Monday, 30 April 2007

Doctor Who - "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks" 8/10

Sec's in the City ...
I'd say my rating nudges 8 and a half but I'm not allowing myself such indulgences.

Here's the first ever Dalek story to be written by a woman, Helen Raynor. Perhaps after my enjoyment of "Gridlock" 2 weeks ago I was looking for too much in the first part of this story. It was fine, and even threw in a bit of education for the kids about the Empire State Building and the Great Depression in America. We even had a musical number, which is a very rare occurance!
The plot just seemed a bit unoriginal, not helped by the fact that the cliffhanger ending it was leading to had been given away on the cover of the "Radio Times". The characters, with the possible exceptions of Laszlo (Ryan Carnes) and the doomed Diagoras (Eric Loren) were fairly standard fare too but full marks to Miranda Raison for putting in a fizzy turn - as showgirl Tallulah - that was light years away from her "Spooks" character.

But then came Saturday's "Evolution of the Daleks". Though I felt that even the 3 remaining 'pure' Cult of Skaro Daleks betrayed a bit too many human tics, this episode gave me a bigger buzz and didn't go quite so predictably. That's the reverse of most 2-parters where the conclusion is the let-down. We'd been left with the emergence of the Dalek Sec/Diagoras hybrid and many foresaw a ruthless new Davros arriving on the scene. In fact we got the most pinko-liberal-Guardian reading 'Dalek' you've ever seen. Even the other Daleks couldn't stomach the Miss-World-contestant-like plans of their 'leader' who wanted the race to give up their wicked ways and retire to an uninhabited planet. The mutinous trio instead tricked Sec into breaking out an army of 'Dalek-ised' humans suspended in the ceiling and armed with their 'egg whisk' guns on what looked like a machine-gun barrel.
The deposed Sec was put in chains and Caan took his place. After Martha used her initiative to kill the pig-slaves by electrocuting them all in a lift shaft of the Empire State Building, we had the Doctor simultaneously becoming a lightning rod on the roof.
This latter intervention rather mucked about with the supposedly 'Dalek-ised' humans in the literally theatrical climax. Here Daleks Thay and Jast have brought a chained Sec crawling like a dog on a lead on to the stage. When they try to exterminate the Doctor in the stalls Sec interrupts and takes the fire instead. Then the 'Dalek-ised' humans question their orders to exterminate the Doctor, as he himself had suggested. Now that's the wrong thing to do with a Dalek normally, but these guys (and girls) had been given the Dalek weaponry and they open fire on the stage, destroying the two Daleks. Back at base, Caan retaliates by remote, committing a genocide of a new species that disgusts the Doctor. I actually think it might have been problematic for the series anyway to keep a race made up of human, Dalek and TimeLord DNA! Our intrepid band of goodies eventually confront the last Dalek in person but -yes, so predictably - Dalek Caan instigates another 'emergency temporal shift' to escape. He's out there somewhere ...

So possibly the most disastrous 'cunning plan' in Dalek history, but great TV. And refreshing that there's no real happy ending. Hundreds of the destitutes, transformed into pig-slaves or 'Dalek-ised' have subsequently been killed. Diagoras dies with Sec, the noble Solomon is rudely exterminated and Lazslo's life is saved by the Doctor but he will have to stay half-pig - he and Tallulah must seek out tolerance. Unfortunately I fear a circus career awaits.

Holyrood Elections - the inevitable post

As the last days of campaigning dawn I reckoned it was time to reveal where my crosses for the Scottish Parliament are going on Thursday. It's undoubtedly the most important and newsworthy of this week's elections (sorry England and Wales but it is) so a post is deserved.

