Blog Club

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: September 2011

Work was very busy this month, so blogging tended to be limited to the weekends. That meant a strong focus on the latest episodes of Doctor Who, of course. Nevertheless I also found time to wax lyrical about caffeine, record some music, and celebrate paying off my mortgage!


It's nearly October, but it feels like the middle of summer. The weather in the UK has been amazing for the last couple of days and the forecast for London tomorrow is for a high of 27° Celsius (80° Fahrenheit.) This isn't particularly out of the ordinary, though - we usually get an autumn heatwave every few years. On the 10th September 2006 a temperature of 30 Celsius was recorded at Heathrow, but even that didn't break any records - there have been several cases where the temperature exceeded 32 degrees Celsius during September, the last being in 1949. On the 2nd September 1906 the temperature reached 35 C, the hottest September day on record.


Twenty five years ago this week I moved in to my first house. Having a place of my own was something I'd dreamed about for a long time and after getting a promotion and a new job I scored an attractive little terraced house in a new suburb in Milton Keynes. Of course, to be able to afford it I took out a mortgage. I knew I'd be making repayments every month for the next quarter of a century, but back then the concept of that final payment always seemed far off and distant, a mixture of abstraction and aspiration rather than a real event, something that would take place on a specific date on the calendar. Not any more; I made the final payment on the house yesterday.

Getting to this point has been a memorable journey. It hasn't always been pleasant, but I've had some amazing experiences along the way. Tonight, when I walked through the front door, it finally hit me: this is my house. It belongs to me, not to my bank or my building society. And take it from me, that's a good feeling.


With one more episode of Doctor Who left in the current series, you'd have thought things would start to be resolved. Instead, things seem to be getting even more complicated. The groundwork is obviously being laid not just for next week but for next season as well. That's likely to mean that we will be left with more questions than answers - which is exactly what a continuing series needs to do if it's going to keep viewers coming back for more. Don't read too much into the prominently positioned poster on the front of the "Sanderson and Grainger" department store at the beginning of the episode, though - it's a real poster for a real product and the face is that of French actor Gaspard Ulliel. Incidentally, after watching the episode in HD I noticed that the special effects team working on that shot slipped up: there were two entrances to the store visible, and the second still displayed its unadulterated "House of Fraser" signage...

The script this week had many wonderful instances of banal dialogue that, in the context of the Doctor saying it, made things gloriously off-kilter. For a start, there was one of the doctor's favourite lines, which goes back to the original series in the sixties:

Oh, you've redecorated. I don't like it.

It's a different house. We've moved.

The build up to the opening credits was particularly fine, with the Doctor rapidly realising something was amiss:

All alone, you said. But you're not. You're not on your own.

Just shush!

Increased sulphur emissions and look at the state of this place!
What are you not telling me?

The Doctor rushing through Craig's bedroom door to confront the mystery presence with "Whoever you are, get off this planet!" didn't exactly go according to plan. Since we last encountered him, Craig has become a father. The "increased sulphur emissions" line made me laugh out loud, and I found myself doing that a lot this week, far more than I usually do. I'm going to quote a hefty chunk of the following dialogue, because it brilliantly sums up the chemistry between Matt Smith and James Corden (and more on that in a minute):

So what did you call him? Will I blush?

No - we didn't call him 'The Doctor'!

(Disappointed) No, I didn't think you would.

He's called Alfie. What are you doing here, anyway?

Yes, he likes that; Alfie, although personally he prefers to be called 'Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All'.

Sorry, what?

That's what he calls himself.

How do you know that?

I speak baby.

Of course you do.

I'll admit it: this week has completely changed my opinion of James Corden. The only thing I'd seen him do in the past was an excruciatingly unfunny routine at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards in 2010. I've never seen a single episode of Gavin and Stacey, so when he appeared in last season's episode The Lodger he was just some bloke. This week, the Craig character seemed to have far more depth, and Corden's performance as the stressed-out new father on the verge of a breakdown was spot-on. Corden actually became a dad for real for the first time a couple of days after filming for the episode finished, so it looks like he had quite a bit invested in the character!

Putting Corden in the same room as Matt Smith is obviously a very good thing. The way the two of them had worked out their scenes (at three o'clock in the morning, judging by what we saw later on Doctor Who Confidential) showed how well they do physical comedy together. I loved the Doctor's use of the pepper mill before he gives Craig a massage. The "It's always been you" scene had me in fits of laughter.

