Thursday, 29 April 2010

UK Election: the Third and Final Leaders' Debate

In the aftermath of bigotgate, tonight's leaders' debate is looking all the more interesting.  If you are wondering where to find the third and final leaders' debate on US TV, the good news is that once again C-SPAN have stepped up to the plate.  Their 2010 British Election Debate page has this morning been updated to announce that the debate will be aired live on C-SPAN 3, also live on their website.

On the previous two occasions, ITV and Sky also made the debates available online live for international viewers.  It is not clear at this point whether the BBC will retain the usual lock-out to international users, so online viewers will be best off following it either on the C-SPAN stream or on CNN (CNN UK Election blog).   CNN are planning to stream the third debate -- see Live UK Debate Coverage on CNN. Those with CNN International will be able to catch it on that TV channel too.

For following along live on the net, I'd also recommend The Guardian's General Election Live blog.  They have been right on top of all the developments, and it is packed with interesting comment.

The debate is all the more interesting to me since it is located at the University of Birmingham, my former employer, where I spent a happy decade.  It's been nice to see the pictures and news coverage from there.  The debate takes place in the Great Hall, where the graduation ceremonies take place every July.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

[Includes spoilers]

The third episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who aired on Saturday, "Victory of the Daleks" and it was . . . . quite good.  That's "quite good" in the British sense of  "a bit good".  It was written by the League of Gentleman's Mark Gatiss, who has written for the Doctor Who twice before, and guest starred in an episode.  There were lots of things to like about it, of course.  Let's list them:
  • The mystery over why Amy does not remember the daleks.  Fascinating. Please it was revisited again at the end of the episode.
  • The doctor defeats the daleks with a jammie dodger.  I love the way that you don't notice it's a jammie dodger until he tells you it is and eats it.  "I was promised tea".
  • The green war-time daleks were just great. They looked great, they were menacing and I love the dramatic irony of only the viewer sharing the doctor's knowledge of the daleks, while everyone else -- Amy, Churchill -- were ignorant.
  • The dalek asking "Would you care for a cup of tea?" was great.
There were several things that were less thrilling:
  • Ian McNiece as a big fat Churchill was avuncular and all wrong.
  • The new colourful iDaleks are going to take a lot to get used to.  If you didn't like them, I strongly recommend the latest Tin Dog Podcast for an hilarious rant on the topic (e.g. he tells us the daleks' names, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La la . . .).
  • Again, the episode felt a bit rushed.  Even another three or four minutes might have improved the pace.
A good, solid 3.5 out of 5 from me for this episode.  Not the best; not the worst.  On the same day that this one was broadcast in the UK, BBC America began showing the series here, and it was fantastic to see the superb "Eleventh Hour" in glorious HD.  That is everything that an episode of Doctor Who should be and more, and the slightly anti-climactic feeling after episodes 2 and 3 may come in part from the success of that series opener.  Next time's "Time of Angels" looks like it could be a cracker, though.

    Wednesday, 21 April 2010

    UK Election: the Second Leaders' Debate: Update

    I blogged earlier this week on the coverage in America of the Second Leaders' Debate and since then, I have been keeping an eye out for updates.  As predicted, it seems that C-SPAN 3 will again be airing the debate live.  It's recently appeared on their schedules online.  So the place to go will be C-SPAN Live Stream if you are watching online or to search for C-SPAN 3 if you have a good cable TV package.  For us, it's Channel 120. Unfortunately, it is not listed yet on the TV guide, which makes setting the DVR a little difficult because C-SPAN have two six hour programme wedges that span either side of the 90 minutes of the debate.

    Meanwhile, japascot tweets that BBC America have said "On May 6th, the channel will present a special edition of BBC World News America". Well, I hope that that translates as taking the BBC1 coverage from 5pm through to the small hours. At the moment that does not appear on their schedules. I'll be keeping an eye out.

