Monday, July 13, 2009


If Madam Would Care To Try…?

Fancy tasting a Smörgåsbord of appealing blog posts? Political restaurant critiques, Torchwood reviews, misleading statistics (I’m shocked, shocked, etc), how to get people involved in Lib Dem policy, pictures of Darwin, the limits of free will, and a beginner’s guide to Doctor Who DVDs. All splendidly worth a look, and you know which one got me most interested, don’t you? Astoundingly, it has by far the biggest comment thread, too. So, my own recommendations for ‘the nine Doctor Who DVDs you must have’ in a moment. Oh, and there’s even a bad news story about Gordon Brown that wasn’t true…

Gordon Brown Is Innocent (In One Tiny Respect)

First, that Gordon Brown story, mainly because I meant to link to it a month ago, and the poor failed dictator doesn’t get a lot of good news. Well, Jonny Morris has news for you (not good news, exactly, but wiping away one of the bad ones). He’s a chap who writes for Doctor Who and many other things, loves electropop, and – on the principle that two out of three ain’t bad – who believes in the Labour Party. I know this, because I’ve argued with him at parties about it, and he suggested voting for the Green Party last month. But, anyway, remember that story a few weeks ago when, after weeks of government cock-ups, we all heard “Gordon Brown booed by D-Day veterans!” Jonny gives us good reason to believe that wasn’t true.

Food, Glorious Food For Thought

Leaping more up to date, wasn’t last week’s Torchwood fantastic? And very much more brilliant than we could ever have expected? At some stage this week I may get my finger out and write a piece about the politics of it, but as I had long conversations about it last week with my very much more on-the-ball beloved and my piece would only be the ideas that didn’t make the cut, you should read his superb day-by-day reviews (I love the final title) of Children of Earth on Millennium’s blog.

Though I’ve not written many restaurant reviews on Love and Liberty, I love food. So much that when on odd occasions I think, ‘hmm, maybe putting on three stone last year wasn’t my best move’ and try to lose weight, I suffer from appalling chocolate cravings and write blog digests as displacement activity. With tomorrow being 25 Messidor, I felt very much more in sympathy with French aristocrats than usual on watching The Supersizers Eat… The French Revolution the other day, as the food looked fantastic (though the sanitation was appalling. No French stereotypes, then). Top fact: astonishingly, the King and Queen managed to escape their imprisonment in Paris after the Revolution, and actually got half-way to the Austrian border. Still more astonishingly, the King was actually recognised from a coin. And horribly funnily, they would probably have got much further if they’d not loaded their getaway carriage with so many goodies that it couldn’t go faster than seven miles an hour. Oh, dear. You know, one of my first political articles to be widely praised by people who rarely agree with me – though hardly revolutionary – was a restaurant review, a dozen years ago, so damning that it apparently shut the place in question for a few days by destroying their conference trade. One day, I should republish it on here, but I’m embarrassed to say that the last time I remembered it and asked if anyone had a copy, the incredibly efficient Count Packula, Prince of Markness instantly posted it to me, and the incredibly inefficient me instantly lost it before I could type it in, so I’ve been too embarrassed ever since to ask again.

Where was I? Mmm, chocolate. Ah, yes. Food. Mark Thompson has this morning published a political satire in the form of a restaurant sketch that made me smile. Some regard it as a call for change in the electoral system – or at least for tactical voting in favour of the Vegetarian Party – but it strikes me more as underlining the need to abandon Labour and Tory control-freakery and devolve power to the lowest practical level… Which in an awful lot more cases should be the individual. But for all his usual stat-fans, Mark’s also mounted a very simple and effective critique of Fraser Nelson’s misleading chart scales, a striking example of how using graphs to make things ‘easy to understand’ can also make them ‘easy to completely misrepresent’.

Policy Talk, Free Will and How Darwin Was Framed

Did you know that, a decade and more ago, masses of Lib Dem policies were motions submitted by individual local parties and organisations like what’s-now-called-Liberal-Youth (I know; I was their Policy Officer then Chair for a couple of years in the mid-’90s, when they got more of their policies adopted by the main party than anyone else save the Federal Policy Committee), but that since then the numbers of motions coming in from the grassroots have almost entirely dried up – particularly if you notice that most of them now are really from the MP for that constituency? So, well done FPC Vice-Chair Jeremy Hargreaves for launching ‘Engage’, a new network trying to get more grassroots Lib Dems discussing policy. It must be a good thing – it’s been instantly slagged off in a typically sour comment from a member of the House of Lords and long-time grouchy establishment figure.

This morning, tippety top blogger Costigan Quist asks a particularly pertinent question about the limits of free will, though unusually without coming to any conclusion. I asked a similar open question a few years ago on the Lib Dems’ philosophy in a failed attempt to be provocative; alert readers will note that I didn’t manage to come up with an answer, either. If you want something more inspiring, though, Jonathan brings us an excellent poster of Charles Darwin.

