With Lucie Miller: Season Two.

Audio When this second series was originally broadcast on BBC7, some months after the cd release, it was without the final two-parter which my old review of Sisters of the Flame suggests was because of content not being suitable for the tea time slot which is interesting when you consider that (a) it's an audio (b) there aren't any sex references and (c) The Skull of Sobek is much more "graphic".  Sisters would eventually turn up a whole year later at 11pm on the 31st October with the second half of the story receiving its single BBC7 appearance at 6pm on the 18th December, about six weeks later (though other Who related material was broadcast in the meantime).  After 2008, I'd pretty much decided that I was going to simply wait until I'd caught up with the novels and comics before carrying on with the audios.  Little did I know that it would take another eight years to get here.  But yes, from now onwards I'm going further than I've ever been before.

Dead London

Or #whyileftlondon It's actually an interesting choice for an opening episode, given that the Doctor and Lucie are separated for two thirds of its duration and it's a relatively complicated story (albeit that a version of it is now being played out in MARVEL's Secret Wars with New York instead of our nation's capital though for somewhat different reasons).  That said, the teaser is a stormer, writer Pat Mills capturing the Eighth Doctor at his bluff absurdist best and given the title the tone is kept relatively light throughout.  Plus this sounds like London, or at least the version of London I have in my head when I listen to the silence or Parliament Square at the end of PM on Radio 4 just before the bongs of Big Ben.  Cast includes a returning Clare Buckfield, Katarina Olsson (whose something of a rep player this season) and Aliens of London's Rupert Vansittart as the antagonist and sounding just like Ian McNeice.  Yes I did.  Again.

Max Warp

Hating fucking Top Gear as much as I do, you'll be unsurprised to know how much I enjoyed this gentle skewering of the format and especially its presenters, unflinching in its veiled criticism of especially its central figure playing up to his public image as a sexist, racist cretin. Graeme Garden, James Fleet and Duncan James (yes from BLUE) are perfect as um, Geoffrey Vantage, O'Reilley and Timbo the Ferret, Fleet in particular's tragic mimicry is flawless.  But this being a Jonathan Morris script with its Douglas Adams influences watermarked through every page, all of this takes place against the backdrop of a giant galactic war, foregrounded by a murder mystery with the Doctor in full on Ford Prefect mode as he geeks out over spaceships, much to Lucie's bewilderment.  Bits of this are laugh out loud funny and there's one key jeopardy scene (all I'll say is rodents) which is easily one of the funniest in the franchise's history.

Brave New Town

Three episodes in and this season's already a joy.  Since I don't want to spoil this episode's killer twist, stop reading now because I'm about waste a line or two providing a buffer though I'm going also not mention the elephant so I'll just assume you've gone and say what I joy it is to hear the plastic pals it's unfun to be with on audio in apparently their only appearance, but it's a killer premise which again I'm amazed the tv show hasn't appropriated (though there are elements in The Pandorica Opens of all things). Jonathan Clements's Sapphire and Steel like script is an absolute corker with loads of space for the Doctor to give big speeches, Lucie to be funny (notably in a hilarious bathroom scene) and there's the sound of the literal handgun opening in exactly the same sample utilised on tv a few years later. The guest cast includes Derek Griffiths and Adrian Dunbar (another two actors who you would have thought would have been in Who already) in their absolute element.

The Skull of Sobek

For once I probably stand behind my original review of this.  There is an uncertainty of tone in which Marc Platt doesn't seem to know if he's being deadly serious about the thing or trying for some pythonesque parody and as it oscillates wildly between the Hinchcliffe and Williams eras, somewhere in there it forgets to simply tell a good Eighth Doctor story.  Which isn't to say there are a couple of useful character beats, notably about how Lucie is starting to get used to the life (in way that's reminiscent to Jackie's warning to Rose in The Parting of the Ways) and on reflection the scene in which the Doctor falls out of the window on to someone's livelihood is funny.  But generally there's a sense of rushing through a bunch of stuff, not least Lucie's possession, which possibly needed ye olde four episode format or even a novel to deal with properly.

Grand Theft Cosmos

Another Eddie Robson special.  Of course all the way I assumed I was listening to the sequel to a Big Finish audio I hadn't got around to yet featuring some earlier incarnation like Sixth (feels very Sixth) but like Timelash (sorry) we're yet to hear that adventure should we ever.  Did anyone ever go back and write that adventure?  There's nothing in my original review I'd disagree with, though I'd entirely forgotten the trivia from Beyond The Vortex that due to scheduling Paul and Sheridan recorded on different days, the latter her whole part in about forty-five minutes.  It really doesn't show.  She is a GODDESS.  Effectively what we have here is something which tonally I think many of us assumed Time Heist or Mummy on the Orient Express would be in the Capaldi season.  Sadly not.  Project note:  the pocket universe concept seems to be exactly as imagined in the novels, notably in relation to the multiverse of Gallifreys.

The Zygon Who Fell to Earth

Another excellent adventure which would be considered one of the all time greats if it had been produced for television.  Apart from the eccentricities of the visiting Zygons, played by Malcolm Stoddard and Tim Brooke-Taylor because why the hell not, this sees Paul Magrs reigning it (it being is expected stylistic concerns) in to tell a superbly drawn domestic drama with epic implications. Well, I say rein it in, it does have a Zygon called Trevor and a Moffat loop the implications which could be huge.  Arguably it's unfortunate to have Lucie possessed again this season, but if one has an actress of this range, one does not simply have her asking the Doctor what he's going to do next.  Quite unexpectedly there's also a reference to an EDA, The Bodysnatchers, which either the writer managed to sneak in or Big Finish had already begun the softening process in regards to continuities.  This was recorded in August 2007, a whole year before The Company of Friends.

