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First female Doctor Who

Some tweets on the occasion of the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who #13:

Doctor Who has always been about patrician intervention to break unjust systems; a dream of Empire, embodied in male social freedoms.

A female Doctor is a deep break from this; so was the working class 9th Doctor. I am excited to see what DW will become.

& remember, Who was created by a young woman and a gay man of colour, guided by an old white man who suggested a female Doctor in 1986.

Their creation has always been a critique of its own sense of male power. Well past time to complete the circle and see what happens next.

Aliens: How Burke takes his coffee

Jim Cameron’s Aliens (1986) is a meticulously-assembled thrill ride, absolutely loaded with enriching details. My favourite of all of them is in the coffee scene.

It’s early in the film, and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has returned to normal life after her horrific experiences in Alien. In this scene, the smiling corporate functionary Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) comes to ask for her help. With him is Lt. Gorman (William Hope) of the Colonial Marines. They try to persuade Ripley to return to the alien planet.

There is so much going on in this scene. Watch it closely:

As the characters talk, the main physical action of the scene is Ripley making coffee for the two men. She pours out two mugs (which are transparent – a lovely, and useful, piece of prop design) and hands black coffee, unsweetened, to these two intruders.

Then she goes and pours for herself. She stirs her cup, which suggests she has added sweetener, but she hasn’t offered any to these unwelcome guests.

Lt. Gorman stands straight-backed, holding his mug politely and without interest. He rests against a table for a time, but doesn’t really move. At the end of the encounter he thanks Ripley for the coffee, even though he hasn’t touched it.

Burke, meanwhile, sits down, stands up, walks past Ripley, walks back, sits again, talking talking talking the whole time. It wasn’t until I watched Aliens on the big screen that I realised what he was doing. He’s putting milk or cream in his mug! I love it. My favourite detail in the whole film!

This is, first and foremost, just some blocking, something to get the characters moving around the space so the scene doesn’t seem static. But the film really makes it work. Burke taking his coffee white is a great character detail, suggesting he shies away from undiluted intensity, especially compared with Ripley, who is living in an unfiltered world at this stage of the film. Look also at how he does it: Burke stands up, walks past Ripley into her kitchen without asking, helps himself to her kitchen supplies, and then parks himself back where he was. He’s not showing overt dominance here, he’s just acting like someone who is used to being able to do exactly what he wants, when he wants – a much more subtle and dangerous way of manipulating a situation.

There are plenty of other great details in the scene that fire up red flags about Burke: he sits down without asking, and when he sits down, he starts touching something of Ripley’s (an item of clothing I think), playing with it with his fingers until Ripley snatches it away from him. When he’s up again at the end, having pushed Ripley into an outburst of emotion, he tells her “shhhh”, and puts his hand on her arm, and whispers that he hopes, as a favour, she’d think about it. This is why you never really trust Burke; the film is throwing lots of subtle signals, over and over again, that he will not respect your boundaries and he will smile while he takes advantage of you. 

It’s actually an interesting move in terms of filmmaking – surely the obvious thing to do is have Burke be trustworthy from the start, so his heel turn comes as more of a shock? I feel like Cameron’s made the right call here though, letting the only surprise be the sheer scale of Burke’s mendacity rather than trying to force the audience into going against their instincts and trusting a company man. It also means we never have to compromise Ripley’s character by having her trust someone and be betrayed.

Interesting also to compare to the way you are made to feel about the Marines. The stink of untrustworthiness that Burke carries with him doesn’t spread to them; they might be on the same mission, they might have the same goal in this very scene, but the audience comes out of this sequence with a cautious trust in them that Burke is never afforded.

And some of that storytelling work is done with the colour of a mug of coffee.

I love this film.

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Twin Peaks Rewatch Schedule

How to get ready for the new series!
Join the hashtag #TwinPeaksRewatch 

15 Jan: Pilot
22 Jan: Eps 1 and 2
27 Jan: Eps 3 & 4
5 Feb: Eps 5 & 6
12 Feb: Ep 7 *
19 Feb: Ep 8
26 Feb: Eps 9 & 10
5 Mar: Eps 11 & 12
12 Mar: Eps 13 & 14
19 Mar: Eps 15 & 16
26 Mar: Eps 17 & 18
2 Apr: Eps 19 & 20
9 Apr: Eps 21 & 22
16 Apr: Eps 23 & 24
23 Apr: Eps 25 & 26
30 Apr: Eps 27 & 28
7 May: Ep 29 **
14 May: Fire Walk With Me

* optional: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and
 The Autobiography of Dale Cooper books
** optional: The Secret History of Twin Peaks book
*** optional: The Missing Pieces


For the memory banks. Minor tweet storm about Trump support and the underlying psyc principles.