Can you smell chocolate…?

Your ‘Must-Have’ Doctor Who DVDs

And finally, the lovely Andrew Hickey yesterday sparked off much debate with his own list of ten eight seven DVDs – one for each Doctor that counts, according to his lights, though with some extras on top – that you might buy as A Beginner’s Guide To Doctor Who DVDs. I’d agree with between about two and four of his choices, depending on how you count them, but he makes an excellent case and keeps an eye on your wallet (though he hasn’t noticed that one of his picks has been deleted from the DVD line, pending a ‘Special Edition’ release rumoured for next year). He’s also not afraid to say that some Doctor Who isn’t very good, or isn’t very suitable for newcomers – I firmly believe that all Doctor Who is good, even the stuff that Andrew repudiates, though I do sometimes describe some of it as… Not as good as others. I might add to his already massive comments thread later, though I’d probably be tempted to add far too much.

Instead, with over sixty Doctor Who DVD releases to date (totalling about eighty individual stories) hailing from the Twentieth Century, looking at both the quality of the stories and of the DVD release, extras and all, for me there have so far been many excellent DVDs, several all right ones and a handful that are simply… Ah, not as good as the others. Nine, though – I know it should be ten for a list like this, but while I could think of plenty that were nearly as good, none of them quite hit top marks for me – nine DVD releases so far are so superb that every home should have them: Update: If you’re used to the ‘DVD season box set’ approach, I can also recommend the run of Tom Baker’s first four stories on DVD: Robot, The Ark In Space, The Sontaran Experiment and Genesis of the Daleks. Two fun little stories and two outstanding ones, they work much better as a set, with both direct overarching plot arcs and recurring themes. And a remarkably similarity to the 2005 series… My beloved Richard has asked why there’s no Pertwee in the list, suggesting “Why not add Beneath the Surface? Then they can always give away Warriors of the Deep.” Well, I wasn’t trying for ‘balance’, simply the best as I see them, but I have to admit, if Doctor Who and the Silurians was released on its own – fantastic story, and with arguably the best single extra in the range, the BBC4-quality documentary on politics in the series – it would certainly be on my ‘absolute must-have’ list. But it’s paired with an exciting but empty sequel and a final story that’s… Not as good as the rest (though it does have nicer music), so the box set’s more of a microcosm of Doctor Who as a whole, for good and, er, not so good. For Colin Baker, superb black comedy Revelation of the Daleks isn’t far off this list, while his best performance is probably in The Two Doctors – finally given a script by someone who writes a good Doctor, he’s relaxed, warm and interested – but the DVD has an extensive set of extras which perfectly mirror the story itself, some brilliant, unmissable and intensely watchable, others tedious and far too long.

I’ve previously published a ‘Choosing Doctor Who DVDs Made Easy’ guide, with various updates, which Andrew kindly links to but suggests is a bit long. Technically, I only pick six stories, though, while he offers ten eight seven – well, all right, he goes for one for each Doctor, while I suggest three alternative sets of six, rather than the lot, but my point stands. Sort of. And I’ve, er, added some more since. Look, forget I said anything, OK? The point is, as Doctor Who can go anywhere in time and space, past, present and future, be scary and funny, exciting and thoughtful, it’s more difficult than with any other series to point to just one DVD and say ‘that’s it’. And if you think that was long-winded, back in 2004 I wrote an incredibly long article making suggestions on how fans might encourage others inside our eerie world (the Who equivalent of an ALDC training manual). If you’re not a fan, you’ll probably run screaming from it, but then, as it’s on what was then top fan site Outpost Gallifrey, how would you ever find it without a link?

Hmm. The retired remnant of Outpost Gallifrey is finally to be deleted in a couple of weeks’ time, and I have several articles and reviews up there, now I think about it. Perhaps I should do something about that…

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Which one's been deleted? Tomb, I would assume, given the lack of extras...

McGann counts, BTW, but I wouldn't recommend the TV Movie to anyone, and audios were rather outside the scope of my choices.

I wouldn't go so far as to say *all* Who was good, but I'm closer to loving all of it than not - as you know, I found good things to say about Timelash ;) . But I wouldn't recommend it to a newcomer...

Of your choices, I don't yet have Pyramids on DVD (it's actually next on my list), nor Key To Time, so couldn't recommend those *as DVDs* (and I think many people would be put off by the cheap look of Key To Time, so it wouldn't be a newbie choice for me).

I *strongly* considered War Games (but I wanted cheap DVDs) and Weng-Chiang (but thought I needed a light Baker story given that Genesis and the New Beginnings box were in there - and Destiny doesn't count as it's one of those 'not as good as the others' stories). Deadly Assassin I love, but I'd *never* show it to a non-fan...

