighted.

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And so it begins. The Election that feels like it's been upon us for months is finally upon us. Almost finally.

Now the parties can stop pretending to campaign and start really campaigning. Yes, apparently it can get worse. Since no-one was campaigning previously, all those increasingly intolerant poster campaigns that have blighted my trip to work for the last few weeks must only have existed in my imagination. (Which, given that two of them involved David Cameron's head photoshopped onto Gene Hunt's body, I can easily believe.)

Like everything in politics these days, even the Election announcement was leaked and reported in advance. Yesterday BBC News told me that the election would be announced today. And today it was, amazingly, announced. At this rate the next four weeks could last a lifetime.

The BBC seem to be at pains to talk up this election (which to be fair is probably a much needed shot in the arm for the electorate). To accomplish this they've been going out of their way to emphasise the allegedly massive differences between Labour and Conservative policies. Or rather, the differences in their rhetoric: 'cuts now' or 'cuts later', 'this is no time for change' or 'this is time for change'. The trouble is, when you get right down to it the slogans belie the essential similarity of the underlying policies.

In fact I'll go further -- I don't really believe that the parties mean what they say. I'm sure this comes down to my alarmingly detached view of the news, but my strong feeling is that the only reason Labour are talking about 'cuts later' is not because they necessarily think it makes sound fiscal sense but because it sounds slightly different from the Tory position. And vice versa. When everyone wants cuts, it's all about product differentiation. It's possible to argue that it does make sound fiscal sense, just as it's possible to argue that announcing an NI increase months ahead of time isn't like trying to have your cake and eat it, but when I listen to politicians at election time I find myself beset by an inability to believe a single word that comes out of their mouths.

I don't mean to sound like one of these disenfranchised apathetic stay-at-home voters the news is always telling me about. I'm not that. I do vote, and I feel strongly that it's our responsibility to vote (if only to stop the BNP increasing their market share). What I'm realising, other than that my cynicism may be at the stage where it has a clinical name, is that I don't really vote based on individual policies. Because I don't believe that the parties are sincere about their policies. More often than not they appear to be an arbitrary means to an end, an idea dreamed up in a campaign HQ as a way to sound good to the electorate.

Instead, I think my vote is driven by ideology. I vote for a party because I believe that what they stand for, in totality, is in line with my moral or social values. I don't even think I judge this mainly by aggregating all their policies together, I think it's about big statements: freedom, equality, social justice. That kind of thing. The broad political sweep of left, middle and right.

Where individual policies probably do influence me is that I may vote against the ones that offend me. In a world where the two main parties are hardly different in many of their policies, only one intends to overturn the ban on fox-hunting, and that party will definitely not get my vote. Both of the main parties are almost equally repressive, emotive and hypocritical on the subject of immigration so neither will probably get my vote. (This is because I'm a bleeding heart liberal).

All of which means that the less the parties have to say over the next four weeks, the greater chance they stand of getting my vote.

I have a dream.

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We went to see what turned out to be the inaugural date of Tom McRae's Alphabet of Hurricanes tour last night, in the reasonably tiny upstairs room of the O2 Academy2, Newcastle. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, although the fact that the doors opened half an hour late did result in moderate hypothermia. Sadly no-one has yet invented Warm Mulled Guinness1 so I was forced to warm myself on regular Guinness. You can't beat the taste of beer out of plastic2.

Brian Wright provided a really fine support act with a stripped down one-man-and-guitar (and-beard) performance. It's also possible he was stoned. Although I'm allergic to country I can generally suppress my immune reaction if it's blended with healthy doses of blues, rock and folk, and it helps that he's a deceptively intelligent writer. Of the new material I think Queen Junk (or whatever it's called) is borderline genius. Great to hear Radar too.

