Tuesday, March 11, 2014
And we're back.
Hello everyone. It has been a while.
Well, I enjoyed that. Doctor Who as sit-com. It's Mork & Mindy redux. Well, the Doc and Craigy but you know what I mean. An alien in a human home. The Doctor trying to be an 'ordinary' bloke whilst changing the lives of almost everyone that comes into contact with him, but especially Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard)
James Corden comes in for a lot of flak from chunks of the general public but he's rather good in this. Perfect casting in fact. And perhaps the thing I like about this story above all is that Craig's inability to tell Sophie how he feels about her seems quite real to me. I know I've been there myself. [And that's all I'm ever going to say on this subject].
Also there's the inertia of normal life. The way we get trapped in the cycle of work-sleep-work-sleep and afraid to try and fail. To me this is a story about how the real failure is not to act: Craig can't tell Sophie how he feels because she might reject him; he can't tell his boss his ideas for the workplace because he's 'just a phone drone'.
Actually perhaps that's why I like this story so much. It's horribly familiar to me as a long-term 'phone-drone' with a share of missed relationship opportunities and a dangerous resemblance to the my couch. [This blog is in danger of turning into an episode of Oprah so I'll stop now before it's too late.]
Sophie's got her own dreams too but her equally unspoken love for Craig is holding her in place. The Doctor manages, in his own inimitable way, to get her to take first steps and as a result almost puts a spanner in the works of true love.
It's only because this is an episode of Doctor Who that the Doctor doesn't ruin everything. There has to be something nasty in the domestic woodshed. Although in this case it's something nasty in the upstairs flat. By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes.
In this case the villain, like a number of villains in 'New' Doctor Who, isn't actually evil. It just is. No feelings, no empathy and no understanding of consequences. It's just doing its job. We never - at this point - find out what is really behind it or where it comes from. It just is and let us be content with that.
Matt Smith is brilliant in this as he goes into full fish out of water mode. This couldn't have been a Tennant story because Tennant's Doctor would have been able to pull off the ordinary bloke thing too well. It wouldn't have been as funny. Plus Smith's chemistry with Corden is good enough to make me think they could make a good fist of an actual sitcom together. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Doctor - or this Doctor anyway - turned out to be good at football. It's not just amusingly un-Doctorish but a nice nod to Matt Smith's own background.
This is a bit of an Amy lite story as she only pops up occasionally, although she does get a nice little moment at the end of the episode so there's not much to say about Karen Gillan's performance, although I think she is starting to grow on me as an actress. The more she does, the better she gets.
So in conclusion - as I always used to say when ending my degree level essays with clunking literalism - I loved this story. Doctor Who: The Sitcom. It could work you know. Although I'm aware there's a lot of people out there that have a sniffy view about Doctor Who and comedy, which I a subject I may come back to in another blog.
In black and white.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I enjoyed Vincent and The Doctor a little less this time than I did when I first watched it. I still like it, even with quibbles.
It benefits from a magnificent performance from Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh at its heart. It helps that he does actually look pretty similar to how van Gogh actually looked, which is nicely signposted in that little moment where the Doctor holds up a van Gogh self-portrait in front of Curran's face and you find yourself thinking how alike they actually are. It's the strength of Curran's performance that enables the story to hang together as an emotional piece.
After all the monster in this, the poor lost, blinded Krafaysis is an aside. A thing included to make this feel like a normal Doctor Who story when it isn't. It's a Richard Curtis* story about van Gogh and depression. And about how a great man. A great and damaged man can twist his pain into something so wonderful as van Gogh's paintings.
I've been to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. If my truth be told I think there's more great artwork in there than in the Louvre but everyone is a critic these days. I had never seen a van Gogh 'live' until then but when you do it is a sensuous experience of the first order. I never realised that colour could be so...colourful. The colours in his paintings fizz with energy and you find yourself wondering how people missed it at the time. How can you not see that this man is doing something absolutely astonishing. And, of course, this is now turning into a review of van Gogh's artworks and a consideration of what van Gogh means as an artist.
