Doctor Who Last Christmas

BBC1 25/12/14: written by Steven Moffatt / directed by Paul Wilmshurst / starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Nick Frost, Natalie Gamede, Michael Troughton
It is funny isn’t it this Christmas special lark? Once upon a time, Russell T Davies daubed a bit of tinsel and festive cheer across the opening minutes before leading us somewhere else altogether. Let’s face it you can’t get anything less Christmassy than David Tennant and John Simm slugging it out on waste ground. Yet it worked a treat, creating an event, something to natter about over the mince pies. Steven Moffatt’s approach has been much more traditional; caking his episodes in Victorian Yuletide iconography, exploring the mythos and fables of the season and generally doing everything possible except showing us how to stuff a turkey. Yet, they have been unsubstantial birds, his Christmas feasts; looking tremendous, tasting a bit dry, needing a bit longer in the oven perhaps (most of the tree one could be left in the oven!). So what are the chances that with his fifth go he gives us the present we actually want? As it turns out, very tasty indeed.
SPOILER WARNING- Plot details revealed, references to Santa beyond this point


Christmas Songs

2014 does not seem to have brought us a great Christmas single; in fact the last new modern standard came twenty years ago with  Mariah Carey’s `All I want for Xmas is you` . As Coldplay discovered a couple of years back when they thought inserting the words “Christmas lights” into a song was enough,  penning a surefire xmas hit is not easy. Yes it may scale the charts and gain lots of airplay but the real measure of success is endurance. Is it played every year in public places to the point of public annoyance?  Or is it forgotten and rarely heard after a year or two? Bizarrely for those who make them most Xmas songs are written in the summer which perhaps explains why they can overdo the festiveness of it. In the sunshine it is difficult to put yourself in a Christmas frame of mind. What sounds fine in June is going to sound just too overworked with bells and cringesome lyrics when it comes round to December. What better time then than to look at some memorable Christmas songs and see just how Christmassy they are:
Slade- Merry Xmas Everybody
The quintessential Crimbo song started out with a different lyric before Noddy and co decided to amend the earworm of a tune to meet the festive season. It is timeless because it describes the sort of Xmas that is of its time; the 1970s.  Now more than forty years old it seems as much part of the tradition as Victorian times did in the 70s. The lyric is masterful; conjuring up crowded rooms, homemade decorations, party hats, big dinners and embarrassing relatives and is tied to a bouncy tune that would translate into other genres if someone tried. Imagine a dance version? It’d be fantastic. This is the yardstick against which all post 1973 Xmas songs must be measured and few have matched it. “It’s Christmas!!” yells Nod at the end in case we hadn’t quite got the message. And as soon as you hear this, it is.

Yes, he wore his Xmas decorations everywhere did Dave


The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies

In cinemas now! Starring Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Evangaline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Malcolm the Moose. Adapted liberally from the book by JRRRR Tolkien by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guilllermo del Toro. Directed by Peter Jackson
Considering its position at the conclusion of Peter Jackson’s second epic trilogy, this proves to be a surprisingly nimble movie. While delivering on the epic action front (just check the title) it is also rich in smaller character moments paying off several plot lines from the first two films with aplomb. At a comparatively modest two and a quarter hour running time it is so focussed that it may just be the best of all the six films. 
A man on a moose strays into the battle and finds it difficult to hide


Top of the Pops 1979 6.12.79

Guest Post: Chris Arnsby 
BBC4: Top of the Pops 1979 6/12/79

Simon Bates, "Welcome to Top of the Pops with Que Sera Mi Vida and  The Gibson Brothers."
Simon Bates gets his first go on Top of the Pops. He's been working for Radio 1 since 1975 but this is his first appearance on television. It's not clear why its taken him four years to make the leap from radio to television but until August 1979 he presented the Sunday chart countdown on Radio 1; maybe the BBC didn't want him to become associated with both chart programmes?
Chart music: The Gibson Brothers: Que Sera Mi Vida (If You Should Go) [5].
Darts: Reet Petite [54]. Of course an alternative explanation for Simon Bates' long absence from Top of the Pops might be that no one thought he was any good. Maybe it's first night nerves but he's awkward and uncharismatic and he's wearing a terrible jumper. Mistake number one of the night comes when he describes Darts' unremarkable cover as being "Little Richards' Reet Petite." Surely any fule kno that Jackie Wilson sang Reet Petite?  