Starts here:
(I can’t generate the embed code on the app it seems. If I can be bothered I’ll update this later with the embedded tweet.)

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The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost (2016)

Well. It’s a hefty tome, and a beautiful physical object. Engaging, frequently a page-turner. Often funny, and pleasantly studded with familiar voices. But whatever I was hoping for, I didn’t really get it. 

The book is presented as a dossier about the town of Twin Peaks, including notes by an archivist and reproductions of original documents of various kinds. It is by Mark Frost, co-creator of the TV show with David Lynch. It tells the whole history of the town, from the days of the native peoples, right through to the events surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder. And it bugs me.

It isn’t the inconsistencies. Yes, it’s inconsistent with the TV series in lots of ways, but none of them are obvious, and consistency doesn’t matter anyway. (The three classic tie-in books were similarly inconsistent, and Fire Walk With Me was also inconsistent with the show, so just chalk it up to a collective dream and move along.)

It isn’t the Zelig/Forrest Gumpian appearances of varied historical personages – even L. Ron Hubbard! Frost’s project appears to be giving events in Twin Peaks greater significance against the backdrop of American life and its ongoing mysteries. It isn’t really what I’m looking for, but it is coherent with some of the threads from the show which made clear American authorities were aware of strangeness in the town, and the subplot around aliens and flying saucers is a major focus of the narrative. 

What bugs me is more the fact that, considering how big a canvas Frost is working with, it all feels so insular and referential (and deferential). The same names crop up over and over again through the town’s history. Almost everyone interesting in this lengthy book was either on screen, or directly related to someone on screen. With the opportunity to point at a wider canvas full of the unknown, Frost repeatedly loops back to the same established ground.

Now this isn’t exactly inconsistent with the TV show which kept the focus relatively tight, going to the same circle of characters over and over again – as a TV show must do, to keep its contracted cast busy on screen. However, the same pattern feels myopic and overdetermined here, like fan fiction. Consider by contrast Lynch’s film Fire Walk With Me, which obsessively included the vast majority of the characters from the TV show, but also featured many entirely new characters and situations in prominent roles. In fact, most of the TV characters were left on the cutting room floor. Even those earlier spin-off books filled out their world more than here. 

This focus on the TV characters creates some secondary problems. The urge to feature them was no doubt strong because of their distinctive, memorable personalities, but Frost has varied success transferring them to the page. In particular the writings of Deputy Hawk, Hank Jennings and Audrey Horne all feel off-kilter. If these characters were not quite so indelible, Frost might have got away with it.

Also, frustratingly, the book doesn’t provide many answers to the TV show’s many cliffhangers. (One notable exception is the reveal of who survived the large explosion in the final episode.) Despite a framing device that has the evidence of events from 1989 being discussed in 2016, very little is revealed beyond what we saw on screen. So if you’re hoping this will carry you across the decades and set you up for the third season of the show, you will be disappointed.
Mark Frost, and the publishers, have doggedly insisted that this book is a novel. I guess we might as well call it that, but it feels like its own sort of thing. While there is one central thread across the varied tales in the book, it doesn’t real feel like a narrative as such – there is little to root for in the central character’s journey, and what transitions he experiences are very superficial. The book tries too hard to make a dramatic mystery of the identity of the archivist, but the mystery is inert – knowing who it is changes nothing and adds nothing to the experience, it is just obfuscation for its own sake. Frost is a skilled storyteller (I am very fond of his novel List of Seven for example) but here the many interesting pieces of the book don’t come together into any richer whole. 

So do I recommend this book? There’s plenty to enjoy (the account of a scout camp featuring young versions of some minor characters is a creepy highlight) and it is a beautiful physical object. Still, I end up feeling quite ambivalent. While it is “canonical” (for whatever that is worth), I think it is best viewed as an entertaining homage rather than a new revelatory piece of the wider Twin Peaks puzzle. As a fun celebration of the show, it fits well alongside the rather silly Guide to Twin Peaks and the earnest but necessarily limited Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Autobiography of Dale Cooper. It is nice to have clear accounts of tangled storylines such as the Josie Packard/Catherine Martel rivalry (inconsistencies notwithstanding). I am glad to have it on my shelf. But it is undeniably inessential. 