Sisters of the Flame / The Vengeance of Morbius

Romping bit of Holmesian Time Lord hokum from Nick Briggs which also now acts as an inadvertent piece of foreshadowing for Night of the Doctor.  Although I appreciate some people find Gallifreyan politics and the universe being threatened from before time (that sort of thing), generally because of the way it was treated during the JNT era, as with Neverland and Charley, Briggs orbits the whole adventure around Lucie and takes a relatively (for Doctor Who) realistic approach to how a human would react to the notably the jargon, mostly misremembering, substituting familiar objects (Harmony Hairspray thingsy).  His father having appeared in last year's Phobos, here's Samuel West giving us his Morbius, just the sort of rasping fellow you'd expect this walking science experiment to be.  The finale is just the sort of cliffhanger the television series wouldn't dare attempt (not least because it would make the months between series tricky for merchandisers).  Onward to the future!

Soup Safari #49: Carrot and Coriander at Deli Marche.

Lunch. £2.80. Deli Marche, Central Library, William Brown St, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 8EW. 0151 233 3069. [Receipt rule invoked due to camera lacking power at venue. Photograph taken at home.]

The Interstitial Zone of Validity.

Travel Sometimes I've sometimes wondered about is whether there's much crossover between local travel rover tickets, if there are interstitial stations or places of crossover which allow one to move validly from one piece of card with a date on to another.

I've found the North West.

It's at Newton-Le-Willows.

Here's the Merseyside Merseytravel All Areas Saveaway (price: £5.10) validity map:

And here's the Wayfarer Manchester rail (price £12.00) validity map:

So between them you can travel across a fair amount of the North West for £17.10 for a whole day.  Provided you move between them through Newton-Le-Willows.

My Favourite Film of 1992.

Film  The film I originally chose for 1992 was Like Water for Chocolate, Alfonso Arau's magical realist, culinary take on Romeo and Juliet based on Laura Esquivel's 1989 novel. I've always said that watching Like Water For Chocolate on the night it was released in the UK was the moment when I knew that my life long romance would be with the cinema. It was at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds in a sold out performance. I was so wrapped up in the film and its love story that I began shouting at the characters on screen so loudly, the person sitting next to me got angry and told me to sush (which of course they were right to). This is something which hadn't happened before. It taught me that cinema has the power to transport, and a hundred moments of laughter and tears since have confirmed it.

Except although the film is dated 1992 on the imdb, it wasn't released until late 1993 in the UK and Groundhog Day has well and truly absorbed that slot. Perhaps my second choice would have been A Few Good Men but one of the rules of this list is that I'm only allowing myself one film per director and I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that a Rob Reiner film is already upcoming. Peter's Friends is nullified due to an earlier Brannagh. Almost Famous invalidates Singles for Cameron Crowe. There's Sneakers, I suppose, but my favourite Phil Alden Robinson is really Field of Dreams and that can't appear either because of the aforementioned Reiner opus. Reservoir Dogs almost made the list, but again Jackie Brown's my Tarantino of choice and there went Contact (with Pulp Fiction's potential place taken by Love and Other Catastrophes in this oh so personal list). My Disney allowance went to The Lion King so out goes Aladdin.

All of which route talk looks like an apologia for Toys, because it's Toys, but it really shouldn't. I love Barry Levinson's Toys. But more than that I love the Toys soundtrack which I may well have heard before seeing the film, during a visit to a friends house. He told it was the only cd he and an acquaintance had during a car ride across the States and how must that have gone as they piled through the desert accompanied by Enya's Ebudae?  But my memory is foggy about the chronology because we actually watched Toys on a VHS hired from the video shop on Lark Lane in Liverpool at around the same time.  Whatever.  The point is, of all the soundtracks I've owned, apart from Lost in Translation, Transformers: The Movie, Queen's Logic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, St. Elmo's Fire, Ten Things I Hate About You, Guardians of the Galaxy and Singles (amongst others), it's Toys which I know inside out and back to front.

Frankly there's nothing more 1992 (in this context) than a soundtrack which front lines Tori Amos, Wendy & Lisa, Grace Jones and Enya not that any of them had much creative control other than their vocals with Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn & Bruce Woolley (The Buggles no less) on lyrics and music.  But the results are magnificent, Tori, in the year of the deadly personal Little Earthquakes providing a vocal on a multi-track, militaristic satire on how capitalism has co-opted very communist approaches to worker loyalty, The Buggles parodying their old MTV schtick in The Mirror Song and the penultimate track is a Grace Jones Christmas song nonetheless (and probably Eurovision entry) Let Joy and Innocence Prevail, with its mesmerising spoken word bridge, "And one night, asleep / She dreamed she saw her husband fall / In a great white cavalry charge / And waking in tears / She saw the candle burning in the window / She still had hope." Sob.

I joke, but yes, sob.  But most especially, sob, in the final track, that damned final track and the second because that's when it first appears.  I've posted The Closing of the Year on the blog a few times during the festive period, as it appears in the closing moments of the film.  It beats me every time.  Every time.  I'm listening as I type this and there are tears in my eyes.  How do I explain it?  Some of it is to do with it being the most Christmassy of tracks, tubular bells jangling through it, the insistent rhythms of the reindeer hooves pounding through snow.  But it's mostly the lyrics.  "If I cannot bring you comfort / then at least I bring you hope / for nothing is more precious / than the time we have and so / we all must learn from small misfortune / count the blessings that are real / let the bells ring out for Christmas / at the closing of the year."  Even just reading that has just led to a water droplet escaping my eye socket in a desperate attempt to get away from the soggy nostalgia of my brain.