2014: The YouTubers Crisis Year

2014 has not been a good year for the community known as YouTubers. An increasingly large and popular set of video bloggers aka vloggers who now reach millions of followers the Youtubers’ ethos seemed to be one of good clean fun. Some mocked the lack of social comment and detachment from the reality of the world- plus the fact that the majority of them are white and middle class- yet it seemed to be a world built on a new aesthetic and a genuinely vibrant use of online media. Yet this year the cards have come tumbling down in a series of scandals and stories that have left the community shocked at how quickly a brave new world can resembled a flawed old one. 


Telescreen One

Guest Post: Oliver Wake
Sixty years ago this week, Britain experienced one of its earliest major television drama controversies, when the BBC screened a dramatisation of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984.* In view of this, and recent talk of at least one new film version of the novel in the works, now is a good time to look back at how 1984 has fared in its five television and film adaptations.


God Help The Girl

2014, available to buy. Written and directed by Stuart Murdoch / Starring Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray
For about seven years while still fronting indie group Belle and Sebastian Stuart Murdoch was also nurturing an idea involving girl singers which evolved into this film released earlier in 2014. As such it is written as a labour of love that marks a directorial debut as well even though as he admits he has no experience in either field.  The result, while inevitably showing occasional flaws, is a surprisingly involving work. It takes a little too long to get started but once it does some charming moments ensue.


I can't believe there is such a thing as a selfie stick!

Now we spend a percentage of our lives taking selfies, I suppose its inevitable that the act has inspired an aide to help us take even better ones. As we know the distance from which you can take a selfie is entirely dictated by the length of your arms so an enterprising designer has come with a way of extending your reach.  The rather unglamorously named selfie stick is not just a stick of course, that would be too simple.

A selfie stick, yesterday
There are three basic types. One is a Bluetooth enabled design linked to your phone, another can be plugged into your phone’s headphone jack. On both of these you press a button on the handle. The third type are ones without any remote function.
Each are designed to be held at arm’s length dramatically adding to the field of vision that a regular selfie would not encompass, particularly if you’re trying to fit a number of people into the picture. Which, incidentally, is surely not really a selfie? As you can’t really describe it as a group someone needs to think of a different name – what about crowdie? Selfie sticks originated in South East Asia but now sell around the world; in early December Amazon apparently sold out such was the demand. Most brands are made in China and sell for between $14 and $40.
Those in the know don’t recommend the ones without any remote function and say the best one is the make that uses a headphone cable. This means you don’t need to worry about pairing or charging; the button works directly from the headphone jack and is a cheaper option than the Bluetooth one. This is probably only the starts as you can imagine some weird hybrid of a selfie stick and a remote control drone being able to float about your person taking photos on your vocal commands.  No doubt improved functionality of some sort will follow and before too long render the selfie stick obsolete. Then we won’t hear about it again for decades till some tv show lists it amongst the 100 Silliest Products of the 2010s. Probably hosted by Alex Zane.


In defence of Zoella

Nothing causes disdain quicker than success and in the case of Zoella this has seemed all too true in the past week. In case you didn’t know, Zoella (real name Zoe Sugg) is a YouTube vlogger whose debut novel Girl Online has sold more in its first week of release than any book ever, more even than the likes of JK Rowling. Which is all fine except for the fact that some people seem to resent this fact. Digging around with barely concealed zeal they have unearthed that the book was ghostwritten and made it a big Sunday media story. The subtext of these stories is very much to belittle her achievement.  Zoella’s success seems to have irked people is because she is `only` a vlogger, she is `only` 24 and most of all her `sudden` appearance as if from nowhere. 


Top of the Pops double edition!!

Guest Post by Chris Arnsby

Kid Jensen,"Hello there! And welcome . This week as we look at the chart we listen to Dynasty with I Don't Want To Be A Freak."
Chart music: Dynasty, I Don’t Want To Be A Freak (But I Can’t Help Myself) [26]
The Jam: The Eton Rifles [4]. Still brilliant. This week The Jam make do without the Four Silly Asses. There's a nice camera move at the end of the performance with a pull back across the studio from The Jam to Kid Jensen who launches into his introduction to the next song while the camera pans around him; unfortunately the next song turns out to be...


Wizards vs Aliens Twilight Falls

24/ 25 November 2014 CBBC:; Written by Phil Ford / Directed by Mark Everest/ Starring Scott Haran, Annette Badland, Michael Higgs, Alex Childs, Kristian Phillips, Clive Russell, Chontelle Brown
The season’s story arc reaches a conclusion as the infamous Wraith Lord Warlock emerges into the real world though there is a problem. As menacing as he tries to be eyes are drawn to what’s sitting on his head. It is some sort of helmet with horns and it looks so silly that a character even jokes about it later. Try as he might to be threatening and evil, Warlock’s effectiveness is reduced by this helmet. It’s the one force he cannot quite overcome.  

