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Fourth Series

In which FP rants about Being Human’s writers not being able to coherently plot from series to series


This blog still gets quite a lot of hits from people searching for the locations used in the BBC supernatural drama series Being Human, particularly the house used in the first couple of series. Now, I wrote quite a bit about those two series on here, partly because at the time we lived in South Bristol, the series was filmed largely in South Bristol, and it was quite an enjoyable thing to watch. The last time I wrote about it, though, was to (successfully) predict one of the plot-lines of Series Three; however, when that series made it onto the screen ,I hardly wrote about it at all. I hardly wrote about it because, to be honest, I didn’t think it was very good.

Now, with at least two major characters killed off* at the end of Series Three, you might have wondered whether it was coming back. Google says that Series Four was announced back in March, but I have to say I didn’t notice. I did notice, however, more of those little pink filming location signs which used to pop up all over Bristol. Not by the Black Castle this time, so no more “Box Tunnel” plotline. Instead, this year, filming is going on in (drum roll) Newport, South Wales. Newport, the town city so good they called it Newport! Newport, on the beautiful River Usk, where you can get shot while having your hair done before getting your head stuck in a disused train. It’s that good.**

Newport might be awful, depressing and run down, but Cardiff has plenty of areas like that too. So, the next series of Being Human is going to feature: some sort of dramatic, thrilling climax based around the Newport Transporter Bridge. It’s essentially the only unique thing Newport has; and if you’re going to feature it, you may as well be dramatic about it. Well, either that, or the Manic Street Preachers are going to pop up in the background, which is less likely.

Noticing that Being Human is coming back, and writing this post, has made me think about exactly why I don’t think it is any good any more; why I think it shouldn’t come back. The biggest problem I have with it, I think, is that its writers don’t really have any sense of how to expand on their fictional world but still retain believability. Each series might make sense on its own, but the three series that have been produced so far, put back to back, make no sense at all as a single work: each new series has introduced new elements which completely break the world already established.

If you’ve watched it, you might be wondering what I’m talking about here. So, I’ll elaborate. Stop reading now if you have never seen the programme but might want to watch it in the future.

Series one: we have Emotionally-Tortured Pre-Raphaelite Vampire, trying hard to give up on the whole “killing people” thing; and Evil Villain Vampire, who is going to take over the world and doesn’t see any place for brooding emotional types who think they can live alongside humans in his worldview. Evil Villain Vampire is working in the police, so he can keep vampires under-cover and make sure their crimes don’t get exposed. E-T P-R V learns to rely on his friends, who defeat Mr. Evil Villain – in the workplace, note – and forestall the great vampire takeover. Sorted.

Series two: E-T P-R V and friends are fighting against some religious “scientists” who are trying to cure evil, and exterminate it if curing it doesn’t work. Our vampire protagonist is still being broody because he’s having trouble with the whole not-killing-people thing again. So, introduce Morally-Uplifted Mentor Vampire, who gave up blood-quaffing as a dead loss some centuries back, and who, way back before the start of Series One, taught Mr E-T P-R Vampire how to not kill people to begin with.

Now, this plotline might all make sense if M-U M Vampire (ooh, an apt acronym) lived somewhere exotic, somewhere difficult for a Totterdown resident to get to.*** Or, alternatively, if he’d**** been off on holiday somewhere, out of contact, for the whole of Series One. Touring the Amazon, perhaps, or spending three years trainspotting in Iceland. The only sensible explanation, indeed, is that that was indeed the case and it just isn’t mentioned: because it turns out that M-U M Vampire lives in a very nice house, literally a stone’s throw from E-T P-R Vampire’s workplace – where, remember, the Final Denoument took place in the previous series. Literally a stone’s throw. Not only did Evil Villain Vampire not notice, in the previous series, that an active let’s-not-kill-people mentor character was living two minute’s walk away, but E-T P-R Vampire could have popped round for some advice and a cup of tea in his afternoon break, and still got back to work before anybody noticed.