Wright also provided guitar, harmonica, backing vocals and the occasional banjo for Tom's six-piece band, the largest group he's ever toured with and one that kicked out a lot of good noise. Tom played for about an hour and a half and delivered some powerful singing and his usual self-deprecating banter between the tracks. As near as I can remember it the setlist (in approximate order) was:

an alphabet of hurricanes can't blow this drifter homeAlphabet of Hurricanes
Me & Stetson
Summer of John Wayne
End of the World News
A&B Song
Please
Walking2Hawaii
American Spirit
One Mississippi
Still Love You
Silent Boulevard

(encore)
My Vampire Heart
Draw Down the Stars
Boy with the Bubblegun

I can't begin to imagine why Alphabet of Hurricanes is not on the album which bears its name. It's a lovely song and if it's worthy of starting the new tour it's surely worth a place on the record. I was surprised that the new material didn't dominate more, although the choices were undeniably the right ones. Summer of John Wayne is one of my favourites from the new album and Please was the superior downtempo version from the Recorded at Gunpoint EP, while Still Love You's spare charm was boosted by a bigger finish and plenty of audience participation, plus a valiant attempt to get the venue's mirrorball working.

The benefit of the bigger band was really felt on the pacier tracks. Me & Stetson really rocked with a six-piece band behind it, as did End of the World News, A&B Song, Silent Boulevard and Boy With the Bubblegun. Brian Wright knows his way around an electric guitar. The sound was comparable to the Tom McRae Live album with a couple of notches more oomph and the benefit of an actual drummer.

The other tracks were a mix of familiar standbys but nonetheless I was very glad to hear One Mississippi, Walking2Hawaii and My Vampire Heart. Draw Down the Stars was an absolutely beautiful interpretation with some great harmonies.

We had a really fun night. Janet picked up a couple of t-shirts (the McRae one bearing a quote from that title track that's not on the album3), and I picked up Brian Wright's new one House on Fire which is setting off my country allergies but has some interesting material when I can stop sneezing.

As for the album, I had the benefit of Amazon's snafu when they briefly released it on 1st Feb so I've lived with it a while. I really like it. Economical, bleak and uplifting it's a throwback to McRae's debut sound but also absorbs some americana to surprising effect. One moment he's croaking along to plucked strings, the next delivering a soaring ballad, then singing the blues by way of The White Stripes. It feels like a moonlit walk after the expansive highway of King of Cards. Although it slowly reveals itself to be less sombre than it first appears, it's as uncommercial as anything he's ever done. It's good, but it's tough to see this being his breakout success.
--
1 And by 'sadly' I mean 'mercifully'.

2 And by 'can't beat' I mean 'should never willingly experience'.

3 Okay, I'll let it go.
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
Eleventh Doctor and AmyA new teaser image from the upcoming Doctor Who season, featuring the Doctor and Amy in silly poses, some returning and new monsters, and a swirly blue time vortex that looks like the Tom Baker credits reimagined in computer graphics. Wonder if the background is part of the new credits sequence...

We also caught up on some ye olde Doctor Who recently. City of Death is a serial I have very vivid memories of watching as a child in the 1970s: Scaroth revealing his one-eyed face, his spaceship exploding, the trip to renaissance Italy, the multiple Mona Lisas, the time bubble that accelerates egg into Chicken, and vice-versa. It's all there in my mind's eye. Fortunately this one holds up surprisingly well, even going back to it after all this time. Although we're moving into his later, less uniformly successful, years in the role Tom Baker is a joy. The location filming in Paris is effective (even if it gratuitously packs in every Paris cliche going, and seems to feature endless shots of the Doctor and Romana aimlessly wandering), and the pacing is snappy, particularly for vintage Who. Douglas Adams' (pseudonymous) witty script doesn't hurt, either. It's not an absolute classic, and in common with a lot of old Who there's a certain sense of gabbled exposition and rushed anticlimax, but it's very solid.

