On Doctor Who. Who? Doctor. Who.

You don’t remember watching Doctor Who all that much as a child. As such. No actual stories come to mind, for example. Well, the stuff about the Daleks, of course. You have a distinct memory that that involved lots of charging around a quarry, which seems unlikely for entities that find stairs difficult. And Cybermen. Cybermen are bloody scary. Also, the Master. His Tardis was a plant? And he had a natty little beard. That sort of thing tends to stick in the mind. As does hiding behind the sofa. Mainly when the Cybermen were on.

But you definitely watched it. The Doctors themselves are firmly wedged in your mind. Your two favourites are, rather inevitably given that you will be *cough cough COUGH CHOKE SPLUTTER* this year, Tom Baker and Peter Davison. You had a signed poster of Tom Baker (with K9, the robotic dog) on your wall for years after he visited your home town sometime when you were an under ten. And as a pre-teen, you definitely had a crush on Peter Davison. Well, who didn’t? Colin Baker was OK, and Sylvester McCoy? Suffered from being the Doctor of your later teens. And deeply uncool. No hope there really. Although Ace wanting to blow stuff up regularly was a hoot.

Anyway. When Doctor Who was resurrected you watched it, not religously, because by then you were completely out of practice at watching things that only came on once a week, but regularly, and you thoroughly enjoyed Torchwood for a while too. Really well done, both of them.

And then you had kids. And sixish is not a good time for someone with small children, and nor is remembering things like, oooh, it’s a Saturday. There’s something I wanted to do today, what was it? Nope, gone.

The problem is that there are only so many shows you can miss in the latest incarnation of Doctor Who before you get utterly lost by the overarching plotline.

Thus you stopped watching altogether. Except at Christmas, which was fun. As a result you have only the haziest idea about who River Song is. No, please don’t attempt to explain. It sounds complicated.

Today, however, Twitter informed you that there would be a new Doctor Who series starting in the evening. And you idly thought you might get around to watching that. Later. On iPlayer. After the kids were in bed and when was it again? 6.15. Hmmm. 6.15. Bedtime’s not until 7. The Star is… nearly five. Surely nearly five is old enough for Doctor Who. Sure, he had nightmares after watching half of the Emperor’s New Groove*, but hey. It’s all in a good cause.

So you watched it. Together. The Star was initially a bit dubious about the fact that there were no animals involved, but he was soon resigned to the fact that you were not going to let him watch another sodding nature programme and did what he always does when he sees other people’s attention drifting from the centre of the universe and he wants to drag it back in what he has learnt is a socially acceptable way. He peppered you with questions. ‘Who’s that, Mama? What’s that, Mama? Who’s THAT? What’s THAT?’ and ‘Why?’ are things which you hope he will start asking less as the series goes on a bit. Especially as there were a number of points that confused you too. You are clearly going to have to do a bit of surreptitious googling. But the four-handed interchange between Matt Smith, the Star, you and Jenna-Louise Coleman as the Doctor was introducing himself at the door of a suburban semi was in itself worth the price of the admission. And it was a lot of fun having fresh eyes on an old favourite. You like reading the Star Winnie-the-Pooh for much the same reason.

And the Star did indeed hide behind the sofa, which was delightful. It is also interesting as you wouldn’t have thought that existential fear of technological progress was something inherently fearful for a four year old. But you were firm about the fact that the Doctor always saves the day, and the fact that he did, and more than once in 45 minutes seems to have done the trick.

Certainly there have been no wails from upstairs since.

Although the promise of tomorrow’s coming chocolatefest might have some kind of reassuring properties too.

*’Maaaaaamaaaaaaaaa! Aaaaaaaaargh! I’ve been turned into a llama! Aaaaaaaaaaargh! Maaaaaaaamaaaaaaa!’ Don’t mock. We all have our phobias.

On why I love Richard Castle

One of the ways that the newborn bonding milk producing hormonal rush takes you is that you develop odd crushes on people on the TV.

With the Star it was Gordon Ramsey. No, you don’t know why either.

With the Comet it was Richard Castle. Who, helpfully, is quite fictional. Not Nathan Fillion, the man who plays him. Fillion’s roles seem to be quite distinct, and while that may be the mark of a good actor, you are sure he will be pleased to hear that it makes it very unclear who you would be fixating on so you didn’t.

