Friday, 31 May 2013

Nick and I Have Another Splendid Podcast

Just nipping back in for a bit. We have just moved house and there are boxes everywhere; blogging will properly resume, fear not, but life sometimes intervenes.

Anyway, here is the latest podcast about Doctor Who from Nick and myself for your listening pleasure...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

“No way my wife is buried out here…”

“Your what?!”.

Nearly twenty-four hours on, and I’m still fangasming. I loved it, obviously, but don’t expect any serious critical engagement with this episode, or indeed reviewing, in this “review”. Instead, I shall flail about like a flaily thing and, uhm, squee incessantly.

At last we know the solution to the Clara conundrum, and it’s a neatly elegant one. She is indeed just an ordinary person, if a little more magnificent than usual, and it’s only when she sacrifices herself, and shards of her persona are scattered throughout space and time that she becomes extraordinary. The other Claras are the soufflés; the original Clara is the recipe. It is at the same time so gloriously complicated and so elegantly simple. And this is what leads to the cliff hanger, as the Doctor heads into his own timeline to save her.

We see River again, or rather a backup of her from after her death in The Silence in the Library two-parter. She is therefore at the latest part in her life, if you can call it that, than we have ever seen her. She has what seems to be her final goodbye to the Doctor and they share a passionate kiss such as has never quite seen before in Doctor Who. Intriguingly, we discover towards the end that River is solid and seems to have a physical existence. This added mystery implies we will be seeing her again. Spoilers, sweetie!

Vastra, Jenny and Strax are brilliantly used, as always. They are the glue that holds the story together. The concept of a séance across time is inspired, and also rather convenient, as this is the means by which Moffat assembles his cast of the Doctor’s friends, and thus allows the plot to happen. We get a touching glimpse into the kinky but loving relationship between Vastra and Jenny. Vastra is distraught when Jenny “dies”, and her comments to Strax are revealing: he remarks that the heart is a simple thing and she replies, simply “I have not found it so”.

Strax, of course, is at his comical best, but in this case this serves as a contrast with his radically different behaviour after the Great Intelligence has begun to erase the Doctor’s time stream, becoming hostile and humorous. And, yes, this is my cue to flail about wildly at all the old clips, old Doctors and such forth.

The continuity porn begins immediately, and has me jumping up and down like a kangaroo on a trampoline on speed, as we see the Doctor and Susan nicking the TARDIS all those years ago! At last, we have it confirmed that Susan was with him at the time and, oddly, he’s wearing the same Edwardian clothes that we see him wearing in An Unearthly Child, un-Gallifreyan though they are. Loads more clips follow, in which all the Doctors appear in varying levels of detail, including an interesting one in which footage of Patrick Troughton from The Five Doctors is inserted in to footage of modern California. Many of the clips look a little odd, as the picture quality does not match modern HD, but it is awesome to see them.

Almost as fangasmy is the fact that we finally get to see Trenzalore and the Doctor’s tomb. We do not, after all, hear the Doctor’s name spoken, but it is both the key to the Great Intelligence’s scheme and important to the final scene, of which more shortly. I expected to see the Silence in this episode, but they are, it is perhaps implied, the good guys in that they only intend to prevent the Doctor being erased from history and the great suffering that would cause. Instead, we get another great Moffat villain in the Whisper Men, who remind me of the Gentlemen from the Buffy episode Hush.

But the thing we’re all really hyper about, twenty-four hours later, is John Hurt’s previously unknown Doctor. Who is he, and why is he so beyond the pale to his subsequent incarnations? We face the challenging task of waiting a whole six months to find out. See you on the twenty-third of November. Excited much?!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver

“I hate the future. It’s stupid”.

Right. Let’s get the cards on the table at the start. Neil Gaiman is god, and this is the best episode since, well, The Doctor’s Wife My expectations were huge, but I was not disappointed.