Series Three: the religious chaps have been defeated, the Core Team have moved to Wales, and the Evil Villain Vampire might not have been defeated quite so thoroughly as we all thought. But, what’s this? There are some other vampires! Who may or may not exist, of course. They might be somewhere in the depths of the Amazon, or they might be deeply under-cover in a second police team devoted to making sure vampire killings don’t get exposed. However, all the vampires are well-aware that these Old Vampires may exist, or may be just a myth that vampires pass down from generation to generation. All the vampires are well aware of the myth, even though it was never previously mentioned. In Series One, Evil Villain Vampire was planning to take over the world, was planning to become Vampire King Of The World, indeed, and nobody seemed concerned that there may, just may, be some possibly-mythical Old Vampires who might still be around and might disagree. In Series Three, it turns out, they were working in the same business as Evil Villain Vampire all along! But didn’t think it worth doing a thing about him, didn’t bother stepping in – although we’re presumably meant to assume that they would have stopped things going too far.

Basically, my point is that: Being Human hasn’t been thought through. It’s been planned one series at a time, and each time a series is made, the previous one isn’t even thought of. No doubt Series Four will introduce some other new characters: maybe a Great Pack of werewolves convinced that werewolves are going to take over the world, which everyone has heard of before and cunningly forgotten to mention. Or maybe the Old Vampires are going to turn out to include the team’s landlord from Series One, who hasn’t been seen for a while. Either way, something new will no doubt come in, and if the previous series are anything to go by, it will be something which would have made a vital difference to everything that has gone before, if we had actually known about it.

I will stop ranting, now. There are ways to do this sort of thing properly, but Being Human is probably beyond recovery. The annoying thing is, it would have been much better if someone had sat down, right at the start, and said: if we do get more than one series, what way will we go? And what do we have to do now, to make sure we can?

* Given that several characters are either dead or undead, and one has been “killed off for good” once before only to return when the writers ran short of plot, this is possibly not a useful measure of whether or not it will return.

** It’s hard for me to describe what an awful place Newport is, seriously, without you thinking I’m exaggerating for comic effect. Doctors in Newport have been known to use “move well away from Newport” as a treatment for clinical depression. Visiting Newport (in the 2010s) is like visiting a small town in northern England (in 1985).

*** Kingswood, maybe.

**** There’s an essay in the implicit and deep-rooted sexism that shows itself in the writing of the female vampires in Being Human, but this is probably not the place for it, and I am not the person to write it. It is, however, no doubt closely related to the vampire-as-sexual-predator archetype. Here, at least, note that only the male vampires are given any chance of redemption other than death; and that the mentor who demonstrates this the most is gay.

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Vampire-Spotting

In which we suspect that some TV cameras might be taking the train


Regular readers over the past couple of years might have noticed that I quite enjoy spotting the filming locations of the paranormal TV drama* Being Human, filmed in a variety of easily-recognisable Bristol locations: Totterdown, Bedminster, Clifton, St George, College Green, and so on. Not for much longer, though, we thought: although the first two series were Bristol-based, the third series is apparently being moved over to Cardiff. Whether it will be the recognisable Cardiff Cardiff of Torchwood, or the generic anycity of Doctor Who, remains to be seen; but this was all clearly set up when, at the end of Series Two, the protagonists were forced to flee the house on the corner of Henry St and Windsor Terrace for an anonymous rural hideout. No more Bristol locations for us to spot, we thought.

Over the past week, we’ve been doing a lot of driving about moving house; we now know every intimate corner of every sensible route from south Bristol to east Bristol, or at least it feels like we do. So we were slightly surprised to see that, about a week ago, some more of these pink signs have popped up. “BH LOC” and “BH BASE”, as before.

We spotted them on Albert Road, near the Black Castle. “BH BASE” points along Bath Road, towards the Paintworks and the ITV studios. “BH LOC”, though, is intriguing. It points down the very last turning off Albert Road before the Black Castle end. That entrance only goes to two places: a KFC branch, and St Philips Marsh railway depot.

