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Friday, 22 July 2011

Bish - My Executive Summary

So, Steven Moffat's second season (well, half a season) has come and gone. My executive summary, for those that are too busy to read on, is that it's really not that easy to sustain a whole season, or even half of one, unless you write everything yourself! That said, I'll try to explain.

Steven Moffat's a great writer. He's clever, witty, techy and surprising. He's also very different to the previous Head Writer, Russell T Davies. But more about that later... In this season, in particular, and to a lesser extent in the previous season, Moffat's episodes have outshone all others. I know that Neil Gaiman's episode was praised, and although that style of story isn't to my liking, it was a stand-out episode among the non-Moffat episodes. Just like the Richard Curtis episode from the previous series was.

I tend not to watch episodes more than once. I remember watching “The Impossible Astronaut” and feeling quite deflated afterwards. I'd read too much about the episode, and elevated my expectations far too highly from reading all the gushing reviews and tweets from those who had been to the advance screening. However, I watched it again the following day, and it was so much better! I've learnt my lesson. But moving back to season two in general, the acting has really been top notch. Matt Smith, in the title role, continues to impress. And both Karen Gillan's and Arthur Darvill's characters have improved. And Alex Kingston is just as brilliant now as she was when she first appeared.

Generally, though, probably the one thing that's missing for me is the link to Earth. I know we saw Utah in the season opener, but I mean ordinary, council estate or village, type Earth. It makes the the fantastic all that more fantastic when it's contrasted with the normal and mundane. Like when Rose rang her leggings-wearing, kitchen-bound, washing machine-loading mother from a billion years in the future while watching the death of the Earth!

Having said that, however, Davies' series arcs were fairly simple. His episodes were fast and furious. I like Moffat's more involved arcs, and the way they flow. I love River Song's time line slowly unfolding. I had been worried that it was just going to run and run, but it looks as though the pay-off is coming. But there's one element common to both the Davies and Moffat eras that does grate. Davies tried to make the Doctor into a god-like figure. And Moffat seems to be trying to turn him into a warrior to be feared. He's neither. Feared, maybe, because he's clever and can go to any where and to any time. But he's neither a god nor a warrior.

So, in conclusion, the Moffat episodes were by far the best. Both the season opener and mid season finalé were great. I miss Rose and her mum. But I don't miss David Tennant. Oh, and I want Moffat and Davies to co-write an episode. Together. That would be awesome!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Harry Potter and the End Of An Era

I was late to the Potter Party. I was given Goblet Of Fire as a Christmas present by my Mother on its release. I'd heard about Harry Potter, of course, but had never taken the plunge to actually look into whether it was any good. I had been told that, even though the books followed on from each other, you could hop onto the story with any of the four books that were in print, since each followed a different main story. 

So I read Goblet Of Fire are loved it. It was something a bit different, I thought. It's about magic and adventure, but there's something almost old-fashioned about it all. All the characters had old-people's names - I'd never known a Ron younger than 60 - and even the nasty, spiteful school children seemed to have pretty good manners. It wasn't particularly well written; there were so many cheesy lines that could only have been written by a non-male, non-child, non-wizard... But I liked it! I wanted to know more about these characters. So I tracked down a boxed set of the first four books (giving me two copies of Goblet Of Fire) and set about catching up.

I didn't really enjoy the first two books. The stories were thin, despite painting a lovely picture of the world in which these characters lived. They were clearly children's books - the size of the fourth volume had led me to believe they were a bit more meaty than the usual fare kids get written for them - Philosopher's Stone and Chamber Of Secrets were a bit "adventure by numbers". But in context, they were great little scene-setters. And I was 14 - in my mind I was a fully fleshed out adult! I read both in about three hours. 

Then I got distracted. I left Prisoner Of Azkaban aside and went back to my comic books (okay, ALMOST a fully fleshed out adult). It was only when I started hearing whispers among my friends of how brilliant the new Harry Potter book was, but it was a shame there wasn't more "Serious Black" in it (I didn't know what that meant immediately) that I realised I was missing the third chunk of story! So I began reading Prisoner Of Azkaban on my way to school one morning. By the time I went to school the next day I had finished it - I was ready to join in and talk about SIRIUS (not Serious) Black and how amazing he was too. I was hooked. These were kids books yet other people my age (and older) were in love with them! These were awesome kids books that even a mature and sensible fourteen year old like me could read! WITHOUT being laughed at!

