Thursday, July 26, 2007

On Reading and Commuting

An Seoigeach á léamh ag Marilyn álainnThere’s a lovely article by MJ Iles in this morning’s Guardian about reading and commuting. One of the many scandals about the current Celtic tiger inspired rapine of Galway, that one-time Emerald City, is that the only possible way to commute to work is to drive. This means that the only thing one has to distract the mind from the stresses inherent in driving is the radio, either the continually depressing news and worse, weather, on Morning Ireland, or else the unspeakable aural sewage on the quickly sinking ship that was once Fabulous 2FM. The horror, the horror.

Miserable and all as Dubbalin may be, at least you can read your book while on the DART or the bus. You might in material reality be sharing a perch on the 46A with some highly tattooed and malodorous recidivist habitual offender on day release from that Big House opposite the Mater, but your soul is in a hunting lodge in the forests of Ruritania, looking honest Colonel Zapt and noble Captain von Tarlenheim in the eye and saying dash it all, I’ll do it! How much more stimulating than listening to cretin calling to cretin, giving great shout-outs to all the gang that echo indeterminably through the ages in the barren and sterile chasms between their ears? Very much more stimulating, I’m sure.

But what book to choose? MJ Iles suggests a heuristic that matches the length of book with the length of commute, but An Spailpín contends this to be a dangerous and limiting strategy. It all depends on your ability to switch your imagination on and off – to move, in one swift moment, from the Ruritinian forest to the act of removing your companion’s hand from your pocket, politely remarking “my stop, I think” before strolling into work, and then being able to return to that Ruritanian forest after eight hours’ graft in the name of Mammon and mortgage. Once you’ve mastered this technique, 2000 years of literature is yours to peruse. Happy days.

It is An Spailpín’s contention that the question of title and size are of far more import than the question of length. That book in your fist is as a calling card that will announce to all the world just who you are and what you stand for. For instance, as the DART pulls into the station and you eye the crowd for the best position to adopt in order to lead the charge on board, may I suggest that you position yourself next to such commuters as are clutching Dan Brown novels in their hands? Their choice of literature indicates that these will not be the quickest out of the traps when the train disgorges its commuters, and you will be able to quickly board while their brains, such as they are, are desperately trying to get word to the feet that now, now is the hour.

Of course, in order to be well read, you too will need to slum it a little while, or else simply relax and enjoy a book off after a hard week’s labour figuring out just what happened to the Austro-Hungarian empire. An Spailpín makes no apologies for his taste for the impossible pulp of Ian Fleming and Peter O’Donnell (and how odd it is to see Fleming in Penguin Classics!), but I can certainly understand that discretion may be the best option when going on capers with Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. I don’t Harry Potter myself, but I have no problem with those that do, after reading Victoria Coren’s lovely little piece in the Guardian recently. We all need a break every now and again. However, while you hunch over your ripe copy of The Silver Mistress, it’s hard to resist the impulse to behave contrarywise, holding your copy of The Master and Margarita proudly above your head, to show just what a literate and cool kitty you are. A pretty lady complimented your correspondent on his choosing of Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music on the 15B into Rathmines once; it remains a life highlight. The book is ok too (although roundly despised by a friend of mine who would know more of that strange world than I).

Of course, of even greater practical consideration than the title – slumming with Peter O’Donnell or high-living with F Scott Fitzgerald – is the question of the size of the book. It has long been a point of distress with this constant reader that paperback books, designed to be small, are now so damned big. The ideal commuting book is the size of one of the old orange Penguins from the forties, that can discretely be slipped into the jacket pocket once the bus has stopped, and withdrawn again on the journey home. This works less well with the modern paperback, whith in size seems so reminiscent of the old quarto sizes, only not as prettily bound, of course. This has been such a source of distress to An Spailpín that, in my civilian capacity, I once wrote to Faber and Faber to ask them why they printed their paperbacks so damned big. I got a long and lovely email back from someone in the company explaining that the large paperback size is essentially a compromise between the hardback size without the extra bulk of the hard covers, and the cheaper cost of producing the paperback. To my eternal shame I never replied to that kind man who took the time to write to me – I hope that, if through some process of synchronicity, he reads this blog, he can accept my apology for my unforgivable rudeness.