The writing this week was some of the best I can remember in the show. There were references to K-9 ("The robot dog. Not as much fun as I remember.") One throwaway line came after another: "Peasants. Which is a bit embarrassing." "Sorry madam. I'd try that in red if I were you." "Yes I know, it's not his fault he doesn't have mammary glands." "Why is there a sinister beeping coming from behind me?" The "shushing" running gag ("It only works once, and only on lifeforms with underdeveloped brains") had me giggling every time I realised the Doctor was going to do it again. And there was genuine heart in the episode, too. The best bit for me? The Doctor's quiet speech to Alfie as he cried in his cot...

Hey. There, there. Be quiet! Go to sleep.

(He flicks Alfie's mobile)

Huh, brilliant!
Stop crying! You've got a lot to look forward to, you know. A normal, human life on Earth. Mortgage repayments; a nine-to-five; a persistent, nagging sense of spiritual emptiness. Save the tears for later, boyo.

Amy and Rory's appearance was particularly sweet and unexpected. Extra marks for noticing that the fragrance Amy was advertising ("Petrichor - for the girl who's tired of waiting") was the password to the backup TARDIS control room in The Doctor's Wife. The only weak part of the story for me was the use of the redemptive power of love making the Cybermen's heads explode, a trick that would have fitted right in to a Russell T Davies episode, and no, that wasn't meant as a compliment. But the final five minutes of the episode, featuring River Song, set up next week's finale in grand style. Madame Kovarian's description of the Silence as "your owners" raised a lot of interesting questions. And now we know for sure what I suspected back in April: the Impossible Astronaut is River Song herself. Her comment in that episode of "No, of course not." now makes perfect sense because she knew she was shooting at her former self.

So where do things go next week? I'm pretty sure we'll find out that Madame Kovarian's eyepatch is a way of counteracting the Silence's amnesiac effects. That's why we've seen pictures of River wearing one in trailers, and why pretty much everyone else is wearing one in the backgound picture to this spoiler page. But how will the Doctor escape his doom? Who knows...


The Beeb seem to be worried that they're not engaging with their Internet audience enough. Several times while I've been looking at their website recently a pop-up survey window appeared, asking me what I thought of the site. In the last few weeks they also seem to have adopted one of the shabbier techniques for building traffic: trolling.

These days, a troll isn't a monster that lurks under bridges to ambush the unwary. On the web, a troll is someone who makes a ludicrous assertion just to see what sort of outrage it induces in other readers. On savvier websites like Boing Boing, a comment of this sort will either be disemvoweled by moderators or met with a simple retort - so effective it's become a meme in its own right - of "obvious troll is obvious." Sites like Boing Boing know how detrimental behaviour like this can be to their community of readers; if they don't deal with the problem, the atmosphere becomes corrosive and most of their readers will leave in search of somewhere more pleasant.

But what happens when it's the site's own writers who are the ones doing the trolling? Have a look at the BBC News Magazine to see a bunch of hacks working hard to catch up with the lowest common denominator markets. In the last week your licence money has paid for articles like Cage fighting boys: why the outrage? Should we obsess over doom calculators? and Can religion tell us more than science? (Just in case you haven't switched on your brain yet today, the answer to those last to questions is "no"; further discussion is unnecessary.) I'm just waiting for the day I load up my browser and see the magazine running an "Elvis found on Mars" story; the way things are going, they'll probably have managed it by the end of the year. It's not just the magazine, though. It's telling that a recent BBC health article about chronic fatigue syndrome doesn't start with a discussion of the effects, or news of a breakthrough in treatment, oh no; the first thing it focuses on is the controversy and debate surrounding the condition.

The BBC is an extraordinary phenomenon - for all its faults, it's probably the best media organisation on the planet. Its reputation has been earned by generations of gifted, committed people who have fought hard to make it what it is today. Sadly, the latest generation of recruits seem intent on pissing that reputation away. Its news stories should be about providing quality, well-researched information, not provoking readers into apoplexy.