I watched the 4 main party leaders debate on TV last night. Strangely, the leader who most dismayed me and had me slapping my forehead going "No, no no! Answer the bloody question!" was the one whose party I'm primarily voting for - the Lib Dems' Nicol Stephen. He might be the only party leader I'd shag but he hasn't impressed me on the campaign trail and was pathetic last night. We could really use Charlie Kennedy right now! First Minister Jack McConnell was little better - the man has surely had a charisma bypass. Alex Salmond swept the floor with them - oratory is his forte, but I just don't trust him and I'm independence-sceptic. Interestingly it's not as good a bet that Alex will actually win his list seat on Thursday, so we could actually get sour-faced Nicola Sturgeon instead! Annabel Goldie has been the dark horse this year - she has stood her policy ground and generally eschewed the hysterical "Save the Union" tactics employed by Labour. One of my mates is even voting for them on Thursday, albeit in what seems a tactical move. I'd even say the Tories don't deserve to do badly at the polls but they probably will despite the leader.
My reasoning for voting Lib Dem isn't as perverse as the last paragraph might hint. I abandoned Labour in both UK and Scottish flavours in time for the 2001 General Elections, though I can see that they are (at heart) quite different parties if only Jack wasn't so keen to be Blair's poodle. But I've been voting Lib Dem in all the elections of this decade as they currently best suit my political beliefs. It's not that I agree 100% with everything they come up with - their recent pledge to introduce an hour a day's physical exercise in schools was a soundbite that would have alarmed my schoolboy self - but the party I disagree least with.

I'm also not moved by accusations that the Scottish Lib Dems are mercenary, dropping or bending manifesto promises once in coalition power. As the very junior partner since 1999 there's no chance they'd get everything they wanted but they have still wrested some significant concessions from an unwilling Scottish Labour Party - notably the controversial introduction of PR for council elections, which will commence on Thursday and result in many Labour scalps. Besides, I respect pragmatism over dogma.

Even if I were voting tactically just to oust my Labour MSP (quite possibly the ugliest politician going, not that it's relevant) the sensible choice is Lib Dem in Dunfermline given their shock gain of the Westminster seat last year.

Again this is not to say I dislike all of the other parties' policies either, indeed the Lib Dems and the SNP share quite a few, hence why everyone expects an SNP/Lib Dem coalition develop in some form. Plus my second vote in recent years has always been for the Greens, as I feel there needs to be a principled environmental voice at Parliament, even if some of their aims are a tad unrealistic. They are also, coincedentally, the most vocally pro-gay of the parties.

And I may well be staying up into Friday morning to see the results roll in. I'm not as alarmed as I was about the SNP becoming the largest party and getting into power here as I feel the electorate's appetite for independence really isn't there and I don't feel that will change enough in time for any referendum in 2010. I think the SNP have also realised that over the course of the campaign. It will be an interesting challenge for the devolution settlement though and it may well hinge on who's in power in Westminster at the time of the referendum - the thinking goes that the SNP are hoping the Cameron Tories will be in charge so as to encourage a decoupling by a hugely antipathetic Scotland but it may be a coalition headed by 2 Scots.

So there it is. I'm not particularly trying to sway anyone, but wanted to explain my own reasons for sticking with the Lib Dems again.

A Jaguar ate my iMac!

Bad news folks!I've buggered my home computer.

Well not literally, but I bungled an (ironically out of date) upgrade to Mac OS X and the thing is stuck somewhere on that journey and refusing to go back to what was. The bloody install CD won't even come out of the drive! Actually the dodgy drive may be the root cause of all this, rather than the insufficient memory I first suspected.

It basically means AGAIN that my blog will be somewhat neglected and Gay Porn Star Peek is unlikely while I am computerless at home. It's not a complete shutdown though as I can do a few things from here at work during lunch and doldrums.

With the coming of Leopard I was aiming to replace my seven year old iMac this year anyway, though not so keen at being bounced into it. Luckily prices have dropped from the levels of 2000 and I can probably get the current model (running Tiger) for 12 monthly instalments of around £66 so it's not too crippling.

With luck, this might even be resolved this week by a trip to John Lewis. It will be my fourth Mac - my first was back in 1993.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Movie Totty - The "Sunshine" boys

Sorry I've been neglecting my duties a bit lately. Hope to make up at the weekend if the weather isn't too gorgeous.

