Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good at finding keys

Amy and ZaraThe clever Red Scharlach - who made my badger pirate icon - has made a whole bunch more Doctor Who icons to steal. I am especially pleased to see, way down at the bottom, three of Iris Wildthyme (nos. 63-65) and my own creations Amy and her wicked sister Zara (nos. 66-68).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Witching hours

I’ve seen a lot of blue sky in the small hours recently. On Thursday, I was on the 05.44 train into town to get to Watford by half seven. There, Danny Stack was busy marshalling truck-loads of equipment and volunteers for the making of his short film.

Me and Codename Moose spent the day running – something I’ve not done before. It meant having my own walkie-talkie and making lots of tea for actors. I also had to go back into Soho to pick up 16mm film cores, cans, labels and black bags. And I asked three different people to delay mowing their lawns for ten minutes while we finished a scene. Fun, educational and exhausting – didn’t get home until just after 10 pm.

Next day, Codename Moose and I met up at Liverpool Street for the trek to Stansted and then Tallinn, where the in-between brother was having his stag do. There were two other stag parties on our planes there and back – I pity the civilians lumped with us.

Pretty in pink in TallinnTallinn’s a pretty place, indulging the medieval theme for the tourists. Codename Moose says that under the USSR the buildings in these eastern European countries had to be uniform grey, which is why they’re now embracing such pretty pastel shades today.

Surprisingly, there was quite a lot of drinking over the weekend. Drank medieval drinks in the Olde Hansa (they did not know what we meant by the incantation “vodka and coke”), watched the Liverpool game in the pub with no name, danced on stage in the Hollywood club and even had a pint in the Depeche Mode bar. No, really. I took pictures so I’d believe it.

While there's a smoking ban in operation, the bars and restaurants all had smoking rooms, clouded and stinking and alluring. My eyes are still sore.

Lada racingThe main event was the Lada racing on Saturday – which, rather fittingly, the Best Man won. The Ladas were battered, stiff-geared and protesting, the back wheels slipping out underneath you twisted round the clogged, muddy track. I lost to the senior brother (though, er, he did cheat), but felt I did okay. In the finale R. smacked into A., smashing the window, showering her in glass and denting the door so hard it wouldn’t open again. R. could only get out of his own car by climbing out the window. Proper, solid boy fun.

Hungover on Saturday, Codename Moose and I ventured out into the sunshine to climb up the tower of St Olav’s church. I also went pootling round yesterday so see what my map called Fat Margaret’s Tower. Then there was lunch and more boozing – but I was bowed out of any more than one cinnamon beer and let the boys explore new frontiers of inebriation without me.

Bundle of things to get done and fast now: need to finish a script by Monday, got another one waiting behind that, and a bundle of other stuff I’m still waiting to here on. And this morning I received copies of my Primeval novel, Fire and Water – perfect timing as it’s set between last Saturday’s thrilling fungus monster and this Saturday’s… well, wait and see. But my book foreshadows some of it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Gary Mitchell

Went to see the new Star Trek this morning and golly it is good. Smart and exciting and often very funny, and I’ll avoid spoilers in what follows.

Jim Kirk is a bit of a tearaway in the Iowa of the future. But his dad was a hero in Star Fleet and he’s encouraged to sign up himself. As he meets some new chums – “Bones” McCoy and a girl whose surname’s Uhura – he’s got to battle the guy who sets his exams, an alien dork name of Spock…

Oh, and then there’s a big battle in space. With a dude called Nero – which is, m’colleague tells me, the Finnish word for “genius”.

I used to really resent Star Trek as the sort of popular, beefy schoolground bully to Doctor Who’s weedy victim. I even wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Star Trek: First Contact and the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie (basically: both try to make a long-running television series accessible to a wider audience by making them darker and more violent, with varying success). In them days I’d argue – a lot – that Doctor Who at least had people running up and down corridors, rather than walking and being pompous. But most of all what I begrudged was Star Trek being really quite good.

(My favourite episode of TNG, which used to scandalise its fans, is that one from the final year where they turned down the lights and turn the regular cast into monsters. Ryker’s a Neanderthal, Howlin’ Mad Murdoch’s a spider, and Worf is some kind of were-buffalo chasing the increasingly gibbonish Picard. It occurs to me now it the episode of Trek that’s probably most like Doctor Who.)

But recently this childhood injustice has been turned about. Voyager and Enterprise seemed – from as much as I could watch of them – to tediously go where no one else has bothered before, with ratings and credibility ejected into space. While Doctor Who, this side of the pond at least, is now all big and much beloved of the cheerleaders.

