Posts Tagged With: jemma redgrave

Review: Flux Part Five – Survivors of the Flux

I imagine there are a number of very disgruntled Doctor Who fans ranting and raving on social media at the moment. Not that this is in any way new. The internet is pockmarked with zits of anger and boils of rage – all directed at a show these people profess to love – and it is impossible to travel very far, wherever you happen to be going, without running into pustules of self-righteous indignation, seemingly desperate to be lanced or popped. Getting angry at Doctor Who is very fashionable. I should know; I’ve done it myself.

But this week’s anger is liable to take a specific form, and comes as we learn, more or less unambiguously, that two particular fan theories from the last couple of years have basically fallen at the wayside. The first (and by far most popular) is that the Master’s revelation halfway through ‘The Timeless Children’ was an outright falsehood. For a number of people (I’m not going to say ‘many’, because I suspect they’re probably just a particularly vocal minority) the prospect that Gallifrey’s public enemy number one was lying through his teeth was a far more appealing one than the likelihood that Chibnall genuinely wanted to see this through to the bitter end, even if it meant rewriting history. “The Master lies,” we’re told, over and over. “You can’t trust him”.

Well, no. You can’t. As far as unreliable narrators go, he’s up there with Keyser Soze. But…really? Is that something you’d honestly see Chibnall doing? Inserting new Doctors – including the first person of colour to land the role, if you don’t count Lenny Henry – only to turn round and say “Sorry, folks, this doesn’t count”? Or “We said there were loads of Doctors, but we were only pulling your leg”? Not only is it the sort of negligent trolling I don’t think even he’s capable of, it discards everything we’ve seen over the last three years; it also severely undermines the BBC’s (admirable) diversity agenda, and hence it isn’t the sort of trick he’s about to pull. I mean, Davies might. But that’s entirely up to him.

The other theory that has now failed to bear fruit is an expanded version of this: that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor inhabits a parallel universe, and is most likely herself a parallel Doctor. Hence everything that’s happened over the past few years, from angry Ptings to mysterious to TARDISes buried near lighthouses, has been a series of adventures chronicled by another set of adventurers. You know, a different Doctor. Not ours. Not the real one. And thus the timeline may be restored without prejudice and everybody’s happy (and by ‘everybody’, I mean that small-but-vocal contingent I previously mentioned). Capaldi regenerates into someone else and series 11-13 were only a dream, an imagined memory, half-human on its mother’s side. Isn’t it brilliant when you can strike the stories you hate from the continuity?

But as we saw in ‘Survivors of The Flux’, the Doctor really is the Timeless Child, and this really is our universe – something that’s not just a passing observation but a major plot point. The moment comes at the midway point in what is essentially a fifty-minute infodump. After a visually striking (if pedestrian) opening scene where the Doctor walks through a field of Angels, she then spends the rest of the episode confined to a single room where a middle-aged woman dressed like a post-apocalyptic Amelia Earhart fiddles with a set of controls and sneers at her. There is an Ood in the corner, who is there for no reason other than the fact that Chibnall clearly wanted an Ood, and whose reasoning the Doctor is able to affect in thirty seconds flat. She gets it on side by explaining that the universe it’s about to blow up contains other Ood, and that killing them is murder. How the Ood was unable to reach this conclusion on its own is left unexplained, but we should probably be used to that by now.

That the mysterious woman turns out to be Tecteun, the Doctor’s long lost mother, turns out to be no great shock. Nor are we surprised when she tempts Whittaker with a set of restored memories, presumably detailing all the times she was stomping across the universe doing Division’s dirty work. Nor do we care when the Doctor turns the offer down flat. Even the cliffhanger, in which Swarm and Azure pop up out of nowhere just in time to disintegrate Tecteun out of existence, is something you could see coming a mile off. The net result of this is that a series of uninteresting twists are heaped together in an attempt to make the whole more than the sum of its parts, in which respect it fails miserably. This is a wobbly tower of nothingness: reveals are dumped on top of reveals until they cease to have any impact, a layer cake where every layer is jam.

