Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Man of mystery

Who wrote that, then?Hope your Christmi were as splendid as ours, brimming with red wine and roast goose.

In amongst the exciting haul of goodies from yesterday, the Dr has left me a condundrum. My Droo Stoyrbook 2007 is signed by a mysterious stranger.

Anyone any ideas on whose hasty handwriting this is?

Off shortly to see Night at the Museum (it's research so the good Dr says). Expect an answer by the time I fetch back.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Not now, Bernard

“‘ People like to read about someone who is deeper in the shit than they are,’ [Bernard] said. In fact the real reason for his popularity was much less cynical and cruel: people like to read about someone who broke all the rules, who drank and smoked far too much, who was rude about feminists, homosexuals and ethnic minorities, who was politically utterly incorrect, who behaved outrageously, and yet who somehow survived and even managed to surround himself with an ever-increasing harem of beautiful women.”

Graham Lord, Just the One – the wives and times of Jeffrey Bernard, pp. 229-230.

I was first made aware of Jeffrey Bernard by reading a newspaper obituary. In the photo, a glut of uncommon celebrities jostled one another at the wake. And in the background, ignoring the camera, Tom Baker propped up the bar.

Tom was one of many contributors to Graham Lord’s 1992 biography. Jeff had just turned 60 when the book first came out (the link above is to a posthumous reissue), and it’s telling with what surprise his acquaintances saw him to lesser decades. He really did himself no favours.

The book is a catalogue of stupid and greatly pissed behaviour – Jeff being sick on the Queen Mother and shagging the wives of his mates. I struggled with a tale about a Christmas tree that got taken on a pub crawl because I kept expecting it to be some sort of euphemism. No, they really did mix a tree’s drinks.

Rude, snobbish and just as much lazy as pissed, Jeff spent years stumbling between jobs that would pay for his drinking before finding a role as a writer. He stuck broadly to just the two topics for all his subsequent career: racing and the “low life” of being out on the lash. Lord argues that really it was all just one topic: Bernard on loss as a loser.

One editor, Alexander Chancellor, says of him in the book,
“‘I can’t think of anybody else in journalism who writes only, only about themselves. It’s a considerable achievement, I think, to (a) do nothing at all except drink, and (b) be able to write about it ever single week and still be interesting.’”

Ibid., p. 230.

Most boozers just couldn’t do that. That you got something – a joke or a smile or an article – explains how Jeff persevered. He’d scrounge hand-outs and floorspace off anyone, and sex off girls who could surely do better.

For all he’s a monster and alienated his friends, Jeff knew how to turn on the charm. Irma Kurtz said he had a smile like
“‘a little devil caught out in an act of charity.’”

Ibid., p. 255.

Tom who, flush as the fourth Droo, bought him a couple of suits, says that Jeff at least sang for his supper. Bernard, not the drinking, was witty and exciting. He was an exception to the borish, dull alkie – a bit apart from the other self-destructing regulars. His writing can be keenly observant and hilarious, and even Jeff is often bored by his lifestyle. He is less a role model as a warning.

Yes, there’s something salaciously thrilling about someone who breaks all the rules. But I also think there’s an appeal in the distance – he’s funny so long as he’s happening to other people. Jeff could make those near him miserable, and was not very fond of himself.

It’s also affirmative and good for finger wagging to see the depths that beckon a man who won’t bother with bills and a mortgage.

(As well as talking to Tom himself, the book also makes mention of Jon Pertwee (p. 126) and David Tennant (p. 79).)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Do not fear fluffiness

Our Bumper Book of Daleks is just reaching people, a hair's breadth prior to Christmas. Hooray!

As a special bonus, you can read online for free - yes free! - the story I pinched from based on the Dr's own PhD. Mrs Guerrier, she so proud of me.

To read "The Eighth Wonder of the World", click on the link immediately below the book's cover at the webpage given above.

Babel-fish pizza

Entertaining, boozy meet with chums in Paddington last night, where I may have veered into ranty. Sorry, R., who will be reading this.

Much joy in translating the pizzas. "Fiesta del carne" sounds more posh than plain old "Meat feast".

But you could also read it as "Flesh party".

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

That’s no moon

Escape is a fixture in escapist fiction. Our heroes look sly and resourcedul when they can break out of cells, baddie bases and countries using only bits of tin can and their shoelaces.

