Sunday, 26 September 2010

Review of 'October Skies' by Alex Scarrow

This is the second novel by Alex Scarrow that I've read, and it's a thoroughly rivetting and fascinating read. Just like 'A Thousand Suns', it's set over two timelines, and centres around a group of settlers whose wagon train vanished in the winter of 1856. Fast forward to 2008, where two English documentary-makers discover a settler's diary in the remains of the convoy deep in the mountain forests of Wyoming. Throw into this mix, Indians, Mormon history, Ben Lambert's diary entries, a Presidential candidate with a serious skeleton-in-his-closet, and a serial killer in disguise (resembling the "monster" in 'The Village' film). Incidentally, the reveal of the murderer reminded me of the resolution to Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None". Highly recommended, can't wait to read 'Last Light' and it's sequel 'After Light'.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Genesis of Doctor Who

I've just started reading Timeless Adventures: How Doctor Who Conquered TV by Brian J Robb, and quickly concluded just how fortunate we Whovians are that the programme was made at all.

It seems that the old-guard at the BBC of 1963 were determined for Doctor Who to fail, and only for it's defenders, Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert et al, then the embryonic show would have fallen at the first hurdle.

Fast forward to the first Dalek story's transmission, and the powers-that-be thankfully reacted by abandoning the show's intended 13-week lifespan.

Only after reading the production notes on The Rescue DVD this week did I learn that by August 1964, Donald Baverstock again wanted to revert the Doctor Who contract to just 13 weeks, and cancel the show when all remaining stories finished in January 1965.

Only when Lambert and William Hartnell's agent dug in their heels did Baverstock finally agree to another, 26-week run, by which time the programme's long term future was secured. The threat of cancellation would however revisit the programme in times of crisis. As The War Games concluded the black & white era in 1969, the BBC considered a 6 year run to have been a good innings and there was some internal debate about whether to axe Doctor Who. The lowest point in the show's history was the 'hiatus' of 1985 when Michael Grade 'rested' the Doctor's adventures for 18 months, then the end finally arrived in 1989 with outright cancellation.

It's hard to believe that the programme could have ended after serial K (ie. just 51 episodes), and was so close to becoming a footnote in TV history.

Monday, 6 September 2010

And the greatest single of all time is... Being Boring!

Yes, according to the Guardian’s Music Blog Being Boring by the Pet Shop Boys is the greatest single of all time. “No one thought that when it came out” admits Neil Tennant himself. BB only peaked at number 20 in the UK chart of November 1990.
The Guardian is right in saying that this attempt at emulating the Stock Aitken & Waterman formula actually results in a mature and panoramic song. Key to it’s many themes for me, BB is indeed “about growing up” and I love the typically ironic title, since the Boys are usually perceived as “boring”. Although melancholic, the PSB have never seemed so hedonistic.

But greatest single ever? As a Pethead since Day 1 I’m biased, although I wouldn’t even consider BB to be the Boys best work. Some YouTube commentators insist that Jealousy is their best song, and I tend to agree that it’s amazing classical flourishes are grander.Personally, I prefer the (rather pretentious) Shakespearean intro of the Extended Mix of Jealousy to the hand-written prologue of BB. Here, Tennant delivers a line from Othello:
“Not poppy nor mandragora/Nor all the drowsy syrups of the east/Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep/Which thou owedst yesterday”.
The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers comments in A Life in Pop (DVD, 2006) that BB is a modern version of the Beatles' In My Life. Praise indeed. Apparently MTV didn't like the video for BB, because it was made in black and white, and it didn't really feature the artists. However, this fan-favourite (directed by Bruce Weber) is now regarded as a masterpiece.
My own favourite PSB track has to be the first of their collaborations with Dusty Springfield, What Have I Done to Deserve This? Released in August 1987, this single reached No. 2 in both the UK and the US.