Saturday, 30 June 2012

"This Year's Been Bad Enough As It Is..."

"...without you giving things away" complains EastEnders character, Gita Kapoor, in another line from Doctor Who's Dimensions In Time.

1993 was the year that Czechoslovakia separated in the 'Velvet Divorce', Bill Clinton became President of the USA, Stephen Lawrence was murdered in London, the Maastricht Treaty formalised the Maastricht Treaty formalised the European Union and the space shuttle Endeavour was launched to fix a flaw in the Hubble telescope.

This was also the year I finished primary school and moved up to secondary school.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1993:

Film
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Diane Keaton turns amateur detective to investigate a murder, dragging her hapless husband Woody Allen into it. It's a joy to watch her initial excitement tempered by her husband's doubts, and then her interest wanes as her conspirators get more embroiled in the whodunnit.

Six Degrees Of Separation
"The Kandinski is painted on on both sides" aside, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland, Will Smith and Heather Graham are great in this tale of socialites, social conscience, celebrity and gossip.




TV
Red Dwarf: Psirens; Legion; Gunmen Of The Apocalypse; Emohawk - Polymorph II; Rimmerworld; Out Of Time
Series VI features a bold change of scenery with the crew aboard Starbug in search of their mothership. This is Red Dwarf without Red Dwarf. Psirens reintroduces the now Hollyless quartet and acts as a sort of pilot episode for the new format. Lister's amnesia is not just an excuse for exposition, but is also filled with some great character comedy. Highlights include "Hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of Angling Times", anatomical punctuation, Lister's first screen kiss and the two Listers sequence, while Richard Ridings, Anita Dobson, Samantha Robson and Jenny Agutter are all great in their cameo scenes. Antimatter chopsticks, space weevil and the nearly infamous red alert bulb scene are brilliant in Legion, an episode which takes a very complex SF idea and really runs with it, but also manages to keep a very high gag quota. Gunmen Of The Apocalypse is fantastic, Laredo looks brilliant, the fight sequences (both with and without special skills) are great and the Cat's reactions to his plans being adopted are incredible, while Jennifer Calvert, Steve Devereux, Stephen Marcus and Denis Lill are great: the episode is probably the best SF western ever made. Uncharacteristically at the time Emohawk - Polymorph II is a three-in-one sequel to the episodes Polymorph, Dimension Jump and Back To Reality, but the episode doesn't simply rest on those laurels and Rimmer's history of warfare as interpreted through haircuts, the dealings with the Kinatowowi and "Mr Lister's guitar survived intact" are great, but I have to admit the return of the Emohawk, Ace Rimmer and Duane Dibbley is a lot of fun this time around. Rimmer's cowardice causing the founding of Rimmerworld and the crew's subsequent visit are great ideas, the subtext of Liz Hickling's scene, Rimmer's incestuous ethics and Kryten's punch line to Derek Custer's escape plan are fantastic. The season finale, Out Of Time, has a darker feel to it as the reality bubble sequence ups the ante, but the jokes keep coming: Lister's log cabin, the visit to 1421 and Kryten's overreaction to his knowledge of the future are great. The darkness yields great character insight as the future Starbug crew are brilliant extrapolations, their stories of entertaining people from history who are "a bit dodgy" are excellent and the present crew's reaction to them is wonderful. The shocking fatalities, Rimmer's bravery and the cliffhanger ending are brilliant, even down to the sparks that hit the camera. The new format shifts the bunkroom scenes to the cockpit with great success and Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn are fantastic across all six episodes while the model shots, visual effects and the set design are all stunning throughout. The use of Space Corps Directives gags, the Cat's "deader-thans" and the Cat's nasal integrity have caused some to label this series as formulaic, but that's only bad if the formula itself is bad. This is clearly a winning formula: Series VI is fantastic.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Emissary; Past Prologue; A Man Alone; Babel; Captive Pursuit;
Q-Less; Dax; The Nagus; Vortex; Progress; Duet; In The Hands Of The Prophets; The Homecoming, The Circle & The Siege; Invasive Procedures; Rules Of Acquisition; Necessary Evil
The original Star Trek has often been described as a 'Wagon Train to the stars' and the wild west parallels are even more apparent on Deep Space Nine: the space station as the western town, the sheriff, the bartender, the native, the common man. The show is deliberately darker in tone than its contemporary stable mate (see below), but still definitely Star Trek at heart. Emissary is a fantastic pilot: the opening sequence of the Battle of Wolf 359 is spectacular, Colm Meaney fits in perfectly on DS9 and the rest of the regular cast all make impressive debuts as do Camille Saviola, Felecia M. Bell and Marc Alaimo, Sisko and Picard's awkward relationship is fascinating, Kira's bluffing is great and Sisko's philosophical discussions with the aliens in the wormhole is compelling. The early episodes play with a sense of mistrust as Kira's loyalty is tested in Past Prologue as the Bajoran political situation and introduces Andrew Robinson as plain, simple Garak, a brilliant