Monday, June 14, 2010

Fish Custard [Intermezzo]

River Pond Song is Amy's daughter: a River Comes from a Pond.

The Doctor, by meeting Amy, has prevented her marriage to Rory thus prevented River being born.

We know that the Doctor encounters River at a place called "the Pandorica", and that she survives whatever Bad Thing happens there. Presumably River contributes in some way to the Doctor's victory.

So by meeting Amy and preventing River coming into existence, the Doctor has created a paradox which has brought about a space time split fracture crack thingy.

I assume that River is Amy's daughter by Rory: but it is possible that she is Amy's daughter by the Doctor. This would account for River's Time Lordyness. A lot of her flirting could be "grown up daughter" flirting rather than "wife" flirting.

But even if this is right, Amy's wedding day is still the epicentre of the paradox. What breaks time and space is Amy marrying Rory, as opposed to Amy not marrying Rory: the very actions which the Doctor is taking to prevent the paradox are, in fact, creating it.

Could it even be that the Crack is consciously removing the obstacles to the Doctor marrying / sleeping with Amy to bring River into existence and heal the wound in the universe? For example, it might be said to have dragged the TARDIS back in time 14 years in the episode one; and deliberately erased Rory from existence in the one with the Silurians.

I am somewhat afraid that we are going to be told that large lumps of continuity have also disappeared into the Crack; or even that the whole universe will be be sucked into the Crack and that Steven will say that, as of next year, the series is taking place in a new, post-Crack Doctor Who Universe to which the history of the pre-Crack Universe no longer applies. I hope not. It seems to me that if Doctor Who fans have spent 50 years happily believing that six impossible and mutually contradictory things happened in the same "universe" before breakfast; there's no reason to think we need a Big Continuity Clear Our this late in the day. But note that Moffat wanted to refer to Season 5 as "Season 1".

There's no reason that The Crack shouldn't be left lying around for fans to use as a hand wave. "The Romana regeneration doesn't make a lot of sense in the light of what we know about other regenerations, does it?" "Oh well, let's just assume it disappeared into the Crack."

Even before the trailer (and isn't Steven being good at keeping the trailers mostly spoiler free) we could probably tell that "The Pandorica", which is going to open, would be a box of some kind. There was a box in Greek mythology with a similar name. It contained something very horrible, I seem to remember.

Some people would like it to contain something Time Lordy: the Skaro Abominations or the Could Have Been King or something else that was referenced in The End of Time. Rassilon himself, maybe, or the whole of Gallifrey. I would cast my bet against "The Other" or "Omega": these are characters who only fans know about, and significant recurring villains in the new show have to be in the consciousness of the mainstream public. I can't believe that Moffat would be so boring as to make it the Daleks or the Master.

The Box is not the Crack, but opening the Box obviously has to be closely related to whatever caused the Crack. Several villains have implied that the contents of the box is obvious and it's funny that the Doctor doesn't know. The specific phrase "The Doctor in the TARDIS" has come up twice.

So my money is on the Pandorica containing an evil future incarnation of the Doctor. Fans will be able to say "The Valeyard" to their hearts content, but he won't be called that on screen, or only in passing. Seasons 1 – 4 kept on telling us that the Doctor would turn evil one day; and we've had the Toby Jones anti-Doctor to lay the groundwork.

Who will be playing the evil version of the Doctor?

I can't believe that this wouldn't have leaked out, but I do have to point out that in the one in the flat the Doctor becomes Craig's lodger. A person who pays him money to use a section of his property.

That is to say, a tenant. I've been wrong before, of course.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fish Custard (6)

