Friday, 31 July 2009

Boring conversation, anyway.

Apologies for not posting on here recently but it’s been a wild old ride at Casa Del Davies. For example, a couple of days ago I was abruptly awoken first thing in the morning. Which, as anyone who has met me for more than 30 seconds will tell you, is a sure-fire way to put me in a bad mood. Worse it wasn’t the warmth of companionship or the smell of bacon sizzling in a hot pan that jolted me from my slumber. Instead it was the sound of my girlfriend shouting up the stairs.

“Gareth! We’ve got Guinea Pigs!”

Now had it not been for the fact that 30 seconds earlier I had been dreaming of being a ringmaster in a circus where all the performers were crocodiles then I probably would have guessed that something wasn’t right. Because, if I'm honest, my darling partner only ever calls me “Gareth” if something requires my urgent attention. Otherwise she addresses me with an affectionate “G” or a not so affectionate “You there.”

However, considering that this was 7.30am and my brain doesn’t generally kick in until 2 in the afternoon, I misjudged the entire situation.

“Babe.” I huffed “I know we have Guinea Pigs. We’ve had them for quite a while now. They even have names”.

“No you moron!” screamed the future mother of my children, “We’ve got more Guinea Pigs!”


It turns out that little Aphrodite (Gee Note: The artist formerly known as Bill) had given birth overnight to a litter of pups. And so with a whiff of curiosity and a slight sense of dread I dragged my sorry ass out of bed and started to throw on some clothes. I was halfway through the traditional battle between my legs and a pair of trousers when another call came from downstairs.


Jeez. She sounds overrun. There must be, like, five thousand of the furry bastards.

Well no. There were only three. However one of them had become spooked and charged headfirst into the wire mesh on the front of the cage and got stuck (Gee Note: Awww bless. He takes after me). So after gently nudging the poor blighter back to safety before he could hurt himself, we swiftly broke a previously made promise not to name any of the baby Guinea Pigs and christened him “Stupid”.

The thing is the drama hasn’t ended there. Obviously to stop a repeat occurrence of this sort of thing we’ve got to get Loki, the father Guinea Pig, snipped (Gee Note: I hate to do it to the old boy but A) I do not want to be woken up in the middle of the night to go and rescue some incredibly daft rodent ever again and B) having never impregnated anything in my life he’s starting to make me look bad).

We’ve also got to work out what gender these three new arrivals are. Which is apparently very straightforward (Gee Note: “To sex your Guinea Pig, simply gently part the genital opening” says “That sounds easy” says I. “Dude, what the hell are you doing?” says the Guinea Pig. “I’m sexing you” says I. “Man, I don’t know what your game is, but shouldn’t you at least take me to dinner and a movie first?” says the Guinea Pig. “I don’t mean sex you in that way. I mean finding out if you’re a boy or a girl.” says I. “I know. I was joking. Tsk. Some people. No sense of humour.” says the Guinea Pig). Except I’ve been prodding the furry little swines for three hours now and the only firm discovery I’ve made is that they’re definitely Guinea Pigs. Outside of that they could be boy, girl, or some kind of giant evolutionary step forward as far as I know.

So yeah, so far this week has been a wee bit hectic. Still I guess it could be worse. My name could be Dolores Kane.

Allow me to explain. Or better yet, allow me to introduce you to David Shayler. Shayler, born in 1965, is a British citizen probably best known for being the most high profile person convicted for breaking the Official Secrets Act, a British law designed to protect sensitive information from finding it’s way in to the public domain.

Davey boy was gainfully employed by the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5, for six years until 1997. After leaving his post the Mail On Sunday, a newspaper that positively loves to scream the words “Political correctness gone MAD” at any given opportunity, paid Shayler a whopping £40,000 to sell his story. Which he did. More importantly he gave the Mail a bunch of red stamped MI5 documents which proved to be very interesting reading indeed.

These documents appeared to claim that during the 1980’s MI5 had become “obsessed” with socialists and had in fact kept files on current Cabinet ministers Jack Straw, Harriet Harman, and The Lord Mandelson (Gee Note: Which is apparently the correct way in which to address Lordships. Despite the fact it makes them sound like they’ve been given orders from the Emperor to rid the galaxy of those pesky Jedi Knights). By 1997 all three had become high profile members of Britain’s new ruling political party Labour. So as you can probably imagine, the fact that they were once considered worth keeping an eye on by Military Intelligence was most certainly scandal worthy.

Shayler, claiming that he leaked the files in order to serve public interest, also started telling anyone who would listen that MI6 (Gee Note: You know, that place where James Bond had a licence to shake and not stir and would throw hats on Miss Moneypenny. I think that‘s what he did anyway. I don’t know. I always try reading stuff by Ian Flemming but then he says something like “And as everyone knows, homosexuals can’t whistle” and I give up) plotted an assassination attempt against Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. David then realised that continuing to give away government secrets might just land him in some hot water. And so he promptly scampered off to France.

Now there’s a reason why Ronnie Biggs, after escaping from prison while serving time for his part in Great Train Robbery, chose Brazil as his hiding place. There’s also a reason why Lord Lucan possibly ended up in India after accidentally killing his nanny. Those places are about five million miles away from Britain and have enough poverty riddled villages to chill out in without the worry of your face flashing up on a television screen. France on the other hand is right next door to Britain, most of it’s pretty well built up, and they speak pretty good English.

So see if you can guess what happened.

No go on, guess.

That’s right. Shayler was caught by the French police and flung in to jail. He was held without charge for four months while the British government, tired of being embarrassed by this wannabe Deep Throat, desperately petitioned their French counter parts for Shayler’s extradition. France, being France, had other ideas and after umming and ahhing for a bit rejected the British governments pleas and released David back in to the public (Gee Note: You know, a cynical person might suggest the French do this kind of thing just to mess with us Brits. Not me though. I love the French. I mean they’ll incarcerate a man for four months for, er, no real reason. It’s like a Buster Keaton movie come to life).