In fact, it’s a bit of a cliché. One not uncommon criticism of my own “The Time Travellers” is that the austere detention centre on Byng Street is daringly escaped-from twice. (I argue (not entirely winningly) that this is in keeping with the spirit of Old Show.)

I guess escapology’s appeal comes from real escapes, most famously those during wars. Until recently, I’d always associated them with the second world war – and even the Imperial War Museum’s escape show last year focused on Steve McQueen’s moped and Colditz.

But Winston Churchill’s first dalliance as national hero was in 1899, when he escaped from a POW camp in Pretoria.

More recently, Neil Gaiman admitted that he and magician Penn Jillette are working on a film version of a real First World War escape. Hilary Bevan Jones – whose Endor Productions won awards for the fab “State of Play” – spoke of it, too, a few years ago:

“My big ambition is to make the film of my grandfather's book, ‘The Road to Endor’. It's a true story of how he escaped from a Turkish prison camp during the First World War. David Lean had it optioned for years, but it's back in the family again. I only just feel grown-up enough to make it now!”

Liz Hoggard, “All my own work”, The Guardian, 21 March 2004

On Gaiman’s recommendation, I sought out the book via Abe.

Lieutenant EH Jones tells of a plucky confidence trick, played out over more than a year. As much from boredom as anything, the imprisoned Jones fakes a Ouija board session, and pretends he’s in touch with the spirits.

But rather than making his comrades laugh, they start to take him in deadly earnest. Jones, you see, can remember the board even blindfolded…

"The growth of a belief is difficult to describe, for growth is not a matter of adding one piece here and another there. It is not an addition at all, it is a process; and the most that can be done in describing it is to state a few of the outstanding events and say, ‘this marks one stage in the process, that another.’ … In any investigation each point as it is reached is subjected to proof. Once passed as proved it forms in its turn part of the foundation for a further advance in belief. It is the part of the investigator to make certain he does not admit as correct a single false deduction. If he does the whole of his subsequent reasoning is liable to be affected.

It is particularly easy, in a question like spiritualism, to allow fallacy to creep in. There is a basis of curious phenomena which certainly exist and are recognised by scientists as indubitable facts. But the investigator must be careful, in every instance, to assure himself that he is in the presence of the genuine phenomenon, and not of an imitation of it, and, as a matter of fact, this is sometimes impossible to do."

EH Jones, "The Road to En-Dor", p. 23.

Soon the Turkish warders have been snared in the scam, Jones and partner Lieutenant Hill winning small allowances for the other POWs. The camp itself is the former home of now-missing Armenians – the book speaks of the massacre quite openly. So Jones uses the promise of hidden Armenian treasure, and the threat of the spirits’ revenge, to attempt a brilliant escape.

Eric Williams (who wrote the best-selling “The Wooden Horse”) introduces the whole thing as, “for sheer ingenuity, persistence and skill … second to none among such books”.

It’s certainly a funny book, lively book full of vivid characters and set-ups. I was also surprised in the footnotes by how many of those comrades mentioned tried their own escapes – and went on to write their own books about them.

The mechanics of the trick and the ways they fool doubters are explained in some detail, and I can see the appeal to a mage like Jillette. The plan does not all go swimmingly either, and several times nearly kills the two tricksters. As a result, it becomes less about the scam but the steely determination with which the two blokes see it through.

That said, the telling is often disjointed narrative, jumping back and forth between years and incidents, so sometimes not easy to follow. There’s a hell of a lot of place names and people to remember, and the tangents and asides could have been more effectively edited.

Part conman’s handbook, part military history, part pot-boiling shocker, it’s a compelling – if not always easy – read. And cor, there’s a brilliant movie in there. So do get a shift on with that, Neil.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sprained his wrist writing sonnets

(Just switched to Beta Blogger on the promise of all kinds of cleverness. Hope it doesn't not go snafu.)

Okay, I admit that I read 1599 to swot up for next year’s Droo. Pretty sure that’s why I got bought it, too. Not that I’m sure it will help:
“I cut myself off from reading anything about Shakespeare, went on what I knew already, and then checked afterwards. … I didn’t want to read James Shapiro’s book 1599 … in case I got bogged down.”

Gareth Roberts, interviewed by Rex Duis, “Script Doctors”, Dr Who Magazine 377 (3 January 2007), p. 13.

