November 9th, 2008


Companion Chronicles again

Big Finish's series of Companion Chronicles, two-hander audio plays featuring companions of the first four Doctors, get better and better. Here we have Susan, Victoria, Jo and Leela brought back to life by Carole Ann Ford, Deborah Watling, Katy Manning and Louise Jameson, recounting adventures that we never saw on screen.

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All of these are recommended.

Small political party disintegrates, no casualties reported

In a week full of exciting electoral news from the USA, Scotland, the Maldives and New Zealand, you could be forgiven for missing the fact that one of the parties in the current Irish government coalition has formally disbanded itself.

The Progressive Democrats were founded in 1985 by dissidents from Ireland's main political party, Fianna Fáil; however, they spent almost two thirds of their existence in coalition with the party from which they had originally split (1989-92, 1997-now). The PDs ostensibly endorsed liberal social values (where their clothes have been stolen by FF, and indeed everyone else) and opposed corruption (where they appear to have achieved nothing at all in their years of coalition with FF). The death knell was sounded in last year's election, when they won only two seats in the Dáil compared with 14 at their height in 1987. But really the writing had been on the wall ever since 1992, when the party's founder, Des O'Malley, botched the handover of the party leadership to his designated successor, Mary Harney, and alienated Pat Cox, one of the party's better media performers, to the point that he left the party and ran as an independent in the European Parliament elections of 1994. (I admit that I know and like Cox a lot better than any of the other ex-PDs; there may have been other factors of which I am unaware, but for a small party to discard a figure of his ability was rather wasteful.) Really today's news is about five years too late in coming, one of many things in Irish politics that were distorted by the appalling performance of Fine Gael in 2002, where the PDs were among the numerous unexpected beneficiaries.

So the PDs disappear; their voters will now drift to FG who apparently are enjoying their highest ever poll ratings, seven points clear of Fianna Fáil, for the first time since the 1920s. The one thing they did do was to demonstrate that the sterile structures of Irish politics could be shaken up, and create the basis for other changes to take place (most notably the election of Mary Robinson as President in 1990). But I must say that if I was a member I would be wondering today if it had all been worthwhile.

2008 Films 6) Richard III (1995); and The Kingmaker

I was very strongly recommended to watch Ian McKellen's Richard III after I had read the script and listened to the Arkangel version. Well, wwhyte, nmg and liberaliser, you were right. It is an extraordinary tour de force, set in a grazingly Fascist Britain of the 1930s (so echoed in more recent books by Christopher Priest and papersky). McKellen himself is superb; the other actors include Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Adrian Dunbar and Tim McInnerny, all excellent. McKellen explains on his own website how and why he judiciously pruned characters and plot to turn it into his own film version. Standout scenes include Richard's nightmares before the final battle; Nigel Hawthorne's melancholy reflections as the doomed Clarence; the exchange where Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) persuades the pseudo-reluctant Richard to take the crown. A really good film.

Oddly enough over the last few days I had also been listening to a completely different presentation of the story of Richard III, the Big Finish audio play The Kingmaker, written by Nev Fountain of the TV comedy show Dead Ringers. This brings the Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison, back to the 1480s to find out what really happened to the Princes in the Tower, after a heated drunken argument with William Shakespeare. As you would expect from a production with that author and numerous comedians in the cast, it is utterly hilarious, totally subverting the expectations of the listener - are the Princes really robots? Who is the bearded time-traveller advising Richard of Gloucester? What of the true identity of the barmaids? Some might possibly think it just a bit silly, but I really enjoyed it.