A Town Called Mercy

 

 

 

In an interesting example of parallel evolution, at about the time Western movies were taking off in America there was a similar genre burgeoning in Germany: bergfilme or mountain films. They were not afforded the time to flourish or to develop any formal complexity or tradition of romanticism because, in the thirties, they fell foul of the Nazi regime’s predilection for censorship.

Ironically enough Hitler did eventually come to admire mountain films and their mythologising of self-reliance but this late conversion merely accelerated the extinction of the genre. The post-war taint of Nazi affiliation was too much to overcome.

One of the finest examples of a bergfilm is Dr. Arnold Fanck’s The Holy Mountain (1926). This tale of two mountaineers both in love with the same woman could be trite enough but, as with Westerns, the desolate nature of the landscape in which the story takes place makes any systematised morality redundant. A new morality emerges which is personal rather than imposed by social conventions, and is all the more interesting for it. If you haven’t seen The Holy Mountain please give it some consideration. It is an amazing film.

The photography is entrancing. The movie was filmed for real in the Alps over a whole year. And the woman at the apex of the love triangle is enchanting too: eerily beautiful, and not emotionally straightforward. She was played by the twenty-four year old Leni Riefenstahl. At the time Riefenstahl was an actress and interpretative dancer but she went on to become a filmmaker of considerable technical virtuosity.

She directed and starred in the peculiarly slanted fairy tale The Blue Light in 1932, but she is principally remembered for her documentaries made for the Third Reich: Triumph Of The Will and Olympia. The repugnant nature of these films’ subject matter inevitably left more of an impression than her directorial skill and in the aftermath of the war she found her reputation permanently tarnished.

Through her life Riefenstahl actively sued for libel anyone who accused her outright of Nazi collaboration. The creative urge behind her most infamous works was, it became widely accepted, aesthetic rather than political. During the seventies there was a partial rehabilitation for her as she photographed the 1972 Olympics in Munich and was feted as a guest of honour at the 1976 Montreal games. And although she lived to the age of 101 (dying in 2002) indefatigably unapologetic and apparently having lived a full and happy life, her name still carries deeply unpleasant associations to anyone of any sensitivity.

If you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows. And the same happens, I’m afraid, if you step with the geese.

It is hard not to burden her youthful beauty with the emotional freight of everything that came afterwards. It can all make for a very difficult and ethically provocative wank.

But as the tradition of mountain films fizzled out before establishing itself, westerns continued to flourish.

It is possible to see now in the Westerns of the thirties through to the sixties abiding themes of emergent personal moralities. Stagecoach, High Noon, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Naked Spur, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance all show in one way or another and to greater or lesser degrees, what it is like to be an individual with a dilemma, but without societal constraints or the mitigating effect of a civilised environment.

These frontier narratives are about the development of a coherent and tolerable sense of self, and up to this point it makes sense to regard cowboy films or Westerns as a consistent genre.

This ceases to be the case in the sixties I think when the influence of spaghetti westerns, particularly the sordidly beautiful ones of Sergio Leone turn the Western from a philosophically enquiring form into ostentatious theatrics.

This isn’t to say the Leone films and their orbiting satellites are bad or unworthy in any way. They aren’t. They are fucking magnificent. But they are less rooted in personal responsibility and growth, and more excited by the trappings of Grand Guignol, the stating of moral certitude and a rudimentary narrative balancing of accounts.

The choices of emphasis in something like Once Upon A Time In The West for example have more in common with Mario Bava’s Bay Of Blood or Dario Argento’s Deep Red than they do with Shane. In fact Argento even shares a story credit for Once Upon A Time In The West.

There were far fewer Westerns made during the seventies than in previous decades, and many of those that were released seemed less bothered about frontier morality and more concerned with how an individual fits into the wider world whose encompassment has become inescapable. As perhaps you might expect from an anxious superpower still stinging from its disastrous involvement in a land war in Asia.

