Thursday, 29 January 2009

Avon Calling

The Cybermen are overrated and normally pretty rubbish

We're not very good really.


Sometimes there's no clever title available, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

The continuing popularity of the Cybermen is a mystery to me. Well maybe that's not quiet true, I'm aware of all the reasons why they are supposed to strike a cord, I just don't buy any of those reasons. The reality is that in general they feature in mediocre and overrated stories and are themselves the Who equivalent of a greatest hits CD.


A cheesy classic apparently.


Going through their appearances throughout the show we do have some classic moments. The Tenth planet has the reveal in the snow (albeit this is a cheesy “Kirk fighting the Gorn” sort of classic) and the associative greatness of being the first ever regeneration story. In the second Doctor's era we have the Cybermen breaking out of their tombs and then the walk down the stairs of St. Pauls. Then nothing till the 5th Doctor era when we have the episode one reveal and the glory that is Adric getting blown to crap (again entirely associative). Then that really is it until the new series when we get the incredibly disturbing “In the Jungle” scene (up there with Reservoir Dogs ear-ectomy) and the Yvone Hartman “I did my duty” bit. Then finally we have another snow scene.

Maybe that should be a greatest hits EP!

The thing is that for the most part these scenes could've been any old baddy. The Haemavores would or the Sea Devils would've been just as creepy coming out of the Tombs or walking down the steps of St. Pauls. Do the Cybermen of The Invasion bear any real resemblance to the Cybermen of The Tenth planer? Hardly. Would history have missed the Cybermen if The Invasion had featured that design, but called them the Cyberbots. Its really only the new series that has created a legitimately great uniquely Cybermen moment that gets to the heart of what is supposed to be so cool about the Cybermen (“In the Jungle” and “I did my duty”).

All that being said, the truth is that these scenes did all feature the Cybermen and that must have factored into their popularity. However, this meagre greatest hits collection of moments alone cannot account for their popularity. For a start off the Autons have almost as many classic moments in their 3 stories as the Cybermen have in their 10 television stories. So what are the reasons why they have endured?

Well its difficult to argue that it is the design. As the picture above shows its never been remotely consistent. Whereas the Daleks have maintained an almost totally uniform look for the entire history of the show (bar the odd emperor model) the Cybermen have constantly changed and constantly deviated further and further from their human origins (thus undermining their own mythos entirely).

There is always of course the argument that Cybermen are a perfect foil for the Doctor himself. Just as the Daleks stand in opposition to the Doctor by virtue of being hate filled fascists; so the Cybermen are in opposition to the Doctor by virtue of their lack of emotion. This seems persuasive, but the reality is that this is just not true. The Cybermen stories from Tom Baker to Sylvester McCoy inclusive all feature Cybermen being overtly sarcastic, boastful, macho (HEXcellent) and sadistic. The stories of the Black and White era feature less overt emotions, but they are there nevertheless. The new series has fared a little better, but this leads to a further problem. When the Doctor is in conflict with the Daleks (or indeed the Master) the conflict operates on several levels. The intellectual, the emotional and the physical. The problem with the Cybermen is that when they genuinely are emotionless, you have the Doctor railing at what is essentially a non-responsive robot which diminishes the intensity of the scene (Picture Eccelston vs the Daleks in the climax of Bad Wolf, now picture that with the Cybermen in place of the Daleks). On the other hand when the Cybermen show emotion in those sorts of scenes it undermines the whole point of the Cybermen!

To be fair the Hartnell production team had no idea of the mediocrity they were unleashing on the future of Who. To be fairer still the original Cybermen were not mediocre as such. The original Cybermen were, in their first story, a genuinely interesting concept. The Tenth Planet as a story is both confusing and mostly tedious. But the Cybermen themselves are interesting. The low tech “shit we've run out of budget” look actually serves them well because they clearly retain an element of flesh. Also I love the way that their mouths simply stay completely open when they talk (revealing a buzzing electronic voice) and then close when they are finished. There's no movement to make the words, which is a cool feature in my mind. They also have names, so there's an element of underlying individuality there. This makes sense. Even the new series gets this wrong. A removal of emotions will not totally eradicate a persons individuality, our memories and they way we think would remain. It doesn't make sense that the Cybermen are, form The Tenth Planet onwards, so generic. It totally undermines the notion that they are cyborgs and not robots if they all act exactly the same.

