Rodgers & Hammerstein in London

Back in 2011, I wrote and produced a special podcast episode for The Stage, celebrating Rodgers and Hammerstein on the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music‘s debut in the West End. We no longer publicise or distribute our podcasts, so I’ve gained permission to include it here. Of the 90 or so podcasts I created for The Stage, this is by far my favourite.

Presented by Helena Blackman, who had just released an album of R&H songs (excerpts from which are dotted throughout the programme), the feature also includes contributions from The Stage/Sunday Express theatre critic Mark Shenton, readings from The Stage archives by Adam Lilley, an exploration of the legacy Oscar Hammerstein left to Southwark Cathedral – and an exclusive (if short) clip of Stephen Sondheim himself talking about the influence of his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II. More background on my original blog post about the podcast.

Presenter: Helena Blackman
Archive Readings: Adam Lilley
Archive Research: Catherine Gerbrands
Writer and Producer: Scott Matthewman
Excerpts from The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein by kind permission of Speckulation Entertainment

The podcast is copyright © 2011 The Stage Media Company Limited. All rights reserved. Uploaded and made available on this site with permission.

Wolfblood leaps the channel divide

Back in October, I was extolling the virtues of Debbie Moon’s werewolf drama serial for CBBC, Wolfblood, among other drama series on the children’s channel:

Young Maddy is a 14-year-old girl from a reclusive family ‘pack’ of wolfbloods (the series rejects the term ‘werewolf’). Her parents lock themselves away every full moon rather than risk roaming in the woods – partly to ensure the safety of the locals, but mostly to ensure that their family secret is not discovered.

Part of the reason for writing that post was to give publicity to an under-rated section of Britain’s TV drama output. It’s been wonderful to see news of Wolfblood’s ongoing success as countries around the world have acquired the series, and to know that a second series is imminent.

Part of the reason why shows on CBBC need as much publicity as they do is that, now that they are no longer shown on BBC1 or BBC2 in the afternoons, there’s less chance of grown-ups discovering their joys. When it was first announced that the strands would be phased out, I wrote in The Stage’s now-defunct TV blog, TV Today

These days, while CBBC content remains on air until 7pm, there’s little room to encourage the channel’s viewers to partake in shows on BBC1, 2, 3 or 4. Once the decision to not watch CBBC is made, their attention could wander anywhere else. With so much money being ploughed into good quality shows, particularly by outgoing CBBC commissioner Damian Kavanagh, it’s criminal that there’s seemingly little thought in how the Corporation can encourage the CBBC viewer of today to become the more general BBC viewer of tomorrow.

Maybe there’s a compromise that can be reached. On Freeview, CBBC shares digital spectrum space with BBC3 (hence why the former closes down at 7pm just as the latter starts up). As part of the BBC’s cost saving measures, why not free up an hour either side of the 7pm switchover to form a 6pm-8pm zone, repeating the best family friendly content that straddles that difficult gap between childhood and adulthood — the gap that the now-defunct BBC Switch brand was originally supposed to address? At least that way, CBBC’s regular viewers would recognise that their viewing habits needn’t drift away from the BBC as they get older, and parents would get a better chance to appreciate some of the love and care that the Corporation devotes to its programming for younger viewers.

Given that the 7pm BBC3 slot is so frequently given over to reruns of Doctor Who — itself a family-friendly show which, despite always being commissioned by the “adult” drama department, has never forgotten that children are at its audience core — such a solution would not be a million miles away from where we are now.

I’m happy to say that, while the concept of a formal ‘changeover zone’ isn’t quite in place, the principle is at least being put into play. From tonight,Wolfblood begins reruns at 7pm on BBC3.

Part of me feels validated for having an idea which somebody at the BBC clearly also had. But mostly, I’m just really chuffed for Debbie and the rest of the Wolfblood cast and crew, whose hard work is about to get seen and appreciated by a whole new set of fans.

Ten Things About Who: Aliens of London

Ten points of discussion inspired by the 2005 Doctor Who episode, Aliens of London.

It’s been a few weeks since we departed the Cardiff rift. Apologies – pressures of work, and all that. But we continue a revisit of 2005’s Doctor Who series with the TARDIS’ return to the Powell Estate.

A quick reminder that my collection of Ten Things About Who posts for the 2012/13 series is now available for Kindle devices and Kindle e-reader apps for the bargain price of £1.99 – that’s 14p per episode discussion Thanks to everyone who’s bought it so far – if you have, please do leave a review or, at the very least, a star rating. And if you haven’t bought it yet, you can do so at mtthw.mn/whoebook.

1. A quick recap…

OK, so I said that The End of the World starts with what is, for Doctor Who, a rarely-used device: a “previously…”-style recap, that has “rarely been needed since”.