Well, it’s still a rich and lively book, whatever Gareth says. It avoids the usual failing of literary biography (as I’ve discussed with Wodehouse) – not so comprehensively linking the elements in his stories to influences surrounding him that it’s like Will was less creator than copyist. But Shapiro is also keen to show that Shakespeare’s work is not timeless, and that far all he was a transcendent genius, he was very much of his age.

1599 is when Shakespeare hits it big. The year begins with the construction of the famous Globe Theatre, in which he himself had a stake. Shapiro explores the mechanics and economics of that investment, and then the politics and practical necessities that influenced the writing of “Henry V”, “Julius Caesar”, “As You Like It” and “Hamlet”.

As well as some heavy-going analysis of particular snippets of play, it’s full of facts and detail. I discussed the relevance of 17 November back on, er, 17 November. Neat.

In exploring the adventures of the Earl of Essex and his ill-fated trip to Ireland, there’s something broader to be said about the fickleness of heroism. Essex’s collapse from grace is just as wild, explosive and tragic as the stuff what’s in Shakespeare’s writing.

We also get a sense of the wide, heady mix of high and low cultures which Shakespeare had to straddle. His works were performed for the old Queen amid the sumptuous decorations of Whitehall. Yet they also needed to win an audience from the bear baiting and cock fights crowding the rascally South Bank.

It’s little wonder then that his peers were taking risks, writing stuff that would get them fined or even land them in prison. Our Will seems to have deftly dodged anything too controversial, while retaining a verve and topicality that appealed to all classes of folk. (Shapiro’s also good on how plays would be taken off when events made them a little too topical…)

There’s also some fun detail about everyday practicalities – that bookshops would have very individual stock, and that without any copyright a book of Shakespeare’s poetry wasn’t necessarily all by him.

I was also enraptured by the consequences that follow from news being so slow to travel. There’s some mystery about how many weeks elapsed before Will heard of the death of his son. More fun is the courtly entanglements as London is unable to prove one way or another if England has just been invaded.

All in all, it’s a vivid animation of late-Tudor London, rich, sweaty and teeming with life. Especially so, as I read it in Florence, which I said had the same kind waterfront of crowded, timber dwellings seen in the cockney models of “A Knight’s Tale” and Olivier’s “Henry V”.

Two more top facts: 1599 was also the year that Oliver Cromwell was born. And I’m strangely pleased by the word crucifige (“Crucify him”), given on p. 208.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"I didn't want it to end."

Codename Moose summed up our feelings in those six words.

Pan’s Labyrinth is another wondrous strange creation from Guillermo del Toro: mesmerising, scary and brilliant.

Ofelia follows her very pregnant mother to an army camp deep in the woods. Mother’s new husband is a captain for Franco’s new regime, putting down the last of the communists at the tail end of the second world war. He’s violent and vicious and cares only for his unborn son.

But nearby in the wood is an ancient labyrinth, a dark and foreboding portal to powers ancient and terrifying. If Ofelia can complete three tasks for the Faun, she’ll be granted her dearest wishes...

Like del Toro’s previous "The Devil's Backbone", the film mixes up the real awful history of the Spanish civil war with fantasy no less alarming. It’s just as unsettling to watch the military barbarity as the gaunt, eyeless monster that guards a lush banqueting table.

It’s also reminiscent of CS Lewis’s "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" – especially the recent film, which made the second world war more explicit. Ofelia is a more put-upon Lucy, and this Faun isn’t offering her tea.

I talked not-quite-a-year-ago of how it’s only us adults who are freaked by horrid things done to and by children. We’re the ones to harbour fantasies of childish innocence and kindness. Children know, from school and everyday life, that children are full of vicious and untempered cruelty.

Still, we could also see why Neil Gaiman was in trouble for taking his littlest to see this one.

Speaking of which, this morning I finished his Fragile Things – a collection of short stories, poems and bits of idea.

Gaiman has often been rather cosily strange, with the feel of a Grimm’s fairy tale read by an open fire. Yet many of the stories here are thuggish and nasty, lacking what Susanna Clarke has called his "Wodehousian generosity of spirit", which made "Anansi Boys" and "Stardust" so appealing. There are zombies and gangsters and paedophiles and killers in this, with no redeeming features whatever.

Where Gaiman’s at his best is creating characters we care about, and then exploring the strange realms from behind their eyes. The final novella, "Monarch of the Glen" revisits one of the gangsters from a previous entry, who is no less powerful of scary than when we last met him.