Shayler returned to Britain in 2000 of his own accord. He was arrested just hours after setting his feet back on English soil, and charged with three separate accounts of exposing official secrets. After two years of convictions and appeals he was eventually sentenced to six months hard time. Less than seven weeks later he was judged to have paid his debt to society and was again a free man.

And so, no longer forced to run from the law, Shayler did what any sensible ex-con does. He settled down, found himself some regular work, and lost his mind.

No really, the dude’s completely lost his mind.

Last week the Daily Mail did a follow up piece on their former source. It turns out that Shayler is now squatting in a farmhouse in Surrey, smoking a shed load of cannabis, and wearing a dress and insisting people call him “Dolores Kane” (Gee Note: OK so I’d like to point out that I have absolutely no problem with men and women wearing the opposite genders clothes. I mean it’s only a piece of fabric after all. No big deal. Whatever makes you happy. But if you’re a transvestite you can also pick your own name right? So why on Earth would you intentionally choose a name that makes you sound like a two bit Vegas stripper? Dolores Kane. You might as well go the whole hog and call yourself Tits McGee).

Oh and he’s claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Yeah, I know.

You see since his time in the chain gang David’s been a busy boy. For a start he’s become an outspoken critic of the “official” version of the events of 9/11. While initially embraced by the 9/11 Truth Movement, who were undoubtedly swayed by our lad’s impressive background in MI5, as soon as he started spouting his theory that the planes that crashed in to the twin towers where in fact missiles camouflaged by holograms (Gee Note: You know, like the one Darth Vader used instead of a cell phone) the folks at the 9/11 Truth Whatever started to do that thing where people shuffle their feet and whistle and pretend to look at something, possibly a bee, flying above their head.

And when he started to talk about being the reincarnation of the Son of God the 9/11 Conspiracy Posse officially washed their hands of him. Not to worry though, Shayler took the lesson taught by the previous occupant of the spirit of Christ, Che Guevara, and turned the other cheek.

(Gee Note: For those keeping score at home, David Shayler was born in 1965. Che Guevara died in 1967. Now I’m not entirely sure exactly how reincarnation is supposed to work but, well, you can see where I’m going with this.)

Now all of this might remind you of a certain Mr. David Icke. You remember him right? The sports broadcaster who claimed to be the son of God before deciding he, er, wasn’t and instead started telling anyone who would listen that the World was controlled by 9ft tall shape shifting aliens. Well the comparison isn’t lost on Shayler. “David’s done some enormously important work”, he was quoted as saying before going on to claim that Icke was the John The Baptist to Shayler’s Batman Christ.

In a revealing interview with the Independent a couple of days after the initial report in the Mail, Shayler put forward his views that on December 23rd 2012 Gaia the spirit the links all life will awaken and reshape the cosmos. Also he suggests that society's problems can be cured if we all grew some hemp. As for the cross dressing which, along with the claiming to be Jeebus is sure to annoy the snot out of the religious right, Shayler has this to say.

"I don't give a f*** what other people think of me.” (Gee Note: Good to hear, because I think you’re f****** barking mate) “A bloke in a frock is whole lot less offensive than blowing up innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.".

Which is tough to argue with I guess. Of course it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s like saying a banana is less dangerous than a bomb. Well sure it is, but I still don’t like bananas.

Of course the real issue here is that David Shayler has gone from Britain’s most notorious secret seller to the media equivalent of a travelling freak show. And, I don’t know about you, but to see someone who once caused panic behind Government doors reduced to a “human interest” story is kind of disappointing. It’s hard not to wish that he could lose the JC mumbo jumbo, the new age consciousness crap, and the conspiracy theories, because truth be told he would make one hell of a political pundit, dress or no dress. Somehow however I doubt that Shayler would agree with me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and patch up the wire mesh on the front of the cage. Turns out that Guinea Pigs can be just as silly as humans sometimes.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Do you know what I hate most about this place? There is nothing to pick up and throw.

Oh for the love of Betsy.

Really? Is that where we are with all this now? I mean c'mon. The face on the car looks more like Corey Feldman than it does MJ (Gee Note: By the way, I know Corey isn't exactly the sanest of chaps out there, but who goes to Michael Jackson's funeral dressed as Michael Jackson? It would be like going to a child's costume party dressed as Gary Glitter. I.E. Inappropriate. Now it would be a different thing if EVERYONE else was wearing a Michael Jackson costume as well. That would be pretty cool. Actually, thinking about it, it's the way I'd want to go. Tens Hundreds Thousands of people all paying their respects wearing long ginger wigs and big fake beards. That would be mint. The only way it would be better is if all those Gee impersonators were joined by a bus load of heart broken bikini models. "Oh Gareth Davies!" they'll wail, "Where will we ever find such a charming and wonderful man as you?". Where indeed ladies. Where indeed).

The above video report was brought to you by the online version of the British newspaper The Daily Tory Telegraph. About a day before the same website had managed to irritate me beyond belief by posting a headline "The Beatles: kidnapped by aliens?". You see this week I've been struggling with inspiration for this blog. I don't know why. I just haven't been in the zone I guess. Normally I'll either think about or stumble across something that fascinates me and, after a wee bit of research, spend the next four hours mashing a keyboard hoping something constructive comes out of it. This week however, despite a million different things potentially worth blogging about landing in my inbox, nothing has really grabbed my attention. I've been running dry, like Whoopi Goldberg in a convent (Gee Note: Also I watched Sister Act 2: Back in The Habit for the 500th time the other day. I still have absolutely no idea what's going on in that movie. Why does Lauryn Hill's mother forbid her from joining the school choir despite the fact it will automatically get her a good grade? Why is there a monk obsessed with a frozen German sausage? Why do all the other monks think nothing of it rather than, you know, quietly suggesting that the sausage obsessed monk should seek counselling? It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense).

