Identity Loss.

People The Guardian has a useful piece about memory loss or more specifically identity loss and how it's not uncommon:
"For some, amnesia is specific to a situation: being in car crash or witnessing a murder. In others, it is not a solitary personal experience that drifts away in time but your identity, your self. “Who am I, what have I been doing all my life?”

"Jason Bournes in the real world are usually found by police on street corners and led, in an often dishevelled and confused state, to emergency rooms. No name and no memories. Some have travelled hundreds of miles from home as part of their psychogenic fugue (fugue is Latin for flight). It is a departure from a distant physical location, but a remote place of the mind, too."

My Favourite Film of 1988.



Film Still on air now in a different form and long after I stopped listening to commercial radio on purpose, the "peaceful hour" on Liverpool's Radio City was how I went to sleep during my school years, broadcast between midnight and one.  I can't remember who the DJ was, though YouTube suggests it might have been Paul Leckie, but I do have two vivid memories.  One that every night someone would request Minnie Riperton's Loving You and there was a brief moment when my tweenie soprano voice could actually reach some of those high notes and the adverts repeated at what seemed like ten minute intervals for the latest film releases at the Video City chain of which our local was in Garston.

These adverts, which included clips of dialogue from the films and what must have been a pithy synopsis supplied by the film company were repeated so often that after a while I could quote them verbatim.  Now there's only three films which pierce the fog: The Pick-Up Artist ("Hi, I'm Jack Jericho." "Did anyone ever tell you that you have the face of a Botticelli and the body of a Degas?"), The Boy Who Could Fly ("You told your mother something about a boy who rescued you." "What are you, a shrink?") and Working Girl ("I have a head for business and a bod for sin.").  Every night these same adverts.  But for some reason I never did actually see any of these films, on rental from Video City, which was odd because we were in there all the time.

As a family we were lent our first video player in the mid-80s.  We ventured out that night to buy a blank tape from the Asda at Hunts Cross which would eventually be the permanent home for a recording of the James Spader starring Starcrossed which was broadcast as part of a sci-fi season on Channel 4 (with, if I can complete the memory, a purple sticker across the top which had been given away free with the 2000 AD spin-off "magazine" Crisis).  But that evening it allowed us to finally experience the magic of recording something from live television and then playing it back.  Pretty soon afterwards we decided to try renting some films and the nearest shop which wasn't also an off license was Video City in Garston.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, this is where I first hired Star Trek: The Next Generation, but before that, one summer holiday, I remember working through the whole of the available Police Academy series, loads of Disney and oddly one Sunday afternoon Robocop, which would have been my first 18 certificate film.  Not a bad place to start.  The decor is about what you'd imagine a mid-80s video shop to be, with woodchip wallpaper and those red plastic display boxes for new released and wall shelves for the back catalogue (with its often lurid box art).  There might even have been a small, walled off section for adult selections.  The place seems huge in my memory, but was still relatively small, so it could have been about the size of an average off license.

Yet despite all of the advertising efforts I would eventually see these three films through other means.  The Pick-Up Artist, starring Robert Downey Jr in his notorious phase opposite Molly Ringwald just after she'd fallen out with John Hughes and was seeking more adult material was broadcast in the middle of the night on ITV back when they didn't simply rerun Loose Women and posh teletext, The Boy Who Could Fly was I think shown one morning on Channel 4 and I think I eventually saw Working Girl on a recording the same relative made of it from Sky for us.  Even as I type this, I still can't believe that all these archaic means of accessing film were only thirty odd years ago.  Though given that I'm forty, that is actually a very long time.  Let the river run.

BBC Genome adds links to actual programmes.

TV The BBC Genome is a massive database of everything broadcast on the BBC from 1923 to 2009 created by scanning in back copies of the Radio Times. Since it went public it's been an invaluable source of information as to what was transmitted when, providing the useful ability to remind us when memories of various shows actually happened.

Now it's even better.  Now they're going through and linking entries to actual programmes available on the BBC website across television and radio:
"When I started the work to find the programmes, we weren't sure how many published programmes, which are available outside the 30 day catch-up period for programmes available on BBC iPlayer — we would find on the BBC website. Over the years, different departments have uploaded select broadcast programmes, and they sit under different collections on bbc.co.uk – sometimes categorised and alphabetised, sometimes not. We knew about the large and well-documented collections, and estimated there would be many more obscure, single programmes too.

"Our guess when we started was that we might able to link about 3,000 videos or radio programmes – so far, we have found about 8,500 (282 television and 8,200 radio). And we're still working on more."
They're asking for user submissions, so of course ...

Are you MARVEL or DC?

Film At a certain point, I began to think of the MARVEL cinematic universe, which I favour because it's good, and the WB/DC projects a bit like political parties or at least with the sort of tribalism with which kids used to defend their favourite 8-bit computer with (a debate I was largely on the fringes of even then with my Acorn Electron during the Spectrum/C64 years and then owning a C64 while people were throwing STs and Amigas in each others faces).

Partly this is because the creatives, or actors at least, are almost choosing which of the big comic book franchises to join to the point and there's little or no crossover between them.  As far as I can see, none of the cast of the Suicide Squad or Batman vs. Superman films has previous appeared in the MCU or vis-versa so it's entirely possible for us, or at least me to think of them as either being, "MARVEL" or "DC" and be otherwise disappointed if they've chosen the latter.

Rachel McAdams is a favourite actress, so when she says she might be in the Doctor Strange film, it's a relief because it means she's MARVEL.  Finding Amy Adams in the Man of Steel was a shame because I like her too but she's hitched herself to DC (even if she was a predictably good Lois in an otherwise bad Superman film).  It should be noted that anything pre-Iron Man or pre-MoS doesn't count so I'm still in hope that Anne Hathaway might play one of the Inhumans or some such.

Is it possible to guess if an actor will turn out to be MARVEL or DC?  Maybe, maybe.  When the cast list for Suicide Squad was released, I wasn't surprised by most of the names.  Looking at other franchises for inspiration, Emma Watson feels very MARVEL, but Rupert Grint is clearly DC.  Daniel Radcliffe could go either way.  Greta Gerwig, MARVEL.  Brad Pitt, DC.  Cary Grant, MARVEL.  Gary Cooper, DC.  No idea why.

Tongue Restraint.

History In Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners, David Olusoga describes the legacy of cruelty which underpins our wealth. In one sequence during the first episode whilst visiting Jamaica he's confronted with the instruments of torture utilised to subjugate slaves. There's a clip of this sequence here and amongst the objects is this tongue restraint utilised to subjugate slaves who challenged authority.



The apparatus looked familiar and for the rest of the sequence I asked myself where I'd seen it before. Then I remembered.



In Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power, Amanda Vickery describes the history of the women's suffrage movement. In one sequence during the first episode whilst visiting the Lancaster Castle Museum she's confronted by this tongue restraint utilised to subjugate women who challenged authority.

Doctor Who in the British Movietone Archives.



TV Associated Press have uploaded the British Movietone archive to YouTube. Find above some glorious images of Liverpool in the thick of winter 1936. Here's some text about the project:
"British Movietone is arguably the world’s greatest newsreel archive, spanning the period 1895 – 1986.

"Shot on 35mm film, this global archive contains many of the world’s enduring images and is rich in coverage of news events, celebrities, sports, music, social history, science, lifestyle and quirky happenings. It was the first newsreel to include sound, the first to use colour film, the first to break many exclusive stories, and is your first and last stop for newsreel footage.

"We hope you will enjoy exploring the British Movietone collection. Please feel free to share our content with friends and embed onto your own websites and social media forums."
Roy Greenslade has had a glance through at The Guardian.

Inevitably I've had a glance around for some Who related stores.

Working through the names of the Doctors, all I found was the charming footage of Jon's wedding day from August 1960:



The Boys and Girls Exhibition at Olympia in 1964 which was also in the Pathe cache but worth it here for the announcer attempting to immitate the voice:



The Jersey Battle of Flowers from 1965. Soundless clip which has a Hammer Dalek on a float in the middle:



Another soundless clip, this time of the British Toy Fair in February 1965 which features the Dalek costumes pictured above:



Which is about as far as I've got.  The metadata on the clips isn't as extensive as Pathe - you have to click through to the AP website for the dates of the clips - so if there is anything else, it's obscured by a lack of search terms.  Vwrop.  Vworp.

My Favourite Film of 1989.



Film Politicians are often asked, "What you're favourite [insert album/television programme/film]?" and I'm usually pretty sympathetic when on hearing their answer it clearly sounds like something which has been chosen by their advisors or even through a focus group to best position their candidate or incumbent in relation to the portion of the electorate who aren't cynical about these things.  There is in fact no worse question because even your answer, as Nick Hornby writes about in High Fidelity, will have a profound effect on how other people view you for better or worse.  Hornby suggests that in the end it's not about what you like but who you're like.   But as I think most of us know that's wrong in almost every respect.

