On 2019

on 2019 year in review alex moreland freelance journalist tv

Somewhere along the way, I think, I lost confidence in it all a little.

I did not write a lot in 2019. I checked the numbers – you can do this on WordPress, it’s really cool – and across 2019, I published 42 blog posts, totalling 34, 554 words, which is about half of 2018’s 60, 93 words across 99 blog posts, itself a considerable amount less than those halcyon days of 2017, when I published 240 articles. The numbers aren’t actually all that informative – I mostly post short excerpts of full articles published elsewhere, so I imagine the actual number of words written is much higher – but the trend, I think, says something.

There’s a couple of reasons why, none of which are especially interesting. I don’t have the regular Yahoo column anymore, that’s one. I moved to a different country (well, Wales, and only part time, but shut up, it sort counts), which was, in hindsight, probably a tad more disorienting than I ever really acknowledged at the time. But, in a slightly wider sense, I think I just lost track of why I was actually doing any of this at all.

I mean, it started out as a hobby, more or less. I stumbled into a job – it really only was a lucky coincidence that it started to pay, much as I insist that I’ve worked hard at it since – and efforts to turn it into a career have been elliptical at best. I think, sometimes, that I am quite good at writing; I am less convinced I am especially good at the things that would elevate it from a hobby to a career. Either way, it stopped being a hobby exactly – I am growing incapable of watching film or television without it feeling, at least a little bit, like work – and anyway, the money was never very good at all. Every so often, people on twitter will discuss their rates, the most and least they’ve ever been paid for an article – quite a lot of people’s least was much higher than the most I’d ever been paid.

And, I mean, that’s just the nature of it all, obviously. Journalism as an industry is shrinking: everyone knows print is dying, but look at digital too. BuzzFeed is one of very few actually profitable media outlets, and it laid off how many people this year? How many websites were bought and sold and mismanaged until they didn’t exist anymore? Staff writers are increasingly precarious, let alone freelancers. Everything pivots on how many clicks you can get, how quickly. I’ve freelanced for lots of different websites and publications over the years, but of the three outlets I worked with most, two of them have paid at least partially by the number of clicks I got for articles. (Which, yes, just the nature of it all, late stage capitalism, the Google/Facebook duopoly, I am not actually inclined to criticise either of those websites specifically, but in the general case this obviously is not conducive to healthy journalism. I mean, I wrote deliberately provocative stuff with a view towards getting higher views. Most of the time it didn’t work; one time, I ended up writing one of the most read Metro articles of 2017. That’s fine – well, ‘fine’ – if all you’re writing are relatively trivial hot takes about television, but as that sort of mentality starts to pervade and sweep across journalism more broadly, well, that’s not healthy for anyone.)

Which, you know, ties into the other thing. There’s a need, I think, for freelancers to start to develop a personal brand, to try and cultivate and grow that profile, because that’s the only way you’re ever gonna get those clicks. After a while it gets a little solipsistic, and you’re making spending a little too long thinking about constructed personalities and online artifice, and probably it’s all nonsense in the end anyway… but still. There’s a performance of Alex Moreland, Writer – because there has to be – and it’s becoming less a question of a creative voice, of a critical voice, but of a branded one, and there is something fundamentally very strange about trying to market your own constructed personality rather than your actual work.

I was reading a job listing recently, to be a political reporter – there’s a thought, how much value do I attach to entertainment and culture writing anymore, if I want to write is this still what I want to write – over at BuzzFeed. Not with a view towards anything in particular, I was just procrastinating. But anyway, for this job, you didn’t need a degree or an NCTJ… you needed to know how to go viral, you needed to have a lot of twitter followers, you needed to be good at TikTok. So I have a TikTok now, anyway. I’m not especially good at it.  Hopefully eventually though.

And, look, I am probably being very silly about all this. If nothing else, I still lost confidence in the actual words as written themselves. This isn’t entirely about all the associated ephemera: there was a lot of good old-fashioned writer’s block too.

Still. Somewhere along the way, this year, it stopped being fun. And that’s a shame, if nothing else.

This is not an announcement of retirement or anything, I will still be writing stuff to an audience of tens, you’ve nothing to worry about there. But I guess what I am saying – for myself more than any of you, dear readers – that this needs much, much deeper thought going forward if I’m going to make it work. For one thing, I probably need to figure out what it actually means for “it” to “work”! And hopefully, maybe, I’ll be able to figure out how to make it fun again… because if I’m not enjoying it then, well, what is the point?

So – brief (!) prelude over – here’s the work I was pleased with this year:

And that’s that! 2019, drawn to a close. Hopefully 2020 will bring… well, I’ll skip the traditional targets, if only because it’s getting increasingly dispiriting to look back on them a year later, still unfulfilled.

Hopefully 2020 will be fun.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The End of Time Part Two

doctor who the end of time part two review david tennant russell t davies

I wonder what I’d be, without you.

This was perfect.

It isn’t perfect, of course, but it was: the best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched. It was the best episode of Doctor Who a decade ago, and, for a little while, it was the best episode of Doctor Who again today.

At about ten past eight on New Year’s Day 2010, David Tennant became an actor again. He went to Hollywood, and didn’t find much success there; he came back to television, and did. David Tennant elevated an above-average coastal crime drama into must see television; David Tennant was one of the best parts of a nominal comic book adaptation already much better than its peers; David Tennant is going to be in a Channel 4 crime drama we’ll all have forgotten about by the time he’s in the ITV true crime drama we’ll all have forgotten about by the end of the year. But before all that, he wasn’t an actor. It’s not that David Tennant didn’t exist – he did, in magazine articles and Doctor Who Confidential and on the news and little trivia details about stage names and Pet Shop Boys – but rather that David Tennant was a distant afterthought, far less immediately material by dint of being genuinely real.

