Greetings, from the morning…

Following on from last night’s post…I went back to sleep in the end, and had some strange dreams, about things I can’t really remember. But! Then I got up, and within an hour, I’d done my run, showered, made coffee, and collected together some of the many things I’d meant to. I’m quite pleased with that, even if I missed parts of the mornings I love. There’ll be other opportunities to see mornings.

Now we’re three days into January, I feel it’s time to admit one of my more hopeful resolutions. Or, not really resolutions. Curious attempts. I’m hoping to accomplish a yearlong running streak. A mile a day, and more if I feel like it. One of the best things about right now is that I’ve finally found somewhere…

…as you can see, this is from a while ago. This post was interrupted by a telephone call to say that my partner’s mum had smashed up her hip in a fall, and was on her way to hospital. A timely reminder of how the best laid plans, etc etc. For the concerned (and I’m very grateful to you, concerned, you’ve been very kind), she’s now had a full hip replacement op and seems to be doing well. That one can have an entire joint and socket replaced with plastic and titanium and, just HOURS later, be taking steps upon it all, leaves me in awe of medicine, and grateful as ever for the straggling remnants of the NHS, which, as every time in my extremely fortunate experience, acted above and beyond expectation.

Back to me, though, because, well, I haven’t thought about myself a great deal in the last week, and this is definitely the place for me to do it.

I am now nine days into this one mile running streak – or, as it goes, at least 2k every day so far. I’ve been enjoying it immensely, and, by being able to roll out of bed, into vaguely runningish clothes, and choosing a distance that is doable in under fifteen minutes (I’m not the fastest runner), it’s something I find myself quite happy about, rather than dreading, which is a good change from every other workout I’ve done, even those I’ve enjoyed. It’s not even really exercise, just…warming myself up inside, getting moving, giving the brain a chance to take in the general wonder of where I’m fortunate enough to be living, that sort of thing. We’ll see how it goes as time passes, but at the moment, it seems to be just what I needed.

My ‘blog every day’ concept has, alas, been lost.

In other news, further new year ventures have been slightly stalled by a mass moment of clumsiness in which I dropped a tray of tiny, tiny pieces, and mixed them up to the point of uselessness. I have a lot of sorting out to do.

 

If you were wondering, after the post from last week in which I ripped into Sherlock, what I thought of Sunday’s episode, know this: not much. If I wanted Sherlock: The Sitcom years, I’d have hoped for that. I don’t appreciate characters doing a 180 without grounds, or the gravity and depth of a show disappearing into nothingness without repercussion. I still don’t understand, genuinely, why people who loved what it was still love the show, but there it is. At least some people are enjoying it. Curiously, I have noticed that everyone who’s agreed with me has, with very little exception, done it offline, by email, text, Whatsapp and the rest. It’s like publicly admitting the show sucks is either too upsetting or inflammatory, and perhaps that’s true. I’m just not used to being the angry one, still, and it’s an increasingly unpleasant experience. Anyway. When Moffat and co. say they’ve already planned out Series 4 and 5, that’s great, but why didn’t they bother plotting out Series 3 whilst they were at it?

Let’s leave this on a brighter note, though. In terms of something marvellously plotted (but guilty of a bit of tailing off in later series too, heh), are you familiar with Journey Into Space: Operation Luna? This 1950s BBC sci-fi radio series was super close to my heart when I was a kid, and hugely coloured and inspired all my space-based listening, reading and viewing ever after. It’s a classic, and free to listen to: do, if you haven’t, or if you’ve forgotten it.

 

 

 

 

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HIS NAME IS NOT ‘THE DOCTOR’.

 

Christmas TV was the WORST. I hate to start New Year with a rant, but it’s bubbling up in me and I fear it’s starting to spoil 2014 TV so I figured, hey, maybe I should get it out.

The first and, perhaps, saddest offender was the Christmas Top of the Pops. I have always, always insisted on the watching of this in my house, regardless of my feelings on the Top 40 or the State of UK Music. I’ve just always watched it. With TOTP no longer existing, Christmas TOTP is my only chance to have some Christmas continuity, and a bit of a retrospective and a moan/laugh/listen to whatever I’d forgotten was out in January. But this year, it was the WORST. There was a lot of fantastic music this year, most of which, thanks to the download chart being a rather more reasonable reflection of what people are truly listening to than it reflecting whatever 12-year-olds lined up to buy in HMV. Precisely none of this was shown on Top of the Pops. Every single act was something a record company had pestered the BBC to feature. “Oh, this mediocre piece of crap ought to offend no-one and appeal to the sort of people who buy things because if they hear something on Strictly, BBC Breakfast, and Radio 2 they’ll forget that it’s tripe and buy it out of robotic familiarity…” I don’t want to be specifically offended on Christmas Day, don’t mistake me. But I do want to see Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry and any number of those spangly, indistinguishable, ageless beardy blokes who’ve made singalongapophit this year for more than a split second where you ’round up’ everything you should’ve had on the show but didn’t. If you’re not going to make something that actually involves the TOP of the POPS, then don’t bloody bother at all. It’s the saddest let down of all. And on Christmas Day, at that.

