Monday, 24 September 2012

Doctor Who: The Power of Three

"There are soldiers all over the house. And I'm in my pants."

It's close. Very close. This is the penultimate outing for the Ponds, an episode which takes the time to fully examine both characters, and how the Doctor has affected their lives, until they leave the show next week. I have no idea what's going to happen, being joyfully unspoiled, but I couldn't help but notice the ominous hints: the Doctor admits to Brian that some of his companions have dies, and it's eventually Brian who changes the Ponds' minds and gets them to choose travelling over real life, adding, ominously "Just bring them back safe." Oh dear. That lovely night-time conversation between the Doctor and Amy gives off similar ominous vibes. They're doomed, right?

We get a proper examination of their dual lives, pulling at the Ponds in two directions. That, rather than the gimmickry of the plot, is what the episode is about. The central device, of a very slow invasion, is hardly original, and nor is the concept of loads of mysterious McGuffins suddenly appearing, but then it isn't supposed to be. Indeed, the script even goes so far as to point this out, as Brian rattles off a list of all the usual tropes. It doesn't matter. Let the plot just go ahead and be Quatermass- this is about the Ponds. Although, admittedly, the tension-filled moment where the Doctor opens the box, only to find nothing, is rather too obviously straight out of Kinda. And it's a bloody huge coincidence that, of only seven wormholes on the whole planet, one of them should just so happen to be in the hospital where Rory works.

It's nice to see UNIT, too, of course, and it's especially nice that they've been reformed to be much cuddlier, losing the Orwellian overtones of recent years and becoming infused with scientific values of which the Doctor approves. Kate Stewart, Head of Scientific Research, is a great character, very Doctorish, and making her the Brig's daughter is not only good shorthand but also a sign that we, the viewers, are allowed to be invested in her as a character. She'll probably be back; they cast a Redgrave, after all. Also, the Tower of London being their not-very-secret base is well cool.

It's a good Doctor episode, too. Matt Smith gets, and delivers, such magnificent speeches, and the sequence of him doing household chores (and keepy-uppy) is fab. I'm also enjoying these fun little mini-adventures, this time involving Zygons, Henry VIII, and God knows what else.

The villains are a bit blah, very casually sketched, although admitted the Doctor gets a great speech out of the situation. And the Doctor saves the day with little more than the most casual application of handwavium. But that's sort of appropriate. It's not really about the plot.

I'm nervous about next week. Very nervous…

Friday, 21 September 2012

This Weekend...

There'll be no blogging until Monday or Tuesday evening, alas, as I shall be hugely enjoying myself at Regenerations. The next episode of Doctor Who will be reviewed when I get back. I'm not sure whether I'm moving straight on to the next seasons of Buffy and Angel next, or briefly blogging something else for a week or so, but I'll get to them very soon.

A couple of shameless plugs: I've contributed an article to the splended publication Outside In, to be released on 23rd November, which is a reworking of a post on this very blog. I've also contributed an article (all new!) to the similarly splendid Celebrate, Regenerate, and will be submitting another within the next week or so.

Things might be less busy for the next week and a half, and things will probably slow down a little because of househunting, but the blog goes on and on...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Angel: To Shanshu in LA

"It's just a prophecy. It's not like it came from on high!"

Interesting parallel, isn't it? The fourth season of Buffy ends with an epilogue, while the first season of Angel ends with a prologue. All sorts of stuff for next season is being set up here. Obviously we have the resurrection of Darla by Wolfram and Hart, who are not clearly the Big Bad of the series, but Cordelia has learned empathy, the Oracles are dead, Gunn is looking more and more like a series regular, and…. Angel is apparently going to become human.

It's impressive how confidently this episode judges such a jumble of characters and tones. One moment Angel and co are having an hilariously awkward conversation with billionaire nerd David Nabbitt (although I have to wag a finger at the negative stereotyping of tabletop role-players here!), another moment Angel's home has been blown up and both Cordelia and Wesley are in hospital. There are some nice short scenes, too. I like the confrontation between Angel and Kate, where he finally lets her have a piece of his mind. Kate's aversion to demons because of her father was understandable up to a point, but there comes a point where we have to say that a line has been crossed and she's being racist. I'm not sure if the subtext is intended, but this made me think of people who live in poverty and vote for far right parties out of misdirected rage. Here's hoping Kate gets back over the line. Signs are not good, though; she's become a subject of mockery because of her obsession with the supernatural.

Lindsey, meanwhile, is now a junior partner with Wolfram and Hart, with a massive salary; he's chosen his side and taken his "thirty pieces of silver." His general competence is still somewhat questionable, mind; I'm not sure why sacrificing a hand is quite able to atone for that, but I suppose he does ensure that the spell to resurrect Darla is completed. Still, all he actually achieves is to clear up after his own mess. And the delightfully evil Lyla and Holland Manners are much cooler as baddies. Cooler still is this week's disposable baddie, Vocah, whose metal mask conceals a face halfway through the process of being eaten by maggots…!

