Thursday, July 31, 2008

White - [house] - keys

It's been announced that the theme tune to Quantum of Solace will be by Alicia Keys and Jack White - and not Amy Winehouse or Dennis Waterman. Already there is much discussion about whether this can possibly be the right choice. By people who haven't heard it.

Even then, I was a little underwowed by Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" on first hearing. Seeing it in the film itself, though, it's really rather good.

But in looking into this (and clearly NOT skiving) I discovered the work of one LuiECuomo. He's filled You Tube with Bond title sequences, matching the titles to tunes that were considered but not used. So there's the versions of Tomorrow Never Dies with singing by Pulp, St Etienne and k.d. lang.

The latter, clearly the theme used in David Arnold's score for the film itself, got relegated to being the end song. But the first two are just plain disappointing - especially from two of my favourite bands.

There's also different takes on the same song for You Only Live Twice, tunes that could have been Bond themes or that suggest what an artist might have been like. There's Scott Walker doing Die Another Day and also some fan film and gun barrell stuff too.

And then there's this marvellous conjuration:

I am, of course, listening to Shaken and Stirred as I write this.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Orwell blogs

"To look at the places where his wisdom has been invoked recently is to wonder if there is anyone, excepting Stalinists, who would not hink better of an opinion knowihng it to be one that Orwell endorsed."

Catherine Bennett, "What would George Orwell say? No article is complete these days without a thumbs-up from the great man himself", the Guardian, 13 April 2006.

Monstrously excited to hear that, 58 years after he died, George Orwell is starting a blog.

The Orwell Prize, which celebrates good journalism, begins the project on 9 August, and will post entries exactly 70 years after Eric Blair first jotted them down. They'll run until 2012 (or 1942, when he stopped writing them). The diaries also include his doodles.

BBC News has some extracts, including bits read by Orwell's son. The teasers here and on the blog page itself are full of the kind of precise and vivid detail that makes Orwell so compelling. He observes slugs, the weather, even that the Chleuh women do not smoke. I love this kind of detail. And am skippy with excitement.

Me rabbiting on about:

Sunday, July 27, 2008


It is 29°C in my flat at the moment. Summer has finally hit in the last couple of days and the sky is a whopping blue swelter.

So it's a bit unfortunate, with the sweat pouring from my bits, that we are still without a shower. The man came on Friday to install it, only to discover that the plughole is in the opposite corner from our old one.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, you just stick a pipe underneath. But it turns out the shower is positioned directly above the joists holding up our floor. It would be... overly eager to cut through them to make space for a pipe.

So our shower is now up on bricks, or at least blocks of wood. It means there's a bit more of a step into it, but it all seems to work. See how lightly I explain this, when on Friday it was quite the crisis.

However, that cunning solution means the tiler had to come back yesterday, smash his work of Monday and Tuesday with a sturdy hammer, and then re-tile around the slightly different space. He had already tiled our bathroom once before, a couple of weeks ago, so not surprisingly left last hoping we would not meet again.

we mind the gap
So tomorrow the plumber is coming to fill in the last gap between the bottom of the shower and the tiled floor. Then, once it's all dry and settled - sometime Tuesday or Wednesday, if we're lucky - we will have washing facilities once again, and I will not be quite so smelly.

But golly. It's more than a month since we first found we had a leak, and it's all been horribly expensive. And the cat hasn't appreciated the noise or being locked into the kitchen while work has been going on. Fag-ash Lil that he is, at night he's been rolling in the dust and gubbins, then traipsing that all round the flat. It might be his revenge.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Judgement of Isskar

The thrilling new issue of Doctor Who's Magazine (I got the Sarah Jane cover with my subscription) finally reveals the secret project I was writing back in January. They'd already announced that January – March sees release of the Key 2 Time, a 12-episode extravaganza starring Peter Davison's fifth Doctor on a quest to find some missing crystal pieces.
“The saga begins with The Judgement of Isskar by Simon Guerrier, in which the discovery of a segment of the key on Mars has grave repercussions... Nick Briggs (also the voice of the Daleks and Cybermen on TV) plays another old monster – an Ice Warrior, last seen on TV in 1974's The Monster of Peladon.”

“Five new audio 'seasons' of Doctor Who in 2009”, Doctor Who Magazine #398, 20 August 2008, p. 7.