    Update (Thursday, 7.40): now covered on C-SPAN's front page along with the news that they will also feature a live programme from Sky that covers the election so far.

    Update (Thursday, 13.08): For those who have it, CNN International are also showing the debate live.  I've checked our cable package, and it is not offered by Time Warner Cable in the Carolinas.  But CNN is a good place to go for UK Election coverage.  See their UK Election Blog and follow UKElectionCNN on Twitter.  Also, Connect the World will be running a live blog and the whole debate is being streamed live on

    Laurel and Hardy Impersonators Videos

    Lauren and Laurel and Hardy, 6 October 2007, Harlem, GA
    Back in October 2007, we took a trip to Harlem, Georgia, the birth place of Oliver Hardy, for the 19th Annual Oliver Hardy festival (Travel Diary: Harlem, GA: Oliver Hardy Festival).  One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the superb Laurel and Hardy impersonators, Jamie McKenna and Bill Leavy. Viola took two videos of them and uploaded them to Youtube (Laurel and Hardy Impersonators in Harlem) and in the intervening couple of years they have been a huge hit, with over 18,000 hits on the first and 10,000 on the second. hIt has been enjoyable seeing just how popular these short video clips have become.  If you haven't seen them yet, or would like to see them again, ere they are:

    I am amazed that these great impersonators have not made a greater impact on the net. As far as I can tell, our youtube uploads are the only substantial ones of them (see also brief clips here from a 2008 convention), and the comments there confirm how impressed others are with these two men.

    Monday, 19 April 2010

    UK Election: the Second Leaders' Debate

    Well, who would have thought that the first of the Leaders' Debates would have been such an event, and that it would have made such an impact on the campaign? With the big surge for the Lib Dems following on from Nick Clegg's performance in the debate last week, all the more attention is focused on the second of the debates this Thursday at 8pm (British Summer Time).

    Last week, I was delighted to hear from C-SPAN here on the Resident Alien blog that they were to be broadcasting the first of the leaders' debates live.  I followed the debate first online, via their live stream, and then when I got home on DVR from the C-SPAN 3 channel.  If you missed it, it is still available on ITV's Youtube Channel, and it is not locked down for international users.  But what of the second leaders' debate in the US?

    There is no news yet from C-SPAN about whether they will be broadcasting it live, but we'll be keeping an eye out on their 2010 British Election page for updates and will report here as soon as there is any news.  C-SPAN are promising to show the recorded version next Sunday at 9pm ET.

    The broadcasters for this second debate are Sky News and it looks like it will be possible to access their coverage live on the net via Sky News online, though it is not certain yet whether they will lock it down to international users.  Some details are available at Where to Watch the Sky News Leaders Debate, though this is aimed mainly at UK-based British users.

    Saturday, 17 April 2010

    Doctor Who and BBC America today

    A year or so ago I posted on the problems Doctor Who was having getting a proper home and proper treatment here in America (Doctor Who back in America -- at last).  Well, all that has changed now, and its new home, BBC America, begins airing the new series tonight, "at 9/8 Central" as they say here, which means 9pm Eastern time, 8pm Central time.  There are lots of things to like about the way BBC America are are treating the new series:

    • It is only two weeks behind the UK.  It is excellent to have the show on here so soon after its British outing.  This kind of convergence has been happening increasingly with international programme, and in the opposite direction, US to UK, too.
    • It's available in HD.  Doctor Who only went into High Definition with the 2009 specials, and it is good news that it is being broadcast here in HD.  I realize that not everyone yet has BBC America HD, but we are among the lucky ones here in Raleigh.
    • There has been a massive and unprecedented media blitz.  For the first time ever, the main stars (Matt Smith as the doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond) and chief honchos (Steven Moffat, the head writer, and producers Beth Willis and Piers Wenger) have been in the US promoting the show before it airs (Doctor Who in New York; Doctor Who Mania hits New York).
    • BBC America are airing a Doctor Who marathon today, with back to back episodes from 2008 and 2009 ahead of the premiere of the new series tonight at 9.
    Well, I for one will be watching.  I'd encourage all those who are a bit naughty and who find episodes "by other means" to tune in tonight too, and support this great effort by BBC America who will probably get an excellent audience for this new series.

