Saturday, 31 December 2011


Twentyleven was a word I coined at the beginning of the year for use on the Carruthers blog and in the absence of a better title I've used it here as well at the end.

2011 was the year that Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi were killed, there were riots across England, a devastating earthquake in Japan and the world's population is reported to have reached seven billion.

Personally, Sarah and I moved in together and I took part in Holly Lodge - A Celebration, Topsy And The Bard, Frankensteining, Lenin’s Lunch, Lenin In London and Monitor among others and FistKrammer finally saw the light of day.

These are a few of my favourite things from 2011:

Attack The Block
Aliens invade a South London block of flats in Joe Cornish's directorial debut. The cast are great, the monsters are amazing and the slang in the dialogue gives a real sense of authenticity. The film is incredible. The trailer is here.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s geeky science fiction comedy mix of buddy movie and road movie is a lot of fun. Pegg, Frost and Jason Bateman are great. The eponymous Paul is well animated and acted. The film expertly references several classic SF movies, its depiction of fans is well-considered and the running gag of Adam Shadowchild’s back catalogue is very funny. Here’s the trailer.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Drawing heavily on the story of the fourth Apes movie, the seventh is very enjoyable, but feels less like a reboot or a prequel and more like a set up for a sequel. John Lithgow, Freida Pinto and the motion-capture cast are all great. The CGI is excellent and the Ape characters are often more realistically drawn than the humans. Here's the trailer.

Eric And Ernie
It's refreshing to see a biopic that isn't an exposé, but rather a celebration and this story of the formative years of Morecambe and Wise is exactly that. Jim Moir and Victoria Wood are great as Mr and Mrs Bartholomew and the various Erics and Ernies are all wonderful. Stepping into Eric Morcambe's shoes was a tall order, but Daniel Rigby's performance is spot on and he succeeds brilliantly.

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut & Day Of The Moon; The Doctor's Wife; The Almost People; A Good Man Goes To War; Night Terrors; The Girl Who Waited; The God Complex; Closing Time; The Wedding Of River Song; Death Is The Only Answer; The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe
Matt Smith's second season opens with the fantastic and intricate two-parter The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon which sets out the store for the year to come with the death of a central character, the Silence are a brilliant concept and Smith, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston and Mark Sheppard are great. Suranne Jones plays the TARDIS in human form brilliantly in the risky, but as it turns out absolutely perfect episode The Doctor's Wife, and Adrian Schiller and Elizabeth Berrington are wonderful. The Almost People is another approach to a multi-Doctor story, Rachel Cassidy is great and the cliffhanger is phenomenal. The season's first half ends as A Good Man Goes To War with a cast of thousands, an epic feel, revelations about River Song and the hilarious reveal of the title of the next episode. Smith and Darvill go from strength to strength as the season's second half rallies with the very creepy Night Terrors and the thought-provoking The Girl Who Waited which gets a great performance out of Karen Gillan. The TARDIS finds itself in The God Complex and fear itself is put under the microscope and Anara Karan is fantastic as Rita. Smith, James Corden and Stormageddon make for a great comedy trio in Closing Time. The season concludes and time stops and unravels as all of history happens simultaneously until The Wedding Of River Song in another epic tale that revisits the death that has haunted the Doctor all season, the Silence are terrifying and Frances Barber is great as Madame Kovarian (particularly in her last scene) and as the universe's oldest question threatens to be asked it spurs the show ever on. Death Is The Only Answer is a nice little runaround featuring Einstein and the Ood. The connotations of a title like The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe are obvious and this Christmas special definitely lived up to them, Claire Skinner, Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are fantastic and brought out the best in Smith.

David Tennant, Dougray Scott, Kate Ashfield, Ben Peel and Brogan West are fantastic in this dramatisation of the events of the plane crash that nearly spelled the end of Manchester United, but was arguably the making of it. This film succeeded where so many others have failed because it concentrated on characters and their passion for football rather than relying on a presumed passion in the audience. For ninety minutes United made me care about football in a way that nothing else ever has.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace
Adam Curtis charts the causes of the credit crunch and subsequent financial meltdown from Ayn Rand's philosophy to Alan Greenspan's overconfidence in market forces and the revelation that people believed that a model based on the balance of nature would create self-regulating systems that could prevent boom and bust economies is a hugely flawed principle. I don't know if Curtis is right about any of it, but he makes it all sound so plausible and his choices of stock footage are inspired.

The second series of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's mystery sitcom picks up where the first series cliffhanger left off and takes no prisoners. Ruthlessly bumping off established characters, introducing new ones and twisting and turning to keep you in suspense. The cast of thousands: Pemberton, Shearsmith, Dawn French, Daniel Kaluuya, David Cann, Mark Bonnar, John Landis, Daisy Haggard, Christopher Biggins, Jason Tompkins, Sheila Reid, Vilma Hollingbery and Jason Watkins are all fantastic, but invariably Imelda Staunton gets all the funniest lines. I really hope we will see more from Psychoville...

Torchwood: Miracle Day
Torchwood goes stateside and yet loses none of its Welshness. Miracle Day arrives and people stop dying. Job done? Well, no because the planet's resources are being used all the quicker and healthcare provision is becoming more and more stretched by the day. The problem increases in scale episode by episode. This is topical SF at its best, asking tough questions of healthcare just as the USA is talking of reform and Cameron is threatening to sell the NHS down the river. Eve Myles and Kai Owen are as great as ever, Bill Pullman, Lauren Ambrose and John de Lancie make fascinating character studies in the face of such overwhelming odds. The ten part story ends on a great cliffhanger that is hopefully not the end for Torchwood

The H and I series saw the panel show look at subjects as varied as Hypnosis, History and Hallucinations & Hysteria and Imbroglio, Inland Revenue and Inequality. There is at least one question each week to which the answer is unknown (by humanity at large not just by the panel) and the Nobody Knows card is a new recurring element that allows panelists to score points anyway when played correctly. It rewards humility.

Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution
Alan Davies looks into the events of his youth that made him politically aware and reveals a fascinating journey through the protest movements of the eighties.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Sky; The Curse Of Clyde Lander; The Man Who Never Was
The fifth season was sadly curtailed by the death of the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen, but the three serials that were filmed are fantastic. The first story riffs on the series pilot as Sky arrives as a baby left on Sarah's doorstep and Sinead Michael is great as the grown up new arrival in a story that is all the more bittersweet because it was clearly meant to set a new format for future years. Daniel Anthony and Lily Loveless are fantastic in The Curse Of Clyde Langer which deals with homelessness incredibly well for the target audience. The return of Tommy Knight in the final story, The Man Who Never Was reunites the family and somehow provides a grace note to end on, everyone is given a decent slice of the action, features some very funny (and very risqué) dialogue, Luke and Sky's scenes are very touching, the Mr Serf puppetry scenes are a lot of fun, Peter Bowles and James Dreyfus are great, Anthony and Anjli Mohindra are wonderful together in all their scenes and the "Clani" storyline feels as if it is left moving in the right direction and the series ends with a beautiful montage, the wonder of Sarah's monologue and a caption that just hits the right note: "And the story goes on...forever."

Holy Flying Circus
An incredibly absurd, inventive and varied TV film about the furore surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian culminating in the famous interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark. Darren Boyd, Charles Edwards, Rufus Jones and Steve Punt are all fantastic as their respective Pythons (and often their wives and mothers), while Mark Heap, Simon Greenall, Michael Cochrane, Roy Marsden, Tom Price and Stephen Fry are all wonderful.

Ruth Jones is fantastic as national treasure Hattie Jacques in a biopic that concentrates on her home life as she moves her lover in under the same roof as her husband, John Le Mesurier. The sequences of filming for Carry On Cabby and Hattie's episode of This Is Your Life are beautifully realised. Marcia Warren is wonderful as Esma Cannon and her swearing is particularly impressive. Graham Fellows, Jeany Spark and Lewis Macleod are great.

Black Mirror: The National Anthem; 15 Million Merits; The Entire History Of You
Charlie Brooker's trilogy of terror is very dark, very stark and very funny. The National Anthem sees a Royal Princess kidnapped and a Prime Minister held to ransom by her abductor, not for terrorism or money, but for a very different cause. The demands for her release are simple, he must commit 'a sex act', on a pig, live on television. Rory Kinear and Lindsay Duncan are fantastic as a put upon PM and spinning home secretary in a witty script which cuts through the tension with phrases like "trending on Twitter" that would have meant nothing just five years ago. The episode wraps up with a neat ending that is also a very rewarding one. 15 Million Merits is a cross between Facebook, The X Factor and THX-1138 and sets its sights on the crass commodification of reality TV and opinions for sale with a great central performance from Daniel Kaluuya. The final episode The Entire History Of You is a cautionary tale in which implanted "grains" which record memories for review are as commonplace as iPods and Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whitaker are phenomenal as a couple driven apart by the instant access to the digitised truth the grains afford.

Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service
Eclectic musical choices, well chosen readings and interesting guest interviews, Jarvis Cocker has successfully made a very niche radio show into a very inclusive one. Endearingly assembled and often shambolic, but exactly the sort of show the BBC should be making.

The Bob Servant Emails
Brian Cox is wonderfully deadpan in these epistolary conversations with spam scam artists from across the globe.

Adam and Joe
The duo return for a criminally brief run of shows with all the usual features, plus a new Taffin obsession.

Doctor Who: Cradle Of The Snake; Hornet's Nest: The Stuff Of Nightmares; The Dead Shoes; The Circus Of Doom; A Sting In The Tale; Hive Of Horror
Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton are reunited as the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa come to radio. Cradle Of The Snake pits the TARDIS crew against the snake-like Mara once more with great success and with each of them getting a decent slice of the action. Tom Baker reprises his role as the Fourth Doctor now paired with Richard Franklin's Mike Yates for Hornet's Nest, a season of five linked two-parters. Halfway between a full cast drama and a talking book, they are filled with Paul Magrs' florid prose and it is clear that the leading man is having a ball. The first story, The Stuff Of Nightmares, is aptly named, sets the scene for the rest and draws Yates into the action with an interesting device, albeit more as the Doctor's audience than as his companion. Despite the horrific imagery of The Dead Shoes is a romp that makes great use of the Doctor's housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey. Stephen Thorne is great as embittered dwarf Antonio in The Circus Of Doom which sees the Doctor stick his head into a lion's mouth and complicates the Hornet's story. A Sting In The Tale plays with cause and effect in a timey-wimey fashion in an adventure largely set with the TARDIS. The Doctor and Yates finally share an adventure as they enter the Hive Of Horror in a season finale that utilises the former Captain far better than any of his television appearances.

Torchwood: House Of The Dead
Set before the events of Miracle Day, seemingly an investigation of "the most haunted pub in Wales" this story cleverly plays with the audience expectation created by the previous two episodes and deepens into something very special indeed. John Barrowman, Gareth David Lloyd and Rosalind Ayres give lovely performances in a beautiful, macabre and bittersweet tale by James Goss.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
The first book in The Expanse series has a wonderful solidity to it. Political machinations, crew arguments and action sequences are described with equal realism and importance. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of the two main characters, which gives the different strands of the story a greater impetus and it is thrilling when they finally crossover.

The Martian by Andy Weir
This Robinson Crusoe on Mars story is elevated by its first person narrative delivered by a compelling character in an impossible situation. It's funny, it's geeky and I just couldn't put it down.

Mother, Brother, Lover by Jarvis Cocker
A book of selected lyrics from the man who has always included the "n.b. Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings" on the sleeve notes to his every album. Cocker is quick to point out that lyrics are not poetry. He asserts that they are merely one part of a song and not necessarily a particularly important part at that. His introduction is practically begging you not to buy the book. Ignore him. The lyrics are, of course, fantastic featuring not just Pulp songs but also those written with Barry Adamson, Relaxed Muscle, The All-Seeing I, Marianne Faithfull and Charlotte Gainsbourg/Air. The notes at the end provide a great insight into their writing, performance and context. This book is beautiful. (n.b. Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings.)