And that’s the thing. I accept mediocre most days, but not on Christmas Day. Not on the day you should’ve been making the biggest effort of all to delight.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. I differ from a great swathe of people I know in that I adored the latest series. Truly, there was a lot to love in the sense that it gave me simple, episodic, near-capery, with a touch of lore that reminded you that it was made by people who had seen the show before, but not enough of it to make my mind start wondering and wandering into when the last time I watched the Douglas Adams episodes was (way, way too long ago, incidentally). I’ve stuck up for Matt Smith from the first moment he appeared, which surprised me, and he’s continued to surprise and delight me throughout. There’s a darkness and a fear he gives me that, as someone who grew up terrified of Eight, I find very fitting. I’ve enjoyed Clara, as the sort of companion that reminds me of how I viewed Doctor Who when I was little – capable, confident, curious, and like there was more to know about her. I liked that it was proper, uncomplicated, Saturday teatime viewing. Good effort. Good enough. A light TV meal. Excellent.

I liked the last special well enough. I thought it was a bit daft, but it reminded me that it was, actually, quite nice to see Tennant back again. But I didn’t think it was all that and a box of chocolates, as some people seemed to. I did love John Hurt. But when has anyone ever not loved John Hurt? I loved seeing Billie Piper again as well. It was definitely worth watching. But it wasn’t…quite…everything.

There was a point somewhere around those episodes where Amy and Rory had epic feelings, and where the Doctor seemed completely lost, and where the world – or another world, or time and the universe itself – seemed truly in jeopardy, where I’d never seen TV so thrilling and complete as the Matt Smith episodes. But, as time passes, I haven’t rewatched them all that much.

And back to Christmas Day…Matt Smith, evolved from a good theatre/TV actor-type into someone with all the acting potential in the universe leaking out of him, seemed to regenerate before the Doctor did, seemed bigger than the show, seemed trapped, to me, in wonky lines and poor, near-slapstick humour that jarred from scene to scene, with the story much like the last batch of biscuits, when you get all your shreds of pastry together and mush them up and cut out whatever fits and shove it on the tray any old how. Only, unlike the last batch of biscuits, this was not a surprisingly tasty dish. Bad metaphor, I realise. Whatever. I’m not writing a Christmas Day TV show here, so it can stay. For me, the Christmas episode was a terrible waste of costume, villainry, talent, and belief. For the first twenty minutes, I went with it. I was excited. I don’t mind a voiceover. I don’t mind a bit of nonsense. I don’t mind skipping time and being rushed through something.

But I do mind if it comes to nothing. I really mind if my suspension of logic and belief is for nothing. (And keep all this rant in mind for when I get to Sherlock, later…) I mind even more if a Doctor I’ve invested in, been so grateful for, goes out in a shower of rubbish. “His name is Doctor…” NO IT BLOODY ISN’T AND EVEN IF IT IS JUST DON’T IF YOU CAN’T THINK OF A DECENT PAYOFF (keep this in mind for Sherlock…). The moment with Amy should’ve been a delight, and as it happened, it was, but it disappeared in seconds, as people randomly came in and out of the TARDIS for no real reason, as the plot abandoned itself in a series of purest stupidity. The magic ffffffffd out of it like an old, wrinkly, sticky balloon. By the time Capaldi rocked up I was sad with how bad it was, and his appearance didn’t help.

Far be it from me to complain about something which hasn’t happened yet, and may my fears be ungrounded and wrong, but I have no interest in Capaldi as the Doctor. I don’t know why everyone is flailing and raving about him. I don’t like The Thick of It, which might be part of it, because everyone I know seems to think it’s super hyper clever and funny, and I think it’s a bunch of nonsense made by people who could do so much better, but hey. I don’t want another terrifying Doctor. I want the warmth back, I think. The heart. Two hearts. Whatever. I don’t see where the show can go that I’ll feel for it, about it, inside it. Where I’ll want to feel anything about it. That Christmas episode felt like a soggy kick in the shins, an over-glossed attempt at something where everyone I could see knew how bad it was, and everyone I couldn’t see didn’t care how bad it was.