I guess my ultimate take is this: I wouldn’t expect David Lynch will have read this book before making the new series. I don’t think that would be a problem.

 So that’s it, then. One for the curious aficionado, not to be taken too seriously.


Twin Peaks (USA, 1990)

Twin Peaks is widely regarded as a missed opportunity. Made by David Lynch as the pilot for a planned TV series, it was salvaged into a film by adding an ending sequence. The film’s roots in television are obvious, introducing a sprawling cast of characters – some of whom don’t even get lines of dialogue, such as the mysterious Log Lady. If an ongoing series had been made, it would have been delightful to learn more about these characters, but sadly we had to wait a few years until Mulholland Drive to get a proper taste of Lynchian television.

As it is, the film is often seen as a failure. The ending sequence does appear disconnected from the extensive busywork beforehand – after introducing character after character, each with their own problems and conflicts and each a potential suspect in the central murder mystery, the film abruptly reveals the murderer to be someone we haven’t even seen before, who is hiding out in the basement of the hospital. The murderer’s partner/foil shoots him, then apparently dies of a heart attack, and that’s it, except for a strange and dreamlike coda in a red-curtained room that is widely regarded as inexplicable.

However, I think Lynch has given us all the clues we need to make sense of this film. Let’s take a look.

The bulk of the running time is spent exploring the town. As mentioned, nearly everyone seems to have a secret – not just the teens caught up in Laura Palmer’s strange life, but the adults too. (Notable exception for contrast – the adorably literal sheriff’s receptionist Lucy who seems incapable of leaving anything unsaid, secret or otherwise.) The film is also named for the town. The fact that none of these characters is involved in the crime seems at first to be a pointless rebuke to murder-mystery expectations, but I believe the message is the reverse – that in some sense the town itself is responsible. The film’s focus on the network of secrets and sadness in the town suggests that these secrets in some way caused her death. Laura is the homecoming queen and loved by all – but she clearly is caught up in terrible things, and this picture-perfect town is implicated. (The Norwegian investors subplot, for example, makes perfect sense through this lens – Laura’s death stains the town so much they walk out on the deal, and the town, immediately.)

We get more evidence that the townsfolks’ secrets are the cause of the murder when we meet Mike and Bob at the end of the film. They seem ordinary enough on the surface, but these two men are clearly meant to be interpreted as strange, magical beings from somewhere else (there are two worlds, as the magician’s chant reveals). If Bob could hide in Laura’s room while her mother looked for her, he is clearly using some otherworldly nature to do so.

Mike tells the story of how they lived among the people, above a convenience store no less. The film seems to be telling us that Mike and Bob are drawn to people like the ones we have been watching for the previous ninety minutes – deeply flawed and full of secrets. Or, to flip it into the kind of magical logic suggested by the killer’s use of rituals and magic chants, the town’s many secrets bring down dark spirits upon their head, with Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen/drug user/friend-of-prostitutes-and-murderers, as the incarnation of the town’s dual nature and the prime target for sacrifice.

While Mike has reformed from his murderous ways, Bob promises to kill again, provoking Mike to murder him. The case seems to be resolved, but it is clear Cooper is unsatisfied. As candles blow out, Cooper makes a wish – and we immediately cut to 25 years later.

The meaning of this cut seems clear: his wish was to understand the strange logic of what he witnessed in Twin Peaks. He has spent his career on this quest, and finally, as a much older man, he has found his way to the somewhere else. There, he meets a spirit wearing the form of Laura Palmer. (Bob claimed to catch people in his “death bag”, which presumably means he steals the form of his victims and carries it back to the second world.) The spirit, we are told, is full of secrets. She whispers into Cooper’s ear the answers he was seeking. Credits roll.

I don’t make any grand claims that this film approaches the thematic coherence of later works like Lost Highway, but I think it holds together a lot more thoroughly than most give it credit for. Indeed, from my perspective there is only one piece of the film that remains with me as both unexplained and deeply disturbing. 

The final sequence of the film begins with Laura’s mother remembering that she had in fact glimpsed Bob in Laura’s room that morning. As she screams in terror and calls for help from Laura’s father, we can see over her shoulder a mirror on the wall. And, blurry but definitely visible in my Blu-Ray copy of the film, we can see a face in the mirror – and it is unmistakably that of Bob himself. He is apparently right there in the room watching as Laura’s mother loses her wits! Creepy as hell.