For years when I professed to be a film fan knowing full well that the next question would indeed be "What's your favourite film?" I never did have an answer for just this reason.  It's horrible.  For one thing if you're a film fan there is no single answer because there are films we admire, films we love, films with memories connected to them, films which are technically brilliant and the last great film we've seen which is still marinating in our consciousness before we decided the way in which we love it.  And it is also that we know that if we say the wrong film to the wrong person it can change a friendship or relationship going forward.  I know, because this has happened to me.  In both directions.

One of the harshest examples of this was in the first meeting between students and lecturers during my MA film studies course, just before lectures began when we were to introduce one another.  In other words, you're sat in room with peers and lecturers, all of whom are going to judge you in one way or other and whatever you say will be used against you later in some way or other.  Having just spent the past few years catching up, I could say without hesitation I rather liked French New Wave but something in me couldn't say I liked sci-fi.  I couldn't.  So I think I said something like "But I still admire films which are visually interesting even if the storylines aren't that great or some such."  On that occasion, I could have said sci-fi since one of the modules was just about that.  Yet, I fretted.

It's because of all of this, the pressure, that in the end I decided that I needed to choose a favourite film.  By then I'd narrowed it down to the most necessary five, When Harry Met Sally, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Seventh Seal, In The Bleak Midwinter and Star Wars.  But keeping those rattling around in my head and knowing that sometimes they have a habit of swapping in and out (In The Bleak Midwinter was Citizen Kane for a while and Ferris Bueller is in for Adventures in Babysitting) and there's also the rather sticky conversational moment when you end up saying, I can't give you one but I have five, which shows you've really thought about this.  Oddly, if you can just real off one film people tend to think you haven't thought about it much at all.

Here's how I made the decision.  For official reasons related to important things (I know!) I was asked to name my favourite film and rather like the random letters out of the Scrabble bag at the end of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy it allowed me to give the answer without thinking about it and my ultimate answer was When Harry Met Sally.  Partly I wonder if it's because it was the first film on that list and with a previous shuffle it could just as easily be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which was there for a while too and would have been on this list too if it hadn't been for Before Sunset).  Then a bit later I was asked the question again in the predicted social setting, gave When Harry Met Sally again and it stuck.  When Harry Met Sally is my favourite film ever.

Why?  That's always the next question.  I think because people are surprised.  It's a film which is admired I think but it's from a genre which generally isn't thanks to it being thoroughly devalued by one too many Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Lopez vehicles and a general sense of making them all in the "chick flick" subgenre when for decades they were actually perceived to be enjoyed by men and women thanks to a more balanced approach to the gender portrayal within.  Perhaps if they already know me a little bit, on that basis they might expect me to say either something falling out of the art house or science fiction.  But I love them both equally so what would be the point.  Which isn't to say I didn't spend about six months saying Inception.  That was hilarious.

When Harry Met Sally is very funny.  Which it is.  As Hadley Freeman notices in her book about 80s films, pretty much every line is quotable and I do still at length.  "You made a woman meow?"  "Baby Fish Mouth." "Fur zee vest ov zee dey vee jall tuk lyke ziss."  "On the side."  "Married..."  "There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance." "Sheldon?"  But some lines are simply philosophical.  "You're right, you're right, I know you're right,"  are words to live by not least because it reminds you that sometimes you might be wrong and you need someone to remind you.  "Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn't possibly all have good taste."  "No one has ever quoted me back to me before."

Arguably it's Nora Ephron's greatest script, though she collaborated somewhat with all the main participants, director Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.  Its key feature is that it doesn't have some high concept thing like even her later scripts and pretty much every romantic comedy since, other than that they meet each other over a number of years.  The "impediment" which stops them from entering the relationship isn't time-travel, or being geographically separated or a number of dresses, it's that they're afraid that falling in love will ruin their friendship.  We don't have enough of these kinds of films any more, at least outside of television movies and even then they tend to be beset by tragedy.

It's perfectly structured.  When Harry Met Sally follows the classic Hollywood structure to the minutes.  The set-up section which covers the stuff in the past, the opening ride to New York and them meeting on the plane is exactly the first quarter of the film, about twenty-five minutes.  The next quarter, almost exactly twenty-five minutes, is about them becoming friends but the turning point is at the New Years Eve party when they realise they have stronger feelings than that.  The next twenty five minutes are about them trying to still be friends under these circumstances and the sexual tension leading to them having sex leading to the final twenty-five when they're apart leading to them falling love.  Then at the very end Harry and Sally, talk through this structure to camera.  Wow.

It's a film which changes as you age.  When I first saw the film, on rental video in probably about 1990, perhaps at a friend's house, all of these characters seemed to much older than me and worldly wise and having lives I could only dream of.  Now that I'm forty, the characters will seem much older than me and worldly wise and having lives I could only dream of.  But the process of aging which is one of the film's many topics runs deeper with me now.  Example: When Sally says "And I'm going to be forty!" "When?" "Someday!" "In eight years!""But it's there! It's like a big dead end!" She proposes it's different for men.  She's talking about the biological clock but for all kinds of other reasons that scene rings oddly hollow.

This speech: "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  Which is more than enough to make up for the film resolving to type and having Harry run to the place to try and convince Sally to return to him.

Plus there's the atmosphere.  Whilst aping Woody Allen in some respects (though as I suggested in an earlier discussion without actually copying him as the film has reputationally been implied) (that would be Miami Rhapsody) the seasonal colours, the brownstones, the Manhattan streets.  When it came time to refurbish my flat, I asked for a faux-wooden floor in my bedroom as homage to carpet rolling scene in When Harry Met Sally.  It's the film which made me want to move into a city centre where everything is just accessible, all the time, when it's just as easy to go out for lunch as stay in.  Granted it's a dream-like place and like Woody Allen's films ignores most of the rest of the city, but as a school boy this was one of the films which almost acted like a portal to somewhere better.

It's another film I've owned in multiple formats.  My first copy was recorded from the BBC during its first network premiere on 26 December 1992 at 10.05pm.  Imagine my surprise a few years later when I bought a 4Front budget copy from HMV on Church Street and found that they'd snipped out a whole chunk of the wagon wheel coffee table scene for swearing.  In about 1995, The Independent gave away VHS tapes with their paper at the weekend and the first was When Harry Met Sally.  I didn't get it.  I already had a copy.  I eventually bought a dvd from Music Zone in Williamson Square in the early 00s after having established it was one of the films affected by MGM zooming and then in June 2013 finally purchased a blu-ray when it was released in this country.

Having had to reiterate all of that have a feeling that I probably would have chosen it anyway.  I can't think of a single reason why I wouldn't. For everything above but also because it's the film I most want to watch.  For various reasons I don't have my copy to hand right now and it's "killing" me.  I think I might end up buying another one too since Netflix didn't renew their license for it and having written about it again here, I'm desperate to see again.  Have you seen it?  The film, I mean, not my copy.  If you haven't, I hope this hasn't spoiled it for you too much and I recommend, no I plead with you to watch it as soon as you can.  It'll spoil the modern romantic comedy for you, but it's worth it for the pretty much the whole thing.

We Need To Talk About Hank Pym.



Film Briefly, very briefly. Having finally seen MARVEL's Ant-Man this lunchtime and in a similar style to The Avengers post because I don't have a coherent, flowing argument just a few random points of order... expect spoilers.  Don't read this if you haven't seen the film yet.

(1) It's a bodge but an entertaining bodge. Even after seen the film, I'm not dissuaded from anything I've said previously in these posts:

The Torchwood Problem.
Squirrel Girl!
Reedless to say.

Having pursued the insanity of making an Ant-Man film for years even as the MCU idea invalidated why Edgar Wright wanted to make it in the first place, there needed to be a situation creatively where the director put up and shut up in script terms with Kevin Feige simultaneously allowing him to direct it in his own style or dumping the whole thing and letting Diablo Cody produce Squirrel Girl instead or some such.

Just as the Thors are grand fantasy, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy thriller and Spider-Man will be their teen series, Ant-Man was supposed to be the Edgar Wright comedy.  So when the competent but directorally vanilla Peyton Reed took over, his job he was on to a loser since he couldn't direct what the project is supposed to be but similarly with the lead in he was unable to dump everything and start again, and it shows.

It's a bodge, a project in which two different directors with all obviously different styles are pulling away from one another, one of whom is behind the camera, the other still around as a kind of ghost.  It's AI (Kubrick vs Spielberg) or X-Men: The Last Stand (Singer vs Ratner).  There are moments which have to have been kept from the Wright/Cornish script, the funniest bits probably, and it makes the whole thing endearingly messy.

If anything, Reed seems to adopt three different styles.  The closest to Reed himself and certainly scriptwriter Adam McKay is probably the stuff with Scott Lang and his family which resemble an "adult" comedy or Indiewood piece (underscored by the Judy Greer casting).  Whenever the MCU interpolates it's the Russii of Captain America.  Everything else from the slapstick to the "mime" montages to all the business with Rudd's friends and visual gags (including the Thomas bit in the trailer) are very Wright.