There’s a small part of me that wants to crow at this reversal. But the heroes of both franchises have a thing about extending a hand to their adversaries. And so not only was I hoping to enjoy the new film, but I even did some research.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the second pilot episode, ignoring the not-broadcast-til-later pilot which didn’t even have Captain Kirk in it. It’s a bold, exciting story in which Kirk’s best mate of 15 years – no, not Spock but the not wholly sci-fi sounding Gary Mitchell – is infected with some kind of space alien something that gives him shiny eyes. Gary starts being able to control stuff with his mind and, since he seems to like causing mayhem, James, er, R. Kirk has to take him down.

There are lots of surprises, even though I thought I knew my Trek. It’s a visually dazzling episode, full of neat effects and coloured costumes. The multiracial crew is really quite radical – Kirk calls the heads of department at one point, who include a woman, an old doctor and Mr Sulu, without it being remarked on. Yet at the same time, Gary Mitchell is surprisingly rude to the blonde psychologist – effectively tugging her pigtails because really he thinks she’s nice.

It’s also odd not to see the expected regulars – Scotty and Spock are there, but no Bones, Chekov or Uhura. (There was some talk about Uhura at a panel at Gallifrey earlier this year and her positive role as a Black person on telly. I love the idea of Dr King slumped in front of Star Trek; and perhaps his wife asking if he couldn’t find anything useful to do…).

Kirk is also surprisingly terse, ready to shoot his pal the moment he’s taken over. He hardly needs Spock to enforce logic – he’s a steely guy in command, as ruthless as Connery’s Bond. Life in Star Fleet is sexy but also obviously dangerous: they seem quite used to losing their comrades. I suppose the production crew and most of the actors would have served in the army, and for all its brightly coloured sense of fun, the Enterprise is a submarine out in uncharted waters.

There’s no Gary Mitchell in the new movie, and there’s no patented ripped shirt for Kirk. And yet I can easily believe the crew in the cinema will grow up to have that more-than 40 year-old adventure. There’s no walking pompously up and down corridors discussing the new political regime of the planet Ng'othruok, either. Trek has damn gone and got its groove back.

I’ll post some more (when the film is out next month and I’ve seen it with Scott) on what it does that’s a bit like Russell’s reboot of Doctor Who.

Meanwhile, my chums Will and Nimbos have both blogged about making “Pressure Valve”, their own sci-fi movie, which they did in 48 hours as part of a Sci-Fi London dare:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day tripper

It has been a weekend of day-trips to far-flung places, when I should have been writing a script. After work on Friday we ventured north to the Victoria Stakes in Muswell Hill, requiring a combination of tube and bus.

A man on the W7 provided a running commentary on the weather, and volunteered solo versions of When The Saints Go Marching In, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head and, er, Electric Ladyland, for as long as he could remember the lyrics. I drank lots of Black Sheep and forgot quite how long it would take to get home. Apparently I stank of warm beer all night.

NeroOn Saturday we made our way to Cambridge where some chums led us round some pubs. In the St Radegund - apparently the smallest pub in Cambridge - the Dr was much excited by the signs for Milton Brewery's Nero, but it wasn't on. So I had a rather nice pint of Icarus instead. I've always had an affinity for the mythic Icarus.

By the time we'd had tea and caught the stopping train home, it was getting a bit late. So I didn't quite get, as I'd hoped, to see Primeval on ITVplayer.

Today we were due to meet J. and R. and E., over from America and seeing the Science Museum. Being a bit early meant we could pop into see rooms 88a and 90 of the V&A where there's a small exhibition (until 22 November) of stuff relating to and by Owen Jones, author of the Grammar of Ornament (1856 and still in print). There are splendid abstract designs for wallpaper and furnishings, photos of the real Alhambra alongside Jones' ideas for the Alhambra court in the Crystal Palace, and his designs for an even bigger and bolder exhibition greenhouse never built in St Cloud, Muswell Hill.

Jones didn't like to base his designs on nature, feeling that disrupted the flatness of his surfaces. Instead he's much influenced by Islamic geometric shapes and tessellating trickery. Of one 1860 design (D. 817-1897), the sign says "The geometry and rigid layout may remind some viewers of school chemistry textbooks", and neatly places this next to Odell's 1951 wallpaper design for the Festival of Britain, based on the molecular structure of boric acid.

We sandwiched in the sunshine behind the Albert Memorial with J. and E. and R. (who'd never see the thing before), then got a cab across to the South Bank where we left them to the Eye. Instead, the Dr and I tried the Hayward Gallery and Mark Wallinger's Russian linesman exhibition (on until 4 May, then moving to Leeds and Swansea).

