tv

    Musical Malady

    This morning I saw a poster for Heathers: The Musical. Err, What?

    I rewatched Heathers fairly recently and I thought, this could never get made today. I figured teenage suicide is too high-profile, and the facts of people being driven to it, and the fear of copycatting — these would put a treatment of it like the one in Heathers off the table today.

    Yet there’s a musical version playing in the West End, apparently.

    Not that you can’t make a musical about serious subjects. I’ve just been to see one about the founding of the USA, after all. But Heathers is not what you’d call sensitive about the subject. It could have been changed significantly for the musical, of course, but to remove that aspect would be to take out an important part of the story, so I don’t know where they’d go with it.

    Turns out that it’s been around since 2014; and that there’s a even a “High-School Edition,” made more suitable for kids.

    Furthermore, it seems there’s a TV series based on the film as well, so what do I know? But it makes me wonder if I’m remembering a different film.

    The nation hods its breath: five minutes till the new series of Doctor Who starts.

    Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost (Books 2018, 5)

    I watched the new series of Twin Peaks in January, but haven’t got round to writing about it yet. In part, maybe, because I knew I wanted to read this. In part, because I want to watch it all again.

    The series was amazing: an incredible, beautiful, challenging piece of art. But, as always with Twin Peaks,1 there was the question at the back of my mind: is he using surrealism to raise real questions, to investigate mysteries, to raise our consciousness? Or is it just weirdness for weirdness’s sake?2

    In the end I lean towards the former. Maybe the whole thing is like a zen koan: if a portal opens in Ghostwood Forest and no-one is there to see it, what will come through?

    Anyway, addressing the book at hand, what we have is quite a short volume which is presented as being a report from FBI Special Agent Tamara Preston to Deputy Director Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself in the show, of course). Its ostensible purpose is for her to summarise what she and the Bureau have learned from the events that the recent series covered, and some other offscreen investigations. It follows on from, and comments on, last year’s Secret History of Twin Peaks.

    Much of it repeats what was in the series, but it does add detail and help to clarify some things. For example it’s probably not a spoiler to confirm that the girl in the 1950s in the glorious nightmare of episode 8 was, indeed, Sarah Palmer, as Warren Ellis has speculated. (It was in his newsletter, which doesn’t seem to have a public archive.)

    But it also follows up on what happened to most of the characters from the the original series that we didn’t hear about in the new one, giving us much-needed closure. Or at least convincing us that the creators didn’t totally forget about Donna, for example. Along the way it does what the new series failed to do, in that it answers the question raised at the end of the original series: “How’s Annie?”

    It’s worth reading, but it doesn’t remove the need for me to watch the whole new series again.


    1. And maybe with all of David Lynch’s work. ↩︎

    2. “Everybody’s wild at heart and weird on top.” ↩︎

    Star Doctors

    It was drawn to my attention a couple of weeks ago that I have not yet expressed (publicly) an opinion on either Star Wars: The Last Jedi or the Doctor Who Christmas special. That is both true, and very remiss of me. Trouble is it’s now been quite a while since I saw them both.

    Still, I should be able to gather together a few memory cells.

    The Last Jedi

    I went on opening night, as I microblogged. It was great. There are some points that could have been done differently, or left out, or speeded up; and it had the weird effect towards the end of there being a series of times when I thought it was finished, and it still wasn’t. But all in all a fine work. Not as good as The Force Awakens, maybe. But that’s partly because that one raised our expectations so high.

    ‘Twice Upon A Time’

    Peter Capaldi’s last episode. It was damn fine, loads of fun. Great to see Bill back, even if not exactly. Unnecessary Daleks, but quite a good use of them — or ‘it,’ I should say.

    And the introduction of ‘Testimony,’ scooping up people’s memories and saving them, is great. Though how many computer-simulated afterlives can one series have?

    And what a dramatic start Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is going to have.

    There you go, only a month or so after the events.