Of course as anyone who's had to work out which bit of Shakespeare's collaborations are Shakespeare or someone trying to write like Shakespeare or Shakespeare trying to write like his collaborators, the who did what isn't certain and won't be unless the Wright script is leaked (assuming it hasn't already).  The casting was apparently mostly done before Wright walked (which is interesting because parts of Rudd's dialogue sound like they were written for Simon Pegg).

But let me be clear: despite all of this, in places, Ant-Man touches on brilliance.  Parts of it are as good as anything MARVEL has been involved with.  We can argue all we want about who is responsible for that and as I've said before at some point in the future there will be a long essay by someone who has the time arguing that the MCU is franchise as auteur, in which case Ant-Man is akin to The Trouble With Harry in Hitchock's pantheon or Woody Allen's Amazon series.  But, yes, brilliance.

(2)  Apart from the themes about passing the baton and essentially retelling the same story as Iron Man, Ant-Man is also about how to do an origin story in a universe where superheroes are a "reality" in a similar way to a Doctor Who alien invasion story when they sort of thing happens weekly or the Buffy comics now that magic and vampires are out in the open and actually have their own chat shows.  This is the action comedy version of Skye's arc in Agents of SHIELD.

Without going around in circles, the amount of MCU activity might have been why Wright walked and it feels bolted on, although I really did yelp on seeing the top of the New Avengers building wondering if anyone would cameo and very pleased with the answer.  See also the working of Spider-Man into the dialogue near the end.  For a teenager, he's already making waves in the verse and of course it'll be interesting to see how he appears in Civil War.

Far cry from Iron Man's post-credits.  To return to the Who analogy (sorry), we've now gone from Ninth not mentioning Davros by name in Dalek to Davros turning up in Journey's End and remembering who Sarah Jane is.  The trick now will be keeping things fresh, and doing away with origin stories seems to be the thing.  But shifting into radically "different" genres looks to be a useful process also, though I'd still like to see "non-superhero" material set in the MCU.

(3)  The box office.  Domestically in the US, Ant-Man's had the smallest box office of any MARVEL film since The Incredible Hulk but is doing well internationally, with a £4m weekend in the UK.  But the press have been relatively sanguine about this because the budget was much smaller and expectations were lowered due to the production history.  Plus its probably made about as much if not more as it might have done if it had still been an Edgar Wright film.

But content wise it doesn't feel like the kind of film which should be judged a flop on those terms.  If this had been an Avengers or any of the other larger films were a building, spaceship or town falls out of the sky at the end then it would have been worrying.  But much of the film takes place in and around Scott Lang's apartment, his ex-wife's house, Hank Pym's house or the laboratory which has his name.  The most compelling sequence is about a tiny reformed burglar drifting through inner space in a dayglo version of the Orphan Black title sequence.

Ant-Man represents the sort of film I'd like MARVEL to do more of.  Much as I like the larger films were a building, spaceship or town falls out of the sky at the end, I'm more often drawn to the minor characters into MARVEL comics, the non-Gods (which is also presumably why I still tolerate Agents of SHIELD).  There's a sense of that in Phase Three with something like Black Panther which doesn't look like it's going to be a giant blockbuster either.

Which is why I'd love a sequel.  There isn't one planned, but the obvious idea would be for the new Ant-Man and Wasp, mentored by Pym to enter the microverse searching for the older Wasp and with the obscuring of her face throughout, there's clearly a plan for that, leaving the door open in casting terms.  Catherine Zeta Jones?  Sandra Bullock?  Juliet Binoche?  Anne Archer?  I'm trying to think of actors who haven't already been in this space before.  It's tricky.

The problem is there's no space for it as such going forward.  The July slot is free next year but that's not enough lead time, which makes the next potential slot November 2019.  MARVEL could decide to slot another one in ala Spider-Man and push everything up again, but Ant-Man isn't Spider-Man.  Another option would be a DTV film in collaboration with Netflix but they're already tied up with The Invaders series so that seems unlikely too.  Sigh.

The Omen of Sefton Park.

Film The QuoDB is a search engine for movie quotes. Imagine my surprise when searching for somewhere local that I should find:



That's Sefton Park in Liverpool mentioned in Omen: The Final Conflict, which I will now have to watch. No there isn't an Ormsby Road in Liverpool, but there is an Ormsby Street, off Lawrence Road in L15.

A Chronological Checklist to the Eighth Doctor (a work in progress).



TV Having recently completed the decade long business of reading, reading and listening through the mainstream of the Eighth Doctor's adventures and posting reviews, I thought I'd put together something which links to all of those reviews which could also double as a chronology should anyone decide to try and repeat the exercise.  Good luck with that.  As you'll see from the linked the dates, the novels took almost as long to read as their original publication history.

As I explained in the barebones version a few years ago although there are a number of chronologies available (and I'm grateful to @girlfromblupo for pointing me to this one) many of them tend to mix the various media together.  My own version keeps things simple and has the books then the comics then the audios since they're all relatively self contained, especially since Big Finish decided to create a whole new character to explain the reference to Sam from Minuet in Hell.

In the process of completing all of this, there is still a lot of material which I've missed so for the purposes of fannish completism, I'll be enjoying my way through those too and I'll add them into the main trunk of the list once they're reviewed where I think they should be (just to add to the challenge), as well as anything new which is published.  Some of the prose is about audio and comics characters so they'll be more obvious.  We'll see about everything else.

Finally quick word about format.  Anything which isn't in italics is original publication history.  Anything in italics was produced after the fact and I've added extra information in the brackets afterwards to explain what it is.  Originally, I did have lots more gaps to delineate "seasons", but decided in the end to just separate the more obvious runs of continuous narrative (which then runs aground with Dark Eyes which is a sixteen adventures, four adventures and a single one altogether).

Television Broadcasts

The TV Movie

BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures

Doctor Who (The Novelisation)
The Eight Doctors
The Dying Days (Virgin New Adventure)
Model Train Set (BBC Short Trips)
Totem (BBC Short Trips)
Spore (Puffin E-Book)
Vampire Science
The People's Temple (BBC Short Trips)
Dead Time (BBC More Short Trips)
The Queen of Eros (BBC Short Trips and Side Steps)
The Bodysnatchers
Genocide
War of the Daleks
Alien Bodies
Kursaal
Option Lock
Longest Day
Legacy of the Daleks
Dreamstone Moon
Seeing I
Placebo Effect
Vanderdeken's Children
The Scarlet Empress
The Janus Conjunction
Beltempest
The Face-Eater
The Taint
Demontage
Revolution Man
Dominion
Unnatural History
Autumn Mist
Interference - Book One
Interference - Book Two
The Blue Angel
The Taking of Planet 5
Frontier Worlds
Parallel 59
The Shadows of Avalon
The Fall of Yquatine
Coldheart
The Space Age
The Banquo Legacy
The Ancestor Cell
The Burning
Casualties of War
Wolfsbane (BBC Past Doctor Adventure)
The Turing Test
Endgame
The Stranger (Black Lace)
Father Time
Escape Velocity
EarthWorld
Fear Itself (BBC Past Doctor Adventure)
Vanishing Point
Eater of Wasps
The Year of Intelligent Tigers
The Slow Empire
Dark Progeny
The City of the Dead
Fitz's Story (Big Finish The Company of Friends Audio)
Grimm Reality
The Adventuress of Henrietta Street
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Hope
Anachrophobia
Trading Futures
The Book of the Still
The Crooked World
History 101
Camera Obscura
Time Zero
The Infinity Race
The Domino Effect
Reckless Engineering
The Last Resort
Timeless
Emotional Chemistry
Sometime Never...
Halflife
The Tomorrow Windows
The Sleep of Reason
The Deadstone Memorial
To the Slaughter
The Gallifrey Chronicles

Doctor Who Magazine Comics

Endgame
The Keep
A Life of Matter and Death
Fire and Brimstone
By Hook or By Crook
Tooth and Claw
The Final Chapter
Wormwood
Happy Deathday
The Fallen
The Road to Hell
TV Action!
The Company of Thieves
The Glorious Dead
The Autonomy Bug
Izzy's Story (Big Finish The Company of Friends Audio)
Ophidius
Beautiful Freak
The Way of All Flesh
Children of the Revolution
Uroboros
Oblivion
Where Nobody Knows Your Name
Doctor Who and the Nightmare Game
The Power of Thoueris!
The Curious Tale of Spring-Heeled Jack
The Land of Happy Endings
Bad Blood
Sins of the Fathers
The Flood

Big Finish Audios

Shada

Benny's Story (Big Finish The Company of Friends Audio)

Mary's Story (Big Finish The Company of Friends Audio)
The Silver Turk
The Witch from the Well
Army of Death

Storm Warning
Sword of Orion
The Light at the End (50th Anniversary Special)
The Stones of Venice
Minuet in Hell
Enemy Aliens (Destiny of the Doctors)
Invaders from Mars
The Chimes of Midnight
Seasons of Fear
Embrace the Darkness
Solitaire (Big Finish Companion Chronicles)
Living Legend (DWM Special)
The Time of the Daleks
Neverland
Zagreus
Scherzo
The Creed of the Kromon
The Natural History of Fear
The Twilight Kingdom
Faith Stealer
The Last
Caerdroia
The Next Life
Terror Firma
Scaredy Cat
Other Lives
Time Works
Something Inside
Memory Lane
Absolution
The Girl Who Never Was

Blood of the Daleks
Horror of Glam Rock
Immortal Beloved
Phobos
No More Lies
Human Resources
Dead London
Max Warp
Brave New Town
The Skull of Sobek
Grand Theft Cosmos
The Zygon Who Fell to Earth
Sisters of the Flame
The Vengeance of Morbius
Orbis
Hothouse
The Beast of Orlok
Wirrn Dawn
The Scapegoat
The Cannibalists
The Eight Truths
Worldwide Web
Death in Blackpool
An Earthly Child (Big Finish Subscriber Release)
Situation Vacant
Nevermore
The Book of Kells
Deimos
The Resurrection of Mars
Relative Dimensions
Prisoner of the Sun
Lucie Miller
To the Death

Dark Eyes
The Great War
Fugitives
Tangled Web
X and the Daleks

Dark Eyes 2
The Traitor
The White Room
Time's Horizon
Eyes of the Master

Dark Eyes 3
The Death of Hope
The Reviled
Masterplan
Rule of the Eminence

Dark Eyes 4
A Life in the Day
The Monster of Montmartre
Master of the Daleks
Eye of Darkness

Time War era.