    Friday, 16 April 2010

    Doctor Who: The Fairy Tale Continues

    [Includes spoilers]

    We have been told many times in the publicity for the new series of Doctor Who that it was going to be something of a fairy tale. The sublime first episode, The Eleventh Hour, established that feel and now, in the second episode, "The Beast Below", it continues the fairy tale feel in promising but quite different ways. The hallmarks of the most memorable Fairy tales are the scary bits. They speak to children's fears and so help them to overcome them.

    Before the credits are rolling, the dark background of this story is established. Timmy gets a zero at school, the already sinister "smiler" becomes even more sinister, and the child soon finds himself in some kind of abyss.  Once again, the scares are there for child viewers of all ages, but they are also experienced directly by children in the story itself.  If Doctor Who is a kids' show, Steven Moffat is constantly reminding us of the fact by featuring children in the show. The very reason for the doctor's intervention is the sound of the child crying.

    "The Beast Below" was an excellent follow-up to the series opener last week. We are fascinated by the new doctor, and learning more about him all the time, and are sometimes surprised by what we see. His outburst at the end, reminiscent of several of the former doctors' crosser moments, was pretty shocking.

    Meanwhile, Amy Pond is already one of the most compelling of the doctor's companions. That she spends the entire episode in her nighty is a masterstroke of that same fairy tale tone. For Moffat, it made her Wendy to the doctor's Peter Pan. For me, it was a reminder of those dreams when you realize you have gone out in your pyjamas. Amy is only gradually waking up to the remarkable turn in her life's story. This is Amy exploring starship UK, before she is covered in sick, at the hole in the road with "Magpie Electricals" clearly visible:

    It's the night before her wedding and here is Amy, in her nighty, at the back of beyond, thousands of years in the future, with her childhood fantasy friend. And what's more, it turns out that she is good for him, and ends up saving the day.

    It was never likely that the second episode in this new series would be as good as the first. It is not as funny, as clever or as exciting, but that would hardly have been possible after such a fantastic start, all the more so given the length of this one, back to the usual 42 minutes or so. In fact this one could have done with another 10-15 minutes to give us chance to observe everything carefully. I bet there were a few kids who lost the plot here a few times.

    There were plenty of things to like, though. Liz 10 was fun, and just the kind of character we have seen over the last five years or so, and the utterly ridiculous idea of "Starship UK" floating in space on top of a space whale was as bonkers as anything in Russell T. Davies's era. And I, for one, like bonkers. And so it turns out that new show-runner Steven Moffat is in fact one of Russell T. Davies's biggest fans. "The Eleventh Hour" was not just a one-off. Although things are different -- new doctor, new companion, new TARDIS, new tone -- we are clearly watching the same show. In the best tradition of Doctor Who -- always the same, always different.

    This one is round about a 4 for me, perhaps nudging up towards a 4.5, and so as I go down a bit and Loren comes up a bit (The Busybody: The Beast Below (AKA: The Last of the Starwhales), we might even meet in our ratings next time, in what looks like a superb episode, "Victory of the Daleks".

    On the podcasting front, there has been a wealth of excellent podcasts on this episode over the last week, and most people are loving the series.  Among others, I enjoyed the new Whocast (with Paul and Seb back), Podshock (including a remarkable review from Darth Sceptical who gave it zero!), Radio Free Scaro (all three of whom still love the new series and I am so used to the acerbic comments that it takes some getting used to), The Doctor Who Podcast (from the guys who used to do the Whocast - listen out for Tom's guffaws), and The Oodcast (always very funny).  And, of course, my personal favourite, the Two Minute Timelord.