Three years later, the sixth-former Me was an expert on all things Potter. You ask me something about it and I'd give you a wordy and detailed answer, followed by a smug smile. I'd forgotten all about how rubbish the first two were - I was a Harry Potter fan. I would remain so. I would read those first four books to death.

When Order Of The Phoenix was published in 2003 I dived in. I sat in my sixth-form common room, skipping lessons all over the shop, reading and reading and reading. My first observation was "Harry Potter is suddenly as arsey and stroppy as me" and I felt closer to him than ever before. I was - really - too old for these books. I didn't care; "books are for everyone", right? Around about the time I first got hooked on Potter, Warner Bros released a movie version of the first book. I watched it (after reading the book, obviously) and liked it, but it wasn't exactly how I'd imagined the world to look. A second movie followed, again, not quite right for me. But I stuck with the series - both in book and movie form - I was a fan after all! I finished Order Of The Phoenix in a week. It was, I thought then, one of the best books I'd ever read. This wasn't true, of course. It was still only "fairly well written"... 

But the magic these books hold isn't anything to do with how well written they are. It's all about how YOU imagine this world. Some argue that the books are very well written. You're entitled to your opinion by all means, but I've read books written so much better than these. However, I have never read a book that gave me characters I later came to think of as friends. 

I must be the only person to have bought The Deathly Hallows while intoxicated, taken it to a club where an engagement party was being held, read it under the disco lights from cover to cover and remembered none of it come the following morning - so had to start over again. I bought two copies of Half Blood Prince and to this day I don't know why. The Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows are, unquestionably, the best books in the series. The best written, too. I fell in love with the characters from all seven books and it's a love that has lasted all these years. It's difficult to believe that these characters have been in our lives for almost 15 years! That's over half my lifetime! Okay, I haven't had them in MY lifetime that long, but it's not far off. And even though the series is now over, movies finished, books closed, these characters remain a part of our lives. I've heard people talking about having to say goodbye to Harry, Ron, Hermione... There's no need to!

I can't be the only one who has been moved to re-read the entire book series, re-watch the movies all over again, now that I know they're all I will have? I thought, at one point, that these were just okay-written kids books that I was reading because others seemed to like them. How wrong was I? These books are a huge part of my teenage years. I wish I had discovered the books immediately and read them in order on release. 

The books remain vastly superior to the movies but the movies have their own charm. They brought Harry Potter to those who couldn't or wouldn't read the novels. Harry Potter is now one of the world's most successful brands. What began as an idea on a train turned into the world's most loved phenomenon. I was a part of that - just a small part. One tiny mind being filled with magic and muggles, danger and fun. I'm proud to be able to say "I remember when Harry Potter started". I'm proud to be able to say "I read all the books, saw all the films". And I'm proud to say that, one day, I'll read them all over again to my own children. And they'll love them too. Because it's very difficult not to, even though, quite honestly, they are just okay-written kids books. I'm on Goblet Of Fire again now. That's where it all started for me. I'm loving every page just as I did the first time I read it. And the second time. And the third, fourth, fifth...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The News Of The World Is No More

So that's that! No more News Of The World! And I don't think I'm alone in my relief and happiness. Allegations of phone hacking, including the phones of murdered children, terrorism victims and the royal family, have been all the news there is for the last two weeks. And I don't think the story is going anywhere any time soon. In fact, I believe there is a lot more to come out about all this. More and more information is seeping out by the hour - now there are potentially thousands of people who may have been hacked including the Queen and former PM Gordon Brown. 