The Night of the Doctor

-------------------------------------------------

Still to be reviewed:

Here's everything which will be moved above and nudged into place once I've read, read or heard them and posted the necessary paragraph.  Do let me know if you think I've missed anything.

Books

Femme Fatale (BBC More Short Trips)

Sad Professor (Perfect Timing)

Growing Higher (Short Trips: Zodiac)

Apocrypha Bipedium (Short Trips: Companions)
Notre Dame du Temps (Short Trips: Companions)

Gazing Void (Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors)

Mordieu (Short Trips: The Muses)

A Good Life (Short Trips: Steel Skies)
Reversal of Fortune (Short Trips: Steel Skies)
Greenaway (Short Trips: Steel Skies)

Far From Home (Short Trips: Past Tense)

Syntax (Short Trips: Life Science)
Jonah (Short Trips: Life Science)
The End (Short Trips: Life Science)

Repercussions... (Short Trips: Repercussions)
The Time Lord's Story (Short Trips: Repercussions)
The Juror's Story (Short Trips: Repercussions)

Best Seller (Short Trips: Monsters)

Thinking Warrior (Short Trips: 2040)
The Ethereal (Short Trips: 2040)

The Eight Doctors of Christmas (Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury)
...Be Forgot (Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury)
The Feast of Seven... Eight (and Nine) (Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury)
Evergreen (Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury)

Seven Deadly Sins (Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins)

Round Trip: After Midnight (Short Trips: A Day in the Life)
The Heroine, The Hero and the Meglomaniac (Short Trips: A Day in the Life)
Before Midnight (Short Trips: A Day in the Life)

Venus (Short Trips: The Solar System)

Be Good For Goodness's Sake (Short Trips: The History of Christmas)
Not in My Back Yard (Short Trips: The History of Christmas)
The Long Midwinter (Short Trips: The History of Christmas)

The Wickerwork Man (Short Trips: Farewells)

Prologue (Short Trips: The Centenarian)
Dear John (Short Trips: The Centenarian)
Forgotten (Short Trips: The Centenarian)

Second Contact (Short Trips: Time Signature)
DS Al Fine (Short Trips: Time Signature)

Museum Peace (Short Trips: Dalek Empire)

War in a Time of Peace (Short Trips: Destination Prague)
Lady of the Snows (Short Trips: Destination Prague)

Remain in Light (Short Trips: Snapshots)
Osskah (Short Trips: Snapshots)
Salva Mea (Short Trips: Snapshots)
The Sorrows of Vienna (Short Trips: Snapshots)
You Had me at Verify Username and Password (Short Trips: Snapshots)

For the Man Who Has Everything (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)
They Fell (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)
Decorative Purposes (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)
Faithful Friends - Part 3 (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)

From Little Acorns (Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership)
One Fateful Knight (Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership)
Epilogue (Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership)

Doctor Who and the Adaptation of Death (Short Trips: Transmissions)
Lonely (Short Trips: Transmissions)
Nettles (Short Trips: Transmissions)
Transmission Ends (Short Trips: Transmissions)

Second Chances (Short Trips: How The Doctor Changed My Life)
Suns and Mothers (Short Trips: How The Doctor Changed My Life)

Illumination (Short Trips: Christmas Around the World)

Phoenix (Short Trips: Indefinable Magic)

Natural Regression (The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who anthology)

Fallen Gods (Telos Doctor Who novella)
The Eye of the Tyger (Telos Doctor Who novella)
Rip Tide (Telos Doctor Who novella)

Comics

Dreadnought (Radio Times Comic Strip)
Descendance (Radio Times Comic Strip)
Ascendance (Radio Times Comic Strip)
Perceptions (Radio Times Comic Strip)
Coda (Radio Times Comic Strip)

Prisoners of Time (IDW Comic #8)
The Forgotten (IDW Comic #5)
Dead Man's Hand (IDW Comic)

Audios

Klein's Story (Seventh Doctor audio)

Running Out of Time (Big Finish Audio Short Trips 1)
Letting Go (Big Finish Short Trips Audio 2)
All the Fun of the Fair (Big Finish Audio Short Trips 3)
Quantum Heresy (Big Finish Audio Short Trips 4)
Foreshadowing (Big Finish Audio Short Trips 5)

Museum Piece (Big Finish Audio Short Trips Subscriber Special)
Late Night Shopping (Big Finish Audio Short Trips Subscriber Special)
The Young Lions (Big Finish Audio Short Trips Subscriber Special)

Bounty (Earth & Beyond Audiobook)

The Elixir of Doom (Companion Chronicle)

The Four Doctors

--------------------------------

Updated 25/07/2015  I've added "Time War era" in at the bottom because it looks like it's going to be its own multi-format thing.  It'll be interesting to see how co-ordinated Big Finish, Titan and whoever else will be.  I believe one of the IDW comics already contradicts Day of the Doctor in relation to the nature of the "moment".  No more, no more, no more ...

Ayesha Dharker on Queen Jamillia.

TV The Guardian has an interview with Ayesha Dharker, who was Solana Mercurio, the morally ambiguous PA in Planet of the Ood and one of the few actors who has appeared in both Doctor Who and Star Wars:
"Dharker was visually memorable as Queen Jamillia despite having only five lines. But she has said that the costume – layered black-and-gold capes topped off with a fan of gold blades like petals on a flower – did most of the acting. Could she call it a performance? “I didn’t have enough to do to answer that question.” Still, she got to meet George Lucas, even if she never saw the proposed doll of her character. “I don’t think they made one. I know the girl characters don’t sell as well as the boy ones. I feel sorry for any child who got given one of me – this small, Indian penguin.”"
No they did not. But there was this gaming card.

Alexander Siddig on everything.

Film Alexander Siddig is the subject of the latest random roles at the AV Club and he's entirely unguarded and generally personally uncensored. He says of DS9, "I had the stigma of Star Trek over me at that point" which makes him the Eccleston of that series and he has this to say on the subject of apocalyptic dragon film without many dragons, Reign of Fire:
"Wow, we’re covering the whole thing, aren’t we? [Laughs.] The only thing I remember about that was the first day. The first A.D. came into the trailer where we were all having our makeup and shit done, and he was, like, “Guys, I need your attention, please.” And we were, like, “Yeah?” And he said, “Um, Mr. McConaughey’s gonna arrive on set in about 15 minutes, and I have to give you a directive—which comes from the producers—that you are not to call him ‘Matthew’ or ‘Mr. McConaughey’ or anything to do with his real life. You must call him Van Zan.” Van Zan was his character name. “And even if you meet him outside in the road, even if you meet him out in town in Dublin,” where we were shooting this movie, “you must call him Van Zan.” And that is exactly what I remember about that movie, because as that first A.D. left the building, I shouted—rather lamely—“And he’s got to call me Elvis!” But he didn’t call me Elvis. In fact, he didn’t call me anything!"

Dark Eyes 4.

Audio Done. It's just over ten years since I posted a review of Gary Russell's novelisation of the TV movie with the Pertwee logo to Behind The Sofa (also now hosted on this blog) and now I'm finally caught up with the continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor.  Admittedly, as I said the other day, there's still a smattering of short stories, some comics and the odd audio (so I'll still be posting reviews for completists sake), but in terms of the main trunk of publications I'll now be listening at the same rate as everyone else.  Before you start talking about Night of the Doctor, I don't think it's really relevant unless Big Finish decide they're going to work towards it and that doesn't look like it's happening soon, instead favouring an approach of populating the Eighth Doctor's Time War period as a kind of separate era.  Despite the Doom Coalition, it has to be at the back of their minds to do a box at some point set in that period.  But then I still hold out hope for a resolution to the way he left it with Charley Pollard ...

