Just been watching TOTP2 which, amongst a load of '80's crap, featured Voodoo Chile by Hendrix (RIP Mitch Mitchell), This Could Be The Last Time by The Stones, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, Don't You Want Me by The Human League and Springsteen's new song, Working On A Dream. Good stuff. Before that we watched the revived Shooting Stars which had a few moments but was mostly pretty weak, and it didn't help that most of the guests were complete non-entities. And before that we watched some of Series One of The Mighty Boosh: mod wolves, Polar bears singing Gary Numan songs, Black Frost (brrr!) and other assorted madness. Anyway, I've already done Songs of 2008, so now it's time for TV:
Of course, for me, this was programme of the year, as it has been since 2005. I think Series Four was pretty consistent, with no let-downs like The Long Game or Fear Her to slow the momentum. Partners In Crime and the Sontaran two-parter were the weakest stories, but even they had their share of great moments and performances. And when you're talking performances, you're talking Catherine Tate. I thought she was great as Donna: a layered and often surprising character, not the one-dimensional loudmouth a lot of people had expected. She wasn't there to make doe-eyes at The Doctor, but to challenge him as well as to share the joys of space and time. David Tennant was fine as ever, especially in Midnight which was a real tour de force. The Unicorn And The Wasp was a good laugh, The Doctor's Daughter was a proper science fiction idea wrapped up in an adventure story ( not forgetting the gorgeous Georgia Moffett ), The Fires Of Pompeii gave us stunning effects and tough moral questions, the Library two-parter was another triumph for The Moff, and the finale was as mad and mind-boggling as new Who gets. Particularily nice to see all those old characters ( Jack, Sarah Jane, Martha, Mickey, Jackie ) brought back and all given a part to play, not just a walk-on. Oh, and Davros too: a real I Can't Believe It's Not Butter performance from Julian Bleach, effortlessly stepping into the shoes (?) of the insane scientist. Now all we have to do is wait for the DVD Box-set to come down in price in the sales: £54? I don't think so.
Another great series, doing what it does best: tense, exciting espionage dramas with characters you care for and scarily topical storylines. It was good to see Jo survive last series' cliffhanger, even though Adam Carter was killed off. ( A fact that seemed inevitable as soon as Richard Armitage's character arrived. Meet the replacement.) Now poor old Harry has saved the country yet again but has been kidnapped by the Russian secret service. Roll on Series 8!
The Devil's Whore:
Peter Flannery's drama set during the English Civil War. A top quality series from the writer who brought us the classic Our Friends In The North. It makes a change to see a story with such an under-exploited setting; there seems to be an endless stream of dramas set in the Victorian, Tudor and Jane bloody Austen periods, so this violent and politically turbulent time is ripe for showing us a different side to our own history. A meaty role for John Simm as a battle-scarred mercenary who switches allegiances during the wars and falls in love with Andrea Risborough as Lady Fanshawe, a noblewoman turned adventuress. Also fine performances from Peter Capaldi as Charles I and Dominic West as Cromwell.
This year's big BBC Dickens adaptation. Slow to start and not quite as involving as Bleak House, this was still must-see TV, mostly for its stellar cast: Claire Foy (Amy Dorrit), Eve Myles, Freema Agyeman (yay!), Maxine Peak, Mathew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Andy Serkis, Russell Tovey, Bill Paterson, the list goes on. The lovely Claire Foy and ex-Spook Mathew Macfadyen had the hardest jobs: making interesting viewing out of characters so teeth-rottingly nice you would have wanted to strangle them if they were in the hands of lesser actors. Well worth staying the distance, although the welter of revelations in the last episode was confusing. Best read the book.
Jack Dee's vanity project sitcom, or is it? I actually think it's really underrated. Dee is perfect asRick Spleen, the miserable git comedian who always winds up in trouble ( in true sitcom style) due to his own selfishness and vanity. There are a lot of low-key, witty lines if not many belly-laughs, and the rest of the regular cast are spot-on too, especially Racquel Cassidy as Rick's wife, Mel.