If you watched the second series of Being Human, you might remember that there was, indeed, a rather brutal train-based scene in a First Great Western carriage.** So, expect the third series to include, at the very least, an extension of that scene, if not a spin-off plotline. Or, alternatively, those signs aren’t really anything to do with Being Human at all, and it’s just coincidence that they pop up around Bristol a few months before each series appears on the telly.*** My money’s on that train from Series Two being the root of part of the Series Three plot; but, I guess, we’ll just have to wait, watch and see.

* Well, it started off as a comedy, and got more serious as it went along

** I was impressed that the programme’s fidelity-to-location included shooting that scene in a genuine local train, rather than just finding any railway prepared to get a carriage soaked with fake blood. Of course, it was probably a convenient location too.

*** The third possibility, of course, is that someone in Series Three tries to cure vampires and werewolves of their respective curses by getting them to eat large amounts of fried chicken.

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Lights And Action

In which we spot some filming going on, so talk about something completely different


On my way home, last night and the night before, I noticed something going on along Ashton Road. Big floodlights, lighting up the whole street: some sort of night filming was going on.

Being intrigued, I went to the internet to try to find out what it might be. And then I checked my website stats, and found that people have been coming to this site, already, to try to find out what was being filmed. They can’t have got an answer, at least not from me. I haven’t been able to find a complete one, either, but I have found that it’s a drama about “the lives of young women who are involved with drugs and prostitution“, and it’s not specifically set in Bedminster, Ashton Gate, or in Bristol in general. Cheerful, then.

It reminded me, though, to say: you’d be able to tell, just by looking at my website stats, that the new series of Being Human has started now, with new extra dark edginess and even dirtier vampires than before. You can tell, because of the number of people who are asking The Interweb where it was filmed. To be honest, the establishing shots in the new series make it even more obvious than previously: most of them clearly show the street name. For new readers: the Being Human house is 1, Windsor Terrace, Totterdown, Bristol.* The pub, going by the exterior shots, appears to be along Henry St. K and I had a debate about the location of the car park in Episode 1: she said Trenchard St, I said Prince St; and the gay vampire’s house in Episode 2 was on Redcliffe Parade – as anyone who’s visited Bristol probably realised. Handily just round the corner from the hospital, in fact, should you have an urgent need to pretend to be dead.**

* Not in Cardiff, as one searcher seemed to think, presumably as the series was commissioned by BBC Cymru/Wales.

** In fact, I’m slightly puzzled now, why he didn’t pop up in the first series? After all, if you’re going through a major crisis and the self-proclaimed Vampire Leader is promising to destroy you, and you have a friend who has helped you in the past and is probably On Your Side … and he lives about 2 minutes walk from where you work, you think you’d probably pop round at least once. Of course, I know the real reason is that he hadn’t been invented at that point, but never mind.

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Steamy

In which we dream of speed and vampires


August is, as you can see, another quiet month.

A strange dream awoke me last night, so strange I was tempted to turn it into some kind of ghost story. It involved a pair of fu dogs, possessed by a pair of non-human, vampiric, shapeshifting creatures. The dogs themselves would move, when nobody was watching them; and bringing them into your house brought untold dread along with them, because the vampire-type creatures needed them and would do anything to get them back.

In other news: I rather liked the news story, the other day, about the team who broke the world steam car speed record. I like slightly quixotic challenges like that one. 139mph, with all the team’s modern technology, is only 12mph above the previous, hundred-year-old record. For that matter, it’s only 13mph above the 1938 steam train record, set by Joe Duddington of the London & North Eastern Railway on a special test run with the A4 class Mallard. The train had a slight advantage: nobody, when computing train speed records, has ever bothered about the effect of hills or slopes, so Mallard was going hell-for-leather downhill. It did have rather more work to do than the Inspiration, though, weighing 167 tons* itself and pulling a six-coach train behind.

