Posts from 4th December 2004

Dec 04

Who is Jonathan Creek

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” Arthur C Clarke

A 15-year long conspiracy is fighting for its life. The conspiracy, committed by desperate Dr Who fans, permeates the corridors of British television. One of the more noticeable symptoms of the conspiracy is the TV series Jonathan Creek. Many people have noted the similarities between these two shows (an example from, but the reality is more, much more, disturbing.

Of course, like any respectable conspiracy, it is vigorously denied. An interviewer pushes the point in this interview with the producer of Jonathan Creek. The producer dismisses the similarity, claiming that the writer Andrew Marshall is no fan of Doctor Who. But who is this producer? Why it’s Verity Lambert – the very first producer of Doctor Who back in 1963. And if we grant that Marshall may not be a Who fan, this leaves the massive overlap of characters and plot to be explained. For the coincidences of casting however we can look elsewhere: for the BBC staff (casting included) is riddled with “sleeper” Who fans.

Roots of a conspiracy

Fans of Doctor Who have several scores to settle. Not least of which was the cancellation of the show by the then DG Michael Grade in 1989. Grade publicly stated that he loathed the show, so when DW was first “put on hold” in the mid 80s there was a media flurry driven by fans and doting/bored newspaper columnists that culminated in the fantastic “Doctor in Distress” charity record. But some years later when the show was finally cancelled where was the charity record? All very suspicious. Those same fans had grown up a little, and plotted a much more subtle revenge. They found themselves out of school or college, looking for work, and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us. The “other interests” sections of CVs sent to the BBC were quietly revised overnight.

It had to happen. Dr Who was recommissioned early in 2004, and is currently in production to start transmission some time in 2005.

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Christmas 1972

L-R: Bobby, me.

Weeks of preparation. Several hundred dollars spent on presents. Two hours of sleep. And after all that fussing towards perfection, you get what every parent wants to see on Christmas day: a son more interested in playing with his younger brother’s toys rather than opening more of his own. (See those blue boxes on Bobby’s sleeping bag? Un-unwrapped.)

Thankfully the younger kid prefers playing with the Christmas ornaments to fighting with his brother.


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This variation on the Groucho Marx joke was not something that ever really needed fleshing into a full movie. Nevertheless, given the literal meaning of the title, a pretty good fist was made of it. It is a superhero origin film, just with Santa as the superhero. And seen in this way, Tim Allen gaining all of Santa’s “powers” – including getting fat – is plenty fun for the kiddies. Admittedly the secondary plot about the kid and his Dad is mawkish rot, but for the sense of wonder, The Santa Clause is actually not that bad.

Ghastly Tales for Gruesome Kids

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Ghastly Tales for Gruesome Kids

It might be a little late to post about this programme as I think it’s off our screens for the moment, but hopefully it will return. Firstly, yes, it’s a children’s show. And strangely it’s been much more appealing and intelligent than most ‘adult’ programmes on TV.

Ghastly Tales are at heart morality tales, not even very thinly disguised ones, old-fashioned tales with a warlike ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. They may be for gruesome kids, but are also about gruesome kids; snotty, rude, greedy, obnoxious kids who always get their comeuppance. And it’s pure genius.

There are two parts to the programme – the first a model-animation of a creepy old man who delights in horror and the second the stories he tells, animated in the usual cartoon sense (I’m sure there are technical terms but I don’t know them). The first type of animation is done brilliantly, with lots of detail and a satisfying style. The man’s head spins and he does disturbing, Freudian things to his pet spider. The second part is the actual story, animated more crudely and narrated by the creepy old man.

One story is about a girl who fakes being ill every day to avoid going to school. It gets to the point that when she claims to have rabies, a creepy doctor comes to her door in order to cure her. He pulls out a massive needle, but even when she shouts at that she’s only faking, he slithers ‘I knoooow, this is just for fun!’

I find it really heartening that such disturbing stories still manage to make it onto TV, especially ones that don’t glorify children and everything that they do, however precocious and horrible. I like their mentality, and I like the fact that they’re not entirely politically correct.

The children always end up shining pillars of the community at the end, but only through severe trauma – from the cutting off of bodily bits to full scale paralysis (via paper mache). There’s room for some psycholoanalyis, especially as it’s never the parents who sort the children out, but some strange and creepy deliverer of justice, but it would ruin a great programme.

