Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Danger, Will Robinson

This was on the wall of our hotel in LA, just down the corridor from our room.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice

... is like drinking the dirty water left over from washing up.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mile-high film club

Marie Antoinette is a colossal exercise in missing the whole ruddy point.

It looks nice and is stylishly played, but the emphasis of the script is all in the wrong place. We watch Marie leave one sumptuous court for another. She learns posh gossip and how to excite her husband. She dances about in the gardens and goes to some very good parties. And then some yokels turn up and she’s very brave and won't run away.

Since she’s a bit of a free spirit (no, she will go to the party!), there’s a lot of punk music and typeface. This juxtaposition of the contemporary and historical would be pretty revolutionary, if we’d not seen the same thing before. It’s Casanova, it’s A Knight’s Tale, it’s Britney in the End of the World.

But it’s also pretty dim. You have to fundamentally misconstrue history to see Marie Antoinette as a punk. Rather it’s the mob who tear down her glam lifestyle – and we hardly see them at all in the film.

The film entirely fails to deal with why the mob might have grievances. The nearest it gets is to have Marie protest that she never said, “Let them eat cake!” But this is an age of public flayings and the guillotine. The general violence offended both Casanova and de Sade.

By not dealing with that – by consciously not showing it – the film is more perverse than anything those two got up to. The French court was not merely a fatuous bubble of champagne parties: in context it was clearly offensive.

Flushed Away was fun (though not helped by DWM pointing out how the lead rat looks like David Tennant). It lacks the charm of Wallace and Gromit, and that’s not merely for being set down the toilet.

It’s fast-moving and full-of-gags enough to hide a pretty ropey plot about a posh boy falling for a working class girl. Like the singing mice in “Babe”, there are singing slugs to raise a smile whenever things get a bit unfunny. And, as S. said, it’s telling how often the slugs feature. I laughed a lot, but it’s not one to watch again.

The Prestige was probably the best of the lot, about the rivalry between two Victorian stage magicians. Leads Batman and Wolverine were as manly-tough as you’d expect. Bowie had a nice turn as Tesla, and Michael Caine was as effortless as always.

Unfortunately I sussed the various elements of the ending before we were mid-way through. This may have been due to discussing The Time Travellers all weekend, which turns a few of the same tricks. (Well, it does if you can make the cognitive leap that Hugh Jackman is playing Scott Andrews).

It’s clever and deft from the start, with all kinds of nice palming of plot device. But the real trick of magic is not merely the mechanics of the con, but of managing to disguise them. The audience has to be left mystified.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Dr Who’s companions never seem to suffer from jet lag.

I assume this is because the TARDIS monkeys with their brains at the same time it learns them Swahili. It stops the whole pink-eyed, dazed and a little all over the place thing. Which wouldn’t help in the stopping of monsters.

Have spent since Thursday in a wonky sort of daydream. LA is the furthest I’ve ever been from home and already feels like a film set. It is much harder travelling back east. Everything feels a bit unreal and two-dimensional when you’re very, very tired and yet unable to sleep.

Gallifrey was everything everybody had enthused to me – generous and friendly and funny. Highlights were Eric Roberts leaping from his chair to come over and shake my hand. “Hey,” he said, “You must be Simon!”

After a moment of open-mouthed gibbering I remembered I had on my name badge.

Was incredibly well looked after, and met some very splendid people. So much keen interest – and even from pretty girls.

My many charms didn’t work on Paul Cornell, who fell asleep in the midst of my hilariosity on forthcoming Muppet movies. Am particularly pleased with Muppet Deliverance (the Electric Mayhem on banjos and the line, “Squeal, Piggy, Squeal”). He missed the Muppet Exorcist and Muppet Blue Lagoon.

(See previously the Muppet Show of Weng-Chiang.)

On the basis that I became a writer so I wouldn’t have to stand up and speak in front of people, my own panels went pretty well. Just talked a lot and quickly until the moderators said time was up.

Our behind-the-scenes-on-Benny film seemed to ignite interest and shift the required stock. Yes, it’ll be on a CD sometime. So everyone can see my sticky-uppy hair.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pack it in

Am off to LA tomorrow morning for a weekend at the Gallifrey convention. Bought a few new clothes for the occasion, including a stripy hoody top that the Dr really hates. And she never wears anything weird.

(I'm only envious that she got twice as many Valentine's cards as me. One of them was filled with cat fluff.)

I'm doing a number of panels, most notably one with my friends Paul Cornell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steve Moffat, Gary Russell and Mike Tucker to celebrate Benny being 15. Have got something exciting to show everyone. And no, not what Minko had.

Also seem to be moderating one about Torchwood, unless I'm reading my instructions all wrong.

Have two scripts to work on while I'm over there, and have been doing my prep on these today. Agreed stuff with some other authors, and now just need to get writing. Hope the in-flight movies are a bit rubbish so I won't be distracted.