Moffat is doing rather more bleeding of stories into other stories than Davies did.
Davies seasons had running plot arcs, but they never amounted to much more than easter eggs for the more earnest bus enthusiasts to spot. It was quite fun to see the words "Bad Wolf" in the graffiti in Episode 1.4 and remember that the same words had been used by the clairvoyyant girl in Episode 1.3, but it didn't really have much bearing on either story. (The resolution -- that the word "Bad Wolf" appeared in every episode because when Rose became a demi-god she dropped the phrase Bad Wolf into every episode in order to give herself a clue that she should take the name Bad Wolf and drop that name into every episode when she became a demi-god was not very satisfactory. Couldn't she have just tied a knot in her hanky?)
This year's story arc is about Amy's crack. Er, the Crack in Amy's wall. In the first story of the season a Baddie said "The thingy will open! A bad thing will happen!" very much like baddies have been saying "He will knock three times on the window" and "You will soon die, metaphorically at least" pretty much since the show rebooted. I thought the Crack was going to turn out to be another case of the Bad Wolves. I thought it would appear in every story and that it's meaning would be revealed in the final two-parter, which would feature the end of the universe, the Daleks, and Amy temporarily becoming a demi-god.
But then, in the one with the statues, the back story came to the front. The Weeing Angels were feeding on a Crack in the space time continuum through which weird-crack-in-the-space- time-continuum energy was pouring. The question which had been set up the previous week (why doesn't Amy know about the Daleks, given they invaded earth only last Tuesday?) is more or less resolved. Things have been being sucked into The Crack, and things which are sucked into The Crack aren't merely destroyed, they never existed to begin with, so not one remembers them (except when they do.) That's why Amy Pond knows that the Pond in her village is a Duck Pond, even though it has never had any Ducks on it. (NOTE: Leadworth is an anagram of Dr Who Tale.) That's why everyone has forgotten about the giant Cyberman from the year before last's Christmas special. (I have certainly been trying to forget it.)
And The Crack was started by a Big Bang which the Doctor traces to the the day of Amy's wedding, which is also the day she joined him on the TARDIS and also (by a staggering coincidence) the day that the final part of Doctor Who Season 5 will be transmitted. And all this leads us straight into a huge odd soap operatic thang. Amy tries to kiss the Doctor, a scene which the Daily Mail thought was sordid, sexy and possibly a cure for cancer. This, in pretty short order, makes the Doctor decide that his preventing Amy's marriage is what has caused the The Crack and that it's his job to ensure that she and her fiance, the gorm free Rory (indistinguishably from Larry, Sally's boyfriend in Blink) should get back together, whereupon....
"Everybody" complained that Davies' plots were too rushed, but I rather like the speed with which Moffat is advancing the back story. Oh, it's clear enough what he's doing: Amy's sudden urge to kiss the Doctor, and the Extremely Unexpected Twist Ending to the one with the Silurians don't arise particularly naturally from the action which preceded them. They could have been dropped into any story and they would have made just as much sense. Amy kisses the Doctor because a bad scary thing has happened in which she nearly died: but bad scary and nearly fatal things happen to Doctor Who girls every week. It's an occupational hazard. I think that there may be a subtext about the way in which childhood dreams shade into wet dreams and imaginary friends turn into erotic fantasies. Poor Rory is, in every possible sense, in competition with the man of Amy's dreams.
I could have done without the "You, Amy Pond, are the most important being in the universe" speech. We've already had a "You, Donna Noble, are the most important being in the universe" speech and Rose actually being the most important being in the universe. Martha had to content herself with being the most important being on earth. What happened to companions who failed general science A level?
The Doctor says that for him, every day is a big day: he skips the little ones. In the same way, Moffat jumps over extraneous material and transitions. This works rather well: much better than Davies squishing long stories into small spaces. We go straight from the Angels to Amy
declaring her love for
revealing that she'd like to sleep with the Doctor; and straight from there to the Doctor popping up on Rory's stag night; thence to Rory already being a passenger on the TARDIS (and then to a point when he has been travelling on the TARDIS for some time).
And note, by the way, that there were no spoilers about Rory being a new member of the supporting cast – no press calls for for Arthur Darvil, no interviews with Peter Purves or Matthew Waterhouse about the weight of expectation about being a Doctor Who "boy", no articles about whether or not he is "something for the Mums". Okay, he doesn't get star billing, but he is very clearly a companion. Is this because Moffat is working hard to keep Doctor Who spoiler free (the man in the Grauniad keeps moaning that he doesn't get preview discs) or just because newspapers are irredeemably sexist?


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Saturday, June 12, 2010

We has been mainstreamed

"I think it was Spider-Man's uncle, Ben Parker who said...well, it's disputed who originally said this:...'With great power comes great responsibility'".

