Author Archives: Paul

Doctor Who: The Missing Generation

This is a post I wrote for the apparently defunct ‘Sidekickcast’ website, back in 2012. I’m reposting it here, partly because there’s a current ‘controversy’ going around about younger people having opinions on Doctor Who. Whilst it doesn’t directly address that, it does wonder about the role of the so called ‘missing generation’ in fandom.

You can blame Doctor Who for a lot of things in my life, least of all the job I’m in now. It all started in the early nineties, when, in the build up to the show’s thirtieth anniversary, the Museum of the Moving Image hosted an exhibition called ‘Behind the Sofa’. Unfortunately, MOMI, as the museum was nicknamed, is no longer there, its place now taken by the British Film Institute. But the exhibition sparked an interest in the show for me, which, despite the programme being off the air at the time, was more than quenched.

Look at most interviews with people involved in the show today, or more generally in society at large, and the overwhelming consensus is that Tom Baker was by far and away the best actor to play the part of the Doctor. Similarly, a kind of shared national myth has grown up around his tenure in the role – almost as if to be a fan of the show, to any degree, you must have grown up in the seventies, watching from ‘behind the sofa’, with Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen as your friends wandering through time and space.

The question “Who’s your favourite Doctor, then?” has always baffled me, therefore. Just as 2006’s School Reunion seemed to take on an extra weight of importance because of the return of Sarah-Jane Smith, the nostalgia factor has never really rung true with me. We speak a lot about the difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Who fans, with the assumption being that the former grew up when the programme was on the air. But there’s a missing generation in between. A generation who never really had ‘their’ Doctor.

Growing up as part of this ‘missing generation’ has been a blessing in disguise, I’d argue. For starters, shortly after the exhibition at MOMI, the fledgling satellite channel ‘UK Gold’, still in existence today, albeit with a baffling acronym retro-fitted, began showing the entire run of the ‘original’ series. Every single story that wasn’t missing, presumed wiped, from 1963 to 1989, was shown, generally an episode a day, with a re-run of an entire story on the weekend.

Suddenly, this show which was most definitely not going to be made anew in my formative years, was available in a way that those who had grown up watching the show had never experienced. Whereas those fans had lived through the various incarnations of the Doctor, the show aging at the same pace as their own lives, those of us who hooked on to UK Gold’s transmissions, were immersed in the equivalent of speed reading the complete works of Charles Dickens.

Over the course of about three years, therefore, we were able to assimilate almost thirty years worth of episodes. For me, this meant that it became the most consistent programme on television in my childhood – a story every week, only really stopping to catch its breath at Christmas and New Year – far more regular than during the original run.

It also meant that there was no particular emotional attachment to any of the characters. Perhaps that’s a shame, but I think it meant that we were able to appreciate and enjoy the contributions of all of the Doctors, companions, guest appearances and so on, on an equal level. It also meant that the prevailing mood in fan circles during the mid-nineties, which was one of general stoic acceptance that the show probably wasn’t returning, along with an affectionately humorous critical approach to the show’s past, chimed particularly well with me. It was a shame that it wasn’t coming back, but as a body of entertaining, imaginative adventure fiction, it was up there with the best.

Of course, during those ‘missing’ years, the fans kept the flame of the show alive. So called ‘false dawns’ such as the two BBC radio plays starring Jon Pertwee, the various online animations with past Doctors, and of course the 1996 television movie with Paul McGann, were incredibly exciting, because they were the nearest we were going to get to having ‘our’ own Doctor. Which is why it’s still fascinating, and brilliant, to me now that the show is regarded as such a hot property – this show was dead as the proverbial parrot – but no longer. That doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of the new episodes. Indeed, I would hope that the rapid deep dive of the mid-nineties helped fans take a step back and both appreciate the wonders of the modern series, as well as constructively critiquing its occasional flaws.

But what’s the future for Doctor Who? In 2013, it will be the show’s fiftieth anniversary. It’ll be approximately twenty years since I first encountered the TARDIS. Those who kept the flame alive during the mid-nineties were in their twenties and thirties, starting out on their careers, and are now running the show. As fans, and writers, they’ve combined the best of their craft with the love of the show, to make something, on the whole, excellent.

Russell T Davies pointed out in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential, that now that the show had returned successfully once, it could do the same again, forever more. That isn’t to say it’ll run continuously. Indeed, another rest might need to happen. Those who are growing up watching Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, will hopefully be inspired in the same way that Davies, Moffat, Gatiss and so on have been.