    Mouse Takes Fox

    The news that Murdoch plans to sell 21st Century Fox and Sky TV to Disney is interesting for how it will reshape the media landscape. But it’s good from my point of view for a number of reasons, some relatively trivial and to do with content consumption; and one big.

    1. The X-Men and the Fantastic Four will come under the control of Marvel Studios. Just in time for Infinity War. Well, of course, far too late — even, I would imagine, for Infinity War Part 2. I expect that’s at least planned by now.
    2. Even more trivial, Lucasfilm can put the Fox fanfare back at the start of future Star Wars movies (and add them in to future reissues of the recent ones).
    3. It will become ethical to watch Sky TV. More of which below.

    Above all: better Disney than Murdoch.1

    Will Disney own too much? Hell yes. But see above.

    On the ethics of watching — and paying for — Sky TV: see this blog passim for my thoughts on that. Like here and here. If Sky had not been owned by Murdoch we might conceivably have got it in the past. But I feel we’re highly unlikely to get it now. Buying a dish in 2017 would just be weird, and our side of the road is not cabled, by some odd historical aberration. But there’s the online version, which I think is called Direct TV. If we had had that I would have been able to watch the new Twin Peaks when it was actually broadcast, instead of now, on DVD, as is actually happening.

    Loving it, by the way. And managed to hear no spoilers whatsoever, surprisingly.


    1. I mean, better almost anyone than Murdoch. ↩︎

    Star Trek: Discovery, episode 3, ‘Context is for Kings,’ keeps up the good work, in case you were expecting otherwise. And I forgot to say the other day that, although the IMDB people were negative, there is a very positive review on Tor.com. Much positivity in the comments there. too.

    Trekking

    Past

    I can remember when I first saw Star Trek.

    That’s not so unusual, but if my memory is right — and I’ve just more or less confirmed that it is — then when I first saw it was the absolute first time anyone could see it, in this country, at least.

    Here’s the memory (and it’s tied up, as many good things are, with Doctor Who).

    It’s 1969. It’s the summer holidays, and we’re in a holiday home with a TV. That in itself makes me doubt the memory, because back then holiday houses just didn’t have TVs. A lot of houses in general didn’t. But this memory has always told me that we were on a family holiday. And it’s Saturday, late afternoon. I’m settling down at the TV, and somebody says — I think it’s my sister — ‘Martin, Doctor Who finished, remember?’ Because it was Doctor Who time.

    And I said, ‘But this is like Doctor Who!’

    And as the new programme started someone else — my Dad, I think — said, with a tone of surprise, ‘He knows all about it!’ And then the Enterprise swooshed towards me out of the screen.

    I’ve long wondered how true this memory was. It was 1969; I’d have been five. But I just checked:

    Initially, the BBC was the first-run broadcaster of Star Trek (12 July 1969-15 December 1971).

    The series was shown in four seasons, the first on Saturday evenings at 5:15 pm (in the time slot usually taken by Doctor Who).

    Which exactly matches my memory: summer, Saturday, Doctor Who slot. And the calendar confirms that the 12th of July 1969 was a Saturday.

    I wouldn’t be five for another month plus. Not a bad bit of early-memory retention. I wouldn’t have remembered it at all, if it wasn’t for one thing: trauma caused by fear that my parents would turn the TV off just as this exciting new programme was starting burned it into my brain.

    My Dad always liked Star Trek too, so I guess I was partly responsible for that.

    Present

    Yesterday I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which are on Netflix (in the UK and Europe, at least; in the US they’re on CBS’s own new streaming service). And I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it felt like being that nearly-five-year-old again, but it did feel like they’re trying something new and potentially very exciting.

    Today I was looking at its entry on IMDB. It turns out there are user-written reviews there, which I don’t think I’d been aware of before.

    Sadly they are almost universally negative. ‘It’s not Star Trek,’ is a common theme. But there’s a strong whiff of racism and misogyny coming through. Two non-white women as leads means ‘social justice warriors’ are running the show, it seems. Well from what I’ve read of Gene Roddenbery, I think he’d have been happy to be called a social justice warrior. Star Trek was always about diversity and tolerance.