Anyway I went to see my THIRD film at the cinema this year (something of a record!). After "Hot Fuzz" in February and "300" a fortnight ago, me and mate PJ went to take in "Sunshine" on Wednesday evening. Ironically it was blazing sunshine both before and after we entered the darkened cinema!

I'd give it a seven out of ten and say it's not a feelgood movie nor typical Hollywood sci-fi. There's also no sex or nudity at all, which is all very fine. A little disappointing then that these two screen lovelies were the male leads - Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans. Atop this post is a pic of the two together during the film while below are desktop wallpapers of each in character. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Doctor Who - "Daleks in Manhattan" RT cover (spoiler)

Yes, that's not the "Radio Times" cover above, just a secondary measure to stop people being accidentally spoiled. I really think it would have been wiser to use this cover next week. Anyway, if you haven't spotted it in the newsagents already, here's the cover (below) ...

As well as revealing the secrets of Dalek Sec's makeover you can also see what they've done to poor Ryan Carnes - he's a pig-man!

And is this possibly the most gruesome "Radio Times" cover ever?

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Doctor Who - "Gridlock" 9/10

Cars, cats, crabs ... and hope.

Whatever else this story was, it was a victory in one long-running battle - this chalked up when "Doctor Who" overtook "Star Trek" (in all its forms) for episode numbers, not that it didn't start out in front of course. This was the 727th episode since 1963.

Anyway, I was really impressed by one of RTD's best efforts for the series. Like his "Tooth and Claw" last April, it seeded the season finale as well as playing out the main plot. My only real niggle was bringing back a previously one-off 1967 foe in the form of the Macra and then underusing them. The vast majority of the giant crabs' screen time was as CGI pincers snapping from the depths. Of course the Doctor did explain that they had 'devolved' (as in the the opposite of 'evolved' rather than setting up their own parliament) and here on New Earth certainly they seem mere scavengers exploiting a situation not of their making.

The 'situation', as I understand it (for it was a little complex), was that most of the population of New Earth were stuck in transit in an unending, decades long, traffic jam. The rest inhabited a drizzly slum area called the Undercity, populated by The Pharmacists - who pushed mood-altering chemical 'tabs' to hopeless clients. The hope for those transiting above is that they will finish their journey and reach a better place, while a cheery TV reporter called Sally Calypso feeds that hope with traffic reports. Meanwhile they all live a cramped existence in their low-tech, personalised flying camper vans where even their waste is recycled as food. But the disparate lot do have a form of community and keep in touch by CB radio or something very like it. Foremost among the travellers we meet are Thomas Kincade Brannigan (Ardal O' Hanlon) and his wife Valerie. Curiously (and controversially for some) Brannigan is another of the feline race we met on last year's trip to New Earth, albeit the first male to feature, while Valerie appears quite human. The shocking cat/human coitus is underlined by the presence of their 'kittens' in Brannigan's van!

The Doctor gets involved when Martha is suddenly kidnapped by a young man and woman shortly after the TARDIS lands in the Undercity. Though it transpires that the couple, Milo and Cheen, mean no harm and are merely looking for the third passenger they need to progress to the precious 'fast lane'. We later find that's where the Macra hang out and that's what had happened to the doomed Ma and Pa (styled after the earnest couple in the famous 'American Gothic' painting) who we saw despatched in the pre-title sequence.

Digressing, but I have to mention here that I was also very impressed by Travis Oliver (pictured above) playing Milo. Hot, hot, hot! I shall have to procure a viewing of Oliver's most notorious TV 'exposure' when he attempts intamacy with a vacuum cleaner in a typically barmy storyline during "Footballers' Wives - Extra Time" ...

Midway through, we are misdirected to think Novice Hame (the only surviving cat nun, last seen under arrest) is gunning with a vengeance for the Doctor, who she eventually intercepts while he is on a carjumping quest for Martha. Again, it's another benign kidnap - Hame is working for the Face of Boe, who is now even more ancient and close to death but urgently needs to pass a message on to the Doctor. Hame has dedicated her life to nurse the Face once more.

