Veronica Mars, Lucky Star, Haruhi Suzumiya and All

Phew, wasn’t that great? I refer, of course, to the Doctor Who season closer, ‘The Last of the Time Lords’. It felt, to me, genuinely epic, and emotionally true, and I love the shapes Russell makes of episodes and seasons. John Simm was so frightening, such a monster, that I worried about the nation’s children. And how great was Lucy? Such an acting performance with so few lines needed. Apart from anything else, the story made sense of and completed the character of the Master, and, across the span of all Doctor Who, that really took doing. Bravo!

Sorry I haven’t blogged lately. It’s down to tiredness and lately the weather. I spend so much time looking forward to the English summer that when it doesn’t happen, as is the case at the moment, I feel like I’ve had something taken from me. I rather underlined this for myself by going up to Northampton and waiting in the rain for a 20/20 cricket match that never started. And Northants, I discovered, doesn’t have the most welcoming of grounds and staff. I’m going to stick to Bristol from now on.

I had an extraordinary couple of weeks getting close to sorting out the novel, concentrating on all the things one has to hold in one’s head at once to make a book, then running at 4pm and going down the bar. A most wonderful time, spent entirely inside myself, and looking inward. Doesn’t sound tremendous fun, does it? Anyhow, now there’s just a bit more to do. I’ve put it aside to do a new draft of the Primeval episode, which is fun in a different way, but I can’t wait to get back to the book.

Next weekend it’s Faringdon Arts Festival, so my wife is fully employed on that. If you’re anywhere in the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire/Berkshire area, do come on over. I’d be happy to share a pint, and will probably need one. Here’s the website again:

http://www.faringdonartsfestival.org/

I can particularly recommend Friday night in the Market Place. The place has been filled in previous years. It’s a great night out.

Anyhow, I promised three things at the end of the last blog, Veronica Mars, Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and here they are.

The last episode of Veronica Mars (my favourite ever TV show) felt like it was written as merely a season closer, but then made knowing it might well be the last we saw of everyone. Hence Logan remained plotless all year (such a waste of a great character and actor) but at least got a cool exit line, and what might have been written as a cliffhanger came over more as ‘that’s the way it always goes in Neptune, this show wouldn’t insult you with a happy ending’. I appreciated how much effort was put into making us like Veronica and Logan staying apart and her moving on. Yet another thing this show did that TV doesn’t do. I also very much appreciated, towards the end of the series, Veronica finishing off an ‘alcohol is bad’ plot of the week, the set in stone morality of which only descends to feed upon shows in such trouble that they don’t want to offend anyone, only for our heroine to then take a swig from a hip flask and the show to indulge in five minutes of what can only be described as canonicity fanservice as Mac met her nemesis and geek beau. It was like all the mainstream viewers had left at the final ad break. Or perhaps that a showrunner had entered the room. Rob Thomas, I love you. The comic book continuation will rock.

Lucky Star is my current favourite anime show. It’s got some themes in common with Veronica, but pursues them in a very different way. It’s a very gentle and humane comedy about four girls at high school, one of them, Konata Izumi, being very much a geek. The comedy comes mostly from a subtle battle between her and one of the other girls, Kagami, who, being an elder sister, is always certain of the correct way to behave, and what’s good for everyone. Kona-chan undermines her authority and embarrasses her with open nerdiness, Kagamin slaps her down. All this is portrayed in a very realistic, character punchline comedy rather than slapstick, way. But as is already becoming clear, the two of them need each other. We as an audience have started to share some of Kagamin’s frustration with someone who won’t conform in negative ways as well as good ones. And Kona-chan is starting to let Kagamin let her hair down when she needs to. The show is vastly concerned with character, in the way only great shojo (anime for girls) is, so much so that when the girls go somewhere, for instance a festival, the background is just shapes and colours, because the series knows we’re only watching these four people. At the end of each episode, we get two minutes of Lucky Channel, supposedly a variety show about the episode (yes, like Doctor Who Confidential) hosted by an ageing former idol star Akira Kogami, desperate and sighing, and her terrified young male helper, who, to her frustration, gets to appear in the actual show. The behind the scenes showbiz cynicism is spot on, and translates across oceans. And then we’re treated over the end credits to the sight of the door of a karaoke booth, within which Kona-chan is belting out the theme to yet another anime or samurai drama that her friends, commenting, have never heard of. (Including, wonderfully, Monkey!) Finally, the ‘next episode’ voiceover is never about the next episode, but is usually an unrelated, meandering anecdote from one of the characters. All in all, the show is a lovely package, if almost entirely plot free. It’s also Fanservice Free, thank goodness. (‘Fanservice’ is an anime fan term that’s come to mean ‘containing gratuitously sexist shots of the leads’. But its original meaning included ‘purely catering to a fan audience’ as it’s used in the Veronica paragraph above.)