It’s as if Chibnall sat down to write this week’s episode having woken up in a panic in the realisation that he had ninety-four minutes of screen time left and enough unexplained material to fill about six hours. The only answer is to dump it all into a single speech and leave the audience to fill in the gaps. Which I wouldn’t mind, had it been even slightly entertaining – but most of the exposition is as dry as a desert. “Colossal,” beams Tecteun when the Doctor asks about the extent of Division’s influence. “Across space and time, its influence is unparalleled. Its reach is unlimited. All from the shadows. It achieves its aim beyond our wildest dreams.” It reads like a BBC press release. Barbara Flynn does the best she can with the dog’s breakfast she’s given, but when your job is primarily to tell everyone what’s been going on, how much life can you really inject?

There were good things. Craig Parkinson oozes venom (quite literally) as the treacherous Prentis, a sliver of white in his hair and a snake living on his back. His rise to the top of UNIT might almost be Machiavellian were it not for the fact that we’ve seen him before, in a very different setting, and it is clear that this is probably the same man, either immortal or carrying a TARDIS (or a working vortex manipulator). He manages to off anyone who gets in his way, with the notable exception of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who lights up the screen in what is the episode’s single best scene, before vanishing into the darkness as UNIT is defunded and her house is blown up. It’s all good fun until you realise that Chibnall’s effectively turned a Brexit gag into a significant plot point, but Jemma Redgrave is always fun to watch, so perhaps it’s churlish to complain.

Then there’s the companions, who mercifully have a bit more to do this week, having spent the last three years backpacking round the world in search of artifacts that might help them predict the year of the coming apocalypse (spoiler: it’s 2021); Around The World In Eighty Days with touches of Indiana Jones. They even get their own montage, hiking to Nepal (presumably Wales), red dotted lines charting their progress as the music swells in the background. All this is before they realise that what they were searching for was right under their noses the whole time, which really is a bit Wizard of Oz. Still, it’s nice to see more of Kevin McNally, who slides into the role of temporary sidekick with aplomb, sparking well with Bishop and Gill, whether he’s running from an obviously-placed stick of dynamite or shoving a corpse over the edge of a boat. The scene with the farquhar is likely to split the fandom. Personally, I was chuckling.

Four years ago Emily and I were watching series three of Twin Peaks. It was twenty-five years in coming and in retrospect I wonder whether the sense of anticipation led us to overlook some of its shortcomings. For every wonderful, crowd-pleasing moment (when Kyle MacLachlan looks to camera with a reassuring smile and declares “I am the FBI”, it’s difficult not to cheer) there are moments of unfulfilled promise: James Hurley’s half-visited storyline; the scenes with Ed and Norma and Nadine that basically come out of nowhere…it’s a mess. A god-awful glorious mess, but still a mess.

And the reason it works, despite being a mess, is that we’re dealing with pre-conceived characters we knew well. Lynch knew he’d told us all he really wanted to about these people, when we lived their lives and visited their homes in the early 1990s. All that remains is to drop in a coda (in the case of Audrey Horne, an interrupted cadenza). We don’t need to see any more of Ed and Norma, because we know their story and they deserve the happy ending they’re given. This isn’t the case with Flux, where Chibnall slingshots around a host of new and vaguely-connected characters in different times and places, offers the flimsiest of sketches and the barest character development the running time allows, and then ties them all together at the eleventh hour with string so old and frayed it could snap at any minute. There’s still at least one episode to go (possibly more, if he elects to draw this out into the specials) but it’s become apparent that this year’s Big Event is a story where plot is directing character, rather than the other way round: where they decided to wipe out the universe and stick in a bunch of half-formed people to see how it would affect them. Which is par for the course in Doctor Who, at least some of the time – but when it’s been hyped up so much, and when it’s all the new content we’re getting, you can’t help wishing they’d managed something a little more substantial.

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Have I Got Whos For You (election omnibus edition)

As I write this, they’re still counting the ballots. Thus we open, perhaps inevitably, with a NASA update.

Waiting for this thing to wrap is like waiting for a new series of Doctor Who. Ninety per cent of it is simply reading arguments on Twitter, casually dissecting soundbites, tossing out manufactured evidence of hidden agendas and realising that whatever the end result, you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who aren’t happy with it. And inevitably James Corden is going to show up somewhere. It is tedious, this game of hourly refreshes and working out how fast the numbers are rising. And we endure it with the same morbid fascination we assign to a car crash, only this is considerably nastier. And so we endlessly swipe down on the phone, hoping that the display will refresh with something new and interesting and perhaps even definitive, and when it doesn’t we go back to the box sets.