But in between the current writers, and those who are watching now, that missing generation still lurks. Once Steven Moffat and his generation of fans have moved on, will the show be as good in the hands of those who are excellent at producing television, but weren’t around for the UK Gold repeats? Will it be better for that separation? Or will the ‘missing generation’ take its place and provide the continuity between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’? Time will tell. It always does.

2017 Year Notes

2017 is a year that, personally speaking, I suspect I’ll look back on fondly. Inspired by Alyson, here’s my 2017 ‘year notes’.

My 2017 in nine photos.

My 2017 in nine photos.


When I left the BBC and joined Springer Nature in September 2016, I did so with the aim of getting more experience in product management. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have ideas I’d like to bring to fruition in my career, and having a few years of product management experience would be no bad thing.

2017 certainly delivered on the promise of ‘experience’. Together with a small but determined team, we grew ‘Recommended’ from an experimental prototype to a fully launched product across all of Springer Nature’s journal portfolio, with data-informed experiment-driven product development at its heart.

It may be a cliche, but it was an excellent ‘learning experience’ for me, and the team were one of the best I’ve been a part of since the days at the BBC working on the /programmes platform.

Extracurricularly, aside from a workshop at World IA Day back in February, I made progress, but failed to finish off, parts of my main side project – A Craft of Storytelling. It’s still something I’d like to persevere with, though, and hopefully something from it will see the light of day in 2018.

The book that I’d been helping to edit, ‘Designing Connected Content’, was published in December, which was a lovely way to end the year. The book is a distillation of the domain-driven design approach to UX and content strategy, essentially summing up my practice when in an information architecture role, so it serves as a good book-end to that phase of my career.


After a somewhat fallow 2016, I was lucky enough to go on three holidays this year – a trip to Salerno in May, a mini-tour of Europe (Paris, Girona, Barcelona and back to Paris) before my birthday in July, and a mediterranean cruise with my brother in September. Travelling through Europe (France, Spain and Italy in May) was a highlight – it was so easy and stress free, I’d certainly do it again.

Aside from holidays, what else happened?

– Saw Chelsea win the league (again) in my 23rd season as a season-ticket holder.

– Attended a ‘Parks and Recreation’ themed dinner party

– Went bouldering for the first time

– Enrolled in an ‘Introduction to Acting’ evening class

– Played Settlers of Catan for the first time, and started a ‘legacy’ board game, Seafall (still in progress!)

– Treated myself to an Ableton Push.

2017 is the year that unfortunately, social media became more of a net negative than positive for me. I’ve made many good friends on Twitter, enjoy Instagram and still use Facebook, but the move to obtuse algorithmic-driven news feeds and timelines has been hugely frustrating. I’ve increasingly grown tired of the technology industry’s fascination with machine learning and algorithms as a panacea, and viewing Twitter has become an 80% depressing and angry experience. Which is a shame.

Highlights of the year


Orphan Black was my stand-out, favourite show of the year, by a mile. Sure, it drags a bit at the beginning of the third series, and the final episode was rather different to what I was expecting, but as an action-packed, entertaining thriller, with frankly amazing performances from Tatiana Maslany, it blows everything else out the water.

Parks and Recreation continues to be my go-to show when I’m in need of comfort TV; Toast of London was fun; The Good Place shined, and Star Trek: Discovery had a slow start (the Klingons are so boring!) but picked up well towards the end (I can hear you, Clem Fandango..) Halt and Catch Fire made a late run for my new addiction, but it’s not quite there yet.

Doctor Who, my first love, was…OK. Capaldi was excellent, the writing was patchy. Really looking forward to Jodie Whittaker’s stint in the lead role, though I’m slightly nervous about Chris Chibnall taking over (Bradley Walsh as a companion?), though I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that. I’d have voted for the Orphan Black show runners, myself.


A quiet year for music, partly due to swapping to Google Play Music in Spring. Discovering Matt Berry’s music (via Toast of London) was a good thing – ‘The Small Hours’ and ‘Witchazel’ especially.

‘Concrete and Gold’ by the Foo Fighters was probably my album of the year.


– Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
– Complex TV, by Jason Mittell
– The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone

Special mention, although it’s a report, rather than a book, to Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakhshan’s ‘Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking’ – sounds dry, but is an excellent read, and it could prove to be extremely influential and useful in the coming year.