But of course it's not the Hartnell era Cybermen that people remember. Indeed when they are shown on TV its generally with a hint of derision. I think the key to the popularity of the Cybermen is the Troughton era. They weren't particularly well used then, certainly not as well used as in The Tenth Planet, but they looked more high tech and imposing. They were also used regularly and they had most of their classic moments in that era. Thus their popularity is somewhat circular. They were/are popular because they were used a lot and they were used a lot because they were/are popular. I really don't think there is much more to it than that.

The role of the Cybermen role in the Troughton era was to be a shorthand bad guy. If the writers wanted a bad guy that needed little explaining or motivation (and they didn't want to pay Terry Nation for the Daleks) they brought in the Cybermen. The fact that there was frequently no plot justification for doing so, or that doing so was contrary to the very nature of the Cybermen was not a problem. The Troughton era was certainly the zenith of the Cybermen in the mythology of Who. But again its all smoke and mirrors. Take Tomb of the Cybermen; I can understand this story's legendary status when it was missing. But its been back in the archives for around 20 years now and you've still got people talking like its a classic story. It isn't, its slow and badly plotted (the Doctor helps a bunch of crackpots release the Cybermen just so he can lock them up again). The Invasion is brilliant and hardly feels padded at all for an 8 episode story, but the Cybermen are almost incidental. The success of the story hangs on Tobias Vaughan and the Brigadier.

Whether it is a coincidence or not, the Cybermen never really recovered from the shows transition from black and white to colour. The Pertwee era never even bothered with them preferring to get its fix of classic moment from the Autons. When they returned in the Tom Baker era it was once again in a substandard, dull runaround with decidedly emotional Cybermen. Earthshock was purposely a throwback to the Troughton era. All very well and good when there was getting on for 15 years between Earthshock and The Invasion, less good now the DVDs can be watched back to back and you can see how truly unoriginal Earthshock was. The Five Doctor's once again uses them as generic bad guys, but they barely make it into nuisance territory. By the time of Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis the show had given up. There's no effort whatsoever to do anything creative with the Cybermen and there's nothing threatening or disturbing about them either.

The new series hasn't fared much better with them either. The first problem was how to revive the Cybermen. The Tenth Planet template was not open for use, Star Trek: The Next Generation having both appropriated it for The Borg and done a better job with that template than Who ever did. The 70's don't really provide a template and the 80's were the epitome of naff. That only really left the Troughton era. This is essentially what we got another retread of the 60s with bluetooth and ipods thrown in. Once you strip away the nostalgia and the gimmickry of “upgrading” there's nothing of any substance left. And again there is a quality control problem with their stories. Rise of the Cybermen, Age of Steel and The Next Doctor are much better stories than any of the 70s or 80s stories featuring the Cybermen, but they are amongst the poorest offered by the new series. Army of Ghost and Doomsday are awesome, but the Cybermen quickly play third fiddle to the Daleks and the separation of the Doctor and Rose. Moreover RTD openly admitted using the Cybermen as shorthand bad guys for The Next Doctor, contrast that with his zealous protection of the Daleks.

Naturally the Cybermen will return in the future and there are plenty on the fan forums looking forward to The Moff returning to the Cybermen of our universe (as opposed to the Cybus industries models). I personally think that this will not make a difference. If the Cybermen are to be truly worthy of their reputation a more fundamental approach to their use will be needed.