But then this story does that too. I love the scene where the Doctor, Amy and van Gogh lie on the ground in the night, looking up at the sky and van Gogh describes what he can see. You don't often get moments of great poetry in Doctor Who but that is one of them. I'd watch Vincent and the Doctor just for that scene really.
That and the scene where we get an insight into van Gogh's depression when the Doctor tries to hurry him along. Again Curran is truly heart-breaking in this scene. It's a little uncomfortable watch because it feels so true and the Doctor really, really doesn't know what to do to help.
Matt Smith is good in this, with the exception of his irritating childishness when van Gogh is painting. It's almost funny but the idea that the Doctor has to behave like a child in these circumstances doesn't entirely ring true. Especially as by this point you'd quite easily believe van Gogh would just wake him one for jabbering whilst he was trying to work. Thankfully the Krafaysis turns up in time for us to have a bit of fun.
The poor scared Krafaysis. Doctor Who doesn't often give consideration to fear when people die. Understandable really because with the amount of dying that goes on in Doctor Who it would become a completely different and rather bizarre programme if it did. But the Krafaysis is afraid and dying alone. Abandoned. Blind.
Then - as a reward - the Doctor and Amy take van Gogh to the future. To the Musee d'Orsay. To show him how he's valued in the 21st century and for a brief moment Doctor Who goes all Grey's Anatomy. I'm not sure really who this reward is for. The Doctor must know that van Gogh will still kill himself. Perhaps he's still trying to make it up to Amy for Rory's death that she doesn't remember but perhaps the real reason is revealed in the rather magnificent speech the Doctor gives Amy about life being made up of good moments and bad moments.
Van Gogh's suicide, despite his apparent validation, shows that there are some corners of the universe that even the Doctor cannot reach.
Add to that some rather magnificent design work by the art department that makes some of van Gogh's paintings really seem to live : the café, the interior of van Gogh's bedroom etc and there is some greatness in this story but for reasons I'm not quite sure of it affected me less this time than before. Perhaps I'm just getting more cynical in my old age.
I do know that once more Doctor Who steals the creative credit from an artist - see my quibbles previously in the blogs about The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn & The Wasp (and my comments about Mary Shelley in Big Finish too) by making Amy give van Gogh the Sunflowers idea. Stop doing that producers of Doctor Who. It might be funny but it takes credit away from truly brilliant people and makes Doctor Who more like Goodnight Sweetheart. So stop it.
So to conclude in as sudden and as artificial way as possible I like this story a lot but there's something that I can't quite put my finger on that prevents it from being labelled a roaring success. I think it would have been a better story without the Krafaysis but then would it have been a Doctor Who story at all then.
Oh as it has just popped into my brain I did like the Scottish accent/Netherlands joke and the 'ultimate ginge'.
*I could waffle on about Richard Curtis but I think he's had enough comment to last a lifetime so I'm going to pretend for the purposes of this interview that he's just a jobbing Doctor Who writer. We can talk about Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral etc another time. Next thing you know Doctor Who will be trying to get Tom Stoppard to write an episode.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Hmmmm, I'm not sure what to make of that. A two-part story The Hungry Earth-Cold Blood sees the return of Homo Reptilia aka The Eocenes aka The Silurians.
Unfortunately they've had a makeover, which makes them seem less 'alien' and more 'Star Trek: Next Generation'. It's a lovely make-up job, it really is but it is less interesting than the originals. So there's an initial quibble for you.
I'm sure it's also film in the same place as Torchwood: Countryside, although that might be my imagination because it has a little of the same vibe and it is written by the same writer Chris Chibnall. Perhaps it's the Welshness of it.
Also I found the second episode awful in comparison with the first. What's the point in giving yourself two episodes if you're going to rush together the end of the story with a whoosh of convenience and farewells. Ah, but we have the season long arc to finish so we must spend a chunk of the episode pushing that along and killing Rory, for the first time. And removing him from existence. It's all rather rushed and despite Karen Gillen giving it her best Rory's death just didn't have the impact it should have done.