This week I've read two excellent articles on what happens when media companies get hold of the wrong end of the stick. The first is an essay in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten with the title How 'Branding' is Ruining Journalism. If you only read one link from the blog today, read that one. It's a scathing attack on pandering to the trolls, lamenting the matamorphosis of considered, thoughtful, elegant writing into 'content generation' and contemplating why it should be that self-promotion or 'developing the brand' is now elevated into something far more important than the communication of ideas or education of your readership. As I read the article, I could hear the spectre of the late Bill Hicks laughing at the mess we've gotten ourselves into. It sums up why the BBC's articles left me seething.

The second is a chapter of Grant Morrison's excellent autobiography-cum-history of the comics industry, Supergods. The chapter in question begins on page 361 and is called, appropriately enough, The Day Evil Won. In it, Morrison talks about what happened when film companies focused on a small minority of their audience: the internet-savvy blogging crowd who would vociferously complain and whine online about how they didn't agree with their current approach, and what were they doing about it? Instead of letting directors tell interesting, creative and surprising stories, the studios caved in to the trolls. Morrison has some caustic things to say about the way in which barely literate outsiders were able to set the agenda, just because they made the most noise. It happened because the only game in town had become 'protecting the brand' and avoiding bad word of mouth. We all know the legacy of that sort of business plan: Daredevil, anyone?


It's early days yet, but scientists have duplicated the technology William Hurt was developing in Until The End of the World. They're using a computer to reconstruct the image a test subject is looking at based solely on their brain activity.

It works - as so many things do these days - through the application of computational brute force to statistical analysis of lots of information: brain activity is compared against recordings of people's responses to 5,000 hours of video garnered off YouTube. The computer picks a small selection of images that generated the closest match, then morphs them together. The end result isn't perfect, but it's close enough to be genuinely eerie. With a bigger database, the images will no doubt get much, much better. Walter Pidgeon, the source of the quote above, would be amazed.


Since I still seem to be waking at random times during the night I've decided I may as well make the most of it. It's only 8:15 and I've already had a bath, written the blog, and eaten breakfast. It looks like it might be a long day...


I've spent an unpleasant few days suffering from the mother of all panic attacks. It hit on Sunday night, when my heart started racing away and I found myself trembling uncontrollably. I went to bed thinking it would eventually pass, but three o'clock came and went without any sign of relief - or sleep. When it got to Monday afternoon without letting up I was seriously considering calling an ambulance: not good. The tachycardia stayed with me until Tuesday morning and my hands are still shaking a bit - although nowhere near as badly as they were. I've had no more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep since Sunday, so I'm not exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment. Despite this, I'm planning on heading in to work tomorrow. I must be mad.

I'll see how I feel at the weekend before considering whether I ought to go back on antidepressants, but I really don't want to go through another few days like that anytime soon.


In an attempt to calm myself down yesterday I fired up the studio gear and wrote myself a little chillout number that I've called Soon Be Friday (sketch). It helped me relax a little bit, and when I listened back to it after mixing it down, I found myself thinking that, actually, it wasn't half bad - and that's always a good sign. See what you think...


My hands were shaking so much it took me an entire day yesterday just to type up a page of Standard Routemaster Units definitions, which is something I've been meaning to do for years. I will no doubt be linking back to it at the slightest opportunity, so you have been warned...


I went to Wotton-Under-Edge yesterday afternoon to see the summer blockbuster directed by J.J. Abrams, Super 8. I have written a review which you may find of interest.


Given how good the last three episodes of Doctor Who have been, it was inevitable that I started watching last night's episode with very high expectations - probably too high. "The God Complex" was written by Toby Whithouse, who has already written a couple of scripts for Who since the show returned including one of my favourite episodes, School Reunion.

One things started I'm afraid my heart sank, as it rapidly became clear that we were dealing with that most tired and well-worn of Doctor Who plots, the Base Under Siege. When the Doctor and his companions turn up in a mysterious and isolated location where escape is impossible, we know that a monster will pick off the supporting members of the cast, one by one. The Doctor soon realised that things weren't going well:

OK, this is bad. At the moment I don't know how bad but certainly we're three buses, a long walk and eight quid in a taxi from good.

We know that to begin with the monster will be unseen, or barely glimpsed. There will be few surprises; it just becomes a matter of identifying the order in which the red shirts meet their fate and which guest star will survive. There wasn't even any potential drama in establishing that; as the main guest star this week was David Walliams, it was pretty obvious which character was going to make it through to the end. This was a great shame, as the best character of the week by far was Rita (Amara Karan). She obviously made a strong impression on the Doctor as well:

Oh you're good. Oh, she's very good. Amy - with regret: you're fired.


