Strictly Come Dancing: Why the new trailer is so good

People who know me – and many who don’t – know that I’m a big Strictly fan. In the battle of the Saturday night TV voting shows, I’m far more likely to be watching Brucie than Dermot. When we started TV Today at The Stage, the weekly blogs were more to do with encouraging the celebration of dance, which at that time was under-served on television. The notion of celebrity involvement was tolerated rather than embraced, I’d say – but my summaries always tried to look dispassionately at how well the amateur dancers were learning (or not), as a direct response to blogs and message boards which cultivated fandoms around the famous participants.

After a few years, I had to give up the weekly summaries as they just took far too long to put together. But I’ve never stopped loving the show, have been lucky enough to be in the studio once or twice, and have seen many of the live stage shows which have capitalised on the BBC show’s popularity, whether drectly under the Strictly banner or by virtue of the programme’s pro dancers gaining their own celebrity status.

And that’s at the heart of the new teaser trailer’s genius. In previous years, we’ve been shown coy shots of the celebrities – whose head is that the back of? Whose ankle? Whose midriff, improbably squeezed into a sequinned bodice?

This time round, the trailer team have focussed on the dancers. The clever visuals, which render each dancer’s celebrity partner invisible, highlights that we don’t yet know the full roster of amateurs for this year’s series. But the emphasis is on dance – professional dance at that. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of talent. And yet, it’s still a celebrity-laden trail, because one of the strengths of Strictly is that it brings professional dancers into the spotlight and and makes them nationally recognised figures.

Compare that with the X Factor, whose pre-series publicity always tends to emphasise the bitchiness of the judges, the toe-curling awfulness of the preliminary audition rounds.

I know which one I’ll be watching this autumn.

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

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”

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 More details »


Review: Saturday Drama – The Letter of Last Resort

Originally staged at the Tricycle Theatre, David Greig’s play The Letter of Last Resort examines the inherent absurdity at the heart of the principle of nuclear deterrence. Possessing nuclear weapons, the argument goes, prevents other nuclear powers from ever firing theirs. A successful deterrent will never be used – but that will only happen if people believe you are willing to use it.

Continue reading “Review: Saturday Drama – The Letter of Last Resort”

Poster boy

I’m lucky enough to know some people who are both incredibly talented and pretty bloody lovely. One such person is Lee Binding, the artist who creates a lot of Doctor Who’s publicity work, including the movie-style posters for each episode.

BBC America has a great interview with Lee about the posters, and the incredible amount of planning that goes into them.

Some thoughts on the (lack of) women writers in Doctor Who

In response to a Guardian article on the lack of women writers in the current roster of Doctor Who authors, Jonathan Morris – who has written a number of novels, comics and audio dramas for the series – responded on his blog.

When tweeting a link to it, I called his piece “excellent” – which I do think it is, even though I have my disagreements with it. This is a discussion I feel needs to be happening in the open air, and I’m thankful that it is happening: but as in any discussion, you don’t invariably agree with everything that’s being said.

I tried commenting under Jonathan’s article, but Blogger was having none of it. So I thought I ought to reply here instead.

I broadly agree with Jonathan that the selection of writers should be solely about ability and quality and nothing else. Insisting that a lack of women writers in one field be immediately addressed – and bringing women writers in for no reason other than that they’re women – would be wrong for that reason.

But there’s always a difference between the ideal, and the actual.

If writers are solely chosen on the merits of the quality of their writing, and one of the BBC’s flagship brands – which makes a selling point of being an anthology show, with episodes by  individual writers who are given that credit in big letters in the opening titles – has had just one female writing credit in the last seven years, doesn’t it at least indicate that there may be some form of barrier, or barriers, at place(s) in the process of getting writers up to that standard?

I’m not suggesting those barriers are intentional, or even (necessarily) institutional. That other series have writing rosters that include more women than Doctor Who’s does show that genre telly isn’t solely the preserve of men.

But while saying “it’s the Doctor Who production team’s fault!” may be wrong, taking it to the other extreme of saying “a writer is a writer is a writer, so who cares that this or that series has only male writers” would equally be wrong. Not that I’m suggesting Jonathan’s stance is saying that, but hopefully you can see what I mean.

He’s absolutely right that any one show should be concentrating on getting the best possible writers for its show out of the pool of available talent. But heavy skews in one direction are worth noting, because it could – and, I think, does – indicate issues with the talent that is managing to get into that pool in the first place.

Here’s a Blue Peter presenter we made earlier

News has come in that CBBC series Blue Peter, which has made do with two presenters (Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton) since relocating to the department’s new Salford headquarters, is to go back to a trio of presenters.

In times gone by, recruiting would be done by means of a discreet casting notice in The Stage, or via other industry contacts. But now, as is the way of these things, it is to be cast by way of a reality show. So You Think You Can Be A Blue Peter Presenter (working title) will see competitors battle through a number of heats, before a final in which the winner will be chosen by the CBBC audience. According to the press release:

Double BAFTA-winning presenting team Dick and Dom will bring their much-loved mix of humour, energy and insights to the series, where they will be joined by a panel of judges. The judges will choose which Blue Peter hopefuls make it through each elimination stage, but they can’t influence the ultimate winner – that’s in the hands of the CBBC audience.

The CBBC team is involving the audience from the very start as well, offering them an opportunity, before filming starts, to go online and vote for one of the challenges that the Blue Peter hopefuls will have to rise to.

