Design, Marmite & Lanzarote

Cesar Manrique wind mobile

Cesar Manrique wind mobile

Now that the nights are drawing in and winter has come a-knocking, my thoughts are turning to warmer climes. For a guaranteed dose of sunshine, my money’s on the Canary Islands – Lanzarote to be precise. Here’s why…

Lanza-grotty Or Lanza-hottie?

Many moons ago, I used to live and work on the island of Lanzarote. It’s got a real Marmite factor – people either love or hate it. Reason being, it’s incredibly volcanic. Unlike some of its siblings, like super-lush Gran Canaria and La Palma, this Canary isle is incredibly rocky and barren. In fact, it looks a lot like the moon. So much so, it was was used by NASA as a testing zone for the lunar buggies and once doubled up as an alien planet in an episode of Doctor Who. While some people are turned off by the scorched backdrop – dubbing the island ‘Lanza-grotty’ – I adore it. When teamed with the traditional white sugar-cube houses, the scenery takes on a sleek, almost monochrome effect. To my mind, it’s very much Lanza-hottie.

Los Jameos del Agua, Lanzarote

Los Jameos del Agua, Lanzarote

Hail Cesar!

But the landscape is just part of my Lanzarote love affair. I’m also a big advocate of the island’s most famous son, the artist and designer, Cesar Manarique. A contemporary of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, he is one of Spain’s foremost modern artists. His handiwork can be seen across Lanzarote. He went on a crusade to safeguard the traditional look and feel of his beloved island – ensuring the tourist concrete jungles that blighted neighbouring Tenerife et al never befell Lanzarote. It’s down to him that there are no high-rises on the island. He also expounded the marriage of art with nature. This lead to him spearheading a number of funky design projects, including a series of kaleidoscopic wind mobiles, a grotto-come-lido complex, and a restaurant fuelled by a the heat of a volcano.

Lanzarote Legacy

I recently wrote a post for the Thomson travel blog about Senor Manrique and his Lanzarote legacy. You can read it here.

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Doctor Who, Locations & Geeky Factoids

Tardis & Dalek

Tardis & Dalek

Doctor Who Premiere in London – plus the Overseas Location Guide…

When Doctor Who burst back onto our screens this summer with Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the TIme Lord, I was lucky enough to get an invite to the ‘premiere’ in London at the Odeon Leicester Square.

Tardis

Me & the Tardis

Dalek

Dalek

My inner geek had a nerdgasm – as if catching a glimpse of the TARDIS, a dalek and a cyberman wasn’t enough, the series producer, Steven Moffat, was seated just a few rows behind me. More on him on a blog post coming soon… While I had mixed feelings about the story itself, it was great to be part of the whole event.

Doctor Who Cinema Screen

Doctor Who on the big screen

Doctor Who Q&A Panel

Doctor Who Q&A Panel

Anyway, in honour of the new series and the new Doc, I penned a special Doctor Who-related post for the Thomson travel blog – The Overseas Location Guide.

Wacko Jacko, Doctor Who & Barbara Windsor’s Bra

Shamone!

Shamone!

Let-down Central

Two of my childhood heroes let me down on Christmas Day. The first was Michael Jackson… There I was, cosied up on the sofa, a paper crown perched skew-whiff on my head, with a belly full of turkey and the telly on in the background. As I was flicking through the channels, I happened to catch the end of the This Is It tour rehearsals – MJ’s sell-out show that never did make it on the road owing to Jacko, well, moonwalking off this mortal coil.

The King of Pop

Back in the Eighties, when I was about seven or eight, Michael was nigh on a god in my eyes. Together with Madonna and Prince, he made up that mighty superstar triumvirate of pop which pretty much defined the tracklistings of Walkman mixtapes the world over – mine included.

He’s Still Got It

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to see the King of Pop in action once again. I entered the proceedings just at the moment he was performing Billy Jean – one of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. He was pitch perfect. He was busting out those iconic staccato dance moves while sidewinding across the stage. God damn it, the guy was even grabbing his crotch. Not bad for a bloke in his early 50s.