Amy and Zara
The Key 2 Time features new Doctor Who companion Amy, “a sentient tracer” played by Ciara Janson, and her sister Zara, played by Laura Doddington. Excitingly, I'm allowed to tell people that these are my creations. I made one of Doctor Who's friends!

My story is out in January, alongside The Prisoners' Dilemma, a Companion Chronicle that's also by me (told you I'd been busy). Zara meets up with Doctor Who's friend Ace in this one. The Key 2 Time saga then continues in The Destroyer of Delights by Jonathan Clements and then The Chaos Pool by an author as yet unannounced for fiendish dramatic purposes. More details on cast and stuff to come.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's wikied

The elusive Ed Grainger seems to be responsible for a Wikipedia page on Doctor Who: How The Doctor Changed My Life.

I meanwhile am continuing to post previews of the stories on the Big Finish Facebook group. And am busy writing things that have not been officially announced yet - but thanks to those people who've said nice things having heard word on the internet grapevine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The BBC news site it full of interesting stuff right this minute (or perhaps it's just greener than the grass of my own writing chores...).

Lisa Jardine has written a very sensible analysis of the statistics relating to knife crime, which undercuts the hyperbolic furore whirling through the papers. I'm not for a moment downplaying the awfulness of any of the incidents themselves, but there's often a desperate streak in newspapers, playing up base urges of greed and fear to get us to notice.

(They of course argue that's it their job just to report stuff as widely as possible, that news is effectively a form of entertainment. But if the media won't take responsibility for the ethical value of their efforts, why should those they judge?)

Then there's this extraordinary time-lapse film from space of the moon circling the Earth. And the rediscovered dance track by Delia Derbyshire.

Nimbos let me know, since I had missed it, that Jamie Hewlett's Monkey will be the BBC's mascot for the Olympics, which is just a world of cool. A blog post from May explains the thinking and background, but misses off just how splendiferous Hewlett's stuff is. Beside the giddy joy of Tank Girl, I loved his work for Senseless Things - and still cherish the edition of Deadline which featured a two-page strip featuring the same characters. And then there was Hewligan's Haircut. And Fireball. And and and and...

And then Peter mentioned his friend Roo Reynolds - who is about to join the BBC - and especially his geeky lecture on how Lego is full of WIN.

All this and Dr Horrible. How am I meant to get any work done?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I have a name for my pain

M. rather marvellously smuggled me into the IMAX last night for a press screening of The Dark Knight. It's a huge, 2.5 hour epic full of thrill and excitement, and six whole scenes of especially IMAX-tastic hugeness. Golly.

Long-toothed readers of this blog may recall my review of Batman Begins for Film Focus, where I dared suggest the general cool marvellousness was a little dulled by the lack of good roles for women. Rachel, now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal rather than Mrs Tom Cruise, seems to agree. She's now shacking up with Harvey Dent, the cool district attorney and white knight to the city – a man who's everything Bruce/Bats can't be.

But Harvey doesn't just want Bruce's girl, he also wants in on Batman's crusade to bring down the Gotham mob. The mob, led by my old mate Eric Roberts (well, I met him once), is a bit cheesed off by all this and then find themselves being made an offer they can't refuse by a kray-zee new kid called the Joker.

The late Heath Ledger's performance has been the focus for a lot of reviews so far, and it's an eye-popping, compelling and terrifying thing. Yes, Ledger should get an Oscar nomination, but then Nicholson should have had one for the same role 19 years ago. To my delight, there's no (single) explanation for where the Joker comes from here or what unhinged him. He's all the more appalling for not being explained. While Bats and Bruce and all their good-guy pals wrangle over how and when they can bend their own rules, Joker's an anarchic live-wire just in it for the explosions. The violence comes without warning; it's a shocking, brutal film and not all the regulars will be back for the third one.

As I argued with the first one, comic-book movies are all about reshuffling the established genre rules and conventions so that they come out looking new. The Dark Knight is a lot more complex, rich and full of strange moral ideas than it has really any need to be, which give the huge-scale set pieces and fast-cut fighting that much more of an edge.

It's still relentlessly male. There's really only two women in it besides Rachel: Jim Gordon's colleague Ramirez and his wife Barbara. And, I'd argue, both are there because of what they add to Jim, rather than having roles and motives of their own.

Yet it's notable that our regulars are faced with these reflections; their motives and behaviour is constantly being questioned by all sides. This doesn't bolster one particular viewpoint that comes with all the answers (as in Socratic dialogue) as to continually muddy the water. The film has plenty to say about vigilantes and civil liberties, but from lots of different voices. Batman and the goodies give their best to the cause, but the question hanging over them through it whether that best is good enough.