Anyway. Castle is the lead character on an American detective show called Castle. He’s a mystery writer who wangles himself the right to shadow a detective, Kate Beckett, and her team around. Indefinitely. Which seems unlikely, but hey. It’s a conceit.

He is, well, actually now that the hormones have worn off it has to be said that you find him somewhat irritating. With the detectives he is boundlessly, irritatingly immature. With his family he is still quite twinkly, but also wise, which seems unlikely. You daresay the family scenes are there to show that he has hidden depths, but you find the shift between styles too extreme. Possibly Fillion’s ability to show diverse personalities is not working in the show writers’ favour here. Not that you are particularly sure which aspect you prefer. The homebody is warmer, but the detective is funnier.

So why are you still watching? Mainly because you still definitely would, and also because unlike many ‘amateur helps the police’ storylines, the police get a pretty good showing.

A lot of the times in these sorts of things, the police go blundering about pedestrianly, not really getting close to the answer, and then the amateur swoops in and solves the whole case from start to finish by the power of their total awesomeness. In Castle, however, Kate Beckett is no mere foil, and yet no aberration herself. She is simply a professional at the top of her game. While Castle often does provide the insight that provides the final piece to the puzzle, which is fair enough because otherwise what is the point of the series, you enjoy the way that the rest of the time he is quite genuinely being led around by Beckett, and how she is the driving force behind all the investigations, and most of the deductions too.

Of course, she’s also the love interest. You gather. You are only on season two in the UK. This just makes it particularly nice that as a woman, nay, the totty in someone else’s show, she also gets to be the strong, competent one.

Or does she? Last week’s episode ended with Beckett’s apartment blowing up, after shots of her taking a shower and answering the telephone to Castle, who had just figured out that the bad guy they were hunting wasn’t dead after all and… BOOOOM! Ooooops, too late.

It could be an emphatic way of writing Becket out of the series. But you suspect not. You are not going to be caught that way twice in one episode. Not after a new and slightly unsympathetic character had been revealed as a loving mother to a small child, a fact underlined by a short chat about it between the two leads, scant seconds before walking into what Castle and Beckett suddenly realised was… A TRAAAAAP! Only to emerge, unscathed, moments later. Although not before your blood pressure had shot through the roof. Mothers to small children, are, in your opinion, to be protected.

No. You think it is much more likely that Beckett had reached the conclusion that the killer was still on the loose a lot earlier than Castle and was sheltering in a nearby hotel at the time of the explosion.

Which is a deeply satisfying little plot device.

They really should have named the show Beckett.

From Wikipedia Commons by Gage Skidmore

On Smershariki.

The latest Russian cartoon to take the Solnushka family by storm is something called Smershariki.

At first you were not convinced.

It’s very bright, the music is very jolly and the name translates as a sort of play on the words of ‘funny’ and ‘balloons’. You rather thought it was some mindless bit of visual chewing gum.

Of course, you didn’t actually watch it. It’s in Russian! Or rather, there’s a lot of talking and so the humour is not as easily accessible to you. But eventually you had been sat in front of enough episodes that you made the effort required to switch on to extended foreign speech. And you were rewarded.

Smershariki is an excellently funny cartoon. It has absolutely no moral message whatsoever, although this isn’t to say it is immoral. But it is closely and warmly observant of people and their little ways, and as such reminds you a bit of the Muppets.

Except you find Smershariki more amusing.

Anyway, here is an episodes where the translation issue is probably less important. Enjoy!

And because you forgot yesterday, here are also two doses of the Comet’s views on London’s tourist attractions, the National Army Museum and the Tate Modern.

On the Planet collection.

For the Star’s birthday you bought him a box set of David Attenborough documentaries, the Planet collection to be exact.

You hadn’t watched it yourself. In fact it’s been a long while since you watched any animal documentaries really. So in your head, you envisaged hours and hours of beautiful shots of animals prancing artistically across the screen with a little light commentary in that distinctive voice telling you various interesting facts about each one. Where they live. What the prancing means. Why they have a blue bottom. What they eat. Oh.

