Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1981, and also three others, Best Original Screenplay (Colin Welland), Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also won that year’s Hugo, won five Oscars (one of which was a special award) to Chariots of Fire‘s four.

The other Oscar-nominated films were Raiders of the Lost Ark and three I haven’t seen, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond and Reds. IMDB users rank Chariots of Fire astonishingly low, 14th on one list and 29th on the other, lower than last year’s Ordinary People which itself was the lowest agrregate rating since Tom Jones. Apart from Chariots and Raiders, I seem to have seen only four other films from that year, An American Werewolf in London, Time Bandits, Tarzan the Ape Man (the one with Richard Harris and Bo Derek, where the actor originally hired in the title role was fried and replaced by his stunt double, with dismal results) and Diva. For once, I am in profound disagreement with IMDB users, and total agreement with Oscar voters; I’d put Chariots of Fire firmly at the top of that list. Here’s a trailer, with a very annoying American voice-over.

In case you don’t know, it’s the story of two British runners at the 1924 Olympic Games, one Jewish and one deeply Christian, who both find themselves struggling against the English establishment as well as against their notional international competitors. I was surprised by how emotionally I reacted to it. To an extent it’s the film’s associations for me – I remember going to the cinema with my father to see it, when he would have been exactly the same age that I am now; and a few years later watching it again with Shirley Hart and Colin Wilkie, who died earlier this month. Since then, of course, it has extra nostalgia for me because of the Cambridge scenes. My college was Clare, not Gonville and Caius, but I knew enough people there to have happy memories of the courts. Also one could occasionally see Stephen Hawking trundling in or out. Even putting all of that aside, it’s a beautiful film, it looks good, it sounds good, and I felt better after having watched it.

I did not find any actors in Chariots of Fire who had previously been in other Oscar-winning films, which is a bit astonishing. I found two who had been in a previous Hugo winners. More obviously, Ian Holm, who is the coach Sam Mussabini here and was the android Ash in Alien two years ago.

Less obviously, Jeremy Sinden, here the President of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society but also the rebel pilot Gold Two in Star Wars.

Less astonishingly there are several crossovers with the Whoniverse (though the last of these may surprise you). To start with two appearances in Who, Peter Cellier, the snooty head waiter at the Savoy, was also to play Andrews, the head of security at Heathrow Airport, in the 1982 Fifth Doctor story Time-Flight.

More obscurely and with a much longer gap, Eric Liddell’s friend Sandy McGrath is played by Struan Rodger, who went on to provide the voice of the Face of Boe in the Tenth Doctor stories Gridlock (2006) and New Earth (2007), the voice of Kasaavin in the Thrteenth Doctor story Spyfall (2020) and appeared on screen as Ashildr’s butler Clayton in the Twelfth Doctor story The Woman Who Lived (2015).

Nicholas Farrell is of course Aubrey Montague here. In Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009), he plays the British prime minister, Brian Green.

Cheryl Campbell plays Eric Liddell’s sister Jennie here, and in 2010 played alien conspiracy theorist Ocean Waters in Vault of Secrets, a Sarah Jane Adventures story.

And last but definitely not least, Nigel Havers is of course Lord Andrew Lindsay here and appeared as Peter Dalton, manipulated by the sinister Trickster into marrying the title character in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (2009) and still looking good.

OK, to start with the usual: one black person is visible in the entire film, an American athlete who does not speak, is not named and doesn’t appear to be credited.

And the women’s roles are clearly second rank to the men’s: Eric’s sister and mother, Harold’s girlfriend and her fellow performers. Having said that, both Jennie and Sybil are anchors to the real world, with all its flaws, for Eric and Harold; their presence makes it clear that while their commitment to their athletic pursuits comes at a cost. (Er, let’s not mention the Mikado.)

All right. But there’s some interesting stuff going on here all the same. Harold is constantly dealing with microaggressions about his Jewishness; I think Chariots of Fire presents this more effectively in a quarter of the story line than Gentleman’s Agreement did in an entire film.

It’s also interesting that Eric’s commitment to religion is shown almost entirely positively. It’s actually rather rare to have a film that shows religion in a positive light. The only other Oscar-winner where it is a really important theme is the otherwise forgettable Going My Way (1944) (with maybe half a point for The Sound of Music). I must say I was particularly moved by Eric’s first race, knowing as I now do that he would die in a prisoner of war camp aged 45, and that Ian Charleson who plays him would die even younger, at 40, the first British celebrity to make it public that his death was due to AIDS.

And anyway the film looks and sounds just fantastic. In case you need to be reminded, here’s the main theme. It is amazing how the 1980s tehcno synth almost always matches and carries the 1920s setting.

With famous interweaving by Mr Bean and Sebastian Coe for the Olympics opening ceremony in 2012:

And look, here’s the B side of the original single, Eric’s theme again.