Why can't Wendy and Lisa and the children's choir (and eventually Seal) (yes, him too) singing with them bring hope but not comfort?  When I first bought my own copy, from a charity shop in Headingley while I was at University, I thought that lyric was "home" which only made it worse, especially in that moment when I was at my most homesick.  As you might imagine, either way at this moment, it's simply heartbreaking.  Do you have many songs like this which are essentially automatic cries?  Nizpoli's another one as I've previously discussed.  A recent BBC Four compilation about one hit wonders dropped an acoustic version of that in at the end like a final assault and I was inconsolable.  But I can listen to The Closing of the Year.  I want to listen to it because I want to be reminded of those lyrics.  Is it because I want to be reminded that I have emotions?  Oh here we go again.  Perhaps I should have stuck with Like Water For Chocolate.  After all.

Soup Safari #48: Tomato, Red Pepper and Paprika at Giraffe.

Lunch. £4.95. Giraffe, Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, CH65 9JJ. Tel: 0151 357 3704. Website.

With Lucie Miller: Season One.

Audio Having slept several times in between, I'd entire forgotten that when this first series of "The Eighth Doctor Adventures" was broadcast on BBC7, Charley's departure itself hadn't yet been released.  We didn't know why Eighth was in such a taciturn mood at the start or how the two joined together narratively.  What we could hear was that this was a bold new, slightly more accessible approach to the character influenced by the new television series, with shorter, punchier episodes and a contemporary companion in the Ace/Sam/Izzy/Rose mode.  This was also the surprising tinsel on a Christmas tree which that year included The Runaway Bride, two episodes of Torchwood and the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures (which was broadcast just an hour ahead of this), all of which I was busily reviewing for Behind The Sofa.  My first original pieces about this series are still there in which I'm unbelievably harsh on stories which having heard again I've dramatically reappraised.  I almost didn't link back to them, but then realised someone would ask why I haven't. So ...

Anyway, having forgotten the chronology I can now see this bold new direction for the character was actually written and recorded a full year before Absolution and The Girl Who Never Was which themselves were recorded two years after their predecessor Memory Lane which means those final two stories of the earlier era were actually a sort of authentic recreation of a format which was already done.  There wouldn't technically have been anything to stop Big Finish running both in parallel (which is something which has happened with the other Doctors) but perhaps they'd sensed themselves that Charley and certainly C'rizz had run their course with Eighth and it was time to give them a send off.  Though he'd return to the monthly releases with Mary Shelley later anyway.  And Charley for the anniversary.  In any case,  it's a curiosity that if you are listening to these stories "in narrative order" that order bares just as little relation in terms of Paul McGann's work as those other actors.

But it does also explain the Eighth Doctor's attitude at the end of the previous era.  His dismissal of C'rizz's death is almost Capaldi-like in its harshness which is why Charley is quite cross about it leading to her initial decision to go a different way.  It seems out of character for someone who'd previously given up his habitation in a universe in order to save one of his friends and especially bizarre if you've followed him through the novels and comics.  Except in franchise terms it's really nothing new.  Unlike some shows which will spend whole season explaining why a character is leaving, in Doctor Who they will just up and go in the space of a couple of minutes and even when killed off the adventure just continues and on the majority of occasions for production reasons.  But the format is flexible for us to rationalise it as a way of reminding us that the Doctor is an alien and doesn't react to things the way we do.  The fact that we can also understand his attitude to C'rizz certainly helps (even if I'm not sure I wanted him to die horribly) (um).

So in project terms we can assume this series happens not too long after The Girl Who Never Was though there's a big enough gap for someone to fit in some solo adventures or with another companion in the future.  In theory there's nothing to stop the comics appearing here but as I've suggested before, there's something nice and simple about viewing the era as novels then comics then audios and that's especially true now that we're effectively listening to the Doctor's run up to the Time War and presumably the older version he becomes in Mary's Story.  Plus Big Finish seem to mean for them to run one after the other.  Gallifrey's also the same version from the previous run of audios and features a character who would retrospectively be written into those audios too which as you know is a constant barometer in these discussions, no need to rationalise anything there.  Anyway after nearly ten years I've finally reached the Eighth Doctor's penultimate narrative epoch.  As it stands.

Hello Lucie.  Having been a follower of the good 'ship Charley, her being one of the reason I became a fan again, when I originally heard this series back in 2007, I wasn't entirely convinced by Lucie, partly dismissing her as simply, as I've already suggested above, another iteration of the Polly/Jo/Ace/Sam/Izzy/Rose paradigm, the young contemporary girl.  Which she is.  But there's an alchemy at work here in which she comes across as being more realistic than usual in her vocabulary and attitude, an evolution of the form.  Slang and not just slang, realistic slang; she's from Blackpool and sounds like it, not just in her accent but how she expresses herself (which isn't always true of Clara who has to remain legible for the international market).  Northerners are so rare in Doctor Who, it's simply refreshing to have one of us in the programme and as a main character who's just as brave as the Doctor, if not moreso.

Blood of the Daleks

Boom. One of those story ideas which is so innovative it's surprising the television series itself hasn't attempted it yet, Steve Lyons's script highlights just how good Doctor Who can be when it's simply going about the business of being Doctor Who. What if someone tried to copy the Daleks? You would think they'd be quite pleased that another species is nodding in agreement but quite rightly, and consistently with the new series, they're not happy that the original is being polluted by this inferior version (rather like the Transformers).  As the first story of a new format this is a corker too, setting up all the necessary mysteries whilst simultaneously also telling a thumping story with introduction of the Headhunter prefiguring the Missy interjections from the first Capaldi season.  Who is she and who does she work for?  Back in the day, Anita Dobson and Kenneth Cranham would have been considered the big signings (and still are), but look (or rather listen), it's Agent Carter Hayley Atwell in the year of The Line of Beauty and Fear of Fanny bringing real, cold menace to her role of as a kind of nuDavros.