Whilst a wholesale return to the ethos of the Tenth Planet will not be possible because of The Borg, there can be a return to the idea of some individuality to each Cyberman. The new series has so far been able to keep emotion from the characterisation of the Cybermen and this should be maintained. Inspiration can also be taken from the spin-off media. The “in the Jungle” moment was one of the finest uses of the Cybermen because it was so gruesome, this is an aspect of them that should be emphasised. Poncing around spaceships with clenched fists and randomly exclaiming “excellent” is neither intimidating or interesting, people being shovelled into brutal conversion chambers is. The Novel “The Killing Ground” shows the way on this one, focusing on the conversion process itself (The Next Generation had the same success with The Best of Both Worlds”). A Cybermen story should always have the dread of this process at its core, it should be an ever present dread in any Cyberman story.

The comic story “The Flood” provides further raw materials for the future. On a superficial level the design is fantastic. The Cybermen have never looked as good as in this story (when they are not invisible that is!).


We were fucking brilliant.


The use of the Cybermen in this story is also brilliant. They have the human race begging for conversion by overloading them with emotion. This is the way to do it. The Doctor in the middle ground between emotional overload and a total loss of emotion, it also fits the whole Emo thing that is going on at the moment.

Spare Parts on the other hand is shockingly overrated.


Next time around The Flood or The Master.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

I've taken the Star Trek character quiz

And it turns out I'm a fucking Red Shirt. Says it all really.

Your results:
You are An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
































An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
85%
Jean-Luc Picard
70%
Geordi LaForge
65%
Uhura
60%
Deanna Troi
60%
Chekov
40%
Spock
37%
Data
37%
James T. Kirk (Captain)
35%
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
35%
Worf
35%
Mr. Scott
30%
Beverly Crusher
30%
Will Riker
30%
Mr. Sulu
25%
Since your accomplishments are seldom noticed,
and you are rarely thought of, you are expendable.
That doesn't mean your job isn't important but if you
were in Star Trek you would be killed off in the first
episode you appeared in.


Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character are you?" quiz...

Doctor Who: Who Killed Kennedy

Ever since I saw the file JFK back as a kid I've always had a fascination with the assassination of JFK. Of course as I've read more on the subject I've come to realised that Oliver Stone's version of events is even more off target that the Warren Commissions (albeit that JFK remains a gripping film). As such this was an interesting title to me back when it was released in 1996.

The conceit of the book is to mythologise the Pertwee era (specifically Spearhead from Space up to the aftermath of Day of the Daleks) into an X-Files style conspiracy story.

The story is told from the perspective of James Stevens, a Kiwi journalist, as he investigates UNIT and department C19. At the time this was the first attempt at showing the world of the Doctor from an outsiders perspective. This has regularly become more common with, for example, the works of Kate Orman and Jon Blum (Blue Box and The Fearmonger spring to mind) and even the new series itself (Love & Monsters). The book is also clearly influenced by the X-Files as UNIT and, in particular, C19 are presented as basically being the bad guys. Covert organisations pulling the strings and covering up the truth. This is achieved by virtue of the fact that Steven's sees events from a distance, not being aware of all of the facts and without the cosy "Brigs Army" feel of the show itself.

The use of C19 (previously referenced in Time Flight) is particularly important to ramping up the mood of the book. It allows the nastier stuff to be kept away from UNIT, thereby lending a credibility to the paranoia that would not otherwise be present (since the reader already knows the real truth of the UNIT activities referenced in the book).

I've just finished rereading the book and I must say it holds up remarkably well. The Kennedy stuff is, by the author's own admission, a gimmick of the publishers and up to a couple of years ago it might have felt dated with its very 90s era feel about it. But at this point it is not so much dated as nostalgic. It also still stands as the first full length effort at doing a Who story from an outsiders perspective.

Happily the book can also be accessed online at this URL:

http://nzdwfc.tetrap.com/archive/wkk/

those with a fondness for the 3rd Doctor's era, or conspiracy stories in general, would do well to check it out.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Popularity of the Daleks



The appeal of the Daleks is a matter which is often discussed, both in Who fandom and in the mainstream media. I have some thoughts on this matter!

