A Heart Full Of Hope

Here we are, folks – my very first post for 2019. I can safely say that 2018 was a corker of a year for me, and although I spent the last few hours of New Year’s Eve alone at home, I did so with a belly full of pizza and a heart full of hope, so I was more than happy. I used some of that quality time to continue reading a book Lara bought me as a Christmas present, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, which features none other than Hercule Poirot himself. She got it upon hearing that I’d never read any of Christie’s work, and told me that I’d find it very easy to become immersed in the story. She was absolutely right – as I write this, I am 93 pages and seven chapters in, at a point where many probing questions are being asked of every potential murderer. I got there in no time, and my enjoyment of this new book in my spare time has subsequently increased my excitement for what lies ahead at Winchester even more.

Of course, nothing by Agatha Christie is on the reading list, but a few other books are, and two of them arrived yesterday. I am yet to look at them properly, but both are works of non-fiction – and as you might have gathered, I’m rather fond of life writing. The opportunity to read about the experiences, trials and tribulations of others is always tantalising, as is the opportunity to write straight from the heart about my own. The prospect of so much creativity from that and my other modules – including one actually called “Creativity”, and one on poetry, which I have always enjoyed – makes this January much more inviting, since I can’t yet tell what new ideas will manifest themselves, or how. I don’t know what will happen outside of my work either. The world is once again my oyster and as always, the unknown is very exciting. I can’t wait to go and see what it’s all about! Before that, though, I have another very precious fortnight left here at home – and before that, there is a brand new episode of Doctor Who for me to enjoy coming tonight. I fully intend to make the most of both.

Happy New Year to you all!

Mason

The Top Twenty Records Of All Time, Part 2

A little while ago, I gave you the first four of eight songs I’d take away with me to a hypothetical desert island, as all guests do on Desert Island Discs. I promised that the rest would follow in a second post – since it was such a difficult list to devise – along with my chosen book and luxury. There’s no time like the present, so without further ado, I give you all my remaining choices. Songs first!

Just bear in mind that these will be listed from 1 to 4 again, as WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to enter 5 to 8. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, would I?