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, on the BP oil spill

Fish Custard (5)

The Lonely Space Whale was an obvious metaphor for the Doctor, and Amy's empathy for the Whale was an obvious metaphor for Amy's empathy for the Doctor and Amy understood the Whale better than the Doctor did to show that Amy understands the Doctor better than the Doctor understands himself.

The Weeing Angels aren't, in that sense, a metaphor for anything. They aren't anything at all. They are villains without motive or personality or clearly defined powers, almost an absence in a story which is about the relationship between three main characters: the Doctor, Amy and River Bloody Song.

Everyone talks about the Buffyfication of Doctor Who, and by everyone I mean "me", obviously. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show of great underlying integrity. You could accept evil alien Buddweiser that literally turned frat-boys into cavemen, or a school swim team that were mutating into Deep Ones because you always and absolutely believed in and cared about every one of the characters. Every bit of teen angst was followed through to its achy breaky conclusion. Davies "got" that the monsters in Buffy were mainly metaphors, lights to shine a torch at the hopeless doomed love affairs between Buffy and Angel and Buffy and Spike and decided that this was how modern Who would have to be.

I still don't know if this was the right decision. I don't know whether everything really does have to be all touchy-feely. When people say that the the Boys' Mountaineering and Boxing Society isn't attracting many girls and should therefore do less mountaineering and boxing, I'm inclined to say "But what about the boys who liked mountaineering and boxing but aren't nearly as keen on knitting and watching Glee?" Good thing to drop the "boy" bit though. Apparently girls can join the Boy Scouts but boys can't join the Girl Guides. Or maybe "don't". There's nothing wrong with girls wanting to learn how to kill and cook wild squirrels and boys wanting to bake cookies. But I'm not at all sure that there isn't room in the world for an all male space where boys can talk to other boys about their periods, so to speak. There really are a lot of socially awkward males in the world and Doctor Who really did used to be place for them to retreat and talk about Thals and Neutron Flows, and I am not sure if making it about dating, weddings, mothers and showing your emotions was an improvement, given that there are one or two programmes on TV which deal with that stuff already.

But given that we are committed to making Doctor Who a soap opera, at least lets make it a good soap opera. Once we had passed Bad Wolf Bay -- which I increasingly think was the moment when Russell had done what he set out to do and said what he had to say -- both we and him stopped caring, and that's the one thing that can never, ever happen in a soap.

Steven has made me care.

He's made me care about the relationship between the Doctor and Amy, and as long as I'm doing that it really doesn't matter whether this is a different kind of relationship to the one which a different Doctor, a long time ago, might have had with Jo Grant or Adric.

Me and Jon have recently seen a lot of movies we've quite liked, like Avatar and Iron Man; and a couple that we liked an awful lot, like Kick Ass; but we keep finding that we don't have very much to say to each other about them. But we've been talking about the Phantom Menace, which neither of us liked nearly so much, for years and years. (We agreed to differ about the abomination.)

Why, says Jon, is it so hard to talk about good movies?

I think the answer is that in a real sense you don't actually see good movies. As long as the movie is good, you aren't watching it: you are inside it, sharing the characters' experiences, seeing their world through their eyes. If you are in that state of mind, you can put up with almost anything, even the plot of Avatar. In the same way, you never actually see a good special effect: what you see is a spaceship or a sword fighting skeleton or a big blue willy. Only if the special effect has fundamentally failed do you have a chance to think "I wonder how they did that?" When a movie goes wrong something wrenches you out of it and you are looking from the outside: commenting that such and such an actor is doing this thing well, and that thing badly, noticing structure and shot. Sweet is the something which nature brings / our meddling intellect mis-shapes the beauteous form of things / and he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of knowledge, as the fellow said.

Criticizing Kick Ass would be a non sequitur. The only correct reaction is "Like, wow. Wow." Or as Jon said: "I never need to see another movie ever again."

The relationship between the Doctor and Amy is a relationship between two characters, between two people, not between two actors saying lines at each other. That's all that matters. Matt Smith gives us a panicky Doctor; an improvising Doctor; a Doctor who knows his own reputation and isn't quite sure if he can live up to it; a Doctor who knows that he is going to do something incredibly clever but hasn't thought of it yet; a Doctor who won't know what his plan is until he's finished talking; a Doctor who is concerned about being the Doctor.