Same Old, Same Old

But for some reason, I couldn’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed by it all. It was a case of, I’ve seen this all before. There was nothing different, nothing innovative about his performance. I think I would have preferred to have just watched a compilation of his old videos, truth be told. And that also goes for my other Christmas Day let-down which came courtesy of… the Doctor.

The Tardis

The Tardis

Disappointing Doc

I should have known better than to expect great things. After all, when it comes to traditional Christmas disappointments, the Doctor Who Chrimbo special is on a par with brussel sprouts and the plastic toys you get in crackers. And if that 50th anniversary debacle was anything to go by… well let’s just say the writing was on the wall.

Good Omen

To be fair though, it started off well – really well in fact. The story began with a pan-out to reveal an alien planet which, we were told, was beaming out a signal that was luring beings from around the universe to its Saturn-esque rings. An armada of CGI saucers, ships and spacecraft then swooped into view – the quality of which I’d never seen before on Who. With effects like those, I think it’s fair to say the show has firmly shaken off its bubble wrap image of yesteryear.

Wilson!

Wilson!

Cyber C-3PO Wilson

And it didn’t stop there. In the following minutes, we were treated to shrieking Daleks, Cybermen threatening to upgrade the Doctor and even a new sidekick – a kind of C-3PO/Wilson from Cast Away character that came in the form of a severed Cyberman head which apparently the Doctor had picked up at some junk market, reprogrammed and affectionately called Handles. And that’s all before the title sequence had kicked in. Flippin’ heck.

Madge

Madge

Benidorm Boost

Post dumpa-de-dums and we were seated around the dining table chez Clara. This was the first time we’ve had a glimpse into this companion’s family life. Granted, it wasn’t a patch on what we used to get from Jackie Tyler and co back in the Ecclestone-Tennant halcyon days but we did get some amusing one-liners from the rather wonderful Sheila Reid – AKA mobility scooter Madge from Benidorm – who played Clara’s gran. When the Doctor rocked up apparently naked, she looked at Clara and said with a wink ‘are we playing Twister now?’.

Too Good To Be True

But there endeth the fun and games. Much like the 50th anniversary special aired in November, what followed was about 45 minutes of dull storytelling tacked together with a desperate need to try and tie up all the loose ends that have ever existed in the Whoniverse. The result was a plot so convoluted and bound up in previous adventures that even the Big Bang Theory boys would have struggled to explain what the hell was going on. The edited lowlights run something like this…

The Church (think the intergalactic equivalent of UN peacekeepers) makes a reappearnce. I kind of remembered this group from a confusing story arc a few seasons ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

The Silence (think monsters that look like the Scream painting) make a reappearance. I kind of remembered these guys from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.  

The Crack (think a nasty Polyfiller job by a cowboy plasterer)  makes a reappearance. I kind of remembered this fissure from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

You get the picture – this episode is so full of self-referential elements that you’ll need a masters degree in Who Studies to piece them all together. God forbid if you’ve missed an episode or two inside the past 3 years. And woe betide you if you’re a casual viewer tuning in for a festive Doctor Who romp on Christmas Day.

Regeneration Game

I guess, though, when all’s said and done, this episode is Matt’s Smith’s swansong as the 11th Doctor. Only he’s not the 11th Doctor. He’s the 13th incarnation. Lost? It’s another one of those confusing story arcs. Last one, I promise. As we discovered in the 50th anniversary special, John Hurt is actually Doctor No.9. That makes Christopher Ecclestone No.10 and shunts David Tennant to No.11. Oh, and he’s No.12, too. There’s some waffle about Tennant using up two regenerations, which I really didn’t understand or indeed remember. Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that, because a Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times, Matt Smith is actually the final embodiment of the Doctor. Got it? That’s why he looked like the bizarre lovechild of Benjamin Button and the grandpa from the Werther’s Original adverts towards the end.