Yet, by telling the story from the perspective of Shadow (the same character as from the novel "American Gods"), and detailing Shadow’s own qualms and uncertainties, it’s a much kinder feeling adventure.

"The Problem of Susan" is another haunting highlight, revisiting the spurned Queen of Narnia. It confronts her brusque dispatch in "The Last Battle" – where she’s the only one of her siblings not allowed into Heaven because she’s too fond of lipstick. More than that, it confronts the psycho-sexual elements implicit in that distinction, and the cruel way the other Pevensie’s find their way to paradise (Lewis kills them all off in a train crash).
"There is so much in the [Narnia] books that I love, but each time I found the disposal of Susan to be intensely problematic and deeply irritating. I suppose I wanted to write a story that would be equally as problematic … if from a different direction."

Neil Gaiman, Introduction to Fragile Things, p. xxii.

With reference to other strange children’s fictions like Mary Poppins and Dahl’s Mathilda, it manages to be something more altogether about the faults and something extra with which we fill up our kids.

Think my favourite is the opening "A Study in Emerald", which nicely twists the classic Holmesian short on its head. Not only does that there link let you read the whole story, but Wikipedia then goes and explains it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Man? Police man?

Terrific concern this afternoon that we might be in work a bit later, as a result of Mr Blair going to see Mr Knacker.
"Look... I really want to help put the matter straight and I'll answer any questions you have. But had you ever considered how you might one day fancying being Lord Knacker?

Come on, I've a flight booked to Finland..."
Anyway, we did add on a whole thirteen minutes, which I don't think qualifies us for any compensation under rules for the victims of crime. Were it to turn out that anything untoward had gone on, which of course is completely unlikely.

I just await the chaps finishing before we fall at the pub. So don't want to start getting into anything too postie.

Why not go visit my new friend Alex and see his fun Die-cast movie. And then go see all the treats Ebb of Weevil has currently on display.

Normal service to be resumed sometime. I have read books and done thinking and everything.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Vic sounded like a truck driver"

The Dr is out tonight having tea with a friend, and I’ve been left lonely and plotting.

My thinking cap sits at a rakish angle following a chance encounter. All kinds of treasure is being drawn forth – space wars and recreational incest, a computer with a headache, some murder, some foam, no clothes and a cliff-hanging window.

A late self-addressed note compels "ONLY MORE AND MUCH WEIRDER". Need it written up before pubbing on Saturday.

This elan of grey matter is all rather welcome. For days I’ve been grouchy and about to explode, “What the bloody-hell-cock is a Wii?”

Don’t write in, as I now have the edge of the premise. It’s like a souped up VIC 20 with crazy more games. (Though sadly, that doesn’t mean an Amstrad; not even one with its very own disk drive.)

On a not unrelated tangent, is it only me filled with incandescent rage when adverts leave off the word “pounds”? Computers for “just three-nine-five” and cars “starting from six-seven-nine-nine”... they’re more like odds than prices.

Perhaps it’s a ploy so we forget they mean money, and the corresponding toil in the workplace.

Or perhaps they accept payment in other kinds of currency – like 395 dreams or 6,799 kittens.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Avon calling

Well what else would the headline be? My chums at B7Media have announced their thrill-packed new Blake’s 7 audio series, which has just finished being recorded.

At last it’s all done and public, having heard hushed bits about it for a while. Writers Ben, Marc and James have all scribbled for me in the last year and yet remained frustratingly discrete. Git monkeys.

Like you didn't know, it's a gruff bit of space opera about a gruff dude called Roj Blake - on TV a rare Welsh sci-fi hero. Framed for crimes he didn't commit by the Earth's nasty, dictatorial Federation, he teams up with a gang of ne'er-do-well rascals and runs off in a spaceship called "Liberator". Which is a clue to what he's intending...

I have vague memories from the end of the old-school version – that oft-repeated shot of Scorpio docking in its garage, a barely understood crush on Dayna, and Avon being glad to learn Servalan’s still alive because he wants to kill her himself.

Years later, about the same time my love of Dr Who proper burgeoned, my friend B. had the early run of Blake’s 7 videos, where a whole series was cropped down to 90 minutes. Cutting anything that wasn’t essential to the plot, these movies were simply amazing – fast and dark and twisty and (of most importance) violent.