David Tennant is not a perfect actor. He is a very good actor, but he’s not a perfect actor; there is actually perhaps an argument to be made that he’s the weakest actor of the five who have played the part he’s most famous for since 2005, although at a certain point that’s just splitting hairs. He is very good at being charming; he is extremely good at making meaningless exposition entertaining (a skill not very many actors have, but any would need to be the Doctor). But David Tennant is not especially good at playing angry. Well, no, he is – it’s just that’s he’s very good at a very particular type of anger, of overt, immediate flashes of temper. For the most part, David Tennant doesn’t do subtle gradations: it’s a raised voice, a contorted expression, wild eyes. He does it very well, and he stays in that niche. (Admittedly, having said that, The End of Time Part Two is perhaps actually one of few places where he is very good at a subtler, rising anger.) That’s obvious watching, say, The Idiot’s Lantern in 2016; less so in 2006.

Except, he wasn’t an actor in 2009, nor had he been for a few years at that point. David Tennant was the Doctor – just the Doctor. For all that Christopher Eccleston existed, or Paul McGann existed, or Peter Cushing existed, or Tom Baker in The Hand of Fear existed, David Tennant was the Doctor. It’s not a question of acting or of craft or of performance – it simply was.

He was perfect. And he was perfect again, today, for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched.

doctor who the end of time part two russell t davies david tennant review

Russell T Davies is not a perfect writer either.

He is a very good writer, though. In the years since he left Doctor Who, he’s written some of my favourite television, full stop. I loved Cucumber, with all its idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, probably the most personal piece of drama I’d ever seen when I watched it. A Very English Scandal was brilliant, one of my favourite television programmes of 2018. Years and Years, too, found its way onto my end-of-year best of list. It felt vital and current and so entirely in tune with the zeitgeist, a perfect expression of a very 2019 set of anxieties. Some of it was amongst Davies’ best work – the fourth episode is perhaps one of the most impactful things he’s ever written. But it also wasn’t perfect, its ending, perhaps, a little overly simplistic. It’s difficult to write a story about a world falling into fascism, and then write a solution to that, because, well, we don’t have a solution to that at the moment – and it certainly isn’t going to be “if only people knew the full extent of what was happening”, because, well, we more or less do.

But that’s an adult criticism of an adult drama. If the moment-to-moment plot mechanics of Doctor Who don’t entirely make sense, well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure how much I would’ve noticed that a decade ago… but even then, I’m not sure how much I would’ve cared. Davies’ emphasis was a writer was never about those plot-based details, but instead on stories that made emotional sense. (You can see the same style in Years of Years, although there perhaps that strength of Davies’ becomes something of a flaw.) Because Doctor Who was the first television drama I really engaged with outside of cartoons, I’m similarly minded; I’m generally a lot less inclined to worry about plot mechanics as I am character and theme.

Which is to say, I suppose: the final montage is perfect. It’s not, obviously – even outside of the unfortunate racial implications of Martha and Mickey’s marriage, that whole scene is just a bit rubbish – but it is, actually, too. I’m not sure there’s really any way that this iteration of Doctor Who could end, and it genuinely doesn’t feel, to me at least, smug or egregious or self-satisfied. It’s exactly the goodbye the series warranted. Watching it, it’s perfect.

In 2009, this was perfect. And The End of Time Part Two was perfect again, today, for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched.

doctor who the end of time part two david tennant tenth doctor regeneration euros lyn review

That, I suppose, is always where this was headed. If Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor was about the gap between Alex, the ten-ish-year-old watching Doctor Who, and Alex a decade later, now demonstrably a weighty intellectual and accomplished television critic (hahaha), then that’s the point in the end – there isn’t a gap at all. Sure, we all change, all through our lives, and that’s okay, so long as we remember the people we used to be.

But more to the point, the conclusion isn’t “this was perfect a decade ago”, although it was. The point is that it can still be perfect today. Not above critique, no, because if nothing else, that takes the fun out of it. The two approaches can and do exist alongside one another: I love it, and that’s why it’s worth criticising it, worth engaging with it. Doctor Who is perfect because of its flaws, despite its flaws, inseparably from its flaws. Sometimes it’s genuinely awful, and worthy of real, targeted critique – again, I’m reminded of The Idiot’s Lantern – but it is, I think, quite easy to reconcile that with a love of it, and an enjoyment of it. And, in fact, a very current enjoyment of it: even if it isn’t always very good, the best episode of Doctor Who is still the last episode I watched.

It feels, admittedly, like an almost entirely unnecessary point to make. It should be, really – the idea that you can love something wholeheartedly, yet still criticise it in turn, feels immediately quite intuitive. But it’s worth restating anyway, I suppose, particularly considering what the more mainstream view of these things is, or is becoming: that you’re not a real fan if you ever criticise something. But, well, that’s just silly. And that’s what this has always been about. Doctor Who is perfect because I loved it when I was ten, it’s perfect because I love it now, and it’s perfect because it’s imperfect, because I can review it and criticise it and find it wanting, and love it all the same.

Thus it ends, as it must. Doctor, I let you go. Sontarans perverting the course of human history. We’re all stories in the end, so make it a good one. You were fantastic, and so was I.

I don’t want you to go. But, well, you never really did.

10/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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