And there's no such thing as 'too much' in my comments threads.
I’ll try to come up with comments for you – though perhaps not instantly, with a full article and 22 to reply to already…

Yes, I’m afraid The Tomb of the Cybermen is the one that’s been deleted (and the original Five Doctors), and is now fairly difficult to get hold of – unless you buy Amazon’s Cybermen Box Set, which to be fair does consist of their best three stories. Rumour has it that it’s due for a Special Edition, being one of the earliest releases, with few extras and before the biggest steps forward in picture restoration were made, and its deletion points the same way. Others which are still available but are also said to be heading for re-done re-releases – other than Remembrance of the Daleks next week! – include The Caves of Androzani, Spearhead from Space, The Robots of Death, Vengeance on Varos and the TV Movie, along with The Talons of Weng-Chiang (which was a later and much fuller release, so either the rumours are wrong or they’ve found a way of getting significantly better resolution from such dark original video tapes).

I’d agree with you on not instantly recommending the TV Movie… I used to think of it as middling, but watched it for the first time since 2005 a few months ago and realised just how much I’d been wishing for it to be good because it was the latest Who on TV. Now the pressure’s off it, it’s dropped like a stone, with only one of the Twenty-first Century TV stories less impressive to me. Timelash, on the other hand, I’d probably charitably say is the very best Doctor Who story… Apart from every single other one ever televised ;-)

I can definitely see your point about pricing over The War Games, though it’s still pretty cheap for a new release with three discs, so I’d probably go for The Mind Robber based on price – great extras, and along with Tomb and Games, the other of the best three surviving Pat Troughton stories. The Invasion’s marvellous as well, of course, but I might not dare show newcomers a cartoon. I think the Davros Collection’s a great bargain at the moment, too, but I probably wouldn’t suggest it as the very first thing; it’s much more all of the same warlike tone than The Key To Time is generally playful (thank goodness for Revelation of the Daleks’ black comedy), which might be a bit much all at once. Interestingly, I’d call Talons a ‘lighter’ Tom. And a darker one, at the same time. Because it’s both Grand Guignol and the Who story that makes me laugh more than any other.

I’d not show The Deadly Assassin to someone who’s never seen any of the series at all – it wasn’t one of my recommendations in that lengthy article from 2004 – because it’s such a swerve away from the ordinary, but to anyone who’s familiar with the basics of Doctor Who (most people, these days), I don’t think it would pose any problem, and I can think of many people to whom it would have a particular appeal, from new fans who want to see Time Lords to, of course, anyone interested in politics…
As far as The Key To Time goes, some of it does look quite cheap – particularly the last couple of stories – but some’s surprisingly lush. I might almost be tempted to start in the middle with The Androids of Tara, which looks fantastic and is one of the most entertaining stories ever made. The whole season also has that sense of playfulness, wit and even romance, as well as a ‘story arc’, that might strike a chord with people used to the Twenty-first Century series (and those used to DVD season box sets).

Heretically, I know, I find the cheaper stories less jarring to watch than City of Death, though I’d still often offer that to people because I know I’m rare in finding any fault with it at all. I’m very fond of that story, and its first five or ten minutes are among those rare pieces of Who that I can watch again and again – like the last quarter-hour of Utopia – through being superbly shot, brilliantly scripted and played and, perhaps above all, beautifully scored. But it’s the very quality of City of Death’s filming in modern-day Paris that always takes me out of it when our heroes step in from the street to a chipboard café set in which men in stripy jerseys and berets call out “Beaujolais!” in a way that an ’Allo ’Allo director would fire them for, or step from the gorgeously framed outside of the Louvre into a panorama of plain plywood beige that I just can’t believe is Paris’ finest art gallery. When the whole story’s on a lower budget, I find it much easier to ignore!
I see what you mean about Talons being a lighter Tom, but that's not so much his performance as Jago, Lightfoot and so on (have you heard The Mahogany Murders BTW? Quite fun for what it is).

And I know what you mean about those bits of City Of Death's sets (and indeed it has the only wobbly scenery I've ever actually noticed), but I think most of the other sets are surprisingly well done...
Ah, I take your point about Tom's lighter performance. It's a mix of dark and light in Talons, really, after his year-long gloom for Season 13, and before he changes to a much more frothy performance. I've always thought the turning point is The Invisible Enemy (underrated, in my view, but not by so much that I'd dare show it to a newcomer... The first episode's good, at least), in which he plays a possessed Doctor, so his 'normal' Doctor becomes much lighter to compensate. His mixture of solemn moments and taking the piss is near-ideal in the following Image of the Fendahl, though.

And The Mahogany Murders is rather fun. I saw Mr Baxter and Mr Benjamin on stage together earlier this year - like they'd been doing 'The Sunshine Boys' for the last forty years, and the best act I've ever witnessed at a convention. Just a shame it wasn't filmed!

Oh, and as well as another blog piece here this morning, I'm afraid I've followed your invitation too far and been raining down comments on your blog, too...
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