Tag Archives: books

5 things I learned from The Bells of Saint John

1. The BELLS of GROOMING

clara kiss

When the Doctor’s not busy licking leaves or running around the TARDIS with his Spirograph and a ballpoint pen, he likes to pick up girls. The prequel to the episode reminded me that it’s not exactly the first time that the Doctor’s met someone as a child who, in their later life, he’ll go on to snog.

amy kiss

Not even the second.

river kiss

I blame The Time Traveler’s Wife for all this.

reinette kiss

They’re not even safe in their prams. Especially now we know from Closing Time that the Doctor “speaks baby”.

rose kiss

It was all the other way round with Captain Jack, but there you go.

captain jack kiss

2. The BELLS of EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES CLARA

Of course, companions these days are generally predestined to meet the Doctor anyway, by dint of sending themselves messages from the future, being the future mother of the TARDIS-child or the TARDIS-child herself, and so on. Even lovely, ordinary Donna – who escaped the gallery of shame above – lived under an anvil of cosmic coincidence. And Clara’s story is the most extreme of the lot. The wireless password forming a reverse-engineered mnemonic of her deathbed catchphrase is the sort of contrivance even Jacob from Lost might have thought a step too far.

3. THE BELLS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Kislet's tablet

Regular readers will know I like to analyse classic Doctor Who villains through a prism of businesss jargon, invoking client/agency relationships at every step. How thoughtful of Steven Moffat to save me all the work on this one, with a classic ruthless PM versus terrifying client set-up. The four key qualities that Miss Kislet controls in her employees are Conscience, Paranoia, Obedience and IQ. It’s not exactly The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but then what is? I like that she has a little weather forecast handy on her tablet of terror too.

4. The BELLS of OBSCURE CONTINUITY REFERENCES

At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that Clara nannies for a family called “Maitland” turns out to be a link-in to The Sensorites.

5. THE BELLS OF WHAT AMY DID NEXT

summer falls

Exciting to learn that Amy became a writer after leaving the Doctor! What sort of a book IS Summer Falls? From the cover it looks to be a Famous Five sort of adventure – and I wish it had been the little white dog that came to life on the stairs rather than the snooty girl – and yet Chapter 11 will have you crying your eyes out, apparently. Of course, in going from model to children’s author, Amy’s career path is closely following Katie Price’s. Did Amy ghostwrite any of Katie’s books? This Mermaids and Pirates series looks a lot like a better-lit The Curse of the Black Spot.

mermaids and pirates

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Is The Hunger Games a shot-for-shot remake of a 1979 episode of Grange Hill?

A lot of people are quick to claim that The Hunger Games is some sort of rip-off of Battle Royale. But Suzanne Collins claims she’d never heard of the Japanese book and film before her own became a success, and who are we to argue? Especially when, somewhere between Connecticut and Shikoku – here in South East England in fact – there’s another source so close as to be uncanny. Could a Grange Hill school trip to Beaconsfield really have inspired the adventures of the Panem tributes? Let’s take a look…

Once a year, selected children are taken out of their ordinary lives by a woman in a remarkable hat and suit

Once a year, selected children are taken out of their ordinary lives by a woman in a remarkable hat and suit

On the way there they must learn to respect their mentor

On the way there they must learn to respect their mentor

alliances

Alliances are soon formed in the wilderness

But the gang are in pursuit, and our heroines must flee!

But the gang are in hot pursuit!

Lost in the woods, will the odds be in the girls' favour?

Lost in the woods, will the girls find the odds are in their favour?

The man who could save them waits in a rose garden, but how will the story end?

In a rose garden waits a man who could save them, but will he?

Fifty Shades of Cup-a-Soup – the crazy world of knock-off erotic publishing

soup montageWe’ve all done it. Stumbling hungover through the supermarket looking for a packet of Cup-a Soup, you grab one from the shelf and it’s only when you get home you realise you’ve ended up with the supermarket’s own brand instead. Every successful brand attracts imitators, who’ll usually try to match the look and feel of the original packaging as closely as they can. And in books, EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is currently the biggest, most successful brand of them all. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see THIS display in WH Smith the other day:

if you like that you'll love this!