Sadly, Rita met her fate along with the others. I was rather put out by this, as Ms Karan is extremely pleasing on the eye and the interchanges between the Doctor and Rita pushed intelligent, witty and surprising dialogue to the forefront. What's not to like?

This episode was a return to the more traditional aspects of Doctor Who - aspects that I rather hoped were being left behind: slaughtering pretty much everyone who appeared in the episode who wasn't a series regular. Despite a clever play on words with the title (referring to the Doctor's psychological problems as well as a maze containing a deity that, y'know, just wants to be worshipped), some witty dialogue and a couple of quite disturbing scenes (particularly those with the ventriloquists' dummies) I was left feeling vaguely disappointed and the way the series arc progressed this week is a definite downer. The last ten minutes or so played out with the Doctor realising that his time with Amy and Rory had to end unless he was prepared to see them die: the scene where he first addresses Amy as "Amy Willams" rather than "Amy Pond" was a pivotal moment. By the end, the Doctor has returned the Ponds to Earth and set them up with a new home - and an E-Type Jaguar for Rory. The thing that's bugging me is this: didn't he already set them up in their previous home? I rather thought he did, but I need to watch some of the earlier episodes again to be sure.

Or is this some indication that, perhaps, Mr Moffat is going to pull some form of timey-wimey retconning stunt for the whole of this season's events? Is there something going on that we're seeing, but not recognising, like the deal with the Doctor's different coloured bow ties last year? With just two episodes to go, we're going to find out one way or another pretty shortly...


Dad rang me up this morning to remind me (as if I needed reminding) that today marks 12 months since Mum died; I can't believe how quickly the time goes. I posted a picture on Flickr today that goes some way towards illustrating what Mum was like:

Who are you calling eccentric?

Judging by the fact that my brother Andy has a party hat on, that my sister Annabelle is sitting next to her friend and that I'm wearing a 49ers shirt I bought in California I'd say this was Annabelle's birthday party back in August 1984. The look on Andy's face is priceless.


Work continues to be hectic, hence the lack of any blogging during the week. By the time Friday came round I felt absolutely shattered! I still managed to find a few interesting snippets though, so here's a quick summary of the week's more entertaining stories...


Just in time for yet another messed-about release of the Star Wars movies, we find that a planet with twin suns like Tattoine actually exists - except that as it's likely to be a gas giant, you couldn't stand on the surface outside your Aunt Beru's house and gaze wistfully into the distance. Instead, you'd asphyxiate as you plummeted ever deeper into the thickening atmosphere. Some fans (including some you may have heard of) might feel this is a suitable fate for Mr Lucas.

More effective was the London publicity stunt that accompanied the launch, which involved turning the BT Tower into a giant lightsaber. Even if it happened half an hour late.


If you're on Twitter, you really should be following @GreatDismal - the writer William Gibson. He has an uncanny knack of picking up on things way before they go viral and this week he did it again with the news that Trinity College in Dublin had expelled their Long Room Hub Associate Professor in Hyborian Studies and Tyrant Slaying, Dr Conan T. Barbarian.

It's a shame Trinity College Dublin were less impressed by the story - they rapidly removed the offending page from their website. I think every college should have at least one imaginary member of the faculty. I suspect you could learn quite a bit about the atmosphere and culture of a University based on the creativity applied to inventing such characters. And while I wouldn't encourage it as the sole basis for choosing the site of your academic activities, I can think of worse criteria for judging where you want to spend three years of your life, can't you?


Twitter also brought me news this week of a new book documenting the correspondence between Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer. The book looks good enough to eat. It's full of beautifully rendered line drawings and it is very, very much my sort of thing.

Incidentally, one of the few RSS feeds I check every day is published by Canada's Drawn! weblog. If you have any interest in illustration I recommend you add it to your aggregator, if it's not already there. The folks at Drawn have reminded me that there's a new collection of artwork by Chris Foss available. I must get a copy of that, too...


If you're a photographer, you know how important it is to look after your gear. It's particularly important that you should not drop your camera or lenses, for obvious reasons - particularly if you happen to be in some form of aircraft. Not surprisingly, the errant photographer has yet to appear to reclaim what's left of his lens.


