Posts Tagged With: john simm

Review: The Doctor Falls

I’ve written six Metro articles this week and I’m about spent. There have been opinion pieces and video collections. I’ve written one piece praising Moffat’s legacy, and another that tears down the series finale. I’m sorry folks, but I have nothing left to give.

It doesn’t help that watching this week was problematic, thanks to the Preview website buffering every ten seconds, leading to some peculiar moments where Capaldi’s mouth would hang open mid-sentence in awkward comedy poses. Emily and I endured it for half an hour on two laptops and two different browsers before giving up – I would eventually see the rest of it the following morning when the connection was better. We decided to watch this week’s Twin Peaks instead, because at least that was a download. Ten minutes in the phone rang: it was the school. Thomas was inconsolable on his overnight residential and would I please come and pick him up? The next thing you know I’m bombing up the A34 at quarter past ten on a Wednesday evening. Oh, and did I mention the A34 turned out to be shut?

But I remember watching Peter Capaldi’s very first episode – some days after it had aired – and, having missed the review window, deciding to retrospectively liveblog the experience. So that’s what I’m doing here. If you’d really like another sixteen paragraphs of cynical commentary I can provide that, but you have to ask nicely.

In the meantime, here’s ‘The Doctor Falls’, more or less as it happens.

1:23 – Matrons. Matrons with guns. I’m sure that’s the title of a porn movie. Maybe a snuff film. Could we watch it together?

4:50 – We’re on a rooftop. Missy and the Master are dancing and contemplating a snog. This is two shakes away from masturbation. Literally.

6:05 – “Ten years,” Simm confirms. That answers that question, although he also said it in interviews; Ah, and now we have the exposition. They seem to have fixed the drumming; nothing else explains his apparent good humour. Unless he knows how Game of Thrones is going to end.

7:00 – Thought: maybe the Doctor believes that Simm and Coleman had improbably round faces because his is implausibly long. Maybe it’s a perspective thing. “We say the same thing about you.”

8:11 – “This doesn’t make any sense!” This sounds like every Facebook conversation I’ve had this week about why there are two Masters. Seriously, why don’t these people read?

12:27 – And this is where we came in.

13:10 – What’s with the wailing lament with the drone underneath? It’s like bad Morricone. Which would suggest that we’re being set up for bad Leone. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, only I’m having trouble deciding which is which.

14:12 – Ah, I see what’s going on. We’ve been here before. This is a nice way to include Mackie. It also means she’s not coming back next year.

19:36 – Don’t make her angry. You wouldn’t like where she’s – and there goes the wall. She’ll be useful if the Doctor ever needs a knock-through.

21:56 – And the Doctor’s hand is glowing. But this is clearly the Reassuring Wisdom scene. The stick he’s holding is very Gandalf. Say something for the Tumblr feeds, Doctor.

23:45 – “Where there’s tears, there’s hope.” Oh FFS.

24:48 – Can we assume that there’s some sort of formalised English filter in Bill’s headpiece and she’s not really saying “Stand aside?”. Can we assume it’s something like “Move your flamin’ penguin arse”?

24:56 – As the Master asks “Is the future gonna be all girl?”, the Doctor replies “We can only hope.” That’s the BBC’s diversity quotient for the week then.

29:02 – Simm, it must be said, is brilliant in this. It’s like watching Ainley again, but in a good way.

31:54 – Hazran’s just shot Bill in the chest. If they’re going to have a Cyberman wandering round wouldn’t it make sense to giver her some sort of identifying label? Could they not have got her a badge or something? Or a hat?

34:34 – Prediction: at a convention in November, McCoy will be doing this monologue. Possibly better.

36:07 – Josh: “Man, the Master’s a dick.

38:48 – If this is a holodeck, why on earth is it a 1930s farm? Why not, I don’t know, a tropical beach? Or an amusement park? Somewhere with chips? And thicker walls?

44:07 – Ah, so that’s how Simm regenerates.

45:06 – Oh, so Bill’s a lesbian? I wasn’t expecting that. Plot twist central here this week.