And then, two episodes later, that device gets used again. Still, I’m right – it tends not to be used much after this. To be honest, its usefulness in a series where the setting can change so drastically from episode to episode is debatable. But notice, even here, that it’s a recap of events solely from Rose. There’s no glimpse of Platform One or Victorian Cardiff at all.

Conceptually, it fits – this episode is a thematic sequel to the first episode, and deals directly witht he consequences of Rose’s impetuous run into the TARDIS at the end of that episode. For me, the recap here feels alien, if you’ll pardon the expression.

While what we now call “classic” Doctor Who used the old B-movie serial of replaying the previous week’s hangover to remind viewers of where they’ve got to, this “remember this from three weeks ago?” style of reminder has never sat well with Doctor Who. And it really isn’t used much after this. I promise.

Continue reading “Ten Things About Who: Aliens of London”

Review: Counter-Measures Series 2

This time last year, I reviewed a new audio drama series by Big Finish, Counter-Measures, a spin-off from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks.

The second series was released earlier this month. It’s solidly built upon what worked in the first box set: stories that are based upon the paranoias prevalent at the time, be they scientific or political, rather than relying on extraterrestrial agents. The Intelligence Counter-Measures Group are best when dealing with foes who, if not the archetypal “mad scientists”, are amoral at best – people for whom the end may justify the means, even if those means cost the lives of innocents.

Continue reading “Review: Counter-Measures Series 2”

A stretch in time – Doctor Who’s most atmospheric theme tune yet

Over on YouTube, user telegenicx creates atmospheric soundscapes by drastically slowing down existing music. Here, he takes Delia Derbyshire’s original 1963 arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme and turns it into a haunting score, full of tremulous undertones.

Derbyshire created some beautiful pieces in a similar vein to this slowed down version of her most popular work. Telegenicx’s version puts me in mind of The Delian Mode and Blue Veils and Golden Sands, both of which ended up being reused in the 1970 story Inferno, which ended Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor.

Doctor Who: The Beginning – spot the difference

The lovely people at Big Finish have just released an updated cover to one of their November Doctor Who releases that celebrates the series’ 50th anniversary.

The Beginning, new cover

The Beginning is part of the company’s ongoing series of Companion Chronicles – semi-staged audiobooks, narrated by one of the series companions and with guest appearances by other actors. In this case, the companion concerned is the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, played once again by Carole Ann Ford, in a story written by Marc Platt and directed by Lisa Bowerman. The new cover contains a subtle difference to the original artwork, to more closely tie in with events as seen in The Name of the Doctor. Here’s a direct comparison, by the power of GIF: The Beginning's alternate covers Personally, I quite like the look of the original pyramid, but I can completely understand why it’s been changed. Now that we “know” what the Doctor’s TARDIS looked like as it was first taken, there’s no point in making it look like anything else…

A new range of Doctor Who fiction ebooks? Yes, please

According to SFX magazine, BBC Books (an imprint of Ebury Publishing, which is itself an imprint of what is now Penguin Random House) is to start a new range of Doctor Who ebook fiction. Time Trips will be a range of 10,000-word self-contained short-story-cum-novellas, seemingly featuring any of the series’ eleven (to date) Doctors, priced at £1.99 each. At a later date, the stories will be collected for a print edition.

The first tranche of authors include Jenny Colgan (who, writing as JT Colgan, has already written the DW novel Dark Horizons), AL Kennedy, Nick Harkaway and Trudi Canavan.

As with the 50th anniversary Puffin ebooks which are being published at the rate of one a month, it seems that Ebury are looking outside the “traditional” pool of authors which created the first print novels after the series returned in 2005. This can only be a good thing – the wider the range of authors, the more variation in the worlds and challenges that the Doctor will face. I do hope that some of the authors whose DW novels I have enjoyed in the past haven’t said goodbye to the range for good, though – this is all about expanding the DW universe, not jumping to a new version.

It’s also notable that three of the four authors so far announced for Time Trips are women – which kind of puts the TV series’ own track record in perspective.

Series like Time Trips are a sign that traditional publishers are finding new ways to make digital publishing work that don’t just ape the old print-based systems. Random House’s Dan Franklin was on the panel for a special edition of BBC Click for which I was in the audience in April 2012, and  he really seemed to have his head screwed on. The involvement of the big guns doesn’t prevent the enterprising self-publishers from making a splash, too – if anything, providing mainstream quality products from traditional publishers helps ensure self-publishers work to the same standards, as well as providing the incentive for the growth in ebook reading to continue.