    Thursday, 15 April 2010

    UK Election: Leaders' Debates' USA Coverage Update

    I blogged yesterday on British Election Coverage in the USA: the leaders' debates and I am happy to add now an update from Jeremy at C-SPAN, who offered this comment in my post:

    I wanted to let you know that the first of these British debates, between Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg, will be shown LIVE on C-SPAN3.

    Here’s the link to our webpage on the 2010 British Elections, along with a link to our LIVE stream of C-SPAN3. Be sure to check the website in the coming weeks for information on further coverage of the debates.
    I'd like to thank Jeremy for letting me know this good news, and I am delighted to hear that the first of the debates is going out live.  Let's hope that the other two will go out live too.  Since I am at work, I am setting the DVR at home for this one, and will be trying to catch some of the livestream while at work.  Down our way, C-SPAN 3 is Channel 120.  You can watch it live online here: C-SPAN Live Stream, or after the event here: C-SPAN 3. The event is also covered on the front of C-SPAN's homepage.

    Wednesday, 14 April 2010

    British Election Coverage in the USA: the leaders' debates

    I asked some questions last week about British General Election Coverage in America. After digging around a bit, I have a bit more now on the question of how expats will be able to access the first ever televised leaders' debates. As I predicted, C-SPAN are planning to air all three debates, but the bad news is that they are not airing them live, nor even on the same day. They have announced the following schedule:

    Sunday April 18 on C-SPAN at 9 pm ET
    Sunday April 25 on C-SPAN at 9 pm ET
    Sunday May 2 on C-SPAN at 9 pm ET

    So if you want to catch them live, it looks like it is going to be the internet or nothing. As it happens, I'll be at work and in meetings so I probably will only catch some of it online anyway. It's not yet completely clear to me whether international viewers will be able to watch the live stream of this one, but it looks like it is a possibility:

    ITV: The First Election Debate, Thursday 15 April, 8.30pm

    My guess is that the live stream will be available to international viewers, unlike content in the ITV Player. It is certainly the case that it will be available to international viewers after the event, via ITV1's Youtube Channel, since this is mentioned in their press release.

    Meanwhile, on the podcasting front, the Guardian Election Daily Podcast and Radio 4's Vote Now Show are already daily essentials. What with all the Doctor Who podcasts to listen to at the moment, there are hardly enough travelling and houseworking hours in the day to keep up.

    Update (Thursday): the first debate is to go out live on C-SPAN 3 -- details here.

    Thursday, 8 April 2010

    Doctor Who is back and it's better than ever

    [Warning: contains some mild spoilers]

    Over on The Busybody, Loren Rosson begins his series of reviews on the new series of Doctor Who and in the process reminds me of the fun we had a couple of years ago (Goodacre and Rosson at Doctor Who) as we commented and rated our way through Series 4 of the new Doctor Who.  Loren and I agree on our love for the show but appear to disagree on almost everything else.  I am a complete fanboy, often unable to find my critical faculties when I watch Doctor Who while Loren is a complete curmudgeon, often unable to find the child within when he watches the same programme.  Since a new series has arrived, "and it's about time", I thought it would be enjoyable to resume blogging about it, and it looks like we are off to an excellently contrasting start, with Loren offering "The Eleventh Hour" a mere two and a half stars while I don't have to think twice before giving it a solid 5 TARDIS groans.  I thought it the strongest season opener ever, beating even "Rose", which relaunched the series in 2005, and the strongest doctor debut ever, beating even "Christmas Invasion" the same year.  I have seldom enjoyed an episode so much.  As Louis Trapani and Ken Deep would say (and in fact did say) on Podshock, this episode was a home run.