You’ll notice that some of the original Fifty Shades books are scattered among the cuckoos, making the display as confusing as possible. So let’s find out which of the imitators have come closest to the benchmark. (Yes, I’m judging books purely by their covers. I haven’t read Fifty Shades or any of these others, and I’m not here to sneer at them either. I just marvel at the bravado of this sort of opportunistic marketing.)

books

THE Ninety Days of Genevieve

Background: The gradation from dark at the top to light at the bottom is perfect. Falls into the trap of using a pure grey rather than a bluish one though. 7/10

Font: A bit too austere 4/10

Imagery: None 0/10

Title: Ninety is an impressive step onwards from fifty, “Days” has assonance with “Shades”, and Genevieve is a name starting with G. Fair 7/10

Bonus: All the more impressive as a knock-off considering it was originally written in 1996 7/10

Total: 25/50

FIFTY SHADES OF MR DARCY

Background: Again with the over-literal grey 5/10

Font: Nasty mix of caps and italics 3/10

Imagery: The boots and riding crop are textbook 10/10

Title: Copying the whole “Fifty Shades Of” is breathtakingly audacious 8/10

Bonus: It’s all completely undercut by putting “A Parody” right on the front cover where even the slowest-brained shopper will see it 0/10

TOTAL: 26/50

EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW

Background: Much too black, but the imaginary light source is in about the right place 4/10

Font: Nicely rounded but a bit heavy 6/10

Imagery: The choice of abstract, vaguely erotic object – a violin – is nice, but it’s tacky to merge it with a human headshot 4/10

Title: “Eighty Days” is a weaker echo of “Ninety Days” (see above) but this has gone the whole hog by finishing with a colour! Yellow is a great choice but may imply piss-sex, which will put off the gentler reader. A point also docked for missing out the “Of” 8/10

Bonus: “Fun, frisky and grown-up” pull-quote 6/10

TOTAL: 28/50

12 SHADES OF SURRENDER: UNDONE

Background: The blue/grey mix is spot-on. There’s perhaps a little too much light if we’re nit-picking 9/10

Font: No-one asked for capitals. And where’s that yellow subtitle come from? 0/10

Imagery: Stiletto heels meet the “item of clothing with vaguely sexual connotations” criterion nicely 10/10

Title: “12” is a lot less than fifty, and it should be spelt out properly. “Shades” is a daring direct lift but it loses its way with “Surrender: Undone”. Show, don’t tell! 5/10

Bonus: The “Guaranteed to get you hot under the collar” pull-quote is serviceable but a bit obvious 5/10

TOTAL: 29/50 – with twenty-nine shades of grey we have our winner! Well done Mills & Boon.

Monsters at Home: Cthulhu

Cthulhu! The green, sticky spawn from the stars is HP Lovecraft’s most famous creation, a monstrous entity the mere awareness of whose existence can drive a man mad. Let’s have a look at what it gets up to in its spare time.

What does it eat?

‘A mountain walked or stumbled… a gelatinous green immensity’, writes Lovecraft. You don’t get to Cthulhu’s size on a fad diet. But how’s it been getting any food, shut away in slimy stone for untold epochs? Well the Great Old Ones aren’t composed purely of flesh and blood, we learn. Their shapes are ‘not made of matter’. So it could be absorbing all manner of other-dimensional sustenance down there in sunken R’lyeh. Preternatural French Fancies. Gibbous goujons. Daemoniac crispy pancakes.

How does it socialise

Cthulhu and its kin slumber in ‘great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror… They could only lie awake in the dark and think whilst uncounted millions of years rolled by. They knew all that was occurring in the universe, for Their mode of speech was transmitted thought. Even now They talked in Their tombs.’ The ability to slump immobile at home and yet still be updated second-by-second on everything that’s going on everywhere else has only reached humanity in the last few years with the advent of Twitter. It seems  the Great Old Ones invented it untold aeons of years early.

What does it drink?

‘There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler could not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern.’

I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot like me if I start on the Guinness with an empty stomach.

What does it watch on telly?