Cordelia's realisation that there's so much pain in the world is sort of a return to a perennial theme dating back to when she first got her visions; it'll be interesting to see how long this newer, nicer Cordelia lasts. Wesley is once again shown to be conscientious, loyal, and rejuvenated with a real sense of purpose. He's grown so much since he first joined Angel.

But the main revelation concerns Angel. When it seems that the prophecy foretells his death, he's unbothered; he has no desires, no pleasures, no prospect of reward. Life for him is nothing but atonement. He's detached from the world, and has no stake in it, as we learn rather hilariously through a rather brilliant sequence of exposition through comedy. Indeed, there's something nicely meta in the suggestion that his problem is an inability to develop as a character.

But, once we learn that the prophecy ion fact foretells his one day, after many quests and trials, becoming human, suddenly there is hope for him. It seems, perhaps, that he has something to live for, and a real prospect of some rather interesting character development…

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Restless

"Sometimes, I think about two women doing a spell. Then I do a spell by myself…"

Wow. Don't get me wrong, that was brilliant, but it was well weird. For the first time, the Season Finale is not a climax but an epilogue. It's a radical departure from the expected format but, then again, what else would you expect from an episode both written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Obviously, the whole conceit of the first Slayer, and the threat she poses, is all bound up with the idea that Buffy's strength comes from her friends first and foremost: the first Slayer is "not the source of [her] power". This rather brilliantly means that the adversary is easy to defeat, and we can concentrate on the fun to be had in our four protagonists' weird dreams. There are also probably loads of allusions to Apocalypse Now but, er, I haven't actually seen that yet. I will, soonish.

It's a bit convenient that Riley is no longer in trouble with the US government, but it was probably a necessary bit of handwaving. Given the overall coolness of the episode, I'm willing to overlook it. Especially as we get to see not only Joyce and Oz, but also Harmony, Principal Snyder and even a make-up free version of Adam. There are also lots of nods back to earlier in the series- Willow's dream harks back to The Puppet Show way back in the early days, while the sequence of Giles hypnotising Buffy recalls his betrayal of her in Helpless, which is without a doubt the fulcrum of his entire arc. There are some really nice touches, from Willows beautiful calligraphy of a Sappho poem, in Ancient Greek, on Tara's body- fairly obvious subtext there!- to the many other suggestions of sexual guilt and fear of homophobic hostility. And the insecurities of her nerdy past haven't gone away either.

Xander's dream, like Willows, focuses on something that's been shown all season, namely concerns about his direction in life. The scene where everyone starts talking French is a sign that he feels undereducated compared to his peers, and that he's slipping behind. The bit with Giles and Spike on swings, though, is just random coolness. And Giles' dream is a wonderful deconstruction of his exposition-spouting narrative function, managing to combine this with his recent musical exploits by having him sing the exposition. Also, Anya's stand up is gleefully toe-curling. The people waving lighters are a nice touch too, although they don't half date the episode; no one waves lighters at gigs these days, because no bugger smokes.

Buffy's dream, obviously, does all the stuff that I mentioned in the first couple of paragraphs. But there's also an interesting examination of a potential fault line with Riley, with whom I still don't think she's going to stay for long. He's identified with evil government conspiracies, whether they involve thinking coffee makers or not. There's also the hilarious scene with Joyce living in a hole in the wall, a clear signpost towards Buffy's guilt at neglecting her supportive mother.

Finally, there are more interesting hints towards the future and things that will happen, alluding to the bed that appeared in our last dream sequence at the end of last season between Buffy and Faith. Something's going to happen…

Monday, 17 September 2012

Angel: Blind Date

"You always have a choice. You sold your soul for a fifth floor office and a company car."

Let's see, then. We have a female assassin who uses sharp pointy things to dispatch her victims. We have a blind person with compensatory superpowers. We have a milieu of poverty juxtaposed with lawyers and criminal corruption. Someone's been reading Daredevil, methinks. Of the Frank Miller vintage, to be precise.

Nevertheless, this is a gripping episode, and a pivotal one too. For one thing, Wolfram and Hart is now emerging from the mysterious shadows to take centre stage. We're introduced to the avuncular Holland Manners, whose creepy, mentor-y relationship with Lindsey is fascinatingly complex. The silver-haired and silver-tongued Manners is so seductive and eloquently evil that he's surely supposed to echo Lucifer. The scene between him and Lindsey, after Lindsay has been caught, has Lindsey at a crossroads- does he follow his conscience or remain loyal to Wolfram and Hart? The situation reminds me of that mythical tale about Robert Johnson. Lindsey gains a lot of depth here, and even a backstory of sorts, one of real poverty which drives him never to be the victim. He even gets to win, and defy Manners, only to fall for one last piece of temptation at the end. He's lost his soul- just- but he'll go far. This is deep stuff.