In any case, this film is recommended, and not just so we can imagine what a Twin Peaks TV series might have been like. Instead, let’s appreciate it for what it is – a satisfying and complete film in itself.



Small Group Action: Getting going


I need your help.

I’ve been working for a bunch of years now on an idea to help us turn our feeling that things aren’t right into real action that has an impact on the world. It’s a toolkit that I call Small Group Action. It’s been used in workplaces and in classrooms and by groups of friends, and it works. It was the basis of my Masters research and I know it can make a difference. 

It’s time to get SGA out into the world, so people can put it to work. I’d welcome any support you can give me.

What is Small Group Action?

It’s very simple: you get a few people into a small group, say 4 or 5 people. You agree to do one action together – a short-term commitment only. You choose the action together, and plan how to get it done. Then you go for it.

4 or 5 people is big enough to do small but substantial things. (You can chain actions together for added effect.) It’s also small enough the group is easy to manage. Short-term means it’s an easy commitment to make, and you get the satisfaction of doing something sooner rather than later.  Group effects help keep you on task – you can actively motivate each other, and no-one wants to let the others down. 

All simple stuff, but harnessed together, all pointing in the same direction? It makes for a powerful engine. 

(There’s more than this, of course, but this is the heart of it.)

What am I trying to do?

The goal is to get the SGA toolkit out into the world. I’m in need of advice about the best way to do this! Some ideas: 

  • A small SGA handbook and forms that walk you through the setup process, all free to download and print.
  • An online tool or app that takes you through the setup process, then sends out reminders/notifications.
  • A website/community that shares ideas for actions and promotes success stories.

Obviously the social nature of SGA lends itself to social media, but I’m not sure how this could integrate effectively with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. 

What do I need from you?

First – advice. Help me figure out what the hell I’m actually trying to get done, here. Comments are good, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Or email me!

Second – enthusiasm. If this is a thing you could see yourself using, sing out.

Third – expertise. Visual design people, community people, web people, psychology people, UX people, game design people, comms people – any offers of help or guidance gratefully received.

OK then. Here we go.

UPDATE: I’ve put a step-by-step and an action checklist over on the Taleturn website.

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Diving Under The Sea

The sun was shining bright and clean, which was part of it. The warming day felt like memories, not so cold you’d flinch, not so hot you’d ever slow down. Just right, and you squinted as you checked the sky was still blue, and you were a kid so the blue went up and up forever. 

Walking with my daughter along the riverbank, our dog pacing nose-low through the uncut grass, and she said “Daddy, let’s play a game.” We held our breath and pretended to dive under the water as we walked. I made the sound of bubbles, enjoying the sight of her unbrushed hair tipping over her forehead as she pretended to swim ahead. And then she surfaced and turned to me with an amazing smile and asked, “Did you see it?”

There was something happening, I could sense it even then as I replied “I think I saw a shark,” and she said “The shark is still far away, but did you see the skeleton? Come and look!” She dived below the surface again. 

I followed. And we went down below the water together.

A bridge ahead of us softly hummed the wheel-songs of mid-morning traffic. Alongside us, our dog inspected the long grasses on the bank with one paw lifted and tail stiff. The river calmly tried on new dresses, giving each shimmering gown one moment then discarding it forever. 

There was a skeleton in the water. It was deep enough that the colours were all washed out, but still light enough to see. Sand beneath us, and waving long fronds of sea-weed, brown and soft green, and the slow progress of water snails. The skeleton was sitting against a rock, empty eyes gazing out at my diving companion and me.

We surfaced again, and our eyes met. “I saw it,” I said to her, and she told me that the skeleton was probably old, maybe from pirate days and there might be treasure there, but that shark was coming closer so we had to be quick – and I agreed and she took a deep breath and down we went again – 

– a long moment, swimming into the shadow of the great bridge. We came up for air again, and she said to me – “we made it”. 

And without waiting for any reply she swung ahead of me, skipping to catch up with the dog.

I wanted to stay down there, but the skeleton dissolved into images and my footfall bore my weight again. A child, and a dog, and the big blue sky. I’d felt it. 

I remember how it was, to play. On weekday afternoons I look around my old schoolyard, now hers, while I wait for the last bell to ring, and I can sense the ghosts of distant planets and secret tunnels. I remember what we did, and what we said, and how easy it was. But I don’t remember how it felt. Perhaps we have to lose the feeling, as we get older. We start looking too hard at the world, seeing more of it than we once did, but always less as well. And yes we can still choose to imagine, can hurl ourselves into imagination in ever greater ways, but how it felt when we were children – that slips away.

