Friday, 29 June 2007

Doctor Love

It's the obligatory long Doctor Who posting- look away now. Look again, when you've managed to close the page with your eyes shut.

So here we are coming to the end of another season of Doctor Who, and well, it wasn’t my favourite.

David Tennant continues to please me, and the scripts have ramped up the damaged loner aspect of his Doctor this year, this seems to be the Doctor now, one part guilt-ridden survivor to one part reckless liver in the now. Works for me, anyhow.

Freema Agyeman’s done very well filling the hugely expanded audience identification role that the companion has become since Rose, John Barrowman's Captain Jack's cheered up a bit now he's not in Who's adolescent younger brother show any more and John Simm’s Master is a pleasing counterpart to the hyper-kinetic Tennant. I’d rather they’d left the character in the past to be honest, but the new take on him is at least refreshing.

The only problem is I’ve only whole-heartedly enjoyed 4 out of the 12 episodes so far, which is a worry when it’s your favourite show.

Smith and Jones, the season opener was great, well-paced and with just enough explanation, character work, incident and plot, supremely confident and layered in audience appeal.

The Shakespeare Code I found just a little dull, sadly. Some good jokes in there, but not enough sense of adventure for me, somehow. The threat such as it was, was a bit cartoon, and hadn’t started properly until the climax, which also rather let the 'words as numbers' concept down by erm, having the important word-numbers being erm, some numbers. Annoyingly Gareth Roberts did a much better take on this in A Groatsworth of Wit a comic strip for Doctor Who Magazine. This is clearly the wrong way round!

Gridlock had lovely set pieces, but really didn’t gell, I didn’t feel. It felt a bit like Season 1’s The Long Game in the sense of having all the elements you wanted for a story but coming across more like an expanded précis, where some of the important bits had been accidentally dropped in the process of making it.

Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, well it just didn’t work for me, obvious, stupid and old hat not the best combo really, particularly when coupled with slow. I can only really honestly praise it for the pig elevator etiquette scene and some pleasant music.

The Lazarus Experiment is an okay run-around, action story, if a little simplistic, and you know if the monster hadn’t ended up being a bit rubbish because of over-ambition, it’d be okay B movie fun stuff like the hugely enjoyable Tooth and Claw which it so obviously took as a production model. The TS Eliot quotes felt distinctly out of place amongst the rest of the whizz-bangery on display I thought.

42- yeah, okay in a dumb action way again, I guess, annoying reuse of Satan Pit music cues, nice airlock scene, central threat a bit dull and best not to apply any science brain to the eyes that shoot heat rays, hardly inspiring. Ho hum.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood- lovely really, and I think probably better than the book. Scarecrows a bit pants, bar that smashing Singing Detective arm wave from the horizon and the suggestion of blood around one’s eye sockets, but the Doctor’s judgement sequence as suggested for mature Vertigo readers was worth the journey on its own. The romance was well handled too, it felt real in a way that I just didn't think last year's in The Girl in the Fireplace didn't.* I really thought Cornell would have been winning all the gongs going for this one except that next week we got…

Blink- best Doctor Who episode ever. Damn. Funny, scary, mind expandy, domestic, it’s all in here. It also undoes a bit of Paul Cornell’s good work on getting kids to see war memorials as important in that final montage, but hell, if it gives the tinies a new irrational terror, great!

Utopia- bit dull to be honest, though it does perk up for some reason towards the end (and has some lovely character/continuity stuff for the regulars, and one suspects a lot of set up waiting to be paid off). Who’d have thought the audience of Blue Peter was composed of so many wooden children, though? He was the best?

The Sound of Drums- well, Lord only knows, it’s all over the place, but enjoyably so, skirting between control and reckless silliness like the Simm Master. Shame Tennant’s old Doctor looked like Catherine Tate of course, but you have to love the cheek of the behind the door mincing scene, the gassing and the climax being built around a bit of linguistic pedantry. I never expected that from modern Who.
I punched the air when I saw a black Time Lord, and of course, you always feel pleased when you sing the pop hit being cued up in advance, but I won't know if this one's going to fall apart or snap together until tomorrow...

Really loving a third of the show isn't bad, of course, I'd have killed for that in 1986, but being a bit take it or leave it about half of it, and actively disliking a further sixth, definitely is.

Don't go dumb on us Doctor Who or we might sudenly realise you're a show about a monster basher in a time travelling 'phone box.

*whereas the Sarah Jane romance in School Reunion felt totally real to me despite being based on a relationship in which we'd never seen a hint of it before, possibly because Sarah was standing in for old fans' love of the show.

It's Grim Up North, Pt.1

It's been a bit damp 'round my parts this week. That'll be the excitement of going to record my radio show next week, oh and the unprecedented flooding of Sheffield (beaten only by the precedent of the Great Sheffield Flood which happened in 1864, but that doesn't count because, although it killed 270 people, it was down to poor environmental management and not an Act of Gaia. After all, you can't compare mis-managing a great big dam until it bursts with systematically cocking up the eco-system, in any way).

Anyhow, we got off very lightly. We live in one of the higher bits of a town called High Green* (where the Arctic Monkeys come from, kids) which being a high bit of a high bit had most of Monday's torrential rain drain away from it. The next town down, Chapeltown is at the bottom of a hill, so, regrettably, some of the four foot of water swilling about down there, closing off our local train line, the motorway and flooding houses was rightfully ours.

This week, in not on the news news, I have had to cut one gag from m'show which uses bleeped dialogue and rewrite another, because current BBC policy on bleeped dialogue prohibits their comedic use (silly ****s) and rephrase a reference to the mouth of a popular TV entertainer (I think my discussion of the diabolist activity of a well-known stage conjuror has been let through, though).
I also apparently have a joke which requires vetting by Russell T Davies in Cardiff...

It's incredibly anodyne, but now Doctor Who is a big brand, it's possible that even a passing reference to a rubbish old Doctor Who monster (in a comedy-drama, say, not a sketch show), may require a Cardiff approval and a payment made to the writer who created the thing and rather hoped it wouldn't look as rubbish as it eventually did over twenty years ago, so I've heard, anyhow...

*Over coming weblogs entries Ian will reveal progressively more and more details of his personal life in a series that builds week by week into a lavish guide to fraudulently gaining access to his personal details you'll want to keep and exploit. Next week- his house number and three digit Visa security code and the uncrackable combinations on our suitcase padlocks.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Why haven't I been in Coronation Street?

You’re not going to believe this- I’m not sure I do yet, but my third performer in No Tomatoes now appears to be sorted and is, in my opinion, one of the country’s finest actors!

My first choice, as we know, was booked up, and I was kind of stuck for the replacement, because there really is no one else like him I could think of.

Eventually we went down a different route, where, at the producer’s invitation, I drew up a very short-list of people I thought were really good in a different way to my initial target, but who I thought were probably out of our league, really as an indication of the kind of voice I was after as much as anything.

To be honest who we’ve ended up with was the one I thought might well be furthest out of our league, but his agent has seen the episode 1 script and has said yes!

He’s been in Coronation Street, Tom Stoppard and Alan Plater plays, worked for Ken Loach and Richard Attenborough, been in The Lakes, Queer as Folk, This Life, Cracker, Shameless, Clocking Off and Life on Mars.
In other words- He’s a bit good.

My other co-star, who I ear-marked yonks ago because she’s so vocally versatile and has great comic sense, has been in Coronation Street and Shameless too, as well as Emmerdale, Phoenix Nights and tons of radio, and has incredibly generously delayed her holidays to record the show, which is terrific for me.

I can’t wait to work with them both and reveal just how poor a performer I really am. They’re top notch, they really are.

I won’t name them until we’ve recorded, because it might jinx things, but in five minutes with google you could probably identify them both with ease if you really wanted to.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Add It Up

Now here's bizarre- the BBC is contracting me to perform in this show that you must be sick of hearing about by now, as well as write it (no, that's not the bizarre bit, shut up at the back. Honestly, a right lot of riff-raff we've got in!), and I've got contracts buying me out for both, all fine and Beau Brummelloid, except the BBC has secured itself the right to use my words on BBC7 as often as it likes for 5 years, but only has the right to use my voice saying those words a strictly limited number of times over 3 years.

So, the BBC's either wasted a few quid paying over the odds for the writin' and that, or else it's going to end up havin' to pay extra at some point down the line for the actin' and that, if it wants to use the writin' and that as much as it's allowed to.

I'm not complaining, just saying, that's all.

It's hard to compartmentalise myself into being the supposedly different people doing different jobs on the thing and getting different contracts for them when in my head it's all just one big job- Doing No Tomatoes, not writing, acting, sound designing, etc.*

I think I'm entitled to an Equity card now, but that really would be taking the pee.

When I was a lad you pretty much had to go and be an exotic dancer in Dubai for one of them if you were someone with my level of acting experience and expertise.
Now it seems all you have to do is write something that might need you around saying bits of it, for it to make any sense.

*etc. being the endless talking the show up in advance and apologising for it afterwards which I do here for nothing.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Time of No Reply

Now then, if you'd been paying much attention (don't worry hypothetical attentive reader, you're just a conceit devised for this sentence- don't fret about not existing, if you're good and especially attentive I might let you notionally exist again later), you might imagine I'm about to go into studio with No Tomatoes, given it was down to be delivered at the end of the month last I told you.

That's all changed and it's all rolled back a couple of weeks, so that annoyingly I'll be recording it aged 39 not 38, curses! Even worse under-achieving.
What is about to happen is I'm about to get my detailed feedback on the scripts I submitted about a month back, which is handy because I've got loads of distance on them now, but not so good if I have to make massive rewrites over the next two weeks! Fingers crossed.

I've been given the nod that I'm definitely doing the sound design which is great news and I've got a scary, new, sound only computer that is faster and more powerful than a speeding bullet train on its way for me to fail to understand fully for some time but kinda know the way 'round a bit before the project's delivered.

So you know, I might be not around much for a bit if it all gets hairy soon...
Don't all sob at once, it doesn't sound loud enough anyway.

Oh and if you think this sudden date change confirms your theory the series doesn't exist at all and I'm just a sad fantasist- check out this-
I'm mentioned in dull dispatches!
'Course, I'm still a dull fantasist, but at least my series has more reality than you, attentive reader (you happy now, unperson?).

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

So Farewell David "Hatch of the BBC" Hatch

You produced a lot of laughs.

Love Like Blood

The majority of people reading this seem to be Doctor Who fans, or, in other words, mainly practicing inverts or children preparing to practice inversion in the future (Doctor Who fan cliché 1), so this sadly won’t apply to most you, but might just to the remainder of the majority- that is dull, middle-aged heterosexual men (Doctor Who fan cliché 2) or indeed to the alleged trace element of the majority- some women, apparently (Doctor Who fan myth 7017283765842).

You could give blood you know.

I did yesterday, for the first time in six years, admittedly (I get a lot of colds, alright, and they say not to give when you’ve got one, and erm, I forgot and I was erm, busy).

It’s still mildly unpleasant and still far too like a forty-six year old comedy show, but it doesn’t take loads of time- and you know, a pint – that’s very nearly a pound and a fifth instant weight loss, which you, me and all the other Hancockish, dull, middle-aged men still reading this could probably do with.

So if-

· you’re not a man who has sex with men or a woman who might have,
· you don’t think you’ve got or had any of that crazy hepatitis alphabet,
· you have not had an amazing exotic holiday in the last twelve months,
· you haven’t had a big operation or received blood in the last thirty years or so,
· you haven’t got a heart condition (that’s why Ernie Wise went with Glenda Jackson not Eric, on the Public Information Film, how could I not have realised?),
· you haven’t had anything pierced recently, and
· you don’t inject drugs,

it’s quite a good way to both feel good about yourself and a little bit woozy very briefly.

I’m talking to myself now, aren’t I? I’ve described an average weekend for half of you.

There is a movement I believe to try and get this “don’t does and don’ts” list tweaked because it’s a bit of naff '80s AIDS epidemiology thing at the mo that doesn’t really apply to modern life so well; rather sillily still permitting high-risk heterosexual activity in donors and neglecting to address the very real truth that most homosexual men’s lifestyles are so low risk they’re dull enough to be Doctor Who fans.

But if you’re allowed to do it, do it. God knows there’s few enough people are.

You get to talk to nurses and get a free drink and everything, and you can even read a copy of Men’s Health or Marie Claire in quiet, uncomprehending despair while your psychic defences are down.
They had biscuits too, but I made my excuses and left.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Short People

Mention of dwarf actors in the last entry (I've met that Big Mick from off of The Black Adder- Episode 6, you know. We talked about A Small Problem, the short lived size apartheid, apart-height if you will, sitcom and his first TV role- working with Stratford Johns on The Book Tower. I like a good Stratford Johns anecdote myself, partly because almost everyone who worked with him refers to him by his real name Alan, which makes you feel all lovely and insidery from the get-go), puts me in mind of someone I studied Drama with in the 1980s, who's sadly died since, Julian Skelton.

Julian was a vegetarian, an avid fan of the Stranglers, and a follower of the Animal Liberation Front. He had short, spiky, dyed hair, wore only black clothes and was a dwarf. He may also have been an anarcho-syndicalist, his mate Joel was. Maybe he just listened. If they'd ever made a film of The Wasp Factory, Julian would have been a shoe-in for the punk dwarf role in that.
As I recall it, he also got his Equity card younger than anyone else I knew by virtue of a summer holiday job on the George Lucas picture Willow. You can see him most clearly in the finished film as a market trader who angrily shouts a few words at some kids who've stolen fruit from his stall, but he's milling around in other scenes too.

Willow features a whole village worth of dwarfs, giving proper acting parts to people George Lucas had previously primarily, encased in tin and fur. They were playing a different species to 'normal' humans admittedly, like the Dwarfs of Wagner and the Dwarves of Tolkein, but at least they were allowed to act like people and get quite close to Joanne Whalley's navel while Val Kilmer worked his charms on her.
Willow's dwarf actors and extras took over a London hotel during the filming, which Julian recalled as a surreal experience, suddenly becoming the norm in the middle of the city rather than the object of curious stares. Whether anything went on like the reputed debauchery of the similarly hotel liberated Munchkin actors during the making of The Wizard of Oz, he never said. He may not have known, to be fair, he was young and more interested in Joanne Whalley at the time, which is a hard position to take issue with really.

Julian bought epic numbers of Stranglers rarities with his Willow money, and probably loads of black clothes in difficult sizes too and came back north with tales of cowering from big dogs dressed up as monsters and other such glamorous on set goings-on.
The film was released and was a moderate success. Joanne Whalley married Val Kilmer and most of the dwarf actors went back into working in animal skins and metal boxes, and life went on.
Years later, George Lucas wrote a novel sequel to the movie, which may well have been a write up of the notes for a sequel that immoderate success would have brought, I don't know.

Outside acting and reading fanzines about 'themeninblack' Julian also went hunt saboteuring, laying fake scents and honking horns with mates to annoy posh country blokes on horses hunting foxes at the weekend. What delighted me most about this was he had a knitted black balaclava to disguise his identity while doing so.
I liked to imagine angry huntsmen seeing him later back in his civvies, hanging 'round the village for his lift back into town.
"There certainly was a dwarf in a Rattus Norvegicus t shirt out there in the woods," they'd say to each other, like dumb bad guys out of Zorro "but his face was covered so I can't be certain it was this dwarf in a Rattus Norvegicus t-shirt."

Julian died one January around eleven years ago, after collapsing coming off stage in a play. I gather he'd had a few unhappy years since I'd known him and hadn't looked after his health too well.
When I told another acquaintance of his death, they asked, in that curious way you do, what play he'd been in. Somehow, we have a collossal need for specifics and trivialities when faced with death, it's as if detailed knowledge of the circumstances helps us believe it more.
I had to say it was bloody 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' of course. I wish it hadn't been.

In unrelated 'did Ian buy a doodgy mp3 player?' news, my I-River H10 has developed a hint of lemon. The scroll button has decided to stop working, which means it currently has about 10 percent functionality and, perhaps more crucially, it will only play back at volume settting 0, which is, you know, not entirely useful.
It is I believe still in warranty, so repair or replacement should follow with luck. I'll keep you posted on developments, if any further idiosyncratic non-functionality develops or more or less standard poor customer service hilarity ensues you'll be fairly high up the list of the first to know.