47:00 – “We shoot ourselves in the back.” That is, it must be said, a perfect way for these two to bow out.

48:37 – “Telos! The ice tombs! Every single child! FOR SPARTA, FOR FREEDOM TO THE DEATH!”

49:04 – The Doctor is confronting the Cybermen and there is no music. It’s actually quite powerful, although you wonder if that’s because they couldn’t afford any more from Murray Gold’s back catalogue after the BMG acquisition.

51:44 – Nice tracking over the wasteland. This is like post-apocalyptic Nordic Noir. With a sobbing robot. I think I may have just subverted an entire genre, and I’ve not even had wine yet.

53:20 – Oh god oh god oh god THEY’RE NOT FUCKING DOING THIS. I don’t know what’s worse: the flashbacks that remind us of who Heather is, the healing power of tears, the choir, the stupid Watership Down thing…how fucking hard would it have been to let her die, Steven? Couldn’t you just do it once?

56:39 – Coming in 2019:

57:28 – Oh, he doesn’t want to go. I wish he bloody would.

58:46– BAFTAs, May 2018: “And the award goes to…Peter Capaldi!”

59:07– So you can apparently stave off a regeneration by sticking your hands in the snow. Bet Tennant regrets going to Magalouf for that final holiday.

59:10 – “Seriously, if he can do this now, how are they going to write themselves out of this corner next time?”
Emily: “It’s like going to the toilet. If you work at it, you can train your bladder. But you can’t hold it off forever. When you have to go…”

59:51 – Kids: “Who’s that?”
Knew I should have shown them An Adventure In Space And Time. Dammit.

Oh, and it was all going so well.

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Review: World Enough and Time

There are some episodes of Doctor Who that contain unambiguously great stories. ‘Human Nature’ is one of them: its tale of a vulnerable, humanised Doctor is sweeping and simultaneously intimate; a vast tour de force of a man who is not the Doctor, and indeed who has stolen the Doctor’s body, and whom we nonetheless grow to love so much we’re reluctant to let him leave it. ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ is another: a strictly local skirmish that opens a window onto the life of a single, tragic figure, heading irreversibly towards the end of his life, inspired briefly by the encouragement of friends, but ultimately not enough to eclipse the pain. ‘Time Heist’ jumps to the scale’s opposing end, and delivers a tale that is light on characterisation but embroiled in a mystery that is sufficiently interesting to draw you in and keep you guessing.

Other episodes are what we might call Event Stories. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ (and its immediate follow-up) might be a decent example: ‘The Wedding of River Song’ is another. Monsters and threats are all present and more or less correct, but the McGuffins serve the dramatic purpose of padding out the running time between the twists. Paradoxically these are usually the ones that people remember, because they are the game changers – the ones that kill, that resurrect, that shine a torch onto the identity papers of heretofore mysterious, enigmatic guest stars.

‘World Enough and Time’ is a classic case of an Event Story. This is not an episode that you watch for the meat, because by and large there isn’t any. Oh, there are Things That Happen. Many of the Things That Happen will have the fans talking: one, in particular, will cause the collective dropping of jaws. Simultaneously, the story is essentially a series of sudden peaks amidst periods of comparative inactivity. Much of the point is that time is passing much faster for Bill than it is for the Doctor and the remains of his crew, meaning that the Time Lord is sidelined for at least half the running time, captured in a series of frozen moments, as if in a pocket universe held in a painting (read: TV screen), while for Bill the years tick by. (We do not know, by the way, precisely how many years it is, although there are undoubtedly fans on the internet already doing the maths.)

Essentially what happens in ‘World Enough and Time’ is this: the Doctor begins to regenerate, a flash-forward that serves to tease the finale early. Then Bill is shot dead, the hole in her chest sudden and gaping, with Bill herself seemingly frozen in time in much the same way that her mentor will be later in the story. Five minutes later she is up and about, a synthetic heart installed in the same manner as the reactor that’s kept Tony Stark alive. She lives a sort of half life in a nightmarish, dimly-lit hospital, accompanied only by a heavily-accented janitor, Mr Razor, whose total absence from the cast list ought to be a clue as to his identity.