But the Face is also responible for the Gridlock of the title. In doing so, he has saved the Undercity and the travellers - all the inhabitants of the gleaming Overcity perished in 7 minutes from a plague that mutated from the Bliss tab, so Boe has quarantined it from the rest of New Earth, causing a permanent jam. Sally Calypso is a hologram on a loop.

Once the Face sacrifices the last of his life-force and Doctor has done some clever rewiring to open the roof (OK, a lttle too pat) it's time for the Face of Boe's overdue message. It was a surprise to no-one that considered themselves a fan that the four key words were "You are not alone", but the Doctor's response that the Face is lying is somewhat perplexing and the preceding words somewhat contradictory. This also means the Doctor has to give Martha the whole truth about him being the last of the Time Lords, the Time War and (with great timing for next week) the Daleks.

The final scenes are best seen, rather than explained, to be properly appreciated and were among the finest of the revamped run. Bringing a tear to a few eyes was the final demise of the mythic Face of Boe. His job done, his giant jar splintered open and he lay prostrate on the floor, tended by the Doctor and Hame. And then there was the tension between the Doctor and Martha, as the latter proves she's no second-hand Rose but her own person and not in awe of the Time Lord. Notably it was this episode that Martha had to cope largely on her own and did so with merit. The Doctor needs to point out the TARDIS wardrobe though ...

It was clear this episode was ripe with allegories and homages which you may or may not choose to read in. The visuals are very influenced by the likes of "Blade Runner", "The Matrix" and "Minority Report" as well as the 2000AD comics. The allegory I saw was not the obvious one about traffic congestion and noxious gases, which appeared more as symptoms of the dystopia. The big clue for me was the hymns that featured ("The Old Rugged Cross" and "Abide With Me"), as sung by the travellers to keep their spirits up. The travellers have a faith and a hope. It may be a blind faith (the journey ends only with death, not a better place) and an artificial hope (engineered by the Face of Boe to keep them alive) but appeared a more positive existance than the faithless, hopeless types in the Undercity. Like the wiped out inhabitants they fall back on chemical highs. Now this is a story written by one atheist being appreciated by another, but I think the notion of faith and hope is a more general one than that of organised religion. The travellers include a quaint old lesbian couple, a cat/human interbreed and even a couple of nudists, perhaps so as to steer clear of 'religious' stereotypes. Saying all that though, even I found the hymns moving because of their clever use in the episode.

You could even stretch the hope allegory to the Face of Boe waiting for the Doctor, and the Doctor himself who surely secretly hopes he is indeed not alone.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

A Wetherspoons in Dunfermline? But surely the sky will fall in!

Now I know this is going to be of direct interest to only a minority of you out there, though I'm sure the general principles involved are more broad.

In the past week it was at last confirmed that the JD Wetherspoon chain have been granted permission to open a "superpub" in a derelict Dunfermline church premises in the town centre. Work starts in June and a November opening is expected. The present publicans are squealing like little piggies once more.

Once more you ask? But surely Wetherspoons have only just been granted permission? Strangely (or not) this goes back years to when the firm first considered having a presence here.

I was relieved that my favourite flavour of pub was finally going to be in my home town - I've been a keen patron since 1993 when I was gobsmacked to learn you could actually have non-smoking areas in pubs, appealing decor, no piped music, decent choice of food and room to swing a cat. In a very few years they were also the only sanctuary of the non-footy fan. And that was when I lived in London, with a lot more pubs on offer (in fact Wetherspoons replaced smokey gay hostelries as my default). When I was on detached duty I always checked if and where there was a Wetherspoons.