"Well, I honestly don't think it looks that silly at all. Pity a horse's tail got snagged in it though."


The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1

In cinemas now. Directed by Francis Lawrence / Written by Peter Craig, Danny Strong adapted from the book by Suzanne Collins / Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore
This is an atypical tent pole release with its primary colours muted and its mood downcast yet resilient. Totally different from the action beats that punctuated its predecessors Mockingjay Part 1 will surely divide fans of the tone of those films but anyone who paid closer attention should be satisfied that the story of Katniss Everdeen is as absorbing and detailed as you’re likely to get in this genre.


Strange phone photos!

People are too busy taking selfies to notice the amazing photo effects their smartphone can generate.  You can take black and white of course and also sepia. There’s the bizarre negative effect which serves no discernible purpose but looks amazing and a couple called warm or cold Vintage. If you like you can posterise or you can solarise. I know, always a dilemma! There are also the Point ones where your photo is basically in black and white except for one colour highlighted whether its red, green or blue.
The resulting images as you can see from below are often striking, disturbing or plain ridiculous especially if you take them at night outdoors where the neon or shop window lights can add an extra something.  As mine is a two year old Samsung Galaxy your phone may have more than these.  Here’s a few I’ve recently created. They’re much more interesting than normal photos.
Looks Like: The sci-fi office of the future. Is Actually: A McDonalds


Top of the Pops 79 01.11.79

BBC4: Top of the Pops 1979 01/11/79
Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Mike Read, "It's Thursday night and time for one of the longest running serials on television, Top of the Pops. And here to sing over the charts, Sad Cafe."
Chart music: Sad Cafe, Every Day Hurts [3]
Sparks: Tryouts For The Human Race [45]. Presented in Ron Mael-ascope! A ghostly  Ron Mael is superimposed over Sparks' performance; lit luridly in alternating green, red and blue shades. Imagine what that must have looked like being recorded. A single camera pointing up at Ron Mael as he glares into the lens for three minutes, occasionally bashing at his head to emphasise the song's percussion. If only the raw videotape still existed. Just when you think it can't get any better vision mixer Carol Abbott turns up the electronic effects. Now there are three Rons; like that bit in the Doctor Who story Earthshock when the Cyber-Leader booms, "my army awakes."
Sparks: Ron spots a Ninja


Wizards vs Aliens The Key of Bones

17&18/11/14; Written by Sasha Hails / Directed by Lee Haven-Jones / Starring Scott Haran, Annette Badland, Michael Higgs, Trevor Cooper, Alex Childs, Kristian Phillips
It is impressive how well the series has thrived despite the departure of Benny.  Following Katie’s voluntary memory wipe last week, Tom’s chief confidante this time is grandfather Simeon. There are still occasional hints the latter may not be all he claims but in the meantime we can enjoy the different dynamic at the centre of the show. Trevor Cooper certainly attacks the role with enthusiasm giving Simeon’s grand tales of glory a real heart whether or not they turn out to be true. There is a chance Tom could become subjugated too much by adult characters and easily pushed into a supporting role but Sasha Hails gets the balance about right here. 

"Dad- I want a hat like that." "You ain't gettin' my hat matey."


500 Posts!!

As the banner above might hint, this is the 500th post on the blog since it started which is a moment to eat some cheese and reflect on what I’ve done. When thiswayup moved to blog format in 2011 it was already a bit late in the day but I love printed things so I held off becoming electronic till the last minute. The question then was what to do with it because, clearly, a blog is not the same as a fanzine something it took me a while to get my head around. Slowly the blog has changed into more of a blog rather than a fanzine in a blog format. 


Spandau Ballet Soul Boys of the Western World

The rise! The fall! The court case! The reunion! All contained in a fascinating film now available to buy.
Most films about groups with a long history consist of the occasional bits of grainy footage, lots of still photographs and plenty of talking heads filmed recently. We try to somehow reconcile the much older people we’re seeing talking with the younger energetic people in the photos. Fortuitously Spandau Ballet appear to have been filmed at every keynote moment of their career hence the big selling point of George Hencken’s’ film is that it comprises only archive action. From their teenage pre Spandau club gigs in the late 1970s up to 2009’s triumphant reunion tour, it is all here to see. This is a huge advantage that relies not so much on older recollections but takes us into each period of their career and the results form their own involving narrative. Whether or not you like their music, if you see this film you will like them and more significantly you’ll come away with a real feel for what life in the goldfish bowl of pop music success is like.


