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Books, films and TV 2009

2009 was my third year of reviewing all of the (non-work-related) books I read and films I watched here in my journal, and my second year of also doing the same for Classic episodes of Doctor Who. My overviews of 2007 and 2008 are at the links, and the same for 2009 follows below.

I read a rather paltry 14 books in 2009 - a bit of a slump after last year's 20, but much on a par with 2007's 15. That's slightly depressing, but I've already realised by doing this in previous years that my leisure reading progresses at a very slow rate, so it's not news to me. This year's lower-than-usual figure is probably caused largely by the fact that I took about three months to read Allan Massie's Augustus because I didn't enjoy it very much. But I still got a lot out of it in terms of extending my understanding of modern portrayals of Augustus, so I guess it was worth doing.

It's not particularly easy to categorise the books I read this year according to genre, but they all involved at least one and often more of: female central characters, the 1920s and '30s, the Romans, Doctor Who and detectives. Apart from Allan Massie's Augustus, I enjoyed them all very much, but I would say than John William's Augustus probably tops the lot for managing to be weighty, moving, insightful and cleverly-structured as well as remaining perfectly consistent with the surviving historical sources. I've got more along similar thematic lines ready to read this year.

I watched 14 films in 2009, which is exactly the same number as last year, and still lower than the 23 I watched in 2007. This continues to be largely for the same reason - I am busy watching Doctor Who (and other cult TV) instead. It isn't just about time, though, as I have actually watched a lot less Doctor Who in 2009 than I did in 2008 (see below on that). It is rather that I simply enjoy the format of the serialised television drama much more than I do the format of the feature film. It's partly a question of investment - unless a film is part of a franchise (e.g. Harry Potter), I can't be sure in advance whether I'll like it or not. In fact, I have to commit to a full two hours or more of viewing in order to find out, by the end of which time it's over and I can't recoup any further pleasure out of it. TV serials, by contrast, can be 'tried out' on a much more casual basis, and yet also have far more to offer if it turns out that I like them. Their longer episodic format offers much more room not only for really good character development and small, intimate interactions, but also for playing around with the programme's established format and offering meta-commentary on it, both of which I absolutely love. So films may look slicker and more spectacular while they are on, but I generally get much more satisfaction out of TV serials, even if their average budget per minute of screen time is a lot lower.

Anyway, of the films I did watch, five were seen in the cinema, one on TV, two on DVDs I owned and the remaining six on DVDs from Lovefilm. The genre and subject-matter appear fairly random in retrospect, but there are a few themes I can pick out: historical subjects, Italian productions and fantastical story-lines. Of the films released in 2009, I would select Dorian Gray as my favourite (although it certainly had its flaws), and of the older ones I would nominate Otto e Mezzo purely in its own right, but Legend of the Lost if I'm allowed to take into account the fact that what I really liked about it was the chance to drool over the ruins of Roman Leptis Magna.

Doctor Who
This year I have also continued my progressive (though not always sequential) viewing of Classic Doctor Who. I started this in 2008 with Tom Baker stories on UKTV Drama (as then was), picked up a couple of random Hartnells and a Troughton on the way, and then used Lovefilm to work through those Pertwee and Davidson stories which had thus far been committed to DVD. By the end of the year I had watched and reviewed the following stories from the incumbencies of each of the seven Classic Doctors:
  • One - 6 stories out of 29
  • Two - 1 out of 21
  • Three - 14 out of 24
  • Four - 42 out of 42
  • Five - 11 out of 20
  • Six and Seven - none
  • Total - 74 out of 159 stories

This year, I continued to use Lovefilm to view what stories I could of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, and then went back to the beginning to move sequentially through the William Hartnell era. My totals now stand as follows:
  • One - 17 stories out of 29
  • Two - 1 out of 21 (unchanged)
  • Three - 14 out of 24 (unchanged)
  • Four - 42 out of 42 (unchanged - obviously)
  • Five - 11 out of 20 (unchanged)
  • Six - 11 out of 11
  • Seven - 5 out of 12
  • Total - 101 out of 159 stories

This means that I have only watched 27 stories in total this year, which compared to last year's 74 is rather pathetic. The reason is mainly that I really want to write up my thoughts on each of them, but seem to find it impossible to do so briefly. I'm typically writing reviews of around 1000 words for each story, and sometimes rather longer - even when I think the stories are rubbish! Rather terrifyingly, this means that at a ball-park figure I have already written something in the region of 100,000 words (i.e. an entire PhD) on Doctor Who - and this does become daunting on a day-to-day level. The main problem is that viewing the stories causes back-logs of reviews which feel like a duty to write up, and which I then react to by stopping watching more stories so that it doesn't get any worse.

