The Mad Meneriser

Another bloody “turn your avatar into a cartoon” thing went round Twitter today; I ignored it, because, you know, I’m above all that. Except obviously I’m not, because it was actually a rather jolly promo for the third series of Mad Men – the addictive, oh-so-stylised drama of quiet desperation in capitalism. It let you create a replica of yourself as you might look if you were in the offices of Sterling Cooper in the early sixties, swathed in wreaths of Lucky Strike smoke and misogyny. The designs are by artist Dyna Moe, who created this lovely set of fan illustrations for the series that were all over the internet a while back, and eventually got tapped up to do official work for the show.

So, yes, I’m not going to bother changing my avatar, but I will stick the results here for your amusement. No, it doesn’t look anything like me (and I wasn’t the worst off), but still, fun. Clicky for bigness:

Mad Men Yourself

The Thing List 2008: A Year In Non-Categorised Stuff

Thing List 08

As is now becoming tragically traditional, here’s my pigeonhole-breaking list of the best Things In General from the past 12 months. As is also traditional, it’s late. If you’re a regular reader, and remember the 2007 and 2005 lists, you’ll know the project by now: every year, the cruel hegemony of categorisation unfairly forces stuff into neat boxes. Iron Man was “a film”. Boing Boing Gadgets was “a blog”. The moment someone did something impressive in a sport was “a sporting moment”. This blog rejects such reductivist notions, and instead celebrates the innate thinginess of things, allowing – say – Will Wright’s Spore to go head-to-head with Billie Piper for the title of Best Budget Italian Restaurant.

So, without further ado, here are the 21 best things of 2008:

21. WALL-E
Made me cry, twice, on both legs of a flight to and from New York. I wasn’t the only one who cried, either: witness this awesome, awesome story from MetaFilter, which could have made this list all by itself. And will also make you cry.

20. Mars Phoenix
“Take care of that beautiful blue marble out there in space, our home planet. I’ll be keeping an eye from here. Space exploration FTW!” was the most moving piece of writing of the year. What I said here pretty much covers it.
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Dead & buried

It was fun watching the various Twitter search tools burst into life tonight as people tuned into Bonekickers, the BBC’s new archaeologists-solve-mysteries drama. It’s worth saying that, because this was the only thing that can possibly connect the words “fun watching” and “Bonekickers” – which couldn’t have been worse if it had been translated from the markings on original Templar Knight bog roll. By Dan fucking Brown.

Here is a timeline of my brain bursting while watching it:
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Neverwho

Possibly of interest to people who care about such things: this blog post, in which Neil Gaiman is asked if he’ll be writing for Doctor Who under Steven Moffat’s glorious new showrunnerdom, and he really rather pointedly fails to say “no”, and instead talks about how nice the menu is at a Chinese restaurant in Soho.

‘Lo Neil,
As a great fan of Doctor Who, I’ve been dancing around the room after hearing that Steven Moffat is taking over as Chief Writer and Executive Producer of the series in 2009. [...]

Anyway- my real question is whether or not we’ll finally see a Neil Gaiman DW episode? We’re all quietly hoping the idea came up during your dinner back in March in Bar Shu… I know you’re a very busy person, but it would be the perfect combination for so many fans!
Rachel

I think it’s great news — what Russell Davies did over the last few years was remarkable: as a writer and as a show-runner he brought Doctor Who back, sure-footed and smart and with a heart. [...]

I’m really excited about Steven Moffat taking over — always assuming that it’s not just a publicity stunt on his part to try and get “Blink” a Hugo, as a countermeasure to Mr Cornell’s car-crash-to-get-the-sympathy-vote.

And it was a terrific dinner: they do fantastic dry-fried green beans at Bar Shu (it doesn’t sound like it would be fantastic from the menu, but it is).

Yeah, I know, it’s not much, but such fragile insinuations and half-percieved hints are what fandom thrives upon, no? And you must admit, it would be rather wonderful. I mean, he’s already getting his hand in at writing in the Doctor’s dialogue style:

I know that David Tennant’s Hamlet isn’t till July. And lots of people are going to be doing Dr Who in Hamlet jokes, so this is just me getting it out of the way early, to avoid the rush…

“To be, or not to be, that is the question. Weeelll…. More of A question really. Not THE question. Because, well, I mean, there are billions and billions of questions out there…”

Now, if they could just ply Warren Ellis with enough Red Bull and cigarettes that he agrees to do their bidding as well…

UPDATE: The first hints of a rumour have now been upgraded to a full category five rumour swirling just off the coast of certainty land, as somebody who actually knows about such things says that sources within the BBC confirm the existence of the rumour, and more importantly he actually asks Neil Gaiman, who trumps his previous non-denial by going all Urquhart and saying “You may very well think that, but I could not possibly comment.”