  1. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” by The Smiths. Like Muse, I knew that The Smiths would be assured of a place here as soon as I started thinking about the lucky eight songs. There are many legendary musical names, such as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, that are often grouped together in iconic pairings, but – somewhat bafflingly, in my opinion – singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr are rarely put up there with them. I view them as the greatest duo in history. The impact they had upon their band was such that when Marr left in 1987, they had no choice but to disband. This is because neither man was expendable, and no incarnation of The Smiths could have survived without either of them. They complimented each other perfectly, despite their differing styles – Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and delivery shouldn’t match Johnny Marr’s upbeat and chiming riffs on paper, but in reality they were a force to be reckoned with and remain so to this day. Their talents have made Morrissey a legendary lyricist and vocalist – whatever you think of him as a person – and Marr the most distinctive and talented man ever to play guitar. Furthermore, their partnership was an incredibly fruitful one, in spite of the fact that it lasted just five years, from 1982 to 1987. During that period, the band produced four studio albums in quick succession, along with a whole host of compilation records – Hatful of Hollow stands out among these in my eyes – singles and other non-album tracks. You might expect that this level of productivity means there are many gems to choose from in The Smiths’ catalogue, and you’d be right. It was “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” that eventually won the toss after much deliberation. It’s one of the songs I often find myself retreating to when I’m in a reflective mood, perhaps as a result of sadness or regret. Like many of the group’s tunes, it resonates with me primarily because of its lyrics. They tell a story of misunderstood love, something to which many of us can surely relate (“how can they see the love in our eyes, and say they don’t believe us?”) For reasons I’m not willing to elaborate on, it resonates very clearly with me (not because of “hatred” or “murderous desire”), and every time I hear the song I am transported immediately back to a difficult time. The song is a thing of such beauty, however, that I often overlook the darkness, feeling only the admiration stirred up by such a great piece of art.
  2. “Lift Me Up” by Moby. I have loved dance music for as long as I can remember, and for me Moby is akin to royalty within the genre. His album Play is my second-favourite of all time – when it comes to the albums I consider to be the very best, I always find that they offer something very different to anything else, and that’s usually something I can’t quite put my finger on. I found Play a relaxing and somewhat dreamlike record when I listened to it for the first time – tracks like “Inside” and its biggest hit single “Porcelain” are the best examples of this – but Moby’s interest in other musical styles, such as gospel, also caught my attention. “Lift Me Up”, however, does not actually feature on this album. It would not surface for another six years, until the release of Hotel in 2005, when Moby ventured into the field of alternative rock. My track of choice would be issued as its lead single, becoming a Top 40 hit in the UK. What seals its inclusion on this list, however, is the role it was given a year later as the theme music for ITV’s Formula One coverage. From 2006 to 2008 it formed part of a very prominent soundtrack to my weekends between March and November, so ignoring one of my biggest passions when choosing the music for this selection was simply never going to be an option. This is the first F1 theme tune that I can properly remember hearing from my formative years, and with the exception of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, it may well be a contender for the very best of all. Hearing it now takes me right back to watching some great seasons unfold – even though ITV would always insist on showing continuous adverts during the race…
  3. Murray Gold’s 2010 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune. Continuing on the TV train of thought for a moment, I give you one of the many awesome variations of this iconic show’s signature tune, composed by Gold for the fifth revived series – the first to feature Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. I have chosen this version of the piece mainly because of my fondness for said series and the memories it evokes – described here – but it also stands out because of how it fuses a traditional orchestral arrangement with modern synthesised elements. This combination is, in my eyes, very effective. Although it arguably lacked the grandiosity and clout of the previous exclusively orchestral post-2005 themes, it did convey the start of something new and exciting while also retaining the sense of spooky alien mystery that makes Doctor Who great. A match made in heaven!
  4. “D’You Know What I Mean?” by Oasis. We have now made it to the eighth song on my list, and I have decided to save a slice of rock and roll until last in the form of one of the many barnstormers from Oasis’ Be Here Now album. My mind was made up because of my admiration for this record – the black sheep of the band’s catalogue, slated by fans, critics and Noel Gallagher himself – because it showcases rock star extravagance like no other disc I can think of. Those who enjoy it do so because of the very things that alienated its audience (albeit not before it sold eight million copies) – very long, very loud and excessively over-produced songs. “D’You Know What I Mean?” is the first of these, a bombastic, seven-minute number one hit often cited as one of the album’s saving graces. The moment walls of roaring sonic volume fill my headphones, I feel a sense of euphoria of the kind created by all great anthems. I also see the band as they were at that time, enjoying the peak of their fame and all it had to offer. The critics have said that this was to the detriment of Be Here Now, since it has been described as “over-indulgent and bloated”, but I don’t mind that at all. On every listen I revel in being transported back 21 years to an era where proper rockers like the Gallaghers still roamed free. Sadly, it seems that we can only dream of such people in 2018. On the whole, there seem to be very few true characters entering the music scene, and this makes me even more grateful for albums like Be Here Now and songs like the aforementioned. It’s a great shame they aren’t more widely appreciated, but I hope I can rectify that to some extent by listing one of them here.

Now that all of my songs have been selected, I must choose a book to go with them. I do consider myself highly literate and a keen reader, but although I have read quite a few books in my time, none have really made an impact big enough for them to be included here. The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is the only published one that really comes close, since it provides such a great insight into the production of modern TV and the lives of those who write it, but the one that has been most useful to me is one that is yet to be filled. My definitive choice is my own red Moleskine notebook, bought in Waterstone’s during a lunch break last year, in which I now record the majority of ideas that appear on this blog and in other musings. It goes wherever I go, resting snugly in my wheelchair’s sidebag with a pen accompanying it, and a few weeks ago it served as the receptacle for Christopher’s story during my taster session in Winchester. I can’t wait for it to be with me for many more when the course begins. If it’s going to go with me to a hypothetical island, however, it needs to be much longer – so I’ll take it exactly as it is, with all the notes I’ve already made, but with the minor addition of infinite pages so that it lasts forever. I’m going to be there a long time, after all. That’s doable, right?