But I’d felt it. Something about the rhythm of it – disappearing into an unknown, silent and separate, and then bursting into the air and telling each other what we’d seen – some barrier fell away. I caught her, just for a moment. And I knew that feeling, I knew it from a long time ago. It was something I’d never expected to feel again. I felt blessed, and uplifted, and calm.

With the dog on a lead, we walked across the bridge to the other side of the river. Cars and trucks passed by, engines raw. I watched my daughter ahead of me, up on her toes to look over the side and down at the river. And I looked down too; down into the water.

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I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Me in 2004: “But that’s what he deserves: to fall from grace, spectacularly, hugely, humiliatingly, with all his self-delusions laid bare.”

We knew all this years ago of course. Again, me in 2004:

how come no-one has pointed out the most damning fact to come to light in the whole Hutton inquiry, namely this: Downing Street sought to make the dossier as strong as possible in order to garner support for the war. The only conclusion one can reach from this is that they had already decided to go to war on grounds other than WMDs. If they already had enough evidence of WMDs to go to war, they would not have needed to strengthen the dossier.

My rage against Tony Blair burns white-hot as always and the Chilcot report gives me hope: not that he will answer to his crimes (oh how I wish) but that the way the world talks about Blair will finally change. Because despite everything, he has been treated with something like reverence by media and political elites ever since he stepped away from the role of PM.

Maybe this is what it takes, then, to convince the powerful and mighty and wise that they were obviously foolish all along: seven years of careful work producing millions of considered words. How long, one wonders, would the report need to be for the courtiers to accept the Emperor really did have no clothes?

Me, right after the Glasgow march against the war in February 2003:

The ball, I feel, is in Tony Blair’s court – and there is every sign he is unmoved by the display of doubt in the drive to war. This will have immense political consequences, and soon.


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Infrequent linky

So regular linky readers will have noticed my frequency of posting has decreased. I’ve decided not to fight this tendency, so for the time being linky will be coming only on an occasional basis. Several reasons:

Declining readership: I threw in some basic stat counters when I did my Buffy series, and readership here is showing a slow but steady decline. I don’t particularly care – but this is, I think, part of a general disengagement with blogs all over the internet as social media and the app ecology get more settled in place. It isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but it doesn’t help…

Link roundups are like old-fashioned dad don’t you know anything: As Twitter and Facebook become ever more essential to online life, it is increasingly clear that a weekly link roundup is old-fashioned. Often I’ve put a link in the post draft on Monday, seen it blow up on Wednesday, and by Friday it’s old news. Links get shared fast and individually! And while I do believe there is a role for curation (I love the Nextdraft newsletter which is delivers smart linky three times a week), I don’t think I do it well enough to stand against the trend. But you know what? I don’t particularly care about this one either.

My ipad: the real driver of change, then? It’s my ipad. Because over the last year I have increasingly moved my casual internet use on to my trusty old ipad 2. This beast is now quite old in computing terms, but it’s chugging along as well as ever. (I am impressed, Apple!) It is now more pleasant than the laptop for Facebook and Twitter and Plus and Gmail, which is most of my internet activity right now. I can even do some solid productivity on it in google docs or dedicated apps like celtx and Final Draft. (And Scrivener for iOS is coming!) But one thing it does not do well is task switching. And task switching is the fundamental requirement for assembling a linky post. When I see a link I want to grab the URL and paste it into a draft linky post, or in some intermediary spot if possible. But the ipad just strugggggles with this. I hope & trust newer ipads do it better, but I’m not looking to upgrade until I’m forced to.

So. That’s the score.

Anyway, here’s the partial draft that’s been sitting here for a month now:

“The first “job” today’s kids have to answer is, what the hell am I going to do that anyone is willing to pay me for? And each kid, increasingly, is expected to answer this alone as an individual. When poor or less-educated people do this, its called “hustling” but when it trickles upwards to the children of the 1%, its our national economic plan.” Entrepreneurship means I give up (via Allen Varney)

Fully appreciating culture without appropriation: a guide in 15 steps (I saw this all over the place)

The Grim Test, a method for evaluating published research for shady manipulations (via Michael R)

The first two phone book volumes of Cerebus are available in PDF for free download! (I’ve tried three times but the download has failed each time. Maybe you’ll have more luck?)

And, just yesterday, via Pearce and already turning up everywhere else because that’s how these things work: Disney Princesses as cats as sharks