The return of Twin Peaks: a classic revived

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It is unusual for a writer to revisit his work after such an extended period of time away, and stranger still for him to successfully gather almost all of the original cast for the return. The only comparable example that comes to mind is the recent Harper Lee sequel to the acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird entitled Go Set A Watchman, which was published, the year before the author’s death, in 2015 with an impressive 55-year gap between the two novels!

1989’s Twin Peaks was ground-breaking on several fronts, not least for its reticence to be shoehorned into any one genre. Lynch and his writing partner Mark Frost created something that was on the surface a crime drama, this morphed into something more like a soap opera, as the show became as much about the subplots of the inhabitants lives as the murder. Add to this mix quick-witted humour, sharp dialogue, cleverly drawn characters and increasing elements of horror and the absurd, and you have recipe that shouldn’t work on paper but which realises itself beautifully in practice. This is not to mention the show’s compelling dream-like soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Lynch is also one of the pioneers of cinematic television, taking a broad arc rather than episodic approach to the series and incorporating extended establishing shots of the North American landscape.

Did we want a new series? We hoped for it, but we were equally concerned that a new incarnation could tarnish the legacy of the original. Did we expect it? Most didn’t. Twin Peaks seemed so rooted in its particular time and place that it was hard to imagine the small-town charms breaking through into the 21st century. Yet there was always a sincerity in the prophecies of the original that made it hard to ignore Special Agent Dale Cooper’s final threat of “I’ll see you in 25 years” in the concluding episode.

Instead of the microcosm of 1989, Lynch presents an American odyssey grounded in 2017. Unbound by the constraints of a network he is free to indulge in what is almost painfully slow and intricate pacing. The iconography of the original is persistent, and the motifs recurring – Lynch, so it seems, is ultimately the show’s biggest fan. There are moments of genius (episode eight in particular) but whoever embarks upon this mammoth voyage must be warned that these instances of ecstasy come at the cost of hours of borderline tedium. The viewer, as much as the director, must suffer for his art.

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Lübeck: charmingly wonky

The weather this Sunday is disconcertingly mild for October, it seems stolen from a summer past or future, wrenched anachronistically into autumn. I cower in a room saturated with light. Creamy, lumpy walls that have a vaguely pebble-dashed texture encase me in their nondescript magnolia embrace. Sun streams in from a hunched over window – through this single portal a slice of serendipity filters into this wee attic flat in Seevetal.

Quarters are comparatively spacious, that is with slumming it in Edinburgh’s Buccleuch Street. The snows of Hamburg are yet to affront this fortress, but so far, the insulation seems sufficient.

Alas I must delineate the cons, for although I’ve finally had something of a success in the city’s hectic rental market, things could, as always, improve.

For a start, there is no kitchen. Well. There is and there isn’t. A plug-in hob rests on a shelf and there is at least a microwave; we’ve also been given the luxury of the use of a fridge-freezer.

There is no washing machine, which means that I must trek to the Harburg laundrette when I start to run out of clothes. The busses are frequent enough but not great logistically for weekends, when I’m going to have to crash or leave absurdly early.

Luckily administratively things seem to be heading in the right direction. I have a bank account and plastic, a sim card and university library membership. Hamburg’s library annoys me though. While I managed to withdraw the resources I needed, the process saddened me. It seems that you can’t take out books older than 10 years (most) from the shelves; one must order them and then they appear on a ledge next to your surname at some point the next day. To me that destroys all the fun of libraries, by which I mean the searching in old shelves, the smell of yellowed leaves and the discovery of the quaint, unexpected and most importantly, not directly relevant.

I must turn to matters less peripheral, to the reason I am where I am. The cause of my being at liberty to write such a tract are the Herbstferien, or October holidays. With no tatties to pick I’m free to explore the locality and reflect on my progress thus far, this greatly enabled by stable accommodation after a hellish Wohnungssuche and a rather gorgeous-looking, if a little impractical, bicycle.