Sam Anderson, incidentally, is superbly charismatic as the deliciously evil Manners. I bet he had a lot of fun playing the character; it certainly looks it. And the whole environment of the firm is so delightfully, corporately evil, with the ever-present threat of real blood on the carpet. This is my kind of metaphor. The silent twin mind readers, with their bizarre hairstyles, are so damned creepy, and it's a shock to realise that Lindsey isn't the intended target; the offence is a different one, and it's Lee, a semi-regular, who unexpectedly dies. I love this sort of misdirection.

It's a pivotal episode for Angel, too of course. We don't know why he feels the impulse to steal the Prophecies of Aberjian, but he does. Wesley doesn't quite reveal the whole section that concerns Angel, not yet, but this is clearly going to be important. Also important is that we see Gunn again, in the episode straight after he's introduced- and it's him helping Angel, not the other way round. His distractionary tactic at Wolfram and Hart is both very clever and very cool. I like him a lot.

One episode to go. What about this prophecy, then…?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

"Everyone who isn't an American, drop your gun!"

Well, that was… adequate, I suppose. Nothing seriously wrong with it but it didn't really sing. Mostly it was the formulaic plot and the tiresomely excessive focus on the ethics of Kahler-Jex at the expense of the fun, but there was a certain lack of sparkle.

On the other hand, a Doctor Who western is a cool idea, even if it was done better forty-six years ago. The location filming in Spain ensured that the whole thing looked great, and there were a pleasing number of tropes to go around, from the lynch mob at the town jail to the gunfight at noon. I especially liked the undertaker, who reminded me of Back to the Future III. Then again, this is a timey-wimey Western. It couldn't not remind me of Back to the Future III.

Interestingly, Amy and Rory disagree on whether the Doctor is right to crudely expel Jex  from the town and semnd his to his death. Also interesting is that Amy notices a harder edge to the Doctor when he travels alone for too long. He may have regenerated since this was last an issue, but the Doctor still needs someone to stop him. And, right now, this is a problem, because he's gradually drifting away from Amy and Rory…

Ultimately the episode suffers because of the excessive hand-wringing over Jex. Yes, I know, we're meant to see a parallel between the two alien doctors, and the Doctor's crimes are arguably worse than Jex's. But vague parallels don't get us very far.

The cyborg is cool, I suppose, as is the ending, although the narration device seems a little forced and pointless, and there are enough set pieces to stop the episode from being overly bogged down. Still, meh. Hopefully there'll be more to talk about next week.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Primeval

"I think we've all sort of drifted apart this year, don't you?"

Now that was a satisfying season finale. Interestingly, it wasn't the last episode of the season, but let's gloss over that for now. This was the perfect conclusion to all the themes of the season and a suitably dramatic ending. It also bears a suspicious resemblance to Whedon's later superb The Cabin in the Woods, what with a secret installation being overrun by demons, but never mind. This is bloody good telly.

I'm glad that Riley hasn't betrayed Buffy of his free will, but because of his "behaviour modifier". Considerable more icky yet cool, though, are zombie Forrester and, especially, zombie Maggie Walsh. Zombie Forrester, in particular- zombified, but alive- is in a situation which is no doubt intended as a direct parallel to vampirism. Zombies, after all, are undead too, just physically stronger and rather less sexy. Adam's plan is pleasingly Bond villain, too: get demon and human to kill each other so he can use the parts left behind to raise an army of zombies like himself. Bwahaha!

It's good to see the four principle Scoobies quickly figure out that Spike has played them- Buffy, in particular, shows loads of cleverness- and then rather movingly start to work out their issues both literally (what a lovely conversation between Buffy and Willow..!) and metaphorically, what with that weird combination spell thingy which gives the combined entity really glowy eyes, and loads of really cool superpowers for some reason. The concluding fight with Adam is epic. You have to respect any scene that involves the ripping out of a still-beating uranium heart. You just don't see that sort of thing often enough. It's interesting, though, that the spell casts the four Scoobies as archetypes- Willow is the "spirit", Xander the "heart", Giles the "mind" and Buffy the "hand". Again, there are distinct similarities to The Cabin in the Woods

All this- plus some amusing scenes of a hung-over Giles and a rather cute scene with Anya telling Xander, who's worried that he may indeed be a directionless loser, that she loves him- leads to a satisfying finale which leaves one wondering what the Hell is going to happen in the final episode of the Season. The final scene, with the Initiative being quietly un-happened by shadowy government figures, is delightfully zeitgeisty in an X-Files sort of way, too. What now?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Angel: War Zone

"There's a whole world in LA that no one ever sees."