“No, it’s just you need something to take your mind off it. Now, which one do you want to watch?”

Doctor Who has its fair share of displaced despots, of course. They usually come to a bad end. Sometimes they’re thrown from the roofs of convention centres. More often they’ll see the light at the eleventh hour, early enough for redemption, if not salvation. Usually they’re trying to forge a pact with the Cybermen, or (even more foolishly) the Daleks; these people have clearly never watched the show. But they have one thing in common: they usually die alone.

Even Fox News, who we thought would be stalwart Trump supporters to the end, have been gradually shifting their stance ever since the moment it became apparent that he might actually come in second. It began some months ago with a rare editorial that appeared to condemn his handling of certain issues, and then over the last few days there have been pockets of anomalies that have instantly trended: most notorious, the early calling of Arizona that prompted a furious phone call from Trump to Rupert Murdoch. It’s by no means done and dusted – I’ve had a friend tell me just this morning that he’s sat through half an hour of rhetoric that to all intents and purposes was an incitement to violence – but even within that there are pepperings of disapproval, the suggestion that he should accept defeat with dignity, which is a little like asking Bruno Tonioli to tone down the theatrics.

If I were an optimist I’d say that it reflects a more considered, editorially balanced stance, one that even leans in the direction of impartiality. But the likely truth is that Fox are the rats deserting the sinking ship. They called this months ago, and have spent the build-up to the election – and its immediate aftermath – in a gradual shift away from the apparent losers, mixed in with the same dogged approval in the vain hopes that we wouldn’t notice. And meanwhile, having lost all but his fiercest defenders, Trump remains, increasingly isolated and shouting at the advancing waves, insisting that he can win this even as every hour that passes only seems to reinforce the likelihood that he cannot.

“I STILL HAVE CONTROL OF THE CRUCIBLE!”

Did they cheat? Well, I’m really not in a position to say whether there’s been mail-in fraud: I’ve yet to see any evidence beyond viral videos of ballot burning that were later debunked, and whenever anyone from the GOP is asked to produce anything that’s actually credible the result is a spaghetti western’s worth of tumbleweed. Could it be that they’re just so determined to win at all costs they’ll say anything they like and hope that if they say it with sufficient volume and frequency, people will start believing it? Probably. It worked for Nigel Farage. It worked for the Mail. It probably works for Kim Jong-Un. And it rubs off. I’m not saying that everyone who voted for him is a deluded idiot – right or wrong, I suspect that it’s possible to come to the conclusion that he’s the right man for the job from a position of rational intelligence, as opposed to the slavish adulation that won him the vote. But the sensible people aren’t the ones who appear on TV. Certainly the image of Trump supporters, frantically bombarding the polling stations in undeclared states – demanding that all activity cease in states where he was winning and ardently continue in states where he was losing – brought one particular recollection to mind.

While all this has been going on, the UK has watched with a mixture of mirth and revulsion. The fact that America seems to be on the verge of a civil war is enough to conjure a certain sense of already seen, as the French might have said: when it comes to divisive political gambits that split the country we have form, I don’t think we’re in any position to be smug about it. Certainly the bulk of British people I’ve encountered online seem to see Trump as a joke, but he has his defendants, and they are as ardent (and frequently as ill-informed) as many of their Transatlantic counterparts. It all gets a little depressing when you’re scrolling through a Facebook feed to look for entertainment news, and everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about the election, and most of the time they can’t actually spell. But hey, at least there’s a new series of The Mandalorian.

“Yeah, they want it back now.”

Speaking of entertainment news, it was mostly about one man this week: the Hollywood legend and whisky aficionado (and, we must acknowledge, beater of women) that is Sean Connery. The first man to play James Bond on the big screen, he remains for many the definitive 007 (although the definitive Bond film is arguably The Spy Who Loved Me; certainly that’s the best of them). In later years his career was defined by memorable supporting roles in average films – The Untouchables springs to mind – along with a few absolute clangers (step forward, The Avengers) and one or two genuine classics (Finding Forrester).