The terms’ concluding fortnight has been an interesting one containing varied experiences, from correcting primary kids’ grammar to instilling considerable excitement about the world’s shortest scheduled flight. I finally managed to pick up and devour Lessing’s Emelia Galotti in a single night in preparation for a German literature class I’m helping with, only to be told the following morning that the students were on ‘Praktikum’ (some kind of work experience placement I presume). This particular edition, found filed in an entire wall of cute yellow Reclams, was purchased in the midst of a storm, which toppled several trees and left train tracks blocked, hence I had time to browse the Hauptbahnhof bookshop, waiting out the delay.

However, where some opportunities fell through others arose and I got to participate in one of the upper grade’s lessons concerning the theme of dystopia/utopia. Although the teacher was less than enthused, I was in my element. We watched a Black Mirror clip, Thomas More was on a PowerPoint slide and 1984 was set as holiday reading.

At the Immanuel Kant Gymnasium, the final week of term was known as Projektwoche. This meant that all five days were given over to a particular topic be it anti-bullying, health and well-being or drugs education. I chose to accompany the main class I work with on their HVV project, which stands for Hamburger Vekehrsverbund – the public transport system of the city. This, as well as the standard busses and trains, also includes public ferries on the river Elbe. In addition to learning the ins and outs of this system there were also many team building games, poster making and quizzes, which culminated in a class trip. Although I was not required to go on the main trip, which took the form of some kind of city-wide treasure hunt I believe, I did manage to help out on Friday, when the pupils went on an excursion to the Wildpark Schwarze Berge.

This safari park, contrary to most found in the UK (I think, though it’s not as if I’m a frequenter), was home to European native species only. While narrowing the field of exotica somewhat, this still allowed for the spotting of wolves, lynx, beavers and boar amongst other species. Our guide was very patient and knowledgeable, despite the inevitable interruptions cause by the intrusion of a wasp into the company of children.

Yesterday I began my personal exploration of the surrounding region by taking a train to the wonderful medieval town of Lübeck, lying northeast of Hamburg. The train station is subtle and refined and flooded by natural light, unlike grimy tiled Harburg’s insipid jaundiced glow and the Hauptbahnhof’s tenebrous interior. Once you step outside you realise you were housed in a building whose mock-medieval turrets will match the town to come. From here it’s only a short walk to the old gate, flanked by two chunky red-bricked towers topped by copper domes. The first thing you notice is how squint they are, emanating a markedly different vibe versus Berlin’s classical grandeur. It’s a sign of things to come – Lübeck’s charmingly wonky.

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The market square is surrounded by municipal buildings with heraldry indented in their sides. As far as emblems go, a double-headed eagle guarded by a red and white shield isn’t half bad. Passing under the arches I discover, having done minimal research pre-departure, that this town is renowned for marzipan manufacture.

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After a delightful (and most importantly, excellent value) lunch at an inexplicably Peter Pan themed restaurant, which plays the audiobook through speakers in the toilets, we wander down the many winding alleyways of Lübeck. Pastel coloured facades and higgledy-piggledy rooftops lace the descent to the dock, which resembles a sleepy sort of Speicherstadt but with more greenery and much less commerce. A quick peak in the door of one of the oldest municipal hospitals in the world and we’re ready to go home stocked with Süßigkeiten and Hanseatic pride.

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Ein Kölsch, bitte

I’m writing after the end of my first complete week in Germany, the country which will be my home for the year to come, and there is already a lot to tell.

This is how it went down:

Day 1: Edinburgh to Cologne

I fly from the Scottish capital, my home of two years and where I study German & English Literature at the university (the former part of my degree having a compulsory year abroad and the excuse for the whole adventure) to the most populous city on the Rhine to attend a four-day training course provided by the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst on behalf of the British Council, who organise a foreign language assistant exchange programme.