* according to Wikipedia, at least

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Eternal Youth

In which we go to the cinema


A trip to the cinema the other week, to see Let The Right One In,* the Swedish vampire movie which has been going down very well lately. As I haven’t seen any Swedish films since I was a student, as usual I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Raw meatballs? Home-assembly furniture dripping with blood? Bat-haunted forests with man-eating elk?

The film’s trailers implied action, as vampire films tend to do. Fast pace, fast cutting, sudden surprises and sharp shocks. Anyone who went along because of the trailer, though, would have been rather disappointed. There were long, slow scenes; quiet snowy landscapes, thoughtful looks, reflection.** The film was crisp as snow and sharp as a gooseberry. Most of the deaths were slow and brutal; young men being slaughtered like pork, for example. The cuts were offscreen, as were the vampire’s flights; but the trickling blood and fluttering wings were heard loud and clear.

The long shots of wintry landscapes and quiet thought slowly built up into a touching story, a touching story of childish love. Peter Pan seen from another angle, almost. The 12-year-old protagonist’s tender life was mapped out in front of us in a wide hidden circle; and as he disappeared out of sight at the end, over the horizon in a railway carriage, the storyling was tightly coiled to a perfect closure. Perfect for the audience, in any case.

The film had a delicate, scarcely-mentioned 1970s setting. None of the heavy-handed period truncheoning of, say, Life On Mars. No overt references at all, just a subtle landscape of brown furniture, smoking and leather jackets. It was carefully observed, and carefully understated.

These vampires weren’t fashionable vampires, as per Anne Rice or Being Human. They weren’t strong, or powerful, and they didn’t have enough self-control to contemplate any sort of world domination. The human characters, or some of them at least, were far more cruel, far more sadistic and destructive, whether by design or accident. The vampires were, on the other hand, realistic, or at least as realistic as a vampire might be. Realistic, inhuman animal creatures, undead but nevertheless made from flesh and blood. I’ve never seen vampires before that were quite so real and quite so believable. Let The Right One In is, you could say, vampire cinema verité, and it is a beautiful, cold and haunting film. There is, apparently, an American remake on the way. I live in fear, not from a vampire plunging in the night, but that the original Swedish version might end up forgotten.

* or Låt den rätte komma in if you speak Swedish.

** although not of the vampires, of course.

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Afterlife

In which we consider how “Being Human” ended.


Given the amount of space I’ve used to talk about Totterdown-set* BBC3 series Being Human on here, it’s about time I mentioned the series finale – it was a fortnight ago now, after all. Before the finale had been shown, we already knew that Series Two had been commissioned, which, I have to say, took away some of the suspense. It was possible that the writer would follow through the compulsary penultimate-episode cliffhanger by “killing off”** the main characters; but it wasn’t likely. It was also very likely that we’d lose some of the other characters; and, indeed, it happened.

The setup for the next series is already well in place, with at least three storylines there to take up, all fairly well-divorced from the series one plot. How much reference will be made to the first series, I don’t know. From a new-viewers point of view, three new-starting plot strands make sense; but from a writing point of view, it seems unrealistic. Given the end of the finale episode, I’d have thought that there shouldn’t be much of a gap in the series timeline between series; so how realistic will it be for the previous events to be barely mentioned?

Overall, the series was pretty damn entertaining, even though the finale itself wasn’t particularly exciting. This is the problem with the “compulsary cliffhanger” structure mentioned above: if the writer isn’t careful, the penultimate episode can end up much more action-filled and suspenseful than the final episode itself. Recent series of Doctor Who have tended to suffer from the same problem: the finale has trouble living up to the build-up in the previous episode. It left me thinking: “but why didn’t they just do that at the start?” To be honest, we were mostly watching it for the locations; and we’ll probably still watch the next series. Marks out of ten: ooh, I don’t know. Maybe a seven.