“Sometimes trouble just follows a man,” says Clint Eastwood during The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), in which he is playing a man who seems fundamentally to want to be left alone but who cannot escape the company of others.

There were still Western stories being told, but more often they were in what seemed to be other genres. Dirty Harry, Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, Alien, The Thing all have the traditional Western ethic at their hearts.

Films of the eighties onwards that looked like Westerns (Silverado, Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven, 3:10 To Yuma) may be terrific films, but they are made by people concerned with the craft of making a cowboy film rather than people with a new thing to say in a Western framework.

This is all a terribly long-winded way of saying that not every Western has people with cowboy hats in it. And not everything with cowboy-hatted people is a Western.

One can see this quite clearly in any Western/fantasy genre mash-up.

At their worst they can be pretty ignoble spectacles, the sci-fi Westerns. The Valley Of Gwangi, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, Jonah Hex, The Burrowers, Cowboys and Aliens. These all make quite steep demands of the casual viewer. And even the good ones like The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao or Billy the Kid vs. Dracula are principally genre pieces with cowboy clothes on rather than Western movies per se.

Back to the Future Part III for example is a glorious piece of work just quivering with glee, but it would be a brave and heterodox critic indeed who stuck it on a list of the greatest Westerns ever made.

And where does Doctor Who stand in all this? Preserver of the western tradition, sci-fi nonsense in a ten-gallon hat or something else?

Prior to A Town Called Mercy the programme’s only notable dalliance with the genre was the 1966 William Hartnell story The Gunfighters. This is the story in which The Doctor, Dodo and Steven become embroiled in the events leading up to the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The Gunfighters has had quite a shabby reputation in the cardboard corridors of Doctor Who fandom for as long as I have been watching the show. It does now seem to be going through some process of rehabilitation into society thank goodness, and (partly at least because of the attentive DVD release it got in 2011) it is finally accreting a number of proselytes. Of whom I am one.

It is easy with any telly programme dating back forty-six years to have a bit of a snark at the production values, but this is horribly misguided in the case of The Gunfighters I think. It is a plucky little series. There is just something majestic in the idea that it would be advisable, or even possible to create a four-episode cowboy story entirely within a British studio.

The only other contemporary British Western I can bring to mind is Carry On Cowboy (1965), and even that allowed itself the freedom of some location shooting to alleviate the studio claustrophobia.

Furthermore The Gunfighters is admirable in sticking pretty closely to what, if they aren’t actually the facts, are the accepted movie-truth version of events. It is still part of Doctor Who’s, by then waning, commitment to pure historical stories with no science fiction overtones at all.

Finally, I find its jamming together of broad comedy (Peter Purves in particular absolutely nails it) and brutal, fatal reality to be in every way laudable. Tonal consistency is an ambition for lesser minds. Bring on the creative dissonance, I say.

Toby Whithouse and Saul Metzstein, the writer and director of A Town Called Mercy respectively, both seem aware of The Gunfighters and reference it deliberately several times I think: the use of narration, the confusion between our Doctor and another Doctor (Doc Holliday and Kahler Jex), the Doctor’s becoming a deputised lawman, and the shiftless locals in need of moral authority.

Saul Metzstein’s direction of A Town Called Mercy is simply magnificent. The Almería location may do some of the work for him, but the Leone-esque frame filling is his entirely. Murray Gold’s music helps a great deal too, channelling both Bernstein and Morricone at times whilst maintaining his own musical idiom. Murraycone.

As always though Who stands or falls on its actors and we are in safe hands here. Matt Smith’s comic abilities are beautiful. I could have done without some of the script’s seeming heavy-handedness (leave the bag in, a horse called Susan and so forth) but Smith can pull just about anything off. Getting up after being thrown to the ground. The business with the tooth pick. The alien car alarm. It’s all in Smith’s performance. And he’s becoming great at doing Hartnell-hands as well.

I love his spindliness and his big flat, pink face like a chatty shovel with a hat on. But I love how quickly he can take it down to sinister, solitary menace too.