That was until I saw that headline. Now I've got to admit I'm a bit of a Beatles fan. It's my father's influence I guess. When going on family vacations my dad would have a stack of cassette tapes to keep him awake while he was driving all the way from our house in Swansea to somewhere in central Europe. And so the excitement of going holiday, the wonder of seeing foreign and exotic lands, will forever be accompanied with a soundtrack consisting of The Beatles, Queen, The Kinks, and Rod Stewart to name but a few. At least in my mind it is. For me nothing says "holiday" like "Good Day Sunshine", "Paperback Writer" or "Ticket to Ride".

So Beatles? Aliens? Kidnapped??? What's not to love? This is either going to be the greatest the story ever, or at least worth a few chuckles at some conspiracy nut's latest theory involving the fab four.

Sadly it's neither of those. Instead it's a blog entry written by the Telegraph's resident music critic Neil McCormick. McCormick had recently been invited to the legendary Abbey Road recording studios to watch a demonstration of the new Beatles themed Rock Band video game. McCormick apparently found the whole thing underwhelming, thinking that people having fun by pretending to be John, Paul, George and Ringo is a bit silly. Well that was the gist of it anyway. I don't know. To be honest as soon as I realised the piece had nothing to do with little green men abducting and experimenting on Richard Starkey I lost interest, and resumed banging my head against the desk hoping for something, anything, to present itself and pique my interest.

Thank the maker for the Freemason's.

On July 16th the BBC reported that a group of Masons had been arrested in Fiji. Now before we start, allow me to state that I know nothing about Freemasons. Nor in fact do I care all that much to find out. Freemasons have always struck me as a grown up version of those fraternities you get in American colleges. You know, the type of groups that initiate members by blindfolding them, stripping them naked, and firing a BB gun at their genitals from point blank range (Gee Note: To be honest with you I have no idea how accurate that statement is. For all I know fraternities could be wonderful places filled with cakes and pillows. However I've watched enough American crime dramas to know that if a college student dies under mysterious circumstances then it was one or more members of the fraternity that did it. Usually the guy with really rich father. The one who pays the smart student to do his work for him. And then one day the smart kid goes "Woah. This is kinda shady. I'm not doing it anymore". And so the rich kid decides to convince some of his frat brothers to pull a prank on the smart kid, usually involving something insanely dangerous like a chainsaw. And before you know it, oh gosh, the smart kid's gone and snuffed it and Patrick Jane is on the scene asking smart ass questions and smiling a lot).

Despite the fact that Freemasonry smacks of a boy's own club for men who can't make friends any other way, Freemason's are positively loved by our society's guardians of common sense - the conspiracy theorist. Here are just some of the many conspiracy theories allegedly involving those wacky Masons. (Gee Note: Why not do a little drum roll before reading each one? I Saw Elvis In The Woods. Leading the way in interactivity.)

1. Freemasons are either controlled by or are part of The Illuminati. Which are 9ft tall shape shifting alien lizardmen intent on controlling the Earth. If you believe David Icke. Why they would want to do that is anyone's guess. I mean it seems like awful hard work. If I was a shape shifting alien I'd simply turn myself in to Adam West, throw on a cape, and spend the day running around Beverly Hills looking for crime to fight all day long. I mean sure being the all powerful overlord of Earth is fun an' all. It's just being Batman is better.

2. Freemasons are a Jewish front for world domination. The Jews, which are 9ft tall shape shifting alien lizardmen intent on con… oh wait. Sorry. That not's right. Jews are, well, they aren't Christians. Which apparently makes them inherently evil somehow. I don't know. Jenny's Jewish. And she once made me a chocolate brownie. Which was very tasty. So either they aren't evil. Or they are but can also make tasty treats. Which would then automatically make them less evil. I'm all kinds of confused by this.

3. Freemasons killed JFK. Because he wasn't Jewish. Nor was he a 9ft tall shape shifting alien. I think. I mean I never knew the guy personally or anything.

4. Freemasons faked the lunar landings. Just to screw with us.

And so on and so on. Getting back to the arrests in Fiji, one of the most commonly held theories about Freemasons is that they practice occult rituals. You know, worshiping the Devil, sacrificing goats, listening to Madonna records. That type of thing. It's an accusation flatly denied by Masons. Satan lovers? Witchcraft? Sorcery? Dark arts? No way. Not us Jack.

According to the report on the Beeb 14 men including eight Australians and one New Zealander were arrested after complaints by locals that they were practicing “witchcraft”. They were detained overnight where they spent a “wretched” time in jail. They claimed that nothing untoward was going on during their meeting, and blamed the commotion on “dopey village people”.

Which is all understandable. Except according to the reports during the raid the police seized compasses, wands, and a skull.

Wands. And a skull.

Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen a skull close up since I was in biology class in school. In fact unless you are a physician of some sort, I’m struggling to think of any single reason as to why you would own one. Let alone bring it along to a meeting (Gee Note: Although it would certainly liven up a quiet drink in the pub. “Hey guys! Look what I’ve got!”. “Jesus!!! Dude! Put that away! Not cool man. Not cool.”). And unless you’re planning to enrol in Hogwarts I would think wands would be surplus to requirements as well. So what the hell were you doing with them in the first place if not at least pretending to practice some sort of “sorcery”.

You see, either you’re conducting a set serious rituals or your not. And if you are then, you know, using a skull and wands might be misconstrued as some sort of witchcraft by even the most sensible of folk. If your not then all you’re doing is taking part in a dress up game. And if that’s the case out of then the two parties involved, the villagers and the Masons, it’s not the former who are “dopey”.

But hey, here’s one glimmer of light for all you Freemasons out there. Despite how embarrassing this episode has been, it’s at least given me something to blog about.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Still I have lived so many lives. It's time to find another one.