Wip Off Your Wig Mark II

Talking of which, the BBC costume and make-up department clearly learnt the hard way that HD is a very unforgiving medium in their bid to add some years to Matt Smith. Honestly, the last time I saw ageing make-up that bad was in the French and Saunders ‘Lucky Bitches’ sketch. And don’t get me started on that scene towards the end featuring ex-companion Amy. I’ve not seen that many ill-fitting weaves in the TARDIS since that now infamous ‘wip-off-your-wig’ regeneration back in 1987 when Slyvester McCoy doubled up for Colin Baker.

Dull Death

As for this regeneration, it was really lacklustre. There was no shock factor as there was with the William Hartnell baton change. There was no heroic last  stand a la Peter Davison. There was no Tennant-style tear-jerking final moment. Instead, there was too much dialogue, not enough tension and a blink-and-you-missed-it changeover. I felt really sorry for Matt Smith. It was a really vanilla departure and frankly he deserved better. In fact, he deserved better since he first took to the helm of the TARDIS back in 2011. The root cause? Stephen Moffat.   

Complex Meh

Ever since Stephen Moffat took over the reins of Doctor Who, I’ve felt a bit let-down. Each season I keep telling myself, don’t worry, it’ll get better. Trouble is, it just keeps on being a bit ‘meh’. Worse than that, the writing is becoming ‘complex meh’. But’s it’s not always been like that. Before Moffat ascended to the lofty heights of head writer, he was responsible for some of my all-time favourite episodes of Doctor Who such as The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink and Silence In The Library. They guy is undoubtedly a consummate scriptwriter but perhaps more so when it comes to penning more compact one-off tales. I get the feeling he’s not as adept at churning out scripts en masse. And when he does, it would seem he gets all knotted up in his own storytelling. This is where the previous incumbent, Russell T Davis, came into his own. He knew how to keep things simple, accessible and fun.

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams

Oh Matron!

True, RTD’s writing style was a little bit panto and maybe even a little bit Carry On in places. However, he was able to inject real tension and emotion into his stories, pulling on his previous experience as a soap opera writer. We really cared about the characters he created. I can still remember crying like a girl when Rose and the Doctor were separated in parallel universes and couldn’t get back to each other. What RTD lacked in sci-fi writing skill, he more than made up for in emotion and drama. And that’s what’s lacking currently on Moffat’s watch. He’s creating a drama devoid of drama.

Too Clever For His Own Good?

I get the feeling Moffat’s a very clever man. Perhaps too clever. What RTD did so well was to reinvent and repackage Who for mainstream audiences. That doesn’t mean he dumbed things down. He understood the value in keeping stories simple, filled with emotion and compelling instead of nerdish, cold and complex. His story arcs had a subtlety and lightness of touch to them that Moffat is yet to grasp. Basically, RTD democratised the show. Mums could dip in and out quite happily without having to be able to recite what happened in episode three of season five. What I fear now is that Doctor Who is veering back down the geeky-niche path. If we’re not careful, I’m worried Who will lose its hard-fought status as one of the Beeb’s most popular shows.

Ratings Success. Comprehension Failure?

Thankfully, the overnight ratings look good for Who. In fact, it was one of the most-watched shows on Christmas Day. But I’d be very interested to see whether all those people who watched it actually understood what the hell was going on. My hunch is probably not. Judging from the fan forums, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Anyhow, looking to the future and on the plus side, we have a new Doctor – which is wonderful. Even more so given that Capaldi is a fantastic actor. Fingers crossed, with a new Doctor to write for, Mr Moffat gets things back on track again.

Daleks, Time Lords & Limp Lettuce

Underwhelmed Face

Underwhelmed Face

“Totally underwhelming”.

There, I’ve said it. Don’t hate me. But that’s what I think about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. Let’s be honest, The Day of the Doctor was a bit like eating a salad with no vinaigrette – it was a bit lacklustre. And it’s a shame because it all started off so well…

Dumpa-de-dum, Dumpa-de-dum, Dumpa-de-dum, Diddley-dum…

First of all, we were treated to the original opening titles – the very same ones that introduced Doctor Who to world back in 1963. It was wonderful to see those iconic swirling patterns in all their black-and-white beauty flickering across the screen.