A Life in the Day

One of the greatest hours Big Finish has ever recorded.  If there's something I've missed in the Dark Eyes mission approach to narrative, it is the rather more classical form stories in which the Doctor and his companion land and have to deal with whatever's thrown at them (desperate as I am for the return of Eighth to the main releases), so it's rather nice to have a version of that, albeit linked to his search for Molly O.  Writer John Dorney also intelligently writes to character, so while the Doctor's investigating, we have Liv discovering her deep past in a rather sweet romance with Kitty's brother.  She's a weary figure, still shell shocked by her run in with the Daleks and then the Master so what seems like her first genuine laugh, at a Buster Keaton film of course, is genuinely poignant, instinctively captured by Nicola Walker.  It's only later that I discovered she was married to Barnaby Kay who plays, Martin her date and the centre of the drama.

The Monster of Montmartre

Moulin Rouge! meets the Daleks is a killer premise and writer Matt Fritton makes the most of it, although I'll admit there's a moment when I was slightly disappointed when I was reminded that the story wouldn't resolve itself here and would lead into the rest of the story arc.  You could well imagine a version which is about the Doctor trying to convince the spouse that their domestic arrangement will ultimately lead to death and destruction which of course it does.  Rachel Stirling makes a welcome return to the audios after The Crimson Horror on television and arguably even more brilliant (and sonically unrecognisable) as the brilliantly named Demesne Furze in the Fourth Doctor story Trail of the White Worm which features the Geoffrey Beavers version of the Master.  Why couldn't we have had that incarnation of the Master?  Nope, still not a fan of the MacQueen version which makes ...

Master of the Daleks


... a difficult listen in places.  The Eighth Doctor has amnesia again for part of this story and doesn't do much other than blunder about only partially being able to recognise the Daleks before sleeping.  But my fiscal discussion in regards to The Death of Hope is less relevant here because John Dorney's script is so much fun with its embrace of the alternative history genre and the mighty Dan Starkey playing every Sontaran and somehow managing to make them all sound distinctive and often very funny.  Just as Nick Briggs is an expert in Dalek voices, Starkey knows his Sontarans, and I remember seeing a clip of him during the anniversary year perfectly mimicking the voices of the various television versions from across the years.  Clearly the best part of this hour's when they're called upon to battle each other, notably when Starkey allows a newly birthed Sontaran go full Strax entirely unphased by the killing machine that's about exterminate him.

Eye of Darkness

Like I said, done.  In the unusual position of having to carry not just the completion of this boxed set but the whole of Dark Eyes, there's a lot of business to attend to and on those terms I'm not sure it succeeds.  Sorry.  If the series was supposed to be about anything, it was about giving the Eighth Doctor back some of his hope after the death of Lucie and although I enjoy nihilistic storytelling as much as the next film studies graduate, to essentially end the next run of stories with a similar dilemma and in a similar way is really quite disappointing.  Whilst I appreciate the need to move on and reinvent characters, do they always have to (sorry) embrace the darkness?  Dark Eyes has had its moments, sometimes episodes in length, but I probably would have prefered it to have ended with the original box, the notion of that being its own era and then moved on, having never really enjoyed the overall story or some of the characters.  But as we saw with the Lucie run appearing out of the wreckage of the Divergent Universe, this is a franchise that keeps bouncing back.  The Doctor is nearly smiling on the cover of Doom Coalition.  So anything's possible.

Cleaning Everhard Jabach and His Family.

Dark Eyes 3.

Audio Hmm. What to make of The Eminence?  The idea that at some point in the future of this fictional universe everything will recede to be replaced by this single entity is evocative and might even explain who's knocking on the door of Orson Pink's craft in Listen.  But it's also inherently the kind of idea which would be fine in a single story, like the evil from beyond time in The Satan Pit or the mad computer inadvertently created by the Doctor in time for The Face of Evil, but loses interested when pressed into service as it is here as kind of "not Daleks" in the Mechanoid mould (somewhat due to Nick Briggs's unavailability) in what also feels like Big Finish's attempt to create their own Time War or War in Heaven to play about in, ironically just as they were on the edge of licensing the new series.  The Death of Hope even paraphrases the Doctor's own description of fighting on the fringes of that later conflict, helping where he can without getting directly involved.  It's fair to say with this as the secondary antagonist and as you'll see a primary antagonist I found unbearable, I was less than impressed with the joyless exercise that is Dark Eyes 3.

The Death of Hope

Part of the problem is that I simply don't like this incarnation of the Master as played by Alistair MacQueen.  You're not supposed to like the Master, but as with any villain you should at least be able to tolerate their presence, but between his prosaic sentence structure and MacQueen's enunciating delivery, I find him very difficult to listen to.  Which is an especial problem in this opening installment in which we essentially hear the Doctor Mystery Science Theatre 3000 an installment of a non-existent spin-off series for his foe.  On the one hand this is as bold a choice as the opening episode of Dark Eyes 2, but at a certain point in here, I began to think about the fiscal implications.  Having spent £5 on an episode of Doctor Who starring Paul McGann (one quarter of the overall cost), I'd quite like actually hear him do something.  If I'd paid current the full cd price of £40 for Dark Eyes 3, that would have been a whole £10 to listen to a Doctor-lite episode.

The Reviled

The best episode of the set, mostly due to a pretty sneaky twist at the end and some of the sound design.  Otherwise this is a heavy handed allegory about colonization, imperialism and negotiation and as anyone with long memories will remember from my initial reaction to Planet of the Ood, I generally don't like being preached to.  Neither of the groups of inhabitants of the planet Ramosa raise themselves above generic and about the only real draw are the interactions between Liv and the Doctor which really are unlike anything else we've heard in these Eighth Doctor audios, she being someone who needs saving psychologically more than anything else, to go through much the same process he does.  Some notable casting - it's Sacha Dhawan who was so brilliant as Waris Hussein in An Adventure in Space and Time.  Can I suggest once again if not Romola Garai, why not him?

Masterplan

Let's quickly run down the treatment of the primary female characters in Dark Eyes 3.  Spoilers ahead (duh..).  Molly is hypnotised and drugged for much of the duration and essentially a macguffin and no Ruth Bradley's availability isn't an excuse.  She spends all of this episode in a box.  Dr Sally Armstrong who seemed like a promising friend to the Doctor in Dark Eyes 1, is hypnotised by one madman to do his bidding and eventually dies horribly having had her brain sucked out by another. Liv Chenka who spends much of the duration thinking she's going to die from radiation poisoning, not telling the Doctor this until it becomes a useful motivational tool for him, kidnapped, forced to nursemaid Molly, also hypnotised.  Pretty much every female character is hypnotised, drugged or brainwashed at some point.  Admittedly Doctor Who's often failed to distinguish itself in this area, and a lot of male characters come of badly too, but it's especially notable in Dark Eyes 3.

Rule of the Eminence

In which everything ends with a chronological dry run for elements of three Russell T Davies season finales, all of which were of course produced years before.  The Master hypnotises the entirety of humanity to do his bidding in a similar fashion to becoming the whole of humanity in The End of Time (whilst bluffing the Doctor and I suppose us with a false version of the Saxon ruse from The Sound of Drums).  Molly's dispatched in a similar way to Donna in Journey's End (and yes, ok Jamie and Zoe in The War Games).  Perhaps, just like the Daleks who essentially repeated their planetary weapon strategy from The Daleks Invasion and Earth over and over, the Master is later simply having another go at these approaches.  One must be cautious about ticking off (literally in this case) Doctor Who stories for their familiarity, much of its fifty-odd years are variations on a theme, but...  Oh well, four episodes to go.

Dark Eyes 2.

Audio When Apple updated their Music app, they expunged audiobooks and dumped them into iBooks on phones, pods and tablets. Unfortunately the process included a lot of guess work, which for me meant that my carefully curated collection of Eighth Doctor audio turned into rather a mess and the various sections of Dark Eyes 2 became muddled with the episode titles being reduced to list of "tracks" none of which were in the right order. The knock on effect of that was that even though I worked out which was supposed to be the first episode, I went straight into the third and for various reasons didn't realise for about twenty minutes, assuming the sudden appearance of Molly to be part of the bold storytelling reflected in the first.  Luckily I realised in time so didn't end up listening to this lot in completely the wrong order.

Which is of course ironic since this bold storytelling involves the story being told in completely the wrong order.  Heading into spoiler territory for people who haven't heard this, Dark Eyes 2 employs a clever ouroboros structure in which the Doctor's story climaxes, or just about climaxes at the end of the first episode and we then have to listen to the other three in order to discover why he makes what seems like a momentously out of character decision (although in some ways for anyone remembers the thematic underpinnings of Deimos and The Resurrection of Mars isn't out of character at all).  When I do go back and relisten to this, which I plan to, Dark Eyes has that quality, it will include listening through this from two back to one again to see how that changes my attitude to the Doctor's attitude.  Such storytelling isn't unknown in Who with Flip Flop as a key example.