The final, and perhaps final, argument in favour of the paperback of classic dimensions is that it is so much easier to sneak into the office bathroom when one is considering a longer stay than the straightforward splash and go. In an office populated entirely by gentlemen, to proudly march away with the morning’s Irish Times under the oxter doesn’t cost a thought, but one can’t help but think such a display creates the wrong impression among the discrete sex. In an office where your correspondent once turned a shilling there was a roomy cupboard in the thunder room, a cupboard into which I could and did discretely stash a slim volume of Tennyson – the Dover Thrift Edition, you know. Marvellous, and only two clams. Sadly, An Spailpín has moved up in world, and the new office is more like something out of Gattaca, leaving no place for my Lord Tennyson, his lotus eaters or the six hundred. And they call this progress?

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another New Low for Irish Journalism

Those people who worry about the falling standards of Irish journalism were given further cause for despair by tonight’s RTÉ Nine O’Clock News coverage of the judgement in the Rachel O’Reilly murder case.

After Joe O’Reilly was found guilty of the heinous murder of his wife, RTÉ News took the opportunity to extend the Saturday Nine O’Clock News by fifteen minutes to give full and lurid coverage of the trial and its background, free of the constraints of conventional court reporting. The covered every blow of the murder, clapped the Gardaí as hard as they could on the back, interviewed Rachel O’Reilly’s friends and family, and showed footage of poor Rachel herself in happier days.

This is all very heart-rending stuff, and it’s hard not be involved in it. However, what the public is interested in is not the same as what is in the public interest. As a public service broadcaster, RTÉ should have remained aloof from running with the swine of the tabloid press – what price The Star will lead with a white-on-black “You Murdering Bastard!” headline on Monday? – because RTÉ’s is, supposedly, a higher purpose than grubbing for loot. This is why we are asked for a license fee, so that RTÉ don’t have to go grubbing with The Star and the late night talk shows and that awful woman on Newstalk in the mornings.

RTÉ, for reasons best known to themselves, ignored all that, and dived right in, to go splash, splash, splash while all the while wearing it’s we-are-so-concerned-by-the-depth-of-human-suffering face. In a move of stunning crassness, they even showed the face of one of Rachel O’Reilly’s children. Minors are never identified by the media, either by name or by appearance, in legal cases that involve minors, to try to limit the damage to the minors. The merest intelligence can see the damage suffered by the O’Reilly children is almost beyond repair – RTÉ should at least have had the decency to leave them their privacy.

The worst thing is that I’m not even sure it was deliberate on RTÉ’s part. I think it was just careless and sloppy editing, which, if anything, is probably worse. Don’t these people take any pride in their work at all? Don’t they realise their responsibilities?

I’m sick of the absence of standards in Irish journalism and media. I’m sick of Podge and Rodge being regarded as mainstream entertainment. I’m sick of nobody saying “stop, you’re going too far.” And I’m most of all sick of profound human tragedy being used as the evening’s entertainment. God have mercy on poor Rachel O’Reilly and her family.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guth Nua / New Voice

Tá guth nua tagtha ar an bhfód blagadóireachta, guth Fiche Focal. Is sean-chara an Spailpín é an Tomaltach, an fear taobh thiar an blag nua seo, agus, cosuil le bhur ndialannaí dílis, scríobhann sé sa dhá theanga, Béarla agus Gaeilge.

Fear líofa léanta léite is ea an Tomaltach agus, cé nach n-aontaímid le roinnt cúrsaí polaítíochta, tá meas an-mhór agam ar thuairimí an Thomaltaigh, agus is breá liom iad a léamh i mblag nua, in ionad go néamh-rialta i gcólúnaí litreachtra an Irish Times. Cuireann an Tomaltach gach rud faoi cheist, agus sin é an rud ceart a dhéanamh ar gach aon bhealach a thógtar. Fáilte is fiche romhat, a Thomaltaigh uasal, go máire - agus go scríobha - tú an céad.

All of which means that an old friend of An Spailpín Fánach is now blogging away happily, as well as firing up the Letters page of the Irish Times every now and again. An Spailpín and An Tomaltach - the man behind this brave new blog, Fiche Focal - do not always agree on political topics, but I hold all his opinions in the highest regard. An Tomaltach always asks the right questions, and while there are still those that do that I retain some slight flicker of hope. Welcome Tomaltach, and may your reign be long.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's Always Stormy Weather....