"I'll do a thing. I don't know what thing yet. It's a thing in progress. Respect the thing."

Possibly maybe arguably perhaps a Doctor who is aware of his own Doctorness points to a show which is still not quite at ease with itself; a show which still thinks of itself as a revival of an old programme; a bit too post-modernist for its own good. "Doctor Who, based upon the BBC TV series 'Doctor Who'." But I honestly don't care. I haven't enjoyed the company of a TARDIS occupant this much since...I don't know, Logopolis, probably. From time to time David Tennant used to deliver lines which you wanted to take home and put on a tee-shirt because they defined everything you loved about this daft old silly TV programme. Matt Smith seems to do this every time he opens his mouth.

"There's something here which doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick."

When a character is this mad, this endearing, this compelling it honestly doesn't matter if he's too like, or too unlike, the ten actors who previously played a character with the same name. (Have you noticed that Moffat keeps face-checking the First Doctor, as if to remind us that this Young Man is the same person as the Old Man who he is almost completely unlike?) I think I might be in love with the Eleventh Doctor if I had never seen another episode of Doctor Who in my whole life.

The scene where he leaves Amy with the clerical soldiers, warning her to keep her eyes closed and telling her to trust him ("But you never tell me the truth" "If I told you the truth you wouldn't need to trust me") seems to matter more than any Doctor / Companion scene has mattered since.... Well, since Bad Wolf Bay. But that wasn't about the Doctor and his companion, it was about the Lonely God and Dark Phoenix, over-the-top, overwrought, out of the range of normal human emotion, I'm burning up a star just to say good bye to you. This was the young old traveller and his human friend; the old young traveller about whom the question has never really gone away: can you trust him?

Doctor who?


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Friday, June 11, 2010

Fish Custard (4)

Or take the one with the statues. It's a "sequel" to Blink and "brings back" the Weeing Angels which were one of the "scariest" monsters in New Who.

Actually, the minute you start describing things as "scary" you've side-slipped away from the actual TV series and into another virtual Who clone in idea space -- "that programme which children watch from behind the sofa". Kids can be scared by anything and everything – Big Bird and Laurel and Hardy and the India Paper edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- but a glance at, say, Robot would be enough to blow away the theory that Doctor Who was always and irreducibly a horror show. The editors of Doctor Who Adventures, Radio Times, and other children's publications continue to ask whether this story is, or is not, as scary as that story. But they all agree that the scariest story ever was Blink, and that Blink was, coincidentally, the work of the present incumbent, sir, Mr Moffat, sir.

Blink was a good story. (I think that it was a very good story, but dissent from those who think that it was a very, very good story.) But the Angel itself was a very small part of the success of Blink. Steven had, in fact, written an angel-free version of the story in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual. The story was – like The Gel In the Fireplace and the Eleventh Hour – and, come to think of it, like Silence in the Library and Curse of Fatal Death and everything else the Moff has ever written – about Time Travel. Not from the point of view of historically accurate portraits of Winston Churchill, or even from the point of view of marrying your Grandad and stepping on a butterfly, but from the point of view of events confusingly starting to happen in the wrong order. Which, come to think of it, is what Time Travel in the context of a story pretty much has to be: a way of disrupting the narrative, foreshadowing, putting effects before causes and carts before horses.

So Blink is about people who are young at one moment and old the next because they've been sent backwards in time; and the Doctor trying to get a message to himself about something which hasn't happened yet. The Statues concatenate all the wibbly wobbley timey wimey ideas that Moffat wants to muck around with into a bloody great lump of plot device. Making them statues which can only move when nobody's looking at them (manifestly a stupid idea) is as good a way as any to signify to us that they are only a plot device and we shouldn't waste too much time thinking about them. It would be a bit like giving your hero a huge and inexcusable lump of technology and signalling the fact that it's never going to be explained by making it look less like a space ship and more like, I don't know, a phone box. (People who have invented something called a Doctor Who Universe go on and on about something called a Chameleon Circuit and thereby miss the absurdity, and, arguably, the point.)