Torchwood discovering some form has capped off a pretty strange week. For a start one of our guinea pigs is pregnant. Which came as something of a shock I can tell you. Especially since we've been calling the lady in question "Bob" for the past three months. So it means that either the guy in the pet store lied to us or "Bob" has swallowed a football. Which ever way it goes, it appears I'll be busy finding new homes for some wee little rodents in the next fortnight or so. Or buying myself a new football. You know, one of the two.

Secondly Britney Spears is back in the news again, specifically in an article published in "NOW!" magazine. For those not familiar with the wonder that is "NOW!", it's one of those tremendously trashy celebrity obsessed rags featuring stories such as "Miley Cyrus buys some new shoes". Anyway this weeks issue featured the epic headline "Britney Goes Crazy AGAIN!!!!" (Gee Note: How great is that? The only way it could be any better was if it read "Britney - Top Shrink Says "She's F***ing Bonkers Man!”). Now according to more reputable sources Britney has spent the past two years or so gradually reclaiming her grasp on reality after shaving all her hair off and speaking in a British accent. So what could have sent her on this dreadful downward spiral?

Well nothing really. It's just that according to a former bodyguard it turns out that Britney thinks that Unicorns are real and that they live in a Zoo "somewhere in New Zealand". And that's it. I mean OK, believing in Unicorns is a bit daft and all but it doesn't make you crazy. Covering yourself in human excrement, standing on a street corner, and shouting "BEWARE THE LUMINOUS FRIDGE!!!!!" at anyone who walks past. Now that's crazy. And I'm sure it's been, oh gosh, ages since Ms. Spears has done something like that.

Secondly it turns out I spoke too soon about LaToyah Jackson. You may remember in a earlier blog post I wrote about how frustrating it must be for the media that LaToyah, the second most unbalanced of the Jackson children, wasn't saying anything even remotely bonkers to the press. Well dagnammit if she hasn't gone and made me look like a fool. The News Of The Screws World reported this Sunday that LaToyah had released… um…. this statement.

I believe Michael was murdered, I felt that from the start. Not just one person was involved, rather it was a conspiracy of people. He was surrounded by a bad circle. Michael was a very meek, quiet, loving person. People took advantage of that.

People fought to be close to him, people who weren’t always on his side.
Less than a month ago, I said I thought Michael was going to die before the London shows because he was surrounded by people who didn’t have his best interests at heart. Michael was worth more than a billion dollars. When anyone is worth that much money, there are always greedy people around them. I said to my family a month ago, he’s never going to make it to London. He was worth more dead than alive.

(Gee Note: Dammit LaToyah! We had a deal. Remember that? You wouldn't say anything completely mad an in return I would say how refreshing it was that you hadn't said anything completely mad. Tsk I don't know. We're going to have to start this thing all over again now.)

Anyway, getting back to Torchwood. At one point in my last post I happened to mention that Torchwood was one of Russell T Davies’s final swan songs as the man in charge of the Whoniverse.

And that’s exactly what it turned out to be. In fact, it was almost as if Russ went “Right then boys. I’ve screwed up the last four Doctor Who story arcs. Chibnall’s managed to screw up the entirety of Torchwood. Let’s see if we can’t put this right between us huh?”. And thinking about it, Russell must have been desperate for it to work. You see Doctor Who will survive long after Davies has left the series, and under the guidance of Stephen Moffett it will probably become far more critically acclaimed. Torchwood on the other hand is on the edge. High ratings yes - but really would anyone miss it if it was gone? And so with Torchwood Davies has the chance to not only show how talented he really is, but also help redeem the reputation of all involved in the project.

And after the five episodes mini series last week we can safely say it was mission accomplished.

The thing is this may very well be the end of Torchwood. It's certainly the end of Torchwood as we know it. And if it is then, by God, it’s one hell of a way to bow out. In five hours of televised broadcast there was enough emotional highs and lows to satisfy even the most hardened soul. Arguably it’s Davies’s best work. It certainly a thousand times better than his work for Doctor Who. If you’ve never seen Torchwood before, you may want to skip the first two series and head straight to this. Trust me, everything before it was just prologue. A badly written prologue.

Speaking of badly written prologues - the reason I called this meeting today was to discuss UFO's. In a relatively small story, those guardians of common sense at The Sun newspaper recently ran a piece about how Great Britain is having a bit of a boom period for UFO sightings this year, with a staggering 231 individual cases reported to the Ministry of Defence in the past six months (Gee Note: Why the hell anybody bothers reporting UFO's to the Ministry of Defence I have no idea. I mean really, if the evidence of the recently released "UFO Files" is anything to go by, the amount of investigation that those work shy bastards carry out is "So you saw a UFO huh? Did anyone die? No? Good, I think that's all the information we need. Thanks for your time"). This puts the UK well on course for a record number of reported UFO sightings in one year, the previous record being established all the way back in, er, 2008 with 285 sightings over the full 12 months.

But where has this sudden burst of sky high activity come from? Well numerous theories have been put forward. One suggests that our skies are getting busier thanks to increased alien activity in the lead up to 2012. Which, as any sane person will tell you, is when the World is due to come to an end. Or not. Whatever. Britain’s own Nick Pope, one of the foremost experts on this type of thing, disagrees. It's not that the skies are busier Jack. Oh no. UFO's have always been a plenty. Nowadays however, thanks to the fact that mobile phones and digital cameras are all the rage with the kids, people feel more confident in reporting them because they can back them up with grainy video footage. Hooray technology.

Now Nick Pope is certainly a smart chap. So he could very well be correct in his hypothesis, and that the soon to be introduced camera clothes could lead to an even bigger boom in extra terrestrial sightings (Gee Note: Does anyone else think that there are some scientists out there with way too much time and money on their hands? “Hmmm… you know we should develop clothes that take photos.” “You know Jim, you may be on to something. After that we can make shoes that can cook a rotisserie chicken.” “Trebles all around!”). But I have my own theory as to what’s caused this upsurge in sightings.