Perhaps though I am spoiled by knowing how it will all pan out in the end. Perhaps that has cooled the reaction. Perhaps but I suspect not. It's all so rushed and then we have to push it along a little more in order to sow another seed for the 'crack' arc. This is the problem with season long story arcs. If clumsily handled they get in the way of the story you are actually in and I think - in this case - that's what happens.
It's not all bad though. I like the Doctor's faith in humanity and his horror at Ambrose's (Nia Roberts) murder of Alaya (the Home Reptilia). Alaya, who like her 'genetic sister' is a Warrior, wants war with the apes and has spent time goading everyone - including the Doctor - into killing her in order to start a war. It's a sort of suicide for genocide. A reverse Spock.*
Alaya and Restac are both played by Neve McIntosh who has since gone on to be the Homo Reptilia of choice as Madame Vastra. Both her characters in this are of a nastier, more murderous inclination. They don't like apes and they want their planet back. They're not afraid to bump off members of their own race to do it. Or die. The end justifies the means.
McIntosh is pretty great actually.
Being a 'Silurian' story we get echoes of previous stories and a wiser, more peaceful Elder Eldane (Stephen Moore) is the other side of the Silurian character. He's looking for a peaceful solution to the problem. It's is Eldane's reaction to Alaya's death that convinces you that this will not end well. But in the end - and without much in the way of explanation as to why - Eldane trusts the humans and the Doctor enough to force his people back into suspended animation. Woo-hoo.
The guest cast is small and initially the two-part story looks like it is going to give us room for character development but then woosh it rushes away with itself so Meera Syal's Nasreen Chaudhrey realises that she loves Robert Pugh's (who I love btw - brilliant actor) Tony Mack but the whole thing seems as rushed in the end as Leela's departure in The Invasion of Time.
Oh but a big round of applause to Samuel Davies as Elliot for being a child actor in Doctor Who that isn't actually really annoying.
To cut this ramble short there's a good story in here somewhere with good characters but it doesn't quite escape from being squeezed by the need to fit a story arc. A decent-ish first episode is hamstrung by a rushed and disappointing second. Not horrible. Just eminently forgettable.
Oh and oh. Er, if this drill is has reached the furthest into the Earth ever then why isn't the planet screaming out its rage. Has nobody heard of Inferno.
*I knew what I meant by this when I typed it. I may have lost it afterwards but these are meant to be stream of consciousness, immediate reaction blogs so...and I still think I know. Sort of. Ish.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Amy's Choice is an odd little Doctor Who story. It's less about things happening and more about relationships. Yes, there's aliens. Yes, there's the Dream Lord. Yes, there's psychic spores but really it is a good, old-fashioned conversation about love, trust and being a gooseberry.
It's written by Simon Nye, who is best known for writing Men Behaving Badly, but actually there are probably less comic moments in this than in the average 'New' Doctor Who story. I think he's experience juggling the relationships in Men Behaving Badly obviously helped with this.
The story starts off in the peaceful village of Ledworth...sorry Upper Ledworth. Rory and Amy are married. Amy is heavily pregnant. Into this story pops the Doctor who was passing by. Sort of. This rural idle seems to be Rory's idea of paradise, less so Amy's. But then the three wake up in the TARDIS. Talking about their weird dream. Before popping back into Upper Ledworth. And back. It's all a bit dreamy-weamy. (Sorry)
Then up pops the Dream Lord, played with a fantastically sharp nastiness by the never less than brilliant Toby Jones. (Toby Jones following Helen McCrory following Iain Glen is a joy to be savoured. Doctor Who really is getting some master acting crafts people in this Series) This mysterious figure, cosplaying the Doctor when he first appears, has control of the TARDIS. And its occupants dreams.
One of the two scenarios outlined above is real. One is a dream. In both the TARDIS crews life is at risk. They have to decide which is real and which is the dream. In the dream your death will just mean you're waking up. In reality, of course, your dead.
In Upper Ledworth the TARDIS crew are besieged by a gang of alien infested old people. Inside the TARDIS meanwhile a failing ship is heading towards an icy doom. Which one is real, which one is fantasy. I'm just a poor boy etc.