I'm sorry to get all effusive on you, but last night's episode of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited, was quite exceptional television. And from now on, when anyone asks me who the best companions have been since the show started back in 1963, I won't hesitate when I say it's Amy and Rory.

Earlier in the week, I watched a DVD of the show from a few decades ago. I have a feeling that's why I responded so well to last night's episode. I won't identify which story I watched because I'm afraid I'm not going to be very complimentary about it; it didn't compare favourably to the current show at all. The writing was leaden, the pace was glacially slow, the plot tried to fit too many things in to the allotted time and ended up devoting only cursory attention to each, the special effects weren't even remotely special and the acting was - there's no other word for it - dire. Characters left huge, clunking silences where they were supposed to be exchanging meaningful looks, and some of the supporting cast would have embarrassed themselves in a school play. I couldn't have picked a better example as a polar opposite to what the show is today. Last night's show was the slickest production since the show was revamped - it looked great. The plot was brutally simple, it made sense (in the context of Doctor Who, at least) and motored along at a brisk pace, and the cast were clearly at the top of their game.

Let's start with the acting. There's usually one story every season where the Doctor sits things out and while Matt Smith got some very interesting scenes, this was very much Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan's episode. Last night, Rory was faced with the prospect of losing Amy forever - and then he had to confront a situation that was even worse. The Doctor places Amy in a situation of grave risk, and Rory's reaction to that was the core of the episode as far as I'm concerned. Since he first appeared on the show, Rory has come a long way. He's no longer the timid, easlily-cowed junior nurse who gets bossed around by everybody. The turning point for me was when he punched the Doctor in The Big Bang; Rory finally realised that the Doctor can be a scheming, manipulative dick, and he did something about it. This week the Doctor gave him more than enough reason to punch him again, but Arthur Darvill gave a finely judged performance - moving from exasperation to bewilderment, to shock and finally to anger. The Doctor's attitude when Rory discovered that they'd arrived in a facility where plague victims were quarantined to live out the rest of their lives didn't help things, either:

Are they happy?

Oh Rory, trust you to think of that...

For the first time in quite a while, there was a real sense that not only had the Doctor lost control over what was going on, he didn't actually have any idea how he was going to fix things. Rory finally lost patience with the Doctor's gung-ho recklessness.


This is your fault.

I'm so sorry, but Rory...

No. This is YOUR FAULT! You - you should look in a history book once in a while. See if there's an outbreak of plague or not!

That is not how I travel.


Karen Gillan really raised her game as the two Amys. The differences in the way she used her voice, posture and body language really helped to make the story believable. The darkness of the episode was - as usual - leavened with humour. Both Amys saying the same thing at the same time was brilliantly done and Amy's insistence that she had a sonic probe rather than a sonic screwdriver was a nice touch. Her grumpy warning to Rory was cute:

Woman with a sword. Don't push it.

The production couldn't be faulted, either. The "Two Streams" facility - actually a mix of Uskmouth Power Station, the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan, a bunch of CGI and some basic plain white sets - looked spectacular.

I particularly liked the reference to the Interwebs this week...

Have you seen my phone?

Your phone?


Your mobile telephone? I bring you to a paradise planet two billion light years from Earth and you want to update Twitter?

Yet this initial lightness was soon abandoned and by the end of the episode, the Doctor was in a much, much darker place than we've seen him for a while. The plot - and the sudden revelation of the choice that Rory has to make - was one of the best bits of writing we've seen in the show since the reboot. A Doctor Who episode with a romantic heart? Whatever next?


We moved into new offices this year, and the office kitchen has an espresso coffee machine that is far, far too convenient. In recent weeks I've been drinking four or five lattés by lunchtime every day and that can't be healthy. Just to see what would happen, I've gone without caffeinated drinks for the last 72 hours. Three days without coffee hasn't helped my sleeping, but it has let me fully experience all the aches and pains that a good caffeine buzz can mask; by this morning I felt truly decrepit. It was time to cave in, so since my aching back and I got up we've had a large latté and the last can of diet coke in the house. Now I feel a bit more like my old self and today's caffeine high is recognisably something that I've acquired, rather than being my normal physical state. This is probably a good thing, but I'm clearly addicted to the stuff.