Come my moving back to Scotland in 1999 - where the brand had only a handful of pubs, usually in city centres - I was plunged back into the dark ages I remembered from my youth when I rarely bothered to visit any of the holes that Dunfermline offered. So the prospect of a JD Wetherspoon meant I wouldn't have to do my drinking at home or on visits to the cities. Alas the local licencees united in opposition to proper competition and somehow had the ear of local moribund councillors who blocked plans to move into a derelict cinema. I don't remember the councillors asking the general populace, but maybe we had nothing to offer them outside of re-election times.

Another year or so passed and another opportunity came around, in an even more ideal corner spot opposite the Glen Gates, where a large shop was selling up. This one looked a sure thing with all the contracts and permissions seemingly passed, albeit none too quickly. But at the last minute the eccentric seller decided he'd had a better offer from .... Marks & Spencer (who already have a prime site in town, but that was his story). Needless to say this was just guff and the site remained derelict for a little longer. I wonder how much ... erm ...sorry, what actually changed his mind ?

Ironically, by last year both these sites were filled by new pubs, just not Wetherspoon ones. Both were apparently 'superpubs'.

The one that took the cinema, "All Stars" which called itself a 'sports bar' (despite being no more sport-centric than any of the rest) with club attached behind. This appears not to have been a chain, as far as I can see. However it soon got a bad name due to the behaviour of its clientele upon leaving and was also not getting enough custom. I think it really didn't know where it was at, and who it was trying to attract - among its 'sports memorabila' was a full size Dalek! First the club shut down and then the pub. In the meantime the pukka restaurant next door ("The Townhouse" - one which actually cooked on the premises) had given up due to the disruption of body fluids literally on it's doorstep and so had its Oz-themed successor.

So opening a 'superpub' per se does not a success make.

But to the other 'lost' site. It took months upon months to renovate, and obviously had a lot of money spent doing it. This though was a chain - Belhaven - who already owned another Dunfermline 'superpub' in the shape of "The Foundry". Initially when I heard this was the case, I was dismayed that Wetherspoons had lost out to just a less innovative chain, and wondered why no backlash here. I'd actually been a fairly frequent visitor to "The Foundry" as the best of a mediocre bunch but with a permanently installed DJ and a barrage of screens showing Sky Sports or their own drinks promotions I knew it didn't have my sort at heart. Plus, ironicaly, it frequently seemed empty even on Friday nights after work. As I usually go out for the company that was getting a frustration.

Anyway, this became "The Seven Kings" as of early last November (the name derives from the seven kings who were crowned in Dunfermline I think). I missed the opening night but visited the following Monday afternoon around 3-ish. It was busy! Not packed but there must have been about 20 or so people drinking and/or eating in total, and a fair mix of ages. I immediately spotted that this was no "Foundry II" despite the piped but muted Sky Sports again. What was so obvious was that their blueprint was Wetherspoons! I've actually had a review of the place in the pipeline since then so I won't gab on about it now. Importantly THIS brought a revolution to the town - not only was this place packed most days after 6, but many of the other pubs were taking the overflow and were no longer so barren. Basically I think people who would either have gone to Edinburgh (or even Kirkcaldy/Perth) or just stayed home with a Tesco vintage now ventured into Dunfermline. Interestingly the prices came down too to match "The Seven Kings" tariff.

Surely this is not armageddon and surely an near equal match for "The Seven Kings" with an actual Wetherspoons opening will sharpen this influx and healthy competition even more.

What pisses me off most about the standing licencees is their complacency, their pleading for special treatment and basically their running little fiefdoms for the indulging of themselves and like minded mates. Are they running a business or not? Or are they just not very good at it and can't acknowledge when that's shown up? "We can't have them - they're a real business not someone who just fancied having his own pub". Are they not capable of adapting with the 'market' they so frequently and selectively cite ?

