Category Archives: Movies and TV

Doctor Who and the Single Part Stories

I have a big problem with Doctor Who at the moment, one I have gone on record about in my Twitter feed and on my Podcast. I am getting increasingly sick of the constant barrage of single episode stories. For years I have disliked TV shows going in that direction, it is just that I have been able to give Doctor Who a lot more leeway than I would any other show. But this is starting to run out.

I understand the theory behind having weekly shows that you don’t make you feel punished for jumping in partway through. The problem, though, is that this also means yo don’t get rewarded for sticking weekly with a show. Too much TV these days feels like it does not have a real ongoing presence. Doctor Who is really getting to feel like this, now.

I have seen it in other shows where they have an ongoing plot but one of the seasons gets orders to have more standalone content and less “mythology arc”. These often, to me, end up being the weaker seasons.
I know that some people dislike shows where most of the content is ongoing plot but I love it.

I like TV shows where as well as being an ongoing scenario about a setting or characters, the actual plots are divided into arcs. Maybe between three and five episodes in length. Where each story is given room to breathe and grow over multiple weeks. They don’t even need to have major “event” cliffhangers, just a run of a few episodes that are clearly an ongoing narrative,
It doesn’t even need to have really long episodes. Drop down from the 45 minute template to the half-hour show and it can work just as well.

And before people think I am just being nostalgic for “Classic Who”, it really isn’t that at all. I have recently been watching an Anime show called Kokoro Connect. Seventeen half-hour (OK, 25 minute) episodes covering four plot arcs. Two five-partners, a three-parter and a four-parter. Each arc its own plot, yet still part of an ongoing world and characters. Each arc really affecting how the characters interact with each other.

I have got more enjoyment out of that show than I have from nearly anything else I have watched in recent years. The structure of several short multi-part stories appeals perfectly to my narrative preferences.

I guess it just makes it that much more annoying for Doctor Who seeing that the stories used to be structured that way. I have missed it somewhat since DW returned in 2005. Up until now, though, it hasn’t really been a dealbreaker. But after Series Six’s heavily River-focused plot, to drop back to seemingly overly isolated episodes whilst other shows are doing the multi-partners so effectively? I just want a return to that type of storytelling.

Why I watch what I watch

I know my personality influences what stories I like, as well as what aspects of the stories I like. At first I thought that this was just to do with personal preference. Liking aspects that people don’t just because I have a different angle when enjoying stories. Then there were things to do with my job and the like. Empathizing more with the techie-types than the end-user types. If one side gives a rational reason for something and the rest keep waiting for “their answer” then I side with the former, even if they’re heading in the asshole direction.

More and more, though, I am realising that the nature of my personality and my history with depression and mental illness, as well as some of the circumstances leading up to them, really colour what I like about stories.

I never got the “Luke Hate” in Star Wars. Partially, I guess, because I was late to the party. I didn’t see the trilogy until my university days. Shortly after university, I felt very trapped by circumstance. No job, living with parents, growing depression. These were all things that beginning to resonate with me around the same age I finally saw Star Wars.
Feeling trapped and having people who mean well trying to tell you what to do? I’ll side with the whiney brat any day. I’ve been there. Moving past it (I hope, somewhat) now, but it’s still something I empathize with.

I love the stories where people go against authority. Most of the recent shows, especially Anime, that I have been watching centre around groups of socially-inept people banding together.

I’ve recently watched (twice) a show called Kokoro Connect, which has a group of five outsiders who formed a school club together because there wasn’t anything out there that suited them. They then get various phenomena forced upon them by a mysterious entity who is seeking to be entertained. And you see them all struggle with things like body-swapping, acting on impulse, regressing (physically) to childhood and having their thoughts shared with the group.

I loved watching the struggles of Inaba and Iori. Not because I like watching people suffer but because I can feel their pain at times. Whilst Inaba struggles with not being a natural people person, and has to learn to deal with her true emotions, Iori struggles to learn who she really is beneath all the masks she wears over her personality.
These are things I have struggled with, and continue to do so. The strain of “putting on a personality” to deal with people, even friends and family, is a very real one. I don’t struggle with it as much as Iori does, not anymore anyhow, but I know what it can be like.

Still, I find myself quite interested when I look at what I watch and read and who I empathize with. As a general rule, these are the “take crap from noone” or the “fundamentally broken” characters. These are my heroes because they are exactly how they appear or, if not, you get to see the effort and strain involved in being “somebody else”.