So we get to meet Gunn, at last. Feels almost as though the gang's all here and this show is emerging from its experimental early phase towards what it will become. It's odd seeing Gunn as the heroic leader of a street gang, a parallel to Angel in many ways. It's also odd that his own sister addresses him by his surname, but I can overlook that. This is perfect as an introduction (and I'm sure it was obvious to all viewers that this was the introduction of an eventual regular) - the character of Gunn is strong, with enough hinterland to establish him, and J. August Richards is a superb actor. Ok, I suppose that it's obvious from the beginning, to anyone who's remotely TV literate, that Alonna is going to die, but I think that's intentional.

Of course, there's a clear theme of poverty, social class, and the invisibility of the urban poor (even the local vampires are almost as obnoxious for their snobbery as for their evil ways), and an obvious contrast with a billionaire nerd who plays D&D. Incidentally, I play D&D and, contrary to much annoying media stereotyping, I possess a modicum of social skills and have never been in a demon brothel. Just wanted to make that clear.

Oddly enough, the structure of this episode's plot reminded me a lot of The A-Team, especially with the more than usually obvious use of LA settings. A fugitive gang fighting evildoers with makeshift weapons in abandoned warehouses- that's close enough. It's also nice that the potentially annoying trope of other good guys not believing in Angel's good intentions doesn't last for long enough to truly irritate.

Gunn is essentially given something akin to a superhero origin story here, with the agony of his sister's turning into a vampire, taunting him and having to be dusted by him being a sort of equivalent of Bruce Wayne's parents getting shot, if you ignore the inconvenient fact that he seems to have already been doing his stuff for some time. I like his parting with Angel: one of mutual respect, with Angel refusing to act all fatherly or patronising.

As far as the regulars are concerned, Cordelia and Wesley are turning out to be a fantastic double act, and almost seem like brother and sister. And it's beginning to look as though Angel will never, ever learn how to use mobile phones.

We're getting very close to the end of the season now, so it's interesting that we get an episode full of set-up for the future. How is the season going to end? Is there going to be a big, Buffy-style season finale, or will Angel do things differently? Two episodes to go…

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Yoko Factor

"Don't tell me you've never heard of the Beatles?"

"I have. I like Helter Skelter."

"What a surprise…"

Well, that's quite a cliffhanger. Four seasons of Buffy have constantly drummed into us the message that the Slayer's main strength is her friends. Now all that has gone. And, if that wasn't bad enough, Riley, completely without warning, is seemingly in league with Adam. It's all gone horribly wrong.

It's odd that Adam, whom we've seen strangely little of for a Season Big Bad, should simply lurk in the shadows, manipulating people and being philosophical. But it works although, again, I wish I'd read Frankenstein: I suspect there are all sorts of allusions I'm not getting.

Spike connects Adam to everyone else: he's Adam's puppet but also everyone else's puppet master. It's an odd reversal from the end of Season Two, when he unexpectedly changed sides. This time, we shouldn't think of him as a turncoat; he's as evil as ever. And just because the chip in his head stops him from being violent (even aiming a replica gun!) doesn't mean he can't use words to the same ends, to divide and conquer. As we've known since he was introduced, Spike is emotionally intelligent and a shrewd judge of people. This is the episode when we find out just how dangerous this makes him as he plays the Scoobies like a piano.

But the fault lines are there to be used. Willow, because of her relationship with Tara, is semi-detached, and sees less and less of her University roommate. This means her friends misunderstand how she's changed; they still see her role as computer whiz more than spellcaster. Xander, lacking in superpowers and not being at college, is lacking in confidence and feeling chippy. And Giles, well… he's just a drunken retired librarian. And that extended version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird we saw from him just has to be significant. Is he going somewhere, perhaps?

I was surprised to see Angel, after my prediction that he and Buffy would never meet again. They make up, although not without awkwardness, and the friction between old boyfriend and new boyfriend seems, eventually, to be resolved. Until the last scene!!!

Big themes and plot arc stuff aside, there are some other interesting things here, not least of which is Forrest's shocking death. The Colonel's comment, early on, about Riley ("Boy thinks too much") is very revealing. This story arc is not exactly pro-military. Oh, and there's also Miss Kitty Fantastico. Awww! But mainly, yes, it is the plot and themes. How on earth is this going to pay off…?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Angel: Sanctuary

"Don't you dare take the moral high ground with me after what she did?"

This is simply a superb episode, and such a heady brew of themes, simmering for a long time on both Buffy and Angel, which now finally boil over. This is the most intimidating episode to write about for some considerable time.