You don’t earn the right to drop the ball. I’m not going to start on anything about how Moffat treats female characters or anything like that, because goodness knows a) the internet’s got that covered and b) I’ve loved plenty of shows with terrible female characters, no female characters at all, or those that perpetuate the very worst stereotypes about women, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t, over the years, before the internet drilled it into me to watch TV differently. I don’t need to start on that, though. That episode, that end to a Doctor I’ve loved, that entire sagging mess of a show is bad in many ways, but most importantly, in its smugness, in its “We’ve made this, so it must be wonderful, it cost a lot of money and took ages and here it is now be grateful.” I’m not grateful; I’m angry.

But, I do really want to watch Waters of Mars again, which, I have been reminded, in my quest to feel something, anything, or, rather, everything, whilst watching Doctor Who, is the best episode of the entire rebooteded series. And that wasn’t even Matt Smith. I’m excited for that. And I’m going to take my massively, massively disappointed self and go back instead, to that, and then back before that to the Douglas Adams, and probably back before that too to watch the first seasons, to catch up on the Doctors I never knew well, because I deserve that, and I don’t want the misery of where the show is right now to percolate into the entire thing. And I do want to pick it up again when it comes back, and to try. I want, as another show that had its dramatic ups and downs in quality put it so well, to believe…

Believing was much less important to me when it came to Downton Abbey. I don’t need to believe. I’m not vastly invested in anyone in the show because there’s not much point in massively investing in anyone in Downton in case they decide they don’t want to be in Downton any more, but I do want to enjoy myself. I do want to thoroughly enjoy myself, as well, not like last year’s Christmas special where, for all the cricket and jollity, there was a bloody miserable crashing death-based end to things ON CHRISTMAS DAY in a slot which is probably, for most people, the last thing you watch on Christmas Day. So that was awful. At least this didn’t happen this year.

But then…did anything at all happen in this year’s? Oh yes, yes. Mary and Mrs. Hughes behaved in the most completely inconsistent OOC ways ever, and Edith got all upset about things that all happened off screen whilst we weren’t looking, and there was a lot of faffing about absolutely nothing and Thomas was reduced to a glowering toady little presence in the corner who made absolutely bugger all contribution to anything and lost any semblance of character growth he’d ever had.

Maggie Smith was glorious, as Maggie Smith always is, but a cutting put-down and wry observation interspersed with genuine touches of heart and humanity is curious, as if one character spouted only gold dust whilst everyone else choked on their porridge.

The greatest show of how nothing it was was that even my mother abandoned concentrating purely on it for wondering about something else entirely on her laptop, which I’ve never ever seen her do before, and she had really been looking forward to it. The whole thing was a strain, a bore, and a confusing mess, and I sort of wish I’d stopped watching altogether somewhere around series two.

So that was Christmas Day on telly, and it was, as you can see, the WORST. For me, anyway. And it’s especially bad that I found it the worst because I’m your ultimate devil’s advocate in most cases. I like to make excuses for things I like. But, crucially, I also like to like the things I like. I really want to love the things I like, though. And to be greeted with a rising hatred for all the things you like, and on Christmas bloody Day at that, is utterly, absolutely lamentable. Hear my cries.

And so to New Year’s Day. Welcome, 2014. Time for Sherlock to return! Sherlock! Beloved Sherlock! Benedict Cumberbatch in all his levelled-up Khan/Smaug muscle-having glory! I’m very fond of Cumberbatch. I have been since he was but a voice on Radio 4, reading me detective things and, indeed, Sherlock Holmes stories, and, of course, in Cabin Pressure (it was the strangest thing when everyone fell for Cabin Pressure, almost as confusing when Hut 33, which I thought I was the only person to listen to ever turned up as a reasonably popular Yuletide request one year). Anyway. Do I fancy Benedict Cumberbatch? That’s probably a whole other blog. I’ll stick that in my list of blogs-I-mean-to-write post. I meant to do that one yesterday, but I’ll have to do it tomorrow instead. I’m not wholly sure why I’m wondering that here – it’s not really that relevant. I definitely didn’t when I first saw Sherlock, and my, was that first episode one of the very greatest pieces of television I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. What a masterful piece of storytelling that was.

And the subsequent episodes. I thought the Hound of the Baskervilles version, however they so-titled it, was a bit off in places, and there were definitely points that were very silly in other places, but I never minded, because the story, always the story, and this wonderful character dynamic that was so tight, so neat, so clever. And genuinely clever, not smug or self-gratified, the sort of thing that made you smile with appreciation. I’m thinking things like the scene from that first episode, the double-hander with the taxi driver character. The scene in the swimming pool with Moriarty. The I am Sherlocked, or, as I like to call it, the all-time greatest ever TV facepalm moment. So many wonderful moments, and comments, and so much fun.