Next up was Masque of Mandragora, an earlier Tom Baker story featuring Sarah Jane Smith as the companion. In contrast to 'City of Death' I seem to have no memory whatsoever of watching this when I was younger. All my vague recollections come from the target novelisation. That makes watching it slightly surreal since I broadly remember key elements from the book, but imagined them completely differently. Viewed with modern eyes this one has a script, acting and production values that feel significantly above the baseline standard for 70s Doctor Who. There's a vigour to the characterisation that reminded me of a Robert Holmes script, and the renaissance setting really works; the Doctor fits in seamlessly into an era poised between superstition and scientific discovery. Seeing actors like Tom Piggott-Smith in essentially Shakespearean garb helps my suspension of disbelief immensely, and the setting is aided by unusually convincing location filming in Portmerion (looking not too much like The Prisoner). The set-up also feels unusual, with the Doctor being essentially responsible for the threat. There are a few wobbly sets and creaky special effects, and like 'City of Death' the denouement is rushed, but there's a lot to enjoy. Plus there's a blatant sequel hook at the end. Come on Mr Moffatt, you know you want to...

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Christmas)
I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave New Year,
All anguish, pain and sadness,
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.

I Believe in Father Christmas (Greg Lake)

Theft

Nov. 21st, 2009 12:59 am
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
I chased a thief out of our kitchen tonight.

I was sitting in the front room typing on our shiny new laptop just after 10 pm when I heard a funny noise from the kitchen. At first I assumed it was a cat (ours or someone else's) - this would hardly be unusual! But it sounded odd so I went to look and found a stranger in the kitchen. Young, white, wearing a white tracksuit top1. I yelled at him and he legged it out of the back door, around onto the drive and out onto the street. I saw him disappear around the corner but it was dark, wet, I was wearing socks and I'd tripped over something on the drive. Common sense reasserted itself and I gave up!

Turns out the thing I stubbed my toe on in the drive was his push-bike, which I (perhaps stupidly) carted back into the kitchen and locked the door. Janet and Anna had been upstairs but Janet was pretty shocked when I told her and immediately rang the police. An officer came around within 10 minutes, during which time we tried to work out what if anything was missing. Finally Janet spotted that my work briefcase was gone - and I'd seen him holding some sort of bag as he exited our drive. As far as we can tell that's all he got. In the grand scheme of things it could have been a lot worse - we're often both upstairs, and all sorts of kit including the laptop would have been lying around.

All told it was over in about 15 seconds but it's still really annoying and fairly shocking. The police took my statement, took the bike to fingerprint and tomorrow they come to do more forensics and take my prints for reference. I did get a look at the thief and said I'm prepared to ID him, but whether I could actually pick his picture out in practice is another matter. The police officer was incredibly professional and supportive and I can't speak highly enough of the initial support we've had.

Needless to say we'll be making sure to lock the back door in the future, even if we're in and up and about. It's more the principle of the thing - to have an intruder in your home, to think what might have happened, and worry he might come back. Fortunately he can't have seen much so won't know what's in the house to steal and hopefully there's no incentive for him to come back. Thieves are complete bastards, really.
--
1Shops at Chavs R Us, basically.

Logo-polis

Oct. 6th, 2009 08:09 am
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
The new Steven Moffat era version of the Doctor Who logo has arrived. They announced it this morning. Yes, they announced a logo. Yesterday they announced the announcement. Sadly the ridiculous over-hype worked on me, and I turned up at 8 am to see it.



I'd put it behind a cut but it'll be all over the internet within... well it's probably already there.

My response? Hmmm. It's... a Doctor Who logo. The actual logo is nicely retro only with a new font, harking back to the first two logos the series ever had (I'm sensing a retro theme from Moffat, what with the Doctor's costume and the rejuvenated look of the Tardis plus St. John's sticker.) The Tardis version of the logo is gimmicky tosh. Let's hope we don't see a lot of that one.