It’s hardly scientific, and I’ve done nothing in the way of research, but I reckon it’s all to do with the global economic crisis.

You see in times like these people need some form of escapism. It’s the reason why currently Sci-Fi televsion is being churned out by every major network across the land. Why comic book movies are the number one attraction at the cinema this summer. Why at this very moment I’m listening to some Japenese pop music while drinking wine out of a mug (Gee Note: Because that’s how I roll). So my guess is that some people might find it soothing to watch the skies at night. It is human nature after all that in times of crisis we try and hang on to hope in even the most bizarre ways. It’s possible that a lot of us are simply hoping that there’s another life form in this universe. And maybe, just maybe, those other life forms will be able to save us. Either that or their in a much worse state than we are. Both will probably let us feel a lot better about things if we’re honest.

Sadly despite all those sightings, aliens have yet to be proven to exist definitively. And so until then we’re left to find our own ways to escape.

Now if you’ll excuse me, a headline in “NOW!” has just caught my eye. “Jennifer Anniston Goes Back To Gerard Butler”? This I gotta read.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth. A review. Kinda.

A brief return of our occasional feature "Gee watches a Science Fiction television programme and give his opinion on it. Lots of people then email him to tell him he's wrong.".

“We can be a bit more visceral, more violent, and more sexual, if we want to. Though bear in mind that it's very teenage to indulge yourself in blood and gore, and Torchwood is going to be smarter than that.”

So said Russell T. Davies. The above quote is taken from an article in SFX magazine in 2005. Davies, the executive producer and head writer for long running Sci-Fi show Doctor Who, had given an interview to SFX to help promote a new project, one he hoped would cement his reputation as one of the most powerful players in British television.

Earlier that year Doctor Who itself had been given a “reboot”. For those not familiar with the term, a reboot is when an old franchise long since sent to the doldrums is brought back, dusted off, spruced up a bit and sent forth with a modern day attitude. Sometimes this proves to be very successful, such as the absolute fun fest that was this years Star Trek movie. Other times… no… not so much… such as the recent “Bionic Woman” TV series, which lasted all of eight episodes before departing our screens forever with a whimper.

In 1989 after a 27 year run on the BBC it appeared the Doctor Who’s time had come to an end. A combination of low ratings, and the fact that new BBC programme controller Michael Grade didn’t care for the show, led to it being consigned to the trash can. It was a bitter sweet moment for long time fans of the show. The truth is that, despite glimpses here and there, Doctor Who had been struggling for a long time.

By the time the noughties had rolled around however, attitudes towards the good Doctor had changed somewhat. After a string of flops for the BBC in the field of “family entertainment”, including the God awful Spy-Fi show “Bugs”, the station had been left trailing in the ratings to long time rival ITV. The beeb desperate for something, anything, to stop the tide of viewers leaving for the competition started to shop around for new programmes.

They struggled initially however. It appeared that no matter how hard the BBC tried to pull something out of the bag they always came up short. Then in 2003 some bright spark realised that they already had the rights to an established brand name with iconic characters, and thought it might be worth pitching the idea to the higher ups in the BBC. Michael Grade, who by this point had become Chairman of the Beeb, decided to roll the dice against his better judgement and a new series of Doctor Who was given a green light. It was a brand new lease of life for the Time Lord.

But who would run the show? Well step forward had take a bow Mr. Russell T. Davies. Davies was born in Swansea in 1963 (Gee Note: Fun fact time. My cousin went to school with him. Which should mean that he’d definitely return my calls right? Well it turns out that, no, no it doesn’t. That Russell T. Davies. Just because he’s become all famous now. He thinks he so smartie) and studied English Literature in Oxford. After graduating he started to carve out a career in television, doing bits and bobs here and there. He wrote the odd children’s television programme, penning three episodes of Chucklevision and several more for hospital drama Children’s Ward. And in doing so he slowly worked his way up the television tree.

He moved in to adult drama - joining the writing teams for the soap opera Coronation Street and later the crime drama Touching Evil. And then in 1999 Russell hit the jackpot. Commissioned by Channel 4, at the time renowned for it’s contemporary and challenging content, Davies created and wrote a series called “Queer as Folk”. Dealing with the trials and tribulations of three gay men living in Manchester, it courted controversy with graphic portrayals of intercourse, as well as a storyline where a 15 year old minor has a sexual relationship with an older man. Amidst a storm of negative press reports and outcries from conservative members of the public, the show lost it’s main sponsor after only a couple of programmes.

It didn’t matter though . The programme did gangbuster numbers in the ratings, despite a late night time slot and all the poor media attention. Davies became a national celebrity in the process, and was labelled by pretty much everybody as the next big thing for British television. In America, thanks to folks like J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Sorkin, quality writer’s had become one of television's prized possessions. And finally the UK had one of it’s own. Russell T. Davies.

And so when trying to find the right person to helm this new Doctor Who, Davies was the obvious choice. Talented. Personable. Media friendly. Best of all, Russell T. was a self confessed Who fanboy. The BBC offered the position of lead writer for Doctor Who, as well as the sweetener of executive producer, to our Russ and he gladly accepted. It was a perfect match.

Since that very moment Doctor Who has gone from strength to strength. It has become the centrepiece of the BBC Saturday evening schedule. Some would argue it has become the centrepiece for the entire station itself. It regularly draws in high ratings, has won numerous awards, and made superstars out of actors like David Tennant and Billie Piper.

A lot of credit should go to Davies for this. He stripped away a lot of what made the previous Doctor Who such a mess, simplified the story of a lone alien looking for his place in the universe, and placed a greater focus on the human characters of the series, adding elements of soap opera style plot points such as family arguments and romance. It meant that for the first time in a long time Doctor Who was truly accessible. It was like a three ring circus. If you don’t like the elephants, you’ll like the clowns. If you don’t like the clowns, you’ll like the acrobats. Doctor Who literally had something for everyone.