Looking forward

Work-wise, I’ll be taking over as the Product Manager for BMC and Springer Open, and I look forward to getting more experience running a site.

I’d like to overcome my frustrations at never really grokking musical theory, in order to learn to use the Ableton Push properly.

I’ll be speaking at World IA Day Manchester in February, on the topic of what we can do to deal with the current journalistic/information landscape, and I hope to be able to make concrete contributions to improving journalism, society and culture next year, too. Something to pull the world out of the socio-political nose dive that has been 2016-17.

I’m acutely aware that I don’t do as much as I could, or as others I know, do, but I do think the things I want to do in my career, long-term, will help.

Aside from that, I need to get into the discipline of exercising more (as always!), improving my diet slightly, and overcoming my instinctive lack of social confidence to get out there, meet new people and make new friends.

Thank you to Alyson, Sian and Daniel for being travel buddies and great friends this year. Wishing you all, and everyone else reading, a healthy, happy and good new year.


The Future is Now

I will be watching Back to the Future Part 2 tonight. Because the film means something to me.

When I was about five or six years old, I had a cassette player, and a tape with an abridged audio book of Back to the Future – with a storybook of photos and captions from the film to accompany it. I adored it.

I enjoyed the story for the time travel, but mainly for the sheer adventure of it. But the second film, although regarded not as favourably by others, was the one I fell in love with.

My brother informs me that we watched the second film on VHS from Blockbuster video, in preparation for the release of the third film. This was my Star Wars – a film series that I was just the right age for, exploding my imagination.

It was almost certainly the first story I encountered with time travel and paradoxes. The way it revisits the events of the first film, putting a different spin on it, but throwing those events into jeopardy – that sense of danger and narrative complexity, of truly riffing off of established events, making a sequel which is so much more than ‘just another film in the series’ – all of this has had so much of an influence on what I enjoy.

It could even be considered the most formative influence in terms of the kinds of narrative, and adventure stories, I like – predating my first exposure to Doctor Who by a number of years. It definitely shaped my status as a fan not of sci-fi in general, but of that core of adventure, and enjoyment.

But the thing that grabbed me – that still makes me punch the air – is that ending. The cliffhanger, the way it propels the action forward, at a point when you think it’s all been solved. Yes, the first film has “…where we’re going, we don’t need roads..”, but that’s merely a “..and here’s what happens next..”. This cliffhanger is “we’ve just solved everything – but now everything you know has been thrown for a loop”. There’s a sense of real, traumatic danger, which you’d probably only otherwise get, perhaps at the end of the third act, normally.

And then the ‘coming soon’ – again, probably my first, accompanied by the fact we’d see the conclusion in the cinema!

Today has significance, as one of those days where the lines blur between fiction and reality, and you think – but what if?

It’s what fires my imagination, keeps me wanting to write – it shapes our culture.

Which is why it’s saddening to see so many hollow references to the films over social media today. As if merely the shallowest of links to the iconography of the series will somehow ‘engage’ people. It’s tasteless, really. Even the appearance of the Delorean car, seemingly everywhere, totally ruins the magic.

So you can keep your snark and your promotional, opportunistic tweets. I’ll be watching the film again, and when that music plays, I’ll be a grinning six year old, all over again.


A photo posted by Paul (@r4isstatic) on

Complex TV – An Introduction

I’ve been tracking Jason Mittell’s ‘Complex TV’ book for a while now. He’s been writing it ‘in the open’, as it were, and although I didn’t really get a chance to get into the book as it was being written, I snapped it up once the final version was available on Kindle. And then I devoured it within a couple of weeks.

There’s a lot of good stuff within its pages. You can buy the book itself here – I highly recommend it for anyone interested in how TV (and narrative more generally) has developed in the last twenty years or so.

Some of it is probably stating the obvious to anyone with a passing interest in analysing narrative, but the way they are formulated, together with plenty of insightful passages which taught me a lot, makes it a very useful book as a whole.

Disclaimers – the book does take a mainly American focus. There are some mentions of British TV shows, but the focus is firmly on US programmes. I’d love to see an equivalent for several other shows, too. The book also almost exclusively deals with serialised narrative, as opposed to stand alone films or one-off dramas. And finally, spoilers do abound, so, sorry about that.