Arriving a little early, in order for me to be able to explore the city a bit before I’m whisked away to the relative seclusion of a place called Altenberg on the outskirts, I have some time to consider a couple of coincidences that seem to bode well for the year ahead. For a start, the notebook upon which I’m writing these reflections is a Leuchturm, not only made in Germany, but more specifically Hamburg, where I’m spending my assistantship. The second coincidence is relevant to Cologne; just the previous evening I’d had a last hurrah in Edinburgh with a good friend and after a delicious Thai meal we paid a visit to our regular craft beer paradise where they play B-movie horror films on low in the background. Anyway, I asked for a citrusy pale ale (it’s the kind of bar where that’s necessary, not solely pretentious by virtue of the regularly rotated selection of indie beers on tap) and I was presented with Kölsh – a beverage for which Cologne is renowned.

Day 2: A Tourist in Cologne

Only getting to the city in the early evening, I resolve to try and see as much of the sights as possible. The cathedral is impossible to miss and dominates the townscape (pardon the pun lol), it’s gothic architecture makes me feel oddly conflicted – I want to feel awe at what medieval society was capable of but knowing a bit of the history introduces something more complicated. It was only actually completed by 19th century enthusiasts when the middle ages were in vogue, and much of the structure is in fact a reconstruction after the intense bombing at the end of the Second World War. Adding to this, it’s hard to experience anything approaching spiritual when there is such an influx of tourist traffic, people taking selfies when a father instructs his children to kneel in prayer before a shrine etc.

Seemingly I have a knack for coming to Germany on open days, or that most of them fall in early September and that’s when I’m there. Today is Der Tag des offenen Denkmals and this meant that I got to explore the medieval Rathaus free of charge. Apparently, it is one of the oldest still in use in Europe. Part of it is highly modern, but the medieval sections are remarkably preserved. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the Reichstag building in Berlin in that it combines styles from different architectural eras. It evokes craftmanship, guilds and the hanseatic leagues.

I try to reach the cable car for a bird’s eye view over the Rhine, but it’s closed for repair and I only manage the botanical gardens. The chocolate museum seemed like a good deal for 9 euros and unlimited free samples in the guise of something educational, but the reality was about three pieces in total if you didn’t pay more.

Day 3: Arrival in Altenberg

Having walked around most of the city to the west of the Rhine, I decide to cross over to the east to kill a couple of hours before I travel, a bit counterintuitively, back to the airport where the rest of the language assistants are meeting to get the bus out to our training course. Apart from the rather grand Köln Messe/Deutz train station there is really not much there.

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On arrival in the airport I feel awkward, but conversation soon starts flowing. I’m able to relate an icebreaker anecdote about my lack of appreciation for “Wurst mit brötchen” being exactly that, with sausage and bun being completely separate items – to top if off even the Senf came in a separate plastic pouch.

It takes a bit of faffing but once we’re all in the coach, given rooms and fed we get quite an extensive admin talk. After this we’re told (to at least my surprise anyway) that the bar opens at half eight, and there’s nothing else to do in this place (apart from view the cross-denominational Cathedral with, apparently, the largest stained-glass window in Northern Europe, which is admittedly impressive) other than to make use of the facilities on offer.

Day 4: The course properly begins

We are taught how to teach.

Day 5: Final day

Employing these very freshly acquired skills, we give lessons we spent the previous day preparing. There is a pub quiz and I feel inordinately proud of myself for knowing who Heidegger is.

Day 6: To Hamburg

Some (most) had overindulged the night before, but somehow I ended up in one of the more sensible teams, so got off lightly. We are bussed back to the Bahnhof and several of us catch the train to Hamburg. I am seated beside a Canadian; more of them seem to know where Orkney is than English folk! We both get off in Harburg, where I meet my mentor, who tells me that the city has more bridges than Venice.

Day 7: Zur Schule

I commute south to the school I’m placed in. Correctly identifying the three pop-art style images of the philosopher after whom it’s named, I meet the head teacher, who seems to warm to me. The first class I observe have a lesson in Hispanics in the United States; the primary school pupils who follow them all come to the front and compare heights with me and find the question ‘do you have a girlfriend?’ absolutely hysterical. I wish I could see the funny side with the answer I give them…

Day 8: Some of the city is seen

Confirmed: Hamburg does have many bridges. Its canals, harbours and warehouse district are beautiful. Even what could be ugly concrete facades are transformed by the citizenry into vibrant and engaging murals.