I saw the film Gods and Monsters, a fictionalised account of the last days of Frankenstein director James Whale the other day, a movie which suggests that Brendon Fraser might, given half a chance, turn into a rather more well regarded actor than he is at present (he'll probably have to get fat and/or old first though), and which only really puts a foot wrong for me when Sir Ian McKellen's Whale states he comes from Dudley in the North of England.
Come on, it's called the Midlands for a reason, Sir Ian! I can't believe a Dudley boy would ever call his town Northern, even if attempting to explain his background to an American he considered a bit dim.

The only thing I'd like to have seen in the movie that I didn't, would have been an explicit parallel between Whale's death in his pool and the Monster's innocent drowning of the little girl in Frankenstein, which could have been easily and effectively incorporated into one of the film's dream sequences and would have been thematically apt I reckon.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about other Frankenstein films, and in particular, one I greatly enjoyed that no one else seemed to- The Bride.
Now at the time this seemed to be reviled by the mainstream press as an unnecessary and inferior remake of Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein, for not having enough horror in it and for starring Sting, but to take those points in order- it's immediately and explicitly obvious that this is if anything a sequel to The Bride of Frankenstein from the reimagining of its finale at the film's opening, there's hardly any horror in the Universal Frankensteins either actually and Sting's not in most of it, and not as I recall it, actively bad.

What The Bride does offer is a rather sweet story about people coming to define their own destinies and identities and become themselves rather than creatures of others, a halfway house between Shelley's Frankenstein and its popular reinventions exploring some of the themes of the story, and a great supporting cast featuring four of my favourite British performers- Quentin Crisp (perfect as a clone of Doctor Pretorius the camp scientist/Occultist from The Bride of Frankenstein), Alexei Sayle (as a snarlingly evil circus boss), David Rappaport (as a circus performer who befriends Frankenstein's monster), and Ken Campbell (as a dodgy but ultimately honest, devious, thieving, stinking peddler).
All four shine for me, because they give intelligent, felt performances in their individual styles, and are reassuringly odd, in a way you don't usually see on film. Most movie actors tend to believe less is more and the less idiosyncratic their less is the better, these performers are bigger than that- there's no Queen Christina stillness in these faces.

Crisp, as I'm sure you know, was originally a Pratt, and a distant relation of the actor William Pratt in fact, an artist whose career also took off with a name change when he became Karloff the Uncanny, and you can't help feeling this Frankenstein blood-tie was one of the reasons Crisp was cast in The Bride.
Crisp's angle on performing and life- that you should take what other people think is wrong with you, emphasise it and make it your style, is probably the key to why I like all four of these performers, focused difference.

Sayle is a genius- wit, rage, lunacy and intellect with a Scouse accent, and thus rather like my dad after talking to one of his brothers on a 'phone sometimes, and he writes well too.
He sat down near me in a cafe in Crouch End once, but he was radiating 'private time - do not disturb' so he missed my rubbish gushing adulation, luckily.
I would probably had said something crap, like-
"'Lexi! There's a page and a half in your novel Overtaken, riffing on 1970s leftish playwrights that I absolutely adored. Honestly, I was honking like a goose by the time you mentioned Snoo Wilson!"
And he would have said "Why can't you just say 'How you diddling?' or 'You fat bastard!' like everyone else, you great ponce?' and if I was lucky, sneered at me.

Rappaport, a mainstay of kids TV when I was growing up, who you may recall commited suicide in LA was an actor I always wish had been allowed to play humans more, even in LA he was playing a lawyer (B'doom tish. Try the gefilte fish, I'm here all week etc.).
It seems sad to me that while we have colour-blind casting in British Theatre, we never seem to have developed size-blind casting, meaning that interesting actors like Rappaport, only ever play dwarfs full-stop, not swordsmen, lovers, scientists, business men, students or gangsters who just happen to be dwarfs. In films and TV of course they're lucky to play people at all. It seems such a waste that we've so many dwarf actors who only really get seen in panto or a monster suit.

Campbell, of course, is a hero, a performer and writer who celebrates the peculiar, and encouraged me to think a decade or so back- actually, hell I could still do this writing and performing thing after all- there's a gap for the cleverly odd. I just have the find the bit of gap that's left that fits me and my particular lack of traditional performing skills, that's all...

They're all peculiar "monsters" really and their own special creations too, and they all make me laugh too.