And it's no longer isolated to the journalists at News Of The World anymore. Now the Times and the Sun, both Murdoch papers, are known to have "blagged" and hacked their way to exclusives as long ago as three years back. It's a sad time for the British press. But it could also be a great time. This scandal has shaken the inevitability of a Murdoch takeover at BSkyB - the whole sordid affair has now been referred to the Competitions Commission - so maybe there could be a silver lining after all. But who knows. There's a lot more to know before this "settles down" at all. I am, once again, glued to rolling news channels. Watch this space.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

After so much discussion on Twitter about Times columnist and all-round saucy-cool-chick Caitlin Moran's book "How To Be A Woman" I decided today, at 3.15pm, to pop quickly into town and purchase it for myself. I didn't want a wasted journey so I called ahead and asked WHSmith if they had it in stock. "We have, but it's selling out quickly. Do you want me to keep you a copy?" Of course I did. So off I went with £11.99 in my arse pocket and an expectant grin on my chops.

When I got to WHSmith, after an arduous bus journey, that seemed to consist of attempting to ignore vomiting children and abusive drivers, I found that my copy was not being kept as promised. The swine. So, I ventured to the shelves in search of what I wanted. I found it - and three other copies; yes, only four in the whole shop! - and rushed to the tills. They were closing at 5:30pm and I wanted to get that 5:40pm bus home.

So, I paid - a very reasonable £6.99, a very pleasant surprise -and left the shop with almost half an hour to spare before my bus. "Never mind," I thought, "I'll pop to Gregg's the Bakers and get me a pasty, then read my book by the war memorial for a bit before the bus comes..." - this I did. Within the first five pages (the bear minimum I'd usually read in-store before purchase, to 'test the waters' before I committed myself to another week without bread and milk; a practice I had abandoned on pure faith in the author in this case) I found myself laughing out loud. Actually LOLing. I thought, "this isn't really a book meant for me, I don't think. I'm a 25 year old man" before I made a decision to give it a go anyway, but it caught me immediately and I was drawing troubled glances from the Christians outside the God Shop thanks to my chuckles. How wrong I was in my original judgement. I missed my bus because I was lost in this delightful piece of genius. I caught the 6:05pm, for those worrying. This book should, in all seriousness, be read by everyone.

'How To Be A Woman' is wonderful. Part memoir, part feminist deconstruction of life, it manages to be informative and interesting - even thought-provoking - without once being preachy or pompous. And, most of all, it's fucking funny. As a man - and a fairly ignorant man, it would now seem - I have little or no personal experience of buying bras, getting my first period and organising a wonderful wedding. I didn't think they were things I'd ever really have wanted to know about, since I am - as it turns out - totally the opposite of knowledgeable when it comes to women and their "stuff". I know. I sound like a pig. I am aware!

But this book opened a window for me to gaze blinkingly into the inner-workings of the better sex. All women should read this book, if only to measure where they stand in terms of their views on feminism. Caitlin's almost-hero-worship of Germain Greer doesn't stop them disagreeing on numerous feminist issues (I hate the way I'm phrasing this, I blame Caitlin). All men should read it because it really will help you understand the women you love, and those you don't.

She discusses porn, pubes, periods, work, shoes and bags, family, dogs and wanking all with such a frank and forthcoming honesty and realism that you cannot help but go along with her on her little journey through her past, and love every second. The book held me like a comforting Granddad, but one who would whisper rude jokes to me when my Mother was out of earshot. I found myself turning the pages, laughing like a loon, then turning back as I realised that the last four sentences were actually blurred beyond visibility thanks to the tears in my eyes. I started reading, as you have learned above, at 5:15pm-ish. I will finish this book this evening. I've struggled to put it down. I have so much to do before tomorrow afternoon and have done none of it - again, I blame Caitlin. 

Honestly. If you've never read anything Caitlin Moran has written before then make 'How To Be A Woman' your jumping-on point. If you're familiar with her work then you should already have this book in your home. I don't think I've thundered through (what is, at its bones) an opinionated autobiography with such hunger in all my years as a bookworm. And that's a long time! Without question the most enjoyable read I've buried myself in in years. Outstanding stuff. And meaningful. I learned a lot!

ADDITIONAL: It's 3:12am and I've just finished the book. Sigh. I think I'll start reading it again in the morning. Without a doubt the best non-fiction book I've read in years. Perfect, essential reading for everyone.