Cornershop, featuring Bubbley Kaur: And The Double-O Groove Of
The band's seventh album features a new vocalist and lyricist in Kaur and with her they achieve a very different sound and an inspirational quality. The lyrics are largely in Punjabi and I haven't got a clue what she's singing about and it clearly doesn't matter because it sounds great. The musical accompaniment of Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres still blends from many and eclectic styles often drawing even more attention to the vocal.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Topknot', 'The 911 Curry', 'Natch', 'Double Decker Eyelashes', 'The Biro Pen', 'Supercomputed', 'Don't Shake It'

The Hoosiers: Bumpy Ride
Essentially a re-release of The Illusion Of Safety and a fine album it was, but now with the excellent 'Squeeze' on board as well.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Choices', 'Bumpy Ride', 'Who Said Anything (About Falling In Love)?', 'Unlikely Hero', 'Made To Measure', 'Squeeze'

Doctor Who: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night; Apotheosis; The Child Of Time; The Chains Of Olympus 1
Jonathan Morris' storyline for the Eleventh Doctor and Amy continues with Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, a one shot with a lovely story and beautiful artwork from David A Roach. Apotheosis has a fantastic first cliffhanger, nuns with guns are inherently funny and the strip sets up the 'season finale' very well. The Doctor and Amy tangle with Chiyoko, The Child Of Time, various threads from earlier strips are tied together in a very timey wimey fashion, a version Alan Turing that is the embodiment of the Turing Test itself is a great concept and Morris clearly had a lot of fun with the gun-toting Brontë sisters and Martin Geraghty‘s art is wonderful. Scott Gray’s script for the first part of The Chains Of Olympus finally introduces Rory to the strip proper and the Doctor's underwhelming meeting of the minds with Socrates is very funny.

Star Tigers: The World Of The War-King
Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer and his motley crew return with a Dalekless one-shot story written by Steve Moore thirty years ago and finally brought to life by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon and Roger Langridge in fanzine par excellence Vworp Vworp!. The artwork and colours are fantastic, the violence well choreographed and the last page has not one, but two great shocks for the reader.

Back To The Future: Get Tannen!; Citizen Brown; Double Visions; Outatime
I haven't completed this game, but what I have played so far has been great. The story gets more intriguing as the timeline gets more intricate and I look forward to seeing how it ends.

Mid-Morning Matters With Alan Partridge: Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12
The cracks in Alan Partridge's regional radio career become all the more apparent as his relationship with Sidekick Simon deteriorates and then he becomes embarrassingly enamoured with Simon's replacement, Zoe. Alan's ideas for phone ins get worse every episode and his guests are brilliant as he interviews himself, a survival expert turned hypothetical RSPB anti-insurgency assassin and a fantastic section with an agony aunt.

Robert Llewellyn's taxi chat show made its transition to TV, but I didn't really manage to catch it on the box, so I've remained a viewer online. Highlights include interviews with: Ross Noble, Stephen K. Amos, Jason Manford, Rufus Hound, Chris Addison, Arthur Smith, Rob Brydon, Tim Minchin, Craig Charles, Phill Jupitus, Doon Mackichan, Dr Sue Black, Jim Jeffries, Jason Byrne, Toby Williams, Richard Herring and Cory Doctorow.

This Guy Has My Macbook
A MacBook was stolen from an apartment in California and using an app called Hidden the owner could capture photos of the thief that lead to its subsequent recovery. Surely this is the best possible advert Hidden could have hope for.

The Time Machine by George Shaw
I first became aware of George Shaw when he was nominated for this year's Turner Prize and I was immediately taken with his style and later I found his medium to be fascinating and very endearing. I don't know whether the painting below, The Time Machine, is from 2011 or not, but it's one that really appeals to me for obvious reasons. Shaw uses Humbrol modelling paint to create beautiful romanticised views of unlikely and often ignored subjects, which makes him feel like the Jarvis Cocker or David Hockney of painting. He was robbed.

Recommendations Welcome.

Next month: 1998


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Why am I not surprised it all ends with the phone booth?
Shame we don't get most of that programming here, unless it's run on BBC America. (And your Top Gear is FAR superior to ours.) I still really want to see Attack the Block. Hopefully soon.
Happy New Year, Dave!

Dave said...

Everything begins and ends with a telephone box.

Top Gear is an interesting example of a show that only exists because the BBC doesn't need to rely on advertisers, but the incredibly right wing Top Gear also bites the hand that feeds it, which also epitomises the liberal attitudes the BBC is built on.

I hope most of these will end up on BBC America at some point.

I think you'd love Attack The Block.

Happy New Year, Alex