ETA: It's interesting to me that Moffat is changing quite so many aspects of the show to launch his new era. Doctor, companion, Tardis (the interior is rumoured to be having a few changes), logo, plus presumably credits and maybe a remix of the theme? Usually regenerations cause so much nervousness that they like to contrive as much continuity as possible to reassure the viewer. This approach is certainly confident. But, particularly coming off such a popular and iconic Doctor as Tennant, will it alienate people or shed a chunk of viewers who feel that 'their' Doctor Who has finished?

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We had a bit of an adventure yesterday when we found an injured cat in our garage.

After I got home last night I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted a grey and white cat with its collar hooked under its armpit, something that happens to our cats occasionally and severely hampers their movement. I dashed outside and saw its tail disappear into our garage through a hole in the door (must get that fixed!) Janet and I found the cat cowering at the back of the garage behind the lawnmower, and it quickly became clear that it was in a bad way. The collar was a nasty red plastic one and it had rubbed the skin raw under the leg, removing all the fur in a large area which was red and evil-looking. The poor thing must have been in agony.

Intrepidly donning a pair of chunky gardening gloves I managed to grab the hissing beast and desperately tried to remove the collar while it struggled and bit me frantically through the gloves (which proved fairly useless at resisting cat fangs). Finally Janet cut the collar off with scissors, at which point the cat settled down a bit and we managed to get it into one of our cat boxes.

Then we rang around every local vet we could find, all of which were shut. One answerphone directed me to a 24 hours vet helpline, which in turn sent me to the RSPCA, who gave me a log number and told me to, er, find a local vet. Finally we got one that was open til 7 pm and kindly agreed to stay open long enough for me to get there with the injured cat. The RSPCA log number means the vet can claim £60 + VAT, and ring if they need to ask for more money. According to the RSPCA this makes for much more cooperative vets!

Then I came home, slathered my bloodied finger in germolene, and Janet did some "Injured Cat Found" posters which we taped-up in nearby streets, pub and shop. I was still a bit worried to be honest. The wound looked like it was many hours or days old, and although the Vets took the cat in last night they couldn't treat it properly til this morning. Also the cat could have been miles from home and the owner might never be found.

Thankfully Janet took a call today from someone who saw our poster and recognised the description, and we've just had a call from the vets. The owner has collected the cat, Megan, and it should make a slow but full recovery. Apparently it's been missing since July, when it was being looked after by a friend of the owners during a holiday, and went missing. (Oh the guilt that friend must have felt!) They haven't seen it since.

All told that put paid to most of last night and I have a sore finger for my troubles. Cats mouths aren't the most hygienic things so I'm keeping an eye on the finger but so far it doesn't seem infected.

Phew. I'm very relieved, and the owner has passed on their thanks. As Janet says, we'd want someone to do that for our cats, so it's only fair we do it too.

Oh bugger

Sep. 10th, 2009 06:06 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Bugger. We don't have a good history of having Tom McRae gigs cancelled on us. This was just posted by Tom McRae on his forum (abridged version below):

"I’m very sorry to have to tell you all that the release of the new album and subsequent tour has been delayed until next year.

Due to circumstances I couldn't really control - and a last minute record deal being offered, which I desperately needed but wasn't expecting, I have been asked to reschedule the tour to early next year.
...
As you are all aware the industry is in turmoil right now, and while I was preparing to throw yet another record out there unassisted, only for it to vanish instantly like the last 3 - it looks now as if a label wants to champion it after all.

This is obviously still a gamble, and who knows if it will ultimately change anything, but I owe it to the songs (which I hope you’ll think are some of the best I’ve written – when you get a bloody chance to hear them) and I think I owe it to many of you, who have been urging me on with your support for many years.
...
If you can bear with me just a little longer, I’ll have more news, and some hard facts about the new dates. I think we’re looking at February now, which gives the label a chance to promote the record before and during the tour. There’s even talk of a single going to radio – so it seems I’ll have to adjust to working with crazy optimists for a while. But none of this gets you closer to hearing the new songs or seeing them performed by the amazing band I had put together. For that I apologise again.