The first records of coffee consumption date back to Yemen in the 6th century AD. The first coffee house in the UK was opened by "Jacob the Jew" at the Angel Inn in Oxford (now the Grand Cafe) in 1650. Twenty five years later, there were nearly 3000 coffee houses in operation across the country and they rapidly became an integral part of social and business life: Lloyds of London started off as a coffee house. Even in the current recession, retail coffee is doing very nicely; by next year it's expected that there will be 12,500 coffee shops in the UK.

When you start reading up about 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine you realise just how bizarre it is that humans decided that making a drink out of it was a good idea. Caffeine is a natural insecticide, and plants that contain caffeine have a bitter taste that deters animals from eating the fruit, beans or leaves. In other words, it's a substance that evolved in plants as a way of making them taste bad. Yet we love the stuff, and nowhere is that love more manifest than in America; there, caffeine consumption is frequently regarded (and occasionally parodied) as proof of masculinity and in popular culture it's a widespread trope. The quest for stronger and stronger doses is a national obsession. According to one content table I found on the web, some US energy drinks will give you a hit of 160 mg in a single serving and that's double the dose you get from a can of Red Bull. I have no idea what a Spike Shooter tastes like, but 300 mg of caffeine in a can is over the top, even by my standards. If it were any other drug, there would be outrage that companies are ramping up dosages in their products, but with caffeine, their efforts are applauded. Unlike other addictive substances, caffeine is regarded warmly by pretty much everyone, and the reason is simple: "caffeine results in a higher overall arousal level, more profound processing of both attended and unattended information, and acceleration of motor processes." In other words, it does a fine job of perking people up - and I was surprised to discover that the expression "perk up" has been around since the 16th century. It comes from the Old English word "perker" meaning to perch, not from any association with the coffee percolator which was invented two hundred years later.

I can't imagine western civilisation surviving for more than a week without caffeine. I'm not alone, either. You've only got to read the highly entertaining story of how Phil Broughton started up his company Funranium Labs to realise that making The Black Blood of the Earth is a labour of love. I want to try some; if it's good enough for Warren Ellis, it's good enough for me.

If total abstinence isn't the answer, maybe slowly weaning myself off caffeine is a better way forwards: I'm going to give up the cola and try and limit myself to one cup of coffee a day for a while. Let's see how I get on with that.


With the evenings drawing in I like to sit on the back step after dusk and look at the stars. Before I do, I pay a visit to the Heavens Above website to see if there are any interesting satellites going over that I can watch out for. But at the moment, I have a problem: everything in the back garden has grown so successfully over the last couple of years that I don't have that much of a view of the sky any more. One thing that really brings home how long I've lived here is that a small shrub I planted in the rockery by the back door is now an imposing tree that reaches up to roof level. This wasn't what I expected, as the label on it suggested it would only grow to a height of five or six feet. It's much too big and it now blocks my view of the back garden, so sadly it's time for it to go. It's also time I got the back hedge trimmed - it's about twice the height I like to keep it at. With all that out of the way, I should be set for some decent autumn skywatching. Lets hope we get a few clear nights.


Thanks to just about everyone on the William Gibson Board I've been earwormed by Fighting Trousers, a track by that most eminent purveyor of chap-hop, Professor Elemental.

"Geoffrey, get off the drums."


Despite me saying that I could find no reason to want one, the Moleskine-esque approach of Wacom's What is Inkling? website has resulted in me er, wanting one. It's a clever concept, and it appears to be both well designed and brilliantly executed. It's the fact that sketches are stored as vector art that fascinates me. Ideal for Flash developers, innit?


Speaking of graphics, I've updated my Graphics Page after spending Sunday morning scanning in loads of my old artwork and posting it on Flickr.


The Ranting Dragon have an introductory guide to steampunk up at their site, and I'm delighted to see that fellow denizen of the WGB and talented author-in-his-own-right Tim Akers got his debut novel Heart of Veridon in their list of the Top 20 Steampunk Novels. And deservedly so, because it's a cracking read - as is its sequel, Dead of Veridon. Go Tim!


The BBC were running a story today about a group of UK engineers who are planning to reopen communications with a 40-year-old satellite which has not been contacted successfully since 1996. Not a trivial task, as all they had to go on to recreate the ground segment (the hardware that transmits instructions to the satellite and receives its signals back) was a couple of pages of scribbled notes! The "Black Arrow" rocket that originally placed it into orbit looks like it sprang fully formed from a script for Thunderbirds...


