Monday, 29 August 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Blog 2016



2016 marked our fifth trip to the Fringe!  You can read about 2012 here, 2014 here and 2015 here.  I clearly couldn't be bothered to write anything in 2010.  This trip was a cheeky little last minute effort after previously deciding we would sit this year out, but then leafing through the programme and thinking "oh go on then".  As a late decision we went for the first time over a proper weekend (I'm not counting the first weekend of previews last year) and only went for three days, our shortest trip yet.  So, enough with the setup paragraph, I suspect you are saying, get on with the reviews!  The present Mrs Bufton, pictured below, is this year contributing some thoughts of her own - only when she can be bothered.


Saturday

Show 1: John Gordillo - Love Capitalism
Our first show and someone who I first came across as the young(ish) host of BBC Choice's nightly comedy show The RDA, a wonderful ramshackle series that was loved by about a dozen people and ignored by everyone else, thus ensuring its fate.  Despite an obvious lack of content and interest and investment by the channel, what really held the whole thing together was the likeable host.  Until now I hadn't managed to see his standup (despite performing many times at Downstairs at the Kings Head, the famous comedy club at the end of our road when we lived in Crouch End for 6 years), but he doesn't disappoint. Performing in "the hottest room at the Fringe" Gordillo deconstructs capitalism's attempts to be friendly with us, particularly Virgin Trains' increasingly weary chatty marketing on their trains (such as "hey there good looking" on the mirror above the toilet as you urinate) and asking via email "how likely are you to recommend us to your friends and family", rightly pointing out that when it comes to trains from London to Scotland, Virgin are certainly unrivaled. Towards the end the show took a much more confessional turn which was more successful with Kate than me, but overall a great hour. And our only visit this year to The Stand, which was nice as now matter how smug they are they are still miles away from virtually everyone else.

Kate's review: Considering the big criticism we had of last year's run of shows was that the subject matter always felt a bit flighty and lightweight, it was a joy to kick off this year's run with heavy stuff. Maybe it's also because of the job I'm in where Gordillo's dissection of brands trying to sell 'experiences' and 'feelings' rather than services that this resonated quite deeply.


Show 2: Jake Yapp is One in a Million
You may know Yapp from his "in 90 seconds" segments from Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe.  He starts his latest Fringe show in much the same way with a fantastic "The Fringe in Five Minutes" sequence, which accurately captured all the clich├Ęs you can spot during August in Edinburgh ("we're just these three crazy guys that leap about, shout a lot and do sketches! There're no jokes, but still..."). Sadly after this point it became a bit more pedestrian with a lengthy sequence on Yapp's veganism, which was about as interesting as it sounds, and then something about his kids. I think. As with Gordillo, a genuinely lovely guy who you are willing on to succeed, but he could do with making all sixty minutes as compulsive as the first five.

Kate's Review: A lot of Jake's set sagged in places but ultimately he came up with a character that said 'I LOVE Coco Chanel. I've got a Chanel bin' which for some reason was my favourite line of the Fringe.

Show 3: Set List - Standup Without a Net
One of the more successful "late night rotating lineup shows with a gimmick" (we'll certainly more than Comedy In The Dark, which remains one of my worst comedy experiences of all time), Set List has become something of a hit since we last saw it, even being made into a TV show that no one has seen.  Now residing in the "Nightclub" venue of Gilded Balloon - so called because it is usually home to drunk students dancing to S Club 7 - Kai Humphries hosted five acts seeing the themes of their set appear in front of them as the performed.  When it works, it works really well, although you do feel the terror of performers as they stand there hoping what they come up with is funny. After sitting in the Gilded Balloon bar for a couple of hours looking at the various shows starting as we waited I said to Kate "there is no way I am seeing the bloody Axis of Awesome, they're almost as ubiquitous as flaming Abandoman in doing the same act year in year out". So I only had myself to blame as a familiar-sounding "poet" act, later revealed to be an alter-ego of Abandoman, was one of the acts, and the big finale was, of course, Axis of Awesome.  And the embarrassing thing was that they were absolutely superb.


Sunday

Show 4: Radio Active
One of the Pleasance's headline shows this year is quite a coup - a reunion of the Radio Active cast, performing two episodes of their 1980s Radio 4 show which parodied the then new concept of local radio stations. Obviously I was too young to hear this the first time around but the idea (and the rare chance to see the cast back together) seemed too good to miss.  With the sense of occasion in mind it was a bit disappointing to see quite how safe and Home Service most of the material was, causing barely a ripple of laughter in the carvernous Pleasance One. The highlight was Status Quid performing "Boring Song", and you can probably guess what that entailed.  

It seems a little churlish to describe a Radio 4 programme as "very Radio 4", but it is the best description I can surmise. One can only guess you had to be there, and it just kind of worked in the background whilst doing the washing up in the way that it doesn't in a massive venue.  But we did get three things out of seeing Radio Active: 1) seeing how at 60 years old Angus Deayton is incredibly well preserved and hasn't aged a day, 2) an afternoon of Googling Michael Fenton Stevens to find out where the hell we recognised him from (answer: virtually everything), and finally 3) our Anecdote of the Fringe 2016, which you can find at the bottom of this blog.

Kate's Review: Gutted that we missed Mark Cooper-Jones' 'Geographically Speaking' to watch this. Mildly amusing, if I'm feeling generous.


Show 5: Lolly 2
Lolly Adefope is someone who we have sort of followed from the start, after a hysterical turn at the 1Xtra Comedy Night two years ago followed by her debut solo show in 2015. So Lolly 2 continues with more of the same character comedy, but this time with the recurring theme of her reviews from last year, many of which bafflingly remarked that she didn't mention her race at all (Adefope is black). This idea, fed into various skits including Lolly auditioning for "Black Hermione", accompanies plenty of other set pieces, none of which quite hit the heights of Lolly 1's talent show conceit, particularly one item about an American talk show host which went on for far too long.  But she remains one of the Fringe's most exciting talents, and it is to be hoped TV will manage to harness this in an appropriate format at some point.

Kate's Review: I LOVE YOU LOLLY. Although I agree that the talk show host bit went on too long. Her 'Diversity Inclusion' Officer character was inspired. She just does character comedy so much better than everyone else, with an attention to detail and mannerisms that leaves everyone else trailing in her wake. 

Show 6: James Acaster - Reset
Another outing for James "always nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award but never gets it" Acaster, this time graduating to Pleasance One, the second biggest venue at everyone's favourite yellow Fringe venue on a hill (the biggest being Pleasance Grand which even Adele would struggle to fill). The promotion didn't entirely suit his act, or indeed any standup, the room being very long and thin.  We didn't find this show quite as good as last year which was quite exceptional, but Acaster remains one of the stars of his generation.  Any show which refers back to his failed musical career as part of "The Wow Scenario" is going to be worth seeing.

Show 7: Princes of Main - Cool
IT'S ANOTHER MALE TRIO SKETCH GROUP! Following Pappy's, Wit Tank and Beasts we decided to see these guys on the basis of the show being directed by Lolly Adefope.  Residing in "the hottest room at the Fringe", Princes of Main made a pretty good stab at providing a variant on the now ubiquitous format this time loosely themed around how to be cool, the highlight of which being "badly translated French" sketch where someone was listening to "Jason of Rulo" whilst eating a "little boy" yoghurt. The hour didn't really sag at all and the room was pretty full for Sunday night, so they must be doing something right.