Ok, there were a couple of minor niggles with the production, not least of which was a bit of dodgy CGI. But the script was faultless. We will come to the Cybermen shortly, as this is the best Cyberman story ever, but there are so many other things to love about this story. It simply overruns with ideas and imagination and reminds me of the splendid DWM comic strips of 1980’s, which, considering Gaiman’s background, is appropriate. I also love the fact that, years after The Girl in the Fireplace, Doctor Who finally gets what must be an allusion to the Mechanical Turk, as we first see a Cyberman playing chess and then discover that Porridge (Warwick Davis) is inside.

This episode reeks wonderfully of a wider world, or should I say universe, ruled by an emperor and replete with little cultural trappings of the Roman Empire at its classical height. Also genius is the very concept of an abandoned amusement park in the dark. But this is recognisably Doctor Who: Neil Gaiman is enough of a fanboy to use the word “transmat” for teleporter and, well, he knows his Troughton.

Quite sensibly, in giving us the greatest Cyberman story ever, Gaiman refers to all the best Cybermen stories, all of which were Troughton stories. We see Cybermen emerging from their tombs and even a mock-up of a base on the moon. These new Cybermen look epic, with their blankly emotionless faces returning to the simplicity of the Wheel in Space design. These are genuinely scary Cybermen, who can instantly upgrade to overcome any difficulty. Massed CGI ranks of Cybermen may not look convincing, but individually these Cybermen are the best. I suspect, too, that these are the first real Cybermen we have seen since Silver Nemesis in 1988, proper Cybermen from our world and not that alternate reality that RTD gave us. Cybermats are upgraded to Cybermites, for the first time since The invasion we have a Cyberplanner, and there may even be a reference to Big Finish audio drama Spare Parts in the scenes where the Cyberman attempts to convert the Doctor.

Gaiman makes a number of wise decisions. In the partly Cybernised Webley, he gives the Cybermen a spokesman who is not actually boring to listen to. The scenes with the conflicted Doctor are superb, and allow Matt Smith to play a baddie. I feel I owe him an apology: I just don’t praise his superlative acting often enough. I also love the use of chess as a metaphor for the fight over the Doctor’s brain, and the way that this plays out throughout the episode. I’m reminded of The Seventh Seal.

So, basically, this is great, and Neil Gaiman should be forced to write as much Doctor Who as possible. There is also arc stuff going on, mind you. Angie and Artie, whom Clara is looking after, get their first and, I suspect, not last outing in the TARDIS. And it is established that the Doctor drops Clara off after each adventure and picks her up on Wednesdays. Under Moffat, being the Doctor’s companion is still a part time job. See you next week for the season finale.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Dollhouse: Instinct

“The human mind is like Van Halen; every time you remove a part, it degenerates!”

Oh my God. There is soOoOoOoOoO much going on in this episode. The central concept is brilliant as always, and an ingenious development of the idea of the Dollhouse. Echo is hired by a bereaved husband to be mother to his child, but the maternal instinct which was imprinted into her remains real even after being wiped. There is an obvious point here about the power of the maternal instinct, is significant that this should happen to Echo at this point, where wiping is not removing everything.

That’s the plot, and it’s a bloody good one which further develops the core philosophical concepts of the show. But around this are threaded all sorts of things which are clearly going to contribute to the season arc. Adelle is still in contact with November who, although she has now left the Dollhouse, is still receiving aftercare and obviously still has a part to play in the overall arc as she’s still appearing in the series. We also learn more about Senator Daniel Perrin, who lives in a big, big house and really has it in for the Dollhouse: did he hire Dominic? He’s certainly researching Rossum, the company behind the Dollhouse which is receiving rather a strong focus in this new season.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but it appears that Doctor Saunders has left for good. Things are changing. Echo and Ballard are plotting together to bring down the Dollhouse. Already, this season is beginning to feel as though the status quo is no longer stable.

Dollhouse: Vows

“Who did they make me this time?”

So, a brand spanking new season. This first episode is so important that Joss Whedon himself writes AND directs. There are lots of exciting things to notice about the first day of term, not least of which is the new boy, Alexis Denisof. Already I’m excited.

