Monday, November 16, 2009

Life After Mars

So, The Waters of Wars then? Splendid, that was. Dark and redolent with a thick atmosphere of oncoming death. Something nasty is waiting for the Doctor. Really nasty. As nasty as getting a spelk jammed under your fingernail and requiring a needle to get it out. As nasty as bumming a tramp in the park. That nasty. You get the general idea. It's already started and there's far worse to come on Christmas Day, it would seem. Anyway, here we have what was, essentially, a classic Doctor Who plot-staple (the 'base-under-'siege) but given a novel, and particularly gruesome, twist. The Doctor's death is rapidly approaching - he knows it as surely as the audience do (presumably he was watching when the BBC announced Matt Smith's casting in January). As he waits for the inevitable and looks for something to take his mind off the future, he finds himself on Mars in 2059 and gatecrashes a research station (Bowie Base One) commanded by formidable and legendary Adelaide (Lindsay Duncan). Adelaide and her crack team of scientists are coming to realise, as Mr Jones himself did nearly a century earlier, that there IS life on mars. And it's ghastly. This is the point at which Russell Davies and Phil Ford's ambitious script turns from a standard SF runaround and becomes something far more clever, multi-layered and complex. It's a thoughtful, tense and beautifully balanced story that, though still friendly enough for a broadly family audience (notably the Buck Rogers-style robot, Gadget), explores some defiantly adult themes; the ache of loss and loneliness; how far is 'too far'; the awareness of ones own mortality in the face of the crushing wheels of eternity. The latter is something that can - clearly - terrify even the last of the Time Lord. David Tennant is never less than brilliant as a Doctor who knows that the end is near and yet who cannot, quite, let go of his sense of wonder at all the universe has to offer. And of what, exactly, is his place within it. When he tells Adelaide 'you die, today' there is a sadness in his voice that goes way beyond a bit of good acting. 'Most times, I can save someone. Or anyone. But, not you.' Oh, it's astonishing stuff. The epic battle that The Doctor wages with his own conscience - already having the terrible knowledge of the unfolding events' outcome - is etched on his face throughout, revealing a side to The Doctor that we've seldom seen before. There's maybe a little bit of it in Logopolis or Image of the Fendhal. A tiny glimmer in The Caves of Androzani. But this is something, largely, new. Something magnetic. Something genuinely anti-heroic. What emerges from this special is an unsettling, harrowing ride into the dark and hollow belly of fate. And then, completely unexpectedly, in the last ten minutes, an idea that, quite literally, knocked the legs out from under just about every moral and ethical prop that the series has traditionally stood for over the last forty six years. Here, we got a glimpse (just a glimpse) of a Doctor we've definitely never seen before. One who is, as my mate Cameron noted last night, 'sinister and unhinged and defiant and scary and scared.' 'I don't hear anyone knocking, do you?' That's not just normal brave, that's valorous. And to think, there are people who'll still try to convince you this is a show for children. I'm not sure how many of the nine million plus viewers of last night's episode would agree with that.

There was also an unexpectedly harsh ending to the latest [Spooks] on Friday night (this is the Beeb3 transmission, obviously). If you're watching on terrestrial then Keith Telly Topping won't spoil it for you ... except to say that something he had been half-expecting to happen for about the last two seasons of the show happened just at the point when he'd more or less stopped expecting it. And, therein lay the episode's genius.

For those in need of a quiet bit of introspection on a horrible wet and windy Monday morning, check out the Gruniad's Mark Lawson and a piece of scarily good fan fiction on what the future may have in store for the medium when the Tories win the next election.

Meanwhile, back in the 'real' world (allegedly) the Conservatives have pledged to rip up 'dark ages' regulation preventing cross-media ownership to create new conglomerates providing TV and radio services in the UK. Current rules prevent groups from owning more than one newspaper, TV channel or radio station in a local area. However, the Tories want to scrap these restrictions and instead free up private enterprise to solve the 'crisis' in commercial media. According to the Daily Telegraph, shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt further wants the proposed changes to increase competition for the BBC's national and regional coverage on radio and TV. Under the suggested arrangement, media regulator Ofcom would be stripped of its power to make policy and instead re-focused solely on dictating issues of 'decency, impartiality and taste.' The Tories believe that the changes would have the same effect on the media as the 'Big Bang' deregulation of the city in 1986, which triggered major growth in the financial sector. 'There is a massive crisis in the media industry because of heavy-handed regulation. It is why no major international players have come forward to buy ITV and major US networks are not interested in investing in Britain,' said Hunt. 'They are driven away by the top-down paternalistic regulations which are strangling our creative media industries. We will strip away the regulations in the same way that Big Bang revolutionised the City to make it the major financial centre of the world.'