So: bringing back the Angels is pretty much a category mistake, as if there was anything that was bringable backable. Everything which was angelly about them – the fact that they don't move (by the end of the second episode, they have) and the fact that they send people back in time (these ones don't) the fact that you can defeat them by making them look at each other (you can't, for some reason) has been dumped. They have randomly acquired new powers. It turns out that whatever carries the image of an angel becomes an angel and it turns out that Angels can turn people's arms to stone and it turns out a bit later that they can't turn people's arms to stone after all but only make people think that they have turned their arms to stone and it turns out that they can talk to people through the bodies of people they've killed which is only a bit identical to the invisible telepathic alien piranhas in the library.

And – you know where I am about say next, don't you? – none of this matters in the least.

My god-daughter says that she had "always wanted" to see a story with the Angels in it. Well, three years is a long time in television and an awfully long time when you're ten. Having always wanted to see the Angels in 2010 is no odder than having always wanted to see Yeti and Cybermen in 1973. (I never did see any Yeti.) The Angels are things which happened in Doctor Who a long time ago, and things which everyone knows are really, really, scary, even people too young to have seen them the first time round.

The story was as everyone has boringly but correctly persisted in pointing out, a remake of Aliens, plucky marines being picked off one by one by indestructible monsters. The idea of space marines fighting statues that don't move is manifestly absurd. The imagery of stone angels massing in spaceship corridors is manifestly absurd. And that's fine. Daleks are manifestly absurd. Daleks never made the slightest sense outside of the corridors of Skaro. Angels are Moffat's Daleks. They are the scariest thing in the universe because Moffat says they are the scariest thing in the universe. We have a race memory stretching all the way back to 2007 that says that they are the scariest thing in the universe. Even though they can't go upstairs


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fish Custard (3)

The One With the Daleks, for example. Yes, it was rushed. Yes, the revelation that Braceman was an android should have come at the end of an episode, when we'd had time to get to know him, not five minutes after we met him for the first time. Yes. there's a sort of glitch in that it took Braceman ten minutes – it's carefully specified in the script as ten minutes – to jury-rig the Spitfires into spaceships, when, even supposing him to be a Dalek supercomputer, it should have taken at least a fortnight. But even that's not the sort of glitch I can bring myself to get really cross about, because it means that the show is being driven by narrative logic, not engineering logic. Given that he's an android with Dalek blueprints it makes sense that he can rustle up something with which to defeat the Daleks. Given that he can, I don't think my enjoyment would have been greatly enhanced by a caption reading "three weeks later, he did."

After 47 years of careful thought, Terry Pratchett has spotted that Doctor Who isn't really science fiction. In other news: Bob the Builder is an inaccurate depiction of the modern building trade.

If what you want is something that you can think of as a little window into a more or less believable universe – one that carries on existing outside of the frame of your TV set – then by all means, go back to your FASA RPG and your New Adventures. You have your reward. But Steven Moffat laid out his stall pretty clearly on Day 1 ("in which Doctor Who comes to the forest and has breakfast"), and on Day 2, ("in which the whole character of the Doctor is defined as 'he can't bear to see children crying'".)

Do you remember that day in ninetyseventysomething when the Test Match was rained off and the BBC put the Peter Cushing Dalek movie on, unscheduled, on Saturday morning? Or the earnest boy in the school blazer perfectly describing how the Doctor had beaten the Daleks in the previous clip, and Michael Rodd saying "Only the Daleks could be so stupid!", patronisingly? Or even the ninetyeightysomething Panopticon which showed the Invasion of Earth movie on Saturday night, and Jeremy Bentham telling the nearly empty hall that they had just relived the days of Dalekmania?

It's all right, I'm shall spare you Yarvelling, Mark Seven, chocolate and mint ice lollies, yoghurt cartons, slot machines, board games.... My point is that the New New Daleks are brighter and shinier and bigger and have deeper voices than the Old New Daleks. They are, as my god-daughter helpfully pointed out, fiercer. The Doctor confronts them in a big, empty white room, and he beats them because they don't know what Jammy Dodgers are and he does. And very pointedly, when the action cuts back to the Cabinet War Rooms, we look at the Doctor confronting the Daleks in black and white, which was how we all first saw the Daleks, in order to make the point that the New New Daleks are much more like the Old Daleks, indeed the Old Old Daleks, than the Old New Daleks ever were. (Notice that the slats have gone and been replaced by those sort of metal collar things which disappeared after The Chase?)