Saturday teatime monsters and magic. James and I both got into this show. Lots of adventure, sword-fights, mythical creatures, some good jokes, and some eye-candy in the shape of Michelle Ryan and the girl who plays Morgana. Some liberties taken with the myths, but then they are only myths, so some reinvention doesn't hurt. And the lad who plays Merlin, Colin Morgan, is a star in the making.
Heroes Series 3 is starting to lose my attention: Series 2 was mostly tedious and they seem to have over-compensated this time by having endless, nonsensical plot twists and characters swapping sides constantly, until you don't know who's with who, who's dead, who's alive etc. A bit of a mess, unfortunately. Channel Four's Big Brother/Zombie comedy/drama Dead Set was good, but gross, fun - although not as innovative as they seemed to think it was. I've already mentioned Survivors in a previous post, it was pretty good and improved throughout the run, ending on a big, dramatic cliffhanger. Hopefully it'll get a second series.
As it's nearly the end of the year it must be time for The Best Of 2008. Everybody else is doing it, so let's jump on the bandwagon. We'll start with Songs Of The Year...
The Ting Tings: Great DJ, That's Not My Name, Shut Up And Let Me Go ( Great pop songs, bags of punk attitude, the gorgeous Katie White, top band. )
Kaiser Chiefs: Never Miss A Beat ( Still love The Kaisers. )
Kings Of Leon: Sex On Fire ( First song of theirs that ever really grabbed me. )
Oasis: Shock Of The Lightning ( Occasionally they can remind you of how great they once were. )
MGMT: Kids ( Love the retro keyboard sounds! )
Here come the girls:
Katy Perry: I Kissed A Girl ( A guilty pleasure. )
Gabriella Cilmi: Sweet About Me ( Likewise. )
Leona Lewis: Run ( Forget Snow Patrol! Serious shivers up the spine. )
Girls Aloud: The Promise ( Yes, really!)
Rihanna: everything she's done this year, can't remember them all, it's all good.
Ladyhawke: My Delirium ( A great '80s flashback, and a brilliant cover of Britney's Womaniser on Radio 1. )
Florence And The Machine: Dog Days Are Over ( Just getting into this, reminds me of Siouxsie. )
Bands I'm not really a fan of, but who have done something good:
Keane: ( bloody Keane!) The Lovers Are Losing, Spiralling
The Feeling: I Thought It Was Over
Snow Patrol: Take Back The City
Not a bad selection. There's probably a load more I've forgotten. I just have to mention that I quite like Kanye West's strange new '80s/vocoder direction on songs like Love Lockdown and Heartless. And in a retro vein, I got The Clash Live At Shea Stadium for Christmas ( from Sarah's Nan! ) and it ROCKS!!
So, that was Christmas Day. Another blur of presents, chocolate, turkey ( well, chicken ) and TV. The kids were up at about 7:30 but we didn't struggle our way downstairs till about 9:00, after being up until 2:00 in the a.m. Much unwrapping of goodies and scoffing of chocs ( I like that word "scoffing", sounds positively boarding-school darling ). Hero, the Main Mog, had his first taste of Christmas and had a great time scooting about through all the discarded wrapping-paper etc. Sarah gave me, amongst other presents, The DC Vault, the "Museum In A Box" follow-up to The Marvel Vault: a history of the comics company with accompanying facsimilies of old promo material, fan-club items etc. Loads of great reading there. As well as other stuff, I gave her The Mighty Boosh series 1-3 on DVD and Daphne DuMaurier's Enchanted Cornwall, a coffee-table book featuring the writer's autobiography along with tons of great photos of Cornwall. Mum came over for lunch and we all pigged out, as is customary.