They pretty much spoilt the series for me, because those full episodes I’ve seen seem so ponderous and dull. Just skip to the end, Mr Vila.

The new series promises zippy five-minute episodes, and the (re-)cast is monstrously exciting. Blake shall be played by Derek Riddell (of the Torchwood Estate – as opposed to Gareth Thomas of a Torchwood terrace), and James Bond’s Colin Salmon is Avon. Cor.

I’m trying to recall which of my chums had a peculiar thing for Daniela Nardini, who’ll be vamping it up as New Servalan. Was it you, Liadnan? Are you now very excited?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scaredy-cats and soft death balls

On Saturday I attended a glittering soiree on the occasion of a very first birthday. Gorged on fizz and finger food, which included a New Zealish delicacy.

“Fairy bread” is buttered white bread cut into animal shapes, then sprinkled o’er with hundreds and thousands. It’s sickly sweet, has no redeeming or nutritional features whatever, but earned hearty cheers from my inner eight year-old.

S. handed me a copy of Wholphin 2, which Nimbos and I then watched that evening. It seems largely an excuse to release the first part of “The Power of Nightmares”, Adam Curtis’s contentious BBC documentary linking the rise of both the American neo-conservatives and radical Islamic groups, arguing that both are against liberal society and the Soviet Union, and both like to start people fighting...

Not surprisingly, this thesis has met with a certain amount of heckling. The BBC boasts highlights from more than 3,000 comments, “reflecting the balance and range of views we have received”.

Terror is an emotive subject (well, d’uh) and a lot of the reaction seems along the lines of “But terrorists exist!” This is rather missing the point of a documentary about how our fears have been encouraged and manipulated by both terrorists and members of our own governments.

There have been terrorists before, the argument goes, so why is al-Qaeda so different?

The documentary has not been shown in the USA, and Wholphin proclaims it “the film US TV networks dare not show” (as according to the Grauniad). On Wikipedia, Curtis claims a network head told him “We would get slaughtered if we put this out”.

The film is available as a free, legal download and has been shown at film festivals and in Canada. The Australian showing was postponed for five months, following the London bombings.

So why has it not been released on DVD before? On Wholphin, it’s provided as a bonus disc, and the sleeve notes add to the dark whiff of conspiracy by suggesting it might still be excised:
“If there is no Power of Nightmares in your package, it means that something went horribly wrong and the retailer was asked to remove the film.”
Which implies some terrible censorship, whether voluntary (on the part of suppliers or distributors) or enforced by the Powers That Are. However, Curtis’s own comments from last year offer another explanation:
“The films are full of archive film and music from a multitude of sources. The reason my series are normally not released on DVD is that it is prohibitively costly and a nightmare - no pun intended - to clear the rights.”

Adam Curtis, “Power of Nightmares re-awakened”,
BBC News, 26 April 2005.

And this is my real problem with the documentary: you're not always sure what is verifiable fact and what is brave supposition.

Curtis uses archive footage to make his points, rather than giving those he critiques any right to reply. His targets' arguments are undercut by fast cutting between contradictory statements – like a headline on a news programme that’s the opposite of what some authority has said. So Curtis gets to make his claims pretty much unchallenged.

I’ve heard it argued that this is okay because his film is a “personal essay”, an invitation to debate the issues that he raises. And though I appreciate that he’s taking arms against a whopping great ocean of struggles, it still feels a little one-sided. Like kids shooting peas at policemen, it’s a challenge to authority, yes, but not exactly going to change the system.

The problem with the essay is that Curtis does what he accuses his targets of, and tells us what to think. If he wants a debate, why not have a debate? Or what is he afraid of?

The rest of the DVD was much more satisfying. I’ve never been quite won over by McSweeney’s (responsible for the DVD), whose beautifully packaged publications are often more pretentious than profound. That’s true of the Auster-lite “Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses”, about an artist being groomed to be shocking, and of Soderbergh’s ponderous “Building No. 7”, and of Donald Trump discussing Citizen Kane in “The Movie Movie”.

But there are jems, too. We loved “Okusama wa Majo” – the Japanese version of Bewitched, only subtitled by the jokers from The Daily Show. The animated “More” and “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello” were strange and Goth and moving. “The Mesmerist” is a haunting retelling of the warped and broken footage from an anti-Semitic film from the 1920s starring Boris Karloff, and – best of all – “Sour Death Balls” shows different people struggling to chew on a not very pleasant sweet.