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Day 9: A stroll around Altona

Pick a tourist attraction that’s open on a Sunday or is free; go there. This happened to be the Altonaer Balkon, which gives a magnificent view of the harbour and commercial cargo vessels. I have to squint to make them out in glorious sunshine. However, after a trip to the train station to scavenge some lunch the sky breaks with a crack to unleash a thunderous downpour and I’m forced to retreat to base for the day.

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The bleary pilgrim

Bundled into the Corsa. Beltless, unshaven and woozy. Despite its lack of a working radio I still love this car. The defunct Blaupunkt reads “SAFE” in all-caps instead of channel, or frequency. It couldn’t display track number; in this respect, alongside its winddown windows, it’s still very much in the analogue age with its cassette drawer only playing tapes – although I’m told they’re making a comeback too.

A drumstick air freshener swings erratically in vain from the useless volume knob, suspended by its elasticated cord. It attempts to mask a seemingly inerasable aroma; a legacy from the previous owner. It is within the cradle of this benevolent metal cage that my pilgrimage begins.

Now I’m sitting at the back of the kirk, pretty pleased with myself – I’m not even that hungover. Hours ago, I was spinning, loving life at a charity gig. I methodically determine the total sum of the previous evening’s consumption, then repeat it like a mantra in my head, thanking my luck that I wasn’t in a worse state. Mum arrives and I’m promptly told that I stink of drink. Not to worry tough, I’ve still got that chewing gum I purchased last night. As I slip the piece onto my tongue I curse myself for not reading the label properly at the till; not normally an impulse buyer, I am forced to endure its adolescent “bubblemint” flavour. Still, better than nothing, and should stave off the fumes.

The talk begins, and it’s a talk, not a service, with an update from the minister about the pilgrimage route’s official recognition from the local authority, and incidentally lack thereof, and the state of the interactive companion app’s development. I feel a bit of an imposter here on this soggy Saturday morning. The St Magnus way is a project part of commemorating 900 years since the patron of Orkney’s death at the hands of his cousin’s men. This eight-mile stretch I was about to embark upon was dedicated to that very same treacherous relative, Earl Haakon, who ruled the isles jointly with the aforementioned saint. It seemed appropriate that this excursion’s theme was forgiveness, as I felt a particularly heightened sense of the need for self-reconciliation as the walk progressed and my perception of reality became all the more acute.

Haakon is often cast as the villain of the piece when the story of St Magnus is related in a hastily constructed, morally black and white fashion to schoolchildren and adults alike. In place of the mythic archetype, Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, Norse history expert, presented us with a Haakon who was a great deal more complex than the legend would have us believe. She pointed to how the original source, the Orkneyinga saga of Icelandic provenance, glosses over the decade or so of peaceful rule the cousins presided over before their fateful confrontation on Egilsay. Haakon himself did not wish Magnus to die; it was the verdict of the people that only one could live and it ended up being a cook who swung the axe that killed him. Magnus’s murder is the deed that has defined Haakon in the popular consciousness. However, he went on to live for many more years after event, during which time there is evidence of his pilgrimage. Haakon’s further rule is described as being a prosperous time for Orkney in the saga. While Haakon did not pay for what he had done in his lifetime, during the joint rule of his son, Paul and Harald, Paul was inexplicably imprisoned and maimed; possibly as retribution for his father’s actions.

The next part of the talk concerned Rognvald – the guy who commissioned the building of the cathedral. Unlike pious, quite Magnus, Rognvald was a man of action who was aware of his talents; something which survives in the Old Norse poetry he left behind. One poem in particular drew laughter for its description of Jerusalem, during his visit on crusade (something as a Viking he would have doubtless enjoyed), as an overcrowded tourist attraction.

Friday night had been a wash out. Roads were closed and diversions advised. The resultant new burns and streams that had sprung up overnight out of the saturated heath seeped into walking boots and through socks, making for a squelchy plod across the hills.