The story turns on Rory and Amy's relationship. Once more Arthur Darvill is brilliant, although this time everyone seems to raise their game. Matt Smith is great, particularly when he realises who the Dream Lord actually is (that's a spoiler I'll let you discover for yourselves). He does play the Doctor as a sort of modern day version of the Second Doctor with a dash of excitable toddler. It works for me. I like it.
Karen Gillan too is better in this than in the rest of the season so far. The scene when Rory is killed her anger and sadness is genuinely pretty moving and she gets to be cruel to the Doctor as a result. That 'then what are you for?' line is really, horribly unpleasant and feels like grief.
But it is the loss of Rory that decides for Amy which is the real reality and which is the dream. Or at least pushes her to the point of not caring either way. A universe without Rory is not one that Amy Pond wants to live in.
It's all rather sweet. It manages, just, to avoid turning into the sort of saccharine horror that we might come across at other points. Amy and Rory are the first 'real' couple to inhabit the TARDIS so undoubtedly their relationship will crop up again. And the Doctor's role as gooseberry/rival too.
I do like Amy and Rory. They feel like a real-ish couple. Not just an artificial creation. It's not perfect and I'm not sure how Doctor Who it is but then, as I've said before and I'm sure I'll say again, the format of Doctor Who allows you to put a lot of stuff in it that might not fit comfortably in to other series. Why can't Doctor Who be a science-fiction romantic comedy occasionally? Well, it can. Like it can be a Western, a soap opera, a space opera, a surreal unworldly thing, a historical drama, a War film or any other blessed thing. The joy - and greatness of Doctor Who - is its utter ability to absorb pretty much any genre into its DNA.
That you've got to love.
This is definitely a step up from Vampires in Venice. Next up our second two part story of the series: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. My review that will probably not go up until Sunday as there's a busy weekend ahead at Patient Centurion Mansions.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
The Vampires of Venice is a disappointment. Normally 'New' Doctor Who suffers from trying to get in too much in too short a time but here I think there's not enough. It's a bog standard Doctor knocks off new Monster in passing whilst we focus on the bigger picture stories.
Sometimes 'New' Doctor Who stories suffer from a sort of fictional insecurity when they're not key parts of whatever arc the showrunner is obsessed with at the time. They're kind of throw away entertainments. Neither awful nor good The Vampires of Venice is one of those stories. It's all just feels like a first draft. Or a final draft that no one was paying proper attention to because they were all distracted by the big shiny story arc which gets a nod here.
There are some nice moments, but that can be said about the whole of The Moff's era. It's all about the cool moments: The Doctor popping out of the cake at Rory's stag night in the pre-credits sequence, Rory's brave but incompetent battle against Guido, Rory's stinging telling off of the Doctor for being dangerous because people want to impress him...in fact there's a pattern here.
The best thing in this story, for me, is Arthur Darvill's Rory who is both comic relief and the most normal person in Doctor Who since Griffin the Chef in The Enemy of the World. Darvill has fantastic comic timing and can act without looking like he's acting, which is one hell of a talent. His addition to the TARDIS crew is a good thing. He's bounces off both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as well as making both of them better.
Although I'm a bit disappointed with Matt Smith in this story. He's great in parts but also on occasion I think he's relying too much on ticks and tricks. He's still pretty damn good to watch but sometimes you just want him to do a little bit less.
Maybe I'm just grumpy.
Helen McCrory is rather brilliant as Rosanna though. Another fine actress whose talents are almost wasted in the part but who - paradox alert - makes Rosanna a far better character as a result. The balance in a performance between acting and writing fascinates me. How much of a good performance is the lines and how much the acting. Great actors can make (mostly) banal lines seems golden, bad actors can make Shakespeare as clunky as a clunky thing.
So yes I think Helen McCrory is a far better actress than a part like Rosanna deserves but because she is such a good actress she makes Rosanna a far more memorable character. The scene between her and Matt Smith, which ends with the Doctor angry that she couldn't remember the late lamented Isabella's name, is brilliant. And that's because of McCrory. In the hands of an average actress it would probably be nothing more than yet another dull clash between the Doctor and a villain.