It's like Russell wanted to the Daleks to be sensible, believable, dark, metallic, Klingons that went up stairs and had existential angst and weird religious fanaticism but who were a little bit pathetic even -- especially -- when they were trying to destroy the whole of Life, the Universe and Everything. Steven wants them to be great big exciting toys in a flying saucer with an interior that looks like how the interiors of flying saucers ought to look, and unceremoniously wipes out the Rusellite half-Daleks in a single scene.

The Daleks aren't serious believable alien life forms: they just aren't. They're 1950s outer space robot people with an impractical design: more like Smash Martians than Borg.

I didn't think that the Doctor was really going to destroy planet Earth, of course, but I did feel that he was being presented with a moral dilemma that was a little on the hard side and he did seem to have to think about it a little bit.

It really is beside the point to say that it wasn't a very believable portrayal of Winston Churchill. There are people out there who think that Doctor Who ought to be about time travel -- that a story set in the War ought to be a story set in the accurate historical War and that cave men should speak with the kind of received pronunciation BBC accents that modern anthropology tells us that cavemen really spoke with. Russell was wrong to say that Doctor Who historicals should be like Horrid History books. Horrid History books are mainly about executions and toilet paper. But Doctor Who historicals have always been set in the world of English school history text books. This may not have been Winston Churchill, but it was Winnie. Not true, necessarily, but certainly memorable.


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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fish Custard (2)

Doctor Who is watched at several levels in an average household. The smallest child terrified behind a sofa or under a cushion, and the next one up laughing at him, and the elder one saying 'sh, I want to listen', and the parents saying 'isn't this enjoyable'.
Tom Baker

It's all about expectations, isn't it?
If you go to a Bob Dylan concert expecting Mozart [*] then you might find Bob a bit simplistic -- decent melodies but not very much happening. But if you expect Mozart to be like Dylan, then you might find him a bit fiddly and showy offy, not enough tunes and too many notes. I myself spent many years thinking that Bob Howard wrote bad fantasy; I recently discovered that he wrote the best pulp fiction in the whole wide world. (Starting to think of him as Bob rather than Robertee helped, I have to say.)
I've talked before about the two different Doctors Who – the Who that exists in the mind of the fans and the Who that exists in the nostalgic memories of people who used to watch it on television in the 1970s. The former is all Time Lord politics and back story, maybe Harold Saxon is the Monk, maybe River Song is the Master, if James Bond is Rassilon then who is Omega? The latter is Basil Brush and Marmite and Frank Bough and the dividend forecast is very good.
And by all means, make a hobby out of the Dalek Civil War and the Other and that peculiar confection in which baby Time Lords are knitted and the Doctor has a pet Badger. By all means believe that some kind of golden age came to an end when Ernie Wise died and they replaced the BBC globe with the BBC hippopotamus. But just occasionally, sit down with Horror of Fang Rock and remind yourself what it is we are talking about.
Which is the real Doctor Who, after all? The one we remember from when we were twelve? The one invented by fan-fiction writers? Or the actual DVD we watch on our actual television?
If I was going to write about The Prisoner remake, and I might, then I could safely talk about it as if it was a telly programme; quite interesting in places but no substitute for the real thing. A bit dull in the middle...Jesus was a bit wooden....Gandalf saved the'd have to have had a heart of stone to watch the scene in which [SPOILER DELETED] tops himself without laughing. I wouldn't waste ten words saying "Bugger all to do with Patrick McGoohan, though". My reader would probably send me a comment along the lines of "Well, duh!"
If you like modern Doctor Who, well, 10 to 1 you'd like anything with the Doctor Who label on it on general principles. Running back to the TARDIS is the equivalent of grasping a favourite teddy bear, quite harmless, possibly, but not a valid basis for a critical response. If you don't like modern Doctor Who, then, 10 to 1, you're one of those fanboys who's still sore at Jon Pertwee for leaving and thinks that everything should be in black and white. And don't dare try justify your position by referring to specific strengths or weaknesses in specific episodes. Only the geekiest of geeky geeks would quote facts about a TV show, and we really shouldn't pay much attention to what geeky geeks say. Simpsons Comic Book Guy. Simpsons Comic Book Guy.
We may have differed by a star rating here or there; we may have dissented about whether Blink really put that much of a dent in the reputation of Phillip K Dick and why The Satan Pit was so quickly forgotten but there was a pretty broad consensus on New Who Seasons 1 – 4. Started well...Chris and Billie...Dalek...gas masks....Tennant...Bad Wolf bay...started to lose the plot....Torchwood....Olympic Torch....dragging the earth....please god, make it stop....John Barrowman...John Barrowman....John Barrowman. But this time, there seems to be a definite split, and I find myself on the wrong side of it. Both my readers have surfed here because they want to listen to me doing some witty pithy slagging off and I'm on the defensive. Not since Deadly Assassin have I felt so guilty about the fact that I'm, you know, a Doctor Who fan but I'm, you know, how can I put this – really enjoying Doctor Who...