No, it wasn’t more of the fairy bread.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Code and Carthage

Spent today mostly playing with virtual building blocks. Anchor tags don’t seem to work across pages, but that may just be a thing with the management system preview. Feel like I’ve achieved something at the end of the day, but it’s been fiddly and a long time in coming.

Ah, but it’s a fun excuse to flex my HTML. Look on my works when they’re live, ye mighty, and despair.

Usual pub last night to see lots of splendid people for far too little a time. Talked lay-out of a forthcoming project, and the level of 15 in-jokes on something else. Also got to meet Mitch Benn, who spoke tantalisingly and cryptically of his Mysterious Neil Gaiman Project.

So I did the same back at him about the forthcoming war with Draconians. Bwah ha ha.

The Dr is having fun in Tunisia, and has been to both Tunis and Carthage. She’s back on Sunday, so I’ll need to have done some washing and vacuuming by then.

"Have lots of turkish delight 4 mothers" she texted. But what of delights for me?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rose and the Ruby

Fun night out at the special NFT preview of “The Ruby in the Smoke” last night. Many of the cast and crew were also there, and after the showing m’colleague Matthew Sweet asked questions of Philip Pullman (who wrote the book), Adrian Hodges (who adapted it) and JJ Feild (who plays Fred ).

Soon after the death of her father at sea, Veronica "Sally" Lockhart (Billie Piper) receives an illiterate warning that she too is in danger. Soon she’s killed a man and is running for her life, pursued by the vicious Mrs Holland (Julie Walters)…

It’s a sumptuous, break-neck adventure – perhaps a little too much plot crammed into the time, and sometimes tricky to follow. Since it’s consciously aping the penny dreadful thriller, perhaps an episodic version would have worked a bit better, on the same model as last year’s Bleak House.

I also thought the whole thing owed much to the Sign of Four, only told from the perspective of the future Mrs Watson.

The cast are all strong, Julie Waters brilliantly grotesque, and it’s good to see Billie in her first starring role. However, the rocketing plot means there’s little chance to show much depth of character. Grisly killings pepper the story from start to finish, so there’s also little time to get to know many of the supporting players.

Brian Percival also directed the stunning North and South, and there’s a similar richness of detail in this adaptation. The historical accuracy is a little off, though – you didn’t get opium dens until the very end of the 19th century, when the stuff was no longer available freely and legally. And nor would a Victorian girl have ever heard the word “spiv”.

But as Pullman said in answer to a question, he’s happy to ignore the historical facts in favour of a gripping adventure. Perhaps he should read Matthew’s splendid book on the far stranger, real Victorians.

Afterwards there were drinkies and I got to meet Alex Fitch, another of Big Finish’s scribblers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Good hunting

How things change. A mere 17 years ago today, I was a little into my third year at school – Class 3’s room on the ground floor of the main building, just a stone’s throw from the chapel.

At the end of each day, I’d run the mile-or-so to St Denys station and just catch the earlier train home. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be home earlier, or just not to hang around in the dark for the later train. The earlier one also featured real, live girls from the schools in the centre of town.

They must have been impressed by the itchingly nervous, spotty, lanky boy in his fetching brown blazer with gold braid. Especially if I wasn’t shutting up about Dr Who or comics.

Would have got home and eaten and then settled down to watch episode 3 of “Survival”. Even then, Dr Who was a guilty pleasure – a video of “Brain of Morbius” had proven it wasn’t as good as it used to be, and the schoolmates who dared watch the new stuff spoke of it only in whispers.

But “Survival” seemed like something else, strange and new and amazing. Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, is turning into a wild cat lady, egged on by cat lady Kara (Lisa Bowerman). The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) pursues Ace, hoping to coax her from the lusty desires to do nothing but fight and feast.

It all ties in to script editor Andrew Cartmel’s efforts to develop Ace’s character, and grow her up on screen. Gary Gillatt has also pointed out how similar the feel and locations and emotional depth are to the first new episode, “Rose”.

Yes, the effects are a bit wobbly, the animatronic cats and the Cheetah People make-up are a bit crude, and there’s a rather odd bit when the Doctor plays chicken on a motorbike.

Yet sun-drenched and bright from a mid-summer filming, the coloured-in skies of the Cheetah People’s world are actually rather epic. Anthony Ainley gives his best and most scary performance of the Master, and gives Sylvester something to step up to. Their final confrontation is played as a stand off between two small gods.