There is however one criticism that can be laid squarely at Russell T. Davies’ door. And that is, ironically, for a man who obviously loves the genre he just doesn’t write Sci-Fi very well. No really, every Davies episode so far has had glaring issues, most notably the season finales. It appears that despite being able to write one hell of first chapter, Davies loses steam towards the end and inevitably it all falls apart. In the four series we’ve had so far, all four finales have been a let down. Even Davies’ mid season stand alone episodes have been more often than not marred by lame jokes, non sensical support characters, and plot holes the size of Madagascar. The harsh truth is a lot of the new Doctor’s finer moments has been the work of other writers, most notably Stephen Moffett and Paul Cornell.

Still at least Russell’s work has never come anywhere near as bad as the majority of Torchwood episodes.

Thanks to rip roaring success of Doctor Who, the BBC offered Davies the chance to create a post watershed Sci-Fi show. And so Davies came up with Torchwood, a spin off of Doctor Who starring the popular Who character Captain Jack Harkness. Harkness heads up a team of consisting of former police officer Gwen Harper, and all around dogsbody Ianto Jones. The team protect the world from extra terrestrial threats that all somehow end up landing in or around Cardiff.

Now go back to the top of this blog and read that quote again. It’s not hard to envisage Torchwood as some kind of “grownup Doctor Who”. A programme with all the good bits of Who but without the silliness put in there just for the kids. Except that’s not really the case. I might get in to trouble with Naveed over this but the truth is Torchwood is unbelievably daft.

For a start all the main characters are, apparently, bi-sexual. No really, they all end up bedding each other at some point. If that’s not bad enough then the aliens themselves aren’t much better. In only the second episode the crew’s major threat was an extra terrestrial gas that, um, well infected this poor lass, forcing her to boink people to death. It’s all very juvenile.

Still it’s not RTD’s fault, as the majority of the two season’s of Torchwood have so far been written by Chris Chibnall, a man to whom the word “subtlety” is seemingly a outdated concept in today’s 24/7 world.

However Torchwood has done fairly well in the ratings - leading to it’s promotion from cable channel BBC 3 all the way to the terrestrial channel BBC 1 for it’s third series. Probably thinking that little green men running around gang banging everything in sight wasn’t quite suitable for their main channel, the beeb has tweaked the format a wee bit. Rather than a 20 episode “monster of the week” season we now get a five episode mini-series to played over the course of one week. Most importantly, Chibnall has been replaced by the man who started it all - Russell T. Davies.

This is one of Russell’s final swan songs as Doctor Who head honcho - as at the end of this year he hands the reigns over to Stephen Moffett. So it’s fascinating to see what, if anything, he can do with Torchwood.

The first episode of the new series entitled “Children of The Earth” aired last night.

It rocked.

I mean really really rocked.

I want to say more, but I realise some of the readers of this blog are overseas and as such it hasn’t aired there yet. And so rather than do a full blown review and spoil everything I’ve decided to post the notes I made while watching the show last night.

Hope they make some sort of sense.

2 minutes to go - You know the trailer for this is actually quite good. But it is Torchwood. And RTD. Hopes not high.

1m34s - Well it's 1965 apparently. And we know this because everyone is wearing a woolly hat. Something to do with a bus full of kids walking towards a white light. Why? God knows. But some very dramatic violin music makes me think they're not going to someone's birthday party. Unless of course it's Michael Jackson’s birthday party. Which would explain the nervous look on kid's face actually.

2m33s - Why is everyone orange? I mean I know this is the first proper Torchwood in HD but come on man. This is Wales. No one gets a tan like that unless they happen to live next door to a nuclear reactor.

4m34s - Somehow, after a brief interaction with a guy who looks a bit like Mario, Gwen's suddenly quite likeable. Either that or this Buck's Fizz is a lot stronger than I thought.

6m48s - Nice interplay between Jack, Ianto, and a new hospital doctor guy who I think might be the next Torchwood recruit. Jack and Ianto somehow manage to be hysterical by trying to convince the doctor they are the concerned neighbours of a patient without really doing anything funny. That's pretty damn good acting. Whisper it quietly but this has been quite delightful so far.

10m34s - Hmmm. Torchwood has gone the way of Lost by asking a series of intriguing questions at the outset. Why are all these Chinese men dying for no reason? Why are children around the world coming to a full stop? Where have I seen the guy playing the Home office minister before?

14m59s - So the doctor is a new Torchwood recruit - good - there's something about him I like.

17m44s - Children have stopped again. Oooooh now there's a pretty beefy brass section playing in the background. Can't be good.

18m49s - That reminds me. I need to check the batteries on the fire alarm.

19m19s - Wow. A really freaky of chant of "We are coming" broken up in to "We... We... We... We are... We are... We are... We are coming... We are coming" which produces some major goose bumps. And then, completely ruined by a bloody stupid reaction shot from Gwen. "OH MY GOD". Dammit. For a brief moment there you had it.

26m36s - Seriously what the hell's happened to this programme? I've just had my heart strings pulled by two government officials I've never seen before. One asks the other "Do you have children?" and the other replies "Too busy working. (Pause) Turns out to be a God send". In that one exchange those two characters become fully three dimensional. Brilliant writing. Brilliantly executed.

32m05s - Gwen continues to be likeable. A lot of talk so far about Jack and Ianto being a couple which is probably going somewhere. Oh and the British Government are eeeeevil. This is whipping by.

42m57s - Paul Copley, an actor who turns up in so many programmes playing character parts that he's one of those guys people go "Oh it's him!" and never know his name has made an appearance as a mental patient. And he's fantastic. In a nice sit down with Gwen he manages to be sweet and lovely while also making you think he's crazy enough to snap her neck at any moment. Great stuff.

49m33s - Turns out the doctor isn't a new Torchwood recruit. Good. I, er, never liked him anyway.