Kate's Review: A boy sat behind me laughed too loudly and for too long in my ear in order to impress his date. I liked Princes of Main but was largely preoccupied with thinking about what a massive tool he was. Plus, the 'crazy one' in all these male trio sketch groups is never as loose a cannon as Tom Parry from Pappy's, so they end up looking like a pale imitation.


Monday

Show 8: Five Go Off On One
When we were kids Kate and I loved the Famous Five books, and despite this have turned out to not be racist and sexist. Kate does however love ginger beer.  So when we were handed a flyer for this comedy play we were quite keen to see what they'd done with the subject matter.  After all, surely getting laughs out of the Famous Five is like shooting fish in a barrel? You'd think.  You can't really do the obvious jokes as the Comic Strip have kind of exhausted that one.  But still a lot to work with, you'd hope? 

Five Go Off On One failed on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.  It had no idea what it was trying to be - spoof, farce, surreal, or even straight comedy version of the Famous Five? All of those were thrown into the mix throughout the hour, almost as if to see which worked, but nothing stuck.  The most annoying element was trying to work out what was going on as so many plot threads were thrown into the mix, and at 55 minutes in there still wasn't a resolution, which rather gave the game away it was going to be a bit of a cop out.  Various bizarre set pieces were added, the oddest of which was an interlude where fictional news headlines were read out to the sound of the extended BBC News theme, culminating in terrible puns. The including something about Ed Miliband's hair resulting in the punchline "Ed Fringe". Yes, that's Ed Miliband off of 2010. 

Bits that could have worked well were flunked, such as a plotline that Timmy had gone missing. This could have worked into a terrific running joke with the audience who were well aware that a dog would never feature in the live play, but the resolution of Timmy being played by one of the cast with a sock on their hand when he was finally located was poor (surely pretend he's run off to continue the gag, or put a giant dog costume on or something?).  Bits that did work well, such as an interlude where Uncle Quentin looked menacing to the War of the World theme before starting to strip off when the music kicked in, was run into the ground when repeated a few minutes later.  Some intriguing plot possibilities were ignored when the suggestion that Uncle Quentin was just keeping the kids occupied by leaving crates around was brushed under the carpet.  By the end we had absolutely no idea what was going on.  The final line "Five Go Off On Two", yelled by the cast presumably to excite the audience in the idea of a sequel, instead had the effect of stunning everyone there into silence. I really really wanted to like this show but instead went away Googling to find out who was responsible.

Kate's review: The people involved in this show seemed absolutely lovely, and I genuinely believe that the best of intentions were behind the production. But my God, why did nobody in what was presumably quite a long road to get this to the Fringe stop and say 'Hang on everyone, this material isn't funny. It's really NOT FUNNY.' And we even paid for the privilege. My god.

There were numerous pointless scenes written to showcase the individual talents of the cast (for example, filling a cave with infinite crooks so one guy could show off his range of American accents) which added nothing. I was also pissed off that George the tomboy was a sap in pigtails. Ideally the show needs a talented script editor and a big red pen, otherwise they should stick it in the bin and use this year as a learning experience to write something better.

Show 8: Rhys James - Forgives
Second year running for us seeing Rhys, once again in the not-at-all-a-Portcabin surroundings of Pleasance Beside, apparently "the hottest room in the Fringe" (guys, enough, we're all sat down out of the glare of the lights drinking beer so don't get as hot as you).  James is another likeable guy with a very deft set of funny lines weaved around...well not very much, that's kind of the problem. James falls into the problem we all do at 25 in thinking we are now fully grown adults, rather than children who have only recently stumbled into the real world and still have a lot of learning to do. A bit harsh, but if you're going to fess up that you recently moved out of your parents' house, get used to it.  The highlight of the show was undoubtedly a letter he wrote to himself 15 years previously as part of a school project, apparently entirely true judging by the hysterical laughter coming from one of his friends in the audience. A decent hour but we'd probably go and see someone else next time.  He did however have the courtesy to finish 10 minutes early to allow us to dash across Edinburgh to our next show, beginning 15 minutes later...
Reading out the Chilcot Report, in full, in a bus, 24 hours a day. 

Show 9: Alistair McGowan - 12th Impressions
In the early noughties I thought Alistair McGowan was the bees knees.  Rory Bremner aside, impressions had largely gone out of fashion when The Big Impression launched on BBC1, and I loved it. So seeing that McGowan was back at the Fringe I jumped at the chance to see him live.  So it was we crammed into "the hottest room at the Fringe" - only this time it was, with the chairs in the Gilded Balloon's Debating Room pushed so far together everyone had a pair of knees crushed into their buttocks. The show didn't get off to the greatest start, with McGowan seemingly genuinely annoyed people were still sitting down when he came on (perhaps try playing a smaller room next time?), but as it progressed I was reminded of what used to frustrate me about The Big Impression - spot on impressions, and slightly ropey comic material, the exact opposite of Dead Ringers. (Why couldn't McGowan just join them? Oh, he did, for one Radio 4 series, and left. That answers that one then).  Some of the material was a little questionable - in particularly a tired run though Dad's Army characters, a rather pervy interlude where he imagined commentators at Rio 2016 admiring the bodies of female athletes, and a request that woman stop bothering to worry about what earrings they wear as we are looking elsewhere.  Al, 1996 is on the phone and wants its material back.  Put all that together with pausing for applause after every bloody joke and you've got a major disappointment.

Kate's Review: Alistair had a segment which was basically a long whinge against Twitter and the pointlessness of it, with the audience loudly agreeing. I think I last heard those kind of jokes around 2009.

Show 10: David O'Doherty - Big Time
After, quite frankly, a bloody awful day of shows, we really needed someone to pick things off the ground for our final show of the Fringe, and O'Doherty delivered in the way he always does because he's a genius.  In something like his 15th consecutive outing at the Fringe he mused on subjects including mundane promoted tweets, his Twitter hassle from Ed Sheeran fans and the realisation that, after being on the up for the last few years, he's only going to go down now in terms of success.  We also learnt about his efforts to have a "No Lilt February" and his hatred of brunch DJs.  Despite being in his words "the enviable third Monday of the Fringe" show we finished our fifth Fringe on a high, after which he promptly followed us into Pizza Express.  Man, know some boundaries.

Kate's Review: David O'Doherty tweeted me back when I called him out on his Pizza Express stalking, saying 'I can't help it. I just h8 all K8s' which absolutely made my week.

Finally, as is traditional, a few final Fringe thoughts...

The BBC
Due to the seemingly never ending redevelopment around Bristo Square that has already displaced the Udderbelly, the BBC's Fringe - sorry, Edinburgh Festivals - venue was relocated this year to the grounds of a school, quite out of the way.  I've written a few times on how despite pouring money into this venture each year they don't seem to have a clue what to do with it, and this year was no exception.  The three editions of The One Show live from Edinburgh included some festival content, but you do start banging your head against the wall when they open with an interview with someone from Casualty.  This year also saw the notable absences of Radio 1 and (by definition) BBC Three, which hasn't helped things.