[*] Or Bob Dylan, admittedly, but let's not get bogged down in the first paragraph.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Transports of Delight

A couple of weeks ago I was walking along the river, through Bristol's prestigious "impossible to get anything remotely resembling a glass of beer" quarter. On the courtyard in front of the Lloyds building (usually occupied by young men falling off skateboards) I stumbled upon what was obviously some kind of convention or flea market for bus enthusiasts.

You may think that "bus" and "enthusiast" is a contradiction in terms, and I may think that "bus" and "enthusiast" is a contradiction in terms, but the people who were walking around the convention writing down bus numbers in their notebooks were clearly very enthusiastic indeed about buses. And there are apparently enough of them for it to be worth holding a convention in Bristol. There were perhaps 50 or 100 buses: buses that didn't look much more ancient than the ones one waits for on Stokes Croft; buses that looked so old that you wondered why they didn't have horses attached to them. Mostly local and country buses; green buses and buses with regional insignia and heraldry. I venture to say that the fans of scarlet painted London Transport diesel engine 97 horsepower London buses have their own conventions, and laugh (ha!) at regional bus fans. (I am city kid. Buses are red and it is only in quaint places outside the Thames TV area where you visit elderly relatives that buses are green. I have heard that if you stand outside Cockfosters tube (where the London Underground comes to an end) you will eventually see buses turning from red to green, and do in part believe it.) Some of them wore the uniforms that bus conductors wore in the days when there were bus conductors.

I assume that an individual collector can't possibly own his own bus. Presumably, there must be vintage bus societies, and each vehicle must represent thousands of pounds and thousands of hours work by society members. I picture them packing up their sandwiches and piling into the society bus, and then converging on Bristol at an agreed time, like Hells Angels or the Caravan Club. (The last time I went to Bournemouth I discovered the phenomenon of the costumed marching band: a large group of local men in Spider-Man suits doing cheer-leader majorette type marching, followed by, as it may be, a group from Clacton all dressed as Buzz Lightyear or a group from Lewes all dressed as Vikings. Can you imagine a better excuse to visit a different English seaside town each month during the summer? Well, yes, so can I, but that isn't the point I'm trying to make here.) And of course, there were trestle tables on which people were selling antique bus time tables, back numbers of bus magazines, cigarette cards with buses on them, and old Corgi models of buses, many of which are much sort after by the sorts of people who collect corgi models of buses.

Now, I have always taken it for granted that someone, somewhere knows about buses. If I were making a movie set in Weston Super Mare in the 1950s, an admittedly remote contingency, I would expect to be able to give someone a ring and say "There's a scene where my hero is waiting on the sea front to meet his girlfriend off the bus. Please, what kind of a bus should it be?" Some people believe that history grows wild on the Internet. You can close history departments, fire the academics, give all the universities a restructuring they'll never forget, and when the BBC wants to make a lavish costume drama about the life of a kitchen maid at the time of bloody Mary, trivial data about Tudor dish-washing will magically fall from the sky. But I guess I'd been assuming that bus experts were a species of Local Historian or a sub-phylum of Vintage Car fanatic. But no. It appears that there are people whose whole life is buses.