character who subtly proves he is neither, entirely in subtext. Odo finds himself A Man Alone as he investigates a murder in which all the evidence implicates him and the station's population turn on him: this episode's 'perfect murder' concept is very clever, the xenophobic mob scene is quite shocking for Star Trek and the beginning of Jake and Nog's friendship is very endearing. The aphasia virus of Babel is a brilliant idea, O'Brien's busyness is great, Quark's involvement in its spread is a nice touch and Kira's approach to finding a cure is fantastic. Scott MacDonald gives a beautifully alien performance as Tosk in Captive Pursuit and Meaney is great as a mutinous O'Brien. John De Lancie is very funny in the misleadingly titled Q-Less. Dax is a nice little courtroom drama and Anne Haney is nothing short of amazing as the arbiter. Armin Shimerman gets a chance to really shine as Quark becomes The Nagus briefly in the episode which reclaims the Ferengi from TNG, contains great references to The Godfather and Wallace Shawn is wonderful as Zek. Vortex is a nice Odo episode and Rene Auberjonois really seizes the opportunity. The B-story of Progress following Jake and Nog's business exploits is a lot of fun. The mind games and intricate deceptions of Nana Visitor and Harris Yulin's Duet make for a beautiful piece of allegorical television. The first season finale, In The Hands Of The Prophets, takes the debate about creationism or prayer in school into the Bajoran political sphere and features the first of many great performances from Louise Fletcher as Vedek Winn.
The second season begins with the three-parter The Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege which expands upon the increasingly murky world of Bajoran politics and builds slowly to a very exciting third episode. Jadzia undergoes Invasive Procedures and loses the Dax symbiont to another host, and the contrast in John Glover's performance as Verad before and after joining is great and the uncomfortable interaction between Sisko and this new 'old man' really makes this episode. Rules Of Acquisition is another nice Ferengi episode with some great Quark material and introducing the Dominion in a comedy episode is a very nice touch. Necessary Evil is a gritty noirish detective story with great flashbacks to Terok Nor in its heyday and yields insights into the relationships between Odo and Kira, and also Quark and Rom as well.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ship In A Bottle; Face Of The Enemy; Tapestry; Birthright; Starship Mine; Lessons; The Chase; Frame Of Mind; Suspicions; Rightful Heir; Second Chances; Timescape; Descent; Gambit; Phantasms; Attached; Inheritance; Parallels
The sixth season continues with the brilliant Ship In A Bottle featuring the return of Daniel Davis as Professor Moriarty and Dwight Schultz as Barclay in an inspired pairing. Marina Sirtis, Carolyn Seymour and Scott MacDonald are wonderful as Troi finds herself with the Face Of The Enemy and winging it as a Romulan spy. Q shows Picard some of life's rich Tapestry in Star Trek's version of It's A Wonderful Life, Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie are fantastic and the dialogue is some of the best of the series. Michael Dorn and Brent Spiner are both great in the uneven two-parter Birthright, the first part visits DS9 (see above), focuses on the wonderfully surreal dreams of Data and sends Worf off on a mission to liberate his father from prison, while the second is concerned solely with Worf and Klingon honour. Starship Mine is a great action movie for Picard, the baryon sweep is a sufficiently gruesome way to go and Data emulating Hutch is hilarious. Picard learns some Lessons about romantic involvement with a subordinate the hard way in an episode with a maturity and surprising ending. Picard takes up The Chase in an archaeological quest that unites the major humanoid species in a very Gene Roddenberry way. Jonathan Frakes is fantastic in the very dark Frame Of Mind. Gates McFadden is great as Crusher's Suspicions get her into trouble in a nice scientific detective story. Rightful Heir asks pertinent questions of faith and Dorn, Robert O'Reilly, Alan Oppenheimer and Kevin Conway are all fantastic. As the result of a transporter accident Troi has to contend with two Rikers in Second Chances and Frakes and Sirtis are great as they come to terms with their relationship, again. Timescape is a brilliant temporal thriller. The season ends with the first part of Descent which sees the return of the Borg and Spiner is wonderful as Data experiences his first real emotions and he really sells the cliffhanger.
The final season begins with the story's second part LeVar Burton excels in the torture scenes and McFadden is great in command of the Enterprise and Spiner is fantastic as both the sons of Soong. The two-parter Gambit was the first to break Roddenberry's space pirates taboo and does so in style. Phantasms takes Data's dreams into darker and even more bizarre territory, his scenes with Sigmund Freud are very funny and the turbolift scene is very shocking. Picard and Crusher are imprisoned and their minds Attached with brain implants and the result is a lovely episode for Stewart and McFadden. Spiner and Fionnula Flanagan are wonderful as Data finds his mother in Inheritance. Dorn is great in Parallels as Worf flits from one alternate universe to another and the initially subtle inconsistencies accumulate taking him further and further from the norm until the barriers between realities break down and all the possibilities collide spectacularly.