Caldonian Sleeper
We got the sleeper train home!  In order to maximise our time at the Fringe (and only take one day off work), we checked out of hotel on Monday lunchtime and were still able to see a full day of shows before catching the train home late on Monday night.  This was our first trip on the sleeper since Serco took over from ScotRail as a standalone operator, which they have cunningly named "Caledonian Sleeper".  It doesn't need pointing out that the rolling stock is on its last legs but some improvements have been made, such as two pillows on each bunk, USB charging points in the cabins and more breakfast options.  We must have caught the various sleepers in the UK about half a dozen times now, and I think we've only had a decent night's sleep a couple of times.  But there is something undeniably special about going to sleep at one end of the country and waking up in another.  Long may it continue!


Anecdote of the Fringe 2016
OK, you've waited long enough.  Before we saw Radio Active Kate spotted Ian Hislop hanging around the Pleasance Courtyard.  Surely not here to see Angus Deayton, with whom it is quite well documented he doesn't see eye-to-eye with?  More like Paul Merton, also on that afternoon with his Impro Chums.  Anyway, after the show we again found ourselves behind Hislop as he negotiated the tiny staircase down to the toilets at the back of the Pleasance.  What are the chances that he should find himself facing Deayton coming up in the other direction?  #awkward.  Anyway, all that was a long time ago now wasn't?  Surely after 14 years they could at least acknowledge each other?  Nope.  They both looked in the other direction and pretended they hadn't seen each other.  And Kate was stuck in between them both.

And on that buttock-clenchingly embarrassing tale, we're done.  Will we make it four years in a row?  Unlikely.  This year was, as you've probably noticed from the reviews, a bit of a disappointment.  Partly due to our own choices: too many big rooms, as the people we follow have become more successful, and not enough small "will this work?" type shows.  Perhaps also an inevitable consequence of going at the weekend and only having 3 days to cram things into this time, there were plenty of shows we wanted to see but just couldn't due to clashes.  Or maybe it's time to take a break...

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Edinburgh Fringe Blog 2015


It's that time of year again! After months of anticipation, much rehearsal and considerable coverage in the national press, I'm writing a blog.  Ahahahaha.

This was mine and Kate's fourth trip to the fringe.  You can read about the last two here and here.  Our last in particular was a bit of a washout which is why we've broken our unofficial rule of going every other summer.  We don't go for the weather - you'd be mad to do that - but it was so oppressively wet and cold that promoters were reduced to shouting "come to our show because it's dry and warm".  So we headed back up and (thankfully) enjoyed five almost unsettlingly hot and dry days.  And if there's anywhere you want to be on a hot day, it's in a windowless shipping container in a car park with 78 strangers.  This was also the earliest we'd ever been.  Due to leave availability at work we visited right at the start and over a weekend, which was also a first for us.  But without further ado, the reviews - if you can call them that.  All with the proviso that everyone we saw was far more talented than I'll ever be.  So with that in mind:

Thursday

Show 1
David O'Doherty: We Are All in the Gutter, But Some of Us Are Looking at David O'Doherty

A "strong start", as they say.  O'Doherty is something of a Fringe veteran, presenting his fourteenth consecutive annual show in Edinburgh. His star has grown in the past few years meaning he now effortlessly fills the sizeable George Square (Lecture) Theatre.  It's more of the same, but with David that is never a bad thing.  Touching upon on the Irish equal marriage vote he tells a terrific story about the after-effects of a celebratory party that left us in stitches.  Self-effacing, modest and hugely talented.
Pleasance Courtyard


Show 2
Chris Martin: This Show has a Soundtrack
 

No, not that one.  Chris is a hugely likeable comedian who we first encountered warming up for Room 101, and this is the second time we've seen him at the Fringe. The time he is part of the Free Fringe - more on that later - as he points out on the flyer, "this doesn't mean the show's crap, but I'm getting married and still live in my Mum and Dad's shed". The hook of the show is that his friend has composed a soundtrack to the show that will run throughout, just like in film and TV, and the concept provides some early gags.  It's a shame then that it gets almost entirely forgotten about later on, simply rumbling away in the background like hold music.  Chris is also just too nice a guy.  Given the gift of not one but two women-with-silly-cackles in the audience, he seemed more flattered that they're enjoying the show than anything else, and indulged them far longer than necessary when it was clear everyone else was getting a bit fed up. 
Gilded Balloon, Teviot House

Friday

Show 3
BEASTS: Live DVD

There have been some medical advancements in recent years as it seems as if Pappy's and Wit Tank have somehow managed to reproduce and give birth to a new all-male sketch trio.  Pappy's Tom Parry has even been kind enough to direct their show as part of his fatherly responsibilities.  I'm being unkind here as BEASTS easily fill an hour and hold the audience's attention around a plot where they attempt to film their show for a DVD release.  It was easily one of the best shows we saw at the Fringe this year, and yet...it all felt so familiar.  The three males all speaking to the audience, introducing their sketches, screwing them up and having to do them again.  The multitude of silly props. The mad sweaty one intent on breaking the rules.  The straight-laced leader trying to get things back on track.  The other one.  Is this harsh of me? After all, I didn't criticise Chris Martin for the unoriginal "solo male standup" act. Perhaps Pappy's and their ilk have created a genre of their own.  After Last Show Ever, though (one of the most outstanding Fringe productions of recent years) they have a lot to live up to.
Kate celebrates the Gilded Balloon's 30th birthday


Show 4
Iain Stirling: Touchy Feely

The third time we've seen Iain live, and he's come a long way from "Seminar Room 2" back in 2012, now filling up Pleasance Above - the definitive "on the up" venue - without a great deal of difficulty.  Sadly whilst voicing Love Island some of the sun has gone to his head, and some of the confidence and assurance has been lost from his act.  To be fair, it was a preview - but then so were virtually all the shows we saw.  From the "catch-all title required by the Fringe in April before anything is written that ultimately has nothing to do with the show" to a confused dialogue about the shame of eating McDonalds (yeah!) that immediately segued into Iain's vegetarianism (eh?), it felt a little...unfocused.  Which is a crying shame because he's a likeable guy who can engage with an audience well, and is undoubtedly reaping the rewards of bringing the older end of the 2010-ish CBBC viewership and Love Island's audience (don't laugh) into his gigs. Trying to get some kind of theme running through the show would be a good place to start next year.
Udderbelly's Pasture

Show 5
Mixtape

A bit of a wildcard, but one of the joys of this end of the Fringe is that if you don't like something you're only a few quid down.  The concept of this "part comedy show, part music quiz" is to guess which song's lyrics a sketch is performed using. The winner gets the "golden mixtape". To help you along each show has a theme - ours was "solo stars" (which hardly narrows it down...). All amiable entertainment and the enthusiastic group of performers really gave it their all.  The format conspired against it, though.  It's quite difficult to write a funny sketch using such a restrictive selection of words, which often resulted in them saying the same words over and over again in an attempt to not make it completely obvious. When they did strike gold with the setup, any laughs they deserved were minimal as everyone was concentrating on trying to work out the answer.  Maybe it works for them - or maybe I was miffed we missed out on the Golden Mixtape by two points.  They do however deserve credit for essentially putting on half a dozen different shows to support the different themes.
Friday's winner of the "Golden Mixtape"


