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Books, films and TV 2010

This is normally the time of year when I look back over the books, films and TV which I have consumed over the past twelve months. Previous posts in this series can be found at the following links: 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Unfortunately this year I am at a bit of a disadvantage in looking back over the books I have read in particular, as I have completely failed to keep on top of reviewing them. I knew I'd got behind, but have just looked at my books read 2010 tag, and it turns out that I have only actually managed to review three books this year, with the most recent written up in February. I am also behind by one film review and two Doctor Who reviews - although in both of those cases that represents a much smaller proportion of the total. I've been actively focusing on clearing the backlog of film reviews during December (I managed six - not bad), and was going to get on to the books and Doctor Who after that, but never quite made it.

Nevertheless, I am going to write up an overview post now anyway, in keeping with my normal practice, even though not everything I'll be looking back over has actually been written up here yet. And I do want to get on top of the unreviewed material, so that is a little goal which I am setting myself for January - try to write up my unwritten book, film and Doctor Who reviews for 2010, while doing my utmost to avoid accruing any more. And maybe also learn to write shorter reviews, so that this doesn't happen again in the future. Although I do believe that I resolve something of the sort around this time every single year, and I never manage it - so I may as well just accept the status quo.

Even more depressing than the fact that I only managed to write up three book reviews in 2010 is the fact that the back-log of reviews which I have actually accrued is so tiny. I read a mere four other books, which means that I somehow managed to read only seven leisure books in the whole of the last twelve months. That is half of last year's total, by far the least since I started this reviewing business, and by any measure extremely pathetic. I'd really like to do a bit better than that this year.

Since my books read 2010 tag is currently so defective, and the total list of books which I read is so short, it is probably simplest to just list them all here:

1. Sarah Waters (2006), The Night Watch
2. Edward Gibbon (1776), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, volume I
3. E.M. Delafield (1930), The Diary of a Provincial Lady
4. Donald Cotton (1985), Doctor Who - The Myth Makers
5. Robert Harris (2009), Lustrum
6. Susan Howatch (1977), The Rich Are Different
7. Daniel Waters (2008), Generation Dead

That breaks down into four examples of historical fiction (nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6, of which three relate in one way or another to Classical history), one classic work of academic prose (no. 2), one classic novel (no. 3) and one contemporary work of teenage fiction (no. 7). I enjoyed all of them, which is a good thing given a) how few there were and b) the fact that I have many more similar books waiting to be read. My favourite, though, was The Rich Are Different. This translates the story of Julius Caesar's dictatorship, his assassination, and the triumviral period which followed to the world of New York finance in the 1920s and '30s, and was recommended to me by hollyione. I took copious enthusiastic notes on it as I was reading, but the details of my views on it will have to wait until I write it up in full. Gibbon has been illuminating, but ended up becoming more of a chore than a pleasure, especially now that I have discovered the joy of reading Twitter on the bus in the morning instead of him. However, I am only one and a bit chapters from the end of the second volume, so at some point I think I will finish that off for the sake of neatness, and then call it a day.

I did much better here, watching a total of 34 films in 2010, and reviewing 33 of them. (The unreviewed film is Clash of the Titans 2010, which I'm still half-way through writing up.) By a strange contrast with the book situation, that is a bumper year for me, making the most films I have seen in a single year since I started reviewing, and outstripping the previous high of 23 films in 2007 by almost 50%. I don't think the two are related, though, as I definitely haven't been watching films instead of reading books. I'm not really sure why my reading has fallen so badly, but I can see various factors which have pushed the films total up: attending the whole of the Bradford Fantastic Films weekend (8 films), making a regular habit of going to local classic film nights with ms_siobhan (8 films), and needing to do something to make use of my Lovefilm subscription (spookily, also 8 films). So that's 24 films accounted for by those means alone - and the rest by random visits to the cinema, or films watched on TV or at other people's houses.