53m52s - Gwen's happy. Everyone else is freaking out.

57m47s - And there we go. No sex for the sake of it. No swearing for the sake of it. No unnecessary gore. Completely enjoyable. I'm confused. Is this Torchwood?

I cannot wait to see where this goes. Of course it will more than likely lead to disappointment. It is Russell T. Davies after all.

But you have to admit, he CAN write one hell of a first chapter.

I’ll hopefully be back at the end of the week with some thoughts on the series as a whole. I’ll see you then.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

My producer is doing this to me, isn't he? I ask for a BAD guy and he gives me Michael Jackson? I can't take it anymore!

OK so, I finally bit the bullet and set up a twitter account. The good news is I am only about a year and a half late jumping on the bandwagon. The bad news is that I really have no idea what to do on there. I mean sure I get the basic concept of it. Let people know what you are up to. Come up with witty one liners. Ask celebrities questions they'll never reply to. That type of thing. Sadly I'm never really doing anything interesting. Nor am I that funny. So if you do wish to stalk follow me, expect lots of updates along the lines of "I'm sitting down." or "Mmmm, 50 slices of American cheese". Seriously that's about as exciting as my life gets.

One major annoyance with all this is that my first choice username "isawelvis" has already been bagged by some presumptuous little upstart in Tampa, Florida. In fact it appears all the good names are taken. I literally spent way too much time trying to set up an account with the user ids "flippermcginty", "foreshadowingbadger2", and "dudedidyouseethat?" only to be told "Sorry bro, you're not as original as you think you are" by Twitter's server. I finally gave up and settled for "elvisinthewoods", despite the fact that it makes no sense. Still unless there's a guy out there who prides himself on surviving on the berries he finds whilst humming "Heartbreak Hotel" then I think it should be a pretty unique tag.

Speaking of the King everybody's favourite pop icon Michael Jackson passed away last Thursday. Which is quite sad I guess. I don't know. I mean MJ's been on a slippery slope since 1993 so it's kinda amazing he lasted this long. He was diagnosed with lupus in the early 90's, as well as vitiligo which was the cause of his insanely pale skin. He'd been addicted to pain killers on and off since then, as well as barely eating enough to survive, and at the time of his death his 5'10'' frame only carried 112lbs (Gee Note: Dude I ate, like, 112lbs for breakfast this morning).

Truth is, even with all that going on, Jackson was a freakin' oddball. Not in the endlessly entertaining Lindsey Lohan/Britney Spears get smashed, throw up all over the paparazzi, and crash your Ferrari in to a fountain kinda odd. I mean Tom Cruise freaking out on Oprah and then later claiming that psychology is all a load of old bollocks kinda odd. Even if you discount half of the reports of his bizarre behaviour as being fabricated, such as him sleeping in an oxygen chamber, or buying the bones of Joseph Merrick "The Elephant Man", then his admission that he used to share a bathroom with a chimpanzee is enough.

Ah Bubbles, Jackson’s best friend who also happened to be an ape. In 1985 Michael "rescued" the chimp from a cancer research clinic in Texas. From that point they lived happily together until some point before 2003, where Jackson revealed that Bubbles had become overly aggressive (Gee Note: My theory? Nicotine withdrawal. Think about it.) and moved him to an animal sanctuary where he could throw faeces and swing on tires to his heart's content. My favourite story about Bubbles was reported in the National Enquirer some years back, where it claimed that Jackson's long time "rival" Prince had used extrasensory perception (Gee Note: Or woovy bezerk mind powers to you and me) to turn Bubbles crazy. Jackson was reported as saying "What kind of sicko would mess with a monkey?". Of course it was all made up. Never the less the idea of tiny little Prince sending mind bullets to Michael Jackson's chimpanzee just to, you know, mess with him still makes me chuckle.

Jackson's passing has of course meant that Papa Lazaru's Media Circus has come to town, bringing it's assorted collection of freaks and geeks along for the ride. LaToyah Jackson, Michael's sister, has been interviewed ad nauseum. Presumably in the hope that she'll say something scandalous, as she did in 1993 during a press conference in Tel Aviv amidst the first of Michael's trials dealing with alleged child abuse. When a member of the press asked LaToyah about the allegations she responded with a quite magnificent statement where she claimed she was tired of being a "silent collaborator" and was taking her stand against Michael's "crimes against small, innocent children".

Alas between now and then LaToyah, who claims to have been forced to be negative about Jackson by her abusive husband, has since retracted the whole thing and now has nothing but nice things to say about her brother. Which must be incredibly frustrating for the media. So it should come as no shock then that the press gang have brought out an old favourite to add some colour to the proceedings. Step forward and take a bow Michael Jackson's long time friend Mr. Uri Geller.

Uri Geller, born Gellér György in Tel Aviv in 1946, is… um… well look the dude claims to be able to effect material objects with the power of his mind. A gift that was apparently given to him by aliens. As in beings from another planet. Not Sting hanging out in New York or something. Geller became a sensation during the 1970's where thanks to various television shows across mainland Europe, Britain, and yes even America he displayed talents that had Europeans dropping their sausages, the British dropping their monocles, and Americans dropping their handguns (Gee Note: Causing chaos in the process. Tsk. Americans huh?) in astonishment.

But what caused such an international uproar? Well it was this kinda stuff.

(Gee Note: That night Swedish Accident and Emergency services were flooded. In homes across the nation cutlery that had been previous lying dormant on top of television sets suddenly leapt in to the air, causing many an innocent bystander to end up with a fork lodged in their eye. It was later blamed on a combination of a drifting weather balloon and an electrical storm. Why the f*** Swedish people were keeping cutlery on top of their television in the first place remains a mystery.)