Yes, oh. Because of course when it comes to animals, what they do most of is fight to decide who gets to mate, display themselves in order to find a mate, mate and then eat each other. Or rather, eat each other’s babies. And so the Planet collection, all 42 discs of it, basically consists of many many sad little deaths, lovingly filmed, interspersed by energetic sex.

OK, fine. The Star is fairly robust about these matters. But it has to be said that by disc 5 or so you were getting a bit fed up of how the programme makers were milking the situation for every last drop of melodrama. Cue the ominous music as a cute little duckling hoves into view followed by an arctic fox. Hear Sir David’s voice drop an octave or so in anticipation. Watch the chase! Notice how Sir David refuses to be drawn on the outcome! Now we have suspenseful music! And! The duckling gets eaten.

Not absolutely every time though, which you feel is particularly cruel. Because now every time the soundtrack starts doing the Jaws thing you keep watching hoping that this time, this seal/ calf/ rabbit-like mammal/ elephant/ penguin/ whale baby will be one of the lucky ones. You really wish they could have been a tad more matter of fact about the whole thing.

So you and the Star spent the first play through taking it in turns to clutch at each other and hide behind the sofa, because even the hardened naturalist your son is most of the time is not immune to having his withers wrung by manipulative TV-makers. But now he has seen pretty much all of the deaths more than once, he is once more blase about the whole affair and ready to soak up all the other little details the producers couldn’t quite cut out in order to make way for more blood. And you confess to being quite interested in the documentaries about the making of the series that they end each programme with too, so everybody is happy.

Still, for your next foray into the world of animal programmes you will be trying to stick to something a little lighter.

Any suggestions?

Also, on a related note, this: A toddler’s Guide to… the Natural History Museum.

On why I heart Martin Brundle.

Today, you were mentioned on live international TV. Today, you influenced live international  TV. Today, Martin Brundle* made a special effort to say ‘petROV’ rather than ‘PETrov’** until the race got too exciting, which was about as long as it took the man himself to pile ignominiously into the back of Michael Schumacher***.

You have been laying siege on this issue via Twitter to the BBC F1 team for *cough* some months now.

This is because you are cross at the BBC.

To recap, those paying attention to this blog may know that back in January, the BBC announced it was to cut loose your favourite online community.

This is not why you are cross. They could have shut the place down cold, but they didn’t, which gave you a chance to save it. And you**** did.

No, you are cross because in the ten years they had it, they ran it into the ground. Nearly into the ground. And this week it has become clear that the code has been held together with chewing gum and rubber bands for quite some time*****. Heroic efforts by the volunteer (but expert) tech team has got it up and running and plans are afoot to drag the site kicking and screaming into 2006*****. And then? Then it will get really interesting. But still. It should never have got to this point. In your opinion.


This meant that when the BBC announced that the same spending cuts which had axed your hangout meant that it would be sharing coverage of Formula One races with Sky, you were in two minds.

On the one hand, schadenfreude ruled .

On the other hand, AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Pay per view for 50% of the races? And even more importantly, what will be happening with the superlatively splendid line up of people covering the races they have this year?

To be honest, you had been rather hoping that making David Coulthard into a race commentator represented a radical cost cutting measure. Previously, Martin Brundle, who has been on the commentary team for over ten years was ex driver expert, there to lend colour to whoever was calling the minutiae of the action.  For the last couple of years, David Coulthard, a much more recently ex driver, has been one of three pundits, including Eddie Jordan******, former team owner, flown around the world to talk at the beginning and of the race. This way, the BBC at least made a net saving of one person’s wages and travel expenses, and they were getting DC and Martin******* to work harder for their money.

Sadly it appears not. And as you cannot feel but that, given a choice between working on only half the races********* and working on all the races, the cream of the crop will disappear of to Sky.

And this lot are the cream. Jake Humphrey is the host and the straight man, the Formula One layman for all the others to bounce off. Coulthard and Eddie Jordan provide the opinions, as well as extensive contacts in the business and a soupcon of bickering. This is always entertaining.

But Martin******* and DC together for the race has been inspired.

Now, you haven’t really cottoned to the last two lead commentators. James Allen tended to get a bit obsessed by the British drivers and Jonothan Legard seemed often to be doing the F1 for dummies version, although you could well believe that was the policy of the BBC rather than his own preference. You darkly suspect the person producing the programme was not a fan of motorsport and insisted that this was the level of information people would understand.