Cthulhu’s home, the dread sunken city of R’lyeh, is renowned for its impossible geometry – angles that don’t meet up as they should; perspective and the known physical laws defied, that sort of thing. For that reason it stays glued to Coronation Street – a street in which, in case you’ve never noticed, the Rovers Return toilets can only possibly exist if they’re in the same physical space as the Barlows’ living room.

What does it do for fun?

‘Mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.’

Zumba, basically.

How does it reproduce?

We hear in At The Mountains Of Madness about Cthulhu’s prehuman spawn, a race of cosmic octopi who filtered down from infinity and waged war with the starfish-headed people of the Antarctic. I was watching a nice documentary about octopi on Discovery the other night. Their little eggs were lovely. Cthulhu’s spawning would probably be on the grim side though – with Lovecraft everything’s Stygian, or unnameable, or noisome. So I draw a veil. Just don’t Google Image search ‘octopus sex’ as I just did. Really. Don’t.

Favourite albums of 2011

20. Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam

19. Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

18. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

17. Rihanna – Talk That Talk

16. Theophilus London – Timez Are Weird These Days

15. Drake – Take Care

14. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

13. Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting

12. Lil B – I’m Gay (I’m Happy)

11. Selena Gomez & The Scene – When The Sun Goes Down

10. CocknBullKid – Adulthood

9. araabMUZIK – Electronic Dream

8. Cher Lloyd – Sticks + Stones

7. Riz MC – MICroscope

6. Beyoncé – 4

5. The Sound of Arrows – Voyage

4. Toddla T – Watch Me Dance

3. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

Britney’s people have told her that every song on her album Femme Fatale is inspired by a different femme fatale from history, myth or fiction. Poor Britney just can’t work it out though! Can YOU match the lyrics from the album to the  foxy ladies in question? Answers below.

2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons

Poor Abel Tesfaye has just got the artwork for his epically miserable comedown album back from the designers, but it looks like they’ve strayed from his original vision! Can YOU spot the five subtle differences hidden in the new cover?

If you are having trouble spotting all five differences here are some hints!

  • I wonder who else was at those debauched parties he sings about?
  • There’s a subtle theme running through the album but we’ve “inflated” it
  • “Well doesn’t that put the cherry on top”
  • Track titles ‘MAY’ not ‘ALWAYS’ be correct!
  • A dog’s face

1. Katy B – On A Mission

Here are Katy’s missions explained track-by-track:

POWER ON ME

Attributes: Slowly unfolding; sweeping musical vista; quite long. Mission: 1986 film THE MISSION. (From the IMDB plot synopsis: “Initially, the Guarani warriors prepare to kill him, but after Gabriel plays an unforgettable solo on his oboe, they allow him to live”. And we’ve all had days like that.)

KATY ON A MISSION

Attributes: Bold, purposeful, brill. Mission: KATY’S MISSION STATEMENT

WHY YOU ALWAYS HERE

Attributes: Elegant; structured; accomplished. Mission: MISSION REVIVAL ARCHITECTURE.

WITCHES BREW

Attributes: Startling; Bleepy; Full of twists and turns that leave you feeling dislocated. Mission: Doctor Who‘s 1965 MISSION TO THE UNKNOWN episode with its imagination-gone-mad monsters and lack of regular cast.

MOVEMENT

Attributes: Propulsive; No nonsense; Designed to make you move. Mission: A SEARCH AND DESTROY MISSION.

GO AWAY

Attributes: Dignified; Luxurious; Satisfying. Mission: The DIPLOMATIC MISSION where the Ferrero Rocher-stuffed Ambassador’s Receptions are held.

DISAPPEAR

Attributes: Solid; A bit old-fashioned; Cheery. Mission: THE GLAD TIDINGS MISSION FROM 60s CORONATION STREET, over which Ena Sharples presided; a handy refuge in case of a gas leak on the Street.

BROKEN RECORD

Attributes: Bright; Bouncy; Pretty. Mission: MISSION BELL (the flower, stupid.)

LIGHTS ON (FEAT. MS. DYNAMITE)

Attributes: Passing the torch from one generation of singer to the next; Shiny; Confident. Mission: THE CONTINUING MISSION of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Enterprise-D.