Got to go. Beautiful, fearsome wummun is hounding me off the machine.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Doctor Who and the Computers

Hello. There used to be a great, long 5,000-word post sat here but someone has asked if they can publish it, and I get money if I take it down from the Internet. This is ironic considering what the thing is about. But I have done so while it all gets negotiated. If the publishing happens I'll post a link here, if it doesn't I'll put the post back as it was.

Simon, 8 December 2008.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Am a little behind on my American telly. Have seen up to the end of Season 4 of 24, up to the end of Season 2 of Lost, and nothing at all of New Battlestar Galactica – not even the acclaimed mini-series. I blame Scott Andrews, who so spoiled me with lendings of Buffy.

I am keeping up with Heroes (****** is ******’s ***!) and have just finished the sixth season of West Wing.

Like Will, I found Season 5 something of a slog. West Wing could do daft and not-brilliant stories before (like CJ visiting her dad), but the whole fifth year seemed out of whack, predictable, derivative and boring.

In Season Six, Toby is given a bit of advice about how to win over the media. He’s not pretty, so he needs to be smart and funny. It’s this that the show had forgotten.

Season 6 is definitely an improvement, though it’s still much too often Bad Star Trek.

GeordiRiker: “The whole universe if going to blow up, and there’s just four minutes left of the episode!”

Geordi: “How about I invent something technobabbly magic?”

Riker: “What, pull a deus ex machina out of your bottom right at the very last minute?”

Geordi: “If I explain it in long words while talking quite quickly, people won’t notice it’s bollocks. I’ll say ‘diagnostic’ a lot.”

Riker: “And whatever made-up old nonsense it is, we’ll say that from now on it’ll be known as the ‘Geordi manoeuvre’.”
While Season Six West Wing can be odd, hilarious and even rather insightful, it still manages to solve issues in Palestine, China and Cuba all in the 40th minute. The implication is that there are quick and easy fixes to foreign policy, if only the US mucks in. This strikes me as a little dangerous.

It would help if it could be less abusive of foreigners. The opening episodes struggle to accommodate all sides on the issue of Israel, and generally avoids giving offence. But a couple of weeks later there’s concern about Turkey, when an adulteress is stoned to death.

Um. No. Turkey is a secular state and doesn’t behave quite like that. Perhaps they were thinking of (or chickening out of) some other Middle Eastern country. Having decided to give up the made-up state of Kumar and instead discuss issues in the real world, you’d think they would be a little less fundamentally ignorant.

Was similarly annoyed by the crudely realised Thatcher-avatar ruling as Britain’s PM. If they’re making a point about British politics, it’s one quarter of a century out of date. And, where previously the eccentric British ambassador had also been brilliant and wise, in this episode he’s an idiot and liability.

Likewise, Bartlett’s Japanese counterpart (played by Mako!) is a rude and mean buffoon. Bartlett can have a serious conversation with him – and heed his warnings about the US economy – but only when Mako has made a fool of himself cavorting too hard on the dance floor.

I suspect this would bother me fewer were the real US administration not so eager to bomb Iran. They say this will make things better and safer for American people. What about the rest of us?

Democratically elected representatives are answerable to their constituencies, and any politician will serve their country’s interests first. But the West Wing attempts such a liberal ideal, I find the self-centred attitude to policy difficult.

When not laughing at Johnny Foreigner, it’s got much better with dissenting viewpoints. It’s perhaps good for the ratings to be more overtly bi-partisan, but it also leads us into some really interesting areas.

These questions are usually asked in high-calibre performances from some brilliant cameos. Penn and Teller burn an American flag as part of a show inside the White House, and so question what freedom is. Christopher Lloyd and Brian Dennehy both play roles that ask what America’s role is in promoting democracy elsewhere. A Sam Cooke song sung by James Taylor is in retrospect all about the Bartlett administration.

It also seems happier to acknowledge that Bartlett’s lot aren’t above doing “necessary” things. Season 3 ended on the cliffhanger that sometimes a President might agree to Black Ops. Here it’s rather taken for granted that the US have spies everywhere. Some stupendous wigs rather a spoil a flashback to Kate and Leo’s first meeting, when neither of them should have been involved in Cuba.

Making leading Republican Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) so appealing helps to raise the political stakes. He’s wise and funny and middle-of-the-road, and we can see why people would vote for him. There’s a nice scene late on of Bartlett and CJ silently wowed by his speech.

Yes, because Season 6 also sees the start of the run-up the next presidential election. Things are changing for the regular cast, and though it’s nice to see some character development, some of it feels a bit forced. Donna and Josh both leaving the White House does work very effectively. But CJ and Charlie’s promotions feel more plot-convenient than real.

They try really hard to convince us that CJ’s elevation is somehow credible – by showing how difficult she finds it. Yet I still can’t help feeling it’s how you reward a cast member of a long-running TV show does for its, not how a White House administration would work.