On a superficially level their importance to the modern era of Who (and much of the classic era) is that you know full well shit is gonna go down when the Daleks are around. By and large their schemes are big and bold. Moreover they are normally a good match for the Doctor. Partly because they stand in clear opposite to him on a moral level, but also because they almost always fight from a position of strength. They are not normally portrayed as generic bad guys wanting the earth for no clearly definable reason. Generally they have a plan and an army and several conquered planets/ solar systems/galaxies already one before the Doctor shows up on the screen. Thus the stakes are always that bit higher.

But this does not explain their appeal from the earliest days of the show. Indeed it is only because they were so popular that they ever got to be the top dogs amongst the shows bad guys. So there must be more to it than the prospect of the Doctor and the Daleks fucking each others shit up.

Obviously the design of the beasties is a key feature. For a start off they are clearly not humanoid. I think this is a big deal. When you think back to their introduction in 1963 they were unlike anything that had come before. Even the likes of “Robbie the Robot” from “Forbidden Planet” was essentially humanoid in appearance. There is resembling a human in the Dalek form. Yet as with many features in Doctor Who there is an element of the mundane, the domestic. The familiar sink plunger arm and egg whisk gun are entirely familiar. But it is this very familiarity which helps embellish the uniqueness of their appearance. There is a fundamental incongruity about these common household objects being analogous to limbs.

Sylvester McCoy has likened the appearance of the Daleks as being tank like. There is something in this (particularly the armoured bling models of the current era). Squash a Dalek flat and you would have something that looks very similar to a tank. Similarly the old style extermination effect is reminiscent of a nuclear flash.

The voice is also an essential factor. The voice of a Dalek is harsh, grating and filled with hate (and often screaming Exterminate!). The voice also ties in with another design feature. That being the flashing lights on the top of the Dalek's casing. There has never been any on-screen explanation for this. To the best of my knowledge there has been no explanation in any of the audios, books or comics either. However, I love the explanation offered by Terry Nation in a book in the 70s. The explanation was that the lights were a way for the Dalek to discharge energy and that without them the Dalek would basically explode from the pent up energy of its own hate and anger. This strikes me as being a fantastic explanation and would also explain why the more senior Daleks have had more lights and/or bigger casings, it would allow for more room for the pent up energy and more discharge of that energy.

Important thought these features are, I think people are most attracted to the mythos of the Daleks. The Daleks were the creation of Terry Nation and they neatly encapsulate two regular themes of Nation's writing. The first of these theme's is that of Fascism. Nation was a child of the second world war and would return throughout his career to the examination of the Nazi regime; Blake's 7 was a series based almost entirely around this fascination. The Dalek's were the other main examination of the Nazi's. The second theme is that of nuclear war. Nation created the series Survivors as an examination of the risks of a nuclear catastrophe.

At the time the Dalek's story first aired (1963) these concerns were very much mirrored by the population of the UK. Much of the population were alive during the second world war and for many the history of that event was very much prevalent in their minds. Similarly the risk of a nuclear war was a pervasive fear following the nuclear bombing of Japan and with the (then) recent Cuban Missile crisis, the assassination of Kennedy, the cold war and the prospect of war in Vietnam.

These twin themes of fascism and a nuclear winter were developed during the first two Dalek stories and have underpinned every Dalek story and the perception of the Daleks ever since. In the first appearance in 1963 (only the second Doctor Who story) the nuclear winter theme was by far the more prevalent. We learn that the Daleks were mutants born out of a nuclear catastrophe. Even at this early stage there was a clear public fascination for the Daleks was clear. However, it is most likely the second Dalek story that cemented their role in Doctor Who and indeed the popular culture of Britain itself.

That story was the Dalek Invasion of Earth and although it is actually a pretty rubbish story; it is arguably the most important story the series ever did and also features a number of iconic, classic, scenes (albeit interspersed with entire episodes where nothing happens). In essence the story is the Blitz transposed to the future. The Daleks are a mythologised version of the Nazi's and are primarily interested in invading (in apparent order of importance): London, the home counties, the British Empire, then all the rest!