Finally, we come onto my luxury, and something I was never in any doubt about. Quite simply, I want a TV – although how you’d connect it on a desert island remains to be seen – capable of showing full live and uninterrupted coverage of every Formula One Grand Prix. The future of Formula One on free-to-air TV is a very prominent issue among fans at the moment, and in the UK, Channel 4 is entering the last year of its three-year deal to broadcast the sport. It would nice to have no worries about losing it from weekend afternoons, and alone on a desert island I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone interrupting the start either!

Mason

 

 

 

Blessed Are The Writers

The annual Doctor Who festive special on Christmas Day finally saw Jodie Whittaker make her long-awaited debut as the Doctor, replacing the outgoing Peter Capaldi in a burst of orange light. It was a fantastic send-off for Peter, who has been a brilliant Doctor and ambassador for the show, but its closing moments – depicting an explosive regeneration and Jodie plummeting to Earth from a fiery TARDIS – were an introduction to an even more exciting era to come (previously discussed here).

Finally seeing the Thirteenth Doctor take over as the star of the show actually gave me goosebumps as I sat slumped on the sofa. We may have to wait until the Autumn, but that fresh new Doctor Who dawn will be the very next thing to greet us. The corresponding feelings of eager anticipation have only really come to me once before; whilst I obviously look forward to the start of every new series, I haven’t been this excited since 2010, when Matt Smith took over as the Eleventh Doctor for Series 5. If you ask Will, he’ll tell you I hold that particular run of episodes in very high regard. At that point, everyone in and around Doctor Who also found themselves looking at a changed animal of sorts. Much like now, there were plenty of new faces in the cast and production team, and what came from them was a series that I believe is yet to be topped.

Any of its thirteen episodes could easily have stood out as a favourite, and all were memorable – although, in my opinion, the modern classic “Vincent and the Doctor” (written by Richard Curtis) is a particular highlight. I remember watching the series on first broadcast very clearly. It felt – and still does feel – like Doctor Who was a new programme, closer to five years old than fifty. I’m not criticising how it’s been before or since, because I owe an awful lot to its complete 55-year history. I just think that Series 5 had an especially vibrant quality that may not have been the same had there been more continuity from Series 4, David Tennant’s swansong. Change is a good thing, more often than not, and with it there was increased vitality. Eight years on, Series 11 has a golden opportunity to bring even more, with new crews in the TARDIS and behind the camera. I may have said all this before, but I reckon that conveys just how excited I really am. When the Doctor comes down to Earth with a bump, I can’t wait to see what adventures will await her. Blessed are the writers who get to find out first.

Mason

Fandom Island

Fandoms are truly amazing things. There’s one for seemingly every franchise nowadays, and whatever the product they exist solely to bring fans of all ages and backgrounds together in a comfortable and familiar environment. They are capable of lifting, inspiring and even saving lives, and so their importance to millions around the world – including myself – must never be underestimated. As you will know by now, my chosen fandom is Doctor Who. It has definitely shaped my life to a significant extent, as I may never have chosen to write without it, and watching it has filled me and many others with seemingly endless wonder. It pleases me greatly to see fellow Whovians freely interacting online and indulging in what they love so much – and even those of you who are not fans can surely appreciate how expansive this international community of enthusiasts is.