Top of the Pops 1979 25.10.79

BBC4: Top of the Pops 1979 25/10/79
Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Peter Powell, "Hello! It's the chart show on tv! And on your radio select hit 26! It's Top of the Pops!"
Chart music: The Selector: On My Radio [26]. The Specials feat. Rico: A Message To You Rudy[41]. The Specials (feat. Rico) do their best but it all goes to waste in front of the thunderous gaze of the Top of the Pops audience. The mood of the crowd can be judged from the opening pan around the stage. Nearly everyone seems to be standing still with their arms folded; determined not to have a good time. Did The Specials make an offensive gesture at the crowd just before recording began?



In cinemas now. starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon / Written by Jonathan & Christopher Nolan/ Directed by Christopher Nolan
There’s more than one anomaly in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious space epic and it’s not the black hole that sits at the centre of the plot. Rather it’s the sheer scale of the idea and the way in which the director/ co-writer approaches it. There is a good- potentially great- film sitting in the nigh on three hour movie that’s been released but rather like the film’s blackboards full of calculations it needs a lot more work. As it stands an oddly paced stew of interpretative science, parental angst and science fiction madness overwhelms whatever it is that Interstellar is trying to say.
They were suprised to find the black hole was part of the London Underground


Wizards vs Aliens The Daughters of Stone

10&11/11/14; Written by Phil Ford / Directed by Lee Haven-Jones / Starring Scott Haran, Annette Badland, Michael Higgs, Trevor Cooper, Manpreet Bamba, Adjoa Andoh
After the emotional conclusion to last week’s story, this starts off as a lighter follow up though the threat to wizard kind could hardly be bigger. As such the tone seems slightly uneven with characters stating the dangers of breaches in the Line of Twilight (the beautifully named barrier that separates magic from real life) yet this danger seems initially rather playfully presented.
Spoilers after this point

"Is that Simon Cowell...?"


Doctor Who Death in Heaven

08/11/14: Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez, Jemma Redgrave, Ingrid Oliver, Sanjeev Bhaskar/ Written by Steven Moffat/ Directed by Rachel Talalay
Reviewed by Sean Alexander
That noise you just heard was the Internet exploding; or was it the Nethersphere being hacked for its nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence..? Now, let’s get just one thing straight: this series of Doctor Who has been the best for several years, with a new Doctor bringing some much needed gravitas back to a role that had become far too often a vehicle for overacting (David Tennant at his worst) and childish buffoonery (Matt Smith on default).  Jenna Coleman has also risen to the occasion with the opportunity to make more of what was previously a fairly generic companion role (bar her ‘impossible girl’ meme).  The season long arc was nicely worked in from week one and there have been some standout (‘Listen’) and scary (‘Mummy on the Orient Express’) returns to form recalling the kind of classic yet emotionally infused highlights of the Russell T Davies era (and, in the case of ‘Mummy…’ and ‘Kill the Moon’, some proper Hinchcliffe/Holmes 1976 frights).  Despite the graveyard post ‘Time Heist’ slot against Cowell and co. the programme still performed well (especially on the catch-ups) and reviews have been largely glowing and respectful (we’ll just put ‘In the Forest of the Night’ down to first-night nerves, shall we?).  Hell, I even liked Danny Pink. But here’s the caveat.  And it’s a big one.



Top of the Pops 1979 11.10.79

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Andy Peebles, "Good evening and welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops and let's straight away have a look at this week's brand new top thirty."
Chart music: Al Hudson & The Partners, You Can Do It.
The Dooleys: The Chosen Few [16]. Who, what, why, when? Four questions which need answering. Who liked The Dooleys enough to keep buying their records? What were they thinking? Why did this keep happening? When will The Dooleys stop appearing on Top of the Pops. This must be their last performance... right? RIGHT?


Wizards vs Aliens The Quantum Effect

3&4/11/14; Written by Julie Dixon/ Directed by Mark Everest/ Starring Scott Haran, Percelle Ascott, Annette Badland, Michael Higgs
There’s a fun thread through the first part of `The Quantum Effect` in which we the viewer are thinking things that Tom then asks on screen. Thanks to his summer sojourn at MIT, Benny is invited to a top research station which turns out to be run by one person, the quirky Adam Wright. He then less than believably convinces the novice that the two of them will save the world by effectively twiddling a few knobs and re-aligning a couple of large radio telescope dishes. Tom is one breath away from turning to the camera and saying `this is a trap isn’t it?`It does take some convincing that Benny could be so easily fooled when he has hitherto shown both intellect and instinct way beyond his age but maybe the fact that he’s buzzing after an offer to join MIT on a permanent basis that he taken in. They just about pull it off thanks to Percelle Ascott who makes Benny so enthusiastic about the wonders of science that we can just about believe he would be tricked. It does play into the cliché of scientists being hopeless at anything but science though which seems a tad old fashioned. In fact the whole episode has the feel of an old 1970s Doctor Who about it- largely in a good way- as Ursula is called to investigate sightings of creatures from the Netherside getting through into the real world. Btw do we think this is any way related to the Nethersphere in Doctor Who?