Toby Whithouse’s script is clever. It is nice to see a conflict in which it is not really clear who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. And it is rare for so convincing a moral equivalence to be drawn between the Doctor and the, for want of a better word, baddie.

The resolution is smart too, and morally sophisticated. The notion that one inevitably pays for one’s trespasses in some form or another is a mature one. The hope that the people one needs to make amends to will be kind is a beautiful one. More of this on a Saturday night, please.

The companions seem to be very much in the background in A Town Called Mercy. Rory’s input is confined to some funny business acknowledging the tertiary nature of his role in proceedings, and Amy is only really called on towards the end of things when she is required to talk the Doctor down. This is thrilling to watch and is a major step forward in the depiction of Amy and in Karen Gillan’s interpretation of the role.

There is foreboding at the start of the episode when Amy seems to point out that the Doctor suffers when he travels alone. We have been here before. Donna Noble noticed it in Ten’s era and look how that ended up.

The companions also take one more tentative step down the road to ultimate divorce from the Doctor at the end of the episode when they decline to come with him on another adventure. And whilst part of me does sort of want to know what happened to the dogs and chimps that got blasted into space, most of me accepts that this is like Holmes’s giant rat of Sumatra. A thing more exciting to wonder about than to see made specific.

Amy’s reason for not going with the Doctor is that their friends are going to start noticing that they are getting older faster than them. This is a particularly exquisite Toby Whithouse grace note, and he has touched on it before in his 2006 story School Reunion . That was the story in which the actual alien invasion plot was entirely subordinate to the notional subplot: that of Sarah Jane meeting her Doctor for the first time in thirty years. That packed a massive emotional wallop. I am beginning to suspect that the Ponds’ leave-taking may actually be as gruelling as Steven Moffat has been suggesting for some time.

Who does she look like then? And there’s bullet holes in his hat… Visual echoes abound

Moral equivalence

High Something Or Other

A couple of things to mention that don’t really relate to anything else: Firstly, that’s two weeks running that the Doctor has mentioned his Christmas list; secondly, the Henry VIII en suite phone-charger incident, is that before or after the parson’s nose affair?

Before leaving A Town Called Mercy altogether, there is one final parallel to draw between this episode and The Gunfighters: that being the use of narration.

In the latter the narrative voice is Lynda Baron singing Tristram Cary’s Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. This is slightly overpowering when the programme is watched through in one go but as a weekly contextualiser, which is what the song originally was, it is a witty and effective solution to a tedious problem.

The narrator of A Town Called Mercy is slightly more enigmatic than Lynda Baron. Not appearing as a character, she is finally revealed to be the great-granddaughter of a young girl who is at best ancillary to events. This is puzzling.

Does it make the narrator a contemporary of ours? If so will she become a character, or is this just part of the season’s theme so far of removing the Doctor from the centre of events and making the story about someone else, like Oswin or Brian? We may find out later.

Her early references to “…a man who lived forever but whose eyes were heavy with the weight all he’d seen, a man who fell from the stars…” are cheekily misleading. But the references to America being a land of second chances are peculiarly specific and seem to have their origins in George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address in 2004.

Can this be right? Casting Richard Nixon in a half-light of approbation was one thing, but Dubya? That would be amazing.

Get Josh Brolin’s agent on the phone. Now.

Next week, God help us, it is this. I wear pants now. Pants are cool.

Inverness Film Festival 2010, Days 3 & 4 – Monsters, The Edge Of Dreaming, Outcast

Days three and four of the mighty Inverness Film Festival were blighted by a couple of no shows: Of Gods And Men and A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop. I wasn’t too fussed about not seeing the first, but had been massively looking forward to the second, a Wushu style remake of Blood Simple seemingly. Bum.

Still, worse things happen at sea and all that. Extra style points to Eden Court for managing the situation with more elan than anyone had a right to expect. The fault, for those looking to fling blame, lies with the film distributors who seem to be as random now as they were the last time I had anything to  do with them, which was in 1987. (Young people, check with your parents. There were years before 2000.)

