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Monday, 10 December 2018

DOCTOR WHO: ‘THE BIG BATTLE OF WHATEVERITWAS’



It’s clear enough the Doctor most needed by that series finale,was a script Doctor. So, rather than run through the same basic errors all over again, why not try to give it some emergency resuscitation?

i) The planet that drives you mad wasn’t such a bad idea, except all it does is give the Doctor a mild headache – not really much of a payoff. (“Bugger, I forgot me Anadin!”) So let’s say only one of them has to hand over their sanity saving MacGuffin to the NotJedi. (Maybe they have just one spare. I don’t really care why TBH.) Despite Yaz’s protestations, the Doctor insists it must be her as being all Time Lordy she should last longer. Even though she has to do some clever tech stuff to save the day, possibly involving the polarity of neutron flows. Of course she starts to succumb mid-way through the operation, becoming paranoid of those around her, telling them to keep away. Yaz manages to sneak in close, takes her MacGuffin and slaps it on the Doctor’s head. Then insists she be restrained – and quickly. She’s lashed to a post and raving as the Doctor finishes her work. Doesn’t recover till job done.

ii) We first see Tim Shaw slumped, attached to tubes. Like so many things, it was then forgotten about. It should have been kept up. Though he has those mind-powered followers ready to carry out his every whim, even defying the laws of physics, he’s become physically weak, a chessboard King. Due to the teleport/ passage of time/ some other thing. This infuriates him as it clashes with his warrior code of manly derring-do, and naturally he blames the Doctor. It’s his ravings the NotJedi have taken for prophecy. Their Creator was due to return to purge reality of corruption. Tim Shaw convinces them this means the whole universe must go, starting with the Earth, and by protecting it the Doctor’s the cosmic antagonist – effectively the Devil. Many of his instructions are Kurtz-like crazy but dutifully carried out. We see the residue of these.

iii) After the danger is averted, after promising faithfully not to, Graham locks the others behind him and goes after Tim Shaw. He’s goaded to kill him, told he’s not brave enough to do it etc, but at the last moment promises him a worse punishment and puts down the gun. Now deprived of his followers, Tim Shaw’s become a pitiable creature. He’s left alone on a planet of ruins, and serve him jolly well right.

BBC Execs, I think this proves I’m a better scriptwriter than the one you currently have. On the other hand, so are both of my cats. And I don’t have any cats.


Saturday, 8 December 2018

THE LENS OF LUCID FRENZY IS IN THE STONE AGE...

Nothing new there, some might say. Amid adventures on Orkney, snaps were taken of Skara Bare (best preserved Neolithic village in Europe, dating back before the pyramids), nearby Skaill house (abode of the local Laird) and the cliffs of Yesnaby.

More, as ever, on 500px.





Monday, 3 December 2018

DOCTOR WHO: ‘IT TAKES YOU AWAY’



I don’t want to get caught up in noting every time current ’Who’ rises above the new base level set by Chibnall, which would be too close to giving awards for competence. In all honesty, writing about ’The Ghost Monument’ now seems a moment of weakness. But for the second time we had an episode you could claim wasn’t just ‘better than the average’ but actually pretty good. (This time by Ed Hime.)

To start on the weak points, it’s true there’s not one but two narrative digressions, which really only act as feints. Functionally, this story could bypass the roaring monster and skip non-space and just head straight through the mirror. And part of the reason it doesn’t is there’s not enough material in the mirror world to stretch for most of the episode. Had it been longer, it would have gone into repeat mode.

Ir’s also true that neither digression is terribly strong in its own right. The ogre in the dark wood is just fairy tale enough to work as a ’Who’ setting, and the early scenes approaching the house are atmospheric. But there’s no real commitment to it, and you guess quite quickly the monster isn’t what it seems. And the creature in the anti-zone is a Gollum-like cliche even to the point of greed marking his downfall. Though Kevin Eldon’s performance was good and the script gave him nicely idiosyncratic speech patterns. (I particularly liked “tubular”.)