Batman Begins seemed to be riffing of stuff in old comics Year One and The Long Halloween. This nicks elements from The Dark Knight Returns and, I'd argue, The Killing Joke. Spider-Man has already done the hero as emblematic of the city at large, an inspiration to ever more kray-zee super-villains and yet also to the noble instincts of the city's people. There's a nice prisoner's dilemma late on in this (which I won't spoil here) that hangs on how Joker – and Batman – expect people to behave.

It reminded me of Midnight in that it's not just the predicament that's so horrifying but how characters react to it. The result, though, felt a bit too plot convenient rather than earned: two characters respond in way that's surprising because it's not consistent with what little we know about them...

That makes it sound like a criticism, but it's less a niggle as it having been swimming round my feeble brain all day. While I'm meant to be writing my own set-piece action adventure I'm tonguing the sore-tooth of the film's “message”. I'm not sure it has one. Does Batman win at the end? Are things any better for his having been involved? How thrilling, innovative and bold that such a mainstream movie doesn't seem to know...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The lantern of the Fens

Big Finish have posted the artwork and blurb for Home Truths - my Doctor Who: Companion Chroncicles featuring Sara Kingdom, as played by Jean Marsh.

"There’s a house across the waters at Ely where an old woman tells a strange story.

About a kind of night constable called Sara Kingdom. And her friends, the Doctor and Steven. About a journey they made to a young couple’s home, and the nightmarish things that were found there. About the follies of youth and selfishness. And the terrible things even the most well-meaning of us can inflict on each other.

Hear the old woman's story. Then decide her fate."
Home Truths is released in November.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Plumbing the depths


It's 10 days since we had the bathroom floor retiled to stop the leak that was running into the flat downstairs. It cost £400 and we were without a toilet while Journey's End was on.

It's five days since the plumber came back to reseal the shower and all the floor bits with his magic glue gun since the retiling didn't make much difference. Again we were without washing facilities for two days and had to sneak into the gym. (Which we pay for anyway, it just feels odd only going to use the showers.)

And it still hasn't made any difference. So plumber came this morning and is going to install a new shower, replace all the skirting boards and generally do everything required to guarantee this sodding thing is fixed. The extra heaps of work I've taken on will just about cover paying for this.

I have, though, got a fair way into something that is not Doctor Who related and which has not been announced. (Well, it has been announced and is even on Wikipedia. They just haven't included the cursory detail that I'm the one who's writing it.) I've also written some reviews for something, got well into a whole load of unannounced things that have deadlines in August and September, and been allowed off the hook on an academic paper that is running late as a result of my needing gainful employment.

Endeavouring to rage at the sky rather than at the Dr. But it all feels like for every step forward there's five or six steps back. And then, just when I feels its gone all a bit The Mutants, M. invites me to Batman at the IMAX tomorrow.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Sneak peak at my next book

Doctor Who and How The Doctor Changed My LifeOver the next few weeks, I'll be posting on to the Big Finish Facebook group the first paragraphs of each of the 25 stories in Doctor Who: Short Trips - How The Doctor Changed My Life, together with biographies of the authors.

The book, published in September, is the result of our competition last year to find exciting new writing talent. At the time we commissioned them, none of these authors had previously written a professionally produced work of fiction. (Many of them have been commissioned for other things since!)

Feel free to comment or ask questions, and please buy the book. Go on, I'll be your Facebook friend.

(You're also welcome to post these excerpts elsewhere so long as you explain where they're from and link to the Big Finish site.)

Here's the first one:
Homework by Michael Coen

"What I Did On My Summer Holidays By Norman Bean (Age 11)

This summer I had the most absolutely increddible incredible adventure of my life which I will now tell you about.

One evening I WENT to my bedroom. I am usually SENT to my bedroom at night but I had been out playing football all day with my new Kevin Keegan football boots and I was quite tired, so I actually said ‘Mum, I’m going to bed,’ and she said ‘Okay, see you tomorrow,’ and I went to my room to read my Roy of the Rovers comic which isn’t as good as it used to be since Roy got married (which makes it quite boring)..."
MICHAEL COEN hails from Scotland. His short story Homework won the competition for new writers run by Big Finish in 2007 and was first published in Short Trips: Defining Patterns. Although a number of his articles and papers have seen print, he is inordinately chuffed that his first published fiction is part of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range. Michael's short story, Ivory, has been published in the Pantechnicon Book of Lies, he is currently working on a novel for younger readers and has released several TV scripts into the wild, hoping they find a home.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stone tape

To the stone circle at Avebury yesterday with a group of chums (not all of whom I'd met), for the purposes of something that will get announced in early August.