    But let me give a little more context to my enjoyment of this piece. It's now five years since Doctor Who returned to BBC1, in 2005.  There were four series in consecutive years, and then last year, we had just a series of "specials" ahead of the regeneration of the doctor and the series, with a new showrunner, Steven Moffat.  The specials were pretty good but not outstanding, with the possible exception of last November's "Waters of Mars".  They were fun and they gave us what we might have expected, but they never quite dazzled.  We had the repetition of familiar themes, we had some so-so plotting, and it by the end it felt a little drawn out.  In a way, the problem with 2009 was that it left us waiting too long for each episode and our expectations were raised too high.  But there was something thrilling at the end of it all, a regeneration.

    I've always loved regeneration episodes.  One of my favourite Doctor Who moments from my youth was the regeneration in 1974 from doctor 3 (Jon Pertwee, my doctor) to doctor 4 (Tom Baker, everyone's doctor).  And I never quite forgave Tom Baker for staying in the role for so long that I was losing interest by the time he regenerated into doctor 5 (Peter Davison, the out-of-breath doctor) in 1981.  In the reboot of 2005, there was no regeneration from doctor 8 (Paul McGann, the one-hit-wonder doctor) to doctor 9 (Christopher Ecclestone, the "daft old face" doctor), and we had hardly had chance to get used to him before he regenerated into doctor 10 (David Tennant, the fangirl's doctor).

    So when we finally had a regeneration, on New Year's Day, just before we flew back from England to America, it was kind of thrilling, but the thing that was most thrilling about it was seeing that first minute of doctor 11, Matt Smith.  He was instantly superb.  He cried aloud as his face appeared, replacing Tennant's, his energy and enthusiasm already bursting from every pore of his body.  It was just one minute, but it was enough to suggest that he was going to be brilliant.  And now, after his first episode aired on Saturday, we know just how brilliant he is and is going to be.

    "The Eleventh Hour" is already one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who.  It's everything a good episode of Doctor Who should be and more, bonkers, brilliant, scary, fascinating, funny and unlike anything else on television.  The pre-credit section provides a delightful link with the previous series, picking up the action with the TARDIS hurtling towards the earth, which in the land of recent Doctor Who means London and Big Ben.  The new credits along with the revised theme-tune were perfect -- back to the time tunnel look of the Tom Baker era, along with music that evolves from the rewritten noughties theme tune, which managed to be both funky and orchestral, throwing in some electronics that nod nicely to the show's past and the great Delia Derbyshire.

    New show-runner Steven Moffat penned this episode, and its opening scene proper, in the garden of Amy Pond's storybook style house, had all his trademarks, like the opening scenes of his Series 3 episode "Blink".  And the episode's plotting typically borrowed motifs from Time Traveller's Wife, which is surely one of Moffat's strongest influences, seen in several of his stories, and especially Series 4's "Silence in the Library".  In the latter, the doctor meets his possible future wife, River Song, in a library for the first time, when she knows him but he does not know her, just as in Time Traveller's Wife.  In both, the woman is carrying a diary full of spoilers.

    Now Moffat returns to an element in that book that he has already used once before, in Series 2's "Girl in the Fireplace".  Here, the first influential meeting with the time traveller happens to a little girl who has a future with the stranger but who must wait to see him again.  In the new twist on this familiar story, with the doctor meeting the young Amelia Pond, superbly played by Caitlin Blackwood, there is an added poignancy.  The sadness of Amelia's long wait for the doctor to return feels all the worse straight after one of the funniest scenes ever seen in Doctor Who, as the doctor rejects one type of food after another in the kind of way that kids will find hilarious -- there is nothing funnier than adults behaving badly.

    During those first ten minutes or so, Matt Smith simply owns the role.  There is no period of having to get used to him.  Like the young Amelia, we like him straight away.  It's no wonder that Moffat apparently liked him instantly at his audition.  The viewer is fascinated by him -- he is familiar but different.  And so, when Amy is finally invited into the TARDIS at the end of the episode, it is our invitation too.  And for the first time since Ian and Barbara stepped aboard in fear in 1963, the viewer joins the companion in gazing in wonder at what they see.  Normally, we are in the know, and we are waiting with the doctor to see the companion express their amazement at seeing what we already know.  This time, we are seeing the new TARDIS interior (and it really does look gorgeous) at the same moment that Amy sees it, with a wide-eyed thrill.