But the feints are adroitly made. The scene of Graham standing watch at the window then crossing the room to look at the mirror effectively intrigues the viewer, and takes them into the narrative swerve. While the escape through the mirror into apparent safety, only to find themselves not back but further out, is some smart blindsiding.

But more importantly those feints work for thematic reasons. The Solitract introduces a change in the type of story, which surprises at the same time it makes things more ’Who’-like. The roaring monster and the anti-zone creature are malevolent. (Well the monster would be if it existed.) But the Solitract is simply lonely. It’s a sentient universe, but it’s not looking for subjects so much as friends. It genuinely just does want everyone to be together. Much like ’Demons of the Punjab’, ‘It Takes You Away’ is a title that gets reapplied as the story progresses.

Ultimately, it’s a Fall story. Being a post-Biblical society, we most associate the Fall with loss of innocence. But in general Fall myths tend to work as a catch-all explanation for how all the bad stuff showed up, and often focus on the existence of death. They often say “it was never meant to happen like this, and yet it was inevitable”.

In some forms of Gnosticism...s tay with me here... the Demiurge, the creator of the physical universe, is seen as well-meaning but misguided. Similarly, the Solitract sees possible friends wanting for something and tries to gift them the end of death. Yet while both Graham and Erik are baited, Hanne immediately rejects her supposed mother. This is partly the narrative trope that assigns the blind other, extra-powerful senses. But also it’s because, unlike her Father, she’s learnt to accept her Mother’s death. The Solitract’s motives may be heartfelt, but it can only play on human weakness.

But, best of all is what it doesn’t do. You could make a list of dead or missing companions, starting with Susan. But the defining thing about the Doctor, what she has to offer the Solitract, is that she’s a traveller. There’s been too much erosion of the Doctor’s unique status, too much making the character an honorary human and relatable to the audience. (Ironically often at the same time as the Lonely God stuff.)

Admittedly, there’s no real connection between this and the mirror world trope. It’s not the opposite of our world, it’s our world with the bad stuff taken out. The mirror world is really just there as a means to work in the mirror motifs, the backwards T-shirts and so on. But they’re so well done, particularly the way no-one within the mirror world notices them, that it would be hard to mind. Something the show does is throw in crazy concepts, you’re normally best off just going with them.

Okay, the final episode’s back to Chibnall. Which leaves us, if we were to generously award the opening episode half a point, a score of two and a half. And, as the old saying goes, two and a half out of ten is bad. Still, let’s focus on the few high points.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

LAU/ JOHN CALE (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

LAU
Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham, Tues 27th Nov



The folk band Lau were another case I knew more by reputation. In their case, quite literally, given their propensity to win awards. (Though I did see Martin Green’s somewhat splendid solo project Flit.) I’d conceived of them as a songwriter’s band, chiefly from their poignant and no less than masterful anti-anti-migrant song ’Ghosts’. They finish the gig with this, suggesting it’s their ‘hit’.

Masterful, but not actually that typical. There’s long instrumental sections, in which the guitar would effectively supply the rhythm track while the violin and accordion would soar, flutter and fly like two species of bird. Mostly, tracks start in a low-key and fairly traditional vein then change and develop as they progress. There’s few breaks and shifts, they’re more a band of twists and turns.

When not squeezing his box, Green doubles on electronics. One track started by sampling an audience-supplied hum, adding strange scraping sounds and taking that for a backing track. However, like ’Ghosts’ that was memorable but more exception than rule.

Though Lau have been described as experimental folk or even (the wretched term) post-folk, their sound is much more natural. They frequently do what would count as unusual for folk, but as it as if it’s perfectly natural for them. As I said of Green’s solo project: “The ‘folk’ and ‘tronica’ sounds are not ironically juxtaposed in some clever foregrounded way, but blended.”