Horror of Glam Rock

Cribbins! Stubbs! Gately! Buckfield! In a script about the glam era written by Paul Magrs. If you needed a demonstration of how this BBC 7 related series notionally apes the new series whilst at the same time doesn't forget its roots in the wilderness years it's the decision to include this as the third episode in a version of the franchise which is supposed to be attracting new and curious younger fans. Breaking the Wittertainment six laugh rule within the first five minutes, the evocation of the period is so perfect you can almost smell the stale tobacco on the telephones in the service station and taste the tea which the Doctor describes as resembling copper. There's an unexpected level of black humour as some of the deaths are treated in a lighthearted manner which is unusual even for the audios but just about manages to get away with it. My original review was a bit grumpy because I didn't deem this as experimental as The Scarlett Empress, but with a bit of age and experience I can appreciate that writers change their style and interests depending on the media and can see now this is fabulous.

Immortal Beloved

Stumble. To be fair to the writer, Jonathan Clements, he's really trying to create a mood piece with Shakespearean elements but there's still a disconnect moment, not unlike the Doctor's unintervention during Time Heist, when the Doctor could and should be using his wits to intervene during a murder which essentially occurs in order to provide a plot twist and the reasoning provided is that his understanding of the situation is about two steps behind the listener. But there's an overall sense throughout, as sometimes happens, that the Doctor's being dragged along by events having initially changed history by the fact of his initial appearance. Plus there was the unfortunate coincidence of New Earth and Blood of the Daleks also covering body swaps in the same year, though arguably this is the more interesting attempt of the three.  What essentially saves this is Lucie, whose force of will and authentic vocabulary sound entirely counter to anything else happening in the play including the Doctor and it's clear that even in the less reliable plays, she's going to be the highlight.


I said last time Eddie Robson's one of my favourite audio writers and although this isn't quite Memory Lane, he still manages to fit acres of plot, enough to have filled six episodes in the classic series, into fifty minutes.  Much of that has to do with recognising that familiar character types are often an important part of plot-based storytelling, especially in this franchise, and that sometimes the drive to subvert these elements can work against the story.  Robson says this was a rushed rewrite of someone else's script and although there are some obvious similarities with a particular episode that was on tv in 2006 (which he might not have been conscious of), it certainly doesn't show - I certainly didn't guess the mid-story twist which is always a danger if you're a Doctor Who fan who's seen, heard and read a lot of Doctor Who.  As ever Lucie has some stonking lines, one of which I giddily said along with her.  I spent most of it thinking the character of Drew was played by Tom Hiddleston.  It's actually Ben Silverstone who was the star of Get Real.

No More Lies

When this was originally broadcast (I'm listening to this series from my original 2006 off-air recordings), the announcer felt the need to explain that the adventure was beginning in the middle but that the listener hasn't missed anything.  It's a clever tactic utilised less than you'd think in Who which allows writer Paul Sutton to set up the antagonism between the Time Lord, Lucie and Nigel Havers's delicious antagonist before shifting gears and convincingly turning him into a tragic figure, albeit of moral ambiguity.  After just a few plays McGann and Smith have developed an easy chemistry to the extent that all the jokes about Lucie's bum at the beginning don't feel out of place and work within this format's shift towards contrasting her very contemporary approach to life with his archaism (prefiguring the Eleventh Doctor era somewhat).  Project note: return of the Vorticaurs with a reference to Ramsey!  I spent most of it thinking the character of Gordon was played by Roger Allam.  It's actually Tom Chadborn who played Duggan in City of Death.  Ooh a cliffhanger.

Human Resources

Brilliant. The first series ends with a proper, full on, new era style finale with all the epic scope of its television cousin's attempts and in a lot of respects better than some of them. Beginning with a spot-on parody of office life which plays to writer Eddie Robson and Sheridan's comic strengths before throwing the Doctor's own heroism back in his face. Useful treatment of Cybermen too, making fun of the usual confusion as to exactly which is supposed to be their home world and the reveal of the location of the office is a bonkers delight.  But it's Katarina Olsson's Headhunter who really shines, as expected a cross between Missy and River Song, stealing every scene she's in.  We have absolutely no idea whose side she's on and constantly surprises the listener.  Oh and it's also the first appearance for CIA operative Straxus who would later appear but I've already heard in The Light at the End and for the Shinx, the alien race from the first Sixth Doctor and Charley audio, The Condemned.  Onward to "season two".

Soup Safari #47: Roasted Gammon and Carrot at Philpotts.

Lunch. £5.15 (soup and sandwich offer, £4.50 for take out). Philpotts, Exchange Passage W, Liverpool, Merseyside L2 3QT. Phone: 0151 227 9099. Website.

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions and Geta Brătescu at Tate Liverpool.

Art Monday morning I was invited to the press view for the major new shows opening at Tate Liverpool this week. Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots investigates the period just after he became one of the most famous artists on the planet and shifted from his familiar multi-layered, multi-coloured drip paintings into his lesser known and lesser appreciated black "pourings" and began experimenting once again with something glancing towards figurative painting.  The exhibition features the most of this type of painting ever shown together with some which have never been seen in the UK before.  Twinned on the top floor with this is Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions in which an artist profoundly influenced by the abstract expressionists curates a group show collecting work which expresses his own ideas about form and US history,  Then on the ground floor, there's a retrospective of Romanian artist Geta Brătescu's work, focusing on her use of the line in various media including sewing and collage.

But I want to talk to you about clocks, specifically two identical clocks which are displayed above the exit from the Glenn Ligon exhibition, easily missable by visitors thinking about visiting the gift shop, the cafe or catching the bus home.  Through all of the above, despite seeing Pollacks originally owned by Rockefellers and rare art shorts by the now film director Steve McQueen, this was one piece I became fixated about and I knew would be what I'd be writing about here.  These are two circular wall clocks, potentially of the sort that would hang in an office or kitchen with circular black frames, with alphanumeric digits, minutes and seconds hands and "sodium" branding on the face.  The label says they're one of a series of three and a quick bit of research finds this explanatory pdf (on how to create on in your own at home!) which explains that they were all shop bought, with a signed label on the back then transforming them into artist entities (oh and that there are actually four including an artist's proof).