Elsewhere, it was a bad weekend all round for yer Keith Telly Topping - not only did his Strictly fancy, Phil Tufnell get given out by the public umpire but, the self same thing happened on X Factor to Big fuzzy-afro'd Jamie. That's what one gets for becoming involved in these sort of competitions, dear blog reader. One crushing disappointment after another.

X Factor judge Simon Cowell is reportedly 'hooked on Angel Delight.' His friend Sinitta told the Sunday Mirror that Cowell has started consuming the pudding on a daily basis, as a result of the 'huge public backlash' regarding John and Edward being chosen over Lucie Jones. Well, it's cheaper than cocaine, I suppose. I'm not entirely sure why this particular story has appeared - presumably it was in the hope that the public might feel so guilty about having driven Simon to the horrors of pink-wobbly-pudding-addiction that they'd instantly vote Jedward out themselves. If it was, then it didn't work. On the other hand, Keith Telly Topping is equally sure that the makes of Angel Delight would have been, themselves, delighted by Sunday night's X Factor outcome.

Cowell, meanwhile, has claimed that he would have 'bet everything' on Lloyd Daniels exiting last night's X Factor. Daniels was in the bottom two with Cowell's act Jamie Archer. The judges were split on who to save after the Survival Songs, so the result returned to the public vote, which revealed that Archer was bottom. Speaking about the result on The Xtra Factor, Cowell said: 'I wasn't expecting it tonight, to be honest with you. Particularly the bit where it went down to the public vote. I would have bet everything that [Jamie] wasn't going to be at the bottom.' When asked by host Holly Willoughby if he had misjudged public opinion for the second week in a row, he replied: 'It happens.' Cowell also reiterated his comments from Saturday's live show about rock singer Sting, who had criticised The X Factor last week. The judge said that Sting should get in touch so they can have a theme week based on his music. 'Actually, yes, we'd like a Sting week. He hasn't called yet, but we're still waiting,' Cowell noted. 'Someone's gone a little bit grumpy!' He's always like that, Simon. He used to be like that when he and his dad delivered our milk back in the 1970s. Sour, you know.

X Factor producers are reportedly worried about a website which offers free phone votes for the show. Viewers can use the website to avoid paying premium rates for their votes. Instead, they listen to a fifteen-second advert when they place their call. Over fifty thousand fans have reportedly used the service this year. However, the Daily Mail claims that producers are worried that the service could lead to 'possible fraud' because it does not have the security that the official voting lines do. And that the lines are manned by asylum seekers on benefits. Probably. Fans from Ireland, who are not able to use the normal voting system, can support acts using the free2call service. Meanwhile, there are fears that betting syndicates could place multiple votes without broadcasters realising. ITV has reportedly already held a meeting with Ofcom to discuss the website. Lawyers from the BBC and Channel 4 also attended because of worries that the problem could affect their shows. Edward Boddington, chief executive of the firm that looks after the show's voting system, said that if free2call affected the show's outcome ITV may have to cancel the vote and refund viewers. However, free2call owner Mark Hillman said: 'We vote on X Factor just the same way that the public do. All we do is sit in the middle.'

Children's author Enid Blyton's work was 'banned' from the BBC for nearly thirty years because the corporation - collectively - thought that she was 'a second-rater' whose work lacked any inherent literary value. Letters and memos from the BBC archives disclose how the creator of the Famous Five and Noddy – and one of the bestselling authors of her time – was kept off the radio as executives regarded her plays and books as 'very small beer.' In an internal memo dated 1938, Jean Sutcliffe, head of the BBC schools department, dismissed Blyton's work. 'Her stories might do for Children's Hour but they haven't much literary value,' she wrote.