Given that races of late have been 55-75 laps of processional driving, punctuated by brief flurries of activity as everybody pitted, this got old very quickly. I mean, there really was a limit to how many times you needed the action recapped.

So the prospect of having two former drivers to call the race made you rub your hands together. You fondly imagined that you would have a soothing one and a half hours of knowledgeable and leisurely chat and reminiscing from two experts in their field, vaguely related to what was happening on the screen behind them.

Of course, the first  of time the cars set tyre on track this season put paid to that. You’ve mentioned this before**********, but various mucking about with the rules has produced some breathtakingly energetic racing. Which clearly took everybody them in the commentary box by surprise as well.

For the first few rounds. But while it was fun to listen to the frenziedly incredulous enjoyment that resulted, it’s been even more fun to hear the commentary since Martin and Coulthard have really found their feet. You still get the ‘squeeee!’ factor; you get the eagle-eyes spotting things as it flashes past them at speed that someone who hasn’t done it for a living would have to spend twenty minutes and extensive use of the pause button trying to see; and now you also get a decent idea of who is where, who’s gone out, who is about to overtake and who is having a complete shocker.

And you do get the leisurely, well-informed chat too. As long as you press the red button after the race has finished.

So, when the cuts were announced, you signed up to the ‘keep F1 on the BBC‘ campaign. Mainly, you have to confess, to needle the Beeb in your own small, insignificant way. You don’t expect the Beeb will listen. You don’t expect they can, having spent the F1 budget for the next twenty years on tantalising you with the prospect of F1 commentary Nirvana this year, thus virtually ensuring that you will have it, and half the races taken straight away. But you would like them to know how monumentally pissed off you are about it.

Now this campaign involves trying to get the twitter hash tag #keepf1onbbc to trend on race weekends.

But you don’t tweet about Formula One as a rule. So while you were contemplating this tricky issue, you heard Martin say ‘… PETrov…’ and an idea was born*************.

Because people on the telly are always getting the stress wrong in Russian names and this really scrapes fingernails across your soul. This particularly scrapes fingernails across your soul when it happens on the BBC, as you heard from somewhere that the Beeb employs a whole department to work out how to pronounce those pesky forn names and tell their on screen staff************.

So you started tweeting about this to @MBrundleF1 and anyone else who might be listening.

After a while you turned it into a virtual drinking game. Any mention by the F1 team where they mispronounced petROV’s name got a tweet.

You had a lot of fun.

But you had rather given up the hope, the very faint hope, of anybody actually taking any notice of this when suddenly, today, Martin spotted petROV’s car as he was doing his grid walk to pounce on lounging drivers, busy engineers, posing celebrities, and passing heads of state, paused, struggled briefly with the pronunciation, and conceded your point.

You are ‘someone having a bit of a moan on Twitter’, and you are so, so proud.

Sadly, the rest of the BBC has not caught on to this yet. You will clearly have to redouble your attack next Grand Prix.

Here’s the BBC iPlayer (available for one week only, to those in the UK).

Your bit starts at 41 minutes 59ish seconds. It lasts until (optimistically) 42 mins 15ish seconds. Hang about for a bit, though, and you’ll hear him forcing the stress into the right place any number of times up until petROV’s accident. Which starts at 1 hour 32 mins or thereabouts. Enjoy!************

This is petROV! Not PETrov! Image via Wikipedia

*Martin Brundle is the lead commentator on the BBC’s Formula One coverage of the sport, for the Formula One challenged among us.

**The first Russian Formula One driver. Since you have been paying attention, which would have been 1996 or so, in case anyone is feeling pedantic.

***Do you need to explain who Michael Schumacher is? Surely not.

****You use the word ‘you’ somewhat loosely here. But as you type you are clinking virtual champagne classes in the go/no go meeting which has just relaunched the site.

*****You have shamelessly stolen these lines from some of your fellow researchers.

*****It’s tempting to add ‘the flamboyant’, but that’s really just his shirts.

******You feel confident that you and Marty are now on familiar terms.

*******If anyone is interested, the deal is that Sky will broadcast all the races as part of one of its pay per view packages. The Beeb will get half the races (including Silverstone********! So that’s OK!) and the others will have ‘extended highlight shows. Broadcast after the fact.