Show 6
PLAY

The latter end of the by-time-of-day listings is full of music nights that you'd think would struggle to fit into the concept of the Fringe. One we saw had a theme of "crap music requests" - surely that's just a quirky club night paying to get into the Fringe programme for more publicity? But to prove we're still down with the kids (yeah, I've got a Game Boy Camera!) we went to PLAY, a two hour show in the Gilded Balloon which pits DJ sisters The Mac Twins against each other, with the audience "voting" using their coloured wristbands. Much is made of 80s computer game imagery on the big screen, with some impressive choreographed routines from their dancers. Attendance was a little patchy on our night but the crowd really got into the concept - initially choosing genres, before the two teamed up to "take on cheese". Given the reaction of the crowd to C'est La Vie and Cotton Eye Joe they probably wondered why they bothered with the earlier proper DJ bits, but then this is the Fringe on a Friday night.  And if nothing else, it means you don't have to go to Late 'n' Live next door.
The Mac Twins and co in "action"

Saturday

Show 7
Phill Jupitus is Porky the Poet in Apologist Now!

Our first Fringe cockup. One of the problems with the Free Fringe is there is no way of stopping over-capacity, as after all there are no tickets to sell.  So we found ourselves cramming into a room to see Christian Reilly before it became obvious that not only was there nowhere to sit, there wasn't really anywhere to stand either, so we cut our losses and headed back to bar.  According to the Fringe app, Phill Jupitus was due to start 20 minutes later in the same building. As fall-back options go, I've had worse.  Phill did an hour of poetry - an area of his repertoire I've not really encountered before - but it was enjoyable stuff, in particular a diversion into some of background and family history.
Assembly

 
Show 8
Michael Hill: My Two Years in Tokyo

Another Free Fringe show, and with exactly the same problem as we'd just encountered - too many people cramming into a corner of a bar, not helped by a table of mouthy blokes who refused not only to move but to stop their loud conversation once the show began. Newcomer Hill could have demolished this opposition easily as he had the entire audience behind him but chose to instead try to pacify them and carry on. As you can see from the photo ours seats were directly behind him meaning we spent an hour staring at his arse (the Free Fringe, there).  We were inspired to see this show following our trip to Tokyo earlier this year, and it didn't disappoint those with or without any knowledge of Japan (and looking at the crowd there were a few men with a certain kind of "interest" in the country).
Sitting behind the mic stand!


Show 9
James Acaster: Represent

Acaster is one of the most promising comedians of his generation. We first encountered him on Josh Widdicombe's XFM podcast show at last year's Fringe, after which he received a Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination for his own show. Expectation was high and he didn't disappoint, skilfully weaving together a story involving a period on jury service and the Christingle service that was layered and peppered with subtle call-backs for those paying attention. Sadly this was Saturday night in Edinburgh so the audience contained a number of individuals were definitely not paying attention (possibly Mock The Week viewers killing time in between hospital appointments). Acaster is a master on the stage and adeptly dealt with the interruptions, although sadly this extended the show length by around 15 minutes, meaning many ended up dashing out during the finale. Despite this, a hugely impressive show and (still) one to watch.
Uncanny
Show 10
Voices In Your Head

And so it came to pass that we were wandering around the Assembly beer-and-food area (enclosure? compound?), thinking of calling it a night when we were accosted by a flyer-er offering us two for one tickets to see Voices In Your Head, an intriguing-sounding descendant of Whose Line Is It Anyway where unprepared performers have to inhabit a given character based on instructions from "the voice" and props given to them by the audience. Our hearts sank when we arrived at the venue and found a solitary person waiting, but eventually the theatre was about a quarter full. And it was a decent enough show, although one you feel would have been improved by a bigger audience and some less petrified performers. Kate bravely volunteered her handbag for one sketch, and the performer deduced that based on the contents he would be "a bitch who works in PR"!  "How do you get through the day" asked the voice.  Looking through her bag, out came some Nurofen and the answer "drugs"...
Pleasance Courtyard

Sunday

Show 11
Lolly

One of the stars of the BBC's Hip Hop Comedy night we attended last year, this was Lolly's debut hour, and the flyer promised she was "as head on 1Xtra and Radio 4", which is an achievement if nothing else. After instant brownie points for her audience-entry music being the "Wheel of Fortune" theme on a loop, so many times that it stopped being funny and then started being funny again, the show was based around a regional talent show that allowed Lolly to perform various characters, with local radio-style adverts playing as she changed outfits behind the curtain (my favourite being "Maplin Electronics. If you want electronics, we sell them"). Able to effortlessly nail characteristics of her characters, Lolly is a star of the future. See her now before she's pushed into an ill-advised BBC3 vehicle that kills her career stone dead.
The BBC site on Potterow

Show 12
Ivo Graham: No Filter

Another name we discovered through the XFM show last year, Ivo is a young performer with a strong grasp of his material, although at 24 having been out of uni a few years and in a relationship for one, he doesn't yet have a great bank of life experience to draw on, so heads straight to the old fall-backs of social media and modern technology. Despite this it is an entertaining and promising hour but one you feel could probably be better in a few years time, and perhaps delivered at a slower pace with a tad more audience interaction.
Time-travel adultery.  Monday 8.30 on BBC1

Show 13
Matthew Crosby: Smaller Than Life
Crosby is one third of the aforementioned Pappy's who this year are largely focussing on their solo endeavours.  After many years of performing Cosby is a master of communicating with his audience, and his hour - looking at a trip to Russia and ironically celebrating a certain V. Putin - zips along and doesn't dip at any point.  It's a real talent to be able to engage with an audience with them feeling relaxed enough to not worry about being humiliated.  Although a decent-sized audience for a Sunday the show wasn't sold out, which is a real shame as there are far less talented acts packing rooms out night after night.  Plus he looks like a bloody nice bloke.

Just the Tonic @ The Mash House

Monday

Show 14
Bridget Christie: A Book For Her

Ah, Bridget.  Once again a Bridget Christie hour means getting up painfully early (well for an 11am start, which for anything other than children's shows should be forbidden) and trekking over to The Stand.  Was it worth it?  Well, we got a seat this time, which was good.  The book of the title refers to her newly released tome (and is a play on her former show A Bic For Her, which is itself a satire on pink pens for women), but the hour of new material didn't refer to it at all, and instead was another energetic discussion of political and feminist issues.  I find it hard to say this without it sounding anti-feminist - because I'm not - but it does feel, much as with her husband, that we're getting the same show each year. 

Udderbelly's Pasture

Show 15
Rhys James: Remains

A show I'd have been happy to see based on this tweet alone but more heavily endorsed by Kate who's actually worked with the guy in her other life as an online video guru (yep, she works for Real Player).  On the surface another Ivo - early 20s, middle class, white, even the same room at he Pleasance, and not much to talk about other than, yep, relationships and social media, but delivered with a great deal of confidence and presentational zing (including an entertaining opening video featuring - it's that man again - Matthew Crosby playing Rhys's manager).   Once again, one to watch.

Underbelly Cowgate: condemned chic

Show 16
Tom Parry: Yellow T-shirt

Another Pappy's refuge, although a brief reunion in some ways as Crosby turned up to flyer his own show at the start and "the other one" Ben Clark helped with props and the collection.  Not the Free Fringe but a new "pay what you want" tier from Just The Tonic, with a suggestion of £5-7.  Ironically this show could have charged far more given the sheer enthusiasm that Parry delivers it with.  Loosely themed on fancy dress, Parry's incredible engagement with the audience is such that he is able to pre-arrange and rehearse a standing ovation to end the show with in advance, and everyone's more than happy to go along with it. 

Cool

Show 17
Reginald D Hunter: Bitchproof

We booked our Fringe tickets soon after the programme was published in June.  Each time we do this we pool together our requests, see if there are any the other is really not fussed by, and as long as there are no clashes we go ahead and book the lot.  This year, Kate was really keen to see Reginald D Hunter.  I can't remember why but she was adamant we had to go and see him, so on the list he went (as our most expensive show, no less).  August rolls around, and checking our planner reveals what is lined up as our final show.  "I don't remember wanting to see Reginald D Hunter", says Kate.  So it was that we ended up seeing a Fringe show neither of us were that fussed about, but we'd already bought tickets.  Notably it was our first show in the Pleasance Grand - a cavernous 750-seater which is more Live at the Apollo that Edinburgh Fringe.  I've nothing against the guy who has been amusing enough on Have I Got News For You, and in the slightly more intimate setting of our old local pub in Crouch End.  But there was nothing about this fairly pedestrian 50 minute set (not even the full hour) that suggested it deserved the enormous patronage it received.



Show(ish) 18
BBC at the Edinburgh Festivals: Vic Galloway

But we weren't quite done!  We wandered over to the BBC area on Potterow.  Conscious we hadn't managed to see anything in the tent this year, we watched some of Vic Galloway's show via the big screen outside.  Vic Galloway!  You know Vic Gallow?  Session in the Nations, Radio 1 Scotland, 1999-2010?  No?  Well he's still on BBC Radio Scotland doing much the same thing.  This doesn't quite qualify as a show but brings me back to the subject of the BBC's presence at The Fringe.  Going to their area is much like going round your grandparents - you know you'll pop in at some point and it'll be well presented and exactly like it was last time.  Fringe broadcasts by the likes of Scott Mills and Richard Bacon were amongst the reasons that made us want to go to the festival for the first time five years ago.  It is somewhat bafflingly that the exercise hasn't yet succumbed to the cuts, but the food and booze sales probably go some way to paying for it.  They do need to remember what the Fringe is supposed to be about, though, and not just use it as a cheap way for a programme to do an outside broadcasts (The One Show, I'm looking in your direction).

The spirit of the Fringe


And that was it.  Our favourite shows?  A threeway tie between Lolly, Tom Parry and Matthew Crosby.  My least favourite?  Undoubtedly Colin Baker.  (and a pat on the back to anyone nerdy enough to get that joke).  To finish with, a few random thoughts.

Free Fringe

The biggest change we've seen over the past five years is undoubtedly the rise of the Free Fringe, which was almost non-existent in 2010 but unavoidable in 2015.  Some big names as well, such as Phill Jupitus, and more of the "squeezed middle" who previously charged for shows, such as Chris Martin.  It is an area that is likely to keep on getting bigger as it means the acts don't have to pay to use the performance space.  They are however reliant on audience donations at the end of the show, which can often be quite miserly.  As we experienced in the Tokyo show, audiences just don't seem as committed and invested during the Free Fringe shows.  Organisation can also be less than slick.  Waiting for Jupitus's show we found ourselves in a stairwell with a crowd not knowing where to go, before the man himself emerged and (to everyone's amusement) pointed everyone in the right direction.

Money Money Money

It doesn't have to be expensive.  Whilst certainly not cheap, it doesn't have to be as huge an outlay as you might think.  As well as the aforementioned "free" Fringe (which isn't free, but a lot cheaper) the opening few days have preview prices and then two-for-one deals on the first Monday and Tuesday.  We travelled by train for free on reward scheme tickets (admittedly one no longer running) and stayed in an Airbnb flat, for around the same price per night as a hotel room - and a price not hugely inflated by the Fringe either.  This then allows you to have as many meals a day at home as you fancy. 

Be Nice to Flyer-ers

They're not chuggers (who incidentally you should be nice to as well - or at least polite) so allow them to give you their spiel and a flyer.  They'll clear off pretty soon as it'll be clear if you aren't interested.  A huge number of these are actually flyer-ing their own show, so smile, be nice and say thankyou, even if you do throw it in the recycling bin round the corner.  This is how the world goes round at the Fringe, so even if you're in town just to see Jimmy Carr on his three nights at the Festival Theatre, remember this is how it all begins.

GO TO THE TOILET BEFOREHAND
I MEAN SERIOUSLY HOW HARD IS IT TO ANTICIPATE THAT YOU NEED A SLASH BEFORE A SHOW?  OR ALTERNATIVELY HOLD IT IN FOR A WHOLE HOUR?  WOULDN'T THAT BE PREFERABLY TO SQUEEZING OUT, DISRUPTING THE SHOW AND BEING RIDICULED AS YOU GO?

And on that note - thank you for reading.  I'll be in Pleasance Twelve from 1st September with my new show Bellend in a Courtyard.  I hope you can join me - if not, wait till I'm out of sight before you put the flyer in the bin...



Friday, 16 January 2015

Don't Believe Me? Just Watch...


On 2nd March 2013, for reasons I can't quite remember - might have been around the time of the death of Terry Nutkins, or maybe I was trying to avoid doing some wedmin - I knocked together a homemade extended mix of the theme tune to The Really Wild Show.  28-year-olds up and down the land were spending their Saturday afternoons doing similarly cool things, I'm sure.  I just remember suddenly thinking, "this is amazing, and there's hardly any of it on YouTube".  So I mashed together the opening and closing themes (notice the jump in audio quality between the two, but hey, it was as good as we were going to get wasn't it?), put the result against a montage of the first two title sequences (and that tiger from the 1989 sequence is one of my earliest TV memories) and popped the result online to general indifference and a couple of instances of mild praise. 


Typically, soon after I went to the effort of doing this the full-length track that theme derived from was located.  You can hear by clicking the link below, but beware - after the familiar opening 31 seconds you're going to get a bit of a shock:


Yes - after nearly thirty years associated with a wholesome wildlife show aimed at young children, it transpires the full track (and it really does go on a bit) is some bloke banging on and on about what his "sexy lady" means to him, getting more and more wound up about it as the track goes on.  Before the familiar closing credits theme kicks in at the very end he shouts "now you know how much you mean to me", which after nearly six minutes is very much an understatement.  But despite this its a pretty good track and one that became a bit of a guilty pleasure to throw into the mix at parties (or alternatively to put on via Apple TV or Chromecast without being asked). 

The, the first weird thing happened.  I started getting comments on the video from people who seemed to be under the impression this was actually a Daft Punk offcut from their recent album Random Access Memories.  And eventually I worked out that this had been a running joke on the 6 Music breakfast show.  The YouTube clip that helped spread the lies is below - notice the telltale jump in audio quality between the opening and closing titles.  And the tiger roaring from the BBC Bristol end board.  And that "Vraiment Sauvage Moi" is almost French for...


After the cover was blown, here's a clip of the track being played on 6 Music for no particular reason.  Notice Shaun Keaveny pointing out the jump in audio quality between the opening and closing titles.  Yes, I know.

Then all was quiet for a bit, until about a month ago I started getting more comments saying it sounded like something else.  This time, the offender was Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson, and yes indeed it does.  These comments continued every now and again, until it all went a bit mad today when Us vs Th3m wrote an article about the similarity.  Suddenly my Facebook feed was full of people pointing out the similarity, all based on my time-wasting video from nearly two years ago.  Someone put together this frankly poor clip filming my video off a screen (thoughtfully including the jump in audio quality between the opening and closing titles).  Then someone put together a proper mashup of my mashup and Ronson's track, complete with added Nutkins pics and the BBC Bristol roar.  Notice the jump in audio quality between the opening and...you get the idea.


But that wasn't good enough for Heart Thames Valley (less Uptown Funk, more "Who The Funk?") who have published this bizarre more complex creation which superimposes Terry Nutkins' head on top of Bruno Mars.  They've even moved the Bristol roar to the start - the bit that's not even part of the tune!!


At least all this has drawn attention to what remains a bloody good theme tune - one which Children's BBC naturally yanked off the air in the early 1990s to be replaced by the following oh-so-hip-and-trendy remix.  If you were sick of the other one, cover your ears: this is bad...


So what have we learnt from all this?  Not a great deal, I fear.  I like to think the interest was in part due to my original video (there really wasn't much of it on YouTube at all two years ago) and that it in some way validates the complete waste of time doing it in the first place. 

I'm still waiting for Us vs Th3m to do an article about the Parallel 9 theme tune

Monday, 18 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe Blog 2014

It's that time again! Yes - me actually writing a blog!  I remember the good old days when I'd churn these out all the time.  Then I changed jobs and bought a flat and found I'd rather spend time off sobbing in a darkened room.  But now, it's that time again - we've been back to the Fringe for our third visit, which means another blog chewing over who we saw.  In our four days in Edinburgh we saw fifteen shows, and here is what me - and 'er indoors - thought of them.

Sunday

1. Holly Walsh: Never Had It
Our first show and...probably the best!  Holly has become an effortlessly brilliant comedian, and this show is based around her opinion that not only has she not "still got it", she "never had it".  To illustrate this point she asks the audience whether certain people have "got it".  Barack Obama has clearly "got it". David Cameron has not "got it".  Gary Barlow "didn't have it, then he got it, but is now being forced to give it back".  We simply loved this show, the only problem being that everything after this point was an anti-climax. 



2. Nick Doody vs The Debonair Assassin
Free Fringe!  And only the second show.  In the two years since we were last in town the Free Fringe has gone from something akin to the consolation prize for not being able to sell tickets to a considerable behemoth, beginning to rival the Pleasance/Assembly/Underbelly/Gilded Balloon four-headed monster for bums-on-seats.  Some acts have begun to complain of a "squeezed middle" between the Free Fringe and the bigger name paid-for acts and it's not hard to see there being a problem in years to come with many punters simply refusing to take the financial risk of a paid show any longer.  Nick was OK. 

3. Tom Price: Not As Nice As He Looks
Thanks to Mr Doody overrunning we arrived at this one slightly late.  We legged it up the hill to the Pleasance and arrived a few minutes late to be warmly welcomed as audience members 11 and 12 to Tom's show.  You'll mainly recognise Tom as PC Andy from Torchwood but he's also an accomplished stand-up comedian who performs a very warm show...trying to defuse the myth that he's a nice guy.  And, to try and atone for an earlier screw-up at a family wedding, I ended up being re-married to another audience member.  My first night in Edinburgh and already a bigamist.

Monday

4. Bec Hill in...Ellipsis
One of Kate's recommendations, so over to her:

I found Bec's videos on digital video website 'The YouTubes' and was very impressed with her animation/songs/general comedy. Her set was a combination of stand-up, audience participation and live animation, and I felt she was strongest when she could revert to her marvellous drawings (and probably a blessed bit of relief to have the spotlight on something else after a pretty relentless hour).

The stand up became quite patchy in places (the 'tedious puns' section dragging on 10 times longer than it really needed to) and the varied ways of performing sometimes felt like a burst of creativity fizzling into too many things because of an overall lack of confidence in most/all of them. No doubt she's ridiculously talented, but want to fast forward a few years when she's really honed her craft.


5. Iain Stirling: Everything
Last time around Iain was in a room no bigger than his former berth of the CBBC Office.  His star has grown somewhat since then and he effortlessly filled a much larger room this time around.  His confidence has grown too and his hour felt a lot edgier than the show we saw two years ago.  Apart from an awkward few minutes on politics it's a really good hour that is largely centred around being dumped by his long-term girlfriend.  Stirling touches on the pain of maintaining his kids' TV alter-ego to great effect in this section ("what's that Hacker?  She took the house?") and at only 26 it'll be interesting to see what angle his future career takes.

6. Frank Skinner: Man in a Suit
Rather unusually we decided to see a "name" in one of the biggest Fringe audiences we've ever been in, as Frank Skinner performed his first Edinburgh show in seven years.  Clearly his audience has aged somewhat since the Fantasy Football heyday and it was a rather silver crowd we were sat amongst.  The £17 ticket price is offset somewhat by the 90 minute duration, although you feel that the show could easily have been pruned to an hour.  Despite this, a good opportunity to see a real master at work.

7. Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee
As much as we love the output of Richard Herring it's hard not to feel that it's time he took a break, and after his incredible volume of output of the last half-decade he perhaps deserves it.  Although an enjoyable hour, long-term Herring fans will recognise a number of routines from this "new" show, including his teenage trip to heckle Ted Rogers and the Dance Settee of the title, dating back to Fist of Fun in the mid-90s.  As enjoyable as the show - his eleventh in as many years - is, it does feel slightly like a greatest hits tour to those of us who've been there the whole way.  Given the surprise twist at the end of the show, it seems that Herring may finally take the leave from the Fringe he seems to threaten every year - but it sounds like he'll need it...

Tuesday

8. Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman
Zzzzz.  Not the show, but the staging at 11.10am, which at the Fringe is roughly equivalent to 6.30am, given you're rarely in bed before 1am.  This start time is partly due to the in-demand slots at The Stand comedy club, but also apparently due to Christie sharing parenting duties with her husband Stewart Lee - who performs in the same room later that day.  Anyway, Bridget's star is growing so we ended up standing up for the show at this ungodly hour, such is her popularity.  Here's Kate again:

Bridget was back back BACK after her award-winning show 'A Bic For Her' with 'yet another' hour of stand-up about feminism. I understand Bridget really broke into the mainstream last year but found this whole part of the set a bit strange. Wasn't 2012's 'War Donkey' about feminism? Wasn't 2010's 'A Ant' about feminism (well, the lack of female comics at least)? I feel this does a bit of a disservice to her earlier work which was really fucking good. This was the best show we'd seen so far for a gloriously complex bit of standup, but I found one of the central themes (about her audition for a Muller advert) particularly lacking, and her returning to it again and again started to grate. The rest was very good though, mainly the yoghurty-based bits stopped it being a stand out show.