Though formed in Edinburgh two of the three hail from the Highlands, with the band name coming from the Orcadian for “natural light”. (Singer Kris Drever was born on Orkney and currently lives on Shetland, explaining he relocated “for convenience”.) In what might well be a Southern romanticism on my part, I associate their sound with soft-spoken, self-reliant island life. Even when they are impassioned, they seem to do so in a calm, measured way.

Which works for me. Knowingness and cerebralism seems the least useful thing for music to do, and folk is perhaps the least useful genre to do it in. (That phrase may well be boilerplate which could be cut and pasted under any folk act I actually like.) Equally, though on the opposite end of the spectrum, histrionics is not the same thing as emotional expression.

The second half was given over to the new, as-yet-unreleased album. Evoking the title ’Midnight and Closedown’ the stage lights were dimmed lower and oil lamps lit, giving proceedings a late night feel. (Or at least later night. It’s not like the first half was reminiscent of bustling mid-mornings.) It started with the trio gathered round an old-style radio mike.

Numbers extend and run into one another. It’s neither song cycle nor concept album, but something between. Kris Drever often drops his favoured guitar for extra keyboards, providing some truly memorable instrumental sections. It ends by palindromically returning to the earlier sound of a metronome.

Fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke has said: “We’re making a new noise that nobody has made before, but you can still hear where we come from.” Which seems as good a description of the band as ever.

Right tour, wrong night…



JOHN CALE
De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Thurs 29th Nov


I don’t think I need to start this by explaining who John Cale is. Anyway, legend he may be but his set is dominated by newer songs. Which are themselves dominated by menacing mid-tempos. His keyboards do sometimes trigger manipulated samples, at one point shards of strings. But mostly the instruments themselves are filtered. Occasionally acoustically, the electric bass being bowed. But mostly electronically.

It makes an interesting contrast to Lau. Rather than taking acoustic instruments and electronics then merge them, Cale takes electric instruments then filters and distorts them. These numbers might have once been tuneful ditties, now they’re seen through a glass darkly. The results are darkly numinous, like those wiggly lines of force sometimes showing extruding in cartoons.

And the classic songs are subject to the same treatment. As with the last time I saw him, Cale seems uninterested in playing old stuff just the way it was. The set concluded with a richly sinister ’Heartbreak Hotel’, transforming the establishment into a haunted house. Which, while highly effective, was perhaps drawing out a sense of menace already in the original. However ’Leaving it Up To You’ was so different to the frenzied original it was some time before I could place it.

Perhaps there’s times he sails too deep into uncharted waters. ’Half Past France’ made the bold, but perhaps too bold, decision to confine the melody to the vocal and then surround it with discordance. (Which, looking back, seems the second time I’ve found that of this song.)

Of the fewer faster numbers, ’Guts’ served well but didn’t punch its full weight. An extended segue between ’Gun’ and ‘Pablo Picasso’, 
perhaps extra extended by Cale’s guitar failing mid-song, hit harder.

It’s strange to recall now, but once Cale’s career had seemed effectively over. He followed ‘Music For a New Society’, often regarded as his best solo work, with ‘Caribbean Sunset’ – whose title really said it all. He made precisely one studio album in the Nineties, which passed at least me by. But, much like Bowie, the Noughties saw a resurgence in him. (Bowie was suckered by stardom while Cale was washed up on drugs. Same difference.)

His years are visible on him now, as he shuffles stiffly across the stage. But, after being in one of music history’s most important bands (you can guess which), he plays not a single track from those days without it even mattering. His set’s not just dominated by newer numbers, they’re made by means not even available in his early days. Rock music seems to have become part of the heritage industry, at the very same time new technology throws up new opportunities. Yet if a man in his mid-Seventies can keep looking forwards, so can we.

Cale’s own verdict: “fun night @dlwp - thanks to the audience for braving the wind and rain - some good dissonant fun tonight!! oh yeah, two broken guitars !! xx jc”

Not from the gig but a track he did, ’Wasteland’



Coming Later! Nothing in the diary for December, so this concludes what’s been a great year for gigs. Happily, if unusually, stuff booked for Jan. In the meantime, plenty of other stuff to blog on about!