Saturday, 26 February 2011

"You Don't Think It's Time Somebody Had A Dream Again?"

So asks a desparate Freeman Lowell in 1971's Silent Running of the then-futuristic year of 2008. And so for no reason other than because I enjoyed doing one for 2010 and then resurrected a version of what I had written about 2009, here's one for 2008. I'm counting down...

2008 was the year that Northern Rock was nationalised, Barack Obama was elected as the President of the USA and the Large Hadron Collidor was opened for business leading to speculation that it would cause the apocalypse. According to the first episode of Futurama, Stop 'N' Drop suicide booths in use in the 31st Century have been 'America's favourite since 2008'.

It was a busy year for me with three Behind The Bike Shed shows: An Evening With Mr Caruthers (sic), Sugarcoat This and One Flew Over The Looking Glass. The first of these cemented our plans for Mr Carruthers Presents and lead to Peel This, the first show (of one) that we produced ourselves. I started the Carruthers blog. I wrote for Thinking Aloud at the ICA, went to Edinburgh with The White Rose and The Poisoner's Tale and rounded out the year caught up in the Dickens Of A Chrismas 2008 debacle.

Synecdoche NY
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samantha Morton are fantastic in Charlie Kaufman's extraordinary exploration of narrative itself. Just when you think you understand the rules of this film, they change. Here's the trailer.

Son Of Rambow
This film feels as good as those school summer holidays that would go on forever and ever and ever in cinematic form (except of course it's actually set during term time). Calling it Rambo's First Blood as seen through a corpseless Stand By Me with a dash of Witness, doesn't do it justice, so I don't know why I have. Here's the trailer.

The tale of Pixar's post-apocalyptic little litter picker awaiting mankind's return to Earth is both touching and poignant. Here's the trailer.

The Visitor
A chance encounter sees a lonely widower forging a friendship with some illegal immigrants, which gives him a new lease on life and then causes him to be embroiled in the immovable US immigration system. Tom McCarthy gives us a stark picture of people who find themselves caught between borders and yet still succeed in finding moments of beauty. Here's the trailer.

Time Team
Highlights this year included excavations of ancient burial sites in sand dunes on the Isle of Barra, the last line of defence against a potential Nazi invasion on Shooter's Hill in South London and the grave of Paintpot the cat which revealed a discredited Cistercian nunnery, Phil Harding And The Wimple Of Doom, if you will.

Torchwood: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; To The Last Man; Meat; Adam; Reset; A Day In The Death; Something Borrowed; Adrift; Fragments
Bloody Torchwood. Captain Jack's back in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but all eyes are on Captain John as James Marsters steals the show. Tosh missed out on a story in last season's Out Of Time but she gets caught up in To The Last Man which sees a World War I soldier solve a paradox and save the world, but it's his reactions to 2008 and the Torchwood regulars that make this episode. Kai Owen is always great as Rhys and it's lovely to see him take centre stage in Meat. The memory-manipulating Adam worms his way into the Torchwood team and leaves each of them scarred in a different way: Ianto's breakdown is wonderfully performed by Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen and Eve Myles are fantastic in the scenes dealing with Gwen's amnesia and the flashback to Jack's childhood strikes just the right balance. Adam jarred with the team and had to force his way in, but Freema Agyeman's Martha Jones joins them in Reset and fits in perfectly. Over the course of these three episodes she seems indispensable and brings out the best in everyone else. Especially after Owen's death and subsequent resurrection. Joe Lidster's fantastic script for A Day In The Death shows us that although he could cheat death before, he only manages to beat death by accepting it. Gwen and Rhys's wedding in Something Borrowed is a great ensemble piece that could have been riddled with clich├ęs and yet somehow rises above them. Screaming aside, Adrift is a triumph for Myles, Tom Price and Ruth Jones. The portmanteau-style Fragments reveals how Jack, Tosh, Ianto and Owen each found themselves working for Torchwood Three. Some much needed back story, just in time for some of those stories to end…