My thoughts turned to the lost language of Norn – a kind of Norse/Scots crossover that was spoken up until the 18th century in Orkney, Shetland and Caithness. The Scandinavian countries have distinct languages – Danish, Swedish and Norwegian and yet they are mutually intelligible, to the extent that a Dane and a Swede could understand each other without having to change the language they spoke in much. I consider the possibility of a parallel universe which saw Norn’s continued evolution instead of extinction and mull over Scotland’s rejection of its own independence. What if this linguistic kinship had been maintained? Would we then have welcomed the chance to join into the Nordic family of nations?

These liminal spaces hold great interest for me; particularly the transition between pagan beliefs and Christianity taking place in the middle ages, to which I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to devote study last semester in my late medieval Europe elective course. This topic manifested itself at the most interesting point of the day when we stopped off at Naversdale, Dr Gibbon’s house, and the site of a remarkable discovery. Whilst deconstructing a drystone dyke, her dad found a piece of stone with what looked like a runic inscription on it. These runes were then translated. It turned out that this was part of the Lord’s prayer in Latin, which had been phonetically transcribed into Old Norse; an astonishing example of popular religion in the 12th century.

As we reach the crest of the final summit we are greeted by a field of alpacas in what is quite a surreal scene. Sheep bleat inanely whilst a wind turbine’s blades chop through the air in an oscillating drone overhead. It’s all downhill from here.

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I am the Ferryman

 

Midsummer’s in ten days and I’m eking out all I can of this year’s solstice light, situated as I am just a couple more degrees north of Scotland’s capital where I’ve been studying these past two years at the university. I’ve just learnt that in September I’ll be moving to Hamburg, or “Hamboich” in the local pronunciation (I’m not a pro linguist and most likely neither are you so I’ve put down my best phonetic representation here!), where I’ll be assisting pupils at the Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium in learning English through my British Council placement in the city. Having signed up to WG-Gesucht (Germany’s main flatmate/flat finding service) and made first email contact with my mentor at the school, I’ll be using the coming few weeks to plan for this part of my year abroad.

For me and for the UK it has been a week of significant changes. Although the end of my flat lease in Edinburgh lasts up until July I decided to apply for jobs here in Orkney too and I ended up getting employed in the Kirkwall office of the inter-island Ferry Services. I enjoy telling other people that “I am the ferryman”, but strictly speaking I do no such ushering of souls in person, rather I book people on the boats and sell tickets. In my first week I’ve learnt a lot and it makes a change of scene against a kitchen environment, although each have their advantages and drawbacks.

The political makeup of the country has obviously changed too this week, and I’m left unsure how to feel after the results of the general election came in. I see little cause for celebration even if the Conservatives were denied a majority. Looking across at the party they’ve been forced to appease to get votes through fills me with disgust and dread. Labour may gloat that they were able to defy their internal critics, but the hard truth is they weren’t able to win even if they are still trying to claim victory. With regards to Scotland, this seems to show a halt in SNP momentum and unfortunately the Tories have gained significantly. I maintain that independence is inevitable, but it seems that day has now been put off a good few years. In summary, and what I say here is not hugely original, it was an entirely pointless ballot where the debate, to a remarkable extent, ignored the issue with which it should have been most concerned: Brexit.

Barring all that, it’s nice to be home. I miss the coffee shops, the craft beer and the art school nights out, but there’s something unbeatable about the silence, the space, and the vast skies and seas. Here the nights are unpolluted by the sodium glow, daft singing drunk folk and the strut of oblivious heels ricocheting off the pavement and the stark stone streets.