I remember hearing once of a Science Fiction convention which ordered up a movie for their film programme. I forget which one. An SF movie beginning with S – Solaris or Saturn 3 perhaps. Anyway the print duly arrived from the distributors but, on inspection, turned out to be a copy of Shenandoah. It was sent back for replacement as a matter of urgency and at some expense. The replacement arrived the next day and was –ta da! – another copy of Shenandoah.

The convention ended up showing Shenandoah at three in the morning to an appreciative audience. They’re a flexible-minded lot SF fans.

Bloody film distributors though. Makes you go “Tch.”

I got three films in anyway. First off, Monsters.

 

There’s been a lot of publicity about the big-balls on a budget exhibited by this film, and it’s all fair comment. Brought in reportedly for under $500,000, with director Gareth Edwards claiming to have done the effects on his laptop, Monsters looks the absolute business.

Set some years after an infestation of aliens has turned the territory between Mexico and the USA into a highly hazardous no-go area, the film follows the adventures of a rough diamond photo-journalist and a pampered rich girl as they try to negotiate their way back home after getting stranded in Mexico.

The background is utterly compelling, and it is uniquely to the movie’s credit that the action takes place six years after the infection took root. There is no invasion trauma here. The characters pretty much all know what’s what, or, perhaps more importantly, think they do.

I adored that aspect of the film. I was less entranced by the developing relationship between the two main characters as the story unfolded. The exemplars the director had in mind are probably Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen or Gable and Colbert in It Happened One Night. These are noble role models, but Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, delightful though they are, are not quite in this league.

That’s a micro-quibble though. The film is another British triumph in a year which is already rich in them.

***

 

The Edge Of Dreaming is a miraculous documentary. Directed by Amy Hardie, whose speciality is scientific documentaries, this is a shamelessly personal work that uses scientific methodology to approach a subject that initially comes across as “spiritual” or “supernatural”.

Having had a vivid dream about her horse dying and then discovering the next day that he had, in fact, died during the night Hardie took it very seriously when she had another vivid dream about her former partner (now dead) telling her that she would die aged 48. Unable not to take it seriously, but sceptical of supernatural explanations Hardie then documented the year between her 48th and 49th birthday, and this film is the result.

Without wishing to spray spoilers around: Hardie was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness during the year, but she didn’t die.

The film is a highly moving interleaving of the personal and the detached. There are scientists talking about dreams, and how they might relate to perceived reality. There’s even a brief debate about the validity or otherwise of the word “reality” when talking about our consciousnesses and perceptions. Beyond the science though is the story of an intelligent woman and her loving family addressing the practicalities of mortality.

I loved this.

Amy Hardie took part in a Q&A session afterwards. Her thoughtfulness and clear-sighted answers made this the highlight of the festival so far.

Web details herewith:

http://edgeofdreaming.co.uk

***

 

And then at 22:00 on Saturday…

Outcast which is a macabre marvel: urban horror in the tradition of the Hellblazer comics, the works of Ramsey Campbell and early Clive Barker (his “good” period). I’d had low expectations because of the participation of James Nesbitt and my personal antipathy towards him. Possibly he’s a very nice guy, but I’ve always found him a bit of an enervating presence. I have a low tolerance for whimsical blarney, and I cannot abide a twinkle.

No worries here though. He’s a revelation, channelling a seething Plutonic darkness that I would previously have thought well outside his range. He plays Cathal, a supernaturally tooled-up Irishman seeking his son who is in hiding under magickal protection in Edinburgh.

Director and co-writer Colm McCarthy does an exemplary job of evoking a foreboding atmosphere. He’s particularly strong on eerie juxtapositions, contrasting the desuetude of central belt sink estates (fried breakfasts and dingy branches of R.S. MacColls) with arcane language and sigils daubed in blood on council flat walls.

There’s a strong through-line, some good shocks and an ending I didn’t see coming. Great cast too though (in a classic Feexby moment) the girl I dismissed mentally as being a Karen Gillan wannabe turned out in the credits to be Karen Gillan.