There have been changes since last season and, while an episode of the week of sorts, the plot revolves around them. Agent Ballard is now Echo’s handler, but he and Echo appear to have an agenda of their own. She is first seen with her thirty nine personalities seemingly being erased, with some rather appropriate footage from Bride of Frankenstein. All is not as it seems, however.

Doctor Saunders, now that the audience is aware that she’s an active, has a particularly interesting episode. She hates Topher, apparently, and is full of exactly the sort of existential angst that we expect from her situation. It doesn’t help, either, that Victor’s scars have been fixed and hers haven’t. What’s particularly interesting is that she doesn’t want to revert to her original personality as she doesn’t want to “die”.

The basic plot consists of Echo pretending to be married to someone whom Ballard had been trying to catch for some time while working for the FBI; her handler is in effect also her customer. But behind all this lies a major recalibration of the character. We learn that she is well aware of her active status and retains memory of all her imprints while maintaining a coherent sense of self. She is, perhaps, what Alpha believes himself to be. She has two years left on her contract as someone who remembers all her experiences, obviously has some sort of agenda and is essentially the same person as the inquisitive and ballsy Caroline. Sparks are bound to fly.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror

“I think I’m going to go and play with my grenades…”

You know how a couple of weeks ago I expressed some lukewarm sentiments towards Mark Gatiss, and how last week I expressed some disquiet about how this series was perhaps catering a bit too much to the fans and not enough to, as Steven Moffat would say, the “other 100% of the audience”? Well, panic over. This week’s episode is outstanding, and its only overt continuity stuff is fairly recent stuff that the general viewer would remember. And, yes, it’s by Mark Gatiss, who has penned the best story of the season and his best since Night Terrors.

I have to start, though, by praising Saul Metzstein’s extraordinarily brilliant and stylish direction, evoking a Hard Times- style Victorian Yorkshire which is notably different in style from the Victorian London he gave us in The Snowmen. I was delighted by many things, but particularly the sepia textures of the flashbacks. With a quality script and quality direction there’s not much that can go wrong, and it doesn’t.

Gatiss deserves particular praise for the fact that this seems to be a “Doctor-lite” story, and yet the Doctor’s and Clara’s relative lack of screen time is used positively to add mystery and suspense. It’s good to see Vastra (of whom we actually see little), Jenny (who doth rule verily), and the ever-amusing Strax. Our favourite Sontaran nurse gets all the best lines and my favourite scene, in which a “Thomas Thomas” gives him directions. Delightfully, he is in a different and more comedic genre than the rest of the story, although no story in which none other than Diana Rigg gives us a broad Yorkshire Avengers baddie can be considered to be uber-serious. It’s a gloriously bonkers twist, though, with the revelation of “Mr Sweet” as an alien parasite.

There’s a little social commentary amongst all the fun, with a fairly thorough skewering of those patronising Victorian communities created by various tycoons for the benefit of their employees, complete with loads of social engineering- it’s not hard to see the relevance here to the present day, where there is much hand-wringing in right-wing circles about how the poor would be in much finer fettle if they would only have their access to alcohol curtailed by minimum pricing, and their benefits restricted to the basic necessities. Sadly, attitudes to the poor seem to be reverting to Victorian examples.

Friendly to the casual viewer this may be, but there are a couple of nods to the past. The Doctor refers to a certain Australian wanting to get back to Heathrow, and the Doctor being kept in the cell, referred to as a monster and fed through a grille evokes Control in Ghost Light. Mostly, however, the nods are to the present and future. The Doctor pointedly refuses to explain to Vastra and the gang how Clara, who died at Christmas, is seemingly alive again. Most intriguingly, we end with the two children Clara is babysitting blackmailing her into letting them tag along in what the clever kids have worked out is her friend’s time machine.

I’m excited about the future. This episode was excellent, but next week’s is written by Neil Gaiman.