But there was a point at which Connery ceased to be an actor and became an icon. It happens to many of the best: it’s happened to Michael Caine, who, as good as he is in the likes of Children of Men, is always playing Michael Caine. Similarly, at an unspecified point in cinema, right about the time he became a national treasure, Sean Connery largely stopped playing characters and started playing Sean Connery. And it didn’t matter whether he was playing Richard the Lionheart, Allan Quatermain, or Indiana Jones’ dad.

“What about the boat? We’re not going on the boat?”

Connery was, of course, one of those people we thought would never leave us, who lived out his twilight years quietly on the other side of the ocean, except when the press wanted a soundbite about Scottish independence. It is difficult to imagine Trump going gently into that good night: he’s more the David Tennant type, thrashing and screaming and eking out every last available second of his allocated time, arguably overstaying his welcome, before standing alone, even as he can hear the knocks on the door, murmuring “I don’t wanna go…”

If nothing else, it’s taken our minds off Covid, inasmuch as anything really can. We’ve supposedly entered Lockdown 2.0, although I’m really not sure how that works because we never really had a 1.1 or 1.4 or any sort of beta, unless you count the regional isolation programmes that hit the north of England in September and October. Indeed, the government is keen to avoid the word ‘lockdown’, precisely because of the negative connotations it brings to mind, and prefers to call it an advanced containment programme or something else I can’t be bothered to Google.

Myself, I prefer to call a spade a spade (is that racist now? Please tell me if it is; I can’t find a reliable source). Apart from bubbles and schools, it’s more or less as it was. The pubs are closed, and we’re not allowed to go out, except to exercise and acquire essentials. I guess it’s back to the Series 10 rewatch.

“You’ve been panic buying, haven’t you?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Party Politics edition)

And introducing David Mellor as the Doctor.

(It’s fine, really. I’ve never liked him much but I maintain a chap has a right to have his hair however he wants. Still, it’s such an obvious joke…)

We have a couple of fan-baiting posts in the works over at Brian of Morbius, but I’m about to go on holiday and I’d very much like to be around to deal with the fallout when they land on social media, so that’ll have to wait. Instead, here’s a fresh selection – some hot off the press, some slightly older material I hadn’t yet got around to posting – and much of it of a political bent. You’ve been warned.

“Define ‘political’,” I hear you ask, when I’ve prodded you in the ribs and asked you to read it off the cue card. Well –

“What’s Trump doing there?” someone asked, whereupon I had to explain that no, this wasn’t Trump. “What are you talking about?” was the reply. “Of course it is.” And I suppose in a way she’s right, although not on purpose.

Speaking of Trump, he’s finally got that wall finished.

“Henry may be sad. Of course he’s sad. It’s what he deserves. Engines who don’t pull their weight get punished. No doubt the FAKE NEWS MEDIA will spew out their usual garbage about unions. Why don’t they go back to the cesspools they came from?”

Of course, if you really want something Who-related.

Talk to the hand, baby.

Elsewhere, in a pub somewhere in Norfolk, the Twelfth Doctor is trying unsuccessfully to get Kate Lethbridge-Stewart interested in Risk.

At a private function in the very same venue, John Bercow is realising that he’s missed his true calling all these years.

And somewhere in the void:

I think I’ll just go and eat worms…

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 36 and a half)

This week:

1. There is much consternation on Twitter when the Gallifrey Party posts this image of a Time Lord who was supposedly forced to lie down in the aisle because there were no unreserved seats on the shuttle.

Doc_Floor

2. In soaps: I didn’t really like Jemma Redgrave’s Holby Trauma Unit badge, so I have made her a new one.

Holby_Kate

3. In sports: new stills emerge from Mo Farah’s Olympic run.

Mo_Silence

4. And finally: here’s a deleted scene from Saturday night’s X-Factor.

X-Factor_Doc

Happy Sundays!

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Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part two)

Hey, you there. Yes, you. My audience of one. You’re the niche market, you know that? The person who likes Doctor Who, Samuel Beckett and who reads this blog. I mean, I always suspected this is going to be one of those videos whose appeal is always going to be as slim as the crack in Amy’s wall, but it’s good to know someone enjoyed it. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo. Nice to have you along.