I’m also going to look into ways which I can begin to make this up to you somehow in the short term, maybe I can do the odd solo show here and there, or ask to let you hear a song or two from the album – I’ll let you know how I get on.
...
Tom"
Fantastic news about the record contract, obviously, and wish him every success. Ah well. We'll get to see the gig (and hear the new album) eventually. Fingers crossed!

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My latest film watching is here. Wonderfully we've been able to sneak out and see films at the cinema two weekends in a row.

[Poll #1454977]

Anna's been fantastically well-behaved recently, and even slept for five hours straight last night. That's five whole hours of sleep. I know. Also she's just started smiling a little bit, which is a huge psychological breakthrough. She particularly loves it if you imitate her little chirrups and gurgles, which results in a delighted smile. Most of the time she sounds suspiciously like a mogwai, which is slightly worrying since we've been feeding her after midnight.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
We've been watching the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series from the start. We've just made it to 'The Final Problem', featuring Holmes's apparent death and the final appearance of Watson #1, whom I think I marginally prefer to Watson #2 for his eagerness and fantastically deadpan bemusement. I'm not sure what more I can say about Brett's merits as Holmes except that rewatching these episodes has reminded me just how very good he was in the role, particularly early on. Athletic, eccentric, rude, bursting with nervous energy, and the very image of what you want Holmes to be.

There's also a realism that this Granada series derives from having been shot on location that puts it streets ahead of any amount of over-dressed ye olde england sets, plush smoking jackets and fake pea-souper fogs. When you've seen Matt Frewer as Holmes (and generally speaking I have nothing against Matt Frewer) you realise just how badly wrong Holmes can go when treated like a Disneyland attraction. Brett's Holmes and the world he inhabits are perfectly real -- despite being inhabited by a parade of Victorian grotesques.

Despite all this I remain inexplicably positive about the ludicrous Guy Ritchie romp starring Robert Downey Jr. I put this down to an ability to compartmentalise.

On a related note I'm not sure how I missed this news that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are making a modern day version of Holmes starring the improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch. If it weren't for the writers I'd dismiss this out of hand. With these writers, well, I'll give it a chance.

Plus they've just found the Giant Rat of (Somewhere Near) Sumatra.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Dalek Fandom)
They've done what I would have done and dressed him older to contrast with Matt Smith's relative youth. Sort of like Indiana Jones in his day job, actually, but with modern footwear

.

Not blown away by it, and less impressed than I was with Tennant's first costume reveal, but it works. This is an official BBC release, but now we just need some proper promo pics.

EDIT: More pics here.

Le Film

Jul. 11th, 2009 10:50 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
My film watching in the year to date can be found on [livejournal.com profile] 52filmchallenge here. Only 13 to date and I don't think we'll be doing a lot of film watching in the near future by all accounts! I'm quite keen to see Moon, but we're under no illusions about how much spare time we're likely to have...

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
Nothing new to report on the Bump front, so here's some nice eye candy that distracted me last night.

Here's a really impressive trailer for a film that was completely off my radar, Daybreakers. Stars Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and set in a world in which Vampires are the majority and humans the hunted underclass. Pushes all my buttons, really.

The surprisingly good, even mature looking (I know, I know), trailer for Torchwood's Children of Earth mini-series (running in five parts Mon to Fri in a single week.)

I'm intrigued by the Johnny Depp / Christian Bale / Michael Mann gangster flick Public Enemies, even if the trailer is just an abridged version of the entire film as far as I can tell. Although he can be quirky and mannered as an actor, Depp is such a chameleon sometimes.

And BIG 'SPLODY THINGS. Roland Emmerich destroying the world again in 2012. Unlike Transformers, the astonishing spectacle of this one may actually lure me to the cinema against my better judgement.

Finally, and on a slight tangent, I'm a complete nerd sometimes but this CGI image from a forthcoming Trek calendar is just stunningly beautiful. In a nerdy way. (From the blog of Doug Drexler, an FX guy from Trek / BSG.)

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