We had to retire to the Red Lion while the rain slashed down. It was one of those days like when the Axons invaded, with the weather all over the place. So when I got home I put of The Claws of Axos - I've had the DVD for ages but not seen the story since my teens.

Delgado, Pertwee, Manning, Courtney - the 1971 Doctor Who dream teamCor, the Restoration Team have done something wonderous with the picture, and I took a rare foray into the documentary about exactly what. The Dr got to glimpse Roger Delgado as the Master for the first time, and I was a little surprised how fab it all was. Weird and funky and cool, with a threat to the world not just to the Home Counties.

But Terror of the Autons is still 1000 percent more damn cool. Can we have that on shiny disc soonish?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not all of it reliable

"Counterterrorism measures ought not to be extraordinary measures in a special category of their own but as far as possible part of the ordinary criminal law of the land."

Baroness Stern, House of Lords,
[Official Report, 8/7/08; col. 708.]

I was reminded of that comment while listening to Night Waves last night, in which my chum Matthew Sweet interviewed Christopher Hitchens on the subject of waterboarding (available on Listen Again for a week).

It has been claimed that 'waterboarding' is an extreme interrogation technique rather than torture - which is of course against American and international law, so not what 'we' would ever do at all. The argument goes that in difficult circumstances against terrorist aggressors this kind of thing is necessary.

Vanity Fair dared Christopher Hitchens to undergo waterboarding (in controlled conditions where he could stop it by saying a word). His article, "Believe Me, It's Torture" is available on the Vanity Fair website, along with a short video.

Hitchens explains the physical and pyschological effects in the short and longer term. He is careful to put both sides of the argument yet clearly feels, as a result of the experience, that waterboarding crosses a line. Waterboarding used to be something American soldiers were trained to resist, and for which other people were punished. And the evidence obtained, even the CIA admitted, was "not all of it reliable". There's something chilling about that grudging acknowledgement.

In the Night Waves interview, Hitchens denied that the experience changed his own views, but also detailed some of the continuing psychological hangover.

In her speech on the Counter-Terrorism Bill on Tuesday, Baroness Stern also quoted an earlier speech by Lord Judd:
“We must remember that those cornerstones of British justice which have been so admired throughout the world did not come lightly; they came from decades and centuries of struggle and rugged determination to make the law a civilised example ... Part of me recoils at the concept that, however frightening the terrorism with which we are confronted, we should by the presence of that danger begin to dismantle or erode what we have seen as fundamental to our system of justice”.

[Official Report, 27/2/08; col. 729.]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Play dead

More than once I have played zombies for Big Finish. That was me in the crowd of them during The Worst Thing in the World, and again opposite Katy Manning as Iris in The Devil in Ms Wildthyme. Even if director Gary Russell felt I was "too Baron Greenback".

Now those scamps at the BBC are offering you a chance to be a walking corpse. As the press release explains, a BBC Three documentary is following Bryony Matthewman as she makes her own user-generated zombie movie.

More details and stuff at BBC: Zombies. Grr arg, etc.

Monday, July 07, 2008

From Ace to Zara

It has been a tad of a hectic week. The spangly new computer I bought on Wednesday is an HP Pavilion M9070 with a quad core processing wossname. It's clear how clapped out the old model was: this one is fast and silent and deadly.

Schlepped the thing home from Morgan - incidentally bumping into my old boss John Bradbury and finding out about his new business, Blink - and strained all sorts of previously unknown muscles in my arms. Connected everything up and flicked the on switch... and nothing.

Turns out the base needed a DVI/VGA adaptor before it would fix to the monitor. (It's rather deceptively got a VGA port, just not one that actually does anything.) This meant a bit of hunting around Tottenham Court Road, and another day's delay before the thing even started.

Then there was a morning of saving and transfering files, installing Norton, Open Office and the various components for wireless cleverness, each of which needs you to restart the computer every five minutes or so. But eventually, having bought the thing on Wednesday, by Friday afternoon it was working.