Hee haw.

 

Outcast showed with a supporting short called I Love Luci. Written and directed by Colin Kennedy it’s neat, sweet and tidy. I laughed but, bloody hell Scotland, not so much of the puke and the poo next time, eh?

Rage, rage against the re-standardisation of the format

Back in the mid 90s when I worked as a bookseller in Aberdeen we once took delivery of a new volume (the last I guess) of Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography. On the jacket photograph Dirk was captured looking relaxed – serene, you would have to say – in loose linen clothing alone in a vast room that looked as though it might be in a Moorish palace or something. There was some indefinable quality of the photo that had me and a fellow bookseller staring at it for a moment or two. A man, perfectly at ease, in an immense, tranquil, empty space.

“Wow,” said my colleague eventually in a tone of total wonder. “Where’s all his stuff?”

I live in a world of stuff. Books, DVDs, CDs, toys of little men off the telly, gadgets, games. It’s great. I love it. From time to time in the past I have cast off large amounts of it for reasons of space or money or carelessness, and it has always been a mistake and I have always come to regret it.

Stuff is not the way of the world now though.

I mean there has always been a large part of the population that doesn’t need to archive obsessively – normal people, they are called. They finish a book and they are quite happy to pass it on to someone else, rather than carefully shelve it (or more likely put it into a pile on the floor) with other books that are a bit like it. If they put their CDs back in the cases at all they won’t necessarily be the right cases. They watch a movie once, and that’s it. They’ll never consider seeing it again.

Cool. Fine. Six horses for half a dozen courses. Live and let live as Paul McCartney once so nearly sang. Barking up the wrong gum tree. Without a paddle.

But even among the collectors and non-casual consumers of literature, music and movies these days, stuff itself is becoming a bit passé.

The tipping point seems to have been reached where people are now happy to accept that information is just information. They don’t need a shiny disc or a papery cuboid of matter to “own” something. They are happy with a bunch of ones and zeroes on a hard drive. They are downloaders.

This was really hammered home for me when I was down in Leeds last week. I made my usual trip to the palatial HMV down there and, on entering, thought I’d gone into the wrong building.

Where previously there had been miles and miles of racking containing CDs was now a T-shirt boutique with a sideline in key rings, mugs, coasters and video game hardware.

The CDs had been almost entirely eliminated from the store and shifted upstairs and to the back of the shop in a retail move that will be familiar to anyone who gambled their entertainment future on eight track, audiocassette, Betamax, VHS, DAT or MiniDiscs. It’s the last stop before the goods are finally hauled off and broken down for metaphorical dog food.

I’ve known this day was coming. Anyone I know who’s younger than thirty finds the contents of my flat hilarious. Why would you clutter your living space with all that obstacling nonsense when you could just download it or stream it when you want?

And they are right! It’s a point of view I have some considerable identification with. I now “own” albums which I don’t have as physical objects, although with iTunes’ insanely anal digital rights management system philologists might like to quibble about my use of the word “own” there.

I have a Sony eReader and an eBooks app and comic reader on my iPhone.

I’m not against this. I think the technology is marvellous and lovely and totally seductive. I accept that information is information. Download it onto an iPad or print it on sugar paper with bisected potatoes. It’s the same information.

What makes me sad is the sense it evokes in me of my own mortality. There’s a new way of doing things that’s better, but I’m clinging to the old way. Life is like a constantly eroding sandbank where you get nearer and nearer the end just by standing still, and I feel in recent years that a big lump just dropped off the front.

In the post today I got the Complete New Avengers on DVD.

Nobody would argue that that’s the pinnacle of 20th Century artistic achievement, but it made me very happy when it arrived. I might have cuddled the box a bit.

***

Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai.

What a silly goose I can be. For most of my life I have just assumed that I wouldn’t like Jim Jarmusch movies. This was based on nothing other than a misapprehension that he was a bit arty and up himself. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I have had Ghost Dog sitting on my pile of unwatched gubbins for some months now. I bought it in a frenzy of snapping up Film 4 DVDs when they went down to five quid each. Having watched it today I feel like an idiot for not having got to it sooner. It’s spiffing.