• Just a reminder that my own (non-fiction, unauthorised) Doctor Who ebook, Ten Things About Who, is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk. More details »

 

Ten Things About Who: the book

Ten Things About Who


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So the fourteen Ten Things About Who posts that I wrote about Doctor Who series 7, from Asylum of the Daleks to The Name of the Doctor, are now available to buy as an ebook on the Kindle platform. That means you will be able to read it not only on a Kindle hardware device, but also via the gamut of free Amazon Kindle apps for various computing platforms.

It’s my first ebook, so this is as much a learning curve for me, finding out what the platform can (and cannot) do for me as an author prior to using it for slightly less frivolous publications.

What’s in the book

Each chapter of the book contains ten points for discussion raised by an episode of Series 7. Why does the Doctor go on about needing milk for Oswin’s soufflés, when the obvious ingredient to ask about is…? Where on earth did Rory go to get coffee in New York city? Would there really have been a black priest in the American West town of Mercy? Why was The Rings of Akhaten so blooming dreary?

In taking the blog posts I was writing each week as the series aired, I’ve revised, and often expanded, many of the sections. To keep things simple, any included videos and audio files have had to be dropped, which is unfortunate – but thankfully they were mostly incidental to the points being made. What I’ve tried not to do is lose the immediacy of the posts. Some of the thoughts about who Clara is, or could be, for example, are way off-base now that we’ve all seen The Name of the Doctor – but to remove that speculation would have been to abandon the journey just because we know now the destination.

And online…

The original blog posts remain in place for free, and will do so for as long as the blog itself exists. I probably won’t go back and add in the expanded information from some of the sections, although some of the more glaring spelling mistakes that I somehow missed the first time round may find themselves getting corrected!

And of course, I’m now in the process of revisiting Series 1 in the same format. Next weekend, I’ll be up to Aliens of London. Depending on how my experience with this first ebook goes, I may well collect these retrospective Ten Things… posts in a similar format.

Do let me know what you think – as I said, this is a learning process for me, and opinions from people I trust is going to be invaluable. Thank you.

Ten Things About Who is available to buy, or to borrow for free for Amazon Prime members

Much Ado About Nothing

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Yesterday, I finally got to see Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in twelve days in black and white in and around Whedon’s California home, most of the cast have worked with Whedon on previous projects, and that’s clearly helped achieve the sort of directorial clarity that other films can’t always manage. 

Much Ado About Nothing [DVD] [2012] (DVD)


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Including some silent flashbacks of Beatrice and Benedick’s previous liaison is a luxury stage productions can’t have, but here it helps establish the cause of their antagonistic relationship in a nutshell. She fell for his charms once, and her antipathy towards him is as much regret for her own part in that one-night stand.

Amy Acker’s Beatrice is wonderful: strong, compassionate, fragile, quick, strong, headstrong. I said in my preview blog post that I’ve never been particularly enamoured with Alexis Denisof, and for the most part that opinion hasn’t changed: however, his farcical acrobatics as he overhears Leonato, Claudio and Don Pedro talk about how Beatrice is in love with him are hilariously accomplished. His weakest scenes are those where he must monologue his way through his internal thought processes. On stage, Benedick can use the audience as confidantes: no such luck on film – although at one point he addresses an imagined audience within Whedon’s garden amphitheatre, and that just about works.

Clark Gregg’s Leonato is a warm, genial figure – and not a little camp, which is no bad thing – while Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro and Sean Maher as his bastard brother, Don John, provide solid, ever watchable interpretations of those stock characters.

As the secondary couple, Jillian Morgese is little more than a cipher in the thankless role of Hero, far eclipsed by Fran Kranz’s Claudio. As the smitten young man who allows Don John’s lies to lead him to believe his fiancée has been unfaithful to him, Kranz is astonishing. He’s been a supporting actor in several Whedon projects up to now, but I really hope that this role is enough to get casting directors considering him for the romantic lead in future projects. 

Much Ado About Nothing [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)


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There is an undoubted highlight in the casting, though – Nathan Fillion as the buffoonish constable Dogberry. Fans of Doctor Horrible’s Singalong Blog know that, as Captain Hammer, Fillion can play heroically stupid like nobody else. That’s a path he not only treads again here, but trips down with abandon. He steals every scene he’s in, although Tom Lenk as his assistant Verges is a hilarious accomplice in that regard.

The music is also wonderful, composed by Whedon, produced by his brother Jed and featuring the vocal talents of Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen. In terms of adapting the song Sigh No More, they do a great song that fits in with the mood of the party scenes. (I still prefer Michael Bruce’s Eighties-themed interpretation, though.)

Much Ado About nothing is still on release – for details, see the official websiteThe film is available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-Ray for release in October. The original score is available now.

Much Ado About Nothing5Scott Matthewman2013-06-23 14:17:44Yesterday, I finally got to see Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Shot in twelve days in black and white in and around Whedon’s…