It's basically a museum of cool stuff: Wallinger's own TARDIS in all its reflective glory (I wanted to give it a hug); eerie photos of death masks of the Romantic poets; a corridor that climbs up a wall; stereoscopic photographs; footage of Berlin as it was and is now, the locations playing out side-by-side. The idea, if I understood it, is to showcase stuff on the boundaries of our perception, or at least that makes you thing, "Woah, cool!"

Also got a look round Annette Messager's The Messengers (until 25 May) for free, full of nightmarish conjoinments of stuffed toys and taxidermy, and body-like things inflating and shambling. The shop was full of much cool stuff too; though it only had three postcards from the Wallinger exhibition, and charged a fair old whack for everything else.

Blogging from the floor, manWas £5 for a glass of wine outside, but it seemed wrong to ignore the nice sunshine. And so home and to the script - and perhaps Primeval. New desk arrives on Wednesday, so I'm knocking this out on the floor. The photo, right, is me tocking away the first paragraph of this post. Which is like on the boundaries of our perceptions or something. Or, perhaps, it's not.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Calcium deficiency

YOU could win a copy of my The Slitheen Excursion in Digital Spy’s competition, which runs til noon on Sunday. They’ve also posted up a breathless interview with me on the writing of the book.

There are also now signed copies of the book in London’s Forbidden PlanetColin Brake and I spent a happy 20 minutes scrawling in our books, then went for a sausage sandwich and beer.

My book seems to have split readers on the internet – some think it’s the worst New Series book ever, others think it good fun. It earns a middling 6 out of 10 from Richard McGinlay:
“Guerrier … has fun with the period setting, reinterpreting certain legends and archaeological evidence to give them a Doctor Who spin … The plot of The Slitheen Excursion seems to run out of steam towards the end of the book, and, like ancient Greece itself, the ending seems to last for ages. Nevertheless, this enjoyable excursion should help to tide you over between television specials.”

Richard McGinlay, “Book review: The Slitheen Excursion”, Sci-fi-online.com.

Maddeningly, there’s a stupid mistake on pages 185 and 197 where I put “silicon” where it should have been “calcium”. My kind bosses are going to correct this in time for the next edition, so no one will ever know as long as I don’t mention it anywhere.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Some links

Hooray for the Internet and its fascinating contents. The paperback edition of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science includes an extraordinary new chapter on “vitamin pill salesman Matthias Rath”, also posted on the Internet for free:
Sadly I was unable to write about him at the time that book was initially published, as he was suing my ass in the High Court … It is a very serious story about the dangers of pseudoscience, as I hope you’ll see, and it was also a pretty unpleasant episode, not just for me, but also for the many other people he’s tried to sue, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and more. If you’re ever looking for a warning sign that you’re on the wrong side of an argument, suing Medecins Sans Frontieres is probably a pretty good clue."

Ben Goldacre, “The doctor will sue you now”, or “Matthias Rath – steal this chaper”, BadScience.net, 9 April 2009.

I’ve not got or read the book yet but have heard many Good Things and have followed Ben’s column in the Guardian for eons. Hope to get it for my birthday, when I’ve got through my Christmas books. Ben was also on Newswipe last night discussing press coverage of MMR.

Must admit I’d thought that old news; but it’s why we need to continue to be vigilant. And Graham Linehan has posted on the jaw-dropping behaviour from The Daily Mail in having it both ways on the HPV vaccine.

Graham has also posted the most wonderful link to a transcript of a story conference between Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan in the early, murky days of Raiders of the Last Ark. Just WOW.

On page 97 we learn that “slimy pirates” Kinglsey Shacklebolt and Presuming Ed were going to be Lithuanian. Which is my tortuous link to this:
“Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy - backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China - is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as "one of the great menace of our times" have an extraordinary story to tell -- and some justice on their side.”

Johann Hari, “You are being lied to about pirates”, The Huffington Post 12 April 2009.

And on a much more silly level, Alex alerted me to the existence of this rude Doctor Who Easter egg. And I, of course, responded with this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Primeval competition

Those nice people at Titan Books are offering YOU a chance to win a copy of my forthcoming Primeval novel Fire and Water plus some Primeval toys. The competition is only open to those in the UK and closes on 7 May.

It also includes the new blurb for the book - at least, I've not seen it out in public before:
When strange anomalies in time start to appear Professor Cutter and his team have to help track down and capture a multitude of dangerous prehistoric creatures from Earth's distant past and terrifying future...