As I said, I found this an unexpected pleasure, and I am putting it right at the top of my table, behind An American in Paris but ahead of Rebecca , so currently in fourth place overall.

Next year’s Oscar winner was Gandhi, but the Hugo winner is more popular on IMDB, so it’s Blade Runner next.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)

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WHOOOOniversaries 31 October: Planet of Giants #1, K9 #1, Zygon Invasion

A third of the way through the year, and although these posts don’t get a lot of feedback, I’m enjoying them for myself which is the main thing.

i) births and deaths

31 October 1922: birth of Talfryn Thomas, who played the hospital porter Mullins in Spearhead from Space (Third Doctor, 1970) and mine Dave Griffiths in The Green Death (Third Doctor, 1974).

31 October 1958: birth of Ian Briggs, who wrote the Seventh Doctor stories Dragonfire (1987) and The Curse of Fenric (1989).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

31 October 1964: broadcast of “Planet of Giants”, first episode of the story we also now call Planet of Giants, starting Season 2 of Classic Who. The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara arrive in contemporary England, but miniaturised; they witness a murder and face peril from a cat.

31 October 2009: broadcast of Regeneration, the first episode of the K9 spinoff series. In a totalitarian London in 2050, where civilisation has degenerated so badly that most people now speak with Australian accents, K9 Mark 1 appears, regenerates, and teams up with teenagers Starkey and Jorjie.

31 October 2015: broadcast of The Zygon Invasion. The peace between humans and Zygons is breaking down…


31 October 2021: broadcast of The Halloween Apocalypse. The Doctor and Yazz meet Dan Lewis; the Lupari protect Earth from the Flux.

September 2008 books

September 2008 was the start of our new lives as Belgian citizens, a mere five months after applying. In other family news, my sister C had her baby daughter S, still my youngest relative on that side of the family. I started the month in Slovenia, as noted, and also travelled to Salzburg for another conference. No photos this month, as far as I can see.

My plan to read the whole of Shakespeare's plays was getting well under way by now. I was combining reading the scripts with listening to the Arkangel Complete Shakespeare, a methodology that I would strongly recommend (though I deviated from it in a couple of cases).

Non-fiction 6 (YTD 51)
Uit het Verleden van de Gemeente Oud-Heverlee, by Erik Martens
How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton
Becoming Somaliland, by Mark Bradbury
Zlata's Diary: a child's life in Sarajevo, by Zlata Filipović
Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community and the Conflict of Cultures, 1470-1603, by Steven G Ellis
In The Land Of Israel, by Amos Oz

Non-genre 2 (YTD 19)
Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane
Peter Abelard, by Helen Waddell

Scripts 7 (YTD 11)
The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, by William Shakespeare
The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, by William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, by William Shakespeare
A Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare
Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, by William Shakespeare

SF 5 (YTD 35)
The Ill-Made Mute, by Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Walking Dead, by C.E. Murphy
Love and War, by Paul Cornell
The Golden Transcendence, by John C. Wright (did not finish)
Expiration Date, by Tim Powers

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 160)
The Stone Rose, by Jacqueline Rayner
The Infinity Doctors, by Lance Parkin
Alien Bodies, by Lawrence Miles
Feast of the Drowned, by Stephen Cole

6,900 pages (YTD 69,900)
5/24 (YTD 34/298) by women
none (YTD 6/298) by PoC

Hugely enjoyed Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, which you can get here, and How Proust Can Change Your Life, which you can get here. I really did not like either The Taming of the Shrew, which you can get here, or The Golden Transcendence, which you can get here.

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Whoniversaries 30 October: Myth Makers #3, Deadly Assassin #1, Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith #2

i) births and deaths

30 October 1978: death of Brian Hayles, writer of The Celestial Toymaker (First Doctor, 1966), The Smugglers (First Doctor, 1966), The Ice Warriors (Second Doctor, 1968), The Seeds of Death (Second Doctor, 1969), The Curse of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1971) and The Monster of Peladon (Third Doctor, 1974).

30 October 1997: death of Sydney Newman, without whom etc etc.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 October 1965: broadcast of "Death of a Spy", the third episode of the story we now call The Myth Makers. Steven and Vicki are imprisoned by the Trojans; the Doctor designs the wooden horse and it is brought into the city.

30 October 1976: broadcast of first episode of The Deadly Assassin. The Doctor returns to Gallifrey to try and prevent the assassination of the President – but fails.

30 October 2009: broadcast of second episode of The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor, Luke, Clyde and Rani are trapped in a time slip; Sarah persuades Peter to restore normality at the cost of his own life.

iii) date specified in canon

30 October 1938: the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard land in Manhattan and encounter Orson Welles, as told in the Big Finish audio Invaders from Mars (2002).

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Thursday reading

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig
Ash: A Secret History, by Mary Gentle
For the Love of God, Marie!, by Jade Sarson

Last books finished
This Must be the Place, by Maggie O'Farrell
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
Kessler, by John Brason

Next books
Borderline, by Mishell Baker
SS-GB, by Len Deighton

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Whoniversaries 29 October: the First Doctor regenerates (also Gareth Thomas, Nigel Havers)

i) births and deaths

29 October 1935: birth of Michael Jayston, who played the Valeyard in 1986.

29 October 2010: death of Mervyn Haisman, co-author of The Abominable Snowmen, The Web of Fear and (uncredited) The Dominators (all Second Doctor, 1967-8)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 October 1966: broadcast of fourth episode of The Tenth Planet. The Cybermen are defeated, but when Ben and Polly return to the Tardis, the Doctor collapses and his face shimmers and changes. Will Doctor Who ever be the same again???

29 October 1977: broadcast of first episode of Image of the Fendahl. The Doctor and Leela are drawn to Fetch Priory, where scientists are performing experiments on the skull whose nickname is Eustace.

29 October 2006: broadcast of Ghost Machine (Torchwood), the one with the gizmo that lets you see into the past, and Gareth "Blake" Thomas as an elderly sex criminal.

29 October 2007: broadcast of first episode of Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? (SJA). Sarah has been mysteriously replaced by a woman called Andrea Yates, and only Maria remembers her. The answer lies in a 1962 seaside trip via the Graske.

29 October 2009: broadcast of first episode of The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (SJA). Sarah is in love with the handsome Peter: as the wedding ceremony gets underway, the Tardis materialises, the Doctor appears and the Trickster kidnaps the newlyweds.

29 October 2016: braodcast of Nightvisiting, the third episode of Class and for my money the best. Young Tanya is visited by her father who died two years ago. Of course, it is but the latest alien threat, but it's very well done indeed.

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Short genealogical note on Frederic Whyte’s parents

Just so I don’t lose it, a note on the genealogy of the writer Frederic Whyte (1867-1941), who was both my first cousin thrice removed and my second cousin twice removed, both links via his father.

It turns out that there’s another link, and it’s another two steps sideways and one up; Frederic was my fourth cousin once removed via his mother. She was born Mary Jane Comyn in Holywell, near Kilfenora in County Clare, in 1834 and lived to 1912. Her mother, Margaret Helena Skerritt (1806–1879) was the second cousin of her husband, Henry Frederick Whyte (1830–1883).

Margaret Skerritt’s mother, Mary Jane Roche (1774–1821) was the first cousin of Henry Whyte’s father, Edward Whyte (1785–1837), the guy who got the law rewritten so that he could be both a Catholic and a naval officer.

Mary Roche’s mother, Margaret Whyte (1745?-1805) was the sister of Edward Whyte’s father, John Whyte (1752-1814). Both were children of Charles Whyte (1714-1784) and Anastasia O’Dunne (born ?1732, date of death not known).

So Frederic Whyte’s parents were second cousins once removed. They would probably have known it too.

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Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by M. Mitchell Waldrop

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It was about time. By that point Cowan and his colleagues had begun to hire a small cadre of staffers for the institute, thanks to operating funds that were beginning to trickle in from sources such as the MacArthur Foundation. And those staffers desperately needed a space to call their own. Furthermore, what with the economics meeting coming up and several other workshops being planned, the institute desperately needed a little office space where it could keep its academic visitors happy with desks and telephones. Cowan decided that the convent was small, but workable—and came at a price that was too good to pass up. So in February 1987, the institute staff moved in. And within days they had filled the tiny space to overflowing.

This is a breezy introduction to the interdisciplinary topic of complexity, but I confess I had not realised that it is almost thirty years old, having been published in 1992. It's also a bit too heavily skewed to covering the academic politics of setting up the Santa Fe Institute and not really all that detailed on the core points of what complexity theory actually is, and why it might be useful. So I didn’t learn all that much from it, and I think I'll have to keep looking for a good introduction to the topic. You can get it here.

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Whoniversaries 28 October: Ian Marter, Matt Smith, Abomble Snowmen #5, Stones of Blood #1, Arachnids

i) births and deaths

28 October 1944, 28 October 1986: birth and death of Ian Marter, who played companion Harry Sullivan in 1974-5, and also wrote nine Target novelisations.

28 October 1982: birth of Matt Smith, an actor who I am told appeared in some new New Who episodes and one Sarah Jane Adventures story in the early 2010s.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 October 1967: broadcast of fifth episode of The Abominable Snowmen. Victoria is hypnotised by Padmasambhava; the monks evacuate; and the Intelligence grows in physical manifestation. (Yeah, I posted this plot summary last week mistakenly for episode four. Again.)

28 October 1978: broadcast of first episode of The Stones of Blood, the 100th story of Old Who. The Doctor and Romana find archaeologist Amelia Rumford and local druidic cultists all very interested in the Nine Sisters, a stone circle on Dartmoor.

True fact: Christopher Isherwood dedicated Goodbye to Berlin, on which the musical Cabaretwas partly based, to Beatrix Lehmann and her brother. She died less than a year after The Stones of Blood was shown.

28 October 2018: broadcast of Arachnids in the UK. The gang return to Sheffield, which a crazed American millionaire has infested with spiders.

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Survivants, tomes 3-5, by Leo

Second frame from third page of tome 3:

Hakim: Stop, Selkert! Manon doesn't like the spotlight. You'll make her blush.
Selkert: Apologies! But you can be proud of what you have done.

Second frame from third page of tome 4:

Antac: I'll turn around. We need an attack plan!

Second frame from third page of tome 4:

Manon: Hmm, it's like it wanted to warn us about a danger that could come from the sea.
I read the first two volumes in this set of five last year and liked them. The second part of the storuy continues in the same veing – the young folks stranded on a hostile alien planet, with friends (such as the catlike Hollorans Antac and Selkert) and enemies. I felt it petered out a bit in terms of momentum – there's a lot of capturing, getting rescued and running away – and in the end there's a somewhat awkward bridge to the rest of the series, but redeemed by a bittersweet ending, and anyway always gorgeous to look at and as naturalistically realised as a story about life on alien planets can be.

Manon: Twelve beers please.
Waiter: Twelve? There are only seven of you..
Max: Yes, but we want twelve beers all the same.
Djamile: And chips. A mountain of chips.

You can get the French originals here, here and here, and the English translations here, here and here. (Covers below are French, but link to the English.)

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Whoniversaries 27 October

i) births and deaths

27 October 1923: birth of Peter Bryant, producer of Doctor Who from The Web of Fear (1968) to The Wheel in Space (1969)

27 October 1991: death of Paul Erickson, writer of The Ark (1966)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 October 1979: broadcast of first episode of The Creature from the Pit. The Doctor is captured by Adrasta; Romana is captured by the bandits and then by Adrasta; the Doctor is thrown down the Pit.

27 October 2009: broadcast of second episode of Secrets of the Stars (SJA). Trueman attempts to summon the Ancient Lights, but is thwarted by Sarah and company.

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Secret Army, Season 1; and book

This post has been a long time brewing. I watched the whole of the 1970s series Secret Army, and the sequel series Kessler, during what we must now call the first lockdown in the summer, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I did not get around to writing it up at the time. Now I’ve spurred myself into activity by getting and reading the four novels associated with the TV stories, and I’ll be writing them all up over the next few Mondays.

In case you didn’t know, it’s a series about Belgian resistance fighters during the second world war, specifically an organisation called Lifeline whose purpose was to get downed RAF men back to England by smuggling them through France to Spain. The first series was broadcast in September to December 1977, conteporary with the Doctor Who stories Horror of Fang Rock, The Invisible Enemy, Image of the Fendahl and The Sun Makers, and just before the first season of Blake’s 7.

In terms of internal narrative, however, the story starts with John Brason’s novel Secret Army. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

It was bright and sunny when Pieter Pynas and two others were brought from the cells into the light, which made them blink and half-close their eyes momentarily. The trees, the sunny day, the twenty or thirty people, men and women, who stood around and chatted and smiled, made it all seem like a ghoulish garden party. The three men had no doubt of why they had been surfaced, nor were they disabused of the knowledge when they saw the wooden stakes and heard the tramp of soldiers’ feet on the garden gravel.

Yep, it’s as grim as that makes it sound. The book tells of how young Lisa Colbert loses her lover and family in the early days of the German invasion and occupation of Belgium, and then links up through her uncle, banker Gaston Colbert, and his friend Dr Keldermans, with innkeeper Albert Foiret who provides the cover that she needs to set up Lifeline. It actually has a lot more back-story than appears on the TV screen, and I think I’d recommend that the interested potential fan read the book first; it is entirely set before the action of the TV stories. (Unlike the other three books which are basically novelisations.) You can get it here.

So, the first series has 16 episodes and I am not going to write them all up here. I think for each series I’ll pick the most interesting three and say why I liked them. For this series. that’s the beginning, the end and one in the middle. Here are the opening titles and first scene from the very first episode.

The very first episode, Lisa – Codename Yvette, which as of this writing is available in its entirety here, sets up slightly odd expectations by including some of the action in England at the other end of Lifeline’s activities – we barely go back across the channel again, though I think the intention may have been to do that a bit more. My heart was delighted by some appearances from my favourite show:

To unpack that a bit: the British co-ordinator, who does not appear again, is played by Anthony Ainley, who was to become the Master on Doctor Who for the 1980s; Dr Keldermans, one of the regulars, is played by Valentine Dyall, who would also pay the Black Guardian; Gaston Colbert, Lisa’s uncle and another regular character, is played by James Bree, who had already played one of the bad guys in the 1969 Who story The War Games and would go on to have two more roles in the 1980s; and the chief baddie, SS officer Kessler, is played by Clifford Rose who turned up as leader of the slave traders in the 1980 Who story Warrior’s Gate.

But this tweet misses the main characters, who instead I’ll introduce via this clip from the end of the episode. Bernard Hepton as Albert and Angela Richards as his assistant and lover Monique bicker about his wife, bedridden upstairs; Yvette (Jan Francis) then brings in the purported British officer Curtis (Christopher Neame, was was also in the unbroadcast Who story Shada) to check his credentials. It’s a great establishment of the characters and set-up.

The episode was written by Willis Hall, best known in the 1960s as co-writer with Keith Waterhouse of Whistle Down the Wind, A Kind of Loving and Billy Liar. He moved on from this to Worzel Gummidge. The director was Kenneth Ives, who as I noted in my tweet was in the 1968 Who story The Dominators playing junior Dominator Toba. He switched to directing in 1973. No doubt the whole thing was closely revised by show-runners Gerald Glaister and John Brason.

The second episode I’m going to call out is the twelfth, A Hymn to Freedom. It’s not an especially good episode, but I found it very interesting because the central plot theme is that a minister in the puppet Belgian government installed by the Germans is planning to defect to the Allies. Now, the show claims that most of the incidents described are based on real events during the war. But in fact there was no puppet Belgian government installed by the occupiers; until the last few months in 1944, the Germans ruled through a military commander (Alexander von Falkenhausen, whose uncle had also been military governor of Belgium during the first world war and who was himself a former military advisor to Chiang Kai-Shek) and when they appointed a civilian administration it was also led by Germans. So Secret Army is lurching well into the counterfactual here. But I thought the exploration of the position of the central guest character, Hans Van Reijn (suspiciously Dutch rather than Flemish name, played by John Carson who weent on to be the archaeologist Ambril in the Doctor Who story Snakedance) was very interesting. He is a Flemish nationalist, but his assistant Hercule (Frank Barrie) is a Francophone, and I think there is a suggestion that their relationship is more than professional. Decide for yourself:

Isn’t that well done? I especially like the appearance of Hercule’s face in the mirror. There is also an infiltrator-of-the-week plot. But (spoilers here) Van Reijn’s plan is discovered by the Germans, and he learns his fate in a tense penultimate scene with SS officer Kessler, Luftwaffe Major Brandt (who is Kessler’s internal antagonist) observing in the background. And I’m throwing in the final scene in Van Reijn’s home as well.

This was again directed by Kenneth Ives, but the writer was Michael Chapman, his only Secret Army episode.

The first series ends on a high note, the episode Be The First Kid in Your Block to Rule the World, which is also one of those to get print treatment in the second Secret Army book (which I’ll look at in detail next time). Curtis by now has been in Brussels a bit too long, and the Germans are closing in. But just as the Germans are closing in on Albert and Monique at the Cafe Candide, Albert’s invalid wife intervenes dramatically (major major spoiler but great camerawork and acting):

I’ve cheated with this because in the show it is intercut with Curtis’s daring escape from the police net in Brussels by taking the place of the driver of a Hitler Jugend day trip to St-Nazaire and driving instead to Switzerland. Now, this is stretching credibility just a little bit – even the Hitler Jugend could presumably tell the difference between the landscape in western France and the Vosges, and to drive to the nearest point in Switzerland from Brussels takes five hours in a good car on today’s roads (I did it in the opposite direction in July), so the young Nazis have had a lot of time to work out what is going on. But as is often the case, I willingly suspended my belief. This is the moment when Curtis escapes Brussels with his unknowing cadre. Michael Culver was off with appendicitis that week, so instead of the regular Brandt, the Luftwaffe is represented by Reinicke played by Michael Wynne. The odious little Hitler Jugend chap is played by Adam Richens and the checkpoint guard by John Peel (but not either of the other John Peels as far as I know).

This episode is credited to series creator John Brason as the writer, with Viktors Ritelis as director – the latter was production assistant, but not credited, on the Doctor Who story we now call The Crusade, and his arm was actually seen in one shot with ants crawling up it because William Russell, the regular actor whose arm it was supposed to be, refused to do it. (Sadly that episode is lost.)

Anyway, the first series is largely a variation of the basic narratives of running a resistance organisation in an occupied country – Jews, double agents, a murder in France etc, with strong ensemble character work from the regular cast. Next series, things start to take a darker turn. But that’s for next Monday.

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Whoniversaries 26 October: Towers #4, Remembrance #4, Death #2, the O.K. Corral

i) births and deaths

None that caught my eye.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

26 October 1987: broadcast of fourth episode of Paradise Towers, In a final confrontation, both Pex and Kroagnon are killed, and the inhabitants of the Towers look forward to a new future.

26 October 1988: broadcast of fourth episode of Remembrance of the Daleks. Grand battle between the Dalek factions; the Doctor destroys Skaro and also forces the Black Dalek to explode.

26 October 2010: broadcast of second episode of Death of the Doctor (SJA). The Doctor is not dead after all! Hooray!

iii) historical event in canon

26 October 1881: The gunfight at the O.K. Corral, as witnessed by the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo in The Gunfighters (1966).

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August 2008 books

This is the latest post in a series I started last November, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

We spent most of August in Loughbrickland as usual, catching the partial solar eclipse on our way over and the total lunar eclipse two weeks later.

F and I visited the Doctor Who exhibition in Earl's Court on the way over, I looked in on DWCon in Birmingham on the way back, and I finished the month at the Bled Forum in Slovenia.

In world news, this was the month of the South Ossetia war, bringing back sad memories of my visit to Tskhinvali in 2005.

Non-fiction 9 (YTD 45)
The Right Honorable Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh: A Biography, by Sarah L. Steele
The Incredible Mr Kavanagh: A Triumph of the Human Spirit, by Donald McCormick
Born without Limbs: A biography of achievement, by Kenneth Kavanagh
Kavanagh MP: An Inspirational Story, by David Cohen

Doctor Who: the Unfolding Text, by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado
Teach Yourself to Learn a Language, by P.J.T. Glendening
A History of the Black Death in Ireland, by Maria Kelly
Liberal Democracy and Globalisation, compiled and edited by Graham Watson MEP and Katharine Durrant
1690: Battle of the Boyne, by Pádraig Lenihan

Non-Genre 1 (YTD 17)
Finding Time Again, by Marcel Proust

Scripts 3 (YTD 4)
The Office: The Scripts: Series 1, by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
The Office: The Scripts: Series 2, by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The First Part of King Henry the Sixth, by William Shakespeare

SF (non-who) 9 YTD 30)
Teranesia, by Greg Egan
The Pilgrim's Regress, by C.S. Lewis
The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houllebecq
The Seeds of Time, by John Wyndham
The Child Garden, by Geoff Ryman
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod
Islands in the Net, by Bruce Sterling
The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall

Doctor Who 12 (YTD 156)
The Second Doctor Who Monster Book, by Terrance Dicks
The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures, by Terrance Dicks
Terry Nation's Dalek Special, compiled and edited by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who – Time and the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker
Doctor Who – Paradise Towers, by Stephen Wyatt
Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen, by Malcolm Kohll
Doctor Who – Dragonfire, by Ian Briggs

Doctor Who – Battlefield, by Marc Platt
Doctor Who – Ghost Light, by Marc Platt
Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric, by Ian Briggs
Doctor Who – Survival, by Rona Munro

Escape Velocity, by Colin Brake

9200 pages (YTD 63,000)
7/34 (YTD 29/274) by women (gender of P.J.T. Glendening unknown)
None (YTD 6/274) by PoC (ethnicity of P.J.T. Glendening unknown)

Best and worst: the second series of The Office seemed to me somehow more coherent than the first and very nicely done; you can get the scripts here. Proust finishes on a high note; you can get the last volume here. On the other hand, the Bakers' novelisation of Time and the Rani is awful; if you want, you can get it here.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 25 October

broadcast anniversaries

25 October 1975: broadcast of first episode of The Pyramids of Mars. The Doctor and Sarah land in the future UNIT headquarters, the Scarman brothers’ family home, and encounter robotic mummies and various Egyptian relics.

25 October 1980: broadcast of first episode of Full Circle

25 October 1986: broadcast of fourth episode of Mindwarp (ToaTL #8). Peri is killed by brain transplant!!! (Or is she?) Her last appearance as a regular character anyway.

25 October 1989: broadcast of first episode of The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor and Ace, and also a Soviet military mission, land at Maiden’s Point during the second world war, and find themselves decoding ancient messages.

25 October 2010: broadcast of first episode of Death of the Doctor (SJA). The Doctor is reportedly dead; and Jo Jones, formerly Jo Grant, comes to pay her respects.

25 October 2014: broadcast of In the Forest of the Night. Trees have taken over the Earth.

Ordinary People (1980 film and 1976 book)

Ordinary People won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1980, and won three others, Best Director (Robert Redford), Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton, the youngest ever winner in this category, as Conrad, presented by his co-star) and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alvin Sargent). It had only two other nominations, Judd Hirsch as Dr Berger also in Best Supporting Actor  and Mary Tyler Moore, beaten by Sissy Spacek for Best Actress.

The other Oscar-nominated films were The Elephant Man, which I have seen, and Coal Miner’s Daughter, Raging Bull and Tess, which I haven’t. Ordinary People is 15th and 20th on the respective IMDB lists, which is the worst collective ranking for any Oscar winner since Tom Jones. Apart from The Elephant Man, the other 1980 films I have also seen are The Empire Strikes Back (which won the Hugo), Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, The Elephant Man, Flash Gordon, 9 to 5 and Fame. I liked all of them more than Ordinary People. Here’s a trailer.

This is the story of an Illinois family which has been torn apart by the accidental death of the older of the two sons and the attempted suicide of the younger. (I think this is the second Oscar-winner set in Illinois, after The Sting.) Like Kramer vs. Kramer, last year’s winner, it features a mother walking out on her husband and son, though in this case she leaves at the end, not the beginning.

There are no crossovers with previous Oscar winners, previous Hugo winners or Doctor Who. It’s rare that I can say that. There are some actors who we will see again in the future, notably Adam Baldwin who plays one of the swim team.

OK, so what did I not like? Our old friend race again: 30% of the population of Lake Forest, Illinois are black (including Mr T), but none of them appears in the film that I can remember, certainly none has a speaking role. And with gender, as I said above, it’s just like last year: a story of the growth of the father and son with the mother walking out. And to be honest they are not just “ordinary” people, they are rather dull people as well.

I made one unfair judgement while watching it which I have had to retract after doing further research. When the incidental music started, I thought, oh no, Pachelbel’s bloody Canon in D again.

But it fact it turns out that Ordinary People was the first really popular film to use it as background music, as unpacked in this somewhat jargony but still funny article by Robert Fink. So I can’t really make this a genuine complaint.

The leads are all strong, even if I did not think all that much of their material. Can I be right in having childhood memories of being shooed out of the room when The Mary Tyler Moore Show came on TV? In any case, she is very strong as Beth, whose self-centredness becomes the detonator for the family.

Likewise Kiefer Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton as father and son Calvin and Conrad, both of whom manage to convey quit a lot with few words.

The best role for me was Judd Hirsch as the psychiatrist, friend, mentor and challenger for Conrad and also for his father. He was in the middle of his very successful run as the protagonist of the TV series Taxi at this point — a very different character. Often other people’s therapy sessions are about as interesting to hear about as other people’s dreams (see Annie Hall), but here it’s well written and drives the narrative.

And Elizabeth McGovern is luminous as Conrad’s girlfriend Jeannine.

But in the end, I just didn’t care for the characters or the story all that much, and it’s going three quarters of the way down my list, below last year’s Kramer vs. Kramer but ahead of Gone With the Wind.

I also read the original book by Judith Guest. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Abruptly he jumps up, walks to the end of the circular drive. Another thought nags at him, threatening to surface. He shrugs it off. Something unpleasant. Facing the house, he stares up at his bedroom window. In the early morning, the room is his enemy; there is danger in just being awake. Here, looking up, it is a refuge. He imagines himself safely inside; in bed, with the covers pulled up. Asleep. Unconscious.

As is often the case, I liked the book more than the film, but not a lot more. We get a lot more detail about the early life of Calvin, the father, who turns out to have been an orphan (mentioned only in passing in the film) which certainly gives him more depth and perhaps gives him more resources to deal with tragedy than Beth has. Jeannine is a more complete character (and she and Conrad have discreetly narrated sex in the last chapter). Beth herself remains unsatisfactory. You can get it here.

I’ve already seen that year’s Hugo winner, The Empire Strikes Back, and wrote up the following year’s Hugo winner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, a few months back, so next up will be Chariots of Fire.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)

My tweets

  • Fri, 18:23: 220 days of plague
  • Fri, 19:14: Belgian (especially Brussels) folks – I am thinking of going to the new exhibition at the Royal Library this weekend while museums are still open – let me know by message if interested in joining.
  • Fri, 20:48: RT @AFP: A statue of a woman by Lebanese artist Hayat Nazer — made out of broken glass, rubble and a damaged clock marking the time (6:08…
  • Sat, 09:30: Whoniversaries 24 October: Robert Sloman, The Woman Who Lived
  • Sat, 09:36: RT @AdeAdepitan: In August @WHO declared Africa free from Wild polio virus! I’m so happy children in the region are no longer in danger of…
  • Sat, 09:41: “Debate continues over why the UK reacted like it did. Was this genuine anger, or a contrived piece of theatre to mask the fact that Boris Johnson had pinpointed the summit as the deadline for an agreement and failed to get one?” We must be careful not to overanalyse!
  • Sat, 10:45: RT @bjhbfs: I suspect that in five years time, there will still be no border poll, and Sinn Féin will still be telling people there needs t…

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Whoniversaries 24 October: Robert Sloman, The Woman Who Lived

i) births and deaths

24 October 2005: death of Robert Sloman, who co-wrote The Dæmons (Third Doctor, 1971), and was credited as sole author of The Time Monster (Third Doctor, 1972), The Green Death (Third Doctor, 1973), and Planet of the Spiders (Third Doctor, 1974) – the season finales for all but the first of the Pertwee years.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

24 October 2016: Broadcast of The Woman Who Lived, in which Ashildr from last week's episode turns out to be still alive and young in the 17th century, now going by the name of "Me". Aliens and a highwayman as well.