Final conclusion: reasonable entertaining but pretty tediously average in both ambition and result. If I were a teacher I'd be finishing this with that tried and tested phrase: "Could do better."
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Overall, I enjoyed both The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone. Although there were a couple of things that irritated the hell out of me.
River River Song Song.
Right, I don't actually mind River Song as a character most of the time. Even if the idea of the Doctor running around the universe as some kind of taxi service rescuing anyone seems a bit odd. If he could do that why is he not constantly picking up and dropping off companions? Oh, I hear you cry, River Song's special.
Yes, I'm sure she will be. But at this point she seems irritatingly over-confident and pushy. The sort of person for whom the phrase 'high maintenance' was invented. She can't just fly the TARDIS, she can fly it better than the Doctor. Oh and that joke about the handbrakes was worth it wasn't it. Ha ha. And never heard of again. Indeed so never heard from again that the Moff makes the sound of the TARDIS materialisation the sound of hope by the time we get to The Day of the Doctor. (Oops spoilers).
I'm not sure how much I can blame Alex Kingston for her choices or the original character outline for this but it's bloody irritating. Although - to be fair to everyone - it does calm down a bit after the initial twenty minutes or so.
The other irritating thing was the Moff's decision to turn the Weeping Angels into cold bloodied killers. OK so their original modus operandi didn't make much sense but at least it made them different to your bog standard beasties. It doesn't reduce their creepiness I will admit but then that creepiness was there when they didn't break people's necks. Or whatever it is they actually do.
It does present us with the nasty form of poor old Angel Bob though whose fate is rather unpleasant and clearly has an effect on the Doctor's response to the Angel's, which leads to the 'Into a trap' cliffhanger which Matt Smith delivers with some panache. And on DVD at least it wasn't ruined by the voice of Graham Norton. (Although I'm surprised that option wasn't available on the DVD for that full 'as live' experience).
Those are probably my only complaints. The rest of it is pretty damn good.
Karen Gillan is starting to grow on me as Amy Pond and her walk through the Forest of Angels is incredibly tense, although it's a shame she has to come over all Susan and trip over, especially as she's...well let us move on. Oh and bonus points for the countdown to the Moff. That was nicely done and rather spooky.
Matt Smith is excellent. There's some lovely moments but the best for me are the 'Trap' speech as outlined above, the 'Hold On' moment and best of all Octavian's death (which is to some degree the Doctor's fault for faffing around too much.)
In fact my favourite thing in this whole story is Iain Glen's Octavian. No one ever seems to bring his performance up when talking about guest appearances but he's brilliant and his death scene is one of the most moving and brilliantly played in all Doctor Who history. I'm a big fan of Iain Glen's and have been since I saw him in a rather fantastic little series called 'Frankie's House' back in the early 1990s. He's been on my list of possible Doctor's for a while too. So it was nice to see him do such a fantastic job throughout.
So my early complaints aside I should reiterate how much I did enjoy this. It looked fantastic, had a real tension about it from the moment we first see the Angel on video to the end...and I liked the fact that the Angels sealed their own fate.
It also keeps the arc ticking along nicely as we see the crack from Amy's wall appearing and doing some rather unpleasant things to soldiers and Angels alike.
A much needed improvement on Victory of the Daleks and perhaps the sign of good things to come.
Ah, one final not so sure about it moment. The end of the episode with Amy trying to get off with the Doctor. I'm not sure if that doesn't quite cross a line that Doctor Who shouldn't cross. I'm not entirely sure but it felt a bit awkwardly tacked on to me. But we shall see.
Good stuff. More of this please.
Monday, November 25, 2013
So that was the 50th Anniversary that was. Did we all enjoy ourselves? Good. Here, for no reasons apart from personal ego, are my Top 10 Favourite Bits from the 50th Anniversary. I'm sure you've got your own.