So why am I adding the latest episode to my rant? Because it made me really bloody annoyed. And I wasn’t expecting that. And, really, I am so, so confused by the way that a good 80% of people on my Twitter feed and so on seem to have loved it, or at least rather liked it.

I don’t understand.

It was silly.

Sherlock is not silly. I don’t care if he’s spent his last two years in sodding circus school, he’s not a clown. He’s not got that sense of humour, and don’t tell me he’s trying to imitate that sense of humour and that actually that’s all pathos and sweetness because that is the sort of thing that happens in Sherlock fanfic and I don’t want this to become, like far too many shows of old have, something where the fandom is better at the show than the actual writers of it.

Moriarty warranted comedic use of pop music and buffoonery because he was BONKERS. Brilliantly, terrifyingly bonkers. Sherlock might be those things, but not with an upbeat soundtrack. And whilst I’m at it, what the hell with the entire, lengthy and bizarre music video-style montage segments? I’m not railing against the progressive nature of TV here. It’s not that I was pushed out of my comfort zone by speshul nu trix that are too challenging for my ageing self. It’s that real wit and plot were replaced by set pieces and slapstick.

It’s that Cumberbatch, capable of acting his socks off in anything, seemed to be, as I was complaining about Matt Smith being, completely constrained by the weight of the gloss on the show. Where his own body and pacing would have been more than enough, there seemed constant over/under-focusing, slowing, over-enhancing. And Martin Freeman, always so effortless and brilliant and capable of thoroughly inhabiting even the smallest moment to make it defining and enlightening, was perpetually written into emotional, literal and metaphorical corners, flattened and muted by odd script and plot choices, constantly stripped from fulfilling the very role that the episode seemed to want to claim he defined.

And don’t get me started on the complete inability to resolve the plot. HIS NAME IS NOT THE DOCTOR. Same bloody thing. Don’t give a cliffhanger and then mock people’s desire to resolve it. Sure, mock it a bit. Sure, that was a cracking and most amusing opening, which I greatly enjoyed, especially Derren Brown. Sure, I liked the fanfic version (I’m sure I’ve read that one, and I’d be quite happy to read it again, preferably in place of rewatching last night’s). But it became as if the writers themselves were displaying how unresolvably ridiculous their cliffhanger was, and if you set yourself up that way, then, no, sorry, you have to cop it when you don’t finish what you started.

I’ll take it back gladly if it comes later, next episode, final episode. Gladly. Because this is a series, and it’s okay to have arcs. But that needs to be resolved by the third part, and if it isn’t, then oh my, that’s just incompetent smugness, to think that you can do whatever you like and not actually need to abide by the rules of plausibility. When you’re writing about humans and grounding them as human and keeping their powers strictly to deductiveness, then you do, actually, have to keep them grounded constantly. It isn’t impressive if no-one knows the answer, and all I got from last night’s episode is the sense that the makers it would be a really great way to keep the buzz going until they could get the next episode out on telly.

Mary was fine, sure, I’m not sure why she had to be Watson’s secretary, or why that whole sequence had to be flogged to boredom, just as, whilst I’m at it, so many of the scenes which were rammed together to constitute the episode had to be verbally or visually done to death. The fighting in multiple eating establishments (really? REALLY?). The “There’s always an off switch!” “I can’t believe there was an off switch!” “I’ve turned it off with the off switch!” which in isolation is okay if you haven’t already abandoned one potentially solvable situation by mocking the attempt to solve it and substituted plot with a drawn-out, suddenly faux-emotional, exceptionally unfunny “This was never all that stressful after all!” scenario.

Honestly, I’m surprised by how unsatisfying I found that. How something that has delighted and awed me so much suddenly infuriated me, and, really, I felt, let me down.

Is it just that Christmas TV left me in a bad way, letting me only see the grim in all? Is it just me? Because the desperate fail of festive TV, no fewer than four things I like very much and was really looking forward to, is just a bit too much for me.

I hope things pick up. I’m still excited for Sherlock on Sunday. Of course I am. Of course, of course I am. And I don’t deny I found things to laugh and and to enjoy in that episode. But the sum of its parts was far, far less than it ought to have been. Too many things didn’t add up, and, worse, so much worse, the makers either couldn’t see or didn’t care that they didn’t add up. It felt like at least Sherlock and Doctor Who needed a good, hard edit, all the darlings had to be killed and all the layers of colour and saturation stripped right back so that the bones of the show – plot, continuity, character and heart – could be seen and felt.