Now, originally I was going to do a single blog post, in the manner of Phil Gyford’s book-notes, summarising and highlighting parts of the book. However, as it stands, I have 375 highlighted passages, so instead, and rather appropriately, this is going to be a serialised set of notes – starting here, with the introduction. I’ve included the Kindle location references in brackets after each quote, and linked to the equivalent paragraph online (where possible), for ease of lookup – though sometimes the language will have changed slightly between the online and Kindle versions.


One of the key parts of the introduction is to justify, quite rightly, why anyone should be interested in the subject:

“The idea that viewers would want to watch — and rewatch — a television series in strict chronology and collectively document their discoveries with a group of strangers was once laughable but is now mainstream.” (137)

“One of the chief reasons that complex television has become a mainstream trend is the broad availability of online fan sites to facilitate collective discussions and decoding practices among fans, so these sites can provide research resources for accessing and understanding consumption practices among a program’s dedicated and engaged viewership.” (211)

“…it is vital to remember that the type of die-hard fan who participates in forums, creates remix videos, or seeks out spoilers is not a typical television viewer. But the rise of online fandom has made a fan who does embrace such practices less of a fringe outlier and more one who resides on one end of a spectrum of engagement.” (238)

“…it seems fair to imagine that the practices of this comparatively small number of participatory viewers represent broader interests that matter to a significant segment of the program’s viewership.” (245)

So far, so obvious – but a crucial point – yes, this is still probably a ‘niche’ behaviour amongst people who watch TV, but it is a growing phenomenon, and one which is worth study. Another reason for giving this behaviour validity is to acknowledge the fact that technology has changed, making this kind of analysis much more accessible and possible, to a wider set of the audience. This is what people do when they have access to this kind of technology. Those who create narrative in any media, given the technological context of today’s society, would be foolish, therefore, to dismiss this section of the audience entirely – though of course it shouldn’t mean that huge budgets should necessarily be poured into supporting this, separate from the actual production of the narrative.

The book’s focus – poetics

“This book is not focused on analyzing meanings as conveyed by television narratives. Instead, I aim to explore how such meanings are given expressive possibility through the form of televised stories, analyzing how such content is conveyed via storytelling.” (158)

“Poetics can be defined broadly as a focus on the specific ways that texts make meaning, concerned with formal aspects of media more than issues of content or broader cultural forces — in short, the guiding question for poetics looking at a cultural text such as a television series is “how does this text work?” This focus on poetics is different from more common questions of interpretation, which seek to answer “what does this mean?” or of cultural power, asking “how does this impact society?” ” (176)

The vast majority of scholarship in this area tends to focus on the meaning (and thus the societal, cultural and political importance) of particular narratives. That is obviously important, but is not the focus here – it’s the mechanics and architecture which are of interest. Mittell goes on to define three forms of poetics that the book is concerned with:

Historical poetics

“Historical poetics situates formal developments within specific contexts of production, circulation, and reception, where innovations are viewed not as creative breakthroughs by visionary artists but at the nexus of numerous historical forces that work to transform norms and possibilities.” (190)

Cognitive poetics

“…account[s] for how viewers engage with texts…we can best understand the process of viewing (or reading literature) by drawing on our knowledge of cognition and perception and then positing how the formal elements in a text might be experienced by such a viewer — while viewers are not reduced to their mental mechanics, the insights of cognitive psychology inform how we imagine the possible ways that viewers engage with film or television.” (200)

This is probably the most interesting one for me, personally. I’ve found it continually frustrating that people within the media industry talk of television viewers as ‘passive’. Whilst this may be the case for those who use the screen as background wallpaper, I would argue that anyone who is at all engaged with what’s happening on screen is far from passive, at least mentally, if not physically.

Reader-oriented poetics

“…reader-oriented poetics that fuses literary reader-response criticism with close analysis of televisual form…”

This form of poetics is closely associated with Robert Allen, who:

“…in his landmark study of daytime soap operas; Allen explores the genre’s formal elements as creating potential pleasures, interpretations, and modes of engagement for its viewers, and he cross-references that analysis with a history of the genre’s reception.” (207)

The narrative as network

Mittell then goes on to talk about another aspect which fascinates me – the impact of network culture (something that James Bridle and Kate Eltham have explored in particular), on serialised narrative:

“…we cannot treat a text as a bounded, clearly defined, stable object of study. Especially (though not exclusively) in the digital era, a television program is suffused within and constituted by an intertextual web that pushes textual boundaries outward, blurring the experiential borders between watching a program and engaging with its paratexts. Similarly, the serial text itself is less of a linear storytelling object than a sprawling library of narrative content that might be consumed via a wide range of practices, sequences, fragments, moments, choices, and repetitions.” (216)