* for all those people searching: the shared house’s address is 1, Windsor Terrace; the hospital is Bristol General, by Bathurst Basin; and the undertakers are Up North, in Clifton.

** After all, they were all either dead or undead already.

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Haunting

In which we ponder some Being Human world-building issues


Some more notes on Being Human, which continues on the telly for the next few weeks.

There’s something about the show’s universe which has been bothering me slightly. That is: what happens when a ghost, who is invisible to the vanilla world, picks something up? Does it hover in midair? Does it vanish until the ghost drops it? Neither answer seems satisfactory, particularly when a ghost is moving things just out of a human character’s peripheral vision. It seems implausible* for people to see, for example, a casserole dish floating down the street; but what happens when Annie The Ghost then goes and opens the oven door?

Secondly: I’m presuming that we’re going to find out, later in the series, that there is another way to “kill” a ghost. Because, otherwise, everything would be rather unbalanced, and the vampires wouldn’t be quite so cocky. If a ghost can pick up a casserole, it can pick up a stake or a chainsaw. And I’m wondering if Pizza Guy from episode one is going to eventually be a major plot point, given that presumably he’s not human.

Location notes: the hotel in episode three was the Redcliff Hill branch of Hotel Mercure,** and the interiors looked to have been shot on location too. The “crime scene” in episode two, found by Annie chasing an ambulance, was in Warden Road, Bedminster, just off East St.

* Yes, using the word “implausible” when writing about something involving vampires and werewolves does seem slightly silly

** I know there probably isn’t a reason for this, but never mind. Why why why: Redcliff Hill and Redcliff St, but Redcliffe Way and Redcliffe Parade?

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Being Humane

In which we watched Being Human


After the post last week, I felt we really should watch Being Human, the new BBC3 series set largely in Totterdown. We were, I have to say, pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to summarise the plot here, other than: it’s a fantasy version of the classic sitcom plot. Three oddball characters who are stuck with each other – a vampire and a werewolf who are trying to appear human, who have managed to rent a haunted house.* If it is a sitcom, though, it’s the sort I’d like to write myself: the sort without very many jokes in.**

Some things were a little overused – the heavy heartbeat when Mitchell The Vampire’s blood-lust attacks came on; and the post-production effect used to make skies look darker and more interesting. Some of the mechanics of the worldbuilding don’t quite make sense, either.*** But, overall, the series was remarkably subtle and realistic. For something involving almost-immortal beasts, of course. Moreover, unlike the trailer, the characters, not the backdrop, were its main focus. It might have obviously-recognisable locations – the Totterdown house, the General Hospital, St Nick’s Market**** – and it might have bit-part actors with local accents; but so far, it could have been set anywhere. It didn’t rely on the location for anything.

I can guess how the series is going to go from here. The real test, I suppose, comes with: just how well the minor characters are treated. Will Herrick, or Lauren, become just as full a character as Mitchell? What about Annie’s fiance?***** We’ll watch it, because we’ll be intrigued to find out. And, of course, just in case, we spot anyone we know lurking in the background of a shot.

* A former grocery store on the corner of Windsor Terrace. It has pub-type glass in the front window, but as far as I can find out it was never actually a pub.

** This is a good thing; and we’re lucky that Being Human was made by the BBC’s Cardiff drama section, and not by the people responsible for the awful laugh-tracked sitcoms that pass for entertainment on BBC3.

*** Actually, Vampire Civil Wars are an interesting argument to overcome the usual objection to vampires: if they’re immortal, and all their victims became vampires, then why didn’t we get to an I Am Legend-type situation about three weeks after they first evolved? Not being up on vampire-based literature, I don’t know if anyone else has ever covered it. They must have, at some point.

**** We did both shout out “Pie shop!” when George The Werewolf ran through the market and past the Pieminister stall

***** It confirms something I’ve thought for a long time, incidentally: ghost stories really can be the saddest stories in the world.

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