Sometimes I think I need to Stop This Nonsense, and put that writing effort into my academic work instead. But then again, I do really like the reviews once I've written them, and I also don't think that that effort is directly transferable to my academic work. Both watching and analysing Doctor Who is a leisure activity which I get a lot of pleasure out of, and in its own way even writing the reviews does help me to unwind. Besides, I am getting double value out of it all in so far as I can by writing a paper on Doctor Who and historiography for the Classical Association conference 2010.

So, even though it sometimes feels like a bit of a burden, I'm not going to stop watching and reviewing Doctor Who any time soon. In fact, I'm not going to stop until I have finished it all. Nor am I even going to attempt to slim down the length of my reviews, at least until I have finished the era of the pure historicals, because I need detailed analytical comments about those for my Classical Association paper. After that, I might try to encourage myself to slack off a bit - but it'll just depend how I feel. Because in the end it doesn't matter in the least how long it all takes me - only that I enjoy it while I am doing it.

That said, given that I watched 74 stories in 2008 and now only have 58 left to go, it is perfectly reasonable to attempt to finish off those remaining 58 over the course of 2010. So I will treat that as a sort of nominal goal to try to encourage myself along and not get too burdened down by backlogs - but I also shan't worry too much about it if I don't manage it.

Other telefantasy
Finally, I do of course watch other things on TV besides Doctor Who. During the early part of the year, that included an enormous amount of Poirot - I bought the DVD boxed set, watched it properly for the first time in my life, and decided it was fantastic. I also continued to watch House, Monk, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. For me, Children of Earth was one of the absolute TV highlights of the year, and one that I felt extremely privileged to have been able to watch and discover along with the rest of the nation, completely fresh on its first broadcast.

Newcomers this year included a proper series of Being Human, which I don't seem to have blogged about, but did watch avidly and enjoyed very much. There's a new series of that starting on Sunday 10th January on BBC3, and I can't wait. From across the pond came True Blood, which is kind of a slow burner for me - not blow-me-away awesome, but definitely enjoyable enough to keep me coming back each week - and Dollhouse. This is a bit of a curate's egg, in that it has some great material and some great episodes, but also some rather empty-headed ones. Most annoyingly, it often doesn't really have the courage of its convictions, and treats what could be incredibly bold and hard-hitting subjects in a worryingly perfunctory manner. I criticised the episode 'Haunted' (1.10) for doing this with death in the write-up I've linked, above, while jekesta has tackled the issue of how the show deals with rape (with special reference to 2.04, 'Belonging') absolutely brilliantly - far better than I ever could. Anyway, judging from Wikipedia, it seems like season 2 will be its last, so I guess that its unhappy compromise between light-weight titillation and powerful subject-matter will soon have run its course.

For the coming year, I am obviously excited about Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, but before then also about the new series of Survivors, which starts on January 12th on BBC1. What with that, Being Human, some genuinely new Poirot and the Masters Snooker tournament, January is going to be a pretty awesome month for television. Hooray!

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
There may be 58 to go, but I don't think they all exist. In particular, they lost a lot of Troughton's episodes, and some of Hartnell's.

(That is, unless you're intending to make do with soundtracks and, in many cases, still photos.)

Jan. 2nd, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I know about that, as it's already affected some of the stories I have seen - e.g. the whole of Marco Polo and parts of The Reign of Terror and The Crusade. I'm using the fan-made reconstructions for these stories, which are OK, though usually quite poor quality as they were originally released on video-tapes. I handle the poor audio quality by reading the transcripts on sites like this one while I listen, so that I can tell what's actually being said!
Jan. 6th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Hellos dear, Long time, no see - Hope things are good & well with you this cold weather!?
This be Phill Stränge aka Fry here btw =]
Nice one with the Doctor Who watching & good luck with the rest of it & totally agree with you about Torchwood - "Children Of Earth" being one of the highlights of the year!!
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
Hi Fry, how are you doing? Hope you had a good Christmas and enjoyed the Doctor Who specials!
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)
I am indeed yea, Thanks for the adding btw sweetheart! Had a quiet Christmas which I guess is sometimes better than a loud one :P
Hows things with you? Its been a long time!?
Jan. 7th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Fine, thanks. I'm living in Leeds now, teaching at the University here. I have a really lovely house, and am about to get a semester's research leave. How about you?
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Awww nice, its good to hear you are happy =]
I'm busy with just this & that - back & forth to England for DJ spots/Clubbing here & there along side working away as an Industrial Testing Engineer & Welder!
Next time I'm in Leeds we will have to meet up for a drink & nanter if you fancy it!?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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