1: The Curator
I've watched this bit of Day of the Doctor about six or seven times and I love it a little more each time. It's beautifully played by both Tom and Matt and because Tom is my Doctor this scene meant quite a lot to me. The perfect Doctor Who moment for me.
2: "Whatever you guys are up to. I'm in. Work permitting of course."
The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot was fantastic. Congratulations to everyone involved, particularly writer - director Peter 'Fifth Doctor' Davison. There's so much good stuff in here but Paul McGann's bit cracked me up. Which brings me neatly on to...
3: The Night of the Doctor
I can forgive the Moff a lot of Doctor Who related writing crimes for this 7-ish minutes. My pre-50th Wish List had Paul McGann coming back quite high up on it. And here we are. Yes, he doesn't get to be in the special (which is odd because you could have put the McGann Doctor in there instead of John Hurt's and it would have still worked. Possibly a little better in fact.) but this was a nice little moment. And we get to see him regenerate. Closing a irritating little gap. At least for me.
4: "I don't want to go"
An Adventure is Space & Time was, for me, rather wonderful. Kudos to Mark Gatiss for his fine work. I'm sure those who've research the era can find reasons to niggle about facts & faces but I thought it was lovely. And I was a bit teary all the way through from the moment David Bradley's - who was fantastic - Hartnell broke down to the end.
5: Fleeing in Terror from the War Machines (see picture)
This one is very personal but on the morning of the 50th myself and Leslie McMurtry, editor of the fine Doctor Who fanzine "The Terrible Zodin" went out & about in London exploring Doctor Who filming locations. We concentrated on The War Machines with a brief digression into Remembrance of the Daleks. It was great fun and there's a little geek frisson when you realise you're standing where a War Machine or a Dalek once stood.
6: The Regenerations Panel at Excel
If The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot hadn't conclusively proved it to the nation that Davison, Colin Baker & McCoy make a fine comedic partnership then this panel would have done. Their timing is excellent but on top of that they are genuinely interesting to hear talking about Doctor Who. All three of them a great advocates of the series and all three of them make fantastic Big Finish Doctors. Which brings me to...
7: The Light at the End
Big Finish's Anniversary story featuring the first 8 Doctors was a majestic tribute to both Doctor Who itself and the Big Finish version in particular. If you haven't listened to it already then I recommend it. A lot.
8: "It's a scientific instrument"
The best bit of multi-Doctor stories is the interaction between the Doctors and this was a big part of The Day of the Doctor too. Hurt's Doctor was particularly brilliant at mocking the childishness of the other two but they also worked exceptionally well together helping to make the central part of the story hold together whilst The Moff's usual fireworks were going off around them. So let's hear it for John Hurt, David Tennant & Matt Smith.
9. "I'm a bit of a tosser."
Another - probable - personal moment for me. This occurred whilst listening to David Quantick's excellent and amusing 'Blagger's Guide to Doctor Who'. (It's on BBCi-player but was split into two bits by whichever muppets were in charge. This might have changed. UPDATE: full version is now here) The quote above turns up as Michael Grade describing himself after the 'hiatus/cancellation' is discussed. I know it is petty and silly but you know I laughed a lot.
10. Being a Doctor Who fan
Yes, there will be differences of opinion about how good the 50th story was. Yes, there are people who would have preferred anyone but The Moff to be writing it. But you know overall it has been a fantastic time to be a Doctor Who fan.* Whether you've watched since the first episode or came on board with Matt Smith it has been a fantastic experience. As a said in the blog previous to this one - and Paul Cornell's 'bullying' comment in the Culture Show's Doctor Who special (which just misses out on this Top Ten) made clear - being a Doctor Who fan wasn't always as wonderful an experience as it (generally) is now.
So the fact that we're still here. That the programme is still here and reaching out to new fans and new countries all the time** is bloody brilliant.
Here's to the 100th.
*But dear BBC let us never speak of the Live After Show Party again.
**Excel had German, Russian and American fans in attendance (that I heard/spoke to). There were probably many, many more.
PS I've left out a lot of other great things.