Sir Alex Ferguson will have to end his six-year ban on giving interviews to BBC reporters under newly agreed rules coming into force next season. A motion was passed at a Premier League board meeting last week which made post-match interviews with all media rights holders mandatory for league managers, reports the Daily Telegraph. Manchester United supremo Ferguson has not spoken to the BBC since 2004 when his son Jason, a football agent, was the subject of a Panorama documentary alleging that he used his father's status to exert influence on the transfer market. Despite Ferguson junior never being found guilty of any wrongdoing, Ferguson senior pledged never to speak to the 'arrogant beyond belief' BBC ever again. Currently, the ban means that Ferguson's number two Mike Phelan is tasked with giving interviews to the corporation on shows such as Match Of The Day. Under the new regulations, however, any manager who refuses to speak to designated media will be judged in breach of Premier League rules and appropriately punished. I must say, I'm not great fan of Fergie but I find this a bloody disgrace. How dare anyone tell anyone else whom they have to talk to in the media? Knowing Ferguson I expect he'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming and mouthing obscenities in front of the cameras. Which, admittedly, would be good telly.

Hit ITV drama Collision is to air in the US, Australasia and Scandinavia following a raft of deals by the Digital Rights Group. Distributed under DRG’s Portman Film & Television banner, discussions are also taking place with broadcasters in Iceland, Israel, Belgium, Czech Republic and Latin America.

Comedienne Josie Lawrence is to leave EastEnders early next year. Josie, who joined the soap at the beginning of the year as pottery teacher Manda Best, will exit the show in the spring when her character discovers that boyfriend Minty Peterson is harbouring a 'huge secret.'

Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans - remember him, he used to be Mister Billie Piper before the current one - has claimed that terrestrial television will soon be obsolete and that ITV is 'finished.' The man who infamously tried - and failed - to revamp the broadcaster's weekend schedule in 2005 with the disastrous OFI Sunday says ITV will never recover from the collapse in advertising. He told Word magazine: 'People ask me if I want to go back to TV and I'm not sure it's there to go back to. TV is just an invention, and all inventions eventually become obsolete.' He said that ITV cannot compete with BSkyB, which 'gets at least three revenue streams out of every show - the set-top box, the rental of the service, then the adverts. ITV gets one.'

Alex Reid is reportedly worried that Katie Price will cheat on him when she appears on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! The News of the World claims that Reid was so concerned about the likelihood of this happening that he offered to join the show for free. 'Virtually Jordan's last words to Alex were, "I hope there's some eye candy in there,"' a 'source' said. 'It was her way of winding him up and she certainly achieved her aim.' Another 'insider' claimed that Reid had become 'paranoid' since learning that Price had been unfaithful to her boyfriend Scott Sullivan when she met Peter Andre in the jungle. 'He really thinks she will stray,' the 'source' said. 'He doesn't want to look like a fool.' Bit late for that, Roxanne. Meanwhile, Price's advisers have expressed the fear that she is heading for a 'Jade Goody-style backlash' on I'm A Celebrity... a report has claimed. The model has confirmed that she is making a return to the jungle following months of controversy surrounding her divorce from Peter Andre. In 2007, the late reality star Goody appeared on Celebrity Big Brother after originally finding fame on the Channel 4 programme's third series. She went on to spark a public outcry due to her treatment of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the house. A source close to Price told the Daily Star Sunday: 'This really is make or break time for her. No-one's sure how she's going to act or what she's going to say in the jungle. There's a fear she could implode if she uses the show to vent her fury at Pete. The worst scenario would be if she came out of the jungle with her career in tatters like Jade did after Celebrity Big Brother.'

Paris Hilton is reportedly angry about the success of the Kardashian sisters. The New York Post claims that Hilton, who allegedly used to be friends with Kim Kardashian, has decided to reinvent herself as more down-to-earth. An insider said: 'Paris is furious that Kim got her start by hanging out in Hollywood with her - and now the Kardashians have it all: the reality shows, the magazine covers, the big appearance fees and promotional deals.' So, in other words one shallow, vain, narcissistic spoiled brat is angry about two other shallow, vain, narcissistic spoiled brats getting more media coverage than she is. What a fabulous celebrity world we live in, dear blog reader. Doesn't it make you beyond proud?

Christine Bleakley is reportedly dating England footballer Frank Lampard. The ONE Show presenter and former Strictly Come Dancing contestant reportedly met the Chelsea amd England player at the Pride of Britain Awards last month, the Sunday Mirror claims with the implication that it was lust at first sight. A 'source' (what, another one) told the newspaper: 'Frank thinks she's a great girl and incredibly sexy. He wants to spend some time getting to know her better. He thinks she's special.' Yeah, she is. Irritating voice, like, but that's not the end of the world. 'But Christine's taking it slow and she's not rushing into a full-blown relationship. They're blissfully happy.' The presenter was photographed leaving Lampard's house in the early hours of the morning this weekend.

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