jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrellBy John Ruberry

It’s time to take a break from politics.

Many times while surfing on Netflix I came across a recommendation to watch the seven-part 2015 BBC One miniseries, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is described as such: “In 1806 ambitious magician Norrell leads a revival of practical magic in England and ignites a fierce rivalry with bold young conjurer Strange.” If that sounds like a dopey show, well, that’s what I thought too. But I yielded to the luring and tuned in. I’m grateful that I did.

Magic in the alternative universe of Strange and Norrell is not smoke-and-mirrors and rabbits being pulled from hats, it’s a neglected scientific discipline that for unexplained reasons was abandoned in England in the early 16th century. But Gilbert Norrell (Eddie Marsan), a magician from York, becomes a national sensation when he brings to life the statues of  York Minster Cathedral and, in his only use of dark magic, brings back from death the future wife of a prominent member of parliament, Lady Pole (Alice Englert).

But just as in another alternative universe where humans can sell their soul to the devil, the dark side, in this case a mysterious being known as the Gentleman (Marc Warren), sabotages the transaction and establishes Norrell’s second rivalry.

Norrell offers his services to fight the French and their allies in the Napoleonic Wars, although only Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) directly utilizes magic at the side of the Duke of Wellington (Ronan Vibert), who is initially skeptical of him. Included in the broad historical sweep of Strange and Norrell is the blind and mad King George III, and although not by name, the anti-industrial Luddites.

The rest of the cast is wonderful, particularly Ariyon Bakare as a mysterious butler and Vincent Franklin as the duplicitous promoter of Norrell and Strange. The special effects, with the exception of the ravens in the last two installments, are first rate.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a welcome diversion from the usual, and it’s a particularly good series for binge-watching.

Besides Netflix, the mini-series is available on many on-demand systems and on DVD.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

p12079367_b_v9_acBy John Ruberry

Without the phenomenal box office success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, HBO’s Game of Thrones series may not have ever launched. And without GoT’s ongoing critical and audience raves, The Last Kingdom would almost certainly never have been giving the green light by the BBC.

I just finished binge-watching the first season of The Last Kingdom, which like Game of Thrones is a television version of a series of books, in this case Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories. I might not have ever heard of the BBC series had not the ninth season of the Doctor Who reboot had been bombarded with Last Kingdom trailers. I guess that’s the point of promos.

Season two of The Last Kingdom is currently in production.

So how is it? Well, in a few words, LK is pretty good. After all, I kept watching, didn’t I?

Here’s how the series is set up–with spoilers for the most part that cover only the first half of the first episode:

The action begins in the late ninth century as Danish invaders–the word “vikings” is never used–have transformed themselves from coastal raiders into a disciplined army who have conquered each English kingdom save Wessex. The lead character is Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon), the son of a Northumberland noblemen who as a child witnesses his father fall in a battle against the invaders. After he humorously attacks a Dane, Uhtred is taken as a slave. Losing his Christian faith, Uhtred the Godless, much in the matter of white characters captured by Indians in Old West movies, seems unsure of his loyalties, but he’s determined to reclaim his family castle from his duplicitous uncle.

An adult Uhtred, after his Danish family is killed by other Danes, makes his way to Wessex where he pledges loyalty to King Alfred and joins the Saxon cause.

Attractive in a Jon Snow sort of way, Uhtred doesn’t have a vow of chastity to hamper his romantic pursuits.

Religion greatly drives the plot, The priest who baptizes the young Uhtred–twice–has also made his way to Wessex, where he serves as a counselor to Alfred. Refreshingly, the Christians in The Last Kingdom are pious, but not portrayed as foolishly pious. The only religious character treated with disdain is a Danish sorcerer.

Alfred (David Dawson), the devout king, doesn’t let his sickliness damper his resolve to save his realm and drive the Danes out of England.

Besides Alfred, other historical characters who appear in The Last Kingdom are the Danish chieftains Ubba and Guthrum, Saxons Odda the Elder, King Edmund of East Anglia, Alfred’s nephew Aethelwold, and Welsh monk Asser, the biographer of the Wessex ruler. A glaring oversight is the omission of Ivor the Boneless, the Dane whose name still perplexes historians. Ivor was the half-brother of Ubba.

The show plays homage to the legend that Alfred, asked by a woman to keep an eye on loaves of bread being baked, allows them to burn as his mind wanders to pressing matters of kingship.

The cinematography is superb although the filming of the series in Hungary, rather than England, might be the catalyst of one of LK’s noticeable shortcomings, cheap-looking wardrobes and crowns that appear to be plastic. If the series was shot in Britain, or even Northern Ireland where some of Game of Thrones is filmed, I’m sure the costume department of The Last Kingdom could have scrounged up more convincing crowns some better period clothes from a regional Shakespeare company.