Century Falls
This six-part supernatural horror serial by Russell T. Davies of a mysterious village with a dark secret confidently builds slowly toward an impressive finale. Darker than Dark Season, it is astonishing that this story with its themes of loneliness, group consciousness, mob mentality and infant mortality was ever shown as children's television. Thank goodness it was, this is exactly what I wanted to watch at the age of eleven. The story is complex and engaging, the music is wonderful throughout, the effects are simple and far more effective as a result while Bernard Kay, Mary Wimbush, Georgine Anderson, Eileen Way, Beryl Cooke, Heather Baskerville, Tatiana Strauss, Robert James and Simon Fenton are all fantastic.

Northern Exposure: Survival Of The Species; Revelations; Duets; Grosse Pointe, 48230; Learning Curve; Ill Wind; Love's Labour Mislaid; Northern Lights; Family Feud; Homesick; The Big Feast; Kaddish for Uncle Manny; Mud And Blood; Sleeping With The Enemy; Old Tree; Three Doctors; The Mystery Of The Old Curio Shop; Jaws Of Life; Altered Egos; A River Doesn't Run Through It; Birds Of A Feather; Rosebud; Heal Thyself; A Cup Of Joe; First Snow
The fourth season continues as Ed becomes concerned about the Survival Of The Species and his post-apocalyptic nightmare is great. Maurice and Ruth-Ann fight over Ed in Revelations. Duets sees the welcome return of One Who Waits who has finally found Ed's father, while Kevin Conway is brilliant as the piano tuner. James Marsters and Dylan Baker are great as Maggie takes Joel to Grosse Pointe, 48230. Learning Curve is very touching as Holling returns to high school. An Ill Wind blows through Cicily and after some particularly violent and letigious foreplay, Joel and Maggie finally consummate their relationship and naturally overthink the aftermath, but the line "You broke my broken nose" and Maurice's warped logic after Chris saves his life are very, very funny. Maggie forgets sex with Joel entirely in Love's Labour Mislaid and upon remembering her conference with Joel and Mike is hilarious, Holling and Ruth-Ann make a great duo and Uncle Anku's last line is brilliant. Ed is fantastic as a wronged Joel's representative and the winter rituals of Holling, Ruth-Ann and Chris are great in Northern Lights. A Family Feud divides the Native American tribes, meanwhile Shelly and Holling have the quickest of quicky marriages in a very funny scene. The reveal of Shelly's redecoration is hilarious, Maggie's dream is great and it's sad to see Mike the Bubble man leave in Homesick. Shelly and Eve making Château Latour '29 is very funny in The Big Feast. Joel's uncle dies and Maurice organises Kaddish for Uncle Manny with fantastic military precision. Mud And Blood features the amazing line: "Weddings and rat turds." Ned Romero is wonderful, Ed's dubbing of The Prisoner Of Zenda into Tlingit is inspired, Maurice wrestling with his conscience is great and Ron's hypocitical bigotry is a very brave depiction in Sleeping With The Enemy. An Old Tree considered a historical landmark is under threat, Maurice's "Town dismissed" line is hilarious, while Shelly always singing is a great notion.
The fifth season sees Cicily expand to Three Doctors as Graham Greene's Leonard looks after Joel contracts Glacier Dropsy and Ed is called to be a shaman. Maggie's Nancy Drewing in The Mystery Of The Old Curio Shop and Maurice's attitude to growing old are great. The visiting dentist has most of Cicily terrified in Jaws Of Life, while Chris' reaction to a longer life expectancy is great. Joel worries that he's gone native and Chris and Bernard's twin relationship hits a bump in the surprising Altered Egos. Maggie's reinterpretation of Homecoming, Maurice's failed business deal and Ruth-Ann's tax audit are all great character moments in A River Doesn't Run Through It. Holling's attitude to sport is very refreshing in Birds Of A Feather and the competitive attitude to it's replacement in the Brick is great. Ed's film festival would have been great in Rosebud while the exploits of Cicily's fire department are very funny and Greene makes a welcome return as Leonard. Physician Heal Thyself is a lesson Ed learns the hard way, Holling is a surprisingly bad pupil in birth class and Maggie need for laundomat gossip is great. As Holling and Ruth-Anne learn that their grandfathers knew each other and that one ate the other, A Cup Of Joe sees cannibalism as an engine for social change and Maurice's attempt to inspire Chris to succeed in spite of his bet with Maggie is very touching. A patient that predicts her own death has a profound effect on Joel, Maurice is devastated when Shelly denies having loved him and Maggie becomes determined to get her nest finished before the First Snow falls.