Even more help needed…

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 406 views

Even more help needed…: the ‘Shopping CD’ went down so well with the PTB at work that I’ve been asked to put together a Christmas CD to accompany the Head Office Xmas dinner. The word ‘tasteful’ has been bandied around. Now, I don’t believe there is any place for the tasteful in Christmas music – or rather, I tend to think that if you want tasteful get a Kings College Choir CD in and be done with it. I am a firm traditionalist when it comes to Christmas pop tat and it is only the finest songs (eg “Have A Cheeky Christmas”) that pass muster.

So I am at a bit of a loss as to how to make this CD. I like the idea of putting together something decade-spanning, unusual, a mixture of the familiar and the novel, blah blah blah. What to actually put on it though I have no idea. So I’m very open to suggestions with one proviso: no indie.* No, not even Belle And Sebastian doing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or whatever it is. No, not even Low. I’m sorry to be churlish about this but I’ve heard a lot of ‘alternative’ Christmas songs and it’s not something that ever comes off, if you’re going to record something seasonal you need to have a wholehearted sentimental love of the season or at least an appreciation of the greed, tackiness and shame that accompanies it. Yer independent sector tends to have a noble disdain for a) sentiment and b) commerciality and without them at Christmastime where are you? Nowhere.

*(when I publish the tracklist you can all point and laugh at the one or two indie songs that are going on it, what I mean of course is “no indie that I haven’t already liked for years”.)

The Advent Calendar Of Comics: Dec 4

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The Advent Calendar Of Comics: Dec 4

Stingray: the comic

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Stingray: the comic

I came across a Stingray graphic novel (haha not really, it’s a squarebound collection of old strips – but I thought I’d abuse the term the way it so often is these days) in a charity shop today. There are all sorts of oddities about it, some of them technical matters.

For a start, it’s one of the least suited comic works EVER for the squarebound format: the strip ran in TV Century 21, a comic largely based on Gerry Anderson SF puppet shows, one I loved at the time (late ’60s), and these Stingray two-pagers always ran as a double page spread, and the art and lettering go across the join, so some bits are very hard to read in this format.

The odder thing is what made it stand out at the time: I’m not sure what the printing technology used was (photogravure?), but (for the Americans reading) in those days British comics were even more cheaply produced than US ones, on very poor paper and with very limited colour, if any. This comic was a rarity, on glossy paper in full painted colour.

And that leads to another strangeness. This comic had lots of tremendously talented illustrators – Mike Noble, Frank Bellamy, Don Lawrence, John Burns – and Stingray’s Ron Embleton (whose name is in the small print here, after two more prominent mentions of the editor of this collection) was up there with the best of them. There are some gorgeous images of underwater explosions and old buildings and sailing ships looming out of the fog; but of course the central characters and hardware all has to look just like it does in the TV show. (Wish I could find some good examples of his Stingray art on the web, but I can’t.)

I couldn’t honestly recommend you all seek stuff like this out – the stories are mostly pretty dreary, to be honest – but it is worth taking a look at the art, if you ever get the chance.

The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

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The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

This was the first book I’ve read by this Japanese Nobel Laureate. It’s certainly impressive, but I’m not sure that he’ll ever become a real favourite of mine. I can see why Henry Miller compares him to Dostoyevsky on the back cover, but there was rather more of the existentialists for me in this, which I love far less than Fyodor. It doesn’t have an awful lot in it that is typically Japanese, I thought, and as a huge fan of a broad spectrum of Japanese arts, this is something of a disappointment to me, albeit an unreasonable one, since he obviously isn’t obliged to satisfy my tastes.

It’s a tale of a depressed man going back to the ancestral village, with his wife and brother. The brother is a troublemaker, a would-be revolutionary, and the protagonist disapproves of his provocations (these are adolescent in just the way I’ve always disliked in existentialism) in a muted, miserable and confused kind of way. The structuring is extremely strong, echoing events of the previous century and forcing reassessments frequently, and I found the star’s thinking very persuasively rendered. But I didn’t enjoy it so much – the main character’s pessimism is too clearly justified, in the absurd, incomprehensible and rubbish world depicted, and while it’s something of an achievement to depict this so well, that doesn’t make it fun to read, and I stopped imagining the existentialists had anything interesting to say to me a long time ago. There are big dramatic events now and then, but the perspective is a deadening one, so they don’t strike at all hard. If you’re a fan of Sartre and Camus, this is someone to try, but otherwise I can’t really see why you might want to.