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

If you are looking for one more Game of Thrones comparison, then I won’t let you down. While gratuitous nudity is absent from The Last Kingdom, the brief glimpses of bare flesh amid the armor and swords appear forced as if someone is screaming at the directors, “We need naked bums for better ratings!”

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit

If you want to understand how the media places with story titles to create or avoid a meme you can’t do better than these two headlines both covering the same story:

dueling headlines

Here is the AP story:

Italy’s migration crisis took on a deadly new twist Thursday as police in Sicily reported that Muslim migrants had thrown 12 Christians overboard during a recent crossing from Libya, and an aid group said another 41 were feared drowned in a separate incident.

Now in fairness to the BBC the story does go there

The 15 Muslim migrants involved in the row with Christians were arrested in the Sicilian city of Palermo and charged with “multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate”.
The suspects, who are from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea, were among 105 migrants travelling in an inflatable boat that left Libya on Tuesday.

Eyewitnesses told police how the altercation resulted in Christians being thrown overboard, and that some of the survivors had formed human chains to avoid a similar fate.

Cripes even CNN got the lead right:

Italian police: Muslim migrants threw Christians overboard

Frankly the real story to me is that AP & CNN didn’t do what the BBC did.

I guarantee you that if the religions were reversed not only would the BBC headline would be more explicit, furthermore every single network would be leading with it today.

 the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.

John 16:2b

In fact I predict you’ll see that sentiment even from people who claim not to believe in any god.

Hey remember last year after the release of the Jay Report detailing the abuses in Rotherham. The Story isn’t over yet:

A report into hundreds of cases of “indescribably awful” child sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire has revealed a series of grave failings by the authorities – showing that social workers and police effectively turned a blind eye to the endemic abuse.

As many as 373 potential victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) have been identified in the county over 16 years.

I suspect the photo of those involved will not be a shock, but that’s not all:

“Since the Bullfinch case we have done approximately 20 large scale investigations right across Thames Valley.

“We have uncovered exploitation going on in places that you wouldn’t really imagine it to happen, not just in the large urban areas but there are allegations, court cases currently in Banbury.

“There will be future court cases in places like Aylesbury … it does prove the adage that if you look for it you will find it.”


AS MANY as 200 children could have been subject to sexual exploitation in the East Riding, a councillor has claimed.

It comes after East Riding councillors voted unanimously for a review into cases dating back to 1999.

Well the Government isn’t taking this lying down:

A new single national point of contact for whistleblowers trying to expose child abuse, and to spot patterns of failure across the country, is to be set up in the wake of the Rotherham scandal, the home secretary has announced.

And they are saying all the right things

“We need to address the culture of inaction and denial that led to victims being dismissed and ignored,” said the home secretary, as she published the official report responding to the Rotherham scandal.

Ministers say that “misplaced concerns about political correctness”, as was seen in Rotherham, where the majority of the known abusers were of Pakistani heritage, was unacceptable and should not be allowed to stop action being taken.

“People who abuse children must be stopped. Their race, age or gender is irrelevant … We cannot allow professionals to avoid tackling the sexual abuse of children by members of ethnic minority communities for fear of being seen as racist … There is no culture in which sexual abuse is not a crime,” says the cross-government report.

So I guess that means that people who expose this kind of abuse are going to be protected, unless of course you are exposing the BBC

the BBC is forcing out or demoting the journalists who exposed Jimmy Savile as a voracious abuser of girls. As Meirion Jones put it to me: “There is a small group of powerful people at the BBC who think it would have been better if the truth about Savile had never come out. And they aim to punish the reporters who revealed it.”

Consider those involved in a documentary on Panorama detailing the Jimmy Savile coverup:

BBC managers have shifted Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, announced last September that he was resigning to “find new challenges”. Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted. The television trade press reported recently that his future is “not yet clear” (which doesn’t sound as if he has much of a future at all).

Oh and btw the director General of the BBC at the time the Savile story was suppressed, he’s now the Chief Executive Officer of The New York Times.


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During my 2 1/2 hour AM drive home from the GOP debate in Hanover NH I did some radio channel surfing and found an incredible story out of Uganda on the BBC world service that seemed right out of the Aztec playbook:

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country’s economy.

The mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice.

The follow-up story gets worse:

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile,a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

The radio broadcast (available here) was simply astounding. I wondered what kind of barbarians could slaughter children, even their own, in order to improve their personal financial situation?

…and then as I drove through the middle of a quaint New England Town at night, I looked to my left and saw, illuminated by a single bulb, a Planned Parenthood Clinic.

