Everyone's A Fan Now

Once upon a time, you’d have to go to a fan gathering or convention to hear people speaking Fan. It’s the way that they talked when they were such big fans of something they speak with the faux authority of actually being involved in the subject rather than just a fan of it. There’s a lexicon that used to be exclusively used by fans which included phrases like “season”, “character arc”, “Plot development” and so on. Regular people never talked like that; the most they might observe in those legendary water cooler moments of old was that a TV programme or film was “great” or “crap”

Not any more. Nowadays everyone speaks Fan. You hear people who’ve never worn a Klingon mask or screamed at David Tennant talking about “season five”. They discuss story arcs like you can buy them at Tescos. It’s spread to other genres too; now people compare the merits of the plots and characters of seasons 3 and 4 of Doc Martin or Spooks for example. Even James Bond, the perennially unchanging spy now apparently luxuriates in a character arc.


Wishful Thinking

John Newman looks at the unusual 2006 UK film The Lives of the Saints

The period from the late 1990s until last year was a rich one for home grown cinema yielding a number of excellent (and admittedly some not so excellent) movies showcasing UK talent from in front and behind the camera. Many of these films did follow a certain pattern, by economic necessity set in urban cities- often London- and starring both unknowns and what seemed to be like a repertory of actors skilled at this sort of `gritty` drama. Slipping under the wider critical radar in 2006, The Lives of the Saints is such a film.



John Newman on episodes 4 to 8 of the fourth series of Merlin

These are heady days for Merlin, confidentially occupying the old Casualty slot and keeping healthy ratings despite The X Factor being on opposite. It might be something to do with the quality of stories this season and also the fact that they underscore an ongoing plot rather than being mostly stand alone. In other series- notably Doctor Who – this approach has come in for some criticism but it appears to be paying dividends for Merlin. The season so far seems altogether more focussed, more driven with the plots freer because they don’t necessarily have to end up with the status quo week after week. It also fits the sort of legend that King Arthur- whichever version you might name- really is; epic, grandiose and taking characters on amazing journeys. For a series like this to be thriving and still reaching new heights- both artistically and commercially- in its fourth season is something to celebrate. Even Morgana in her dark cottage is probably smiling about it once a week!

Evil Morgana doesn't want you to see the spoliers....or does she?


Spaghetti Whoops!

You’re in a restaurant and things are going well but you have made what could be a fundamental mistake. You have ordered some kind of spaghetti. Not that there’s anything wrong with such a noodletastic meal in itself, it’s just that when it comes to eating it a disaster could potentially be lurking just around the corner.


War Stories

Tom Grattan’s War, a World War One drama made in the late 1960s is a classic children’s serial says John Connors.

Drama aimed at a younger audience is something of a different proposition to what would broadly be described as `children’s’ programmes`. The very best of the former can still be watched today and some of it is certainly well enough written and made to transcend it’s intended audience and simply be called `good television drama`. On TWU in the past we have discovered the exceptionally high quality of series like The Ghosts of Motley Hall, The Feathered Serpent and Children of the Stones but these date from the 1970s, the so called golden age of drama aimed at younger viewers. Finding a gem of similar distinction in the late 1960s is indeed a surprise but Tom Grattan’s War is certainly the equal of those classic 1970s and 80s series often mentioned.


No Great Snakes

Steven Spielberg’s new film version of Tintin is trying too hard says John Newman

The oddest thing about the The Adventures of Tintin is not the motion capture movement but the relative lack of context. While we can guess at the date where the action is happening any insight into who Tintin is remains left to our imagination. It’s highly unusual these days for a potential movie adaptation franchise to leap in with no background information about its lead character. So, we don’t really even know how old Tintin is, how he came to be able to afford an apartment and car, how he manages to become a `boy reporter` etc etc. Normally people moan about over exposition in a first film but here while the plot details are extrapolated to the nth degree the only character we can really invest in or learn anything about, is Captain Haddock.

Jedward ep 22: John was concerned that Edward had let himself go


The Last American

George R Stewart’s 1949 book Earth Abides examined by Andrew Darlington

Although published in 1949, George R Stewart’s sprawling epic Earth Abides was neither the first, nor the last fiction to delete homo sapiens from the world. For Stewart, it is a virus that wipes out the human race. But mass-extinction had been a popular theme for writers at least since Mary Shelley’s The Last Man in 1826, in which a viral-plague devastates civilisation, followed by the awful anguish of Matthew Phipps (MP) Shiel’s sole inheritor of a world depopulated by The Purple Cloud (1901). After Stewart’s novel the Cold War thermonuclear confrontation gave atomic catastrophe the added frisson of terrible political relevance, with world-ending cataclysm brought about by a regular arsenal of frightful doomsday weapons. In fact, Stewart alludes to global war as his character – Isherwood Williams, muses on the irony that ‘the trouble you’re expecting never happens’. People have ‘been trembling about destruction through war’, and ‘having bad dreams of cities blown to pieces’, but that ‘it’s always something that sneaks up the other way’. It’s an idea that’s been picked up and re-envisioned numerous times since in various inventive ways, with humanity variously drowned, grilled, frozen, irradiated, crystallised, burned and eaten by perambulating plants. Stephen King acknowledging the influence of Earth Abides on his The Stand (1978, revised 1990), with echoes up to Will Smith’s cinematic last man in New York in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legen’ (2007), or the ongoing Twenty-Eight Days Later movie series (2002 & 2007).