Doctor Who: Partners In Crime; The Fires Of Pompeii; The Unicorn And The Wasp, Silence In The Library & Forest Of The Dead, Midnight, Turn Left, The Stolen Earth & Journey's End; The Next Doctor
The rehabilitation of Donna Noble. Partners In Crime reunites the Doctor and Donna as partners in crime in an episode that is part farce, part misdirection and with a really great dumb show scene. Things really get going with The Fires Of Pompeii as Donna chooses to share in the Doctor's moral dilemma. The Unicorn And The Wasp is a great fun murder mystery with a great cast. Silence In The Library & Forest Of The Dead casts a long shadow in more ways than one, the introduction of the excellent Alex Kingston as the excellent River Song, a heartbreaking glimpse at Donna's perfect life and it features the best concept monsters ever, until Midnight. A psychological horror aboard a tense and claustrophobic 'bus-under-siege'. Turn Left is a tale of the road less travelled, glimpses of what might have been had the Doctor died, revisiting the events of previous episodes through the eyes of a Doctorless Donna, and it ends with another really great cliffhanger. The Stolen Earth and Journey's End is an epic bombastic three-way crossover with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures that raises the stakes to their highest in Russell T Davies' final season finale. Not just the culmination of this season but also its three predecessors. Seemingly featuring a cast of thousands, but Catherine Tate deserves a special mention for her performance here as Donna. Molto Bene! Brilliantly exploiting the manner in which David Tennant's departure from the role of the Doctor was announced, The Next Doctor unveils his apparent successor and David Morrissey is fantastic in the part. Dervla Kirwan, the graveyard massacre, the Cyber-King, the next Doctor's TARDIS and all the scenes featuring both Doctors are wonderful.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Last Sontaran; The Day Of The Clown; Secrets Of The Stars; The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith
The best children's show on TV returns. Since Sarah Jane Smith got her own show the return of the Sontarans seemed deserved, but Kaargh isn't just The Last Sontaran, he's one of the best. Maria Jackson's bond with Sarah has been vital to the show so far and so when it ends here it's a brave choice to have Sarah be so petulant and Maria so grownup. The Day Of The Clown is very creepy stuff that gives us a replacement for Maria in Anjli Mohindra as Rani and Bradley Walsh is astounding in his three-in-one role of Elijah Spellman, Oddbob and the Pied Piper. Similarly a large factor for the success of Secrets Of The Stars is Russ Abbott's performance, that and the concept that astrology and destiny could be abused for a sinister end. This season peaks with The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith which sees the return of the show's best villain the Trickster and once again he wants to change history around Sarah, sending her back to 1951, to tempt her into preventing the death of her parents. The fifties period detail is wonderful and Elisabeth Sladen's performance of Sarah's dilemma is fantastic.

Ashes To Ashes
When a bullet sent Alex Drake back to 1981 it fascinated me. The series builds towards Episode 8 which begins on the day I was born. This self-aware sequel to Life On Mars features great performances from the likes of Philip Glenister and Amelia Bullmore, some great period detail and a story arc following a Bowie-esque clown that had me fooled.

Terry Pratchett's The Colour Of Magic
The Mob's largely faithful adaptation of the first two Discworld books is an enjoyable romp. Pratchett himself dubbed it “a road movie, before anyone had made any proper roads.” David Jason and Sean Astin are great as Rincewind and Twofower respectively, roll on Interesting Times.

Futurama: Bender's Big Score; The Beast With A Billion Backs
Futurama makes a triumphant return to our screens with the time travelling epic Bender's Big Score. While It was never a children's show it is certainly lewder now than before, not least the race of alien nudists and their sprungers. The Beast With A Billion Backs picks up on the previous story's cliffhanger ending and deals with it in a refreshing way. This story even more epic than the last involves the entire population of our universe moving to another as a result of an alien orgy. The show is as funny as ever.

Only two episodes of the impossible panel show were broadcast this year, both were specials. Not that every episode of QI isn't in some way special, but the first was Children In Need special concerning Families, followed by a Christmas special about Fire & Freezing.

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death
Everybody's favourite plasticine pals face up to the 'cereal killer' at 62 West Wallaby Street. More fantastically realised film homages and humdrum activities given Thunderbirds-style launching sequences.

Nebulous: Genesis Of The Aftermath; The Past Must Be Destroyed; The Girl With The Liquid Face; We, Nebulous; Rebel Without A Cortex; Us And Phlegm
One half parody and two halves homage. Professor Nebulous and the Key Environmental Non-Judgemental Taskforce return for a third series with Genesis Of The Aftermath, in which the oft-mentioned but never seen destruction of the Isle of Wight is now seen. And by seen I mean heard. The flashback scenes are a delight, particularly Paul Putner's pre-accident (and agonyless) Harry. Nebulous adapts the tropes of science fiction to suit its own style. Time going missing in The Past Must Be Destroyed is history being deleted by a teacher in the hope it'll make it easier to teach, the 'alien' prodigal child in the wonderfully named The Girl With The Liquid Face as Rosie Cavalerio's Paula Breeze discovers she is half-Atlantean, the evil twin of We, Nebulous is the Professor's evil twin brother Spiffo, killer of his other brother Mofo, an alien who can control how you see it in Rebel Without A Cortex and everyone except the Professor contracts all diseases in Us And Phlegm. This series is criminally unavailable on CD, seek it out. With thanks to Graeme Neil Reid for the illustration.

Torchwood: Lost Souls
In the summer of 2008, the world was more than a little obsessed with CERN's particle-smashing large hadron collider and Torchwood was no exception. The Torchwood team are reunited with Martha Jones to investigate disappearances in Switzerland, but more importantly this episode sees the trio of survivors from Exit Wounds in mourning and cements Martha as a part of the team.

Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul
This convoluted tale of holistic detection takes in Norse gods, theological brand management, a locked-door murder mystery, contractual small print and the financial speculation of soothsayers with uncertain mental health, it also gleefully pulls Dirk Gently firmly into the world of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Doctor Who: Max Warp, Brave New Town; Grand Theft Cosmos; The Zygon Who Fell To Earth
It doesn't take a genius to see that Max Warp is Top Gear in space, but what it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in fun. The script by Jonathan Morris sees the Eighth Doctor and Lucie spark off each other beautifully and Graeme Garden clearly had a ball parodying Jeremy Clarkson. This is followed by a visit to a Brave New Town in which every day for the last seventeen years has been the 1st of September 1991. The villagers turn out to be a group of plastic people that have forgotten they are plastic at all. Grand Theft Cosmos is a great train robbery tale that combines some high concept SF with some knockabout comedy and sees the welcome return of The Headhunter played by Katarina Olsson. Another great character from last season returns in The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, namely Lucie's Aunty Pat. While the title acknowledges one of its inspirations, the episode takes the hallmarks of the TV story Terror Of The Zygons, rearranges them with its tongue in its cheek and then gives us an astonishing ending.

Supergrass: Diamond Hoo Ha
The Children of the Monkey Basket's final album (so far) is a return to rabble rousing form after the more contemplative Road To Rouen.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Diamond Hoo Ha Man', 'Bad Blood', 'Rebel In You', 'Whiskey & Green Tea'

Adam & Joe: Song Wars Volume One
The largely weekly song writing competition between BBC6Music's Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish has thrown up some great offerings. Each writes a song based on a particular subject, composes it with Garage Band and their own vocals before unveiling it live on air for listeners to choose a winner.
Stand out tracks: Joe's 'European Supermarket', Joe's 'Global Warming Song', Adam's 'Christmas Country Party Time', Joe's 'The Shining', Adam's 'The Hours', Adam's 'Loch Ness Song', Joe's 'Right And Wrong Song'

Things The Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett
A book about family by a man without one. An autobiography of a life shaped by the deaths of his father, sister, mother and cousins leaves Everett as the last of his family line and vowing to skip having children and go straight to grandchildren. Better known to the world as E, lead singer of Eels, this is the life behind the lyrics and it is one told without seeking pity and with more humour than it would have seemed possible.

The Balloon Debate
I saw a great many shows at the Edinburgh Festival this year and among the good, the bad and the downright abysmal was one show that really stood out as great. An idea for a romantic date in a hot air balloon backfires when Gary's girlfriend stands him up and he talks his best friend Dan into taking her place. The two friends and one pilot take an awkward balloon ride. Three men trapped in the basket of a hot air balloon 2000 feet above East Anglia, until one falls out... This play is very funny indeed and the best compliment I can pay it is that I wish I'd thought of it first.

Y: The Last Man: Whys And Wherefores, Part 6; Alas
Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra's post-apocalyptic epic about a man and his monkey in a world full of women comes to an end. And after. I don't want to say any more. If you're going to read it, read it from the beginning.

Jump Leads: It Came From Space!; Trojan Horse; Just Dropping In
Always hoping that the next Lead will be the Lead home. Llew and Meaney's random trekking through alternating universes takes them to a reality in which they encounter aliens, another where one is possessed by a burrowing slug while the other wears a top hat and monocle and a third much like our own in which the Flurry does some demolition. The art and scripts are great throughout.

Serenity: Better Days
The crew of Serenity come into some money and debate how to spend it. Each telling the others what they would do if they had more money than God. The fantasies of River (left) and Mal are the most revealing. This being Serenity the money doesn't remain in their possession very long.

Doctor Who: Death To The Doctor!; The Widow's Curse; The Immortal Emperor; The Time Of My Life;
Death To The Doctor! sees six villains defeated by six Doctors all joining forces to get their revenge on him, but it doesn't go to plan, with some lovely misdirection and a great last line. Martha exits, Donna enters and she is forced to confront something she missed first time around. The Widow's Curse is excellent, both as a sequel to The Christmas Invasion on TV and as a comic with some genuine horror. The Immortal Emperor is a lovely business-as-usual type adventure with lovely artwork from Rob Davis. Donna's time aboard the comic strip is shortlived as events on TV catch up with her and The Time Of My Life does a very good job of redressing the balance, presented as a series of vignettes showing the variety of her travels with the Doctor each interrupting its predecessor until the beautiful last page. Magnificent.

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Joss Whedon's DIY internet musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion is wonderful. Concerning a love triangle between a supervillain wannabe, a shallow and cheesy superhero and the idealistic woman they have in common. The dialogue is great, the songs are great and the world it creates of superheroes and villains who don't quite conform to expectations is very compelling.

Recommendations welcome.

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