Breaking down the films I saw by date and genre, I get the following:

1920s 1 
1930s 0 
1940s 5 
1950s 6 
1960s 8 
1970s 3 
1980s 2 
1990s 1 
2000s 15 
Of which 2010 3 

Kids / Teen 3 
Set in Rome 3 
Action 4 
Foreign language 4 
Sci-Fi 5 
Historical setting 6 
Tragedy 6 
Comedy 8 
Romance 8 
Gothic / horror 13 

So I'm largely watching films which were made either in the last decade (though rarely the last year) or before 1970 - which is no particular surprise given all the classic film nights I've attended and horror films I've watched, as shown by the genre table. In neither case do the total number of films add up to 34, as I saw various short films during the year which I've rolled together for reviewing purposes but counted separately for dating purposes, and I have also assigned most films to more than one genre.

Picking a favourite for the year is hard to do, but I particularly enjoyed the restored version of Metropolis, as welll as The Sorcerers, 28 Days Later and Witchfinder General. Worst film of the year was EASILY the embarrassingly-bad Mark of the Devil, closely followed by Mulan II and with Sex and the City 2 lagging some way behind.

My conclusion from all this is that I should very definitely go to the Fantastic Films Weekend again next year, since I saw three of my top four favourite films there. But I should be slightly more discriminating about what I watch, in the hope of avoiding a re-run of Mark of the Devil. And outside of the film festival, I should probably avoid sequels unless I've got some positive reason to believe that they will be any good.

Doctor Who
I continued watching, reviewing, and enjoying Classic Who, but the rate has very definitely slowed. At the start of this year, my viewing stood as follows:
  • One - 17 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 - 11 out of 11
  • Seven - 5 out of 12
  • Total - 101 out of 159 stories

And it is now thus:
  • One - 29 stories out of 29
  • Two - 4 out of 21
  • Three - 14 out of 24 (unchanged)
  • Four - 42 out of 42 (unchanged - obviously)
  • Five - 11 out of 20 (unchanged)
  • Six - 11 out of 11 (unchanged - obviously)
  • Seven - 5 out of 12 (unchanged)
  • Total - 116 out of 159 stories

That means I saw 15 stories this year - circa half of the previous year's 27, and a fifth of the year before's 74! Most of the new stories were from the Hartnell era, making him the third Classic Doctor whose output I have now seen in its entirety - although I also skipped ahead and watched Troughton's The Highlanders in advance of my paper on Doctor Who and historiography at the Classical Association conference in April. I have also watched, but not yet reviewed, The Power of the Daleks and The Underwater Menace. And of course I also saw Doctor Who: the movie and a whole lovely season of new Doctor Who - but I'm not counting those as 'classic' for the purpose of this exercise.

As I commented last year, it's not watching the stories that slows me down where Doctor Who is concerned - it's the desire to write long and insightful reviews, which consequently become daunting, get backed up, and cause me to stop watching it until I have caught up. I really should put less pressure on myself to make them so comprehensive - and I suspect that pushing on into the Troughton era may help me with that. It may seem fresh and interesting to me at the moment, because it is all new and different from the Hartnell era, but I understand that it very quickly becomes formulaic. So hopefully I won't feel as though I need to say quite so much about each story. Anyway, I will carry on at my own pace, and will certainly see the lot eventually.

Other television
My other watching this year included various established series, such as True Blood, Being Human, Ashes to Ashes, House, Dollhouse, Survivors and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Being Human and True Blood were both excellent in their different ways, and I'm hugely looking forward to new series of both beginning in January. Ashes to Ashes remained enjoyable to the end, and I very much liked the way it finished. I think I'm watching House more out of habit than anything else at this stage, but hey - it's something nice on a Sunday night to take your mind off the fact that a new week starts the following morning. I stuck with Dollhouse until the end, mainly on an "I've started so I'll finish" principle, but wasn't exactly bowled over, and am not surprised it was cancelled. I'd say much the same about Survivors, although in that case the cancellation was more annoying, because it finished on a cliff-hanger which will now never be resolved. The Sarah Jane Adventures remains very impressive, with some really imaginative story-lines this year that pressed my buttons very effectively (time-travel, stolen identity, only two people on Earth, awesome appearances of or references to past companions).