He never fooled me, you know. I knew, ever since I was a child, that it wasn’t the rain that put Gene Kelly dancing all those years ago. I’d put my own money on Gene's tremendous relief at having finally got shot of Donald O’Connor and his Good Mornin’, Good MORRR-NIN'! all night long as the inspiration behind the splashiest soft-shoe shuffle in the history of cinema. It’s not puddles that Gene Kelly is kicking in the famous sequence – it’s the imagined ginger nut of that knock-off Danny Kaye.

Nothing about rain is ever good. Bertie Wooster, on his countless retreats to the country, used to like to remark that bad weather was “very good for the crops,” but we have the evidence of Wooster’s man, Jeeves, that Wooster is “mentally negligible,” and Wooster’s fatuous opinion on weather simply confirms the man as a bally idiot.

Besides, even if rain is good for the crops, what damned use is that to An Spailpín Fánach, who is neither potato nor barley nor wheat? All the weather has done for your unusually damp diarist is put him in fouler form that usual, snarling at little old ladies under their parasols, and stopping little children in the street to tell them how few days are left in the holidays. That gives me a laugh alright.

Even though people insist to me that Galway is a wetter city than Venice itself, I don’t recall getting soaked there all that often. With one exception. It was October or so in the early nineties, slate grey skies, teaming rain, damp, wet and miserable. I was trudging up from Colláiste na hOllscoile, Gaillimh, to my then residence at Laurel Park, Newcastle. I favoured a big black overcoat at the time, because I thought it made me look like Humphrey Bogart, although in hindsight the reality was the I probably looked more like a Welsh slagheap come to hideous life and making a break for freedom from conscription into a male voice choir, singing Men of Harlech for evermore. The garment was soaked through, and it weighed as heavily on my shoulders as all the woes of the world.

I was shod in Doctor Martens’ boots, the upper of one of which had parted company with the sole, citing irreconcilable differences. The squelch was audible at every footstep.

And to cap it off, I then favoured a soft and luxuriant full face beard, like the late Ciarán Bourke in the original incarnation of The Dubliners, as I was as enthusiastic about appearing old then as I am about appearing young now. The rain sluiced off my caibín, down my plump cheeks, where it agglutinated in the rich undergrowth of my whiskers. Eventually, enough water accumulated to form the biggest and coldest drop of rain in the history of the world, a big and cold drop of rain that would then be impelled by the boundless forces of gravity to fall to the earth. Or, in this case, that precise V where the gentleman’s shirt opens. Every minute or so, inevitably, the biggest and coldest raindrop in the world hit that sweet spot at the crux of the shirtfront with solemn monotony, and from there dribbled down my chest onto the great expense of my belly, taking even more wrong directions than Kris Kristofferson’s Pilgrim on it’s lonely way back home. Nothing you can tell me about rain, hoss.

And despite all that, despite have stood before the mast in that squally city, this sodden summer has your dripping diarist near breaking point. I remember wet summers as a kid, but a shower of hailstones at the Connacht Final ten days ago? That’s just not natural. That fool that wrote the Pina Colada song, who liked getting caught in the rain, was clearly never caught in the rain that often, or else its appeal would quickly have paled with him. An Spailpín Fánach, laid low all week with a dose of the ‘flu, has been caught in the rain now once too often, and he is sick, sick, sick of it. It’s strictly California Dreamin’ with me for the rest of this sorry summer.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Championship Rolls On Minus Mayo

Might as well get used to it....One of the few good things to come from Mayo’s humiliation in Derry is the (relative) absence of cries for John O’Mahony to be taken hence from his place to residence to the summit of Nephin, and there to have the blood eagle cut from his back under a full moon in punishment for not winning the All-Ireland. It could be that the county realises we have a limited cache of Messiahs, and need to make the current one last as long as we can.

No matter. Mayo got kicked in the derrière in the Derry air, and it’s all over now until the FBD League, when we stand watching Mayo 2008 against Sligo IT, while wearing the same overcoats we’ve had to wear throughout this thoroughly wretched summer. Even the traditional post-defeat invective, where such and such a player is condemned as the biggest disgrace to the jersey since Old God’s time, seem to have lost a little impetus. What’s the point? Sometimes, it’s plainly obvious that a team isn’t good enough. Rather than improving after last year’s humiliation Mayo disimproved, not repairing the fault lines so hideously evident against Kerry and generating two more, caused by the absences of Ciarán McDonald and Ronan McGarrity.