It is a bit of an auteur experience in that Jarmusch wrote and directed it and clearly had an exact vision of what it was he was doing, but that’s not a bad thing here. Some auteur films are untrammelled idiocy which could have used the mitigating touch of a co-creator, but not Ghost Dog. This is a finely balanced mix of a bunch of indie movie mechanics, but also a narrative through line that most current Hollywood writers would kill for.

So the vision is Jarmusch’s but the film would be nothing without the immense Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog the solitary contemporary samurai. At the film’s outset he is a solid, stoical presence: still, dutiful, silent and looming like a menhir. He provides a motionless axis around which everything else crazily revolves.

As the story progresses and he is spurred into his samurai duty as he sees it – full on apparently, no skulking round in the dark for your samurai – he becomes irresistibly telic, a gallant, code-bound version of an action movie hero.

There are, as befits an arthouse effort, spiralling digressions into friendship, age, communication and mortality, but it’s all done with wit, focus and considerable panache.

I’m embarrassed about my former Jim Jarmusch prejudices but they’re gone now. I’m on team Jarmusch. What’s next?

***

Doctor Who news:

There is some talk that Karen Gillan slowed up the queue in the Post Office here in Inverness by posting what appeared to be a “large parcel”, though this needs more corroboration before I’ll believe it.

Karen Gillan showing some decorum earlier today.

And finally: the great big 36 Hour A Day Tesco at the Inverness retail park has stocked up with Doctor Who figures again. I am reported to be very pleased indeed with my Ice Warrior.

Whither the Blinovitch limitation effect?

My most recent spell of post-romanticism has been characterised by my lying on my couch and staring at the ceiling. Now it’s a nice couch, and it’s a nice ceiling but torpor is just torpor and doesn’t make for much fun writing or reading about.

Also I have lost any ability to write that I might once have had. I mean check out that first paragraph, gangsta. Check it out. Two uses of the word “nice” and a preposition hanging off the end of it. That’s blooming crud that is.

I once read a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs – one of his Pellucidar novels, set in a mythical underground realm – which, even though it was quite short, had an apologetic note from the author as a preface. He was sorry to the reader, in essence, for the amount of scenery and weather he had put in the book.

Any scenery and weather in a book set principally under the Earth’s mantle is probably too much, but I didn’t feel the apology was necessary. Burroughs is Burroughs, and narrative chutzpah carries you through even his lesser work. This is why Edgar Rice Burroughs is a better writer than William S. Burroughs I think. You can read his books.

Sorry about all the weather and scenery here.

So, what am I talking about? The condition of heart-brokenness? Nah. Wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s a bit painful. But worse things happen at sea, and anyway that’s suddenly a whole lot more PS3/Blu-ray time on my daily planner, surely.

Well it will be as soon as I’m done with the ceiling-staring.

A long time ago I would have gone off on a prodigious spell of drinking, backed up with a sheaf of self-serving justifications of byzantine complexity. But I don’t do that these days. I’m sure alcohol is still a perfectly charming molecule, and those who like it are right to feel free to enjoy it. It just does not, I concluded some time ago, agree with me.

The last time we had anything to do with each other, me and the booze, it was 2006 and I was absolutely clobbered powerless by it. It’s a funny old thing (in the hideously sad and painful sense of the word funny) is alcohol dependency. Alcoholism – let’s call it what it is. It can reduce you to a decaying, friendless, desiccated wreck, but it still seems like a roaringly good idea when you’re in the midst of it.

Hmm, you (or more pertinently, I) might think. I feel physically wretched, like I am actually going to die. That pain is in my liver. My eyes have the yellow look of very old ivory. I think that thing in the toilet bowl might be my stomach lining. You know what I need? A cheeky breakfast vodka.

Who wouldn’t regard that as something of a wake-up call? Sugar Puffs, milk, orange juice, vodka.