The first volume of the About Time series (an excellent series by Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood) puts it perfectly:

[the Daleks] routinely use the verb “exterminate” to mean killing individuals, not groups or races. Yet the idea or mass extermination is present, and one of them calls it a “final solution”. Earlier we see them giving fascist salutes with their sink-plungers, employing slave labour camps...and broadcasting propaganda over the airways. They've apparently wiped out all non-white races on Earth... and believe themselves... racially superior. We believe there may be a subtext underlying all of this!


Clearly this subtext would have resonated with the population of Britain at the time comprised, as it was, of those who had lived with through the war and those who lived with the legacy of the war (be it deceased or injured relatives or the cultural recollection of the war).

The Daleks as Space Nazi's becomes a simple fact of their existence from this point onwards. Indeed in the following Dalek stories (The Chase, The Dalek Masterplan, The Power of the Daleks) it is simply taken as a given that this is the very essence of what the Daleks are about. In the Evil of the Daleks the fascistic nature of the Daleks once again becomes a key plot point again as they undertake a series of what are, in essence, experiments in eugenics to discover the “Dalek” and “Human” factors.

Again in The Day of the Daleks, they are back in control of the Earth, operating “work camps”. Interestingly they are only able to colonise the Earth following a world war between the superpowers of the Earth (note the use of the nuclear war again). They also maintain control of the planet by use of a combination of human sympathisers and a slave race (the Ogrons).

The remaining Pertwee Dalek stories sees them used in a rather unsatisfactory manner. In Planet of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks they are simply generic bad guys. However they were back in form in Genesis of the Daleks. As the name implies this story shows us the creation of the very first Daleks. And wouldn't you know it they arise from a bunch of (human) Nazi's who are in the middle of a nuclear war! This story also introduces us to Davros, the creator of the Daleks and a rough mixture of Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. Genesis shows us that the fascist philosophy of the Daleks is a product of their genetic make up and their environment and culture.

Dalek appearances after Genesis are much less frequent than was the case before Genesis. However it is notable that the last two Dalek stories of the classic era, Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks, see the Daleks at civil war. Although this arguably weakened them and alienated the casual viewer; it was a development that was entirely in keeping with the themes established from the earliest stories. It is only natural that a second generation of Daleks would view the first as being inferior and aberrant (and vice versa). Similarly it is only natural that each Dalek race would seek to purify their own species before moving onto dealing with the rest of the universe.

The Daleks were a part of Doctor Who that somehow remained ubiquitous throughout the wilderness years between 1989 and the revival in 2005. They even made smurf like cameo in McGann's one off! The return of the Daleks (or risk that they would not return) were a regular talking point up to the airing of season one in 2005.

But the more interesting question for me at the time was how the Daleks would return. Happily Russell T Davies is a very clever bunny. In the episode Dalek they are immediately re-established as Nazi-Killing machines! Indeed that lone Dalek probably kills more people on screen in one episode than were killed by Daleks in the entire classic era. The reason being that it genuinely believes they should die.

Looking back you get the impression that RTD wasn't entirely sure that a new generation would “get” the Daleks. Thus the traditional fascism is tinged with modern day religious fundamentalism and self loathing (over their impure genetics) for the season one finale. As it happens this was an unnecessary, albeit fitting, embellishment. People DID get the Daleks on an instinctive level.

The last appearance of the Daleks was in the recent Stolen Earth/Journey's end season finale. Once again the Daleks were taking the usual party line, only this time turned up to 11! We the wiping out of all other species in the entire cosmos by way of a “reality bomb” (read nuclear explosion).

So pulling all of this together; why are the Dalek's so popular? The answer is “all of the above”. The Dalek's resonate with us on an almost primal level because they are an archetypal representation of humanity at its worst. The design and mythology of the Daleks are reminiscent and reflective of the worst incidents of human history (the holocaust), the darkest hours of British history (World War 2 and the Blitz) and our fears of what we are capable of in the future (nuclear Armageddon).