At the same time, a number of different plumbers have come to um and er at my bathroom floor, and on Saturday a man came to tile it. It all turned out to be a lot more complex than expected because tiles had to be cut to fit round pretty much everything. He was going to be finished at four, then half six... Finally, the Dr was dispatched to deal with the inspecting and paying (just as Rose was snogging her own bespoke Doctor).

I loved the conclusion of this year's Doctor Who. The Dr was a little less enamoured, wrinkling her nose at the slushy bits. Were joined by K and my Best Man, and then tumbled into the pub for too much drinking. The Dr insists that yesterday I spent the day asleep with a hangover, whereas I think it was more a migraine collapse.

So the Dr represented me at K's birthday bash and I slept off the contagion. Watched the repeat of Journey's End in the evening. It's odd that the Children of Time only include New Series companions (bar open-brain Adam and Kylie). Where were Tegan and Ace and Ian Chesterton - or do their laptops not have web-cameras either?

Incidentally, Big Finish have announced that I've been writing for Ace again. "The Prisoner's Dilemma" is a Companion Chronicle (a sort of talking book with knobs on), in which Sophie Aldred is joined by Laura Doddington as Zara, a character created for next year's Key 2 Time extravaganza.

There's still plenty more writing things to be announced in due course, but last week's various expenses also mean I've had to sort some additional paying work (and so also had to shunt some non-paying work further back in the schedule). Means some juggling of commitments to get it all done, so probably won't be blogging much over the next month.

But one last thing: shocked to see on Millennium's blog that Ian McKay has died. What awful news. Ian was a regular, cheery presence at the few signings I've done, enthusiastic and chatty. He even bought me beer. My condolences to Ian's family - he'll be much missed by all those who met him.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

There’s fire

Today is the first anniversary of the smoking ban in England. And, by complete coincidence, last night I finished watching the first series of The Smoking Room.

Brian Dooley’s rather brilliant sitcom rightly won him a BAFTA. It’s a deliciously simple idea: the people who pass through the workplace smoking room, but they’re not allowed to talk about work. In effect it’s a series of one-act, one-set comic plays, where the focus is the continually increasing gang of regular characters, the way they see the world and the more we learn about them.

Robert Webb’s Robin seems the lead character by dint of him being almost always on the screen. There’s a running gag that he never actually does any work (though in the Christmas special (oddly, a “special feature” on the DVD) he nearly succumbs to the tyrannical thrill of wielding his own clipboard). As a result, we tend to see characters through Robin’s eyes: its his reactions, rolled eyes and tutting, that signpost other character’s selfishness and stupidity.

I’d assumed, having foolishly not seen the thing when it was on telly, that it’d be more about terrible awkwardness and embarrassment, trying to thief from The Office. But there’s something much more generous about the situations here, something kinder about the relationships. Though they may be exasperated with one another, misunderstand or misuse each other, they’re united by the common aim of escaping the monotony of work for a blessed moment.

The gags come thick and fast: some downright crude, some slapstick, some silly. I realise already it needs rewatching because there’s so much crammed in there. At one point the cast are all unconsciously quoting Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” at Debbie Chazen’s character, Annie. Another time, Lilian (Paula Wilcox) comes in to find a whole room of people wearing masks of her face, bearing down on her like the Slitheen stalks poor Jackie Tyler at the end of Aliens of London. Also, this is the only telly I can think of that actually forks out for the right to have the cast sing “Happy Birthday”.

I’ve struggled to write something about individual characters but it would spoil too many great revelations. So if you haven’t watched it, watch it.

But it’s also a snapshot of a particular time: the brief period in English life between being able to smoke at your desk and then not being able to smoke anywhere on the premises. Full of trapped and bored people, longing for their holidays, the smoking room itself is itself an uneasy, unsustainable compromise.

On Saturday, we also saw The Smoking Room’s Selina Griffiths on stage in Afterlife at the National. Note performances and a clever set but I was a bit nonplussed by Michael Frayn’s script. It seemed to have things to say about the folly and hubris of man in the context of terrible history, and the role of drama in making sense of the real. But when you juxtapose one man’s ambitions for his theatre with the Nazis and exile and poverty, poncing about on stage and not worrying about the bills just seems a bit… self-indulgent.

On Sunday it struck me again how appallingly dated The Living Daylights is for foregrounding Bond with a cigarette. And jeez, how can he lecture his boss on questionable shopping while wearing that checked jacket? Anyway. Much more exciting, of course, is this:

How soon before I’m looking back on it in wonder as a snapshot of quaint, forgotten 2008?