Redemption, and how you deal with overwhelming feelings of guilt, is both the main theme of this show and the absolute centre of Angel's character. It's not surprising, then, that he should emphasise so strongly with Faith's deep desire for redemption and her helplessness at the enormity of what she has to atone for. The scene with Faith, Lady Macbeth-like, looking at her bloody hands might as well serve as the episode's defining image.

Of course, no one else has Angel's empathy for Faith. Not Cordelia, who buggers off in the first few minutes. Certainly not Buffy. Not Wolfram and Hart, who don't like being cheated. Not the Watchers' Council. Not the police, and especially not X-Files viewer Kate. Everyone is outraged that he should be harbouring such a notorious criminal, the sole Guardian reader on Planet Daily Mail. For someone like me, with deeply unfashionable, wishy-washy opinions on crime and punishment, this is actually quite moving. It's often not easy to be the only person in the group who thinks that, actually, it isn't a particularly good idea to string anybody up, not even the very worst.

The twist, of course- that Angel's ultimate purpose is to convince Faith to give herself up willingly to the law- is even more deeply, deeply rich with meaning. For so long, albeit in Buffy rather than Angel, we've splayed with the question of whether those with power, Greek style heroes such as slayers, should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Faith, in Bad Girls, just before her fall, stated that they shouldn't. This episode, co-written by creators Joss Whedon and Tim Minear, states unequivocally that they should. This is a heavy theme, redolent of Crime and Punishment, The Outsider (I read it last month on a long train journey, incidentally; if you haven't read it, do so now), and even, for such a secular show, theological stuff.

There's one name, incidentally, whom I left off the list of people who turn against Angel: Wesley, the person recently tortured by Faith. He has every reason to help the Council, during their cosy little chat with good English beer, to seize Faith, but his deep loyalty to Angel means he doesn't. He may not entirely agree with his boss, but he's no traitor. And once again it's notable that he's moved a long way on his journey from klutz to badass. He's bloody good at darts. He punches Weatherby for calling him a ponce. And he feels a sense of purpose and pride working for Angel that he never did while working for the Council.

But perhaps the most interesting element, arc-wise, is the clash between Angel and Buffy. They part on very bad terms with each staking out their territory, almost, in metatextual terms, as though the two shows are diverging and divorcing from this point. I suspect this is the last time we'll ever see the two of them meet.

Oh yes, and there's Wolfram and Hart. Once again, we have Lilah and Lindsey. And we get what I believe to be out first reference to the "Senior Partners". Something is cooking…

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

"Egyptian queen or not, I shall put you across my knee and spank you."

I'll admit I wasn't concentrating 100% on first viewing, but I was, er, distracted. Yes, distracted. Deliriously, wonderfully so. I'll say no more!!! Suffice to say that I've watched it again and was blown away. I haven't been as harsh on Chris Chibnall's scripts in the past as others have been, but his episodes have never been my favourites. Until now.

There's a tendency, under the present reign of the Moff, for Doctor Who to concoct episodes out off the maddest possible combinations of characters and high concepts just because it's cool. It's a high risk strategy, placing huge demands on the nuts and bolts of the script to hold it all together, but when it works, it's just brilliant. And that's what this is. The script just sings.

Yes, we have the eponymous dinosaurs on a spaceship, and the CGI is mostly convincing. But we also have Queen Nefertiti(!), an Edwardian big game hunter played by Lestrade from Sherlock, Rory's dad, played by Mark Williams of The Fast Show, and two delightfully camp robots voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Oh, and a massive beach with big skies that's actually the engine room for a spaceship. All this has got to be crammed into forty-two minutes, which is seemingly impossible. Thing is, though, it works brilliantly, and that's because of a brilliantly structured plot. Case in point: surely the opening sequence must be more crammed with stuff than any previous episode? That's some tight plotting, yet the whole thing is done with such lightness of touch, and the dialogue sparkles.

The dinosaurs are great, and cool set-pieces abound, from the Doctor, Rory and Brian riding a triceratops to Amy and Riddell shooting at raptors. The villain- essentially a pirate / banker type moral blank space- is suitably nasty, murdering a whole ship full of Silurians for a profit. Interestingly, the Doctor leaves him to die at the end, which is rather reminiscent of his treatment of Cassandra, two incarnations ago, in The End of the World. Also interesting is that, for the second episode in a row, we're reminded that the villain has no idea who the Doctor is. All traces of his existence have been erased. This is definitely leading to something…

Also interesting is the developing arc between the Doctor and the Ponds, whom he now sees only every few months. In fact, before he goes to pick them up he revealingly says that he "(hasn't) seen them for ages". Also interesting is that Amy is pointedly made to look very Doctorish when she discovers the Silurian backstory by pushing some buttons, in front of Nefertiti and Riddell, especially when she insists that "I will not have flirting companions!" Steven Moffat has been quoted as saying that companions are there as the audience's representatives, through whose eyes we see the Doctor's adventures. When he starts allowing his companions to be so clearly portrayed as Doctorish, this is definitely a harbinger of the Ponds leaving. Amy even voices to the Doctor her fear that the Doctor is visiting them less and less often, and that one day she will once again be left waiting for a raggedy Doctor who never comes.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: New Moon Rising

"A woman in Tibet traded it to me for the Radiohead record."