At a safari park in South Africa, rangers are disappearing and strange creatures have been seen battling with lions and rhinos. As the team investigates they are drawn into a dark conspiracy which could have terrible consequences... Back at home as torrential rain pours down over the city, an enormous anomaly opens up in East London...

In this brand new original never-seen-on-TV Primeval adventure the team confront anomaly crises both in rain-swept London and on the hot South African plains...
(I'm also reliably informed by Nimbos that the toy of Helen Cutter works well as a Bernice Summerfield.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Research gig

The Drowned WorldSimon's Holub has posted up his lovely, lovely artwork for my July Doctor Who audio, The Drowned World.

Out this week is the Doctor Who DVD The Cybermen Collection, which includes on disc 2 a half-hour documentary, Best Cybermen Moments. Written and presented by Matthew Sweet, directed and edited by Thomas Guerrier, it also sports some important research genius from me - and is my first proper, formal credit in such a capacity. Woo!

Tom and Matthew have worked wonders. And there's already a glowing review:
"It's very good indeed ... Far from being new-series centric, it's a near-full overview with lots of lovely, intelligently chosen clips from classic stories, and even a brief reading from a novelisation to kick things off .... It lacks other talking heads, but where it scores most is in Sweet taking a thematic approach to discussing the Cybermen critically, rather than a story-by-story approach. Sweet is respectful and irreverent in equal measure, an entertaining host ... I'm not saying it's necessarily full of revelations for die-hards, but it's as good as the better extras on the classic Who range..."

Cliff Chapman, Doctor Who: The Cyberman Collection DVD review, Den of Geek.

The same site has some very nice things to say about my Judgement of Isskar, reviewed by Stephen Bray an episode at a time: episode one; episode two; episode three; episode four.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is that all we've got?

I have now been married for five years and one day. On Thursday, I followed the Dr to Brighton to see the Egyptian bits in the free Brighton Museum. Then we had lunch with one chum and drinks in the R-Bar with another. I took photos of the urinals.

On Friday I transcribed 10,000 words of interview and then wrote a magazine feature which I'll speak more of in due course. Started about 10 in the morning, finished about half one in the small hours. At the same time, the Dr and R. were busy unpacking the bookcase and then painting it. The Dr ended up with paint all over herself, while R. remained pristine.

Yesterday we made the epic trek to Windsor - via closed tube lines and very slow trains - where we were marking our anniversary at the Oakley Court Hotel, the house used in Dracula and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Converted into a hotel and - why?!? - a golf course in 1979, the mad, mid-Victorian gothery of the main house now sports two gallumphing great wings of guest bedrooms that strive to be as little in-keeping as possible. But we mooched around, took photos and drank gin before watching splendid Doctor Who.

The Dr has Views on a "Fucking aristo nicking stuff from a public museum," and was much appalled by the Doctor hammering at Athelstan's goblet. I was more impressed by the 200, which goes from Oxford Street to Victoria via Brixton, with a big tunnel along the way. But hooray for a wild and wondrous adventure. As we ventured into Windsor to fill our heads with food, we spotted a real 200 bus... That's one hell of a route.

This morning the hotel had problems with hot water and a weird queueing system for breakfast. It took the shine off our stay a bit, but the manager let us off our previous evening's gins.

Thence by cab to Cookham for a mooch round the Stanley Spencer gallery. And, with the day grey and us feeling hungover, the long, slow journey home.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sponge or stone

“I’ve never seen Star Wars” is fascinating. Originally on Radio 4 and now on the telly, each episode sees Marcus Brigstocke get some celeb to try five things they’ve never done before. So, for example, Paul Daniels reads The Female Eunuch, Clive Anderson tries judo and watches Withnail and I; John Humphreys listens to the work of his colleague Chris Moyles… They then score each new experience out of 10.

It’s a deceptively simple idea by creator Bill Dare, yet - perhaps more than similarish formats like Desert Island Discs or Room 101 – is surprisingly revealing about the celebs who take part.

The thing is, the more they throw themselves into the thing they're doing, the more fun and funny they are. Newsreader Emily Maitlis punches her way through her first video game; John Humphreys tries moonwalking and is so impressed by Michael Jackson that he says he’ll be going to see him in concert…

It’s also often surprising. Maitlis denied that The Godfather and gangster stuff generally is all about family – as its adherents sometimes claim. The wives and kids, she said, are shut out of the room. Instead it’s about the tough guys’ conflicting egos. And there’s little to like or admire about these men.

Maitlis also admitted skimming through The Satanic Verses looking for the controversial, offensive bits. (Like, she said, skimming Lady Chatterley for the rude bits.) On what’s a light-hearted, low-fi comedo-entertainment show, Brigstocke then concisely explains the theological history of the implicit allusion. The audience titters nervously, less out of awkwardness as at having learnt something rather profound.