People. There’s that too I’d have to admit. I embraced The Student this year. Metaphorically of course; I do like to keep that sort of thing to a respectable minimum if I can help it. I met many enthusiastic and talented people, and got the chance to write a lot of articles, which I think helped keep me sane. Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute remotely next year as a foreign correspondent (lol). Anyway here are some highlights if you haven’t had a chance to have a read:

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/marking-marxs-legacy-squabbling-over-socialists-statue/

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/public-service-broadcasting-take-a-trip-out-of-this-world-at-the-international-science-festival/

http://www.studentnewspaper.org/live-from-orkney-radio/

A less social pursuit this year at uni (in that for the most part I was talking to myself in a darkened room) was my flirtation with student radio. I presented a show entitled Flett-cetera on the Edinburgh student station FreshAir, which ended up sapping a lot of my creativity hence lack of blog. Here I talked about life in Orkney and local dialect, had guests on to talk about various cultural topics and read excerpts of poetry. My highlights were getting to interview one of my favourite bands at the moment, Happy Meals, and hosting a live session with The Motion Poets; you can have a listen to both of these below:

Aside from all that major stuff I’ve been watching the new Twin Peaks recently. Having only got into it last year I feel as if the wait for me isn’t enough to justify the intense satisfaction I feel when I see what appears to be the majority of the original cast returning to reprise their roles. The opening few episodes are just as sleek, charming and surreal as the series at its height and I would thoroughly recommend it to any past fans, or, to anyone who hasn’t watched the original, for them to go back and go through it from the beginning. It was ground-breaking TV back then and it continues to have the same power to confuse, bewilder, induce laughter and horrify in the here and now.

Musically I’ve been enjoying the new Toro y Moi single ‘A Girl Like You’ and the new Mac Demarco album, This Old Dog. In the former Chaz Bundick returns to his eighties synths away from the classic rock sound of his previous release ‘Omaha’ to delightful effect and this is of course accompanied by a lo-fi music video where the track finishes and then restarts to make the optimum four minutes twenty seconds mark; clearly, he is ignoring the cries in countless comment sections that vapourwave is dead. Certainly the kind of music that is literally just old 1980s tunes slowed down and pitched a few notes lower is over, but songs in their own right with a ‘wave’ vibe have proved more durable – the ‘chillwave’ label was artificially attached to Toro y Moi’s style by journalists in any case. It seems likely that the video released alongside the song is an ironic statement against those who liberally apply the vapourwave label, it does however revel in those retro sounds yet it somehow retains a simultaneous freshness.

Back to more serious matters. I’m hoping to get everything sorted for my year abroad within the next few weeks – the second semester of which I’m spending at the Universität Leipzig (Happy Meals say good things about the city, so it should be alright). Working 9-5 for the first time in my life is a bit weird, although I must say I do appreciate the more social hours after this free weekend. While politics has left me pessimistic, at least I’ll be getting out of the country fairly soon. I will definitely, and do miss Edinburgh, but I’m glad to be home and I look forward to next year.

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New Who Review

A puddle perplexes companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) in Doctor Who’s series debut, ‘The Pilot’. This strong opening episode should set the tone for executive producer, Stephen Moffat’s final year at the helm of the TARDIS.

After a year away from our screens, Doctor Who is back and finally, with the closure of Clara’s chapter (about whom fans’ views are mixed), we have the introduction of an intriguing new face to the time-travelling team. The episode’s name, although perhaps tongue-in-cheek, is appropriate because it seeks to establish all the fundamental aspects of the legendary science fiction character in a concise 50-minute timeframe. If this is indeed Moffat’s objective following the tying up of many loose ends in his last couple of series’ then he succeeds amicably in giving himself a positive fresh start.

We meet the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) having taken up a lecturing position at Bristol University of all places. More avid fans may know that this is not the first time the uni has been used a location for Doctor Who as parts of 2012’s ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, where a certain Oswin Oswald is introduced, were filmed around campus. Matt Lucas, who stars as the Doctor’s cyborg helpmate, Nardole (whose comedic quips largely fall flat), dropped out of Bristol in 1995 but received an honorary degree in February. The Time Lord’s lectures are proving popular, despite his teaching poetry when he is contracted to talk quantum physics, which he flippantly equates because of “the rhymes”. Canteen worker Bill is an interested onlooker; thus, their paths inevitably collide and he agrees to become her personal tutor.