O’Mahony tried more options than he was given credit for in the League, but none of them took off the way he and the county would have desired. By the time the game in Salthill came around panic had begun to set in, and by the time Mayo re-appeared in the qualifiers O’Mahony was ringing the changes at a furious rate, in the manner of a parachutist who has tried three rip cords to no success, and is now beginning to brace himself for an inevitable and unpleasant impact.

Talking to people, it’s interesting to note that, as ever, no two people have the same view of a game, a team or a season. To some, the old guard are all washed up and must go the way of the cooper and the stonemason. To others, the young guard’s inability to step up meant that it was only the veterans that kept the colours flying for as long as they did. Believe whom you want to believe. It doesn’t really matter at this stage. The panel can concentrate on the club championship, and get some pints in. More luck to them, and we’ll see them again in 2008 when the road goes ever on.

As for the rest of this season, An Spailpín would see Sam as being either Kerry or Cork’s to lose. I do not rule out Tyrone – it would be the foolish, foolish boy that would – but one can’t help but think that the absences of Brian McGuigan, Peter Canavan and someone to play fullback will come back to haunt them. As I remarked to Noel Walsh on All Points North yesterday, Cork and Monaghan finished their provincial finals with stronger teams than when they started. Laois and Galway, by contrast, have serious problems, are quite vulnerable indeed against Derry and Meath respectively. At this point your correspondent would see Derry, Monaghan, Cork and Meath as coming out of the qualifiers to face the provincial champions, and after that it’s all down to the draw. Insofar as your dull-witted diarist can interpret the runes, it’s an open draw who faces whom in the next two rounds, with the Provincial Champions - if they survive – playing at fixed points in the semis.

There are some tasty ties in prospect. What will Sligo be like next time they’re out? They would be the choice opposition of any of the surviving qualifiers, as they well know themselves, but if they have any remnant of that lightning they bottled in the Hyde perhaps the dream can go on.

A Cork v Dublin quarter final would be delicious, of course, not least as An Spailpín believes that it would give Frank Murphy, that great man of Cork GAA, the opportunity to pull his finest stroke yet. Frank baby, drop me a line – you and me should talk some time, like two men of honour.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Feartlaoi Tí Tábhairne

Thárla rud ait uaigneach liom i mBéal an Átha an deireadh seachtaine seo caite. Seo an scéal.

Bhíos ag siúl síos Sráid Uí Chonaile, ag dul lastall tí tábhairne Liam Mhic Éil, nuair a tháinig fear amach agus a shín a lámh amach dom. Bheannaigh sé dom, agus bheannaigh mé do arís, cé nach raibh fios agam cé hé. Tá sé sin ceart go leor - bíonn aithne ag cuid maith daoine ormsa i ngan fios dom féin, agus 'sé mo thuairim go bhfuil sé níos easca agus níos fearr cara nua a dhéanamh in ionad namhaid éigin. Mar sin, thógas a lámh agus croitheas é.

Ach bhíos trí chéile nuair a bhfuaireas amach nárbh fios do cé hé mise ach an oiread. Cén fáth go gcroitheadh duine lámh duine i ngan fios ceachtar acu cé hé an duine eile? Ach ansin tháinig an freagra, agus bhí gach rud soléir.

"Is cuimhim liom tusa ag ól i nGaughan's," a duirt sé, agus thuigeas gach rud anseo.

Tá teach tábhairne Gaughan's dúnta i mBéal an Átha le bliain nó mar sin - scríobhas céanna sa bhlaigín seo agama an cailleadh ab ea an dúnadh. Ach ó oíche Dé Sathairn tá sé soleir dom go bhfuil cuid mó a phobail á ghearradh dá bhrí a dhúnadh fós, agus iadsan i ngan fios cá rachadís anois. D'iarr an fear an ceist céanna ormsa - cá bhfuilim ag ól anois?