What’s curious is the manner in which the story actively mirrors ‘Utopia’ but also mimics both Classic Who and the spoiler-obsessed contingent of the viewing audience. There’s a scene in The Phantom Menace which I rather like (now there’s something I never thought I’d say out loud): as Qui-Gonn and Obi-Wan cross the hangar on their way to a fateful meeting with the Trade Federation, Qui-Gonn castigates his charge for failing to concentrate on the gravity of the current situation. “Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future,” Obi-Wan protests, which prompts the response “But not at the expense of the moment.”

If anything, ‘World Enough’ actively fulfils this prophecy, taking a hammer to the fourth wall and spending much of its running time teasing the fans desperate to jump ahead, by introducing a character who will doubtless irritate many people simply because they’re waiting for the Master to turn up. It would be interesting to see how many people were angrily Tweeting at quarter past seven, annoyed as to why the much-anticipated return hadn’t happened yet, oblivious to the reality. Certainly Simm’s disguise is effective and his acting impeccable, and while many people will undoubtedly see through the ruse immediately there will be a great many more who don’t, even if they were around for ‘The King’s Demons’. This is one of those instances where false memory reigns supreme; watching the episode a second time – as I did, Thursday morning – it is impossible to not see it, and I suspect that there will be plenty of fans ready to lie about the fact that they did.

Certainly it’s not the only time. Missy’s early conversation with Bill and Nardole reeks of fanboy trolling – the morally ambiguous Time Lady, when asked why she’s calling herself Doctor Who, replies “That’s his real name”. It sounds precisely like the arguments I read (and frequently attempt to defuse) on Facebook, and Moffat knows it. Next week’s Tumblr prediction: an image of Missy dabbing, with this caption:

There. I’ve done it so you don’t have to. For reference: it is fine to call him Doctor Who if you want to, and it always has been. Such forms of address have been part of the show since 1963 – if it’s good enough for Peter Capaldi, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

For all its structural inadequacies, ‘World Enough’ gets an awful lot right. The hospital in which Bill spends the bulk of her time is dark and frightening, echoing the visual design of Silent Hill (the normal Silent Hill; the ‘other’ version would just be too much to cope with). The only thing that jars during these scenes is the fact that she seems so comfortable: it could be a mild form of Stockholm syndrome, but there is something implausible about her acceptance of the situation in which she finds herself, and something atypically mundane about her conversations with Mr Razor. If anything, the Doctor’s companion is perhaps a little too happy with her lot; perhaps it’s the presence of an artificial heart that’s caused her to basically lose her own.

Then there are the Cybermen: shadowy, shuffling and shambling, emerging from the darkness in cloth-covered stages of gradual exposure until the moment we see one of them up close for the first time (and, of course, it’s Bill). Most pleasing of all, the Speak & Spell voices are back, even at the prototype stage, the partially converted patients tapping away at buttons marked ‘PAIN’ like of those V-Tech laptops or talking phones my children have cluttering up the toy basket. The whole thing is a bit Stephen Hawking, and will undoubtedly alienate those fans who prefer the bland, metallic tones of Nicholas Briggs, but it looks like they’re probably back next week, so at least they won’t be whining for long.

Come the episode’s conclusion, the Master is back in the frame – reunited with what is almost unambiguously purported to be his future self (not that this will be enough to silence the naysayers) and Bill is a newly-converted Cyberman, weeping real tears instead of oil as she advances on the Doctor. It is a mistake that may not be undone, and that in itself is what makes it so terrifying, but it follows thirty-five minutes of meandering, punctuated by occasional flashes of brilliance. There are – once more – conversations about the Doctor’s eyebrows, although their supposed mightiness is thankfully left untapped. This is clearly an episode in which Moffat intended to drop several radical plot twists and decided that he add comparatively little of substance in between. The net result is not bad, in the way that, say, ‘Death In Heaven’ was – just rather disappointing after the character pieces we’ve had for the past few weeks. There is nothing to match the Doctor’s fire in ‘The Eaters of Light’, the fatherly reassurance he offers when Bill ventures into the TARDIS halfway through ‘The Pilot’, or his weary speech about moving on that provided the unexpected high point to ‘Thin Ice’.