The most modern media experience on Earth, however, is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This is an insane, and insanely enjoyable, anime show that’s taken Japan by storm. It has at its heart, again, a darkness similar to that of Veronica, but plays it as hope. The title character is, of course, a Japanese high school girl, who loathes the sheer dull mundanity of the gorgeously naturalistically portrayed school she’s at, and starts a school club to search for aliens, time travelers and psychics. Who must exist because life would be hideously boring if they didn’t. The nature of the everyday existence portrayed by the show suggests that this effort is doomed to fail. And, without giving too much away, as far as Haruhi is concerned, it does. But her energy and drive are such that she never gives up her ridiculous attempts to push her club into the spotlight and attract the attention of said beings. She’s the ultimate outsider, rude, pushy and arrogant, but, because we start to see the vulnerability and sheer geek need that drives her to do this stuff, ultimately charming. It helps that we see her through the eyes of Kyon, a boy caught up in her wake, who sighingly narrates the show, and continuously finds himself trying to limit the fall out from Haruhi’s insane plans. We take it, by the end, that he must be utterly in love with her to keep on doing that, but he’d deny that violently. The series is geeky, serious, can tell all sorts of different stories and does so with great skill, but above all it’s very funny when it wants to be. It takes time out to make big rock star gesture episodes, just showing off. And when one finally discovers what the central plot is, it’s very Hard SF indeed. While still being poppy and groovy.

But it’s the way the show is told that makes it stand out. The episodes are shown ‘in the wrong order’. That is to say that, plotwise, that’s literally true, with episode eleven being shown first. Which is, incredibly, an episode that doesn’t feature our heroes in their regular roles at all until right at the end, and would suggest to the casual viewer that this new series is going to be a rather knowingly bad camp fantasy show. The ‘real’ episode one is then shown next week, and from then on we’re flung back and forth with episodes cropping up from many different points in the story, until we get the conclusion as the penultimate episode. We’re even made to wait an extra week between the first part of a murder mystery and the conclusion. But here’s the genius bit. This structure seems utterly planned, and not a gimmick at all, because of two things. Firstly, it gives us a foreshadowing of plot developments that’s utterly compelling. We know the situation is going to become way more complex, and we want to know how we get there from here. Secondly, the episodes in broadcast order form a thematic rather than plot-based journey into the heart of our lead character. We get to know her more and more until in the last episode the matter at hand isn’t the central plot that we saw finished last week, but about how she feels now. It’s the ultimate expression of the ‘One Year Later’ disconnect used in the last few years by everything from Battlestar Galactica to Lost to DC Comics… and now by Doctor Who! J.G. Ballard should be proud, and this should be Brian Eno’s favourite show. Causality has started to be abandoned in pop culture, and here’s a show that’s all the better for it. Do yourself a favour and don’t see it from the beginning.

Announcements:

ITEM! Also this week I’ve been exchanging e-mails with Simon Guerrier, editor of the new book about Bernice Summerfield, the former Doctor Who companion character I created fifteen years ago, and who’s had an ongoing fictional life ever since. The book is called Bernice Summerfield: The Inside Story and it’s due out in October.

http://www.bigfinish.com/benny/benny_insidestory.shtml

The process of looking back over the history of the creation and continuation of the Bernice range, through two different publishers, has been joyful but at times painful. This is real blood on the carpet stuff, full of misdemeanors, notably by me. Today was Simon’s last day of finishing the book, and also his last day as editor of the Bernice ranges. I can only say he’s done a fantastic job, and that I wish his successor the same success.

ITEM! If you remember, I did a short horror story this year for a collection called Phobic, from Comma Press. The book, and, kindly, my story, recently got a cracking review in the Guardian:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2103954,00.html

If you like horror, do check it out, it’s a great collection.

ITEM! And similarly, XTNCT gets a grand review (best comic of the last six months!) in Decibel magazine here:

http://decibelmagazine.com/reviews/jul2007/comics.aspx?terms=Gross&searchtype=2&fragment=True

ITEM! On Sunday 14th October, I’ll be appearing on a panel as part of the Manchester Literature Festival:

http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/

At the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the subject being the boundary between fact and science fiction. Toby Hadoke (who’ll also be performing his brilliant show Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf) and fellow Who writers Paul Magrs and Rob Shearman will be up there with me. More on that nearer the time, do pop along if you’re about.

ITEM! The new Resonance FM radio show purely about comics, Panel Borders, now has a website! It can be found here:

http://www.panelborders.com/

Note the rough and possibly flattering drawing of yours truly. The first me and Peter David show is on 9th July at 4.45pm.


ITEM! And finally, I'm interviewed in the new Tripwire Annual:

http://joelm1-joelmead.blogspot.com/2007/06/d-day-for-tripwire-annual-theres-been.html

That august journal of everything that rocks, with Hellboy on the front!

I’ll try and post again a lot more quickly. It’s actually refreshing to do this, and I should remember that feeling next time I get run down. Until then, Cheerio!