"Bhuel, nílim," a duirt mé leis, go fírinneach. "Táim im' dheoraí sa bhaile seo anois. Nílim ann anois mar a bhínn. Níl tógaim deoch sa bhaile ach ins na tithe ina dtógtar mé."

Sméidh sé a cheann ansin, go cnéasta, ach go brónach freisin, agus d'fhill sé ar ais ar a phíonta. Leann mé fein ar aghaidh, agus d'fhilleas go dtí Teach Mhic Éil arís tar eis leathuair a chlo. Ach ní raibh mo dhuine ansin. Bhí sé imithe ar thóir áit éigin eile, ina ngeobhadh sé beagán bhláis Gaughan's arís. Tá súil agam go ngeobhaidh, ach níl mórán dóchas agam. Agus níl fios agam freisin cathain a bhfillfidh mé ar áis go mBéal an Átha ach an oiread.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Live in Dublin: Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band

Da BossAs this miserable summer drizzles on, the nation could do a lot worse than to give itself a quick taste of last winter, and invest twenty yo-yos or so in Bruce Springsteen with Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. It’s well worth the money.

Springsteen has had to carry the mantle of being the future of rock and roll for over thirty years. The remarkable thing is that not only has Springsteen successfully carried that mantle, he’s lived up to and surpassed it long ago. Springsteen has hewn his own place in the history of American popular music, and his Live in Dublin double CD is as significant a record as any he’s released in his career.

Springsteen has never been afraid to follow his own lights rather than commercial imperatives. He’s always been aware of where his music has come from, as evidenced by the regular presence of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land in his live set in the seventies and eighties. Early last year, after returning to form with the release of The Rising in 2002, Springsteen decided to fully address his folk roots with the release of We Shall Overcome last year, which featured a specially assembled band to showcase Springsteen’s tribute to the folk and gospel records to which he grew up in the sixties.

Marvellous and all as We Shall Overcome is, the band hadn’t been that long assembled. They had six months of hard practice under the Boss by the time they took the stage in the Point Depot in November of last year and were all set to rock the night, which is exactly what they proceeded to do.

The press reaction here was muted, which was a pity; sometimes one wonders if they Irish cultural media are capable of discovering anything that they haven’t been directly spoonfed by Mr Walsh or his ilk. But now Springsteen himself has released a live record of those two shows in the Point, and what a remarkable achievement that release is. For the Springsteen back catalogue, it’s like another face was carved into Mount Rushmore and nobody noticed. No matter; they soon will, and won’t quickly forget.

The single most remarkable thing about Live in Dublin is just how many disparate stands of American music Springsteen gathers and unifies. We Shall Overcome was very much a child of the Pete Seeger folk boom of the sixties; listening to it one could almost smell the coffee, cheap wine and weed. But Live in Dublin gives Springsteen a bigger canvas, and it’s one he has the big band – fifteen musicians – fill to the last square inch with hillbilly, folk, rock and roll, jazz, bebop and that single strand that is uniquely Springsteen himself.

This is a man that clearly thinks a lot about his music, and it shows. He is able to combine musical genres on Live in Dublin that, in their own environments, were mortal enemies. Springsteen looks to his back catalogue – especially Nebraska, interestingly enough – and reinvents such canonical Springsteen classics as Atlantic City and Blinded by the Light. What with Bob Dylan in latter years has been strictly self-indulgence here becomes a complete new lease of life, showing just from how many wells Springsteen has fed his muse.

Open All Night is the record’s tour de force. On Nebraska, it’s another Springsteen-on-the-Highway track. On Live in Dublin, it’s eight minutes of swinging bebop, boogie woogie piano, stellar scat singing from the Sessionettes and an all-around stompin’ and swingin’ good time. Bruce Springsteen is American music. Treat yourself.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Johnno Goes for Broke

Deputy DogSeven weeks after Mayo’s latest humiliation in Salthill, Mayo manager John O’Mahony had a choice – he could stick with what we were used to and limp on in the Championship, eventually waiting for a sweet and anonymous dispatch in Crossmaglen or Ballyshannon, or he could go for broke, shake up the whole setup and let the cards fall where he may. In the end, it was no choice at all.