MeadesTube

Meades

Just to mention it because Chris and I found this particular joy of the internet last night (while pondering the wisdom of my ill-formed plan to host a “come as Jonathan Meades” party) – the YouTube user MeadesShrine has a vast array of clips and full shows from the back catalogue of the perfect man himself. There was a plan for a DVD set from the Beeb, but it seems to have been shelved temporarily, for reasons that pass human understanding. As MeadesShrine says on their user page:

until the dvds arrive, lets congregate and genuflect here for a while.
“re-availablization” will be our clumsy watchword.

I’ll also take this opportunity to re-note my observation, for those who don’t follow my Twittering, that – while I have respect for Hugo Weaving – Meades should have played Agent Smith in The Matrix. A man delivering lengthy monologues in patrician tones about the state of the world while wearing a dark suit and sunglasses? Meades all over.

Screen burns

Iraq just offers more of the same: death after death after death after death, until each death becomes nothing more than a dull pulse on a soundtrack; the throb of a neighbour’s washing machine we learned to filter out months ago; the invisible ticking of a household clock. We’ll notice if it stops, but not before…

…Particularly striking is the figure regarding the total number of Iraqi dead – striking because it’s so huge, and so vague. It lies somewhere between 150,000 and 1 million.

Between 150,000 and a million. That leaves 850,000 people who may be dead or alive. We simply don’t know. They currently exist, or do not exist, within a cavernous margin of error. Our minds can’t process this degree of horror. No wonder we change the channel. No wonder nothing feels real.

Charlie Brooker is also good when he’s not being funny.

Dark Horizons

I have this little ritual. It’s just a slight quirk, but it makes me feel good and gets stuff off my chest. Every six months or so, I like to watch an episode of Horizon, the flagship science strand of the greatest public service broadcaster in the world. And then I like to shout into the cold, unblinking eye of the TV screen, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I REMEMBER WHEN THIS WAS A QUALITY SHOW THAT ACTUALLY CATERED TO PEOPLE WITH AN INTEREST IN SCIENCE AND IT WASN’T JUST A LOAD OF INCOHERENT COCKDRIZZLE PRODUCED BY A CAGEFUL OF MENTALLY SUBNORMAL GIBBONS WHO JUST LIKE LOOKING AT PRETTY PICTURES.”

And then I weep.

Tonight’s show dealt with the science of decision making. Now there’s an interesting topic, you’d think. But not for the fearless morons at Horizon. First up, they had a camp version of Tommy Carcetti from The Wire who tells people how to make better decisions in life and love using FORMULAS! Because you understand, SCIENCE is made out of FORMULAS. It was like every PR puff piece about “scientists discover the formula for the perfect walk/boiled egg/tentacle porn” had been elevated to the level of a self-help personality cult. This involved experiments which apparently revealed that people who are more attractive and confident are more successful in romance. Fuck me. Then, oh, I dunno, there was a magician or some shit.

The next bit, involving a dull man who demonstrates how your decisions can be affected by what kind of beverage you’re holding, was simply a warm up for the show’s big finale, which was about a parapsychologist who did an experiment which demonstrated that precognition exists. You could tell he had proved this because he had a GRAPH. SCIENCE is also made out of GRAPHS. Naturally, this being the BBC’s flagship science show, they didn’t ask any scientists what they thought of this. Or, indeed, the Nobel committee.

There were also some Top Gun pilots, who had nothing to do with anything but they did look very pretty.

It’s pointless, I know, my little ritual of weeping and shouting – Horizon lost the plot over a decade ago, and there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of getting it back short of some serious bloodletting (note: not a metaphor) at the BBC. But like I said, it makes me feel better.

Tate crimes

Let’s get one thing straight. Catherine Tate was, at least once upon a time, a very talented comic actress, with an impressive grasp of subtle character comedy and a flair for nuanced delivery. That was before she realised that she could become a lot more popular by turning into a shrieking, one-note catchphrase-spewing robot. Ever since then, she’s resembled nothing so much as a washing machine that’s got a bit of metal from someone’s pocket stuck in its workings, with the result that on every rotation it grinds out the same shudder-inducing, piercing metallic yowl at a frequency so horrifying that it leaves you with palsied fingers and a spine permanently bent into the shape of a normal distribution curve.

As such, it’s delightful news that we’re going to have to suffer her truly appalling, monotonous, charmless clot of a character, Donna, for an entire fucking series of Doctor Who. The dire Christmas special that she starred in wasn’t enough stunt casting, clearly. There’s no hope for respite, no faint glimmer of light on the character development front – it’s one of the two most striking flaws in Russell T Davies’s (otherwise wonderful) writing, that alongside his very poor world-building skills, he consistently seems to think that audiences will automatically find two-dimensional loudmouthed harridans utterly endearing. No, Russell. We don’t. Please stop.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuuuuuuck. I don’t want to look like I’m over-reacting to what is, after all, just a television show – but shouldn’t someone be asking questions in Parliament about this horrific shit? Like, whether we can re-introduce the death penalty for crimes of completely dicking up much-loved TV shows? Shouldn’t there be protests? Mass civil unrest? Riots on the streets? Effigies burning in central Cardiff? Rivers of fire and piss and blood? Wanton destruction? Phonecalls?