Tired but Happy

I’m terribly sorry that it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted. It’s been a combination of tiredness and still running about doing things. The vast and kind reception of ‘Human Nature’ has meant a lot of meetings, interviews, requests to appear (for instance today at the Barclays Bank SF Society and last Monday at a Junior school in Somerset) and just loads of thank you letters to write. Not that I’m complaining in the slightest. To anyone who’s left a message on my MySpace page: I’ll get back to you, I promise!It was a pleasure to attend the ‘Oncoming Storm’ convention in Gloucester last weekend. I appeared onstage with Tom Sangster, who’s very straightforward and together, and the hero of every child in the audience (and there were many of them, which is new). Tom clearly has a big future ahead of him as an adult lead. He tells me that Emma Thompson is indeed as gorgeous as she seems. But he may have just been telling the old man what he wanted to hear.

It was also an honour to pop along to a big BBC Who bash in Cardiff, where John Barrowman delivered a typically charismatic and charming (and did I mention filthy?) introduction. Much argle bargle and quaffing late into the night with folk from Doctor Who Adventures, 2Entertain DVD and Battles in Time. Hello, you! We discovered, to our amazement, that someone right in the middle of Who at BBC Worldwide is the brother of someone who’s in Caroline’s rhythm and blues orchestra. Who would have thought it?

Summer has meant music from every quarter in my little town. We were sitting outside the bar clapping along to acoustic guitars the other night. The Magpies have a new direction as a funk band. The Arts Festival in July is once more going to be huge. But all this art and music is making my liver very sad.

I’m in the midst of reworking the novel, hoping to finally be able to reward my agent’s patience by delivering it to him within the next couple of weeks. That’s taking up most of my mental space right now.

There follows a commercial for Reaper Frubes. Frubes being the only licensed Doctor Who product that has opted to adorn itself with the image of a Reaper from ‘Father’s Day’. Here is the delicious yoghurty iced product in question.



And here’s our correspondent Alex, who provided these images, trying one out. Mmm. Tastier than a wound in time.



It was my pleasure to do one of those writer to writer interviews the other day, this one with comics writer and novelist Peter David, one of whose novels was an early inspiration for Human Nature. We were meant to fill a half hour, but we chuntered on about comics and Doctor Who for four times that, and the end product will now be filling three programmes on Resonance FM (104.4 in the London area): two editions of their new comics show Panel Borders, on the 9th and 16th of July at 4.45pm, and an edition of Alex Fitch’s talk show I’m Ready For My Close-Up on 12th July at 10.30pm. And afterwards, as always, on the Resonance FM website:

www.resonancefm.com

Peter is a charming and funny man, and he really knows his Doctor Who.

From Eric Briggs of this parish comes this brief video clip of many Doctor Who authors, including Lance Parking, Keith Topping, myself and the late and lovely Craig Hinton, appearing onstage at a Gallifrey convention in Los Angeles a few years back. Putting us into a line seems to have given us a smidge of comic timing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1NRx_yRV3I

Mike Maddox, the co-author of my Doctor Who audio play Circular Time, has a novel coming out later this year, Dreams of Inan: The Worm that Wasn’t, from those nice folk at Abaddon Books. Here’s the blurb:

http://www.abaddonbooks.com/coming_soon.php

Mike is also the man tasked with adapting the vast length (twelve episodes!) of ancient Who story ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ into a two hour stage show. More details of that production as we approach it, but I did mention it to the script editor of that Hartnell story, Donald Tosh, who it was a great pleasure to meet in Gloucester, and he could only shake his head in amazement that such a thing had been attempted.

And finally, if you’re in the Chorleywood area next Sunday, June 17th, that is, Father’s Day, at 7pm, you might like to pop along to St. Andrew’s Church, where Mark Stibbe will be delivering the latest in a series of ‘Lessons from Doctor Who’, in this case ‘Father’s Day: Healing the Wounds of Time’. I’m greatly honoured that my work should be the subject of a sermon. I think that’s the first time that’s happened. At least, the first time in a positive way.

So, I wish you a cheerful week and a happy Father’s Day, and I hope to pop up again rather sooner, with chuntering about Veronica Mars, Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Until then, Cheerio.


A Couple of Things Afterwards

We spent the weekend in the New Forest, meeting deer and owls and otters, and falling asleep in a clearing near the Rufus Stone. I was really glad to get away, but it was a real joy to get back to so many kind posts and messages and, erm, podcasts. I'm reeling, a bit. Just a couple of things to mention, apart from general thanks:

The BBCi e-book version of Human Nature is now back up, with a little bit of a design retouch and a new essay by me about the adaptation:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/ebooks/human_nature/adaptation.shtml

I'm told that the interview with me won't be in the June issue of the Oxford Times supplement, but has been put back to the one out on July 6th. I'll post about it again then.

Oh, and I forgot to say, so this is an edit, the reason I posted this in the first place: the second time I was onset was when Mother Of Mine was being lowered very swiftly towards a greenscreen, waving her limbs, over and over. Above and beyond the call of duty, especially for a wonderful actor with a fear of heights. Me and Helen Raynor sat on the Tardis floor, over a light where it was warm, watching and having a natter.

Thanks again, everyone, and until next time, Cheerio.