Much has been said in the past of Johnno’s innate conservatism – he is a Fine Gaeler after all – but it seems, as the county Mayo awaits this new model Mayo that’s been delivered so late in the summer, that the chief motivating force under O’Mahony’s bonnet is a thrilling hated of losing. The deep and caustic sting of being taken off after five minutes in the 1975 Connacht Final has never left him, and that fire has forged, in its way, today’s revolutionary lineup to face Cavan in Castlebar on Saturday evening. If Mayo lose, what of it? It’s not like it’ll be the first time, or the last. But if they win, if this new look team can bottle lightning, then the county will sit down to Sunday night’s draw with no small amount of interest and eagerness.

The team, for anyone that hasn’t seen it, is: David Clarke; Aidan Higgins, Liam O’Malley, Trevor Howley; Peadar Gardiner (c), David Kilcullen, Trevor Mortimer; David Heaney, David Brady; Billy Joe Padden, Pierce Hanley, Alan Dillon; Conor Mortimer, Barry Moran, Alan Moran.

Astonishing, really. It’s hard to remember a time when a Mayo team was so remodelled in a season but then again, the backdoor is only with us for six years, and it’s hard to say, in Mayo’s four previous and inauspicious journeys in the land of the undead, just how interested anybody was, really.

John O’Mahony is clearly interested, and so is the panel. The message is clear – if you’re good enough, you’re in, and reputation counts for nothing. It isn’t even necessarily the end of the road for some old campaigners – better to see Jimmy Nallen stride in from the bench to guide the ship safely home in the last ten minutes than to see him wrecked before the mast once more, and to send in a stripling before some Cavan men whose nostrils are flaring at the scent of an unexpected victory. But it does show this – that as far as John O’Mahony is concerned, Mayo are still in contention for Championship 2007, and will be while they can still stand on their feet.

Will it work? Who knows? But it matters little, really. If all accounts coming out of Cavan are accurate, the Breffni County that won 39 Ulster titles and five All-Irelands are but shadows of themselves, and the three defections to the Chicago Championship were hardly three endorsements of summer glory to come. Cavan are there to be had. On the other hand, if it is to be Cavan’s day, then good luck and more power to them. Mayo can have few complaints in that regard – Mayo will have tried their best and played all their cards, and been found out as not being good enough. There’s no shame in that. Thirty-one teams aren’t good enough in any given year and, after the traumas of the past three years, we are as well to fall on our own sod as to repeat the caught-in-the-spotlight eviscerations of 2004 and 2006.

However, if it does work out, then we are looking at a Mayo team that will have sloughed off the defeat in Salthill, and who knows what else besides. Our Sligo neighbour William Butler Yeats (and best of luck to his countymen against Galway on Sunday) pointed out that the young have no need to dread the monstrous crying of the wind, to which we can include for these purposes the Munster crying of the windy, as Kerry and Cork smile among themselves after confirming their status as the two best teams in the country with that little phoney war in Killarney on Sunday. Youth knows neither fear nor limit, and if Pierce Hanley and Barry Moran and young David Kilcullen can seize the day, then the world is theirs for the spoiling. Mayo then regroup, aware that Pat Harte, Ronan McGarrity and Ciarán McDonald, our prince of men, are as greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The defence has a more solid look to it, and the potential upfront is suddenly deep. It is always a mistake to count chickens but it will be with greater heart that the faithful will assemble in Castlebar on Saturday evening and, as long as we have a Mayo team to watch, doing their best for the proud old county of shamrock and heather, life can’t really be said to be all bad. Roll on Saturday.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Doctor Who and the Ear of Tin

Beirt Thiara AmaThere’s a marvellous line in the 1967 Batman movie – the old Burt Ward Batman, the Pow! Biff! Wallop! one, as opposed to the more sturm und drang of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s movies – where Batman goes into a restaurant. The maitre d’ asks Batman if he’d like his usual table.

“No,” says Batman. “I don’t want to attract attention.”

If you get that, you get science fiction and fantasy movies. If you don’t, you don’t, and you might as well surf on brother, and come back once I have it off my chest. Anyone who’s still here probably enjoys the touch of sci-fi as much as your correspondent, and is almost certainly as bitterly disappointed as An Spailpín Fánach with Saturday’s final episode of the third series of the revived Doctor Who.