    Future

    I don’t know how many episodes of this new series they have lined up, but I know I’m looking forward to watching them. So is my inner five-year-old. So would my Dad have been. And so would Gene.

    Jodie Whittaker was amazing in Broadchurch. I’m extremely happy to see her as the new Doctor.

    Extreme Pyramid Scheme

    I didn’t intend to discuss these two episodes of Doctor Who together, but watching the first was delayed because I was in Scotland when the first one was on. And I didn’t realise they were a two-parter.

    Except (spoilers) — oh, they’re not. They’re the first two of an n-parter, where n equals… who knows? At least three, and I’m sort of guessing from the titles and directors that it might be four.

    Anyway, in them we have one really good episode, one not so good.

    Episode 6, “Extremis,” was really very good indeed. Right up there with the best of this series so far. And good to get the mystery of the vault revealed early on, rather than letting it drag on to the end of the season and be an anticlimax.

    Episode 7, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” despite the great title, was weaker, largely because of scientific irrationality and foolish plotting. To say nothing of incredibly lax biosecurity.

    That said, I did enjoy it while watching it. It’s one of those ones where a little bit more care, a few easily-insertable words, and it would all have held together much better. The problem with bad science or plotting based on foolish mistakes is that they can dump you out of the story. Critical faculties should be engaged after you’ve watched a show, not unceremoniously force-invoked by something happening onscreen.

    Never mind, though: the next one looks very interesting.

    BBC Close Their Store Without Explaining Why

    I got an email from the BBC today, telling me that the BBC Store is closing in November. Oddly, they don’t explain why. This Engadget article says it’s because “people prefer streaming.”

    At least, that’s what the headline says. The article actually says the decision comes “following poor sales and tough competition from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video.”

    Which is plausible enough, I suppose. Though I doubt that most people could explain the difference between a streaming service and one in which you have to download the file first. And in any case, Netflix and I think Amazon also allow you to download now.

    In fact my guess would be more that people prefer subscriptions. Amazon and Netflix are compelling because once your monthly fee is paid you can always watch anything they have. With the Store you had to buy specific titles, and there’s always that hesitation about paying before you watch something.

    I only ever used it to watch a couple of episodes of something I had left too late to see on iPlayer. specifically, one episode of Undercover. Apparently I spent £1.89, and I’ll be getting a £2.50 Amazon voucher to make up for it. Whee, an investment.

    So I guess I was part of the poor sales.

    On the other hand, there is the opinion of some — and it would be of many in Britain, I imagine — that BBC programmes should just be available. We shouldn’t have to pay for them again. “We’re not just listeners and viewers, it belongs to us,” as a great man once sang.

    Maybe that’s the solution to the arguments over funding: treat the licence fee as a subscription charge. Increase it, make it optional, but include access to the BBC’s entire back catalogue.

    But the Engadget article goes on to say:

    If the rumours are true, BritBox — the BBC- and ITV-owned streaming service that launched in the US earlier this year — could be expanded to host more of the BBC’s back catalogue and eventually launch in the UK.

    BBC and ITV? Together? Well I never.

    Space Suits You

    Back to form, then, with Doctor Who season 10 episode 4, “Oxygen.” Jamie Mathieson has written some good episodes before, and he keeps up the standard here. A tale of capitalism red in tooth and claw, it reminds us at times of “Silence in the Library,” and also of Duncan Jones’s Moon.1

    It’s a “monster of the week” episode, but the monster is capitalism. This season so far has been surprisingly political. Well, maybe not surprisingly. These are politically-charged times, and science fiction is nothing if not of its time.

    There are no particularly egregious pieces of nonsense here, either. Why the suit’s force-field helmets are OK inside the station but not enough outside isn’t really explained, but the real reason is so the actors don’t have to wear helmets for the whole episode, so that’s all right.

    Oh, one thing: they’re on a space station: what are they mining? I mean, for copper, but in what? We have to assume it’s asteroids, but they could just have said.