So, Oz liked Kid A. I approve. It's by far my favourite Radiohead album. Well, In Rainbows is close. Anyway, after last week's lacklustre and skippable episode, this one was both very good and hugely significant.

We'd forgotten about Oz, but he's back, he's done the whole Jack Kerouac thing that Xander didn't (although more The Dharma Bums than On the Road, it seems), and it's really, really awkward. Then he's off again. This episode is a useful reminder to heterosexual people, like me, of the many, many awkwardnesses that gay people have to face in a world that assumes people are straight until told otherwise, having to constantly out themselves throughout their entire lives. I don't blame Willow for not telling Oz about Tara- it's still not fair on Oz, but it's still not Willow's fault that society's heteronormative assumptions make these things so difficult.

There's a nice parallel drawn, albeit a little too blatantly, between Buffy's awkward reaction to discovering Willow is in a gay relationship (I assumed everybody knew) and Riley's instinctive reaction to Oz being a werewolf. It doesn't necessarily make either of them any more racist or homophobic than most well-meaning liberals are deep down in their subconscious. I suppose I'm a bit surprised by Buffy's reaction, though- surely being gay wasn't that bit a deal in Southern California at the turn of the Millennium? To be fair, I suppose that being part of Doctor Who fandom has made me rather more casually accepting of homosexuality than the average person.

Arc stuff happens too, this time with Riley well and truly deciding which side he's on. It was inevitable that the Scoobies and the Initiative were eventually going to end up at daggers drawn, and Riley was always the person with the most to lose when it happens. He's given up everything for Buffy, tragically, I think. Yes, it's an important moment that Buffy now feel able to tell him all her deepest, darkest secrets (i.e. about Angel), but I still get the impression that the two of them are not soulmates. Buffy loves Riley only for as long as the initial passion lasts. After that, she'll discard him.

I'm glad the show has finally decided that the Initiative are not very nice people. What they do to Oz- a citizen of their country, who should have legal rights- is horribly, unspeakably Orwellian. And the "medical" experiments have overtones of, well, you know. And watching it now, in the context of Guantanamo and the "War on Terror", it's even more disturbing.

In other news, the Scoobies are now fugitives, presumably, with the weight of the US government after them, something that can't just be solved by a reset button. And Spike makes some sort of deal with Adam which is to unfold in a future episode, of which there are only three more this season. Why do I get the impression I'd have Adam far more figured out if I'd read Frankenstein…?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Angel: Five by Five

"So, to make a long story less long… if a service is rendered, we can get you off."

"Do you know how many men have promised me that?"

"You certainly won't be disappointed in our performance!"

I've commented before about my unease at the number of Buffy crossovers during Angel's first season. They don't help at all with establishing the show's own identity, and just make it look dependent on the parent show. And those criticisms still stand, and apply to this instance just as they did before. But there's no denying that this is a superb piece of television.

Of course, this is about Faith, and there's a real character arc throughout the episode. At first it seems she's completely unredeemed and unaffected by her recent experiences in Sunnydale; the first this we see her do upon leaving the bus (very Welcome to the Jungle!) is rob a man, in an inversion of the usual trope of women being vulnerable to strange men. Later we see her in a rock club (although people are dressed rather oddly for such a place!) where she alternates bouts of violence with dancing to Rob Zombie's rather splendid, and highly appropriate, Living Dead Girl. In fact, the choice of song is a rather clever pointer towards Faith's nihilism and death wish. The final few minutes, with Faith breaking down in the rain, and begging Angel to kill her, doesn't exactly come out of the blue. Faith's character is extremely nuanced and, in hindsight, has been very well handled by the writers on both shows. And there's plenty of humour on show in spite of the darkness.

The flashbacks with Angel just before and after the gypsy curse are supposed to contrast with Faith in the present day, I suppose, what with both characters being tormented by guilt. I'm not sure the contrast is all that strong, but it's nice to see the flashbacks.

Another thing I liked was how Wesley's previous sins with Faith are not just brushed under the carpet- there are harsh words and awkwardness between him and Angel, which had to happen; the viewers would not have accepted it if things were different. Of course, narratively, this means that Wesley has to be tortured to ensure that we're fully on his side: the simple scene of Faith, looking out of the window with the shard of glass she was holding earlier, but bloodied, is horrible effective. And it's the most explicit acknowledgement yet, by comparing the Wesley of today with his slightly younger self, of how much he's changed.