    Those who were hoping for revolution rather than evolution would be disappointed.  As many of us realized, the new show-runner, Steven Moffat, is in fact one of Russell T. Davies's biggest fans, and he works here with the RTD legacy, and you can see it all the way through, with reminders of episodes like "The Runaway Bride", "Smith and Jones" and "Christmas Invasion" as well as Moffat's own episodes like "Girl in the Fireplace".  In fact several plot elements were strikingly reminiscent of RTD's stories, sending out viruses by mobile phone, saving the world from a laptop in a young man's bedroom, characters walking around like zombies. Anyone hoping that this is transitional stuff for the first episode in the new era will, I think, be disappointed again.  The whole structure of the series looks RTD-influenced.  The next episode, a future UK flying in space, is straight out of the RTD manual.  This is exactly as it should be.  Moffat really seems to know what he is doing.

    In our enthusiasm for the on-screen presence of Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and young Caitlin Blackwood in this episode, it's easy to forget the fourth major star of this episode, Llandaff in South Wales, which stood in for Leadworth, Amy Pond's home village.  Doctor Who is at its best when it is unashamed of its quintessential Britishness, and this location, with its village green, its post office, its duck pond, looked exquisite.  Here it is in one of the clips that was shown a lot ahead of the broadcast (and doesn't Matt Smith do a brilliant Tennant impression here? Close your eyes and it's him):

    I suppose a large part of this was that it reminded me of where I used to live, near Kings Norton in Birmingham, which had a green just like this.  There are similar village greens all over the country and it's the perfect location for the first episode of a new series of Doctor Who.  It makes the episode feel right -- it looks fresh and yet authentic at the same time.

    "The Eleventh Hour" was the perfect episode of Doctor Who, a series that is always the same but always different.  Matt Smith is the Doctor, recognizably the same man and yet completely different.  The series is recognizably new Who, with lots of continuity with the Russell T. Davies era at the same time as homage to the classic series.  The new TARDIS symbolizes that change, the homage, outside and inside, to the classic series, but located firmly in the new era.  Kids of all ages will have loved this one. This was a remarkably strong debut.   5 TARDIS groans all the way.

    British General Election Coverage in America?

    With the General Election called this week for 6 May, I have begun to wonder what kind of coverage there will be for British expats in America.  It's my first British election since moving to America so I have no direct experience.  Of course we will continue to consume most of the election news via the internet, with the BBC Election 2010 and the Guardian Election 2010 websites the two places I will be visiting most often, all the more so this time with The Guardian promising a daily election podcast beginning next week.

    But what about TV coverage here?  Election day itself will almost certainly be covered live on BBC America, though they don't have anything on their schedules yet.  Usually they will take the BBC1 feed on important occasions like this.  One of the interesting elements here is going to be the timeshift.  Since 1987, I have always been an all-nighter when it comes to General Elections, but here in North Carolina, I should be tuning in for David Dimbleby at around 5pm instead of 10.  In fact by 10pm here, we should have a good idea already about how things are shaping up.

    There is one uncertainty at the moment and that is whether any of the American channels will take the leader debates, happening this year for the third time.  I've taken a look at the BBC America schedule for the first, next Thursday, but there is no sign of it there.  The best bet might be C-SPAN, which takes Prime Ministers' Questions live every Wednesday morning at 7am our time.  And this week, after the last of the PMQs for this parliament, they broadcast the previous evening's election special edition of Newsnight.  In fact, C-SPAN might be a good bet for live election coverage on May 6th too.

    More notes and comments here when I have more.  And if you know more, please feel free to comment.