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Mamas and The Papas lyric of the day



When you go out in the street,
So many hassles with the heat;
No one there can fill your desire.
Cops out with the megaphones,
Telling people stay inside their home.
Man, can't they see the world's on fire?

Somebody take us away...take us away...

Friday, 16 January 2009

No Longer Trapped in the Village

I've been wanting to post about the sad death of Patrick McGoohan. For a while I wasn't sure what to post. There are already a handful of decent obits out there (hopefully Charlie Brooker will comment soon). The other problem is that really, my thoughts and feelings on the man are limited to his work on Dangerman and The Prisoner, I've really not seen much else of his work and I'm not sure that I care too.

Ultimately I realised that this is hardly relevent. It is Dangerman and The Prisoner for which he will always be known and remembered anyway. More to the point they are the roles that mean something to me. In the same way that Leonard Nimoy will forever be Spock to me, so to will McGoohan always be Drake/No. 6 and this is no bad thing (Sidebar: Shatner finally broke out of forever being Kirk by the Indian Summer that was DENNY CRANE).

With these limitations in mind I decided to take a look at Fall Out, the final episode of The Prisoner. I would not presume to call this a review, I am not sure any human being is capable of reviewing such a work. This is more a recap, with pictures and occasional comments.

We are start out with a reprise from the previous episode (once Upon a Time) featuring Leo Mckern and No. 6 back at school.


There's something quiet macabre about these scenes, in particular N0. 6 literally talking Leo McKerns character into death.

Strange story about this, Leo Mckern was apparently genuinely traumatised by the filming of these scenes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_McKern#Career).

No 6. meets a waxwork of himself.

The Beatles' All you need is love starts to play in the background. No.6 walks along dressed in black looking for all the world like he invented the concept of cool.

No 6 goes into a cavern and faces a court/parliament of what look like KKK members. They clap him for a full minute! We don't know why!



The Judge gives his opening speech.

No.6 takes the chair of honour.

No. 1 (which at this stage appears to be a column with an eye in it) brings Leo McKern back to life! There are still loads of episodes of Rumpole yet to be filmed!!

Leo is having shaving foam put on his face as part of the resurrection process!

We are meeting No 48 a previous revolutionary. He starts singing “dem bones dem bones".

The clan are in consternation!

“Give it to me baby, confess! Confess!”

“GUILTY!”


Leo faces down No. 1 and is secured in the deep freeze for his troubles (“Be Seeing You”)

No.6 is offered a choice between leadership and freedom



No.6 goes to meet No.1 and discovers: No.1 is... a Monkey!


... is himself!


No. 6 and his band are breaking out of the village with Machine Guns. All you need is Love plays in the Background again.
Free at last?



I first saw the Prisoner about 10 years ago. I watched them all in four sittings and I still remember the "what the fuck was that" reaction I had to the finale. For me it was WTF in a good way. A way that made me keep on thinking about it (and indeed a way that continues to make me think about it). I can only imagine the reaction of those watching in the 1960's; but I expect rage and frustration would probably cover it. This episode is not only surreal when compared to other TV shows (of the era or since), it is surreal in terms of the show itself and unlike anything any other show not called Twin Peaks.

But that is what is so great about it. The Prisoner was about not conforming, not being categorised. A finale whereby No. 1 is revealed to be some foreign power or a MOD official would have been a betrayal of the ethos of the series. Putting the show back into the realms of the Dangerman era or, even worse, James Bond territory. This finale is so wilfully open ended as to barely count as a conclusion and its surrealism prevents the show from ever being categorised. The finale is the Nashville Skyline to the rest of the shows Folk era.