Jeeves & Wooster
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie return for a fourth series as P.G. Wodehouse's double act and they are as wonderful as ever. Bertie Wooster becomes embroiled in six more fiendishly tangled webs and Jeeves saves the day six more times. Highlights include Bertie interrogating a toddler, a fancy dress party full of Edward the Confessors, "C Sir?" and Caesar, our heroes in drag, Alpine Joe and Bertie's wordless vocalised attempts to keep each of his two engagements from each of his two fiancées. Once again, Laurie's musical abilities are a wonderful addition and both 'Putting On The Ritz' and 'Oh By Jingo' sound brilliant. Elizabeth Spriggs, Robert Daws, Jean Heywood, Sylvia Kay, John Turner, Colin McFarlane and John Woodnutt are wonderful. The first three episodes are set in New York and the incongruity of the Brits abroad is a great seam of comedy and the art deco period detail is beautiful, while the return to Blighty for the late three episodes gives this series the feel of a 'greatest hits' of Jeeves & Wooster.

The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes: The Last Vampyre; The Eligible Bachelor
Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke return for two more feature-length episodes and while both are wide of the mark for Conan Doyle purists, they are both also enormously atmospheric pieces of drama. The Last Vampyre flirts with horror and has a few great twists while Roy Marsden, Maurice Denham and Elizabeth Spriggs are fantastic. The mystery of The Eligible Bachelor is compelling. Brett's portrayal of Holmes' depression is brilliant and Simon Williams, Geoffrey Beevers and Mary Ellis are wonderful.

Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers
Nick Park returns to 62 West Wallaby Street and Wallace & Gromit accidentally rent out their spare room to a supervillain with an interesting line in remote control trousers. It's Thunderbirds meets Alan Bennett with some great chase sequences and visual gags.

Radio
Doctor Who: The Paradise Of Death
Bringing back Doctor Who was always going to be a tall order and the first concerted effort to do it on the radio neither reinvents nor recreates the Pertwee era of the television show, but falls somewhere in between. The story veers from an investigation of a theme park to a monoculture wrapped up in a pyramid scheme via Experienced Reality exposition, interstellar kidnapping and the Doctor fighting in drag. The Brigadier's painted toenails are great, as is his use of the word "nosebags", while the cliffhanger at the end of the first episode shouldn't work, but somehow it does. Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Harold Innocent, Peter Miles and Maurice Denham are wonderful. Jeremy Fitzoliver isn't nearly as annoying as his reputation would have you believe, instead he is indicative of The Paradise Of Death's greatest achievement: that it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Music
Blur: Modern Life Is Rubbish
All traces of Baggy are gone as Blur's second album sees them turn to the likes of The Kinks for inspiration. The lyrics are at at turns sardonic and witty, while the music ranges from the vaudevillian 'Sunday Sunday' to the perky-yet-grungy 'Chemical World' and opening track 'For Tomorrow' is nothing short of fantastic.
Stand-Out Tracks: 'For Tomorrow'; 'Colin Zeal'; 'Star Shaped'; 'Blue Jeans'; 'Chemical World'; 'Sunday Sunday'; 'Miss America', 'Turn It Up', 'Resigned', 'Commercial Break' (hidden track)

E: Broken Toy Shop
The future Eels frontman's second solo album is a well-crafted mix of pop and rock which is a step closer to the level of melancholy his band would later achieve.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Shine It All On'; 'The Only Thing I Care About', 'Manchester Girl', 'Tomorrow I'll Be Nine', 'The Day I Wrote You Off', 'She Loves A Puppet', 'My Old Raincoat'

Pulp: Intro
This compilation brings together the singles and B-sides that the band released on Gift Records and hangs together well as an album in its own right. The last three tracks make up the wonderful Inside Susan: A Story In Three Parts and show that even B-Sides betray Pulp's blend of storytelling and style.
Stand Out Tracks: 'O.U. (Gone, Gone)'; 'Babies'; 'Styloroc (Nites of Suburbia)'; 'Razzmatazz'; 'Sheffield: Sex City'; 'Stacks'; 'Inside Susan'; '59 Lyndhurst Grove'

Books
Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett
Ankh Morpork has a killer on the loose in the fifteenth Discworld novel. Vimes has to track down a formidable firearm whilst in the midst of a City Watch recruitment drive to greater reflect the ethnic make-up of the city opening the Watch up to Trolls, Dwarfs and other non-humans and as such Detritus, Cuddy and Angua join the ranks respectively. "Gonnes don't kill people. People kill people."