Story arc-wise, though, this is when Wolfram and Hart really hit the foreground, and the double act between Lilah and Lindsey (who hasn't appeared since the first episode!!!) begins. And all of these extensive sets of the interior of the offices just cry out to be used again and again. At last we get a proper sense of the internal machinations and office politics inside the firm, and it's as deliciously evil as we might expect.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Where the Wild Things Are

"I'm just trying to tell you that we have nothing in common beyond both of us liking your penis…"

Ok, so this was a so-so episode, a "monster" of the week story for the first time in ages, treading water, and not advancing the plot in any way. To an extent, it's filler. In fact, it's noticeable that Sarah Michelle Gellar gets little screen time. And yet, amongst the silliness, there's an important message about how unreasoning sexual repression and intolerant religious Puritanism can wreck lives. The monster here is not the bunch of poltergeists, but that evil old woman.

All the same, there's a certain clunkiness and disposability to the episode, and the moral message feels somewhat tacked on. There are some nice character moments, though, the most legendary of which is Giles, at an open mic night, wowing everyone with his version of The Who's Behind Blue Eyes, and that look on Alyson Hannigan's face. Also, Buffy and Riley wanting to have constant sex is funny. Anya gets all the best lines, as usual, and the argument in the ice cream van ends with genuine hilarity. I love the fact that she throws a massive wobbly because they went for a whole day without sex!!! All the characterisation is spot on. The Earth literally moves while Buffy and Riley are having that strange, oddly gracious looking sort of sex that TV characrters tend to have.

It's just that, well, there isn't much to say about this episode, and it's the first one for a long while that I'd go so far as to call skippable. Can we start to get the season moving towards its end, please? There's oddly little sense of tension, considering that this is the eighteenth episode of twenty-two. It's been a great season so far but I'm a little worried about the fact that I can't see much epicness on the horizon. There's Adam, but we viewers aren't exactly much invested in him. Here's hoping there'll be more to say about the next episode…

Monday, 3 September 2012

Angel: Eternity

"It was a seminal show, cancelled by the idiot network."

Yes, I know, this is the first time Angelus comes back in Angel's own show, it's terrifying, it's our first variation on the Angel / Angelus theme as a happy pill brings a "synthetic" Angelus into being until the drug wears off, Wesley makes an interesting comment about not all sex necessarily bringing true happiness (very true), and it's really very exciting. But this episode is really about the depressing price of fame and a fairly savage indictment of the entire Hollywood value system.

After a bit of fun in the opening titles as Cordelia, in a performance of The Doll's House, puts in the most hilariously awful acting performance ever- paradoxically an acting tour de force from Charisma Carpenter- we launch into a savage indictment of the brutally shallow and utterly fake (like the assassin) nature of the "industry", as it probably isn't called by those in the know. The rather disgusting character of Oliver- mendacious, manipulative, cynical, self-serving- pretty much personifies the whole thing.

This episode does a rather good job in making us feel genuinely sorry for Rebecca Lowell, the "poor little rich girl" who lives in a bubble and has nothing real in her life whatsoever; no true friends, no true freedom, and the ever-present fear of losing the trappings of fame in this dog-eat-dog world. The point is made effectively by the sudden cut between Cordelia (delightfully shallow, as ever) saying that she would give anything for Rebecca's lifestyle and Rebecca being pressured into having plastic surgery. Apparently another minor celebrity had her first plastic surgery at twenty-four, which is obscene. Rebecca's still only in her 20s, yet she's already feeling that her youth is behind her. It's not hard to see why she craves the eternal youth of the vampire.

That doesn't excuse what she does, of course, which seems awfully close to using rohypnol to rape Angel. But it's car crash fascinating to see Angelus again, and especially to hear the crushing things he says to both Cordelia and Wesley, although both of them have both grown enormously as people in recent episodes. The ending is pretty much perfect.

So, good episode, then, for its oh-so-LA themes and also with a bit of mythology in the side. Plus we learn that Angel rates Frank Langella's Dracula. I really must see that film…

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Superstar

"You could have, I dunno, a world without shrimp. Or a world with nothing but shrimp…"

The best episodes of Buffy, for me, as a lover of metatextual fun, are the ones that subvert the format, and this is no exception. Jonathan, unexpectedly, is back for the first time since Jane Espenson's earlier Earshot. I love the character, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a shortarse. I love everything about this alternate world in which Jonathan is even in the opening credits.