The question of Bill’s sexuality, which was revealed in a misleading press release prior to the episode’s airing, was tackled pretty much head on from the start – the episode revolving around an instant attraction between her and an intriguingly melancholic woman. Capaldi’s doctor is never one to pry into the personal lives of those he travels with, so there is no cliched moment of recognition on his part, which plays out very fluidly and naturally.

On the pilot nature of ‘The Pilot’, exposition on is done well overall. The introduction of the TARDIS is highly amusing, with Bill mistaking the blue box for a ‘knock through’ and a lift respectively. Moffat’s comedic strengths shine through when Bill remarks with astonishment that because it is morning now, they must have travelled in time and the Doctor replies, “Of course not, we’ve travelled to Australia!” before flamboyantly revealing the Sydney Opera House behind him.

However, one aspect of the Doctor’s backstory was not handled so elegantly – that of the Time War and his exile from Galifrey. Making the trip to what was presumably the Time Lords’ home world just to make a half-formed point of exposition cheapens the Doctor’s origins, although admittedly it’s always nice to see Daleks, and the watery effect of the sentient puddle’s assuming the antsy battle-tank’s form was also aesthetically satisfying.

Pearl Mackie gives life to an interesting and outspoken character in episode one. If Mofatt restrains himself regarding overly complex plots and contrived resolutions, then this series looks set for success.

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The trip to the Time War is gratuitous, although the leaky dalek visually impresses.

 

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A refreshing take on technology: Public Service Broadcasting’s upcoming concert

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘the modern world’? You might groan in despair at the current state of global affairs. Perhaps you’re perplexed by our times in which social interaction is framed by the shareable; a seemingly impenetrable stat-fest of quantifiable appreciation. Or maybe you cringe every time you hear that irredeemable corporate buzzword of ‘innovation’. You can lament the loss of a more innocent age, or surrender to the inevitable tide.

Some however, separate modernity and the modern and take a more positive view, preferring to optimistically focus on that heavily-laden concept we call ‘progress’. It is this idea that the band Public Service Broadcasting choose to celebrate on their soon-to-be-released single of the same name. Featuring the vocals of Glaswegian twee pop group, Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, the song is a mission statement ahead of the duo’s forthcoming second studio album.

At a time when regressive politics abound and science funding is consistently below target, Public Service Broadcasting offer a refreshing outlook on the steady march towards societal betterment. They provide a counterpoint amongst the prevailing wind of apocalyptic rhetoric and self-righteous gloom.

The above song is a landmark, in that it is the first Public Service Broadcasting tune to feature original vocals. Most of their previous releases have used archive material from the BBC and other sources to give their ideas voice, which they then turn into compelling instrumentals, usually celebrating technology or human achievement in some way.

On Wednesday 12 April, the band will be performing the entirety of their last album The Race for Space, which takes the listener on a journey through the Space Race between the USA and USSR from an impartial perspective that looks at either side of the competition, and captures the spirit behind it in quite a beautiful fashion. The date of the concert is significant because it falls on Yuri’s night, or Gagarin day, and marks the anniversary of the launch of Vostok 1, the first manned space mission. Coincidentally, it is also the anniversary of the first space shuttle launch in 1981, which was planned to blast off on the tenth, but left two days late because of technical delays.

This is a track from said album The Race for Space, which came out in 2015, called ‘Go!’

‘Go!’ serves as a wholesome endorsement of what human beings can achieve if they put their minds to it. There is no real equivalent of such heroics going on today. However, I don’t really perceive anything approaching an unhealthy nostalgia here. While it was undeniably a Golden Era of exploration, by presenting a two-sided story over the course of the album, the band seek to distance themselves from the competitive aspect of the Race. Personally, I find their message uplifting, motivating and moving.

Below is a link to a track from the band’s debut EP, entitled ‘Spitfire’. Its focus is closer to home, although further back in time, historically speaking.

This is just a snapshot into the intriguing world of Public Service Broadcasting. Tickets are still available for their upcoming concert at Usher Hall this Wednesday 12 April, where they will be playing The Race for Space album in full accompanied by string quintet and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, as well as their usual wind ensemble as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

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