Geller doesn’t just bend spoons mind. Oh no. He can also make watches go faster and slower, and move the dial on a compass, all by using the “supernatural powers”. The problem is a lot of other people can do the exact same thing just by performing regular magic tricks. In fact some people do it a lot better. Like this guy for example:

But while Geller freely admits that his powers can be replicated by simple stunts, he claims that he really does have supernatural gifts. Which of course is tremendously silly. Nobody really believes it. Still some people get very angry about the whole thing, thundering on about how Geller is a fraud and should be banned from making money by deceiving the public. One such person is James Randi.

It's almost impossible to type Geller's name in to a search engine and not stumble across a mention of Mr. Randi. Born in Toronto in 1928 this native Canadian was formerly a stage magician sometimes known as "The Amazing Randi" (Gee Note: Isn't it great magicians get to call themselves "Amazing" as part of their job role? Makes one think people should do it in other walks of life. Like a busy office for example. "Hey, Stu. Did you get those TPS reports completed?" "Brian, I no longer answer to the name Stuart. From now on I shall only be addressed as 'The Magnificent Stupendi'!!!!" "Er... OK. Magnificent Stupendi. Did you complete the TPS reports you were supposed to?" "The Magnificent Stupendi has no time for TPS reports! The Magnificent Stupendi was too busy fashioning a cape out polythene pockets. Look! Look how it flutters in the breeze!" "Man. You've got issues". ). Upon his retirement from magic at the age of 60, Randi turned his attention to investigating claims of the paranormal and supernatural. Using his background as a performer, Randi became an outspoken critic of psychics and the like, claiming they were using nothing more than the same type of tricks he practiced in his career. Determined to prove his point he did the rounds on many a talk show, and even made a series of television programmes with titles like "Secrets of the psychics EXPOSED!!!".

In 1996 Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation. The JREF serves as an institution to investigate paranormal claims using controlled scientific procedures, as well as educating the public against unverified claims of supernatural goings on. For a number of years now the JREF has offered a prize of $1,000,000 for anyone who can prove they have unworldly powers. Sadly it means undergoing various tests under stringent scientific conditions, otherwise I'd have already turned up on their doorstep claiming I could turn myself in to a parrot or something. As of this writing no one has managed to pass the preliminary stages of the tests and as such the $1,000,000 remains unclaimed.

As you can probably guess Geller's claims that he is all kinds of psychic'd up does not sit all that well with Randi. And so the two have been embroiled in, if not a feud per se, certainly a game of one-upmanship over the past 30 years. Randi points to several examples of Geller not being on the level, such as a video available on youtube where Uri apparently uses a magnet on his thumb to move a compass dial. Or the time when in 1977, under the advice of Randi himself, Johnny Carson invited Geller on to the Tonight Show to display his talents but did not allow Geller to us his own props. Forced to use "regular" apparatus supplied by the Tonight Show, Geller failed spectacularly. To the point where if you watch it back now, and whatever you feel about Uri personally, it's really kinda uncomfortable watching a grown man squirm.

Touché says Geller. How about the time when he allowed the Stanford Research Institute and two noted physicists Russell Targ and Harold E. Puthoff (Gee Note: Who sounds like a character from a children's book. You know, Harold is a lazy man who never gets things done on time, until one day he's eaten by a snake. That kind of thing.) to test his abilities? The SRI concluded that Geller did indeed display abilities that warranted further investigation and even came up with a name for the phenomenon - "The Geller Effect" (Gee Note: See, you know you've made it when you've got an effect named after you. I've often dreamed about what an effect named after myself would be like. Probably something along the lines of "a person sits on the sofa eating tasty yet ridiculously unhealthy food while watching cheaply made television programmes and silently mocking celebrities. The Gareth Effect."). Or the fact that Geller admitted as far back as 1975 that some of his performances are sprinkled with magic tricks, owing to the fact that the spoon bending thing doesn't always work.

Now to get this back on track, the reason I bring all this up is to show that Geller is used to the kind of negative publicity that haunted Jackson during his career, and so is in a unique position to offer some insight on the man's life. Even better, despite being long time friends, to the point where Jackson was Geller's best man when he renewed his wedding vows, the pair had a turbulent relationship. According to Geller an argument about a 2002 documentary entitled "Living with Michael Jackson" had caused a strain on the relationship after the film, which Geller had talked Jackson in to participating in, cast Jackson in a negative light.

Now you can imagine the media salivating over this. Uri Geller, the bitter ex-friend of Michael Jackson, the man who can read people's minds, the guy who knows the pressure celebrity brings, is willing to give an interview about the death of the King of Pop. He's bound to have a scandalous story or two. Hell it might even be the interview of the century. I mean Jackson was a freak right? Uri's sure to have the inside scoop.

So what did Geller say? Well it went a little something like this:

"I once asked him "Michael, are you lonely?" And Michael said to me, "Uri Geller, I am a very lonely man."."

(Gee Note: Man who really talks like that? When was the last time someone asked you a question and you felt the need to reply using the person's full name? I mean really, say that sentence out loud. It just doesn't sound right, does it? Unfortunately my girlfriend was so amused when she heard the interview with Geller she's now taken to answering everything I say to her in that same style. Leading to such classic lines as "Darling, have you fed the guinea pigs today?" "Gareth Davies. Yes I have.", "When was the last time we made soup together?" "Gareth Davies. We've never made soup together...", and my personal favourite "You couldn't make me a cup of tea could you sugar?" "Gareth Davies. Make it yourself you lazy sod". Amazingly she's shown no signs of getting tired of this.)

And that was it. No scandal. No controversy. No "That Michael Jackson, what a weirdo". Nothing but a few vague references to his and Geller's "up and down relationships". Certainly not what one would call an earth shaking statement.

And perhaps that's the way it should be. I mean Jackson's life so full of controversy that maybe, just maybe, he deserves to be laid to rest with the minimum of fuss.

Mind, I'm willing to bet that in a couple of weeks time the National Enquirer leads with the news that Michael Jackson was murdered. Thing is, something's never change.