Bit of a spoiler coming up if you've not seen it...


Doctor Who Dark Water

01/11/14 Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez, Chris Addison, Andrew Leung/ Written by Steven Moffat/ Directed by Rachel Talalay
Some of the best Doctor Who stories have happened when a writer and director team up to try something audacious, something outside the default setting of whatever the series is doing at the time. `Dark Water`, full of uncomfortable ideas, directorial poise and excellent performances is that kind of story. I know it’s only the first half and the second part may be terrible for all we know but right now, I’d hazard a guess we’re looking at a stone cold classic.



Wizards vs Aliens The Secret of Room 12

The second season of Wizards Vs Aliens was terrific culminating in one of those wonderful everything and the kitchen sink finales courtesy of Russell T Davies. The tone of `All Out War` suggested nobody was sure whether there would be a third season and had there not been it would have been an exciting way to finish. Obviously now there is, the show has not just got to face the challenge of following last year’s stuff but added to that RTD has left to pursue other projects while Gwendoline Christie, so pivotal to some of last season’s best moments, is also unavailable because being in Westeros she has to walk everywhere. Can the show thrive under the opportunity these absences provides? 


Self Service Checkouts

There’s a new presence gaining increasing space in shops, something creeping surreptitiously into our retail lives almost without being noticed. I’m talking about automatic checkouts or as they are optimistically known Self Service Checkouts. Of course they are not actually self-service because you are at the mercy of a voice that will stand for no nonsense.  We’ve come a long way in customer services from the disinterested girl chewing and swiping your goods nonchalantly but now people are in danger of being completely replaced by machines. And not just any machine either. Progress is great if it actually moves things forward but the new breed of self service in large shops opens up a new front in the ongoing issue of how technology is destroying viable jobs. Plus it is prone to quirky behaviour.


Doctor Who In The Forest Of The Night

25/10/14 Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson (and various Coal Hill school pupils)/ Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce / Directed by Sheree Folkson
Review by Sean Alexander
To quote Ursula K LeGuin, ‘the word for world is forest.’  Being a largely optimistic time-travel show that has many times shown a bright future for the human race, Doctor Who has brushed with ecological fears more times than you may remember.  The Barry Letts era, with its liberal sentiment and cautionary tales about mankind’s raping of the environment, was certainly the most sustained attempt by the then production team to lace its stories with a green message.  Latterly ‘The Seeds of Doom’ cast vegetable kind in a more invasive and homicidal light, whilst Christopher Bailey’s Buddhist parable ‘Kinda’ and its biblical snake in the garden of Eden also looked at post-colonial attitudes of the materially minded towards the ecosphere.  From a cultural standpoint the 1970s in particular saw a greater flower-power-tinged awareness of the teachings of Gaia, the urge for nuclear disarmament and cleaner forms of energy.  While the 1980s’ doom-laden tales of ozone holes and global warming have since firmly put green politics on the electioneering map.


Downton Abbey (ish)

It is early evening at Downton and Lady Mary has just come back from walking pointlessly around the village
“I’m going upstairs to take my hat off,” she announces to raised eyebrows from the seventeen staff members walking around carrying trays for no reason whatsoever.
Carson harrumphs loudly, “I rather think that is not done.”
“I rather think I don’t care!” she retorted.
“Oh my dear, “ clucked her mother Cora, “You are becoming so modern, like the radio gramme we listened to for three minutes last week. By the way what happened to that?”
Her grumpy husband Lord Grantham turned around from where he had been pretending to sort out complicated papers.
“I don’t know. I was rather hoping to listen to The Cheeky Monk later.”
“What’s that, dear?”
“It’s a rather racy comedy show that I believe is all the rage in the South.”
“Aren’t we in the South?”
“No, dear. We just talk very posh.”

Maggie knew her hat was the best.


Top of the Pops 1979 4.10.79

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Kid Jensen. "Hi. It's time to look, and listen to the music. This week with a touch of Madness."
Chart music: Madness, The Prince [16].
XTC: Making Plans For Nigel [42]. Nobody has risk assessed XTC's drum set up. The poor drummer must keep twisting his back to strike the gong which has been thoughtlessly placed right behind him. Making plans for Nigel? You should be making plans for the onset of repetitive strain injury.