To be honest, I gave an inward groan when I heard this news – but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It even makes me wonder why Blue Peter hasn’t gone down this route before.

BP has always been at the pioneering end of audience interactivity, long before ‘interactivity’ was even used in television circles. From the word go, children were encouraged to write in, whether it was appreciation for a feature that they had seen, pictures of their own ‘makes’, or even ideas for features that the production team would then put into practice.

In that context, it makes perfect sense for the children who have always been part of the show’s ethos to be let in on the audition process. If the shortlist has been selected well, unsuccessful candidates could well get some good exposure, and could expand the scope of CBBC presenter casting – so many shows seem to go to Dick and Dom, or Sam and Mark, when cultivating new talent should surely be one of the BBC’s goals.

And the person who wins will ensure that the new Blue Peter presenter is popular with the audience who will be watching them every week. And looking back at the list of presenters, there are several in each generation who a conventional casting process failed to notice weren’t quite right.

If you are interested in being considered as a Blue Peter presenter, you will need to email for details.

Why CBBC is my desert island channel

Reflections on Casualty after the departure of Nick Jordan

It’s a measure of just how long Casualty has been part of the TV landscape when, upon looking into the background of a character who left the series last night, you realise that he was first introduced into the show nearly 15 years previously.

Nick Jordan (Michael French) first turned up in the emergency department of Holby City hospital in November 1998, although his first appearances in two episodes of Casualty were a means of transitioning audiences to the new spin-off series, Holby City, which launched in January 1999 with Jordan as one of the series regulars. In retrospect, French’s Casualty appearances should probably be viewed as cameos from a Holby City character that just happened to occur before the series proper had started.

Over the last 14 years, characters from one series have occasionally popped up in the other – the sight of Holby City’s Connie Beauchamp (Amanda Mealing) striding purposefully through the emergency department in 2007 was a particular thrill. But it wasn’t until Jordan, who left Holby City in 2000 but had returned for occasional guest appearances, joined the ED in 2008 that a series regular from one series moved permanently to the other.

In truth, these occasional times when a character moves between these series are often the only clue that the BBC’s two long-running medical dramas are even set in the same hospital. Since its creation Holby City has been filmed at Elstree, some distance from Casualty’s then home base of Bristol (short-lived police spin-off Holby Blue further muddied the waters by being shot in Surrey). Recently, of course, production of Casualty moved across the Severn Bridge to Cardiff – making Holby City General the only hospital in the UK where taking the lift involves paying a toll…

It always mystified me that the move was always portrayed as fulfilling the BBC’s desire to move drama out into the “nations and regions” – i.e., anywhere that wasn’t London. Surely it would have made more sense to relocate Holby City if that were truly the case? As it is, Holby on a Saturday night has a tendency to look increasingly Welsh, while during the week it takes on a more Hetfordshire-esque hue.

Not that it really matters: Holby has, in the years since Casualty launched, stopped being a specific place set in a fictional part of Western England, and morphed into an ‘everytown’ which could quite easily represent any medium-to-large city anywhere in the UK.

Both shows are now in year-round production so that, even though they are still formally produced in series batches, the occasional breaks in transmission hardly feel like inter-series breaks at all. So it’s often the changes in cast that mark the end of eras on the show, and Michael French’s departure is such a milestone. Having his character leave to work with Anton Meyer, his former Holby City boss, was a nice touch, I thought.

It seems that the Casualty team have got the returning character bug: as revealed in a teaser at the end of Saturday’s show, a locum brought in to replace Nick Jordan is former nurse Martin “Ash” Ashford, played by Patrick Robinson, last seen in 1996.

Production has changed since Robinson was last on the series: overlit studios designed for multi-camera work are things of the past, as is the 4:3 aspect ratio and standard definition. More noticeably, even back in the mid-1990s it was rare for Casualty to have more than one black regular: now, it will have (with the return of Ash) six. The best news that this doesn’t feel like any quota-filling, but a better, wider appreciation of colour-blind casting. I told a friend recently about how when I heard Daniel Anthony (The Sarah Jane Adventures)  was joining Casualty as a nurse, it would mean the departure of Michael Obiora in the sort of ‘one out, one in’ rule that seemed to exist in Casualty’s early years. How glad I am that I was utterly wrong.

Tales of the City: Barbary Lane comes to Broadcasting House

Now this is exciting: from next Monday, BBC Radio 4 will be airing the first radio adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series. Airing in the network’s 15 Minute Drama slot, which takes up the tail end of Woman’s Hour every weekday, with an evening repeat and weekend omnibus in Radio 4 Extra, the adaptation from novel to audio serial has been done by playwright Bryony Lavery, so it should be good.

No details on the BBC Media Centre website, unfortunately – but Maupin has written a blog post on the BBC Radio 4 website. Tales of the City starts on January 28, with the second novel, More Tales of the City, the following week. I don’t know if any further adaptations are planned, but it would be good if, unlike the three TV miniseries, the whole range could be completed with the cast remaining constant.

UPDATE: More and more people seem to be landing here via Google on a quest to find out the theme music used for both series. It’s called, appropriately enough, San Francisco by Son of Dave:

Him & Her – series 2 preview

I enjoyed the first series of BBC3 sitcom Him & Her, written by Stefan Golaszewski and starring Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani as a couple of young slackers who are adjusting to living together.

A second series is on its way, and the BBC3 website has released a short preview video.

You can also hear my interview (recorded prior to series 1’s transmission) with stars Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani via The Stage website.