Much is made of different characters being asked to step off cliffs. For a show that so loves rational debate, presidency is a matter of faith. Characters choose their jobs and their politics by which contender for office they believe in.

Princess Leia’s adopted dad gets to be another put-upon good guy. Matt Santos is the underdog hero, a man who fights fair and speaks from the heart, and won’t exploit the colour of his skin to win points. Not having MS to lie about, he’s even squeakier clean than Bartlett.

Watching him struggle to get himself noticed is probably the best element of the whole show. It says a lot that by the end of the year, I was disappointed when the episodes were set squarely back in the White House.

Santos being offered the Vice Presidency is a nice moral dilemma. It also, I guess, owes a lot to the 2000 election and the position of Ralph Nader. They certainly pile on the odds, and his winning California really comes as a surprise.

Yet this is also comfort-telly, with everything coming out okay. And by the end of the run we know Santos is going to make it (don’t we?). These obstacles are just about making him more dazzling and perfect. When I get round to borrowing Season 7 off Nimbos, I’m hoping to see Santos fall on his arse.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Weirdos of Oz

J. and H. leant us The Muppets Wizard of Oz, which we'd been sort of avoiding seeing. Had been pretty unimpressed with most recent Muppet efforts for being too twee and safe, and for focusing too much on the guest stars and not enough on the funny stuff.

So am glad to report this is really quite good - though it's got its share of twee moments.

Ashanti is Dorothy and wants to be a singer. But Auntie Em (Queen Latifah) thinks she should stay at work in the family diner in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas. Ashanti misses an audition with Kermit and Miss Piggy who are - er - on a talent-spotting tour through the area. But she hands over an audition tape they seem unlikely to hear.

So far so zzzz. And then there's a storm and Ashanti wakes up to find her prawn is now played by Pepe. And he's nekkid and unashamed. Suddenly things start to brighten up.

Soon they're on an adventure. The songs are a bit rubbish and schmaltzy, especially when compared to the Judy Garland film, and there's too much effort to explain what we're learning as we make our way.

Yet Kermit is fun as the Scarecrow, and Pepe tweaks Gonzo the Tin Man's nipples. There's also something Very Odd about Gonzo's physical love for a particularly good looking chicken.

The Muppets is always at its best when doing stuff no other kids' show could. Such as having everyone getting stoned in a poppy-smoking nightclub to tunes by the Electric Mayhem. Or having a fight scene choreographed by Quentin Tarantino. Or seeing two of the heroes torn limb from limb. Or disintegrating Beaker's head.

It's also interesting that Dorothy's black, considering L Frank Baum's supposed white supermacist thinkings. (Though be careful what you google for: there's a lot of angry people on both sides of the debate.) Whatever the case, it's a fun thing to do with the adaptation.

The confrontation with the wizard involves some really ropey CGI. That's possibly part of the point, but I couldn't help thinking that this must have had a bigger budget than anything the Mill gets on Droo. It's also the same lame gag stretched out for too long, that nobody gets what they wish for. It felt a lot like an advert for the non-physical effects that were so singly unimpressive.

It's not Muppet's Christmas Carol, but it's better than most of the others.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mashed bandage

Yesterday was good but long, and I got home in time to fall asleep over pizza. Mmm.

Finished off some things today which is rather satisfying, but have lots that still requires attendance. Also had a message from someone lovely I used to work with, who may have some more stuff to throw me.

And while all this goes on, the backside of my mind crashes pop bands together for hilario-comedic effect:

Ned's Atomic Kitten
Beastie Boyzone
Marvin Gaye Dad
The Chemical Brotherhood of Man
The Barry White Stripes

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Favouring curry

There are 1,073 stories in from our writing competition - about 10 times as many as we'd been expecting. Have made a start on reading half of them, and already got two maybes.

I have also: locked Dave Stone's "The End of the World" (with its myriad Big Reveals); got everything together for recording "The Judas Gift" tomorrow; written my first scene for "The Wake" (not Scene 1., but a later one that we need well in advance); got lots of research done for some encyclopedic scribbling; tidied up the office; made a party invite for the Dr; chased a few things till they won't be chased no more.

I have pitched some things, discussed the limits of content management in detail, and been sickly green with envy about m'colleague Scott Andrews's news. And in between all that, I've seen "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" (which I might blog about sometime) and the first episode of West Wing's Season 6. And fixed the broken sofa.

Seriously. That's me doing something remotely practical, and not getting it wholly wrong. Surely an omen of the End of Days.

This and a three-and-a-half-hour journey home from the pub on Thursday (don't ask) mean I am a smidgeon sleepy. So I shall now be throwing together a curry for a couple of chums. One of 'em is a proper qualified chef (and today made Dr Who's lunch), and has never previously dared my cooking.

So no pressure.