The best new show this year in my book was easily Sherlock. If it had handled race, gender and sexuality better, it could have been absolutely revolutionary television. As it was, it had some disappointments - but still stood head and shoulders above any other new shows that I came across for its dialogue, its main characters and its very, very beautiful production design. I also very much enjoyed watching the revived version of Upstairs Downstairs just after Christmas. Like Sherlock, this suffered rather from its short run, with some story-lines needing more time to develop than they actually got - e.g. in one scene the family discovers a long-lost sister with Down's Syndrome; in the next she's suddenly living with them, with no further discussion or explanation. But its design and spirit both felt true to the original, and the plot kept my sister and I gripped for three very enjoyable evenings spent clutching each other's hands and shouting advice at the characters on the sofa. Also, Jean Marsh is awesome. Fact.

Over the summer, fresh from Ian Ogilvy heaven at the Fantastic Films Weekend, and enabled by the alibi channel (I think it was), which was showing the entire series on a perpetual loop, I also watched the whole of Return of the Saint. It isn't actually much good, even when viewed post-ironically. The sexism and racism were par for the course for the era, but the awful dialogue, ropey plots and cheesy Euro settings cannot be excused so easily. That said, Ian Ogilvy really is very lovely to look at, and some stories were enjoyable enough - especially those which were set in London, and thus avoided the awful dubbed dialogue used for the European stories. I seem to remember particularly liking The Judas Game, Signal Stop and Tower Bridge Is Falling Down. And what was really important for me was that it gave me a nice structured proper break for lunch during a period while I was largely working from home.

Finally, this year I also purchased an enormous new flat-screen television, complete with Sky+ HD. I agonised a little over the loss of my faithful fifteen-year-old cathode-ray Sony, but it was the right thing to do. The HD viewing experience depends rather heavily on the quality a programme was filmed in, so that on some programmes you can barely tell the difference, but on others (e.g. Doctor Who and Downton Abbey) it is really quite breath-taking. But more importantly, I can now see the whole viewing frame as originally intended, rather than losing bits off the edges as was happening on my old TV, and the user interface is much better than the ordinary Sky+ one is. So here's to a new viewing season with my lovely shiny 21st-century monster. :-)

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 3rd, 2011 12:57 am (UTC)
I learnt to do the graphs this evening using this page, but I'm afraid it all turned out to be unutterably tedious, and I have resolved not to do it again! I'm still not happy with the way that the actual bars sit lower on the line than the relevant text, but eventually gave up on trying to fix it.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
I am amused to discover that of the three books you did review, two of them have ended up on my Amazon wishlist (although nobody bought me any books this year, philistines!). I don't do much leisure reading these days, and I have even less time to browse for books I'd like to read, so your reviews have been invaluable in this respect!

I'm planning to buy some books soon, since I'm spending so much time on the sofa resting the belly, so maybe I'll finally be able to see if I agree with your review!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 01:00 am (UTC)
I'd love to think that I am just very persuasive - but I guess we do have quite similar interests, so it's not so surprising that we would like the same books. Maybe you'll need to add more once I've got round to reviewing the other ones? I certainly think you'd like the Susan Howatch book.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
I love that you used bar charts and quoted numbers etc. I am fascinated by what people read and watch, and I also love statistics so I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post. I do enjoy reading your reviews even though I do not often comment. I shall try to rectify that this year so that we shall be able to debate and discuss the various films that you watch.

Jan. 3rd, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
Heh, well as I've said above you'd better enjoy the charts while they are here, as they were immensely tedious to do, and I don't think I'll be attempting it again. Although I suppose that now I have a basic template for the HTML, it will be easier in future to copy and paste that and just change the numbers in it.

Glad to hear you enjoy reading, and don't worry about whether you comment or not - I would hate for it to become a chore or obligation for people.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed the Rich are Different! :D and if you can stomach it the sequel, Sins of the Fathers is also really ace. IMO!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, don't worry - I already have it, and am really looking forward to it! Reading another novel set in Augustan Rome at the moment, but it will probably be next after that.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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