I was very surprised to recognise the National Trust property Dyrham Park on Doctor Who this week - it's a stately home just off Junction 18 on the M4, and it was used as the "dolls house" location where much of the episode's action took place. The rest of the episode's exteriors were filmed at a block of flats in the heart of Bristol, down by the river and next door to the Velindra on Commercial Road, so for me it was very much a local episode, for local people. Night Terrors was written by League of Gentlemen writer and star, Mark Gatiss. You see what I did there?

Gatiss has a very different writing style to Moffat - the script got the job done but it lacked the verbal fireworks that peppered "Let's Kill Hitler" and there weren't quite as many lines this week where I thought "oh, I must quote that." Rory got most of them , of course:

No offence, Doctor...

Meaning the opposite...

But we could get a bus somewhere like this.

Rory's learnt enough from previous episodes to be cynical (what was I saying last week about character development?)

Ohhhh... We're dead, aren't we? The lift fell and we're dead.

The Doctor didn't let Rory have it all his own way, though...

I mean, he's scared to death of everything!



That's what it's called. Pantophobia. Not a fear of pants though, if that's what you're thinking. It's a fear of everything. Including pants, I suppose, in that case - sorry, go on...

Best of all was Alex's rejoinder after the Doctor gave him his "See these eyes? These are old eyes" speech about how monsters were real:

You're not from social services, are you?

The most enjoyable thing about this week's episode was the way Gatiss excels at ratcheting up dark and creepy even in the most mundane setting of all: a child's bedroom. The story had creepiness in spades. The story's effectiveness can be judged by reports from several friends I know who have small children who watched the episode and who have subsequently steadfastly refused to go to bed unless both parents remained present in the bedroom - and remained there for some time.

With a limited number of locations and a small cast, I suspect that this was the "budget saving" episode of the series (even taking into account the trip out to Gloucestershire). But unlike, say Fear Her, it didn't feel like it was cutting any corners. The fact that the world of this episode was small, enclosed and highly claustrophobic worked in the production's favour rather than against it. The cast this week were very good - Danny Mays in particular played bewildered father Alex as a very different kettle of fish to the satanic DCI Jim Keats he played in Ashes to Ashes and Jamie Oram, who played his son George, was excellent.

When the focus of the action shifted to Dyrham Park, the creepiness factor went through the roof; I loved the throwaway weirdness of the giant glass eyeball in the drawer. The ambulant dolls were genuinely scary, I thought - and the fact that they could turn other members of the cast into one of them presented a novel threat. The ending of the episode, which unusually for Doctor Who restored all of the incidental characters to their former health rather than leaving them to a macabre (and somewhat wooden) fate, further confirmed my opinion that the series is veering enthusiastically towards fairy tale and away from conventional drama, but if that means we get episodes as entertaining as this, I really don't have a problem with that.

Roll on next week, and The Girl Who Waited.


There I was expecting to have dinner and a nice evening out with friends in London yesterday - instead I found myself stuck in a meeting at work and having to phone and make my apologies for not turning up.

It was a predictably crap ending to an overwhelmingly shitty week, which is the main reason why there haven't been any blog updates recently: I just haven't been able to work up any enthusiasm. Work is dismal, I nearly got run off the road by an idiot in a blue van on the way home on Thursday, I'm getting no more than a couple of hours continuous sleep at night, and the weather's been rubbish. I was not happy yesterday evening, and even after a couple of glasses of a very nice McGuigan grenache shiraz mourvèdre I woke up at four this morning and didn't really get back to sleep again afterwards. I'm permanently stressed, tired and angry. Something needs to change; I'm just not sure what.


The weather forecast for the weekend is even more rubbish, and as you can see from the new blog header, it's September. I guess that means the summer is over. This morning I decided that I should put the barbecue back in the garage for the winter before the next belt of rain arrives, so I've just spent a couple of hours scraping the grease off the grill. It's amazing how much gunk had accumulated, even when I've only been grilling the occasional burger or steak at the weekends. As I washed down the patio afterwards I realised that this is the second summer when I haven't had a proper party for my birthday - last year with mum being ill my heart wasn't in it, and this year people have been away doing other things. I hope next year I'll feel like celebrating again.


On a more positive note, I have a working PS3 again. Gamer Tech collected it on Tuesday, fixed it on Wednesday, and couriered it back to me for delivery by 11am on Thursday. I'm extremely pleased with their service and the speed at which they sorted everything out was most impressive.