Well, me for one. Millions of other people for two. I had to get help from people who had done the same sort of thing in the past but didn’t do it anymore. I had to learn how to talk about myself (yuck, yuck, yuck) and listen to other people talk about themselves (boooooring). I had to set about clearing the wreckage of my past and minimising the rate at which I gathered new wreckage.

Luckily for me there were good people to help me with that. They weren’t difficult to find either. They are, as Craig Ferguson once put it, quite near the beginning of the Phone Book.

Thanks, those guys.

So no booze then. No sudden domestic or geographical lurches. Except I bought a trumpet. Anyway that is perfectly normal behaviour. Trumpet-buying. Turns out that when the mood came upon me there was only one trumpet for sale in all the shops of Inverness despite what my friend Kay might try to tell you about such clearly fictional enterprises as Trumpetland, World Of Trumpets and Brass Zone!

One trumpet for sale, but luckily it matched all of my expectations which is to say that it looked like every trumpet I had ever seen in my life, and it was priced within my trumpet budget for the month.

Hurrah for valve oil! Hurrah for embouchure (which is basically making a rude noise with your mouth)! But especially hurrah for the educational DVD I got! There is a furious urge within me to reach the point where my incontinent parpings are finally better than the pure, sweet notes the kid on the DVD produces.

I hate kids. They ruin everything. The film industry. Days out to interesting places. Trumpet tuition. You name it and I guarantee that a short, stupid kid with no idea about how the world really works has already spoilt it. Idiots.

The on-going trumpet adventure was a sign that I was probably going to be OK, but the sudden accretion in the last week or so of mind-bogglingly inane DVDs and comics has sealed the deal.

I have almost fully morphed back into the un-marriageable half-man half-compost heap that is my default setting.

Two of the movies I have just seen on DVD, Luigi Cozzi’s fabulously mad Starcrash and Thom Eberhardt’s low budget miracle Night Of The Comet, have reminded me how fond I am of the 70s and 80s. I hope to write a bit about them later.

But there is contemporary stuff to cover too. A thing that children have not yet managed to spoil in complete contradiction of my earlier assertion.

Since I last blogged – gulp – a whole season of Doctor Who has come and gone.

Can I talk a bit about Doctor Who now?

***

There, those three asterisks indicate where half my readers got on and the other half got off.

Doctor Who Season 5, or Season 31 as I prefer to call it. Any good then?

Yup. It was good.

Or at greater length:

Matt Smith is a tremendous surprise as the Doctor. Such was David Tenant’s authority that a few of the things he established as character traits looked as though they might become sine qua non attributes of subsequent incarnations of the character. The youth, the vigour, the sexiness, the gob, the insolence, the mania. These are things Tenant imported to the role but he did it so unquestionably that it is easy to forget that they aren’t typical of previous incarnations.

My concern, prior to seeing any of Matt Smith’s episodes, was that we were going to get more of the same. A string-thin young wannabe poncing round the multiverse shouting.

That’s not what we got though and I have to applaud Smith for running with the more spiky, almost autistic aspects of his character. Tenant played the Time Lord as a geek, but a knowing kind of geek. One who is aware of his own brainy allure.

With Smith, certainly after the regeneration trauma but before the series settled down, it was as though we were sharing the Tardis with Maurice Moss from the I.T. Crowd.

He, the actor, is playing down the looks (and he’s a pretty boy underneath it all isn’t he?). He’s happy enough with the improbable hair and the face like an unexpected ocean liner looming out of a fog bank. It’s subtle what Smith is doing. It’s long-game characterisation. He knows that if we stick with him we will learn to love him despite the alien angularity and the awkwardness. It can be a bit like watching Patrick Troughton, or Colin Baker if Colin Baker had been done right.

There has been some tabloid tutting, doubtless welcome by the writers, at how sexy the show is. Is that an issue? I was more surprised at hearing the Doctor use mild swear words like Bloody and Hell. That felt new and slightly transgressive to me. I mean I’m not going to dispute that there’s a sexual element to the programme, but what’s new?