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220 days of plague

Back in June, I wrote the last in a series of posts about the overall situation, 100 days after the lockdown was imposed in March and as things were gradually lightening up. I was pretty optimistic that we’d seen the worst of the situation by then.

Well, things have not developed particularly well. After a couple of months when numbers stayed fairly low, and with a mild hump in early August which seemed to have mostly gone away by the end of the month, September saw a new rise of the number of cases, with a slowdown at the end of the month but then a further rise in October. 

We’re now at the highest recorded level of actual cases; numbers in hospital and ICU, as of today, are the same as on 29/27 March respectively (on the way up) and 19 April/5 May (on the way down). There’s some evidence of the rate of increase declining, but as MAD Magazine once put it, that doesn’t mean “less”, it means “less more”.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when we learned last Friday, seven days ago, that all restaurants, cafes and bars would close on Monday, and teleworking would become obligatory where possible. (As a family we clustered around the dinner table to watch the new prime minister’s announcement on my iPhone; reminiscent of my father’s story about the announcement of WW2 on the family radio.)

It was the end of a somewhat crappy week anyway. I stupidly left my iPad on the train on my way in to work on Monday morning; the “Find My” app on my phone showed that it had got to Maastricht in the Netherlands by lunchtime, so I guess I will never see it again. Tuesday morning was lost to the bureaucracy of filing the report. On Saturday I spotted a cheap fifth generation iPad Pro at the FNAC in in Louvain-la-Neuve, so drove to the concrete jungle 25 km south of here to grab it before someone else did. (It actually works much better than the old one did!)

But I’d had a good week of lunches at three favourite Brussels restaurants before they all closed — just to record them, La Deuxième Elément with a couple of work colleagues on Monday, La Brasserie du Quartier Léopold with a Balkan friend on Tuesday, and the Indian Spicy Grill with an EU official on Wednesday (when I already suspected that it might be a while before I was in the office again). All closed now, alas. I took a photo of my tartare on Tuesday just because I liked the presentation. Now the picture will be nostalgia for better days.

Italian steak tartare (with slivers of Parmesan)

Italian steak tartare (with slivers of Parmesan)

So, I’ve had another week of working from home, and frankly have not really got into the swing of it yet. Earlier in the year when the weather was good, it was fairly easy to break up work with exercise — that’s getting more difficult now that winter is closing in and the weather is becoming changeable. I will adapt in the end, as people do; I am just recording that it’s a tough start.

One thing that is less tough than in the spring: we have no new restrictions on seeing the girls. U can still come home for five days a fortnight (Wednesdays and alternate weekends) and we’re still able to see B (indeed Anne saw her today). Their residential centre explained that they have much more protective gear than in the spring, so for now they are simply keeping up existing precautions. (But U will not be going to school for the time being.)

We are told that the new restrictions will remain in place for a month, and further curbs on sports and cultural gatherings were announced this morning. Personally, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we are out of it by Christmas. 

Hope to see you then.

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Whoniversaries 23 October: Myth Makers #2, Hand of Fear #4, The Mad Woman in the Attic #2

broadcast anniversaries

23 October 1965: broadcast of “Small Prophet, Quick Return”, the second episode of the story we now call The Myth Makers. Odysseus demands that the Doctor use his abilities to destroy Troy; Vicki is renamed Cressida by Priam; Steven is captured by the Trojans.

23 October 1976: broadcast of fourth episode of The Hand of Fear. Eldrad discovers that the planet Kastria is dead, and the Doctor manages to dispose of him. Then comes the mysterious ‘call from Gallifrey’, and – sob! – Sarah Jane Smith leaves after almost three years. Will they ever bring her back, do you think?

23 October 2008: answering that question, broadcast of second episode of The Mad Woman in the Attic (SJA). It turns out that the mysterious Eve had allowed Rani to wish Sarah, Luke and Clyde out of existence; Eve’s parent Ship undoes the wish.

Edited to add

23 October 2022: broadcast of The Power of the Doctor, last episode of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era.

Thursday reading

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake
This Must be the Place, by Maggie O'Farrell
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss

Last books finished
Secret Army Dossier, by John Brason
The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan
Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
Secret Army: The End of the Line, by John Brason

Next books
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig
Borderline, by Mishell Baker

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My tweets

  • Thu, 10:45: Ah, the old argument that you help the poor by giving them less money.
  • Thu, 10:55: RT @michelzaffran: Polio eradication takes commitment from vaccinators, activists, community mobilizers, teachers, nurses, imams, priests,…
  • Thu, 11:01: RT @bbcdoctorwho: A very happy birthday to Sir Derek Jacobi, who played an electrifying regeneration of the Master in 2007! ⚡️
  • Thu, 11:17: RT @njj4: @nwbrux If you give poor people money/food/respect/opportunities, it will just reward them for being poor in the first place. The…

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