If you’ve read my introductory piece you’ll probably have seen this coming, if only because it was ‘part one’. I said then that I’d been thinking for a while about precisely how we’d match Beckett and Doctor Who. But before we get to that, I ought to explain the why – you see, it’s all about the pace (’bout that pace, no treble…). Because twenty-first century Doctor Who is a whirling dervish of fast. Stories are begun and concluded within forty-five minutes. Supporting characters are introduced, established and then killed off or abandoned at an episode’s conclusion. It’s the way TV works, I appreciate that. But sometimes you wish they’d just run a little less, talk a little more and even just pause for breath occasionally.

There is a Geoffrey Palmer-narrated documentary on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD that illustrates this perfectly. It establishes that Classic Who – particularly the long, drawn-out stories of the first three Doctors (am I the only one who thinks that the pace starts to pick up when we get to Hinchcliffe?) – creates a deep structural contrast to the fast-in, fast-out narratives of the present day. Taking two particular extremes, it juxtaposes a scene from ‘Ambassadors’ – the Doctor and Liz, working leisurely on an antibody in the Doctor’s laboratory – with a frantic piece of expository monologuing from ‘World War Three’, in which the Ninth Doctor establishes in thirty seconds the kind of detail that used to take half an episode to solidify properly. These are two different shows, and while I love those long, drawn-out seven-parters, it’s easy to understand why a more contemporary audience might become fidgety.

Beckett’s a different story, of course. His use of silence, while not exactly like that of Pinter (whose silence was filled with unspoken dialogue) is one of the first things that strikes you. The repetition is another: dialogue is thrown back and forth all over the place, in scenes that often appear devoid of meaning, at least until you really unpack them. That, more than anything, was the kind of thing that I wanted to get across here: the sort of scene that doesn’t get into Doctor Who largely because it is superficially barmy. Beckett found comedy and tragedy alike in the absurd and the mundane, with the most ordinary things granted disproportionate emotional weight, and that may be one of the reasons I’ve warmed to him over the years.

Endgame

 

Um.

The_mutant_is_revealed

[coughs]

Beckett shares a birthday with Peter Davison, and it was learning this fact that persuaded me to get off my arse and actually put this video together, after months of procrastination. A Fifth Doctor episode would have been a more appropriate fit, perhaps, but the Fifth Doctor stories are already pretty leisurely and I couldn’t think of anything that would create sufficient contrast. Besides, there was only ever really one candidate – a scene from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in which Kate Lethbridge-Stewart confronts her Zygon duplicate at UNIT headquarters, with mirrored camera angles and moody lighting that I suggested, in my review, to ‘like watching one of Beckett’s television plays’.

Assembling this was awkward, time-consuming and not entirely satisfying. When you don’t know precisely what you want to do with something – except to make it “a bit like so-and-so” – actually reaching an end point that pleases you is nigh-on impossible. The truth is that after hours of getting it as good as I could, I gave up. Because getting it done was fiddly and repetitive and I’d had enough. The fact that the unscored audio didn’t quite synch was a bad start. The fact that there were fewer silences and usable shots (in this case, shots where nothing was happening) than I’d previously thought was another hurdle. I got round it by a lot of reversals, a fair amount of slow motion and a bit of zoom here and there – the accompanying whirr for these close-ups is to give the impression that the characters are being viewed through a security camera, which I hope excuses the grainy appearances.

I’m pleased with the Doctor’s bits. ‘Day of the Doctor’ is atypical in that the closing monologue is oddly poetic, and bits of it slotted right in. Stylistically, the whole thing is supposed to resemble What Where, which features assorted confrontations in large darkened chambers, interspersed with the ‘thoughts’ of the main characters, delivered in voiceover. The Beckett on Film version I used as my basic starting point is not, as far as I can see, on YouTube, but this adaptation gives you the basic idea.

The clarinet music was a last-minute drop-in but I think it adds something. The full version is available here, and it’s really quite lovely, if you like that sort of thing. Actually, “if you like that sort of thing” could pretty well sum up this entire project. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re probably not the intended audience. As a technical exercise I think it’s a valiant effort but ultimately a failure. As an exercise in pretentiousness, I think it succeeds on all levels.

And I might…eventually….do a Pinter video.

Pause.

Yes. Perhaps I’ll do a Pinter one.

Silence.

But not today.

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