(I must caveate I was in a massive grump at this show because it was raining, I was hungover and forced to stand for the hour because The Stand doesn't have enough bloody seats and the audience was a load of cagoule-wearing Radio 4 listeners who probably arrive an hour early for every show at the Festival and nick all the chairs in the process.)


9. Frisky and Mannish: Just Too Much
Frisky and Mannish are now staging their sixth consecutive show at the Fringe.  You probably know by now what they do - very slickly staged shows parodying and deconstructing pop music.  And although this latest offering doesn't really do anything new, they do it so so well and with so much enthusiasm and professionalism it's hard to complain.  Both are hugely talented and clearly obsessed with pop music that it doesn't matter so much that it doesn't break any new ground.  You'll struggle to have more fun in an hour at the Fringe. 

10. Josh Widdicombe's XFM Show Live!
Josh is effortlessly funny.  We went to see his live show in Harrogate in May and he makes it look so easy.  Naturally we were keen to see him in Edinburgh, but unfortunately his only appearance was a few nights of his "XFM Show Live".  Of course, we've never heard this before, so we weren't expecting much especially after being told in the queue by a fruity young XFM intern "it's full of in-jokes".  In fact it was a fairly entertaining ninety minutes, mainly carried by Josh's guests it has to be said, on a rather inevitable panel of seven male and mostly white men.  And we got an XFM pen out of it. 

Wednesday

11. Matt Forde: 24 Hour Political Party People
Hmm.  We saw this on impulse at the Pleasance, thinking we might like a bit of political comedy.  And although there was nothing specifically wrong with it, it just wasn't...funny enough.  Although clearly blessed with a slight talent for impersonations, it's perhaps not the best idea to constantly use these sometimes slightly ropey impersonations as part of the jokes for the entire show.  An edge was added by Forde almost losing it when someone's phone went off - admittedly bad form but normally dealt with using a bit more humour and less genuine annoyance.  The finale was a cringeworthy version of YMCA re-styled as "UK MPs", which was about as funny as it sounds. 

12. Christian Reilly: Lost in Music
Christian has a long association with Richard Herring and it was on his podcast As It Occurs To Me that we first discovered Christian's comedy songs.  Another Free Fringe show, Christian managed to fill a not inconsiderable room on a drizzly Wednesday night.  Although the material perhaps stretched at a full hour, it's great to see Reilly's appeal broadening out to a wider audience.

13. WitTank: Old School Secrets
We saw WitTank for the first time two years ago - and although the name still makes me cringe they're very much emerging from the shadow of Pappy's to become a very slick, confident and funny outfit.  As with Pappy's Last Show Ever this year's show, although still sketch-based, is all linked around a single narrative, and all the better for it.  You'll never see Shania Twain in the same way again.

14. BBC Radio nan Gaidheal
This year's "sort of" show entry.  We spent a while in the BBC Fringe area, and out time coincided with a session for Radio nan Gaidheal or "Radio Nan" as Kate insisted on calling it.  It was a Gaelic music set, with a surprising amount of English being spoken.  Hey-ho.  I wrote two years ago about how good it was the Beeb have got involved in the Fringe so much in recent years, but it seems to have got a little out of hand this year.  Various programmes found themselves presenting special editions from the BBC tent seemingly for no other reason than they could (Newsnight? The One Show? Rasta Mouse?).  The nadir was undoubtedly encouraging people to watch The Great British Bake Off on the big screen - surely the modern day spirit of the Fringe.

15. Charlie Sloth presents Hip Hop Comedy
Our last show was another freebie - yep, we were skint - and a surprisingly good effort from BBC Radio 1Xtra's Charlie Sloth.  Kate and I are about as urban as PJ & Duncan, but despite this enjoyed the various turns.  Here's Kate's write-up:

So we headed into the Radio 4 tent for our last show at the Fringe, and managed to sneak into 'Hip Hop Comedy' about 30 seconds before it was due to start. This was hosted by Charlie Sloth, and the audience was more Gardeners' Question Time than 1Xtra gig, particularly at the front (who presumably were sitting through everything in order to see free stuff, tight gits). God, I really felt for the acts! A highlight was Mark Grist (because the bonus of my job is I get paid to watch Don't Flop Rap Battles so I was a squealing fangirl).

But the standout was Lolly Adefope. She came on stage doing character comedy, a Manc working in admin at a construction firm. It produced a very weird reaction in that largely everyone thought she was very funny, but there were about 20 people in the audience (myself included) that found it A Very Very Funny Thing Indeed and were crying with laughter. It was just one of the most perfectly pitched, beautifully executed bits of comedy that I've seen. There was then a lovely atmosphere in the tent of 'shit, this woman is extremely talented and I get to say that I saw her first.' Can't wait to see what she does next.


And that's it!  We love our biennial Fringe visits so much that we rather rashly decided on the last night we'd rather not wait two years till the next time.  Better get saving then.  See you next August!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Blog Gold: Dr No

So it seems I haven't posted here for over three months.  Hello!  Hope you enjoyed the summer.  Thanks to a new role at work and the small matter of buying a flat (more on that story later) I seem to have forgotten to write anything.  Or not had any time to do so.  So, until I get round to it, here's a blog I wrote two years ago but never published - partly because I wasn't confident enough at the time in what I was saying, partly because I just couldn't be arsed arguing the point with those who disagreed (and there were many).  But reading it again it it's worth publishing from a historical viewpoint, and certainly as a (somewhat downbeat) way of linking into Doctor Who's 50th anniversary in a few weeks' time.  I wrote this in October 2011, shortly after transmission of The Wedding of River Song.  And given the intervening period, the first line is especially prophetic!  Enjoy...

First off, a bit of time travel.

I became interested in Doctor Who after the 1996 TV Movie, which really caught the imagination of the twelve-year-old me, if not the US audience it was aimed at.  With the help of the Radio Times supplement I became interested in the rest of the series, and picked up some cheap VHS releases from our local Co-op.  The first full story I bought was The Dominators so it's nothing short of a miracle I came back for more (not really - The Dominators is amazing, everyone who says it isn't it mistaken!).

The next four years were spent buying the videos, reading the magazine, getting my poor Uncle to tape episodes from UK Gold on Sunday mornings and nagging parents to take me to the Llangollen exhibition.  By 2000 however my interest had started to wane - partly due to running out of material to watch, partly due to it being a bit of a depressing time to be a fan (a run of repeats was curtailed due to low ratings), partly due to being completely uninterested in the audio stories which had just been launched and were being heavily hyped, but probably mainly because I was getting older and perhaps "growing out of it".  My interest was reignited a few years later by the superb DVD range, which was just getting going in 2003 and contained much on the making of the show, as well as clips from the likes of Blue Peter and Breakfast Time.  I'd always been as interested in the making of the show as the show itself, and luckily enough shortly after this came the announcement that the show was to return to TV.

