Thursday, December 31, 2009


It's a kind of twisted and unfortunate compliment to media SF that the BBC breaks a decade or two's avoidance of Shakespeare in order to make a filmed version of an RSC production of Hamlet that happens to feature the Doctor as the prince and Captain Picard doubling Claudius and the ghost. But let's not be grudging; it was three hours of good, punchy, classic drama. David Tennant did actually bring some of the tics that he's been using to make people like his Doctor to his starring role; all that nervous, eccentric intelligence, the worry in those staring eyes, the bursts of energy and introspection - it was a perfectly respectable Hamlet while also being the David Tennant that the Who-fans will have wanted to see. Patrick Stewart, meanwhile, simply applied the intelligence and gravitas and charisma that he can wheel out for any role you care to pay him for to both purposes; why the director wanted him in both roles was unclear to me - I assume it was simply that if you've got one of the best mature actors of his generation available for this play, you might as well make maximum use of your resources. The ghost isn't much of a character, of course, but Stewart had some fun with Claudius's increasing but never quite adequate attempts at murderous deviousness.

(Hmm. Maybe... If the ghost is partially - though not completely - a projection of Hamlet's neuroses, and given that Hamlet doesn't seem to have seen much of his father for some years or to have had much in common with him, perhaps the face and voice he perceives could indeed be drawn from the available alpha male on whom he's projecting his Oedipal anger? Oh, heck, maybe maybe maybe - but that's making excuses, not adding anything to the play.)

Anyway, it would be wrong to imply that this was purely a two-star vehicle. The RSC cast was as good as you could expect, including Oliver Ford Davies as a Polonius so annoying that most of the audience will have wanted to stab him in the arras by "to thine own self be true" (though he actually took a bullet through a mirror in this incarnation); Edward Bennett struck me as a bit too Wodehousean as Laertes, but perhaps that was the point, while Mariah Gale worked to convey the underlying fragility in an Ophelia who initially seemed quite smart and sensible, before rather rapidly flipping under stress, and Penny Downie was a hard-drinking satin-dressed mature jazz siren of a Gertrude.

"Wodehousean", by the way, wasn't a big problem given that this was a more-or-less modern dress production, looking kind of 1930s formal in the early scenes where smart suits, ties, and court decorations were everywhere, before the more modern leather jackets and such began to intrude. (Hamlet carrying a medieval sword to threaten his friends with in early scenes just looked clunky, though; the large flick knife that he didn't quite use on the praying Claudius was more in keeping.) The production design was fabulous - all polished black marble, huge mirrors, and chandeliers; Elsinore had clearly acquired a great interior designer from somewhere, even if the battlements were still cold and drafty places for trench-coated sentries to pace in the vaguely defined wee small hours. The minor obsession with surveillance cameras initially looked more trendy than apposite (and not very '30s), but it became clear that Hamlet was partly being driven to distraction by the sense that he was perpetually under observation, which was why he grabbed a gun to shoot out that mirror and hence Polonius, so I'll give it a pass.

Overall, then, three hours of David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, and a lot of other top professionals doing their stuff to fine effect, shiny and crisp; the Beeb can have my license money for this, and will in any case doubtless make plenty on the DVD sales, and I don't think that the Who or Trek fans will have been disappointed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blog Admin

As may be obvious, I've been tinkering with the blog format - including allowing non-Google-subscribers to post (although there should be some kind of Capcha protection thing to keep the worst of the deranged autobot spammer slime out). This is all a bit experimental; I'll see how things go, and if necessary, tweak further.

ding-dong farely merily for xmas

For those who'd like such a thing... My online Christmas card is now available at And seasonal felicitations to all my readers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Life, Concluded

Life was good, of course. The BBC natural history camera work was predictably dazzling; to be sure, I could sit there for hours, letting the images wash over me and listening to David Attenborough's authoritative-enthusiastic voice saying what was going on.

Still - previous BBC superb-pictures-and-Attenborough series had some kind of structure and theme. Yeah, I'm old-fashioned enough to think that a BBC/Open University natural history programme probably ought to have some kind of educational content. This one, I can only assume, was another part of the grand project of getting people to buy into HD television. Well, tough, guys - you made it too damn pretty in standard format to make me yearn for better.

And the sense of it all being a big, classy sales pitch was strengthened by the persistent notes of anthropomorphism and sentimentality. Last night's concluding piece on primates proved especially susceptible; although we were told that the low-status Japanese monkeys who didn't get to sit in the nice thermal pools were possibly going to freeze to death in consequence, that skimmed past on the way to a lot of shots of cuddly chimpanzees. Nary a sight of dominance fights, infanticide, or use of handy small monkeys as blunt instruments in combat was there. I thought that Attenborough was quite prone to pointing out the dark side of our nearest cousins' home life, with all that hints at.

Still, if we're going to be sold to, I want to be sold to with fabulous camerawork, bizarre insights into the sex lives of ring-tailed lemurs, and cute little big-eyed tarsiers suddenly flashing scary pointy teeth.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Expand, Contract (18)

Well, I've just turned in an outline for a 50 page GURPS (non-Transhuman Space) book, and received the very first draft for someone else's Transhuman Space book that I'll doubtless be editing in due course. And I'm about to get back to working on a Pyramid article that I've promised to get done soon. So I guess my writing work is rolling along.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Enigmas and Cabinets of Curiosities

Angela took last week off work, and we made a few day trips to places like the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Bletchley Park, and the fancy new galleries at the Ashmolean Museum. I don't currently feel inspired to ramble on all this, but I have put a few photos up on Flickr:

The Whipple Museum
Bletchley Park
The Ashmolean