I imagine they are just as bored with people who say that you wait hours for a bus enthusiast and then a hundred come along at once as I am with people (and I'm looking at you, Venue magazine) who can't see a meeting of strip illustrators without saying "Zap!" and "Kapow!"

At this point in the proceedings you would very naturally expect me to start using expressions about "getting a life", wondering whether these bus enthusiasts would ever "grow up" or if indeed they had ever "got laid". But in fact my reaction to a courtyard full of people wondering whether this 1/76 die cast ABC model West Midlands PTR Volvo TRA 5005 was in better condition than that 1/76 die cast ABC model West Midlands PTR Volvo TRA5005 was to cry out "Brother!" or at any rate "Distant cousin twice removed on my Auntie Annie's side!"

In my third favourite pub there is sometimes a group of people who spend the evening talking about their capacitors and their resistors. It turns out they are radio amateurs. Not even Citizens Band: I don't think C.B ever really took off in this country. Proper Hancock style Radio 'Ams. How can it possibly be fun to use home made radios (and Morse Code, for heaven's sake) to communicate with people from other lands in an age when electronic mail, and, I believe, telephones, are relatively common? There's only one possible reaction to this kind of stupidity. "Fellow geeks!"

There is literally nothing better in the world than a group of friends getting together to do something they like. When it's something that hardly anyone else likes, something which everybody else thinks is quite silly – something which in the cold light of day, even they realize is quite silly – that makes it even better. Rather noble. Rather Corinthian, if that's the word I'm groping for. I don't know why the 1972 Pagham – Littlehampton time table was so much less beautiful than the 1964 version had been. Why should I? They don't know that the 1996 invasion of Earth by the Mekon was only defeated because the human race bothered to practice redundant skills like horse-riding and sword-fighting which the Treens had long abandoned.

So. I hope you all enjoy your big game of kickabout very much indeed. But please – don't pretend it actually matters. And do try not to kill anybody afterwards.

You've done this one before - Ed

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Martin Carthy / Jim Causely / Emily Portman

Bath Fringe Festival (Tent)
4 June

Martin Carthy wasn't allowed to do an encore. He had already sung all twenty four stanzas of Prince Heathen, including the twiddly bits between the verses. So the show had gone on 15 minutes longer than planned: any later and the tent might have lost its licence...

He also did Lochmaben Harper, which I'm sure I've never heard before, about a harper who makes one of those unwise bets that he can steal the king's favourite horse. He (Martin) claims that it is the most satisfying song in the repertoire. When you know as many songs as Martin Carthy you must have a lot of favourites. (The harper's wife comes up with a ruse to win the bet. Martin says it's always the musician's wife who has to think up a "plan B".)
He also does a lot of the old staples, of course, including the most spine-tingling version of the The Trees They Grow So High I've ever heard.

Jim Causely is notably less silly without Mawkin to banter with, but these things are relative: the set includes a song about a ferret to the tune of My Grandfather's Clock! (And Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, of course.)
His accordian playing is pretty good. There's a poetic vibe to the set. He sings a version of a Dylan Thomas poem about looking for "long linbed summer girls" on the beach. (
"If I tell you who it's by, you'll say "meh, Streets of London"). He also does his own rendition of
"All Souls Day" by Charles Causely, of whom he turns out to be a distant relation.

Emily Portman, who I've never heard before or of, sang a lot of down tempo songs of her own, cleverly and obliquely inspired by fairy tales. They were very dense and I'd like to hear them again. I enjoyed the
jolly traditional number about wife beating ("He put the salt-hide on her back / Hide woman hide /He beat her blue, he beat her black / That'll lay down your pride"). I'm not sure we actually needed the additional verse in which the man gets his comeuppance: we could probably have taken it for granted that the singer didn't approve of domestic violence. She finishes with a Lal Waterson song in which Martin Carthy joins her. Isn't it lovely that such a senior performer will play guitar for the relative newcomers who are supporting him?

As a result of the lady spending quite such a long time refusing to cry when the heathen dog tells her to, I missed the last train back to Bristol and had to sit on Bath Station until 1.15 AM. Worth it, though, definitely worth it.