Quick word about covers.  On a few occasions just listening to the audios without looking at the covers has had an impact on how I listen to the episodes since some items which if you've looked at the covers are in no way revelations are just that, notably an amazing piece of casting in Eyes of the Master.  Which I'm now going to spoil here too so look away before the next sentence.  When he appeared in the actual television series and gave an interview to DWM it was pretty apparent that Frank Skinner was a fan and here he is before Mummy on the Orient Express in what must have been, as he thought, his one chance to be in Who.  Best bit, especially in relation to this project?  According to the making of, during the recording he was reading Mark Morris's The Bodysnatchers, which was only the third EDA and he was too shy to bring it to the recording to have it signed by McGann.  Bless him.

The Traitor

Tonally, The Traitor is closer to how I imagined the first Dark Eyes would be, with the Doctor slightly weary revealing something of his predecessor's malevolence.  Later episodes explain his mental state and his slightly more ambiguous attitude to the Daleks.  The introduction of Liv Chenka is well handled and even having not heard her introductory story Robotopia, Nick Briggs's script and Nicola Walker's performance present us with rounded character and a complete, as I found out later, reintroduction.  As with other recent adventures, Dark Eyes 2 is heavily networked into Big Finish's Who mythology but never to an extent that we feel like some of the narrative is missing, all the necessary exposition is here and carefully thought through.  The cliffhanger is chilling, earning the familiar sting.

The White Room

The appearance from the Viyrans almost had me wondering if we'd get a Charley cameo and a final resolution between those two, although given how packed these four episodes are already, putting such a momentous piece of drama at the fringes of this would have been a waste.  Alan Barnes's script is mainly a chance to see what a Molly story would be like without there being a wider context though and of all the episodes this is the most "stand alone" albeit with some set up for the Eye of the Master.  Perhaps the most significant moment is when the Doctor says he has "no money, no country, no family and no friends" which is either him lying or a notice that he's trying not to get attached to anything anymore because of what it can do to him psychologically, a bit like soldiers who go to war not wanting to know too much about their colleagues so that they won't grieve when they're gone.

Time's Horizon

There are always special moments in any drama, especially Doctor Who, when you're almost giddy with delight at how clever the writers have been irrespective of suspension of disbelief and the discovery of the Doctor and Liv appearing at different points in each other's lives but with the added confusion for the Doctor that they've already met but under different circumstances as a different incarnation doubly impressive.  Yes, it's a more simplistic version of his relationship with River Song and he quickly cottons on the ruse, but within the context of this story, it's fascinating.  Unlike River, Iris or Bernice for that matter, there's a reality to Liv, I hesitate to say reality, which is reflection of the experiences she's had with the Daleks and life in general.  She's not easily impressed with the Doctor's life which makes her one of his more compelling associates,

Eyes of the Master

Given that this is the first "recorded" meeting between the Doctor and the Master since the TV Movie, the tendency might have been to make more of them crossing paths but given that they've already bumped into each other in the novels and comics and also that the Master's own timeline is a tangled mess, writer Matt Fritton quite rightly decides to go with the "You again" and "I might have known" approach whilst referring to the evil genius's recent run in with Seventh in a boxed set I haven't heard.  In constructing the semi-conclusion to the story, the writers (because this is a joint effort) have decided to go small, effectively ending this series with a zombie battle albeit with big expositional ideas introduced through the Master.  It's now becoming clear that what Dark Eyes is actually a sixteen episode story arc in the manner of the novels and I can't wait to hear where it goes next. Eight episodes to go.

My Favourite Film of 1990.



Film  Of the various seminars I attended during my MA film studies course, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary French Cinema was the weekly two hours I was least comfortable with. Not because of the content, we saw many excellent films many of which aren't generally available in the UK and which I'd really love to revisit, especially Place Vendôme, Nicole Garcia's thriller about diamond merchants starring Catherine Deneuve. But because of the approach to discourse which was to apply various critical perspectives to the work, which I found extremely difficult in open discussion having been unable to absorb, much less understand whatever it was we'd been asked to read that week.

Frequently I'd simply sit listening which as anyone who's met me will know isn't my usual pose. But this was the one spot when the gap between my own education and my fellow students, most of whom were on high qualification language or literature courses really showed. Many of them were working from knowledge already gained at undergraduate level and between the commuting the college from Liverpool and all the other courses and essays I had to write, there wasn't really time to catch-up on the necessary Freud and Lacan.  This struggle really showed in my writing and some of my lowest marks were for these essays.

On the upside I did get to write about some cherished films, of which Nikita is an example.  After seeing Leon at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds one night, I went straight the university library to find more of Luc Besson's work and the only thing they had in was the VHS Artificial Eye of this which I must have watched on one of the 14" monitors in the library.  At home, my main copy was an off-air recording from Channel 4 (I think) which I revisited on and off for a while until I eventually bought the dvd when I realised I needed a decent copy to study from (probably from play.com since it's not in my order history at Amazon) (which never forgets).

In truth, I'm not sure that I've watched it since, one of the films I haven't been able to get back to after having studied them intensely for the purposes of academia.  Magnolia's another and you've seen what happened to Love Actually.  As you'll see if you bother to read the ensuing text which merited just 60% when it was submitted, I generally had to pick it apart, especially in its presentation of the central character.  Reading through now I don't know that I still agree with myself.  Does the film undermine Nikita's right to be considered a strong female figure because she appears tomboyish or is disguised as male at various junctures?

As the debacles surrounding films with female protagonists this year has demonstrated, we seem to be in the position that if a woman is presented as being "too feminine" she's not feminist enough for some people but if my essay's correct, she shouldn't be "too masculine" either.  My guess is that we have to approach this on a case by case basis and depending on the narrative requirements of the film and that we have to take those into consideration if the film makers are making an effort to tell a woman's story for a change in genres which are otherwise generally dominated by men.  Anyway, have fun with some of the punctuation....

To what extent does Nikita subvert or comply with representations of gender in the action movie genre?

Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990) is the story of a young drug addict who murders a cop at the end of a gun battle in a chemists, but instead of serving a prison term is co-opted into a state programme which trains her to become an assassin. Often considered to be a modern day Pygmalion story or even ‘a French action remake of My Fair Lady (1964)’ (Hughes & Williams, 2001:163), it is an example of the ‘cinéma du look’, a filmmaking movement prevalent in the late 1980s which was ‘preoccupied with striking stylistic effects’ with ‘improbable plots usually based on permutations of the urban thriller genre’ (Smith, 2001:39).

On release and since, the titular character has often been presented as an example of a strong female role model within a story of female empowerment, subverting the expectations of a male lead at the centre of an action film. As Susan Hayward describes, ‘much of the female audience of Nikita perceive the central character positively and read her story as a trajectory towards freedom’ (Hayward, 1998: 110). Problematically that disregards the roles played in the film by the three central male characters, Bob, Marco and Victor the Cleaner as well as the only other female character Amande. The following report will attempt to understand whether the film subverts expectations of gender roles within action films or confirms them.

Nikita appears central to the action, placing her within the pantheon of such feminist icons as Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley, and the main characters in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991). But Yvonne Tasker highlights that the latter, ‘far from being about empowering women, in this view the image of women-with-guns is considered to be one which renders the protagonists symbolically male’ (Tasker, 2002:135). In none of these films are such characters allowed to present an image of femininity. Compare Linda Hamilton’s appearance as Sarah Connor in The Terminator (1984) and then Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992) and it is clear that both the actress and the filmmakers assumed that she needed to pump up in order to present a credible action character.

The foregrounding of Nikita’s masculinity begins in the opening moments of Besson’s film. As four figures drag themselves through the darkened streets it is not entirely clear that one of them is a woman. The character has a mass of hair, jacket and Doc Martins and is not until later when approached by the cop that it is even close to certain which gender she is. Similar to Annie in Jan De Bont’s Speed (1994) she in a ‘“femme tomboy” guise, with the combination of butch/femme elements found in high street fashion’ (Tasker, 1998:78). The character is ‘coded as male, through her androgynous name and appearance and her monosyllabic, abusive and violent behaviour’ (Austin, 1996:130). The director shot the film in sequence, so that the actress who portrays Nikita, Anna Parillaud, ‘could let herself go completely as the punk’ (Hayward, 2000:298). This image continues throughout much of the first half of the film and the character almost blends in with what appears to be an almost all male environment (the only females to appear are Amande and a woman glimpsed during a lunch scene).

Nikita is unable to comprehend the idea of becoming feminine when she visits Amande for her first lesson. Casting Jeanne Moreau, a renowned French beauty, in the role as her mentor makes the contrast all the more vivid. As the character sits with her face in the mirror and her mentor places the wig on her head it is an uncomfortable image. She hardly registers her attention as Amande presents her advice: “Becoming man’s perfect complement … a woman.” When asked to smile, her face becomes crooked; the implication is that this isn’t an expression her face has had to use often during her presumably difficult life, but within the context of a beauty class it suggests that she has never tried to be a woman before. The scene would appear to represent the first in what would be a series of lessons leading up to her transformation, but it is significant the spectator is present for at a time when she is at her most androgynous.

Underlining her masculinity throughout the film, her strength is enforced through the use of technology. As Tasker explains within ‘action narratives, access to technologies such as cars and guns (traditional symbols of power) represent means of empowerment. These technologies are also intimately bound up with images of the masculine’ (Tasker, 2002:139). Nikita ‘is reborn into an all-male world of technology, electronic mass media and surveillance’ (Hayward, 2000:307). Unlike many action heroes, Nikita does not engage in hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the film, whenever she is required to take a violent action a gun is required. The images are particularly ‘phallic’ – they help to enforce a masculinity she is not able to exude when presenting her femininity. Hayward points to the assassination scene in Venice when Nikita is required to murder another woman using the rifle, suggesting that ‘the probe used by Nikita (the telescopic lens on the rifle with its camera-eye properties) is a displaced male probe’ (Hayward, 1998: 117). The assassin is metaphorically given that which she does not have in order to carry out her mission. Lucy Mazdon notes that this approach is unusual in French cinema, that ‘not only is there no real depiction of ‘women with guns’ […] roles for woman in France since the 1980s have been characterised by an increasing emphasis on youthful beauty and/or an overt femininity’ (Mazdon, 2000:115).

Despite her outward appearance, Nikita does not suddenly become female. She remains someone who is ‘symbolically male’ (Tasker, 2002:135) – with a ‘womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed’ (Doane, 1991: 765). Her training has presented her with the ability to become female when required. Throughout the film, Nikita oscillates between this and her original image. The former predominantly appears when she is directly working for the state, when she becomes ‘Joséphine’. An example of this occurs during her first mission, when called to the hotel to deliver the bugged tray. Before entering the service rooms, the camera focuses on her body and she is still wearing camouflage pattern tights and a grey business jacket, symbolically male clothes. After gaining entrance to the room by giving her codename, she is given the maids outfit. Nikita is literally substituting one appearance for another in order to carry out her mission.

Under these circumstance, since Nikita is given the ability to be the subject of the male gaze, it may be that she is actually fulfilling a similar role to a 'male figure in the contemporary action picture (who) controls the action at the same time as he is offered up to the audience as a sexual spectacle' (Tasker, 2002:16). Given the iconography of the film poster, which features Nikita with a short-cropped hair, little black dress and revolver alongside the tag line ‘A New Kind of Lethal Weapon’, it is not surprising that a prospective viewer could reach this conclusion. The difficulty with that approach, however, is that far from being in control of the action, throughout the film, in almost every scene, none of her decisions are motivated by her own choice. As Hayward explains ‘if we unpack the presentation of Nikita it becomes difficult to read her trajectory positively […] there seems to be a gap between representation and perception’, including as has already been described ‘the female body as a displaced figure of masculinity’ (Hayward, 1998:110-111). Viewing the film more closely reveals that, in fact, men are still in control of the narrative, in keeping with Ginette Vincendeau’s suggestion that ‘in French cinema it is generally men who hold power’ (Vincendeau, 1993:158). A more traditional reading needs to be employed.

One of the frequently demonstrated traits of the action film is that the male lead will rebel against the system. A repeated cliché, is when a cop is advised to leave a criminal investigation by their superior but carries on regardless, usually completing the mission with a commendation or as in Jim Cameron’s True Lies (1994) when ‘Schwarzenegger’s government operative actually has to disobey orders to get the job done’ (Keller, 2001:84). Nikita is unable to transgress in this fashion, and whenever she appears to be rebelling successfully it is either treated as ineffective or a joke and is always punished. When she attempts to break out of The Centre using Bob as a hostage, there is a lateral tracking shot of their feet – Bob is striding to the destination whereas Nikita’s are being dragged along. The music is ‘a light, upbeat major theme, detracting from the seriousness and urgency of the scene, which only becomes minor and darker-sounding when it is apparent her plan will not work (MacRory, 1999:59). His face has the expression of someone who is in control and it comes as no surprise when he wrestles the gun from her and shoots her in the leg.

In these different gender roles (which still predominate within the action genre) it is the strong male figure at the centre of a narrative. Laura Mulvey (paraphrased by Yvonne Tasker) suggests this as a ‘division of labour […] in which the male figure advances the narrative whilst “woman” functions as spectacle’ (Tasker, 2002: 16). Amber Mendez, Maria Conchita Alonso’s character in The Running Man (1987) who despite a sharp wit, is by the end of the film dressed in spandex and must be rescued from certain doom by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Ben Richards. Even in films in which the female has much action potential the male protagonist will always be the one to beat the threat. Perhaps the most ludicrous of example of this would be the appearance of Michelle Yeoh, a well respected Asian action star, in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) who even after choreographing her own action sequence still plays second fiddle to the secret agent in the dénouement. ‘Bond Girls’ are as important an element as the exciting gadgets, villain and exotic locations and this proved to be the case again.

When Nikita shoots the cop it could be argued that her action moves the plot along. However the events that lead up to the moment are a result of her colleagues in crime, Zap, Rico and Coyotte. In Nikita, the majority of the different facets of the expected modes of the male action hero are present. This is the only scene marking the appearance of the male body built muscular physique so prevalent in the action film genre. Alison Smith highlights that ‘when we do at last see them closely, they are shown at a low-angle, which […] creates a sense of menace’ (Smith, 2001:29). Of the three, Rico is closest to the stereotype; during the gun battle following the botched robbery, he is presented bare-chested, guns outstretched, shouting his name and trying to fulfil a leadership role. Nikita spends her time hidden under the counter, waiting for her friends to steal her drugs. Killing the policeman is the last gasp of the battle and decreases for the first time the character’s freedom.

A number of commentators argue that Nikita is child-like and examples of this analogy tend to begin here. Hayward characterises Nikita’s demeanour underneath the counter as ‘foetus-like’ and asks for more much like a youngster would to her mother (Hayward, 2000:299). She is ‘the naughty, subversive child who out hits the karate teacher, attempts to run away, shouts abuse, but then, counter to type, performs a ballet dance’ (Hayward, 2000:300). The implication here and in other sources is that part of Nikita’s oppression stems from a search for a parental structure. Smith suggests the judge during her trial is with ‘his dark clothes, his position, his stern face and discreet stubble […] a phallic father figure and a representation of authority’ (Smith, 2001:20). The character calls out to her mother twice whilst the knock out injection is administered. The man who eventually becomes the father figure and helps Nikita develop to maturity is Bob.

Bob is the character who leads the action. It is certainly not his voice on the end of the telephone when Joséphine is activated, though it is he that she reports to at the end of each mission for good or ill. He requires others to do his bidding, although it is worth mentioning that total control does not rest with him. He too has a manager to which he must answer and Smith strikes a parallel between their dynamic and that which he has with Nikita: ‘In a sense this superior acts as Bob’s conscience in the same way that Bob gradually appears to gain status as Nikita’s ‘conscience’, reproaching him for indulging in the pleasure of a presence that he cannot discipline’ (Smith, 2001:32). The difference is that he has the facility to transgress; when Nikita has adolescently bitten the ear off her Judo instructor and dances to Mozart his look through the window is one of humour and pride.

Extrapolating Bob as the father figure is problematical since their relationship though ambiguous, certainly has a romantic dimension. After Nikita fights her way out for the restaurant and returns to her room, when she attacks him their positioning on the floor has sexual overtones. The moment is ‘highly sexualised (by the film, not by the characters) and ends in a kiss; she is the initiator both of the violence and of the sexuality but his response is decidedly positive’ (Mazdon, 2000:37). She is unable to see him in those terms – when she kisses him it is for the last time. Although Nikita says that she understands his ‘sadistic games’ it is difficult to see his role as anything other than protector; from their first meeting in which he drags the table across the room to meet her on the bed, everything he does is to keep her safe. All of the negative information she hears (for example, when he advises her that she has two weeks to improve or live) is filtered through him, making it acceptable.

Nikitas’s retraining explicitly and consistently takes the form of what the French call éducation, a word closer in meaning to the English upbringing than to its own exact cognate, since it refers to a specifically parental right; (they) clear function as educators in the French sense, that is, as substitute parents (Durham, 1998:176).

That said, his intentions are not entirely sympathetic. Seeing Nikita in childish terms, she ‘is reborn into the family of the State, (and) it is clear that there is only one true parent, the father as embodied by Bob. And we see Nikita being shaped, tamed and reformulated by him’ (Heywood, 1998:160).

One trait of action orientated female role is a requirement to ‘explain away the actions of the heroine and to reassert her femininity’ (Tasker, 2002:20), in other words to present a reason why a woman would break free of their usual role as romantic interest in order to operate as the ‘hero’, ‘a common device has the heroine explicitly taking over her father’s role after his untimely death’ (Tasker, 2002:20). In common with many of Luc Besson’s characters, Nikita lacks a history, nothing about Nikita is real, and ‘she is the fictionalized commodity of the state’. (Hayward, 2000:301) The audience only sees and hears scraps of information -- the nostalgic moment when she sees her friend Titi on the photograph of her ‘funeral’, asking for her mother prior to her injection and that she can handle a gun. When Bob visits her and presents a story from her childhood over the dinner table, he ‘becomes, literally, her author’ (Smith, 2001:33) and he his presence reminds her that he has reshaped her into the person who embraces Marco.