EASY PLEASE ME

Attributes: Fun; In your face; Sassy with the fanfares. Mission: The original series of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

PERFECT STRANGER (WITH MAGNETIC MAN)

Attributes: Romantic; Irresistible; Destined to help Magnetic Man be warmly remembered even though most people shrugged at their album proper. Mission: A RESCUE MISSION.

HARD TO GET

Attributes: Charming; Laidback; Basking in the glow of all that’s come before. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Tied up with string: August

AN ACTRESS

I bloody love Ann Mitchell. She was a childhood hero in Widows and now here she is as a regular in EastEnders, dispensing unpalatable truth in that gravelly voice like it’s 1983 again. Her brilliant performance has elevated a certain piece of dialogue into being the most quotable EastEnders line in ten years:

FYI, the previous ‘most quotable line of ‘Enders dialogue since 2001′ was given to Syd Chambers (Nina Toussaint-White, seen in Doctor Who this week as “Mels”), who introduced herself to Bradley with the dog-related chat-up line “My Sugar’s taken a shine to you.”

(Poor Sugar.)

AN ALBUM

Toddla T’s Dance With Me is a big favourite already. I have all the time in the world for thoughtful party albums, and what a party this is. The whole thing is stuffed with beats and dripping with sex, quite literally in the lyrics of Cherry Picking, in which Róisín Murphy quotes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and boasts she can break a lover’s fingers with her vaginal grip before climaxing with what we can only call an ‘I’ll have what she’s having’.

ANIMAL OF THE MONTH

It is the spider in my bathroom, who, for setting up in a high, quiet corner and deciding to stay all summer, is Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web to my mind. We’ll have to gloss over the evening when I drunktweeted about trying to hold a conversation with her. And let’s not think about the County Fair and the coming of Autumn. I can’t bear it.

Adverts explained: Windows 7

“Windows gives me the family nature never could”

This advert, in which an everyday mum grows frustrated with her rubbish family photos and uses Windows to “swap in some smiles” might have passed me by if not for that chilling catchphrase. At most I might perhaps have made a playful comparison with the surgical head-swapping antics in HG Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau. But “Windows gives me the family nature never could”? It raises the most horrible of spectres and we must plunge into darker waters.

Let’s not suggest, though, that using Windows to create a vision of the perfect family is going to lead to a society founded on the hatcheries and conditioning centres seen in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Let’s try to avoid any comparison with Nazi Germany and the ‘enforced euthanasia’ of tens of thousands of the ‘imperfect’, or the forcible sterilisation of hundreds of thousands of the ‘undesired’, or the evitable eventual murder of millions of the ‘impure’.

And let’s not bring Davros into it, Doctor Who’s fictional scientist whose obsession with creating a genetically pure master race led him to destroy his own people. I can’t imagine the mum in the Windows advert doing THAT. All she wants is a photo she can share without embarrassment! IMAGINE if her friends saw her children acting like normal children. It’d be terrible.

Still, I work in marketing myself and I don’t have a moral high ground to clamber onto. And families becoming perfect in adverts is hardly a recent aspiration. So all that a sensible person can do is look at the details in the ad.

In both the UK and US versions, the daughter is called Jen. We’re not told whether this is short for Jennifer, Genetic or Eugenics. I suppose it could be any of them. And in the US version the second-named child is called Cody. But only a fool with the wildest of imaginations would take a monologue about “Jen texting, Cody sticking…” and mishear it as something to do with rewriting genetic code.

(In the UK version the second kid is called George, I expect it’s a reference to HG Wells, so we got off lightly. Mind you over here Mum thinks the family look ‘rubbish’ rather than just ‘unruly’. Mind you again, in the US version the family are dressed identically, which quintuples the creepiness factor.)

We can also clearly see next to the computer on Mum’s bookshelf a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. That’s an interesting novel to choose: one I like very much, and which has spawned an interesting essay about the silencing of unwanted portions of society.

The last thing we have to go on is that in order for Mum to implement her changes, she switches to a new, hidden computer, declaring “To the Cloud!” And as the ability to do a quick bit of photo editing has absolutely nothing to do with cloud computing, I’m just going to have to write the whole thing off as science fiction, stick The Stepford Wives on, and never go near another Microsoft product in my life.