    The really interesting stuff is what we might call the “arc” material (if we are harking back to our Babylon 5 days). The shades are back, but only because The Doctor is blind now. Can he fix it by regenerating, maybe? Or by doing a partial regeneration, like Ten? And more about the vault and The Doctor’s oath. Nardole fears what would happen “if that door opens.” But we saw it open last week, so things are not quite as Nardole thinks, at least.

    And the very last scene in the “Next Time…” Yes!


    1. Which is a great film that you should see at once if you haven’t already. ↩︎

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine was on fire tonight. Still managed to be hilarious while treating a very serious subject with respect.

    Wood and Puzzles

    Well, I suppose they couldn’t sustain the excellence forever. I mean, there’s bound to be the odd weaker episode, right? “Knock Knock”, Doctor Who season 10 episode 3 is certainly that. I have to say it’s the weakest episode we’ve seen so far this season.

    This is largely because it doesn’t make much sense. Alien bugs turning people to wood? And back again? Well, I guess it’s no more preposterous than many things we’ve seen, but you need to have some semblance of a rationale, and this had none.

    Plus it had less of what has really been making this season great: the Doctor/Bill interaction.

    Still, it had an interesting season-arc-related ending, with the Doctor taking Mexican food into the Mysterious Vault to share with whoever is in there. And we now it is a “who:” they were playing the piano. And they eat, presumably.

    I think there are two possibilities:

    1. Since The Doctor mentioned regeneration, and we know he’s going to regenerate this season, it’s something to with that. Like a future version of himself, for reasons to be explained.
    2. As I said before, it’s The Master, or Missy, since we saw both the latter and the John Simm version of the former in the season trailer. That would be plausible but weird.
    3. Or, and this occurred to me just tonight: what if it’s Susan? His granddaughter from right back at the beginning? Her photograph was on his desk in the first episode… but that’s just fanciful, and why would he have her in a vault?

    The Luxury of Outrage

    The Doctor is a burning sun of outrage, but claims never to have had time for it. Season 10, episode 3, “Thin Ice,” sends him and Bill into London’s past, to 1814, and the last great frost fair on the frozen Thames.

    There is a beast below the ice1 There is a racist lord. There are cute dirty-faced urchins, and acrobats, and a fleeting glimpse of an elephant.

    I loved almost everything about this episode. In fact the only negative point to me was the use of the old diving suits. You need someone onshore, operating an air pump, to use those, and there was no evidence of such a thing. It’s one of those things that Doctor Who is prone to. Not a big deal in this case, but it wouldn’t have hard to have included a few words about The Doctor modifying them with a compact air supply, or something.

    No matter, as I say, it was an almost perfect episode. And we got back to The Doctor’s office at the end, where Nardole was making the tea (with added coffee for flavour).

    And who or what is in the mysterious vault? The knocking of course echo’s “He will knock four times,” at the end of Tennant’s run, and that was The Master. And we know that The Master — or at least John Simm — as well as Missy, is gong to be in this season.

    But it would be very strange if it were him in the vault.


    1. I’m sure you saw what I did there. ↩︎

    Smile, You're on Emoji Camera

    Episode 2 of Doctor Who Season 10, “Smile,” featured emoji-faced robots (or not strictly robots), as well as Bill’s first real trip in the Tardis and into (as is proper) the future.

    It wasn’t a great story, but it was a good one, and I think it was a great opportunity for character interactions.

    Complaints would be that The Doctor was too quick to leap to the “blow it up” solution (shades of Lethbridge-Stewart, maybe); and that the pacing dropped off badly in the last third, with The Doc taking ages to explain things long after it was obvious that he just needed to reprogram the robots.

    Still, it was, as I say, great character work — Bill is shaping up to be an excellent companion — and an amazing location. I heard that the main building is in Valencia, and parts of it looked an awful lot like the Eden Project.

    I also like that the episodes are continuing one into the next. Will they carry that on through the whole season? Could they? Should they?