This reshaping is within and without. It is Bob’s bidding that Nikita is presented with the ability to become female. As has been shown, Nikita is not comfortable with the process of learning. The turning point happens when Bob advises her over cake that she must change or face execution that she embraces the programme. Significantly, during that scene Bob removes her shoes and jacket as though he is removing her claim to her past self with him. When with the help of Amande, she is re-moulding her into a new form, it is done reluctantly – Nikita does not have a choice in the matter. Indeed her femininity is not a case of re-enforcing her natural state; Nikita actually embodies ‘the male construction of the femme fatale’ (Hayward, 1998:114). During the restaurant scene, as Bob ‘gifts’ the revolver he is completing the task of remaking her. It is worth noting that in the Hollywood remake, John Badham’s Point of No Return (1993), her counterpart Maggie’s transformation presented in far less gradual terms – in one shot she walks up a spiral staircase with one appearance and is revealed in her evening dress stepping downwards in the other. The transformation seems more complete and less ambiguous.

Hayward likens her to a cyborg – ‘a hybrid of machine (the weaponry of death) and organism (the female body), a creature of fiction and social reality’ (Hayward, 1998:115), ‘she is trained not only in computing, martial arts and target practice, but also in the construction of a new and ‘feminine’ identity (Austin, 1996: 130). Nikita even has new names selected for her and their connotations -- the virginal Marie or erotic Joséphine -- demonstrates a forced shift into femininity. In the final reveal, as Nikita sits at the practice table, the spectator views her new appearance through the eyes of Bob and the scene is problematic because although Amande aided the transformation, Nikita is his ‘creation’, the implication being that he is surveying his handy work as much as enjoying her new female identity.

In the final reel of the film, Nikita’s destiny is passed to Victor the cleaner. It is in these scenes that the standard gender roles of the action film reassert themselves: ‘Nikita is no longer the cool assassin, she is merely Victor’s sidekick’ with the cleaner being ‘a ludicrous parody of the macho hit man of convention’ (Austin, 1996:131). He is the man of action, completing a mission that Nikita is not able to. Although Bob apparently gives her control, she is still very much under the eye of the State, ‘she is unable to independently arrive at the appropriate result; the Organisation will always know more than she does’ (Smith, 2001:35).

Victor represents the person that the Organisation would require her to be in order to work within their guidelines, emotionless and charisma free. If Nikita is a cyborg, still capable of some humanity, Victor is ‘a programmed robot, unable to think independently, unable to react to what he is doing either in revolt of enjoyment […] entirely subordinate to the immediate needs of the organisation’ (Smith 2001:35). Their differences could not be starkly drawn than when they stand face to face in the final shoot out. Nikita is dressed as the ambassador and they are almost a mirror image of one another – except that she is crying and imploring for the killing to stop, as Victor looks on not able to comprehend.

An assumption could be that within gender opposite reading of the film using the traditional tropes of the action genre, Marco is in the position of romantic interest usually associated with a female. As Tasker relates such roles ‘provide little for the actress to do but confirm the hero’s heterosexuality’ (Tasker, 2002:15). Like those male action stars, Marco’s presence allows Nikita to present a more vulnerable state often in direct contrast to the person she has to be elsewhere. After the assassination scene in Venice, Nikita meets Bob in a café. She appears as the model of controlled womanhood, all dress and large white floppy hat as though she is parodying his expectation of who he wants her to be (she even says: ‘I know you and your sadistic games.’) In the ensuing conversation her face is nearly emotionless, accepting the mission whilst offering barbs. In the next scene, she sits on a couch with fizzy hair and shirted, smoking a cigarette and contemplating the next move. Marco appears carrying a large bouquet of flowers and she laughs – it is a spontaneous gesture, completely natural. The audience is once again able to see a sympathetic side to the character.

Marco’s presence also demonstrates Nikita’s inability to be both romantic and powerful concurrently. This limitation is underlined by Tasker as being a trait of many action heroines, giving the example of Julia Nickson’s character Co Bao in the film Rambo who is killed just after her relationship with the titular hero ‘shifts from that of comrades-in-arms to romance’ (Tasker, 2002:26), effectively it is made clear that ‘the two roles are incompatible’ (Tasker, 2002:26). There is a key moment during the trip to Venice. Nikita and Marco return to their hotel room after the gondola tour and they are in amorous mood, Nikita even calling room surface because she jokes she gets hungry after sex. That mood is broken when the phone rings and an operative says the code word ‘Josephine’ signalling the start of the unexpected mission. Marco is surprised by her changed emotion as she curtly disappears into the bathroom. As the scene progresses, Nikita follows the mission orders as Marco on the other side of the door talks about the future they may have together. The wall between them is a physical and metaphoric divide between Nikita’s romantic life and her work as an assassin. The two must remain separate. ‘If the film combines the macho thriller with ‘feminised’ romance, it is always the former which wins out’ (Austin, 1996:131).

The dénouement, in which Nikita is forced to disguise herself as a man in order to complete her mission, paradoxically confirms that she is not fulfilling the traditionally male role in the film. The difficulty is that because of the numerous personalities that are being impressed upon her, she is unable to maintain the pretence. Once she enters the embassy, the security guard can see the difference through the camera and the alarm is called. This is because she is attempting to repress her female identity in order to masquerade as the male, something Hayward sees as an impossibility: ‘She cannot make herself fetish, nor can she make herself phallus. She cannot possibly, therefore, cross-dress convincingly’ (Hayward, 2000: 304).

When Nikita disappears, it does not as some might argue, offer her the chance for freedom. In leaving, she acknowledges the incongruity between the identities which have been given to her by the Organisation and Marco which allow her to function within each of their societies and the person that she is, in other words be accepted without ‘losing the radical unconventionality, which is effectively her identity’ (Smith, 2001:39). For the film to be a story of female empowerment, Nikita would have had the ability to use her own nature to change the Organisation or at the very least to work within her own limits – she leaves since this is not possible. Hayward’s assertion is that because Nikita does not re-affirm the difference with the male because rather than being submissive she is transgressive she must disappear because ‘she threatens the very thing that secures masculinity’ (Hayward, 1998:114).

Nikita is a film of ambiguities both in relation to the gender roles of characters and the intentions of the filmmakers. As has been demonstrated, what would initially appear to be a feminist story of female empowerment that subverts the expected positions of the male and female within the action movie genre, actually confirms them. Nikita maybe a displaced figure of masculinity, however by highlighting her femininity, her role as the motivator of her story cannot be maintained.

Bibliography

Austin, Guy. 1996. Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Doane, Mary Anne. 1991. Film and the Maqueade: Theorising the Female Spectator. In. Film theory and criticism : introductory readings. 5th ed. 1999. Edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Durham, Carolyn A. 1998. Culture and Gender in French Films and the American Remakes. University Press of New England, New Hampshire.

Hayward, Susan. 1998. Luc Besson. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Hayward, Susan. 2000. Recycling Woman and the Postmodern Aesthetic: Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990). In. French Film: Texts and Contexts. Second Edition. Edited by Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau. Routledge, London.

Hughes, Alex and James S Williams. 2001. Gender and French Cinema. Berg, Oxford.

Mazdon, Lucy. 2000. Encore Hollywood: Remaking French Cinema. BFI, London.

MacRory, Pauline. 1999. Excusing the violence of Hollywood women: music in Nikita and Point of No Return. In. Screen 40:1. Spring.

Tasker, Yvonne. 2002. Spectacular bodies: gender, genre, and the action cinema. Routledge, London.

Tasker, Yvonne. 1998. Working girls : gender and sexuality in popular cinema. Routledge, London.

Vincendeau, Ginette. 1993. Fathers and daughters in French cinema:from the 20s to ‘La Belle Noiseuse’. In. Woman and Film: A Sight and Sound Reader. Edited by Pam Cook & Philip Dodd. Scarlett Press, London.

Filmography

My Fair Lady. 1964. Production: Warner Bros. 170 mins. Directed by George Cukor.

Nikita. 1990. Production: Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Gaumont, Les Films du Loup. 115 mins. Directed by Luc Besson.

Speed. 1994. Production: 20th Century Fox. 116 mins. Directed by Jan De Bont.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day. 1992. Production: Carolco Pictures Inc., Le Studio Canal+, Lightstorm Entertainment, Pacific Western. 137 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron

The Running Man. 1987. Production: Braveworld Productions, Home Box Office (HBO), J&M Entertainment, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures. 101 mins. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser.

The Terminator. 1984. Production: Hemdale Film Corporation, Cinema 84, Euro Film Fund, Pacific Western. 108 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron

Thelma and Louise. 1991. Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Pathé Entertainment. 129 mins. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Tomorrow Never Dies. 1997. Production: Danjaq Productions, Eon Productions Ltd., United Artists. 119 mins. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode.

True Lies. 1994. Production: 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment. 144 mins. Directed by Jim Cameron.