The Witch Doctor in an underdeveloped Uganda plays on the uneducated, promising them an easier and more prosperous future at the price of a couple of hundred dollars and a child’s life and people agree. I call that Barbarism.

Planned parenthood makes the same promise and demands the same price (with the cash subsidized by the government) to a developed and educated population…

…and millions consent, cheered by others. Perhaps you have a different word for it?

I don’t.

I will likely pre-order the boxed set from Mike’s comics but I have this comment to make. You should give them a ring concerning the new episodes The cover art is a vast improvement over the last set.

Demon Quest vol 1 of 5

Anyways I’d drop an e-mail to Mike’s comics right away if you don’t want to wait for boxed stuff.

Well the BBC has decided to state the obvious

BBC Director General Mark Thompson has admitted the corporation was guilty of a ‘massive’ Left-wing bias in the past.

The TV chief also admitted there had been a ‘struggle’ to achieve impartiality and that staff were ‘ mystified’ by the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Tell me this doesn’t sound like Mika on Monday totally confused about the Glenn Beck restoring honor rally.

memeorandum thread here.

Speaking of saying things aloud that everyone already knew

My review of the Boxed Set of Tom Bakers return as the Doctor in Hornet’s Nest, which was long delayed by Lent is available at here.

It was worth the wait to get all five parts together and well worth the price.

Amazon has a pretty reasonable price on the set, but of course I got my copy from the friendly people at Mike’s comics.

Sometime around 1978 I was channel surfing the way we used to in the days before Cable: (We turned the knob) and on Channel 12 in Rhodie Island I found a strange TV show with a fellow with a long scarf traveling in a blue box.

I thought it was cool but didn’t note the time but several months later on another Saturday I turned on the TV and found the very same episode on the very same channel. Shortly after that I discovered Channel 2 and I was hooked.

I was big into history and that episode not only took place in the past but took place in 15th century Italy. You couldn’t find a combination more likely to attract me. If I had managed to find the episode before or the episode afterward I might not have been so excited, but the Masque of Mandragora started me off and the rest was history.

It’s a good episode but not my favorite, it’s not even my favorite episode of season 14 (The Deadly Assassin) but because it was my first experience of the character it holds a special place to me.

Imagiane my surprise and delight when I discovered that BBC Worldwide has all four episodes available for free viewing online. They don’t allow an embed but the direct link is here if you want to give it a shot.

You will have to set up an English Proxy Server if you want to watch it.

Q: Why did that package turn up now of all times?

I spent yesterday with My son and some Friends at Funspot in NH, the worlds largest Arcade. When I got home late last night this was waiting for me from Mike’s Comics.

Of COURSE it comes now.

Unless I’m very mistaken that package contains the a boxed set of the new audio adventures of a certain scarf wearing alien that I pre-ordered in July of last year.

The BBC has apparently decided that since I’ve given up a certain Science Fiction series first broadcast by the BBC the year I was born for Lent that naturally it is the perfect time to release the item in the US.

So that package gets to remain unopened with a paperback from Amazon Vine till Easter Sunday on April 4th. (Yes I know officially Lent ends on Holy Thursday for the Easter Triduum but that feels like cheating to me.)

Rest assured after that date they will be listened to rated and reviewed here and on Amazon. All I can say is they’d better not stink!

Oh and if you are a new reader since CPAC (Which began on Ash Wednesday the start of Lent) and you have no idea what I’m talking about despite the hints click here.

On Oct Post Tim Blair dared to tweak King Charles the Pious with the following post:




Then. Then. Then.

Now. Now. Now.

Charles answer included the following:

Tim Blair seems to believe I was supposed to toe the right wing line on climate change forever. Now that I’ve invested the time and effort to educate myself on the issues and have changed my mind, I’m an unfaithful monkey who must be stoned.

But the Gods of Irony do not like to be mocked:

The climate change correspondent of BBC News has admitted that global warming stopped in 1998 – and he reports that leading scientists believe that the earth’s cooling-off may last for decades.

“Whatever happened to global warming?” is the title of an article by Paul Hudson that represents a clear departure from the BBC’s fanatical espousal of climate change orthodoxy. The climate change campaigners will go nuts, particularly in the run-up to Copenhagen. So, I suspect, will devout believers inside the BBC. Hudson’s story was not placed very prominently by his colleagues – but a link right at the top of Drudge will have delivered at least a million page views, possibly many more.

The actual BBC story is here:

This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

So what on Earth is going on?

Damion Thompson asks the question:

The BBC now has serious questions to answer. It has used millions of pounds of licence-payers’ money to advance a simplistic point of view that is beginning to fall apart under scrutiny. Did it not foresee that this might happen? And, now that statistics are beginning to point in the other direction, is it prepared to give equal prominence to a debate about climate change that is both respectable and urgent?