My first reaction on seeing them was "OK what's the thing with the clocks."  Then I read the label which says (and I hope Tate don't mind me simply quoting this here but I don't think I could paraphrase this as well):  "The clocks in this work reference time, living and life partnerships.  Both clocks are set to the right time at the start of an exhibition and then allowed to run their course.  Like any long-term relationship they may run in synch, out of synch, or one or the other may cease altogether.  Identical, the clocks may allude to same-sex relationships, Gonzalez-Torres conveys profound and devastating ideas through the lightest, most effortless and inviting means."  Which is I think you'll agree profoundly, profoundly moving even if you're someone who hasn't been in such a relationship but at least observed them from a far or in the same household.  You know that they will have problems, which like clocks can sometimes be temporarily repaired, but all relationships end even when the participants don't have a choice in the matter.

One of the key phrases in the note, "the clocks may allude to same-sex relationships" expresses quickly the even more poignant background to the piece that the artist was potentially offering a conceptual portrait of himself and his life partner Ross Lawcock who died from the AIDS epidemic not long after the piece was created.  Gonzalez-Torres himself died of the disease not long afterwards in 1996.  It's almost as though whenever the piece is displayed its tell the story of their lives and because the behavior of the clocks can and will change, sometimes offering alternative versions and realities.  Such is the power of the best conceptual art, to apply complex, autobiographical ideas on otherwise everyday, humdrum objects.  I'm also reminded of Henry Clay Work's song My Grandfather's Clock written in 1876 and covered by Johnny Cash as well as the flash game Passage, in which the player simply walks from left to right experiencing the rich tapestry until s/he reaches the inevitable.

What's to stop us creating our own version at home?  Not much.  The exhibition note goes on to explain that in "the year Gonzalez-Torres died, Ligon emulated this piece, hanging two shop-bought clocks side by side on his living room wall.  His homage still hangs in his studio."  In 2002, artist Tobias Wong produced a version of the work Perfect Lovers (Forever) in which he utilised radio controlled clocks which always keep time creating an artificial immortal love (Wong himself then died in tragic circumstances creating new layers of meaning to that version).  I did consider it, popping into Argos on the way home.  But for various reason I have a phobia about ticking clocks, and two tocking out of sequence on the wall would be difficult and also, at least right now, fraudulent.  But metaphorically I already have this digital alarm clock, as pictured, which I was given on my eighteenth birthday and despite knocks and parts disintegrating still rings a real bell to wake me up each morning, twenty-two years later.  If only I could get it to tell the right time.

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions and Geta Brătescu at Tate Liverpool run from 30 June – 18 October 2015. Entry fees apply.

With Charley and C'rizz: After The Divergent Universe.

"It's almost as if you're glad, glad that he's gone."
"You never really cared for him did you Doctor?"
"Oh it's because you liked it the way it used to be, before the Divergent universe...."

Audio Every now and then Doctor Who dangerously begins to review itself within the text and there it is again in Absolution, at the end, as Charley chides the Doctor for his attitude to the loss of C'rizz and it's almost as though she's addressing the fan reaction to that character and the turn of narrative events. At what's supposed to be an emotional moment and the catalyst for my favourite companion ever's departure from this eddy of the narrative flow, I caught myself answering, out loud, her rhetorical questions. Yep, yes, yes, yes I did. The whys and wherefores of my problems with with the Divergent universe were covered in (apparently) controversial detail last time, but just as in the novels the destruction of the Eighth Doctor's memory led to that range never quite gelling again (unless the author effectively ignored his amnesia) so even post-Divergent the continued inclusion of C'rizz with all of his psychological issues and unresolved tensions between the three of them mean that few of these adventures are as purely enjoyable as the range was pre-Divergent.

Series producer Gary Russell has subsequently revealed that two more series worth of Divergent stories were planned until the return of the series to television commercially necessitated the Eighth Doctor's return to Whoniverse proper which he lists as a season opener by Gary Hopkins (who would write Other Lives) instead, Scaredy Cat, Time Works and Something Inside.  The extent to which they were rewritten is more obvious in some than others though as I admittedly rather scathingly point out in my reaction paragraph below, Scaredy Cat potentially bore the brunt of this creative switcheroo.  The best scripts are those he doesn't mention developed somewhat in the more classical format though it's worth speculating on whether the other two would have improved the overall critical and audience consideration of that story arc and betray signs of the whole Divergent universe whateveritwasthingy gaining an upswing in momentum just as the novel series did just before that was cancelled.

Charley would have course go on to co-star in the Sixth Doctor range to brilliant effect (and to an extent have adventures better than some of these later Eighth Doctor examples) and have her own boxed set, which I haven't yet listened to so don't know if it finally resolves her rather maudlin impression of his fate.  It's unusual that they haven't been reunited outside of stories set in the narrative past.  Big Finish in general dislikes unfinished business even to the point of bringing back companions from the classic series and giving them the farewells they didn't properly receive on-screen (and very soon the Sixth Doctor).  Is it right that Charley should be left thinking that her best friend is dead even though he clearly isn't?*  But co-incidentally I'm writing this in the wake of today's news (I'm still trying to get the squee out of the carpet) and it's clear to an extent the Eighth Doctor range is about moving forward and that's exactly what I'm going to do too.

Terror Firma

One of the greatest Dalek story ever produced, certainly in the top five and clearly in the top ten Eighth Doctor stories across any media, Terror Firma does that rare thing in Who of capably and convincingly rewriting what we already knew without destroying what went before. Despite having been created to explain away Eighth's mention of Sam in Minuet in Hell during a moment when Big Finish was attempting to divorce itself from the novel and comic continuities (in the time before the release of A Company of Friends), we're nonetheless entirely convinced that he must have travelled with Samson and Gemma before Charley (aided on this narrative based listen through all the plays by their retrospective mention in the Mary Shelley stories) (and notice that Davros doesn't remove his memory of their adventures).  But Joseph Lidster's script offers rich characters and dialogue across the board and there's a sense of the series gettings its fifth or sixth wind.

Scaredy Cat

And every The Caves of Androzani has its The Twin Dilemma.  Scaredy Cat is a disaster.  Curiously and probably mercifully short (each cd is only about forty-odd minutes long), there's not one story beat which hasn't been done better elsewhere in the franchise and a stack of moments which fundamentally misunderstand the regular characters.  Oh look it's the scientific expedition from Kinda.  Oh its "we must not change history, not one word" from a dozen other places.  Say what you like about Charley Pollard but the moment when she picks up arms to defend the base from marauding wildlife is just wrong frankly.  McGann sounds out of sorts in his performance, C'rizz is at his most annoying and there's a general sense that something went horrendously wrong in the production, potentially related to the script having originally been prepared for the Divergent Universe arc.  Sections recorded before the change and then had to be patched over later?

Other Lives

Well look at you.  A barnstorming homage to the 60s historicals (mainly of the Spooner and Whittaker variety) married with the complex, multi-stranded narrative of a Dickens, Gary Hopkins's script also looks backwards to the pre-Divergent universe Eighth Doctor stories which always flipped neatly between humour and horror (rather than grimly stick to the latter).  The notion of having the regulars double up works well and there's a genuine sense with both them and the production of "We're back."  Still don't like Cr'zz though and it's a real shame his whole story arc is polluting the final days of what was the classic Who team-up of Eighth & Charley.  As a side note, some real world coincidences: I listened to this during the week when I was at Waterloo and Ron Moody died.  His fruity appearance as Wellington is one of the best that Big Finish have ever hosted (he's one of the few Oscar-nominated actors to appear in the franchise across its various media).

Time Works

Like clockwork (sorry) the Doctor overthrows a repressive regime just to show he's still entirely capable of it and this being a Steve Lyons script, he's entirely aware of his utility and almost carries out the process like a plumber attending to replace a stopcock.  The story would presumably have had even greater resonance with the Divergent universe arc in that it's about a society run on the tick-tock and that was a reality in which time apparently had no meaning.  A top draw cast which includes Adrian Schiller who'd later played Uncle in The Doctor's Wife and Ronald Pickup as the leader the Doctor has to negotiate with and their scenes are a clear highlight, a lot of the running around in the frozen time zones less so.  One of those stories which feels traditional but would be entirely impossible to create on television without an infinite budget and time - in other words the perfect Big Finish.

Something Inside

"... so strong, I know that I can make it, though you're doing me wrong so wrong..."  Another refugee from the Divergent universe arc (and showing it more than most), did Trevor Baxendale actually have Labi Siffre in mind whilst writing?  The song's lyrics could be grimly referencing the life of the "brain worm", the sneaky antagonist that eats its way through the cast to such an extent even the Doctor agrees he's not having the best of days.  A clever riff on films like Cube and The Thing, it's necessarily difficult to follow in places and would probably require a couple of listens.  But onward and upward.  Most notable element is the Doctor's motivation speech comes in the form of a talk through the 2005 European cup final, with name check for Steven Gerrard.  "I was at the match" he says, and you can hear the delight in the actor's voice as though he was even there himself (which he might well have been).

Memory Lane

Eddie Robson's one of my favourite audio writers and it's hard to credit that this superb entertainment was his first commission so expert is it in characterisation, pacing and exploration of its thoroughly good idea (an idea which would arguably be considered less successfully later in Amy's Choice).  It's all in the mastering of structure.  In the first episode, establish the intriguing premise of losing the TARDIS in the street with identical houses inhabited by an older man who acts like a ten year old and his mother, then in each subsequent episode introduce new characters and complications before winding up to a satisfying conclusion which logically develops from character.  So many superb moments and lines, notably the Charley grimly noticing that she only ever seems to meet a hallucination of her mother now.  Robson also scores some Tipping Point counters for reminding us that C'rizz absorbs the personalities around him explaining his sometimes inconsistent behaviour.


Bye then C’rizz. As companion exits go this is pretty epic, but as Joe Ford notes on his blog, it's in an oddly structured way because he's absent for most of the second and third episode while writer Scott Alan Woodard goes about the business of reminding us why we liked the Eighth Doctor and Charley in the first place as he sets up the final few beats of the story (see above) and The Girl Who Never Was (though there are odd occasions when it's almost as though she's forgotten the events of Zagreus and the TARDIS it's almost as though the ship is entirely new to her, perhaps for the benefit of potential new listeners).  Plus it's one of those stories which introduces some potentially interesting stuff, like the TARDIS's chameleon circuit coming back online and introduction of a new console room but doesn't do much with them as a relatively uninvolving sub-Season 18 story with characters called things like Overseer Cacothis thrums along in the background.  Nice to hear my favourite Shakespeare play quoted though.  No, the other one.

The Girl Who Never Was

And by then Charley. As with Absolution, The Girl Who Never Was is slightly oddly structured for a final story (notionally) of a major companion in that (also notionally) it separates the Doctor and Charley for much of its duration which means we have to cherish their moments together, sparky and sometimes unpleasant as they are.  Just about as good as an Alan Barnes Eighth Doctor audio can be with perfectly chosen kisses to previous adventures in this range (even another Mary Shelley reference) and also still earlier and even a memory related moment which must surely have been an influence on Journey's End, another story with a painful companion exit.  Well reader, even knowing what's to come, I sobbed a little bit just as I did back when this was originally released then giggled and giggled thanks to a post-credits sequence which structurally pre-figures the MARVEL universe somewhat.  Part of me really wants to see what happens to Charley next (again) but ...