It should be remembered that the show (both the episode and the overall series) has McGoohan running through it like a stick of rock. This remarkable finale not only features McGoohan, but was also writen and directed by him. It is a television classic that stands both as McGoohan's finest hour and also as a testament to the man himself.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Theodore Roosevelt



Those who know me well will know that it is not in my nature to big up right wing Americans. However, to all rules there are exceptions and the Theodore Roosevelt was an exception to EVERY rule.

Evidence of Roosevelt's sheer awesomeness can be found at the following links:

http://www.cracked.com/article_15895_p5.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt#Character_and_beliefs

Anyway, this quote is brilliant and requires sharing:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Monday, 12 January 2009

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Hustle Season 5 Episode 1


Well folks and folkesses the Beebs best show that isn't Doctor Who or the Sarah Jane adventures returned on Friday and what a belter of an episode it was.

Hustle is a strange beast, almost like a modern incarnation of those old Lew Grade/ITC shows. It has also demonstrated an ability to adapt to changes in casts, indeed its arguable they have benefitted the show. Back in season 3 it had become almost inconcievable that the team wouldn't pull the con off. The show was becoming reliant on deviations from the formula to keep things going (ie the team being conned themselves, or the team deciding not to go ahead with a con). This all changed with the loss of Adrian "Micky Bricks" Leicester in season 4. At the time I expected this change to be the deathnell for the show. But Mark "Danny Blue" Warren steped up to the plate effortelessly giving us a much more shambolic, seat of the pants, but inspired version of leadership which gave the show a kick up the rear end and re-invigorated the show.

So much so that I was again concerned that the loss of Warren (albeit compensated for in part by the return of Leicester from the hellhole of Bonekickers) would again spell doom for the show. The loss of Jaime Murray was less of a concern to me, I am apparently the only bloke in the UK that doesn't find her to be that fit and her character was not hugely interesting. It may yet prove to be the case that the show cannot adapt to this new change, but on the evidence of Thursday night I am not too woried.

Thursday's show was an absolute tour de force. Aside from the usual qualities we have come to expect from Hustle (its wit and gloss) this had one of the most intricate plots seen this side of an episode of Coupling. There were 5 intersecting plot lines:

1) Micky and Ash conning the new guys.
2) The new guys conning Micky and Ash.
3) The guys chasing the new guys (but disguised as being after Micky and Ash).
4) Getting Eddy set up with his bar again.
5) Albert pulling the strings and effectively building a new crew by proxy.

Each of these plots dovetailed together seemlessly at the end of the show.

I've always considered Hustle to be the TV equivilent of a magic trick. But even by Hustle's standards this was audacious stuff. It was also terrifically imaginative stuff, a qaulity lacking in British TV these days (Doctor Who and associated shows being the honourable exception). By imagintive I mean that the show is clearly a fantasy and clearly meant to be a fantasy. The version of London it presents is a glossy brighter version of the real thing. The grifters are all loveable excentrics, crusaders or plucky underdogs as opposed to low-life scum. This is James Bond/Boys own style wish fulfillment. And a bloody good thing too. If you want real life, stick your head out of the window! The unrealistic or Fantastical is what fiction is suppossed to be about. Otherwise what is the point of telling a story? The yanks realised this years ago, which is why you have "legal" dramas like "Ally McBeal" or "Boston Legal" with their "heightened" reality. The successful, so called, "gritty" or "realistic" dramas that have been successful (and by Successful I mean ratings and long term audience affection) have been the exceptional shows like Cracker or Prime Suspect. But these truely were the exceptions, being written by great writers at the very heights of their powers, backed up by terrific actors and production teams. These days "gritty" or "realistic" is a crutch used by lazy and/or unimaginitive writers and producers.

Anyway, back to Hustle and a few questions remain to be resolved. Will the new guys fit in? I think so, the female character will be the new Danny Blue, her brother will fulfill the Mother Hen role that was provided by Stacey in series past (or Ianto Jones in Torchwood for the masculine equivalent).

More importantly, how much of a role with Albert have, and will we get to the bottom of who his intended mark is?