That said, however, I do see an underlying problem that I feel compelled to address – not with the Who fandom itself, but with the perception that some non-fans have of it. I was inspired to write this post just a few days ago, when – being very excited to see the unveiling of Jodie Whittaker’s new costume – I suddenly thought about how these people have reacted to my declarations of love for the show. I can’t help but think that I occasionally feel looked down on in a way that people in other fandoms, such as Harry Potter or Supernatural, never seem to be. As soon as this occurred to me, I knew that I had to find out whether this perceived reaction really was an established thing, and what people’s reasoning – if any – was behind it. I posed these questions to some of my friends, Will included, who I thought might be able to relate to my Whovian predicament — and one in particular gave me a very intriguing response.

It was Lauren who said that, as a Doctor Who fan, there can be some very complicated scientific concepts and plots for one to figure out, meaning that those who can (and don’t be fooled, because I’m not always one of them) are stereotyped as being more nerdy and less cool than fans elsewhere. Believe it or not, I’d never considered this before. I suppose it makes sense, although the apparent implication that non-Whovians are less intelligent in some way does make me a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe the people who look down on or criticise us but have never seen the show are put off doing so by assuming you have to be clever. It’s not essential at all. In fact, I’d say that the reason I had never about Lauren’s opinion is because it’s not why I fell in love with Doctor Who in the slightest. I love it because of that wonder I mentioned, the ever-present notion that anything is possible, and the Doctor’s relentless message of acceptance and equality that is so clearly present everywhere he or she goes. These reasons might all sound clichéd, and maybe I’m repeating myself in giving them, but that’s only because they’re never ever untrue. If you’re reading this, you have a few pre-conceived ideas and you’ve never given Doctor Who the time of day thus far, all I ask is that you give it a try. One episode. You might surprise yourself, and gain a few million new friends in the process.

Mason

Every Great Decision Creates Ripples

I know I’m a bit late to the party here, but as a dedicated Whovian I want to talk about Doctor Who – specifically, of course, the newly-cast Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Before I start, let me draw your attention to some words uttered by the good Time Lord in one of his earlier incarnations, almost exactly three decades ago:

“Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.” – the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Remembrance of the Daleks, 1988.

There is no question that the decision to cast the first female Doctor in 54 years was definitely great, in terms of both magnitude and brilliance. It was a pioneering move by a pioneering show that has never been quite like anything else on television, and I for one see it as something that heralds a bright new era for Doctor Who. Jodie is a fantastic actress, and from the moment she pulled back her hood and showed her face to the world I was immensely excited to see what she could bring to the role of the Doctor. We have new leadership in the form of incoming head writer Chris Chibnall, too, and I have no doubt that he will prove to be another mighty weapon in the show’s arsenal as its approaches its 55th year and eleventh revived series. Of course, there are those who – for reasons I simply cannot understand – are unable to accept the oft-repeated fact that Doctor Who thrives on change, and seem to be sure that a female Doctor will drive the programme to a swift end. Their ignorance and misogyny saddened me when I saw it on social media, and it proved to be a startling reminder of the darker side of the Internet, but let’s not focus on such people. They assume, without even giving Jodie a chance, that the consequential ripples from her appointment will be bad ones, whilst for me they can only be good.

The news reminded me why I fell in love with Doctor Who in the first place, and it once again encouraged me to embrace my inner geek. I don’t know what to expect in Jodie’s first series, and it’s that sense of unpredictability that I believe captivates Whovians all over the world. It’s often been said that you should never apply logic to the show, because nothing is ever truly impossible. The format is more open than that of any other programme I can think of, and so are the people around it, both in its production and its audience. An overwhelming majority of fans – 80%, to be precise – are looking forward to the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut, because they’re optimists and the show’s truest enthusiasts. They do not fear change, and certainly not the lead actor’s gender. I have always said that we have been blessed as viewers with twelve (thirteen, if you count the late Sir John Hurt) fantastic Doctors, and I am certain that Jodie will prove herself as yet another perfect choice for this iconic part. I wish her the very best of luck, and I know that throughout her tenure she will be able to count on the support of millions. As Noel Clarke said on Twitter after the news broke, I do not see a man or a woman. I only see the Doctor.

Mason