Rona Munro’s clever script is also crammed with stuff that my 13 year-old brain was only just starting to notice. There’s this slow-motion sequence of Ace running after Kara...

And at the end Ace has left home – “home” is now the TARDIS, and she and the Doctor walk off to thrilling new adventures, just as the Beeb pulled the plug. (I didn’t know that until a year later, when I started getting DWM.)

But the oddest thing about all this remembrance is that on the same day, Codename Moose would have been eight.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rien la de la de tra?

Ha ha! This blog is also available in French.

Working, not working and flying

The Big Finish website has been updated with all kinds of thing I’ve been up to and many things still yet to come. I’ve got a new Bernice Summerfield play to write and five more to edit, as well as keeping an eye on three books. I’m co-writing a book on Benny’s 15-year history, and judging a competition for new writers of Doctor Who. Lor.

That’s on top of bits and pieces that isn’t British sci-fi; writing and editing and the sort of architecture where you need not be good with your hands.

With the Dr away in Tunisia (stubbornly not making Haj to the Star Wars locations), I’d planned to spend today swinging between the branches of content management.

Computer, however, said no.

"Driver_unloaded_without_cancelling_pending_operations" explained the error message that’s taken all day to fix. Turns out a driver called cdr4_2k.sys got broken when I updated DivX – which appears not to like Windows 2000.

So from Safe Mode I stuck DivX on to a USB keyring and got it to play on my XPing laptop, enabling me to catch up with Heroes while trying to unfuck the PC.

Yes, it’s all the fault of Heroes, which I downloaded the new DivX to watch. But my giddy teeth, that’s a bit brilliant.

All across the world (well, across America, plus someone in India and someone else in Japan), normal people wake up with super powers – and all sort of headaches ensue. It’s sometimes a bit cheesy on knowing who you really are, but it’s thrilling and brutal and twisty. And there’s often that lovely thing of the twist that comes out of absolutely nowhere in retrospect seeming inevitable.

I have watched six episodes in pretty much a single sitting (just seen to the end of episode 10). No spoilers, no clues, just go watch the dyam thing.

Though it’s probably not worth trashing your computer for.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Nimbos rang last night with the awful news that Craig Hinton has died. The web has since caught up with facts and people’s memories. The same things are said: a lovely, funny bloke, always eager to share the best and most salacious gossip.

I didn’t know him well, but Craig was a fixture in the pub and on mailing lists. He was the first person I knew to pick up on the mentions of “Bad Wolf”.

My abiding memory is his telling me in strictest confidence the plot of his forthcoming novel. I giggled at thoughts of breast implants controlled by aliens and killer contact lenses.

“But don’t let anyone else here know,” he said, with a comradely twinkle. He’d told me and me alone because I was someone special.

I then watched him go person-to-person round the pub, telling everyone exactly the same thing.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

First, a word from our sponsor:

"Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man."

Blurb for "The Ruby in the Smoke" (BBC, 2006)

Bit excited by the NFT preview on Wednesday, with questions hosted by m'colleague Matthew Sweet. Will report back.

Anyway. Met B. last night as he dashed through London on his way to meet his mrs in Zagreb. We went to the zippy Thai Silk, where I enjoyed a nice peanuty thing of chicken, served in a hollowed out loaf.

I remember my dad explaining that the Vikings used to eat their meals from hollowed-out crusty loaves called "trenchers". The soft bread inside was torn out and given to babies and the old, or anyone lacking in teeth.

It's true, too, and not merely a cunning wheeze to get me eating crusts. (Which I do – and other people's – hence my full crop of unbalding ringlets.) Indeed, History.uk.com has a recipe. Hooraye for ye internete.

After tea we found a corner in the King's Arms, and caught up til half-past 11. B. was appalled at this unsophistication - pubs in 'Ampshoire be open much laterer.

Like O. (and also from my old stomping grounds), B. has been working on the shell of a house, making it all spick and span again. With walls and ceilings and everything. Since last I looked, he's got all of a roof and even some spangly windows. Again, I am sorely envious of anyone who can do shit with their fingers.

But what next, I asked. And he's considering going door-to-door for the Tories. Blimey.

He left with the rest of the night to fill before his six a.m. check in, promising to bring me back a Top Fact from Croatia, and to read Paxman's Political Animal.