    Everything Rhymes

    Doctor Who is back! And at Easter, which still feels like the right time of the year.

    Now, as you’ll know, I thought last season was the best season of New Who. I may have been being a tad hyperbolic there… but not entirely.

    And now we’ve got “The Pilot,” the first episode of the new season. Introducing Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Among other things, I’ve got to say that this would be a great jumping-on point; a fine episode for someone new to the series to start.

    The story was good, not great; there were unnecessary Daleks, but if that means they’re going to otherwise be given a rest for this season, I won’t complain; and we’ve got the mysterious vault that The Doctor and Nardole are investigating. I suspect it might be most of the season before we find out what’s going on with that.

    Nice references to the past with the pictures of River and Susan; and the people who were fighting the Daleks were Movellans, apparently. I learned this on Jason Snell’s Doctor Who Flashcast podcast. I knew I recognised them, so I thought they must be Thals, and that we were right back at the start of it all. It’s a very long time since I saw either.

    So, The Doctor has been lecturing at Bristol University for maybe fifty years? Intriguing. And the mini-trailer that we got as well as the usual “Next time…” is even more so. Both Missy and John Simm (presumably as The Master). The start of The Doctor’s regeneration sequence. We know he’s going to regenerate, but not, presumably till the last episode.

    Though on that point, Capaldi said on The Graham Norton Show that he had already filmed his part of the regeneration scene, and the only thing they still had to film was the Christmas special. Not surprisingly he wouldn’t give an explanation of that paradox.

    I have a theory, or suggestion for how things might develop. They won’t do this, and they shouldn’t; but bear with me.

    In a reversal of the now-common trope of The Doctor’s companion falling for him, The Doctor falls for Bill. She, of course, is not interested. So The Doctor regenerates into a female form.

    That would be to put Bill’s sexuality too much to the fore, and of course be wildly unlike The Doctor. But it amused me to consider for a few minutes.

    Looking Back and Forward

    My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.

    But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.

    Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to

    Give in
    Ride the punk nostalgia wave
    For all it’s worth
    Recycle the name of my old band
    For a big reunion tour
    Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
    ‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were

    Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.

    Unfinished

    The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.

    “I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”

    Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.

    In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).

    I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m taking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.

    OK, But What is it Really?

    The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.

    Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.

    Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past

    according to Cambridge.

    But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.

    And a live performance always happens in the present.

    This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.

    And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.

    Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.

    Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3

    But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.


    1. Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos↩︎

    2. This is why you should always save links, folks. ↩︎

    3. God, I really come from another time, don’t I? ↩︎

    Demo

    Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the anti-Brexit/pro-Europe demo today. I had a work thing that ended up taking most of the day. But I was there in spirit.

    Last night was Comic Relief, which included Red Nose Day Actually. I thought the speech by Hugh Grant’s prime minister character was amazingly relevant to the times. Obviously that was intended, generally; but specifically it had resonance with London’s reaction to the Westminster terrorist attack.

    Also about that, Mitch Benn has written a song called “London’s Had Worse,” in which he sings of our resilience and the attacker’s crapness. Not his best song, but no bad.

    Broadchurch Thoughts

    I hope everyone’s following the new series of Broadchurch. If you thought the second season didn’t live up to the first, then I think you’ll find that the third brings it back to greatness. Trilogies always sag in the middle, don’t they?

    People are being very positive about it on Twitter. Many of the comments are around how every guy you see is a possible suspect. Which is very true. I’m just glad to discover that there are eight episodes, not six as I had thought. Which means we’re still not quite halfway through.

    David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are fantastic together as ever. and Jodie Whittaker as Beth is amazing.

    Most of all, I think it bodes well for Chris Chibnall’s future role as head writer on Doctor Who.

    Interrupting-Kids Video and Analysis Thereof

    The video of the guy being interviewed on the BBC and interrupted by his kids is great, but even better is Ben Thompson’s analysis of it.

    You can see the video and read about it at that link.

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