And, of course, it was finally time for the Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Next Doctor. It's funny how this has become a virtual Christmas institution in the space of only 4 years. Smaller in scale than last year's Titanic In Space blow-out, this was a fun and occasionally moving adventure, showcasing the chemistry between Davids Tennant and Morrissey. It gave us a full-on Dickensian backdrop, a Cyberslaughter in a snowy churchyard, Dervla Kirwan as a femme fatale, the "Next" Doctor's tragic secret and the rise of the Cyberking, which definitely made James's Christmas: Cyber-Transformers? And we learned the next special's title: Planet Of The Dead. Sounds good, although...um, The Dead Planet anyone? Oh, yeah - in a flashback-of-sorts we saw glimpses of all of the Doctor's previous incarnations, going right back to Hartnell and including Paul McGann - yay! Merry bloody Christmas!
Soundtrack: Theologians, Wilco. Lost On Yer Merry Way, Grandaddy. And loads of Christmas songs throughout the day from The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen, Slade, Wizzard, Elton John, Jonah Lewie, Bing Crosby (!), The Wombles (!!) - you know the titles.
As there's been no decent Christmas films on telly today, we dusted down the Frank Capra box-set and stuck It's A Wonderful Life in the DVD player. It goes without saying that this is one of the all-time classic Hollywood movies. Many ( sad, deluded and bitter) people think it too sentimental and corny, but that's just wrong. ( No fence-sitting here!) The main character, George Bailey as played by James Stewart, faces a seemingly-endless series of tragedies and disappointments and ultimately contemplates suicide, before realising how much he means to his loved ones and deciding to live. Jimmy Stewart gives a totally convincing performance of a man at the end of his tether; a performance which grounds the potentially sickly-sweet themes of family and divine intervention which run through the film. There's also a lot of humour in the film, from the broad-stroke characters like Clarence and Uncle Billy, to the more subtle interchanges between James Stewart and Donna Reed. Anyway, It's A Wonderful Film, and it wouldn't seem like Christmas without it.
Soundtrack: Buffalo Gals Won't You Come Out Tonight, James Stewart and Donna Reed.
Just got back from The Dandy Warhol's gig at Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall. I went with Glenn, who drove (cheers mate!) 'cos my car is still in the garage feeling poorly. It took us a while to find the venue and the band were already on stage when we got there - doors open at 6:00! - but I don't think we missed much. A great gig. The Dandy's are one of those bands who are so much better live than they are on record. A big, warm, sexy sound and a too cool for school image, a bit arty at times but no worse for that. They played the big hits - Bohemian Like You, Every Day Should Be A Holiday, Get Off, Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth - and other great songs like Godless and Horse Pills. No encore, unfortunately. After being serenaded in the cloakroom queue by some bloke singing Joy Division's Transmission, we left the venue at the ridiculously early time of 9:45 (!) and went to a nearby pub for lager and whiskey and old skool indie music - can't be bad. Nice to see Glenn, we don't get together enough. This gig was my birthday present to myself, as it's now the morning of the 14th of December and I have reached the age of the meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything, 42. Time to change my profile...
Soundtrack: Little Drummer Boy, Dandy Warhols. ( Played tonight because it's Christmas. Don't watch the video on YouTube, it's seriously scary. You have been warned.)
I don't know about people, but they certainly eat into your bank account. After paying the local Renault dealer £70 last week to not fix my car, I'm taking it to another garage tomorrow to see what they can do. Hopefully they can sort it so it has a bit more power than an arthritic snail and doesn't churn out fumes like a 007 gadget car's smokescreen. And this is after all of Keith's attempts to fix it on the cheap for me. Old cars: can't live with them, can't drive them off a cliff for the insurance money and live to tell the tale.
Soundtrack: I Get Along, The Libertines That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Mission Of Burma
A sad day: the legendary Oliver Postgate has died, aged 83. Along with puppeteer and artist Peter Firmin, Postgate created such children's telly classics as Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine, The Clangers and, of course, Bagpuss. Their best creations still stand up today despite, or because of, their simplicity and lack of sophistication, compared to today's more flashy programmes. They had a charm and gentle humour which endeared them to millions, and a distinctly British point of view, not to mention Postgate's wonderful narration.