Likewise, hearing Ron Grainer’s eerie masterpiece made me do a little bit of a geek wee – that pulsing electronic baseline and swooping organ-like melody still stands the test of time 50 years on. It’s my all-time favourite TV theme tune, piping Juliet Bravo and Treasure Hunt to the post.

More nods to the past then followed with a knowing wink given to die-hard fans by way of references to the junkyard at Totter’s Lane and the Coal Hill School (both of which featured in the show’s first-ever episode, An Unearthly Child).

Gripping Stuff

We were then catapulted across the stars to the Doctor’s home-world. Here we got to see the oft-quoted Time War between the daleks and the Time Lords. And credit where credit’s due – the invasion of Gallifrey was spectacular. The shots of the dalek fleet pounding Arcadia and the Capitol were a veritable feast of pyrotechnics and CGI wizardry.

Let’s not forget the superb dialogue in the Time Lord high command which injected a real sense of foreboding, desperation and urgency – the likes of which I haven’t felt since I visited the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms in London.

The trailer really did showcase all the best bits…

Not So Hot

However, from there on in it all went a bit pear-shaped. What followed was about 30 minutes of padding which went something like this…

  •   Supposed light relief courtesy of an asthmatic boffin in comedy glasses and, for some strange reason, Tom Baker’s scarf
  • Lots of running around the bowels of a rather studio-looking art gallery 
  • Redundant appearances from old foes the Zygons who, let’s be honest, were far more menacing back in 1975
  • A distinctly wooden and Welsh-sounding portrayal of Elizabeth I which frankly should be consigned to the far reaches of Barry Island, never to be seen again

Perks Up Again

Fast-forward through all this fluff and you get to some good stuff towards the end of the episode. We discover that John Hurt (who out-acted Tennant and Smith with just a raise of an eyebrow) is actually the 9th Doctor, which I’m guessing means we need to shunt Messieurs Ecclestone, Tennant, Smith and Capaldi back a digit each. Plus we get to see all the incarnations of the Doctor come together to save Gallifrey via some rather cool computer trickery.

Would You Like A Jelly Baby?

One thing I’m sure most fans will be waxing lyrical about is the appearance of Tom Baker. While I appreciate this nod to the classic series, the cameo kind of left me cold. After all, my Doctor was Peter Davison and so I didn’t really feel the connection.

Feel the Peter Davison love...

Feel the Peter Davison love…

On A Level With American Life

In short, The Day of the Doctor is no Caves of Androzani, no Talons Weng Chiang, no Blink. It had its moments but in general felt a little bit flat. It reminded me how I felt when Madonna released her American Life album – I was desperate to like it but just couldn’t, try as I might. Testament to this is the fact I’m really not that bothered about watching The Day of the Doctor again on catch-up. Normally I would have seen it about five times by now.

Happy Birthday To Ya!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The fact that Doctor Who is still going strong at 50 is one hell of an achievement. So, despite the rather limp lettuce outing ce soir, let’s raise a glass to everyone’s favourite time-travelling hero.

Happy birthday Doctor Who – here’s to the next 50!

(And hopefully some better scriptwriting)

PS: Did anyone see the embarrassment that was the Afterparty on BBC Three this evening? Stephan Moffat‘s face on the live link with One Direction in LA kind of said it all.

Mini-me, Closets & TV Gold

The Tardis

The Tardis

Note: Apologies for the radio silence for the past few months. I’m commuting between Paris and London at the mo and so don’t have quite as much time for blogging as I’d like. However, what with this weekend being super special and all, I’ve found the time to write a post about something very dear to my heart…

Grandma’s House

When I was a kid, I used to play in an odd little room in my grandma’s house. It was a kind of hallway that connected the lounge, the downstairs loo, the spare bedroom and the boiler room. When you shut all four doors, it created a sort of cupboard that you could stand in.