I’m assuming all that’s coming. Certainly the trailer for next week indicates a maelstrom of mayhem and explosions and, I daresay, at least one scene where the Doctor stares at Bill and says “I know you’re still in there”. Whether Bill will actually emerge from her shell, perhaps tearing at the bandages like Jack Napier does in Batman, or whether the Doctor will somehow be able to open the armour, or whether the whole thing will simply be retconned somehow remains to be seen. ‘Redemption’ is mentioned as part of the Twelfth’s closing character development: does this mean saving her later? Is it too much to ask that Bill might actually endure the most horrific of fates without its instant undoing at the behest of the chief writer’s handwavium?

Then there’s ‘Spare Parts’. If we had the time we could find a way of making it fit, but it really doesn’t, and we might as well avoid that argument now, along with the whole question of whether or not Big Finish is canon. There will be some for whom the rewritten backstory is nothing short of sacrilege, but that’s the problem with an origin story that was committed to audio before it was televised: do you ignore it, as Moffat has done? Or do you work in a narrative that half the audience won’t have encountered and risk landing in Ian Levine territory? (Paradoxically Ian doesn’t like Big Finish anyway, so I can only assume that he will view tonight’s retcon with the sort of ambivalence that is liable to make your head explode. Well, we can dream.)

The bottom line (he he. ‘Bottom’) is that Moffat really didn’t have a choice, unless he’d told an entirely different tale – and I’m starting to find the whole ‘urinating on the legacy of Doctor Who’ argument fiercely dull, despite being, until recently, one of its most embittered advocates. Because everyone puts their own stamp on Doctor Who: you’re just a little kinder to the stuff that happened before you got the chance to watch it. No one questions the rewritten Time Lords in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, or. the notion that two Doctors can appear together at once. We shouldn’t question this. I just wish it had been within the confines of an actual story, instead of a collection of vignettes and moments, stitched together into a Frankensteinian whole, much like the shambling abominations that haunt the corridors of the Mondasian spacecraft.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 90001)

Today’s Who roundup: first, an exclusive BBC production still of the contents of the Vault.

Meanwhile there is chaos over at Bagpuss & Co when Emily brings in her latest Lost Thing for repair.

In fact, just, you know, this in general.

Sorry.

 

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 400)

God Is In The Detail is returning! And it will be with you later in the week. But in the meantime, here are the headlines from across the Whoniverse.

First and foremost, the fallout from the forced removal of a doctor from an American flight has drastic repercussions.

Fan reaction to the imminent return of John Simm continues to ignite the internet.

In fact this is Steven Moffat’s week, generally.

And an artist’s rendition of Kris Marshall in the TARDIS goes somewhat awry.

He’s just on the wrong planet, that’s all.

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[Thwack]

It’s a Simm card.

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You’re no fun anymore

Out for a damp walk, and passing a big, security gated house out on the Ridgeway.

Me [conspiratorially]: Hey…d’you know who lives there?

Joshua: Who?

Me [whispering]: Mister Saxon.

Joshua [incredulous]: What, you mean the actor who plays Mister Saxon?

Me: …No, the real Mister Saxon.

Joshua: You mean there’s a man called Mister Saxon in the real world as well, then?

Me [giving up]: Yes, probably.

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Fire up the Quattro

I know Gene Hunt is a right wing anti-hero. I know he’s a poster boy for the Daily Mail. I know he’s “an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding”. If he were to exist in real life, he would be repulsive. As a fictional construct, I adore him. He was Jack Sparrow to Sam Tyler’s Will Turner, or Arthur Fonzarelli to Richie Cunningham: the intended comic foil who became the focal point of the show. He got the best lines, the most interesting scenes, the fancy cinematography. The camera loved him, and so did we.