Where's Wally? In Hollywood by Martin Handford
Wally and his friends lose themselves in Tinseltown. Along the way they take in silent movies, epics, musicals, westerns, SF and horror before Wally becomes a star himself.




Comics
Red Dwarf: The Case Of The Cashed In Contestant 3-7 & Duane Dibbley; The Shadow Time; The Cantabelis Tales; Ace Of Black Hearts; Lister The God; Super-Ace; Mimas Crossing, Time After Time; Dead Man's Bluff; Tomorrow Trouble; Home Of Lost Causes; The Case Of The Cop's Comedown; Young Flibble; A.J. Rimmer, P.M.; Heavy Metal; The Aftering
Many Red Dwarf comic strips followed the misadventures of the Dwarfers from the TV series (see above): The Cantabelis Tales is a strip wrapped around a beautiful parody of Chaucerian verse by Kev Sutherland, with some gorgeous art from Alan Burrows and a great twist in the middle. Some time travelling elite Cat warriors retrieve Lister The God to settle the Cat wars, the politics is well-handled, the fight sequences are great, it's nice to see both Hollies and Norman Lovett's likeness is impressive and the ending is brilliant. Time After Time is "a voyage to trip-out city" that brilliantly revisits The End, Me², Parallel Universe, Backwards, Polymorph, The Last Day, Meltdown, The Inquisitor, Quarantine and Future Echoes with a great punchline from Hollister and an intriguing ending. Dead Man's Bluff is Red Dwarf at its most 2000 AD, John Rushby's art is lovely and the schizophrenic cyborg with a hatred of Holograms is fantastic. Sole Series VI era strip, Home Of Lost Causes pre-empts Series VIII's resurrection of the crew in a nice sequel to Polymorph that features a great cliffhanger and some truly disgusting panels of a mutilated-yet-animated Kochanski. Heavy Metal is a slight tale to end on, but Jon Beeston's artwork is stunning, the FLOB is genuinely impressive and it's great to see Spare Head 3 back.
Other comic strips in the Red Dwarf Smegazine largely drew on ancilliary characters, alternative versions of the regulars and the events of the novels. The remainder of the excellent Jake Bullet story, The Case Of The Cashed-In Contestant does exactly that, Carl Flint's art in the Bullet strips is uncomfortable to look at and absolutely brilliant. The complex story features a cameo from Bob Monkhouse and builds toward a crossover with fellow Despair Squid "sad act" Duane Dibbley's strip. Dibbley is on the run for murder, whilst accompanied by a hallucination of his alter ego, the Cat, and seeking his true identity. The further adventures of the Back To Reality hallucinations and that one of them is himself hallucinating are a brilliant leap of logic. Sadly the strip ends on a cliffhanger and the promise of more that went unfulfilled. Jake Bullet however does return in The Case Of The Cop's Comedown which follows his train of thought as he plummets to his death and as his perception of reality unravels around him, it is brilliantly surreal with a cameo from Charles Hawtrey and another great cliffhanger ending. David Lyttleton's art for The Shadow Time and follow up strip The Aftering borders on the grotesque, but is absolutely perfect for this story of polymorphs loose on Garbage World with cockroachs, GELFs, Simulants and an elderly Lister for company. Ace Rimmer returns in three strips and meets an alternate Rimmer in each of them: Ace Of Black Hearts is nice strip that provides a truly evil version of Rimmer and reveals that our Ace is possibly even nastier, later he meets Super-Ace, Rimmer as a superhero and some great alternate versions of plenty of other TV characters and finally he encounters A.J. Rimmer, P.M., the best Prime Minister Britain ever had who got bored when politics got too easy until Ace provides him with Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont to make a his life more difficult. Mimas Crossing is an excellent gangster movie pastiche rooted very firmly in the background to the novels but with a dose of Bodyswapping, Trixie Labouche and Dutch are wonderful and the strip features fantastic cameos from Rimmer and Lister, more brilliantly horrific art from Lyttleton and a great use of the TV theme tune. Tomorrow Trouble is a prequel strip to The Inquisitor, which sees the judgemental simulant forced to assess his own worth and more great art from Flint. Perverted penguin prequel, Young Flibble, tells how the bird got his name, attire and hex vision, but is most impressive in its displays of debauchery. I was very fond of the Red Dwarf Smegazine and its 'expanded universe' attitude to comics. It's a shame it didn't last a little longer.

Ghost World: Ghost World; Yard Sale
The first chapter establishes the characters of Enid and Rebecca and defines Ghost World through their observations of other characters: the 'weird' stand-up, John Ellis, Bob Skeetes and especially the Satanists. Enid holds an exclusive Yard Sale, burt abandons it in favour of discussions about suggestive food, Melorra's political debut, shopping with Satanists (Rebecca's POV of their basket is fantastic) and the panel with Goofie Gus on the last page is great.

Games
Day Of The Tentacle
Zany is a word that is often hard to find a place for, but it is the most accurate description of Day Of The Tentacle. This point-and-click time travel adventure is fantastic: the story is brilliant, the graphics are wacky and the dialogue is very, very funny, while the gameplay, music, sound effects and voice acting are all great. Also it's not only a sequel to Maniac Mansion, but it also contains the first Maniac Mansion as well.

Sam & Max Hit The Road
Depicting the investigations of Sam & Max, Freelance Police™. This comedy point-and-click adventure ups the wackiness and humour of Day Of The Tentacle, combines it with a good dose of Monkey Island storytelling and some fantastic dialogue: "Of all the Daliesque tourist traps in the world, we had to walk into this one."

Star Trek: Judgment Rites
Yet another point-and-click adventure, this one is based on the original series of Star Trek features the voices of the original cast and genuinely feels like you are playing your way through eight new episodes of the TV show.

Doom
This first-person shooter is fantastic. The game's mix of extreme violence, problem solving and Satanic imagery was a winning conbination. That it spelled the beginning of the end of the point-and-click adventure games that I loved so much was unfortunate and I can't help resenting it slightly. In a genius piece of marketing, the first third of the game was made available freely as shareware and is presumably still out there somewhere on the internet, so do yourself a favour and download it.

Recommendations welcome.

Next month: 1992

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Have A Big Sit Down

Tired at the end of my first week's teaching, I opened my diary to the page for today and wrote the following as an order to my future self:

"Have a big sit down".

I've now finished teaching at HRC and I am having exactly that big sit down.

I've really enjoyed the actual teaching, the directing and working with the students, but I've enjoyed aspects like the bureaucracy a lot less. I'm also painfully aware that as far as the paperwork is concerned I've really only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Teachers have come in for a bad wrap over the last couple of years from the ConDem government. They have been scapegoats over issues of pensions, holidays and, rather bizarrely, school trips. It seems to be a systematic smear campaign that relies on the public's warped perception of their own time at school.

Consider the following:

Just because you went home at three, it doesn't mean your teachers did. Whether you did your homework or not, your teachers always took marking home. Yes, the holidays are better than most other jobs, but consider that teachers have absolutely no choice when to take them and everything is at its peak price when they do.

One thing that became very obvious to me whilst doing the job is that teaching is far harder than learning.

Clearly teachers deserve far more respect than they currently get, but just as importantly they deserve more opportunities for a big sit down.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Cherry Orchard & The Undiscovered Feedback

I've been reading and marking various evaluations of the two shows, which I won't trouble you with, but it's nice to get a bit of feedback.

Siobhan Dunne, the Deputy Head Of HRC's Creative Arts and Industries Department wrote this about The Cherry Orchard:

"This week has been a hot and hectic start to the CAI-Brox End of Year Shows. On Tuesday we saw an engrossing production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard under the thoughtful guidance of our guest Theatre Director David Williams. A lyrical adaptation of this Russian Classic which made exacting demands on our Year 1 level 3 Performing Arts student actors. This 1904 play tackled the difficult issues of living in a time of transformation and the inevitability of change."

and then this about The Undiscovered:

"Last week the year 2 drama also performed their devised show which conjured up ghosts in theatre and a battle between the living and the dead over the "Scottish Play". Thanks to David Williams our guest director for all his hard work this term – we hope to be able to invite him back again."

Which was nice.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Louise, Sarah, Derek & Me

I'm coming to the end of a term's teaching which sees the second years finish their course and students from both of the classes I've taught have appeared in various films and music videos made by the media students. I'm reminded that straight after The Miracles Of Marta Manole, I took part in a film made by Filipp Chronopoulos.

It was a horror film that was his degree final project. I've completely forgotten the story, but somehow it was all drug-induced (note the three initials of Me's friends). I played Derek.

Zoe Alyssa Cooper, Leo Cox, Claire Ludgate, Filipp and I trooped down to Shenfield in Essex to film in a big house in the country, which was reportedly next door to a very well-known British actress who shall remain nameless.

I remember that our director was sure we had plenty of time to shoot the whole thing. That was before we spent nearly three hours on the second shot. It required me to park a car on the driveway, turn the engine off and exchange some dialogue with my passengers. I couldn't drive. Nobody had thought to ask me. Only the dialogue was in the script so I had no idea it was required. I decline the offer to drive someone else's car off the public highway illegally. The owner of the car drove it perfectly and in long shot you would never have known it wasn't me. Disaster averted.

My next opportunity to disappoint came soon enough. Having never turned the engine on, I'd never been called upon to turn one off. The second shot required me to do exactly that. It wasn't as easy as I thought. The car lurched forward an inch at a time. Key, hand brake, lurch. Take after take after take. It was agony.

I still can't drive. I've never had enough spare money to start learning.

We got there in the end, but the delay meant we wouldn't finish in the allocated time. We shot the interior scenes of the house all night, with the exception of any scenes set in the bathroom. We then shot those the next morning with a bin liner taped over the bathroom window.

I learned a lot about working in front of a camera on this film. I haven't seen it back since we shot it and I'm pretty sure I was terrible in it.

We also filmed interviews as sort of DVD extras, which were improvised and enormous fun to do. I'm pretty sure I was less terrible in them.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Top Ten Engineers

Every spaceship needs an engineer to get it off the ground, to add to the ever expanding crew roster of captain, first officer and doctor. In compiling this list I realised there is a great deal of overlap in fiction between engineers, inventors, mechanics and scientists. I suppose engineers are more concerned with fixing existing engines than they are with inventing new ones.

Here's my list of Top Ten Engineers:

10 - Bruce Sato
In addition to being M.A.S.K.'s mechanical engineer and Matt Trakker's right hand man is also a toy designer and a Confucian philosopher. Sato drove Rhino, the truck which converted into M.A.S.K.'s mobile HQ. In the cartoon his mask was called Lifter and it created an anti-gravity field that enabled him to lift heavy objects, while his second mask in the toy range was called Grasshopper and allowed him to jump great distances (and presumably worked exactly the same way as Lifter, but in reverse).


9 - Charles Tucker III
'Trip' to his friends, Tucker worked on the Warp 2 NX-Beta program and so was enormously proud of the Warp 5 engine aboard his NX-01 Enterprise. The NX-01 left Earth unfinished and Trip was forced to install parts of it on the move. Despite the lack of exposure his species had to alien and holographic technology somehow Trip successfully managed to fix both repeatedly.


8 - B'Elanna Torres
Following the death of the USS Voyager's Chief Engineer, Torres sufficiently impressed her captain to be promoted to the position over a superior officer. She proved to be very adept with warp engines, transporters, holograms, robotics and arguing.


7 - Reginald Barclay
Nervous and obsessive compulsive, but genius holographic engineer who suffers from bouts of holodiction, transporter phobia and arachnophobia. Served on two USS Enterprises, Jupiter Station and the Pathfinder Project. He was briefly the most intelligent man that had ever lived, de-evolved to a spider and successfully achieved two way communication with the distant USS Voyager.


6 - Geordi LaForge
Originally Star Trek: The Next Generation didn't have a regular Chief Engineer, but over the course of its first season the writers realised they needed one. Hence possibly the fastest promotion in Star Trek. LaForge was Chief Engineer on two USS Enterprises. He was an expert in computers, holograms, cybernetics and thanks to a bit of time travel he also invented the intermix chamber for Earth's first ever warp flight.


5 - 'Brains'
Aircraft, submarines, spacecraft and huge tunnelling drills: the inventor of the Thunderbirds built them all. 'Brains' is clearly a mechanical genius and he has obviously earned his nickname, but deserves even more credit for using the excellent alias of Hiram Hackenbacker.


4 - Kaywinnet Lee Frye
Firefly and Serenity's 'Kaylee' just seems to understand engines intuitively. On her first day aboard she diagnosed a problem whilst having sex with the ship's subsequently former engineer. Mal offered her a job on the spot and she managed to keep his boat in the air, even without a port compression coil in proper working order.


3 - Montgomery Scott
Known to just about everyone as 'Scotty'. He was Chief Engineer aboard two Enterprises and an Excelsior. He was the inventor of both transparent aluminium and transwarp beaming. Scotty also got a reputation as a Miracle Worker. His attitude to technological improvement is probably best summed up with the quote "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain" and yet he was still capable of keeping up after he spent 75 years in a transporter beam in stasis.


2 - Miles O'Brien
O'Brien was an enlisted man with a wealth of engineering and tactical experience. He served as Transporter Chief, married and raised a daughter aboard the USS Enterprise-D, but O'Brien was apparently a man who liked a challenge. He transferred to the recently abandoned Deep Space Nine as Chief of Operations and transformed it from an almost derelict space station in orbit of Bajor to a fully functioning one at the mouth of the wormhole, which then enabled it to become "the most important piece of real estate in the Alpha Quadrant". He fixed the design faults of two USS Defiants and retrofitted DS9's weapon systems and saw it through two wars. It seemed that there was nothing he couldn't fix.