* except in a subsequent Sixth and Evelyn story, The 100 Days of the Doctor, he and she observe 8th, Charley and C'rizz attending a card game in the American Fronter with an older 8th & Lucie which should have the effect of indicating to Charley that he couldn't have died at the end of The Girl Who Never Was.  Unless the time differential shorted everything out or some such ala The Day of the Doctor and she doesn't remember.  Or some such.

Soup Safari #46: Tomato and Basil at Patisserie Valerie.

Lunch.  £5.10.  Patisserie Valerie, Unit 1 The Met Quarter, 34 Whitechapel, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 6DA. Phone: 0151 227 1678. Website.

"Too bad he didn’t get you into Sherlock as well."

TV Diana Rigg's been interviewed for Random Roles on The AV Club. Inevitably:
AVC: Having survived her encounter with Miss Piggy, your daughter Rachael Stirling is now an actress, and you worked together recently on Doctor Who.
DR: Yeah, that was fun. The guy, Mark Gatiss, who writes a lot of that show, and also he writes Sherlock—very, very clever man. I worked with him on All About My Mother, which was an adaptation of the Almodovar film which we did onstage at the Old Vic. He was playing a transsexual and I was playing a lesbian, and we got on really well. Then he played with Rachael in The Recruiting Officer, and then became friendly with Rachie, and suggested that he write something for she and I. Which was great fun.

AVC: Too bad he didn’t get you into Sherlock as well.

DR: Yeah. Well, the women’s parts in Sherlock aren’t that great, are they?
My initial thought was "Burrrrnnnn...." but I expect what she really means, as in Conan Doyle.  Hopefully.

My Favourite film of 1993.

Film Ah Groundhog Day.  Whenever I'm asked what my top five favourite films are (When Harry Met Sally, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Seventh Seal, In The Bleak Midwinter, Star Wars), there's always a guilty pang that the laws of mathematics can't be bent, in much the same way as physics and psychology in the narrative itself, so that Groundhog Day can be fitted in.  Why not this instead of Ferris Bueller?  I can't answer.  But those choices are just as much about personal history as simply listing some films I like, so I'm hoping by including it in this long list, I can go some way to atoning for the original sin.

Which isn't to say we don't have some history.  Groundhog Day was my end of school film.  On the night of the last day of school, when my colleagues all piled into the Coffee House on Church Road in Wavertree, Liverpool, not an actual coffee house but a pub and so not somewhere I frequented often if ever and notice the use of the word "colleagues" instead of friends, my Dad took me to the Odeon on London Road to see Groundhog Day instead.  Sat on the back row of an otherwise empty Screen Two, and this was before the refurbishment so Screen Two was still as cavernous as its numerically lower sibling and I was enraptured.

As you might have detected from previous entries, this has become something of a pattern.  Although it's true that other major life moments have been punctuated by parties, for the most, the pattern of this human's life is punctuated with films.  A few months later when I began university, although I attended a hall trip to the cinema for The Fugitive, I was the only one who returned a week later for Sleepless in Seattle.  The night of my nineteenth birthday was spent in the company of Speed.  All at The Lounge Cinema in Leeds.  When I graduated a few years later, I visited the Hyde Park Picture House that evening and sat on the balcony for a final time to watch John Sayles' Lone Star.

Having realised soon enough that New Year's Eve is a depressing bust, for a good long while now I've instead watched films set at New Year or with new year scenes at home instead: When Harry Met Sally, Kissing Jessica Stein, In Search of Midnight Kiss, Strange Days, Peter's Friends, The Hudsucker Proxy, Sleepless (again), The TV Movie (you know which one) but not New Year's Eve.  Not yet.  Luckily, this Wikipedia entry has some useful suggestions to help put off that nightmare.  In case you're wondering, I tend to watch It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas too, but don't we all, and don't we all weep as we realise what a depressing wallow it actually is.

As I get older it feels even more like the default option which makes me sound about as misanthropic as Phil Connors, the protagonist in Groundhog Day.  As a sidebar, imagine if the film had been set in the internet age, assuming Punxsutawney had decent broadband and wifi coverage.  If you were someone like me, you could never be bored.  Even after watching everything on Netflix and signing up to Amazon Prime and watching everything on there, there are all the other on-demand services.  Plus all the knowledge of the world at your finger tips.  Though film wise, watching Phil learn the piano from a YouTube tutorial would have been vastly less entertaining.

Part of me knows that I've missed something, am missing something.  Last year's film project reminds me that the last film I watched of my thirties was Pocahontas and on the evening of my fortieth I sat through the utterly rubbish but for one shot, Sinister.  This is not good and shows a certain degrading of the stakes.  At the very least, I could have gone to the cinema.  The Babadook was out that week.  If I was going to see a horror film, at the very least it could have been a good one.  Perhaps of all my behaviours this is the one which finally in need of changing.  I just hope it doesn't take being trapped somewhere unpleasantly pleasant to break the loop.

Soup Safari #45: Potato and Leek at The Fat Budgie.

Dinner. £4.50 (vegetable crisps included). The Fat Budgie, 60 Dale Street, Liverpool, Merseyside L2 5ST. Phone:0151 345 6749. Website.

Soup Safari #44: Sweet Potato and Sage at World Museum Coffee Shop.

Lunch. £3.50. World Museum Liverpool Coffee Shop, Ground Floor. William Brown St, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 8EN. Website.

Churchill's Secret.

TV Romola Garai's signed to appear in a drama about the final months of Winston Churchill's life along with a cast which sounds like it would otherwise be appearing in a BBC Stephen Poliakoff drama, with Charles Sturridge, a director who usually works on Channel 4 and it's being made for ITV.
Romola Garai, Matthew Macfadyen, Daisy Lewis, Rachael Stirling and Tara Fitzgerald have joined the cast of the small-screen movie Churchill's Secret, ITV announced.

Garai will play nurse Millie Appleyard and the others will play former Prime Minister Winston Churchill's adult children.