Life on Mars explored Sam’s fish-out-of-water dilemma, and its outcome – be careful what you wish for – was fairly predictable, if brilliantly executed. Its follow-up began in the same way, but our inside knowledge of Alex’s situation would have made for less interesting television had the writers not sensibly decided to switch focus to Gene. The third series is almost entirely about him, with hidden pasts unearthed, old wounds re-opened, and as many questions rewritten as answered. Come the end of the show we know more or less what’s going on, but the revelation that Gene Hunt is <WHOPPING GREAT SPOILER> doesn’t actually resolve very much at all besides give us only the vaguest idea of how this all works. For instance, why did Sam <SPOILER>? How is the <SPOILER>? Does everyone <SPOILER>? And if that’s the case, what about Shaz and <SPOILER>?

Ultimately there were so many questions asked because if you examine it, the whole construct was far less watertight than it may have been. There are all manner of loose ends and inconsistencies. Put simply, it just doesn’t work, at least not under scrutiny. And yet the nature of the show’s resolution (which I will not give away here) somehow allowed for a certain suspension of our disbelief – we were prepared to let certain things go because stylistically it fitted. It’s a far cry from the conclusion of the US version of Life on Mars, which included an interesting (if highly derivative) twist that nonetheless seemed to completely undermine everything that had gone before. (Look it up. Your jaw will drop, and not in a good way.)

The point is that Emily and I devoured every episode: it was compulsive television for both of us. As I’m sure I have said before there was comparatively little that we would watch regularly, with the exception of Doctor Who and 24. Never mind audience retention; I watch so little TV that to even make me want to switch on in the first place a series has to offer something pretty special. Life on Mars had John Simm, whom I remembered from Human Traffic (which I loved at the time, but now can’t stand) and 24 Hour Party People (in which he plays a convincing Bernard Sumner). Eagle-eyed viewers over the age of twenty may also recognise him from his ad for Cellnet.

Many people preferred Mars to Ashes. I love both. Mars is all muted browns and greens in the style of seventies cop shows that never really existed except somewhere in our imaginations. Ashes is stylistically as bold and brassy as the decade it lampoons – those who criticised the ridiculously OTT approach of the first episode have missed the point that this is (more or less) taking place inside Alex’s head, and is therefore ripe for pastiche – from a certain point of view, it’s a very, very long dream sequence. Likewise the critical mauling that Keeley Hawes received after her first episode was completely unjustified – Alex was incredibly irritating for her first few stories, before she settled down and started to enjoy herself, but the people who felt it ruined the show would do well to go back and watch the first episode of Life on Mars again, and see if they didn’t find Sam equally tiresome.

There is a Who / Ashes mashup waiting to happen, if it hasn’t been done already. This is not it. (When the first series aired, I did have the idea of Sam Tyler coming out of his coma only to wake up in the TARDIS wearing Christopher Eccleston’s leather jacket, with Rose Tyler looking down at him and saying “Doctor? Are you feeling alright?”. In a slightly warped fashion, I almost got my wish.) No, this is another music video. Part of the joy behind Ashes was its soundtrack – a song selection that seemed to lean heavily on the New Romantic side of things, perhaps at the expense of other innovative material that was being produced at around the same time, but that doesn’t really matter as long as it suited the show.

And it did. It really did. Look at the opening episode and its use of the Clash, as Alex and Gene bomb through London to the strains of ‘I Fought the Law’ . Or episode 1.6, in which Glenister shoots out the window of a restaurant, stepping over the glass in slow motion as ‘Vienna’ plays in the background. Or the gypsy birth sequence that’s scored to ‘Come on Eileen’. Or pick your own. There are so many. But there are other songs I wish they’d included, such as ‘Cars’, which has always been one of my favourite driving anthems. Or Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’, which is coming next week.

Assembling this was easy: I just went through each episode, ripped out anything that involved driving (and there’s a lot of that), and spliced them all together. The source material was so good there was a wealth of stuff to choose from. There’s a little speedup on the car explosion and the clown morph, but aside from that it was a simple cut-and-paste job. Fandabbydosey.

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