1 - Rom
His skills went unappreciated in a culture which prizes business acumen above all things, but Rom was possibly the only waiter in the universe capable of successfully combining Ferengi, Cardassian, Bajoran and Starfleet technology. Rom signed on as a Diagnostic and Repair Technician, Junior Grade in DS9's waste extraction and also worked as an unlikely spy, terrorist and mercenary, before becoming Grand Nagus of the entire Ferengi Alliance. He had a talent for seeing the bigger picture which saw him save the Prophets from genocide, design the minefield at the mouth of the Wormhole which prevented the Dominion from receiving reinforcements and changed the course of the war saving billions of lives. Rom might just be the single most important character in all of Star Trek. When I first published this, Rom was at number #4, which was deemed too high by one reader. I reassessed what I'd written and instead decided that Rom was more deserving of the top spot.


Who are your favourites?

Next month: Top Ten Pilots

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Undiscovered Yesterday

The last two performances of The Undiscovered were yesterday. I was reluctant to reveal the content of the show in my first post about it, but now the show has taken place I can go into a bit more detail.

The cast initially came up with two ideas: the first concerned a group of actors locked in a haunted theatre, while the second was a murder mystery. The two ideas became entwined. Over the first month of rehearsals, the cast divided themselves into actors and ghosts. I won't give away whodunnit, but three of the actors shuffle off this mortal coil over the course of the play and become ghosts.


The devising process took its toll on the cast and there was a distinct lack of confidence in their material when they performed a version of the show-so-far for a hand picked audience in the fifth week of rehearsals. Some used this opportunity to realise the elements they needed to complete the play and some made excuses. Rehearsal attendance has suffered and those who have been more committed have done a good job. The cast were also been assigned production roles for various off stage elements. I was hoping this would make some of them realise how much work still needed to be done. It didn't really work.

The fifth week saw us hotseating the characters that the cast had come up with. Easily my favourite question asked was "How old are you, and why?"

The sixth week was spent running the scenes we had and identifying what was missing. The group scenes were tough going sometimes, but they started to come together.

I spent much of week seven with the first years working on The Cherry Orchard and it seemed as though the cast had spent most of the time arguing, but when I rejoined the second years they had changed several scenes. They also added performances of the songs 'Well, Did You Evah' and 'It's Oh So Quiet'. We had a run of the show and I gave some notes. The eighth week was once-again shortened by bank holidays, but thankfully many of the cast came in to rehearse in their own time.


This is week nine: performance week. For reasons too dull to go into the second year show had three performances and two of those were matinees. After a run-through which was intended to be the dress rehearsal, the cast impressed me by deciding to undertake another before the first performance.


Wednesday's matinee turned out to be a raucous event. The addition of an audience saw the cast play the comedy scenes far more broadly and the students laughed so loudly that it began to affect other scenes. In particular, one of the three death scenes took on comedic connotations that previously weren't there and this disappointed many of the cast. The Thursday matinee and evening shows were a little more sedate and felt very different as a result.


The end result is that the second year class has finished their course with a quirky, energetic and entertaining theatre piece of their own creation.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Hello Computer

I've realised that my laptop is on the way out. It's a shame, but it has been on the way out for a while. I've been reluctant to admit that it might be a lost cause, but it's strange what you can get used to:

• The battery stopped working, so I had to keep the laptop plugged in.

• The hard drive failed and had to be replaced.

• One of the hinges is a bit broken and as a result the other hinge is working much harder.

• The buttons next to the trackpad stopped working, so I plugged in a mouse which broke, so I plugged in another mouse which broke, so I've plugged in a third mouse which doesn't work very well.

• It gets slower as it gets hotter until it overheats.

• The Alt and F12 keys lift off the keyboard to an angle of about 45 degrees.

I'm really fond of this computer, but I have had it since Christmas 2005. Is seven years a good lifespan for a laptop computer?



Goodbye Computer.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Who Is This Laughing Boy?

Here's another track from Pulp's Finsbury Park gig, but uniquely this one was a B-Side. How many other bands would play a B-side to thousands of music fans? Album tracks, yes, but a B-Side? That said, maybe the fact that this was a B-Side is indicative of just how good Pulp's songwriting was:

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Carruthers Camera #25

Here are five more photos that I took for the Carruthers blog:

Railing Failing was taken in Central London somewhere.

I took Liners at the end of nearby Earlham Street. I don't know what it was: cocaine, anthrax, sherbert.

Smoke Joke was taken further down Shaftsbury Avenue.

During the Bound's Green graffiti epidemic, I took Rape Is Bad. There must be a story there.

Danger Of Death is an empty void in Turnford with some (presumably) fraudulent signage.