The celebs don’t have to enjoy the things they’re given to read or see or do, but it’s their attitude to trying new things that is so revelatory. You warm to the ones who give it a go willingly, and who have to think about how their scores.

Then there are the ones who seem to have made their minds up beforehand. Sandi Toskvig doesn’t bother to see the end of her first football match, and has little to contribute but that she found it boring. What does it say about Rory McGrath as a writer of comedy that he’d never seen Fawlty Towers – and then didn’t think it any good? Or that as he explained what it did all wrong, the audience didn’t laugh?

It’s easy to decide what you think of something before you’ve given it a chance. I can think of a whole bunch of stuff that won me over once I’d learned to be less of a prick. And I also realise who odd, how disquieting, it is when people are proud of the things they’ve not seen or read or experienced.

(Relatedly, the Guardian had a bloke tell us what happens in Star Wars without having seen it.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Something something eggs

I seem to keep saying this: it's all been a bit manic of late. Sort of finished a big thing as-yet unnannounced on Friday and sent it round the houses for corrections and approval. Then sped up to Victoria to get more material for the very thing I'd just finished. Had a beer with P. in the grotty pub in the station, where we swapped gossip and discussed Government policy.

Then home for fish, chips and mushy peas in front of Quantum of Solace. Much more intelligible and splendid second time round; perhaps the smaller screen size helps, perhaps it's 'cos I already know where it's heading. But the edit is still so frenetic it's an effort to keep up.

On Saturday, with the typing done, I dismantled my office in preparation for the new floor. This took pretty much all day, and ripped two holes in my trousers. I unscrewed and delegged the fitted, too-low desk but it wouldn't come away from the wall. It seemed to have been fitted with a combination of glue and magick. Decided I'd wait for the expert: at least if the builder should pull the whole wall down, I won't be the one feeling silly.

The Dr arrived back from a day's teaching to marvel at my efforts. We then schlepped round to M. and N.'s house for a nice fish tea. Some excitement at the mussels still being alive when we arrived. I imagined them shrieking "Help me!" like that bit at the end of The Fly.

Having done the shifting chores on Saturday, earned an unusual lie-in on Sunday. The Dr even brought me tea and Jaffa Cakes in bed, where I idly glanced through the paper. Margaret Drabble thinks writing a spell against depression, and workaholicism and alcoholism go often hand-in-hand. I suspect there's something in that; not sure it's something good.

Then up, and amid the mess of office furniture and files now heaped around our living room, I laptopped a rewrite of a pitch and did some general edits on Friday's writing. Still a few bits to add and tweak, but the end is nearly in sight. Then perhaps there might be an announcement.

Will also be able to announce something else next week, the first in a new foray for me. How exciting this mystery must make my tawdry existence sound.

Then to St John's in Smith Square to hear the Exmoor Singers do Bach's St Matthew's Passion. (The apostrophication like Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, but with less monsters and more singing.) My chum (+ neighbour + boss) G. was one of the singers, and even got a line of his own. We saved our whooping for the final applause.

Psychonomy was also in attendance, and without a programme for the first half was making up his own words. Apparently they featured Nick Griffin and something perhaps about eggs. In part two, he could follow the words in German and clunkily translated English. He didn't think much of the arias, but otherwise thought it Good.

Me and the Dr have been to a few versions of the thing; for my own future reference, the Dr would like the aria after Peter's denial to be playing when she snuffs it.
Erbarme dich, mein Gott,
um meiner Zähren willen!
Schaue hier, Herz und Auge
weint vor dir bitterlich.
Erbarme dich, mein Gott.

(Touch my willy, God,
Or I will cry!
See here, My heart and eyes
Want to drink buttermilk.
Touch my willy, God.)

Passion According to Saint Matthew, BWV 244 (1727)
Translation S. Guerrier (2009)

Beers after, and then home to thick slabs of cheese on toast. I left the Dr watching EastEnders and No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and fell to bed about half-midnight.

The desk unmooredUp this morning to wash and shave in time for the arrival of S. the builder. He sussed the issue of the desk in five seconds, and undrilled some screws I'd not even noticed. With a clunk the desk was severed from its moorings. We'll need to replaster and paint, but we should have a wooden floor down by the time I get back tonight. Then I'll need to source a new desk. One that might actually fit me.

Life is manic and also a bit expensive. So you'll have to wait for the apoplectic rant about Clive Staples ****ing Lewis. Consider it a blessing.