The set-up had been marvellous, and John Simm munched scenery all around him last week as Harry Saxon, the new Prime Minister of Great Britain who is actually the Master, the Doctor’s fellow Time Lord and greatest foe. Simm had been so marvellous in Life on Mars that his casting was hailed all around as being sweet as a nut. Add in the synchronicity that Harry Saxon’s new term as PM coincided with Gordon Brown’s, the boringly real PM, and fans everywhere thought they were in for a treat – accroding to Gallifrey One, eight million viewers tuned in, a 39% audience share.

How silly they must feel now. It’s not much fun to be promised Frank Sinatra and be delivered Frank Spencer instead, and people are annoyed. And rightly so. Russell T Davies may have had sufficient industry clout to revive the beloved British hero in the first place and deserves kudos for that, but it’s fairly clear that when it comes to fantasy writing the kid has a tin ear and a profoundly limited understanding and appreciation of the genre. He just can’t do it.

The point of the Batman story above is that, for the citizens of Gotham City, seeing a six foot tall guy in a mask and cape chowing down on his meatloaf and mashed potatoes in a restaurant is no big deal. He’s part of the scenery. If you live in Gotham City you don’t double-take when you see Batman, any more than you double take if you see a junkie shooting up heroin by the river Liffey. It’s part of the scenery darling. And that little vignette showed all that. It didn’t tell, it showed.

Russell T always tells, and never shows. It’s awful. The first scene in last Saturday’s Last of the Time Lords tells what’s happened since The Master took over by having the misfortunate Martha Jones ask – ask! - some sham, and then he tells her. He tells her – I mean, why not have RTD come on himself, just like he’s reading the news? The mind boggles, and the tears flow.

Worse again, Davies’ plotting – what some terrible comment poster refers to on the Guardian’s Arts blog as “Davies ex machina” – lovely – is worse than feeble. He has no feel for the genre, a complete tin ear and no respect at all for the conventions under which all fantastic fiction must run. Because you’re asking for a suspension of disbelief in the first place by having time lords, or vampire slayers, or Vulcans, you have to stick rigidly to the rules of the universe you created. So, although the Doctor travels through time and space, he can’t use that as plot resolution. That would be cheating.

How does Davies’ resolve the Master’s one year dictatorship of Planet Earth? He gets the Doctor to turn back time by one year precisely. Angels and ministers of grace defend us.

Compare, contrast, and dear God, please learn, from Buffy, season two, episode 22, Becoming, Part 2. Angel’s soul has been restored by Willow’s use of the Orb of Thesulah. But, as senior writer Marni Noxon has pointed out, to simply magic up plot resolutions is cheating. Therefore, Joss Whedon uses the soul restoration as a further means to twist the knife – Angel’s soul is restored only after he has started the process of ending the world, a process that can only be stopped with his blood. So the heartbroken Buffy once more choses duty over desire, looks her first love in the eye, and runs him through with a sword. Now that’s writing.

Davies has a step of the road to go yet before he’s there. And he has to recalibrate his ear too – you need a certain language in fantastic writing, and Davies’ is just too damned twee to get it. Orb of Thesulah is good stuff. It sounds lovely. Davies’ predilection for ladies of a certain age who look like they own Aga cookers, a la Harriet Jones, MP, Florence Finnegan and Professor Docherty, is grand if he’s writing the Golden Girls, but this is Doctor Who, baby. It’s a completely different ballgame.

Bitterly, bitterly disappointing, especially after such a strong season. Doctor Who has gone from strength to strength since its return, as, if I may dare, Davies’ influence gets diluted by people who have a better understanding of how this stuff works. David Tennant is a considerable improvement on Christopher Eccleston (part of whose casting was his Northern accent, to show the Doctor isn’t actually a toff, thus ignoring the fact that the most popular Doctor had the plummiest voice of all), and some of the scripts have been marvellous. Blink was a triumph, Human Nature also (even if Family of Blood didn’t quite deliver on its promises) and your correspondent is prepared to fly in the face of popular opinion and say that he loved Daleks in Manhattan, and thought the pig-slaves were just marvellous (don’t you see? That’s what Daleks do! They enslave the locals! Oh, never mind). We have another Christmas episode to look forward to now, and then even more blissful news that Russell T may himself be moving on, and leaving the series to someone who understands the genre a little better. I wonder - does anyone know if the great Jane Espenson has ever wished to live and work in Blighty?

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