The first time we met the Doctor in 1963 he was living with his grand-daughter. Over time we speculated that maybe that was just a turn of phrase or a kind euphemism to explain Susan’s presence. But no, the tenth Doctor talked briefly of having had a family in the past. So from Day 1 this is a programme which has at least acknowledged its title character’s sex life. The tenth Doctor spread it about quite a bit actually, certainly compared to the ninth’s slightly hesitant fumblings with Rose and Jack.

But in the classic era sex was never far away. Ian and Barbara? Ben and Polly? Jamie and Zoe? Harry and Sarah? Leela and K-9? (Though I might have imagined that one). And that’s just the companions.

Look at some of the Doctor’s relationships. The third Doctor and Jo, for instance. It was always that drip Captain Yates from UNIT who was asking Jo out, but she always ended up with the Doctor in the Tardis. And how upset was the Doctor when she left him to sail down the Amazon with that hippie from Wales? He was crying for God’s sake.

The Fourth Doctor and Romana. The Fifth Doctor and Tegan. The Sixth Doctor and Peri. The Seventh Doctor and Ace. Don’t tell me you never noticed.

The sexual undercurrents are not new then but I am pleased at the way Karen Gillan has asserted herself. For a while I thought she was overdoing the pouting, stropping and sulking. It looked, particularly when River Song was also in the picture, as though the Doctor was getting a bit hen-pecked.

The inclusion of Rory as the dithery, useless fiancé didn’t help at first, but stone me, as the series progressed and the characters settled down a bit it all started to work.

Once Rory had been written out of the Universe, re-incarnated as an Auton Roman soldier, redeemed and then reintroduced to the Universe as a human in the grand re-boot he started to become appealing.

The current Tardis line-up of the barely socially functional Doctor and the married couple one of whom is a voracious, lunatic, nymphomaniacal, redheaded Scotswoman is quite an exciting one.

Russell T. Davies always did a fabulous job celebrating pan-sexuality in his Tardis line-ups. This current one as constructed by Stephen Moffat could not be more heterosexual. It’s practically George and Mildred in Space.

That isn’t a bad thing.

There were a few things about the series that didn’t quite work I think. The whole story arc doesn’t make much sense once you start following it through. Time paradoxes can be great fun if you’re rigorous about causes and effects. Doing stuff because it’s flashy and then covering over the holes by saying something like “Timey-wimey stuff can be a bit difficult to get your head around” is unfair.

You could see it work well in microcosm with the gag about the Doctor accumulating the Tommy Cooper hat and Norman Wisdom mop we knew he had to be holding when he met Rory. It all fell apart on the macroscopic scale though. I’ve watched The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang through three times now and I’m embarrassed to report that I still can’t understand them.

And whilst we’re here, whatever happened to the Blinovitch limitation effect? I’m sure there was a good reason why you couldn’t keep crossing your own time stream and that was it!

A secondary fault was that there was a slightly solipsistic, constrained feeling to some of the episodes. The empty village in the Silurian two-parter for instance, together with the massive drilling operation manned by precisely three people!

Scale was a problem with the Big Bang too. What a tease Stephen Moffat is mentioning the Draconians, the Zygons, the Drahvin and then not showing them. What did we get? Three Daleks, a sack of Sontarans and some Cybermen. And what is it with these Cybermen anyway? Aren’t they from a parallel universe? Our home-grown Mondas/Telos Cybermen were much better.

Perhaps these underwhelming crowds and this absence of convincing background activity were scripting infelicities, but I’d be more inclined to believe that they were budget constraints. If that is the case then I will just quietly accept that the best job possible was done under the circumstances. Particularly in The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood. I’m glad that they spent the cash on tons of lady Silurian soldiers rather than human extras.

The Silurianettes brought about in me that same cross-species dilemma I had when I saw Helena Bonham Carter made up as a chimp in Planet of the Apes. I know it’s not right, but…

Yes, you would.