Based on Jonathan Smith's recently published book The Churchill Secret: KBO, the telepicture will be directed by Charles Sturridge. It stars Michael Gambon as the title character and Lindsay Duncan as his wife Clementine.
Nice as it is to see ITV branching out like this, it'll be interesting to see which timeslot it's given. 9pm on a Sunday will be my guess. I'll update this post when it's broadcast to see if I was right.

Elizabeth Wurtzel in The Telegraph.

Books An interview:
It’s funny, I tell her, to hear the one time emblem of disaffected youth sounding quite so, well, optimistic. “Of course marriage is optimistic,” she shrugs, “because it’s the beginning of something. And maybe getting married for the first time at 47 is my real mistake – maybe I should be on my third or fourth marriage. But really what I can’t believe is that people get married before they’re 47. My husband is 35 and I can’t understand why he’s giving up on being single at such a young age. Single people have more fun, after all. They’re out all the time at bars and museums – they’re doing so much because they’re looking for love.”

Soup Safari #43: Lentil at City Cafe.

Lunch. £2.50. City Cafe, 9 Stanley Street, Liverpool L1 6AA. Tel: 0151 255 0051. Website.

"Hey, that's my car!"

Film Watching The Bourne Supremacy this evening, I thought of this opening for a film and story idea. It's (c) Stuart Ian Burns if you want to license it.

Fifty-three seconds of logos.

Cut to interior of a car. I don't know anything about cars but let's say that it isn't wildly expensive and hasn't been replaced in a while, the sort of thing an emergency doctor might drive if they're just starting out and need to get to work quickly.

Michelle Monaghan is behind the wheel (I'm choosing her because she was curiously in The Bourne Supremacy in the group searching for the spy and she's brilliant in everything she's in) (plus Rachel McAdams is probably busy) and she's mid-conversation about racing the hospital because there's some kind of major incident happening and she's being called in on her day off.

She's all game face and professional.

Traffic is gridlocked and she's stuck at traffic lights. Abruptly there's a knock on the glass. Metallic tapping. She turns and on the reverse we see Mark Urban shouting through the passenger window (I'm choosing him because he was curiously in The Bourne Supremacy playing a Russian assassin and he's brilliant in everything he's in) (plus Cillian Murphy is probably busy) (um).

Panicking she takes her hands off the wheel and watches Urban run around the outside of the front of the vehicle pointing his gun at her.

"Out, out!" He shouts. In the background we can still hear the person Monaghan's been speaking to on the phone asking after her health.

"Okay, okay." She shouts back as she gets out and steps away. Urban jumps into the driver's seat and we then see he's somehow found a gap in the traffic and is speeding away leaving Michelle standing in the middle of the road in shock.

"Hey, that's my car!" She shouts as she begins idiotically to run after it only to realise her idiocy pretty quickly and slowing down, only to begin running again at full pelt as she spots her car turning the corner at the end of the road into moving traffic causing two others cars to collide with each other.

As she reaches the two cars which were involved in the collision, we can see that her own car is long gone and that carnage hasn't just been limited to these two vehicles. She immediately gets to work assessing what needs to be done.

This is a film about the people left behind in the aftermath of an action car chase.

Working title: "BYSTANDERS"

Perhaps as I get older, I'm noting this more and more, the cars and people and destruction left behind in car chases in action films, people who were simply going about their day, with a million things to do, who suddenly find their cars destroyed, even dealing with fatalities sometimes in horrors created by someone who's nominally supposed to be the hero or at least the protagonist.

It's the syndrome of characters being morally allowed to die within a fictional construct if we don't know them.

I wondered what a film would be like about them.  The original idea was for a comedy, a character loses their car in a similar circumstance to this and then spends the rest of the film trying to get it back, the final scene being the news that its been totalled and abandoned or even driven into a river.

But that's the obvious thing to do.

A drama's much more interesting.  Michelle Monaghan goes amateur sleuth and will spend the next two hours trying to find out all she can about the car chase and who the people involved were.  But it's brick wall and the whole thing is not a thriller.  It's about her obsession and the effect it has on her.

During the process she talks to the various people affected by the car chase but the reasons for it are entirely obscured although I like the idea of there being a montage sequence in which people whose cars were wrecked or witnessed some of it have all kinds of wild theories that are essentially like something from a Michael Bay film, Die Hard or the Bourne franchise.

But she never quite cracks it and gets on with her life.  Until something else happen major happens in her city and she goes to the place knowing instinctively that he'll be there.  The man who stole her car, the man who haunts her dreams.

Ooh, now that I've written that, I quite like the idea of her having various fantasies throughout the thing with her imagining what he's like.  But we never do know.

I know to an extent this is Doctor Who's Love & Monsters, but the scale is different and it doesn't have the inherent mythological baggage.

The final scene has her finally confront the man who stole her car.

The problem is without him being the cause of some personal pain for her, I can't think of an ending or a proper arc for her other than to find out if he is a villain or hero.  If he's a villain then we're into the ludicrous territory of her becoming an action hero herself and doing him in.  If he's a hero then she receives the equally awful lesson of "Well all these horrible things happened but they were for a good cause."

My best idea is for her to find him in a very public place like a railway station and for the follow exchange to occur.

You.  It is you.

Yes it's me.  Who?

No.  I just want answers.

Do I know you?

You stole my car.  You destroyed half the city.

Your car?


Suddenly there's the sound of gunshots.  People run back and forth screaming.  Urban slams Michelle to the ground, but we just see her face as it hits the deck and his hand on her shoulder.  We realise that she's stumbled into the midst of his sequel.

Get down.

Michelle looks up at Urban who's checking into the rafters of the station for the shooter.



I just want to know why?

Cut to black.

Soup Safari #42: Leek and Mushroom at the Signature Cafe.

Lunch. £3.25.  Signature Cafe, Rapid Discount Outlet, George Henry Lee Building, Clayton Square, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 1AD. Telephone: 0151 708 2000. Website.