********The British Grand Prix. Do try to keep up.

*********Does anyone actually read the motorsport posts?

**********It helped that Martin was himself ribbing DC about his inability to pronounce VETtel correctly.

***********Of course, it’s entirely possible this department has gone the way of the budget downsizing, if it ever existed. In which case, please take the rest of this post as being you doing your bit for the Big Society.

************Oh, by the way, Red Bull won the Constructor’s Championship this week. Vettel won the race, and the Driver’s Championship last week. They’ve been having an good year. This pales into significance, of course, in comparison the the much more important news of the patchily correct pronunciation of petROV’s name. But still. Well done, Red Bull and Vettel.

On great Formula One battles.

So yesterday was the Malaysian Grand Prix*.

It was quite exciting, or at least an awful lot seemed to happen.

This is quite unusual in Formula One, which can descend into knowing almost precisely who will win within the first ten laps.

Of course, the person who was leading in the first ten laps was, in fact, the person who won in this race too**. But there was a bit of a scrum behind him and that was the important thing.

Now people might think that the point of Formula One is that it is a battle for excellence amongst drivers, or race strategists, or, at least, between engineers. However, you are fast coming to the conclusion that actually, the real battle is between the design teams and the governing body of the sport.

This is because every year, the FIA fiddles with the racing rules to try to slow the cars down, cripple them aerodynamically, make sure they have to stop occasionally, limit the clever design solutions which the teams can come up with to counter these measures and insist on certain other devices being introduced all with the aim of allowing one driver to actually pass another, should his skill be sufficient.

This has proved quite hard. It is in the nature of the engineering race to try to make the car too fast, too aerodynamically efficient, able to run for longer, to invent ways round the perimeters that the FIA hasn’t conceived of yet and to find ways to defend against any useful bit of kit the other teams might have come up with, and the technical gurus are very very good at this.

The FIA seems to have a nose ahead this season, though.

There are two gadgets designed to give the cars a boost at the right time in the right place. Something called DRS, which can change the aerodynamics of the car at a strategic moment, and the KERS, which gives more power. Although part of the success of these is that there seems to be a splendid fail rate in the race at the moment, which in itself creates more opportunities.

But the thing that really put the cat among the pigeons on Sunday was the way the tyre manufacturer, who is the same for all the cars, has been asked to provide tyres which are designed to fall to pieces as quickly as possible. This means more stops so that new sets can be fitted, which opens up windows for different drivers with different strategies gaining or losing an advantage anyway. And because quite when and how the tyres will start to degrade isn’t well understood yet, getting the timing right on these stops hasn’t been perfected and at least for now is providing all sorts of opportunities for errors, confusion and downright incompetence.

It was a lot of fun.

You felt a bit for the commentators though.

Particularly since it is only their second outing as a commentating team.

Yes, Vettel is only twelve years old. Or, aren't you getting old?

*Formula One, for the motorsport challenged amongst us.

** Sebastian Vettel. Of course. He drives for Red Bull. May well be unstoppable this season. He also won the Championship last year.

On Masha i Medved

You most favourite Russian cartoon is a modern one called Masha i Medved, or Masha and the Bear.

Masha and the Bear is a traditional fairy story about a little girl who gets lost in the woods and is eventually restored to her loving grandparents by a friendly bear.

This isn’t that story. Not quite.

But it does cover (rural) Russian culture quite nicely. Fishing, jam making, ice skating, celebrating New Year, wolves, the obsession with the works of O. Henry, samovars, gardening, football, that sort of thing.

You presume they are saving the topics of mushroom picking and having a shashlik for later.

However, that’s not the reason why it is your favourite Russian cartoon. It’s your favourite Russian cartoon because whoever is making it is clearly channelling the Star. Masha, quite frankly, is the Star, albeit in a pink headscarf.

Here is a sample. It helps to know that another famous fairy story includes a fisherman catching a golden fish and being granted three wishes in exchange for chucking it back again.

Warning: anyone expressing the slightest interest is in danger of having a DVD, complete with homemade translation, thrust upon them. You would quite like the cartoon makers to keep getting paid so they can make more episodes. Your Christmas presents had a  certain… sameness… to them this year.