Like millions of others I've watched every week since that relaunch in March 2005 (you can see Kate and I reviewing the return of the show on YSTV here from 7.30 in - don't be too alarmed that I appear to be attached to a cable - it's my mic lead, I don't run off mains power).  There have been good episodes and bad episodes in the years since but as a whole it's been a pretty brilliant series.  Along with the X Factors and Strictlys of the world it has helped to bring the family audience back to Saturday nights and paved the way for the likes of Robin Hood, Merlin and Primeval to do a similar thing.

But I've a confession to make.  The most recent run just hasn't worked for me.  I've tried to like it, I really have, and having had it signposted from the start that the storyline would run through the entire series I've waited until the end before writing this.  It's been remarked upon numerous times in the press that the storylines have become "too complicated".  I don't think it's necessarily that they're too complicated, more that you begin to tire after a while of the trick of witholding the facts just to string you out through the series.  That's not sophisticated storytelling, that's just the dramatic equivalent of saying "I know something you don't know".  It didn't work for Lost and it certainly doesn't work for Doctor Who.  Dramatic tension is now almost entirely centered around revealing the solution to topsy-turvy plotlines.  It's also become a bit obsessed with itself.  Too many stories are about how much of a legend the Doctor is, about Amy and Rory doing something or other we don't care about, and River Sodding Song turning up every five minutes to phone in another pantomime-esque performance.  Everything else seems incidental. 

Splitting the series into two - assuming it wasn't to account for delays in the production of the programme, as has been reported - was also a bad move.  The first half of the series accelerated towards an artificial climax halfway through, towards the big revelation - River is Amy and Rory's daughter!  Um, OK.  Now Melody has been kidnapped and we've got to find her.  Except, we haven't, because she's there, fully grown and fine.  Then after the break, the storyline seemed to be completely forgotten for a few episodes with Amy and Rory not seeming at all concerned at the disappearance of their daughter.  It's rumoured that A Good Man Goes To War was originally intended to go much nearer the end of the run (which makes sense given the lack of references to it's events in much of the second half of the series), and that the decision to split the series into two led to it being pulled forward to create a cliffhanger climax.  All in all, a bit of a mess.  The best episodes this series - The Doctor's Wife, The Girl Who Waited and Closing Time - were all the most continuity-lite stories, and were all the better for it.

But it's not just the episodes themselves.  There seems to be a slightly grouchy element to the series and it's defenders at the moment.  Those complaining about the storylines are more or less told that it's they who have the problem and they should keep up.  The days of Russell T Davies jovially dismissing problems seem long gone.  This is matched by some of the writers and "super-fans" on Twitter who seem to have forgotten the concept of an "opinion".  The aggressive reaction to the Private Eye story (which incidentally appears to have been mostly true) shows that they're completely unwilling to tolerate any criticism of the show - a big turnaround from the early days of the relaunch when the success of the show was never assumed to be guaranteed.

This is shown by the constant harping about the ratings by the programme's cheerleaders.  The second half of the current series has been beaten by ITV1 a number of times on overnight ratings, first of all by the launch of Red Or Black.  When it emerged that the game show had beaten the good Doctor, the vitriol poured on the show and it's viewers on Twitter and the forums was quite unprecedented.  And for what?  That show had a hell of a lot of publicity - yours truly was heavily involved in the countdown clock that kept popping up on ITV1 in the days prior to launch - so is it any surprise that quite a few people wanted to see what it was all about?  Was there any benefit to all the energy poured on rubbishing it when it is very unlikely to run for the 48 years Doctor Who has and certainly not endeared itself in the same way?

More worrying was the show being beaten a couple of times by All Star Family Fortunes in the overnights.  For all that Doctor Who eventually regained the lead thanks to a hefty amount of people watching their recordings later in the week, that shouldn't be happening, and anyone who says they aren't bothered by it should be.  The BBC brought the show back to get a big family audience all watching TV on a Saturday night, and talking about it in the playground or around the watercooler on Monday morning.  If the storylines have got to the point where you don't mind catching up at a late date rather than watching the instant it is available and are watching Vernon Kay instead, then we're in trouble.  The idea that the figures for the programme should include iPlayer viewings and BBC Three repeats, as some are suggesting, is ridiculous - how on earth can you ascertain how many of those people are not watching for a second time?  Probably trying to work out what on earth is going on...

Obviously all of this is my view - there are plenty of people who seem to love the series as it is, and good luck to them.  I just don't feel I'm watching the same show as them.  As things stand we're at a turning point for the show, as the mid-noughties Who empire is this autumn crumbling.  I'd be very surprised if Torchwood returns after the disappointing American seriesThe Sarah Jane Adventures is ending for altogether sadder reasonsConfidential has been axed.  The signs are that the next series of Doctor Who will be spread over a much longer period than the current one.  It's unclear what effect the BBC's cost-cutting will have on the programme (if any).  It seems that the show as a whole will have a smaller prescence on television as it approaches the big 5-0.

(TARDIS sound effect)

So, two years later, how does that sound?  Not far off the mark to be honest.  Series 7 was indeed broadcast over a much longer period, despite vain attempts by the publicity team to convince people that they were two separate series.  This means that since the start of 2011, we've essentially missed out on a whole series of the programme.  This in itself is not necessarily a problem - belts are being tightened all over the BBC and I wouldn't blame them if they wanted to make a very expensive show last a bit longer.  But the complete wall of silence over the reasons - cost or otherwise - doesn't give much encouragement.  

And the show itself?  The first broadcast section of series 7 was a massive improvement, and was actually marketed as five distinct "blockbuster" episodes, all largely self-contained, which was hugely refreshing after the continuity-heavy series 6.  The second part of the run - broadcast six months and one day after the conclusion of the first section - was less sure-footed, featuring a worrying number of "duff" episodes that were so unmemorable I'd struggle, six months on, to tell you anything about them.  One bright part was the introduction of Jenna Coleman as Clara who gave a refreshingly sparky performance, but had some rather patchy character development (and let's not even mention the entirely pointless episode where the children she babysits for are taken on an adventure).

What's rammed the point home for me is re-watching the Russell T Davies years again.  I travel to Leeds for work every week and I'm passing the time on the train by watching episodes from 2005 onwards, in order.  And it's so, so refreshing.  You actually come away from an episode saying "so that's what it was all about" rather than feeling you should have paid more attention at an undefined point in the past to understand it more.  You also have one or maybe two dodgy episodes a series, the rest generally rather good - a statistic that has pretty much reversed in recent years.  Matt Smith is superb but has been given some terrible scripts.  I'm optimistic though - the show has been through peaks and troughs in the past and the prospect of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor is very exciting.  I'm looking forward to the next two landmark episodes: the 50th anniversary and the regeneration from 11 to 12 at Christmas.  I just hope the quality and indeed the scheduling of the series becomes a bit less erratic and I'll be able to write something more positive in 2015!