Designed by Committee, Dictated from Above

Sometimes, at work, I sit through a project planning meeting or hear about one from a colleague and get the impression that project planning groups are a pointless exercise purely designed to tick specific criteria decided from On High and to then convince everyone else that this is the One True Way.

I could put this aside as my naturally cynical nature were it not for the entertainment industry doing its level best to prove me right. In fact, it is my hobbies and not my job that truly set my opinions.

So i go home at the end of a day. I finally get to do what I’ve been waiting to do all day, stick the TV on and wish for a world where dumbass decisions weren’t made…

Only I can’t. The very escapism i yearn is ruined by that very thing I’m attempting to escape. In games, in films, in TV shows. You see it in abandoned plotlines and odd character choices. In odd plot twists, or a contant adherence to the Status Quo without any thought of plot or character progression. Or in websites and services that ignore features that the user base actually wants, instead focussing on stupid social-interaction features that their current users don’t actually need.

It is Executive Meddling at its very best. An absolute conviction by Upper Management that they know exactly what is needed. That they know better than their fanbase or user base. “Thou Shalt Meet These Criteria”, even if the people actually using or watching their product want things to go in the complete opposite direction.

It’s the same sort of thinking that get series discontinued, or entertainment properties not brought over from one country to another. Some Suit thinking they know best.

I guess I was set in my thinking before I ever saw wat went on in planning meetings. Sadly, the reality of sitting through them coupled with games/films/TV still being screwed up form On High make it unlikely my opinions will cange any time soon.

I have nothing against changing my opinions on things for the better. It kind of helps, though, if I get to experience things that prove me wrong.
Not happening so far.

Doctor Who movie – Why the Panic

Another day, another Doctor Who Movie rumour. And this one seems to be gaining traction as something actually possible. As expected, there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, with many people concerned that it would be its own continuity and not fit in with the existing show.

I can see two reasons why this is not a bad thing.

Firstly, take the Transformers movies of recent years. Big blockbuster spectacles. They didn’t exactly resonate well with a lot of the existing fandom, but there are many vocal fans who appreciate them despite not really liking the movies.
The bay-verse Transformers certainly revitalised interest in the franchise, and interest in the toyline. And even if you don’t like the look of them, it allows Hasbro to put money into other TF toys. For me, I bought my first transformer in about 20 years this year. Is was Reveal the Shield: Wreck-Gar – part of a line inspired/funded by the success of the movie toys but of an old character from the 1980s that would (and did) appeal to people who remember him from back then.

It’s also probably at least partly down to the success of the movie that the new series Transformers Prime can exist. It is definitely not the movie-verse. But some of the styling take a few cues, yet are more smooth and rounded and, to be honest, more like “real” Transformers…

…but without the movies, probably no Prime.

Secondly, have you ever seen an in-season movie? I’ve seen a few. Between some of the Japanese shows that I follow and stuff like the X-Files that I used to watch a bit back in the day.

These movies fall into two major categories. They are either totally standalone or pretty heavily integrated into the season mythology. So you’re either paying big money to see a story that doesn’t really count, or paying big money to see an important part of a story that you’re following on a TV channel you already pay for… neither sits well.
Then there’s a third, minor, category. The story that kind of fits, but doesn’t really gel with continuity. They can still be fun to watch, but when character and situations line up that don’t fit with the main show’s plotline, it can take you out of it. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far when the same movie has a character that definitively left or changed at the same time as a power or ability or item being used that was not around when the other character was. Minor, maybe. But if you’re spending more time wondering when it fits, you’re not enjoying the movie.

So, yeah. Something that is its own take on DW would actually sit well with me. As it would either be a really cool what-if, or something crap I can class as not counting.

Star Wars – The Fandom Strikes Back

So the Blu-Ray releases of Star Wars are having further edits done to them. And the fan outrage is… spectacular… -ly amusing.
For one, I don’t see why people are shocked. Disappointed, yes. But shocked?

Now, I don’t have the same attachment to the originals that many fans have. I’m in my thirties and didn’t see the complete trilogy until I was about 18. Also, I only saw the whole thing once, maybe twice, before the cinematic rereleases which had the first round of edits. I didn’t mind the changes because the original scenes weren’t lodged in my brain the same way.

Although it wound me up that by the DVD versions they had inserted scenes but couldn’t redo the lightsaber effects to be 100% consistent across all six movies – new and old.

But the bulk of the changes… whether I agree with them or not,  I personally don’t have a problem with them.

Even before I saw any of the Star Wars films, I was an avid reader of books. I was used to the concept of the revised edition. I was used to the minor edits, the changes for consistency and simply a few changes to reflect where the story had got to and where the author was planning to take it next.

I’d also seen first books in the series where they hadn’t been revised. Going back to book one can be really jarring.

There have also been a lot of Director’s Cuts these days. In most cases, they’re seen as a definitive edition of a film. Whether it’s for the DVD, or something revisited years or decades after the fact. They add bits missed out. They change concepts a little. It can feel like a different film. And so often it is taken as how the film should be.

As soon as the director is George Lucas, though, and the films are Star Wars, people don’t want anything except the version they saw first. At all.
And I’ve heard people who had trumpted other Director’s Cuts as being the best (admittedly fixed) versions of films, but who will then slate any changes to the Star Wars films.

I guess the thing that winds me up a bit is that it becomes a double-standard. If you create a movie, you can go back and fix it up except if it becomes a dearly-beloved fan favourite. At which point you back off, as original is the One True Version.

And I think it all comes down to people latching hard onto certain aspects of a story. It’s what winds me up about other topics, too. The story becomes those aspects and any change (even those that serve a story) is… challenged.

Isn’t that right, Ianto?

Miracle Day – initial thoughts

I watched the start of the latest Torchwood series last night. First episode of Miracle Day. I liked it.

It definitely had First Episode Syndrome, What with introducing new characters and catching up with old ones at the same time as setting up the Season Arc. It still had Torchwood humour, though, along with action setpieces. Oh, and some pretty crappy compositing.
I accept that you can’t have a real explosion, a lead actor and a young baby in the same physical space. It doesn’t really excuse letting you see the “join” though.
I loved that the baby had little pink ear-protectors on when the guns came out, though.

All in all, an interesting start to the season. And an interesting look at what it would mean if death just… stopped. Some people left sick/damaged but undying. Others able to properly recover because they were kept extra-alive just long enough for treatments to kick in.

I can’t wait for the next part.

And it seems easy enough to wait the almost-week between the US airing and the UK one. No farting around trying to find a filetype that works with my setup, just watch it on Freesat HD.

BBC iPlayer – A different type of TV download

This is a repost of a comment I left on a thread on the BBC Internet Blog back in September.

Yes, the tone was completely humourous but the points I raise are valid. The feature-set of the iPlayer, along with some of it’s most persistant bugs, really let it down in comparison to other… less official means of acquiring TV content.

It all becomes clear whe you realise that, above all else, BBC iPlayer is a legal download service. As such, it has to distance itself from any other method of viewing content via thw internet, just to make sure that nobody gets confused and uses… other means for catching up on what they missed.

“Unofficial downloads are illegal. BBC iPlayer is not.”

Good start good start. Fantastic in fact. This is exactly how it should be. So now we’ve got our theme, lets run with it.

“Unofficial downloads are free of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BBC iPlayer ensures you are not missing out of the social networking revolution”

Ummmmmm. OK. I guess. I follow a lot of people on Twitter whose recommendations I trust. Were I to use iPlayer, this might be useful. Maybe.

“Unofficial downloads can work on almost any platform you can name. iPlayer makes sure that you can only use the hardware and software we endorse.”

If you say so… After all, you’re the BBC. Anything you don’t support obviously isn’t worthwhile as a media player.

Although… I do seem to recall my Xbox 360 handling DVD, downloaded and streaming content quite well. But I must be mistaken. After all, no iPlayer. So it can’t be any good. Right?

“You can watch unofficial downloads offline. Whereas with BBC iPlayer, all but one of our solutions works purely by on line streaming.”

Good. Good. Because I wouldn’t ever watch to watch files when out of signal. Or during a peak time of the day. It’s not like those hours I’m asleep or at work could be used by any of the devices I might have when I’m not in the lounge.

“Unofficial downloads can be kept after you’ve watched them. BBC iPlayer deletes things before you’ve even had the chance.”

See. Another feature that you don’t get from the Torrent sites. No why would anybody wish to break to law when we offer functionality such as this?

So yes. It’s a marvel of success. BBC iPlayer is a download service that works nothing like the non-legit ones. There’s no way anybody could confuse the two whatsoever. 100% legal. 0% like Torrents. After all, it’s not like any of those “other features” could ever be of use to anybody…

– Tiggs
(with tongue firmly in cheek)

The Futility of DRM

I’m following several discussions relating to DRM (and other methods of content restrictions & protection). They’re mainly in conjunction with the BBC, owing to some changes they recently made to the iPlayer service in freezing out unofficial third-party clients – such as XBMC.

Many people bring up the quite valid point that the restrictions are seen as stupid because people getting caught out by them will just turn to Bit Torrent.
This is not to say that it’s legal. Just that it’s convenient, and such acquired media files tend to work with pretty much any media player going.

The responses against that tend to be “this is illegal”.

No… kidding… Sherlock!

But that’s missing the point that people are trying to make.
They (we) are not trying to advocate illegal means. We’re trying to say make the legal means easier and more convenient.

To put it simply, illegal downloads are a competitor. This does not make them legal. But them being illegal does not make them any less a competitor. You need to make the legit options appealing, convenient, and pretty much platform-agnostic.

Everybody “loves” a car analogy. Mainly as they suck, and everyone loves to slate them. So here’s mine…
Only, it’s more of a car boot analogy.

The BBC iPlayer is like a drive-in movie theater. It has a certain barrier to entry, naturally.
Between the limited platforms and DRM requirements, it is like having a dress code (or restriction to certain specific car brands) to get in.

This is the only legal way to watch the content. We’re not arguing that other methods are legitimate.
We’re just poking at the idiocy of the situation that trying to pitch a platform-limited legal alternative whilst Bit Torrent exists is akin to the following part of the analogy…

You’re opening your drive-in across the street from the weekly car boot sale where Pete’s Dodgy DVDs operates on a constant basis.

The alternative is not legal. But it’s convenient, accessible, and doesn’t have the same barrier to entry.

The thing is that the moment you drop your barrier to entry then people don’t need to visit Pete’s car boot. (Or whatever torrent aggregation sites are popular and active on any given week).
But the problem with this is that the people who mandate the barriers honestly think that merely being legal is enough of an incentive. Even if it restricts someone’s choice of player.

Well here’s the real choice you give people by locking the content down. If people don’t like the restrictions, they go one of two ways.
They acquire it anyway. You lose. Or they just don’t watch your content at all. You still lose.

On BBC HD and Whining Users

There’s a bit of a crapstorm currently going down on the BBC Internet Blog, especially one of its posts concerning picture quality and bitrate. Now, on the one hand I do sort of want to stand with the people doing the complaining. On the other,  don’t have HD myself and can’t help but empathize with those being complained at.

I can’t help it. I work in IT, spending a fair chunk of my time dodging users. I spend a lot of that time taking a lot of flak for when the way things are don’t match with what the users want. And users/customers always seem to have this sense of entitlement that’s one step out of phase with reality. (Can you tell I once spent a year working in a Supermarket..?)

I guess the problem is more noticeable if, like me, you’re not affected by the issue at hand. I observe it logically, not emotionally. And I compare it with Strictly Come Dancing.

Stay with me here…

Many of the comments are like Craig. hardly ever happy. Always picking fault. And I mean always. And when someone genuinely dances awfully, they still side against Craig despite him being right. And I’m reminded of him when some people were complaining about the picture quality when others thought it was at least passable. Now, when there seems to be a real issue, the same people make the exact same comments and it’s really hard to take them seriously.
Then there’s Len. he nearly always tries to pick something positive out. So when he rails on someone, it means they really are bad. His negative opinion counts, as it usually means there really is something wrong. And some of the commenters are like that. They defend the BBC when they can, and slate it when it’s wrong.

My problem is that I can’t really side with the “users” in this particular case. For “picture quality” substitute “printers and photocopiers” and you get exactly the same tone of complaints that I deal with at work from people who simply won’t accept anything other than their view of how things have to be.
If it’s like any of the situations I face at work, if anything could be done it would be. The fact that the bitrate has been cut means that it’d been cut for a reason. It may be a good reason, it may be a crap one, but there’s a reason for it. And such decisions (especially the bad ones) don’t often get unmade. And it’s the poor sods in the firing line who get the flak.

And having been one of those poor sods in the past (and present), my sympathies lie with them. As do my congratulations, as I’d’ve gone off on one by now were I in their shoes.