Prior to the smoking ban it's this same breed of pub landlord that said 'the market should decide' to propose smoking and non-smoking pubs with the unsaid presumption that any non-smoking pub would fail and that it wouldn't be any of them. Of course the point of a blanket ban for all pubs is to ensure a level playing field to start with. Now they want protecting from that same free market. Just as the dinosaur publicans hadn't noticed that the majority of their potential customers didn't smoke they don't notice that other tastes move on in less than 10 or 20 years. While decrying the monster that is Wetherspoon (est. 1979) they don't address why such alternatives are a success. And in the years the Dunfermline publicans have been playing Canute have they tried to adapt and diversify to pre-empt the changing profile of the population? Have many of them even redecorated this decade? Simply put, no. They are risk-averse in the extreme and continue to superserve a narrow section of the public, the male, 40+, beer/lager drinking, football-obsessed section. Fine, but why attack businesses that want to spread their net wider and succeed at it?

Some of the landlords have even desperately tried to wrap themselves in the flag:

"Norrie MacDonald, licensee of the Creepy Wee pub, believes some pubs won’t survive the opening of Wetherspoon’s while some, he said, were already resigned to giving up their lease.

“The smaller pubs sponsor football teams, have pool teams, let local bands rehearse in their lounges but all the big companies do is take money out of Fife and send it to their bosses in England.

And who exactly are your suppliers Norrie? And is a Scottish based chain OK to wipe you out? Also I frankly don't care whether my pub sponsors a football team (free advertising anyone?) or has a pool team. And what's a 'lounge'? I'm not sure the Creepy Wee Pub has one (or the room for a band).

Another madcap claim they make is that the local pubs have had a double whammy of the smoking ban and the opening of "The Seven Kings", conveniently forgetting the latter opened up 8 months after the ban so surely only a single whammy from anyone in particular? No customer who goes to "The Seven Kings" is one who's banished themselves after the smoking ban.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Candie Payne - I Wish I Could Have Loved You More

In a spooky coincedence I only heard this track this morning (on both Pete Mitchell and Jonathan Ross's Radio 2 shows) and searched for it on YouTube where the record company had just uploaded the video yesterday.

Eerie sound - a bit like if Portishead had collaberated with John Barry.

Attitude: April 2007 issue

"Attitude" seems to be back on form (mostly) after it's crisis at the turn of the year. This month's cover star is Mika, who is given a further 12 pages of text and photoshoot - they have an annoying habit of giving 2 pages to just text or just photos which is a bit disconcerting and puts you off reading. They have also followed up last month's slightly disappointing shoot with "Skins" actors to a downright awful 2-photo shoot with "Hollyoaks" gay-for-pay actors Guy Burnet and James Sutton. I'd sue if I was them! Needless to say I'm not scanning them.

One of the features is with real-life Men At Play types - basically gay men in suited professions. Poster boy of this is stunning 27 yo property solicitor James (above).

The token naked bloke this issue is Stuart Mann (above) from the current series of C4's "Shipwrecked".

The duo above are Nemesis, an American pop act who are both cute, both gay and happen to be identical twin brothers (hair dye apart).

Lastly, and again limited to 2 photos, is David Tennant, no stranger to this blog. He explains what it's like to be "the only straight in the village" on the "Doctor Who set (slight exaggeration I think) and why he's pissed off at the ficklesness of "Pink Paper" readers.

As well as the above there's also Kristian Digby, Beth Ditto, Mark Ronson, Beverley Knight and Matt Willis.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Alex Pettyfer - new pics!

Alex Pettyfer is the latest teen actor to be getting his kit off. Following shortly after his contemporaries Daniel Radcliffe on stage and Nicholas Hoult on TV here's a shoot sourced from the Famous Males site. Thanks again to Stuart.

Swimming totty - Robbie Renwick

"Fresh from the World Championships Robbie Renwick became European junior champion last summer over that distance and did so more than a second quicker than his time at the Commonwealth Games in March.

The 18-year-old, who was born in Abu Dhabi, is trained by Eileen Adams at the Cults club and a great year of progress was capped by his performances at the US Open in West Lafayette. The student won a bronze medal behind US demigod Michael Phelps and England's experienced Simon Burnett, and a relay gold followed."

Paraphrased from The Scotsman. Thanks to Stuart for the heads-up

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