Or something. I don’t know.

FUUUUCK.

Torchwood

I had the good fortune tonight to see a preview screening of Auntie Beeb’s glamorous new Cardiff/Alien/Bisexuality trifecta Torchwood, the much-anticipated (amongst those who anticipate this sort of thing, by which I mean me) Doctor Who spin-off.

A brief summary: it’s good stuff.

I’ll get the not-so-good out of the way first: the cheapness shows occasionally. Not in the quality of what you see on screen – which mostly looks gorgeous in High-Def (thankyou, BBC screening people!) – but what you don’t.

TorchwoodShots are often tightly framed, awkwardly so on occasions, there are obvious cutaways or short-cuts on some of the more panoramic shots, and the whole thing never quite gets to take its time to compose enough of the iconic, lovingly-framed images that you’d like to see. Basically, they’ve done an amazing job on their budget, but they’ve done just a good enough job that you miss the kickass cinematography they’ve kind of lead you to expect. A good fault, I suppose, if it is a fault. Seeing it shortly after Children Of Men probably doesn’t do it any favours, as well.

Also: the editing and soundtrack are a bit too self-consciously yoof; this means a bit too much in the way of throbbing electronic noises and unnecessary edit effects, all of which seem about four years out of date. But hey.

And it’s very much Episode 1. It’s a pilot, which is odd, because it didn’t have to go through a pilot stage. It spends most of its time introducing you to the characters and set-up, and integrating the outsider into the group, and all that stuff you know they have to do but you’ve seen it before. But they do it reasonably gracefully.

Now, the good stuff: Eve Myles is great. Fantastic leading lady, looks like a real human being, and can act proper like. If you remember her from The Unquiet Dead (Doctor Who, Series 1/27, Ep. 3, to its friends) you’ll know that she’s great. She still is.

Captain Jack. They do an outrageous sci-fi-woo thing with Captain Jack. If you thought that bit of hand-grows-back! ret-conning in The Christmas Invasion was cheeky, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Seriously. But he’s still the Jack we know, still an omnisexual con-man from the 51st century (how he got to Cardiff in 2007 is not yet explained), and man, does he know how to wear a long, flappy coat while standing on top of buildings for no apparent reason. Members of Torchwood seem to conduct an unreasonable amount of their business on the tops of buildings, often in rather awkward spots. The logistics of this, I’m fuzzy on; but the helicopter shots are stunning.

Speaking of which, there was a wee speech before the screening, which included the phrase “they made Cardiff look like LA”. I was sceptical, but good God in heaven – it looks amazing from the air. The Cardiff tourist board must be doing one in their trousers.

The rest: the Torchwood team look sound, with one particularly intriguing character and several other potential growers. It’s pleasingly dark at moments, especially the bits involving death. There’s a cool-looking alien race living in Cardiff’s sewers, there are some very nice guns, and there’s swearing. Seriously, it’s a shock to hear swearing in a Doctor Who show. You’ve always known that it was ludicrous, that nobody ever entered the Tardis and just said “fucking hell”. But hearing somebody actually swear, casually, on a Doctor Who-verse show? It’s a pleasant jolt to the system.

As Armand points out that I pointed out: it’s Angel. It really is, for all their publicity talk of “The X-Files meets This Life” – formerly dead American leading man in a long coat moves to a major city to the west and leads an investigation agency? Angel. That’s not a problem. Russell T Davies has always been open about his love for Joss Whedon; and if he and his team can do with Torchwood what Angel did to the Buffyverse, then there could be many happy (but daaaark) seasons of Welsh alien-hunting ahead. Certainly, I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it in episode 2 – their first ‘proper’ episode – on Sunday…

I’ll protect you from the hooded claw, keep the vampires from your door

A quick memo to anybody writing sci-fi or fantasy fiction (or, in fact, any kind of fiction) about something to avoid in your Big Important Finale:

If your Big Important Finale relies on the fact that your heroes understand “the power of Love” for its resolution, it will be shit.

It is very important that you understand this.

Yes, we realise that you want your Big Threat’s major flaw to be something meaningful, rather than a space station that blows up too easily, or an unexpected allergy to an everyday household product. And yes, there are valid reasons for wanting your heroes to save the day via some quality of their inner being, rather than their abiltity to jump over big gaps or their proficiency at electrical engineering.

But please don’t make it the power of Love thing. Please. Consider the following:

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