I need an antidote to all the bad TV. I need not to be let down any more. Perhaps I’ll catch up with Elementary, now…

Now on BBC Radio 4 it’s Time For…The Archers!

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Celebrating this marvellously sunny weekend by sitting on the settee listening to <em>The Archers</em>. Nothing like Sundays with Ambridge. I’ve listened to <em>The Archers</em> all my life, and somewhere around the age of 8 I realised that this wasn’t quite usual, when I tried to discuss something about whatever Jennifer was up to with a schoolmate and realised that no-one knew a) who Jennifer was, b) what the show was, or, really, c) what Radio 4 was. So that was that, and thus began a long and delightful relationship with squirreling away the show for listening to at the right time.

I used to play badminton from 9am-11:30 on Sundays, so I’d always miss it live. My mum would tape it for me, and, right until I left home when I was 18 (the week Elizabeth had Freddie and Lily, as I recall), I’d bike down to the Thames and sit on the edge of the towpath watching the water, and concentrating hard on that hour, and then hour and fifteen minutes, of fictional life far away from London.

If I think about where I was in my life at almost any point, I can probably tell you what was happening in <em>The Archers</em> at the corresponding time. My difficult second year at uni was accompanied by Jazzer’s ketamine phase and Brian and Siobhan’s messy affair. I used to listen to the show on tape then too – I’d tape it myself with the volume down so I could listen to it in the dark in our odd kitchen when my housemates were out, with a glass (bottle) of wine and my bodyweight in value pasta. Ah, student times.

I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, and Will and Ed had one of their first properly epic fights. I should’ve been revising for history, but, eh, I needed the break, and it was a beautiful summer evening, and when I turned up for the exam on Monday morning it flew by easily – I got an A, and frankly no hour of staring at scrawled felt-tip notes would’ve given me the distraction and brainspace of a trip to Ambridge.

It’s much mocked, and maligned, even by people who love it. Every couple of months my mum complains that it’s not about farming any more, and then I hear them discussing milking rotations and expansion and crop prices and all sorts, and think to myself about how this too is part of the cycle. People say it’s too sad, or too dark sometimes, but there’s always Linda Snell organising a panto, or Kenton and his weird fete initiatives, or Eddie making money in a new and devious way, and certainly it’s never been as grim or annoying as <em>EastEnders</em>.

The reality of running businesses, of living in a small village, of having a family, being in a family, it’s all perfectly present and interesting, and given that I don’t live in a small village and only have a very small family and have never owned any cows, lonely or otherwise, it’s all of interest, always.

Probably the only time I’ve really struggled is when I was halfway through driving across Denmark, something I’d been quite nervous about doing, and I’d put it on for a bit of comfort in the car. Sid only went and expired of a heart attack – not long after my dad had, fortunately, survived one. It was pretty distressing – well-handled and all, but about the only time I’ve really wanted to turn the show off because it was juuuust too close to home. Oh, except for during the infinite saga with Lillian and Matt’s brother. I didn’t love that. It went on, and on. And on. But if those are all my complaints in a lifetime of listening, it’s not so bad!

The writing is, as far as I’m concerned, brilliant as well. I rarely find it grates, and the composition is amazing. Stories burn for months before catching fire, and characters are set up for the long haul and really integrated into the village perfectly. Yes, there’s always more that could be done, but for me, that’s the joy of the show – it’s been running practically sixty years, and they’ve got so much more to give. I love that.

I don’t watch (or, indeed, listen) to many soaps – really just this and <em>Neighbours</em> (which should really get its own post sometime) but there’s really not much that’s as safe and constant in quality, content and character as <em>The Archers</em> and, now I’m in my thirties, and find that many of my friends keep up with the show just as much as I do, I’m confident that it’ll always be there, just like it ought to be.

It’s the main reason, too, I’m glad for podcasts. The show magically appears right after broadcast, so that even here, in Stockholm, I can sit back with a glass (just a glass now XD) of wine and feel right at home. I’ve run half-marathons and flown all over the place whilst listening, but a bit of me will always feel like I’m just there, by the river, and everything is just as it should be.

Plus, now, there’s <em>Ambridge Extra</em>, with the most random, curiously chosen storylines, just right for listening to at breakfast or whilst running a quick errand. Not sure they’ll ever top Harry’s surprise!ex-boyfriend for a storyline, but I’d never turn down more show.

Now, I am rather concerned about Helen. Of all the characters, her storylines have brought me to tears more than most…could she not make some good decisions and be happy sometime, please?