It's hilarious just how perfect Jonathan is- he's a millionaire with two live-in supermodel lovers, a world-famous crooner, starred in The Matrix, has completed med school in spite of being only eighteen, advises the Initiative, has his own comic books and trading cards, was given the Class Protector Award by Buffy(!), and is the most hilariously exaggerated Mary Sue I've ever seen. This alone is enormous fun. We also get hilarious consequences. My favourite is the conversation, early on, between Willow and Tara, where the camera suddenly turns round to reveal they've been making a Jonathan collage.

Interestingly, reality has shifted only as far as is needed to incorporate Jonathan being such a great hero. This has knock-on effects, but continuity is otherwise the same. Indeed, we learn more about Adam, courtesy of Jonathan, naturally; he's powered by Uranium-235, which basically means he's really difficult to kill. Lovely. Also, the Initiative have a new boss: Colonel George Havilland.

The only real difference is that Buffy, in this reality, has always played second fiddle to Jonathan, and is rather lacking in confidence until reality reasserts itself. Her relationship with Riley remains the same, though, and we see the consequences of Riley unknowingly sleeping with Faith play out. This seems to be resolved, rather touchingly, with a lot of honesty, a lot of tenderness, and some very wise words from Jonathan. I wonder, though: are they really going to be able to quite get back to where they were before?

Also adorable are Xander and the gloriously tactless Anya (please let her be in every episode!!!), but most of all Willow and Tara, who are now officially and publicly a couple. Willow's concern for Tara after she's attacked by the beast is just lovely. Seeing the two of them together just makes me go "aaaah!"

Interestingly, and usefully for the exposition, Adam realises that reality has shifted, but also that chaos will ensue as reality reasserts itself. This also has the useful side-effect, of course, of making him seem more of a badass. And Buffy, too, comes across as increasingly badass as she works out what's happening and gradually starts to act herself, instead of the subordinate role that Jonathan has written for her. The conclusion is fitting; Jonathan, although he's made a Faustian pact, ultimately avoids temptation by saving the day and Buffy's life. For all its wit and coolness, this episode is also plotted with awesome economy and efficiency.

Rather hilariously (intentional, I think), the final conversation between Buffy and Jonathan comes across as a bit like those monologues at the end of Masters of the Universe and other cartoons. We're being told that problems can't be solved by magic, and life is complicated. Given the high magical content of this show, you could say that's a bit rich!!!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

"You're going to fire me at the planet? That's the plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?"

"To be fair, that is slightly your MO…"

"Don't be fair to the the Daleks when they're firing me at a planet!"

Oooh boy. That Steven Moffat is a very clever and naughty man, casting Jenna-Louise Coleman in this, as a character who can't possibly be a companion because she's not from contemporary Earth and, oh yes, she's actually a Dalek. And yet her last word is "Remember". What's going on? How can I possibly wait to find out? Grr. Typical Moffat to smuggle this into precisely the episode no one would expect it. We've come to expect misdirection from Moffat, but this time he's outsmarted us all.

Oswin (a boy's name, surely????) is the emotional heart of this episode. (Actually, this episode rather appropriately has two emotional hearts, the other being Amy and Rory, but we'll come to that.) We spend the whole episode seeing how cool, nice, quirky, pretty and downright amazing she is, only to find out that her life is an elaborate fantasy (an old Moffat trope; I remember Silence in the Library…) and she's been turned into a Dalek. And then, of course, she sacrifices herself to save the Doctor and his friends, proving that she's human after all.

It's unique seeing the Doctor's relationship with Amy and Rory these days. He travels alone these days but, as Steven Moffat has often said in interviews, it's not as though they'll never see the Doctor again, and the stories as transmitted are those particular moments where they do- implying, of course, loads of untransmitted adventures for the Doctor. He could age years between episodes. And so we have a paradox: we only see the Doctor from the Ponds' point of view, but we also see the Ponds from the Doctor's point of view. Years have passed since we last saw them. Amy is a successful model. And, upsettingly, they're divorced. And, of course, Amy explicitly insists that this is the sort of problem that the Doctor can fix. And yet, annoyingly and wonderfully, he can. (It seems the split up was about children- I predict that the episodes to come might see the patter of tiny Ponds…?)

Misdirection aside, of course, there was genuinely stuff here to please those of us who like a bit of fanwank. We had some real Sixties Daleks, one courtesy of RTD, and crowd-pleasing mentions of "Spiridon, Kembel, Aridius, Vulcan, Exxilon". But there was cool new stuff- the epic CGI awesomeness that was the Parliament of Daleks, the Dalekised humans (foreshadowing!) and the Dalek zombies. Especially the Dalek zombies.

The conclusion of the episode, though, courtesy of Oswin's cleverness, has the Daleks forgetting the Doctor, continuing the recent theme whereby traces of the Doctor's existence are currently erased. This is definitely leaving somewhere. Just like the end of The Wedding of River Song, we end with a constantly repeated "Doctor Who?"