Air-raid Shelter vs Police Box

My gran used to seek refuge in this bizarre closet whenever there was a storm – she was scared stiff of thunder and lightning as the rumbles and flashes reminded her of the Blitz. While she viewed this hallway as a bomb shelter, I regarded it as something quite different. To my mind it was Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

My TARDIS

I spent whole summer holidays holed up in that strange space making ear-piercing ‘vworp-vworp’ noises. In my head, the kitchen stool I used to set in the centre of the room was actually a shiny six-sided console alive with twinkling lights and whirring dials. And it goes without saying that this wardrobe-like room was bigger on the inside than the outside.

Scroll to 0.46 for mini-me (well kind of…)

50th Anniversary

Fast forward 30 years and while I might not shut myself up in cubby-holes anymore, I’m still just as captivated by Doctor Who. And I’m incredibly excited about this weekend. In case you’ve been living under a stone for the past few weeks and failed to notice the BBC’s publicity juggernaut in action, this Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the sci-fi show.

All-star Cast

The one-off special, called The Day of the Doctor, will feature the present incumbent of the Doctor, Matt Smith, team up with his predecessor, David Tennant, and former companion Rose Tyler, AKA Billie Piper. As if that wasn’t enough, veteran actor John Hurt is set to play a version of the Time Lord known only as the War Doctor.

The Night of the Doctor

Last week, the Beeb gave us a little bit of an insight as to how Mr Hurt’s incarnation came into being thanks to an online mini-sode called The Night of the Doctor. It included none other than Doctor Who No.8, Paul McGann. I’ll be honest with you, when I watched it I squealed like a girl and a bit of wee came out. Here it is in case you missed it…

An Adventure In Space And Time

But that’s not all. Much like the ambassador, the BBC has been really spoiling us of late. Last night saw the screening of An Adventure In Space And Time – a drama that recounted the birth of the show back in 1963. The script was penned by Mark Gatiss of League of Gentlemen fame and starred the wonderful David Bradley as the late, great William Hartnell who was the original Doc. If you haven’t seen it yet I suggest you watch it on iPlayer pronto. Just make sure you have a hanky with you as it was really rather touching stuff.

Anyhow, that’s enough of my Whovian prattling for now. No doubt you’ll all be hearing from me again tomorrow once I’ve seen what’s billed to be the televisual event of the year!

Exasperdating | Posh Doc

I’m reblogging this Exasperdating tale as I’ve had a few comments from people that it got a bit lost in yesterday’s post about the new Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi. So, just in case you missed it, here’s my story about the Posh Doc

Exasperdating Logo

Exasperdating | Posh Doc

Age: 27
Height: 5’9
Build: Slim
Hair: Black
Eyes: Blue

Job: Doctor

Doctor! Doctor!

Doctor! Doctor!

I’m munching on a Granny Smith as I pen this installment because, as the old saying goes, ’an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. And trust me, after this encounter, I’m steering well clear of men in white coats.

The Posh Doc wasn’t a one-off date. We’d kind of seen each other for about a month and a half earlier in the year but it had fizzled out. He wasn’t my usual type at all. While looks-wise he ticked all the right boxes – blue eyes, dark hair, a bit of stubble and geek-chic glasses – on the personality front, he was a bit too ‘rah’ for me.

Case in point: he had a nasty habit of saying ‘maaarvellous’ in a terribly high-pitched, horsey-teethed way that only people who’ve gone to private schools seem able to do. Plus he lived in a super-posh flat in an extremely exclusive part of London which I swear mummy and daddy had set him up in. Talking of which, and given that he was a doctor, you would think he’d have kept the gaff a bit cleaner. Frankly, some Cillit Bang wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Anyhow, fast forward six months and, out of the blue, he invites me over for dinner. One fish supper and two bottles of rioja later and we were, well, getting ‘reacquainted’. A couple of days later I dropped him a text to say I’d had fun and would he like to go out for drinks. To which he replied, “I’m a horny drunk. Sorry.” Now, while I may not be a doctor, I think this guy’s self-diagnosis was off the mark. Horny drunk? No, I think he was actually suffering from a nasty affliction called Complete Wankeritis, for which I’m pretty sure there’s no cure.