Each generation will say that their cherished TV programmes were the best and subsequent efforts were not as good. But I do think that British kids' telly enjoyed a Golden Age from the late '60s to mid 70's, when creators had a certain degree of talent and control over their work which is lacking in today's demographic-chasing climate. As well as the output of Postgate and Firmin's Smallfilms, there were also such quirky classics as Mister Benn, Fingerbobs, the Anglo-French Magic Roundabout and the Trumpton/Chigley/Camberwick Green metropolis. We also had a surprising amount of "telefantasy" serials such as Children Of The Stones, The Changes, Sky, King Of The Castle etc. Oh, and a certain Doctor. Whatever happened to him?
To get back to Oliver Postgate and co. I've recently discovered, through the magic of YouTube, an old b&w series called Pingwings, which had all the charm and warmth of their later, more successful series. I'm not viewing this through any nostalgic haze because it was before my time, but the homespun quality still shines through. Even my kids, reared on a diet of Teletubbies and Tracy bloody Beaker, love Bagpuss and friends as if they were their own. So, Mr. Postgate's Films may have been Small but his legacy is huge.
Just thinking about time and its effects on people, places, minds, the world really.
We went to see our friends Kevin and Lyn on Thursday because it was their eldest daughter, Charlotte's, 18th birthday. They were going out for a family meal, with much talk of Charlotte and her sister Harriett partying and drinking etc. Rewind to 1992, Charlotte is our bridesmaid, charming everyone at the wedding, lovely Autumn day. Rewind to 1990, we meet Charlotte for the first time in Stroud Hospital maternity, freezing cold winter's day. Rewind to 1989, Kevin and Lyn get married, great day but pissing down with rain. Rewind a couple of weeks, Kev's stag night, we're chased through Stroud by his so-called mates who want to strip us, tie us to a lamp-post and stick carrots somewhere carrots should never go. Lovely. Rewind to 1972 or 1973, I start at Eastington school, a short-trousered, fat boy from a different village, Kev takes me under his wing. Time...
I went down to Moreton Valence church this morning to put flowers on Pete's grave, met Mum there. The same sad day replayed for the last 13 years. We met Danny Weaver there who invited us back to theirs for a cup of tea. This is Yew Trees Farm ( or just the Yew Trees ) which belonged to my family for about 30 years until Mum and Pete finally sold it in the early '90s, having been stopped at all turns in their attempts to build a home there by local council twats. The hay barn and cowsheds have been converted into a beautiful home and the muddy old yard has been landscaped and transformed. It's a lovely place but Mum and I obviously felt a twinge of melancholy, thinking of the old days of feeding cattle, gathering apples, stacking hay bales, and making plans that came to nothing in the end. Time...
The picture above is from some family gathering ( wedding, christening? ) from 1954. From left to right: my (amazing) Nan, Pete's Dad who I never knew, some bloke, my sadly-missed Uncle Richard, Pete's tragic sister Kay who I also didn't know, some bloke, and the handsome young man is my Dad, Pete. Everyone in this photo is now gone. Time...
For Peter Henry Barton, 2/2/1931 - 6/12/1995.
Soundtrack: The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd.
We'll start with a nice piece of Jim Steranko artwork: Nick Fury, Cap and the SHIELD cast of characters. When I have a day or ten to spare I'll have to wax rhapsodic (steady!) about Steranko's work in general and Agent Of SHIELD in particular. Classic stuff!
TV time. Another good episode of Survivors tonight. Julie Graham's character comes across a community run by the last surviving government member, which devolves into violence and proto-fascism at the first hint of trouble. Meanwhile, Max Beesley's character shows a more human side while running into a family of survivors on a remote farm.
Also, Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe gave us some revealing interviews with TV script-writers like Russell T., Paul Abbott, Graham Linehan, but could have used a few more clips to illustrate their points.
At work today heard we're going to do the stocktake on the last working day of the year - boo! Also heard Killing In The Name Of by RATM on Radio 1 - hurray! My mate Stew said, and I quote, "Is this Punk music?" Bless.
James dug out Sarah's old recorder to give it a blast; he's doing music at the Centre and is enjoying it. Makes a change from the usual bloody curriculum anti-fun lessons. I dug out my guitar, realised I can't remember hardly any songs, put it away again.