“…texts only come to matter in their consumption, circulation, and proliferation, and thus when I discuss the forms and structures of complex television programs, I treat them as part of a lived cultural practice, not a static, bounded, and fixed creative work. To understand television textuality, we must look beyond what appears on a single screen to explore the range of sites where such texts are constituted, and serially reconstituted, through practices of cultural engagement.” (223)

To which I can only say – yes, yes, yes. This is exactly why we need to consider the Web (URIs & hyperlinks) as a natural form for narrative in the modern age.

…and finally, a definition

…which is always useful, right?

“A basic definition of television serial storytelling charts out this terrain: a television serial creates a sustained narrative world, populated by a consistent set of characters who experience a chain of events over time.” (277)

It’s worth reading the whole of that paragraph, in truth. It also makes the distinction between the ‘narrative discourse’ and the ‘story’ – the former being the way the story is conveyed, the latter being the actual plot and so on. But of particular interest to me here are the concepts of a sustained narrative world (echoing the ‘design to be permanent’ ethos of the Web), and a chain of events over time, which speaks to the ‘storyliner’ within me – things I’ve explored both in the Stories and subsequent Storyline ontologies.

Next time – ‘Complexity in Context’ (read the online version of the chapter, here)

From Void, to Matter, to Meaning

Earlier today, Dan Klyn retweeted a piece by Cennydd Bowles entitled ‘Void and matter’. It’s an interesting spin on the age old question of ‘what is information architecture?’, and more specifically, how the practice differs from other types of User Experience Design, such as Interaction Design.

Back in 2008, I had no idea what information architecture was. I started to attend the BBC’s IA team meetings, thanks to the generous invite of Karen Loasby, despite me not being a member of that team just yet, and there was plenty of talk of ‘defining the damn thing’.

More recently, Abby Covert, amongst several others, has done stirling work to reinvigorate the practice and consideration of IA. I’m loathe to open up the definition can of worms, but I started thinking about it in response to Cennydd’s piece, and I came up with this:

Information Architecture is the design of structures and/or systems that communicate meaning.

By which I mean — almost everything in the world conveys meaning of some sort, whether it is intended to, or not. Hence apophenia (23). But when you do design things in order to communicate some kind of meaning or idea, you are designing an information architecture. This, of course, sounds similar to ‘information design’, I suppose — though I’d argue the latter is perhaps less focused on structures and systems.

If you ever find yourself looking at a piece of web design (let’s narrow it down to that for now), and you wonder — but what does it actually mean, what is it trying to communicate? Then you’re thinking with an information architecture hat on. And, more importantly, to not consider the meaning, or indeed the perception, or what exactly someone is meant to take away from your design, is a huge failing. Which is why I can’t understand UX processes that don’t seriously make time for IA — and probably why IAs who do care so passionately about the meaning of things do get so easily drawn into ‘defining the damn thing’.

Anyway — to Cennydd’s piece directly. What I very much like is the distinction between designing “things that are smaller” than the designer, and “things that are larger”. It reminds me of the old adage that you should always design your product, system, platform or service to be able to fit into a larger system. Don’t just think of your work as the be all and end all — allow it to enable things you’ve not even thought of.

Cennydd also makes an interesting metaphor in “designing the void” versus “designing the matter”. But here’s where I’d like to stress something — designing the matter is absolutely information architecture as well. This isn’t a criticism of the piece — there are no definitive ‘correct’ answers here — I’d just like to offer my spin on something I feel really needs to be highlighted, else IAs (and other UX folk) feel they’re off the hook.

The examples that Cennydd gives — “the tools people manipulate. Materials with properties and responses”. Now, more than ever, information architects need to get involved here. Because the matter we’re creating on the Web is made almost entirely of information structures.

Think about APIs, think about URIs for Things, think about domain driven design with its classes and properties — those are the tools we make available to manipulate, these are the things that we grapple with on the Web.

Information Architects need to be involved in designing the matter on the Web. Interaction Designers need to understand APIs, URIs for resources, linked data (yes, I know), REST and so on. Because that is the raw material we’re dealing with here — networked, interactive information. Designing the matter is the real Web design. And whatever your UX leaning, understanding that is key to harnessing the wonderful medium we have at our disposal.

This post is also available on Medium.