So as the evidence has changed to a degree that the Climate Change correspondent for the BBC actually questioned Global Warming Charles Johnson has managed to be convinced in the other direction.

There has been speculation that LGF is on the gravy train. Robert Stacy disagrees:

Some commenters have speculated that Johnson is now on the Soros gravy train, a conspiratorial suspicion that violates Occam’s Razor. Johnson surely isn’t a sellout, for this would mean that he had been bribed to betray some important principle or to dishonor some obligation of loyalty.

Yet no one has ever offered evidence that Charles Foster Johnson ever had any principle or honor, and or that he was ever loyal to anyone but himself. He has been consistently vicious and selfish, and this only escaped notice so long as it served Johnson’s interests to deceive those whose assistance he sought in advancing his own self-aggrandizing agenda.

I was in that camp for quite a while but the Global warming issue isn’t something that was a part of any kind of vendetta or a key issue for any of the people that Charles was feuding with. Combine this with the fact that the evidence is actually going the other way and this story:

Billionaire George Soros said on Saturday that he would invest $1 billion in clean energy technology as part of an effort to combat climate change.

and I must confess I just don’t know what to think anymore.

Update: Given my not knowing a new poll is in order.

Initial reviews not withstanding I certainly don’t want to skip the new 4th Doctor Audios:

Well lucky for US Based Dr. Who fans. Mike’s comics has an announcement to make:

As stated on our BBC Doctor Who Audio webpage, there is a new licensed source to the US market for BBC Doctor Who & Blake’s 7 audios, and we have negotiated preferred terms for these audios.

On the page all of the Hornet’s Nest episodes are available at only $9.99 each.
hornet's nest the stuff of nightmares
That is a better deal than any currently on eBay. They also offer a boxed/slipcased set and if THAT isn’t enough they offer free shipping on cd’s orders over $60 sent by media mail!

What more can anyone ask?

The sad thing is they announced this 10 days ago! See what getting tied up with the blogwars does? It keeps you from important things.

…because if the reviews from UK is any indication it looks like the story and the presentation of his return is just awful.

Some quotes:

The listener is initially left thinking that Hornet’s Nest is either a radio drama made on the cheap or a talking book that the producers have tried to make more interesting with a couple of extra voices and one or two sound effects.

and this:

Paul Magrs’ storyline and script leave a lot to be desired – both pedestrian and silly.

and that’s from a 5 star review.

And finally this:

What we have is a Tom Baker who sounds like he’s sleep-walking through the lines he’s reading and a story that belongs in the 19th century.

…I have already cancelled part 2 which I had on pre-order.

Remember these are the Doctor Who Fanatics who got the item right away, first day stuff.

If you can get Doctor Who fanatics to cancel a pre-order of this then that’s BAD!

I don’t think narrative style is a big deal, that is the style used by the Companion Chronicles. I think the BBC decided they could copy the success of Big Finish on the cheap and somehow managed to convince Tom Baker to do it. They created expectations and just failed to deliver. At least that is my guess I haven’t managed to get a copy as it isn’t available on Amazon US and Mike’s Comics doesn’t have it yet. It’s only £5.37 out of England. Of course Amazon UK shipping cost practically doubles the price.

If the problems are post production it might be possible to improve the CD’s that are coming, but I’m still talking out of my hat so we will see.

As this is the release day in England I’ll keep an eye on the Amazon reviews and see if the unhappy trend continues.

Update: Andrew Whickey is a bit kinder:

For an audience coming to this from the other BBC audiobooks – straight readings of novelisations of TV shows – this will be a pleasant change, but compared to Big Finish’s productions it seems slightly underwhelming – it’s just not using the medium well enough.

That said, I will still be buying the rest of the series – it’s definitely entertaining, and while the story is not up to the standard of Big Finish’s best, it’s definitely not *bad* either – it’s a pleasant, diverting hour-and-ten-minutes of entertainment, with Tom Baker getting to do his thing again. It’s firmly aimed at a casual nostalgia market, rather than being aimed at either hardcore fans or people who are interested in innovative drama, but that’s not a bad thing. On its own terms it’s enjoyable enough, but I hope if Baker does any more, that he will turn to Big Finish…

Well it looks like it all comes down to the expectations game.

…It’s a really big deal particularly since Baker is the only living ex doctor from the original series that hasn’t done audios since giving up the role, but I have one thing to say to the BBC:

hornet's nest the stuff of nightmares

Don’t you think you could have managed better cover art than this? Take a look at the cover art for the Big Finish series that I’ve reviewed over the last year. There is no comparison.

They should have hired Colin Brockhurst. This is why

Update: Here is the image I linked to: