strange_complex: (Doctor Who anniversary)
Still with the muscle aches and general tiredness. I do think it is starting to get better at base level now, but between the approach of term and me wanting to go off a lot at weekends and Do Things, I suspect I am also cancelling out a lot of the gains. So this morning, the first time for three weeks that I haven't had to set an alarm, my eyes gradually opened at around 11:30am. Which is fine, because my whole plan for today was to Do Nothing, but I clearly need a few more of those.

Anyway, by around 13:30 I had eaten some breakfast and read the internet, and was looking for something nothingy to do, when I came across the Eruditorum Press Doctor Who Poll. Perfect! I have now voted, and since I started out by writing up a short-list of stories and ranking them, I have a record of what I chose which I may as well preserve here. Votes in different categories, including brief recaps of the poll rules, under the cuts.

Best televised Doctor Who story - five points )

Nineteen other top televised Doctor Who stories - one point each )

Twenty also-rans - nul points )

Top five non-televised stories )

Five hate votes )

Best People etc. )

Polls close at the end of September, and the results will be on the Eruditorum blog over the course of October, apparently.

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strange_complex: (Metropolis False Maria)
Yes, the title of this post is correct. I was away all of last weekend, only saw this episode on Monday night, didn't have time to write it up in the week, and haven't even seen Listen yet either due to being out at a house-warming party last night. (The sacrifices I make for you, [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau!) So here I am, slightly over a week behind on Who-blogging.

I expected little more than fun and fluff from this story, but actually it delivered fun, fluff and quite a bit of substance to boot. In particular, it continued to develop the questions of heroism and what constitutes a hero from the first two episodes very nicely )

This is great, but it also leave me with a slight niggling sense of dissatisfaction, because a naive belief in heroes can be dangerous as well as inspirational )

Maybe I'm over-reading what was basically just a meta-fictional romp through story-land, though )

Meanwhile, both Clara and the Doctor get some further nice character moments )

Finally, obviously this week's nod to the season's Big Plot Arc is a spoiler )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I'm very pleased indeed that the BBC scheduled this new season to begin the weekend after my conference. I can't tell you how nice it was to just settle down and enjoy it, feeling all relaxed and not guilty at all. It was the icing on the cake to find that it was actually a decent episode, too.

What made it for me was the stuff that always won me over in the RTD era, but has often been sorely lacking since Moffat took over - proper character moments which allow emotions to be acknowledged and tensions to be resolved )

Clara and the new Doctor )

The Doctor's new face )

Some smaller things )

Where is all this going? )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
This is a BBC Eleventh Doctor plus Amy and Rory spin-off novel, which I read mainly because it was written by LJ's very own [livejournal.com profile] altariel. She has another one out now, but this was her first, and I remember her being pleased as punch when it came out. I've been meaning to read it ever since.

I have read a few of the Virgin New Adventures or Missing Adventures novels in the past (e.g. Lungbarrow, The Well-Mannered War and Human Nature), but this is my first experience of a BBC-branded Doctor Who novel (i.e. one starring the current Doctor and marketed as spin-off merchandising), so I don't have much comparable material to judge it against. But I certainly really enjoyed this book in its own right - which is lucky, really, as it would be a bit embarrassing having to write this review otherwise!

What I liked about it most was the meta-references to story-telling which are woven throughout the narrative - something which always presses my buttons, but I think was done especially well here. The book opens with an evocative snippet of the scary rumours which circulate around (what will turn out to be) the book's main setting, the city of Geath, using the opportunity not only to foreshadow some of the excitement and peril which will come later, but also to establish some important themes - particularly unreliable narration and the way that oral stories become embroidered in the telling, but also the way that they have the strongest power in the half-glimpsed semi-darkness and over people who are on their own.

Later on, as the story unfolds and the characters are getting to know Geath, we also meet a Teller whose stories have an inexplicable and politically revolutionary power over his listeners, and find the Doctor rigging up the alien equivalent of Renaissance technology to project cinematic images of ancient wars, and to beam TV-style communications into homes and public squares all across Geath. I very much liked the way all these different media - oral stories, films, TV - appeared together in a narrative all about the power of story-telling, and one which inherently bridges two different story-telling media in itself by virtue of being a novel about characters from a TV series. It meant that the central theme really was the power of stories writ large, rather than the power of stories told in one particular medium, which in this case I am able to add chimes strongly with what I know of Una as a person.

In much the same vein, I was also pleased but not surprised at the treatment of gender in the novel. Again, I know this is something Una feels strongly about in other people's stories, and it was great to see her getting the opportunity to Do It Right in her own novel. It's not just that as many of the major characters in the novel are female as male, or that the female characters have a strong sense of agency while also steering well clear of being tropish Strong Women without any meaningful flaws or dilemmas. What really told me I was reading a novel by someone who had thought about gender equality while writing it was the way that minor characters who were little more than the equivalent of extras in screen productions, and who so often simply default to being male in novels or on screen, turned out to be female. The example which particularly struck me was a knight who got killed when her horse bolted after being frightened by a hostile alien influence. It wasn't a speaking part, and of course the word 'knight' particularly invites a male-as-default reaction, but this particular character was quietly female. A nice touch, both in terms of portraying gender equality and prodding the reader to question their own assumptions.

I will admit that my attention wandered a while during the middle part of the novel, once the major characters had been established and there was rather a lot of impending war and capture-and-escape business to get through before everything could be resolved. But I get that that stuff is pretty much par for the course in this sort of fiction. Meanwhile, there was a lot more to enjoy than the two major points which I have outlined above - like the pre-industrial city-state setting, the central device of a gold-like substance called Enamour which has a hypnotic influence on those who come into contact with it, the strategies for dealing with a substance like this which are worked through in the story, some explorations of the disjunction between bureaucratic adherence to set rules and actual justice, and the fact that in the end the centuries-old alien conflict which constitutes the main drama of the story is resolved through discussion and negotiation, rather than fighting. I also thought the characterisation of the Doctor, Amy and Rory was very good, which is quite impressive given that I know from Una's LJ posts that she had to be given notes about what they would be like while writing the novel, as they hadn't actually appeared on TV yet at the time.

One slight 'Buh?' moment came from what appeared to be an extremely slashy scene between the Teller and the king whom he served, Beol, containing lines like "He rested his strong hands upon the other man's shoulders and smiled down at him", immediately before the revelation that they were, in fact, brothers. Come on, Una, spill the beans - was this originally straightforward slash which you were asked to tone down into brotherly love by a conservative editor?

Anyway, I don't know if I'm likely to read more Doctor Who spin-off stories for their own sake, but I'm definitely open to more by this author. ;-)

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
OK, yes, internet. I think we are all agreed that that wasn't the best episode of Doctor Who ever. But that's OK. Not every episode in the world's longest-running SF show can be brilliant.

The basic problem this time is that Moffat pretty much just put up on screen all the notes he's been keeping about how the time crack, the Silence, the question hiding in plain sight, Trenzalore and the Lore of the Twelve Regenerations should be resolved, without troubling to knit them into a coherent story or to give them any emotional weight. They were all there, all answered - tick, tick, tick - and it's nice to get the twelve regenerations thing sorted and out of the way especially. But they came too fast, devolved into rabid canon-fodder, and most of us ceased to even care because there wasn't enough of a story to bind them together.

Still, there ya go. Tasha Lem was pretty cool, although considering she was the most fleshed-out newly-introduced character of the entire story, I could still have done with a bit more time getting to know her. I hope we might see more of her in future, anyway. Also nice to meet Clara's family - and perhaps we'll see more of them, too, now that Moffat has gone to the trouble of inventing them? It's not like they were really needed for this one episode, so I hope they have a future in some others. And I did very much like the idea of the Doctor growing old in Christmas town, knowing that he can never leave and never win, but fighting off enemy after enemy all the same, and counting each one as a victory. In some ways it reminded me of The Last Doctor, a short story which Paul Cornell wrote for Christmas 2009 - except that Cornell's story is much, much better, because it has characters and emotions in it, and a still small calm at its core, rather than just a whole shopping list of enemies and plot elements.

The small things:
  • When the Doctor talked about making an invented boyfriend, and said that there was "no easy way to get rid of an android", was that seriously a shout-out to Kamelion? A genuine question - I still haven't seen any of his episodes, so can't answer properly myself.
  • Or maybe he just meant Handles, who was excellent, and a lot like K9?
  • I'm no Strictly Come Dancing fan, but I liked that it was on the telly in the Oswalds' flat. That's the kind of ordinary lives touch that RTD used to be so good at, and which I miss sorely - not to mention a lovely cheeky BBC bit of self-inter-textuality.
  • The people in Christmas town telling the Doctor to "be happy here" reminded me of the creepy villagers in Children of the Stones wishing each other 'happy day' all the time. Except that that came to nothing, because the locals weren't actually creepy at all. Pity, really.
  • I liked the idea of the Silence's true purpose being to act as confessional priests, with everyone forgetting what they have said to them. That gives them a depth they've never quite had before for me.
  • And yeah, the poem which ends "Eleven's hour is over now, the clock is striking Twelve's" was nicely used.
Otherwise, that's it. I have nothing more to say about this episode. On to a proper Peter Capaldi story, please.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Who anniversary)
So relieved, and so happy! So glad that I kept my hopes up, and kept the faith after all. I may have started watching the fiftieth anniversary episode feeling a little nervous about what exactly we were going to see, and I may have kept a sense of reservation about the main storyline for a good hour I think as I watched (in spite of all the squee fodder we got along the way). But once Clara worked her magic and turned it all around, it literally became the episode I have been waiting for ever since the reboot )

OK, let's try to be a little more coherent.

The sweet spot between silly fun and format-redefinition )

I can't quite resist the urge to write up a list of my favourite 'cool bits', followed by a couple of disappointments )

Meanwhile, we have some continuity re-adjusting to do )

First, though, it seems from the teaser trailer for the Christmas special that we must go back to Trenzalore and witness the battle there which led to the creation of that enormous graveyard - and perhaps even see the burial of the Doctor in his TARDIS at the end of it all. Whatever happens there, it is going to be epic.

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strange_complex: (Strange complex)
Yes, I thought I might want to write a little about this. I'm still concerned that I might find tonight's special a little disappointing (though also still hopeful I won't), but even if I do, this went a long way towards marking the anniversary appropriately for me. I do very much love the William Hartnell era after all - enough that that is where my LJ username now comes from. And it is a great pleasure to be able to use the Doctor Who anniversary to help develop and refine my work-related thinking about anniversary commemorations, as well.

It's fair to say, as Laurence Miles has done most forcefully (in a post now sadly deleted from his blog), that An Adventure in Space and Time both mythologised and stereotyped some of its main characters )

Anyway, as both a work of drama and a nostalgic tribute, An Adventure in Space and Time was brilliant )

Fannish tick-boxes and tributes )

Cameos and casting )

Anyway. 50th anniversaries are funny ones, I think. They stand on the cusp between memory and history. Enough time has passed for things to have changed a great deal, for memories to have become distorted, and for the need to reinterpret the past in a way that makes sense now in the present to have arisen. But it is generally not long enough for all those involved to have died, so that there is also a need for negotiation between direct memory and reinterpretation - sometimes both at work within the same people. If Doctor Who marks its centenary, which I very much hope it does, the line of direct memory to its origins will by then have been broken. It will all be about second-hand interpretation of the recorded past, via archives and photographs and interviews and of course the show itself. But it will be enriched by the fact that the 50th anniversary has served as a prompt to add to our collective store of direct memories, now while we can and before they are gone forever.

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strange_complex: (Eight morning)
An Adventure in Space and Time broadcasts later this evening, and I may well want to write up some Thorts on that, so I'd better make sure I note down my reactions to the anniversary prequel, Night of the Doctor, first.

There's plenty to like in it. Obviously it is GREAT to see Paul McCann's Doctor getting some proper screen time beyond the 1996 movie, and he does his stuff really well. So does Clare Higgins as Ohila. In under seven minutes, the dramatic weight of the Doctor's situation is set out very effectively, so that his decision at the end makes emotional sense. And there are some good lines: "I'm a Doctor... but probably not the one you were expecting" for the meta, "Bring me knitting" for the funnies, and especially "Fat or thin? Young or old? Man or woman?" for reinforcing the suggestion (already made in The Doctor's Wife with respect to the Corsair) that Timelords can opt to change gender.

But somehow I don't seem to have had the "OMG SQUEE!" reaction to it that has dominated fandom. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from a seven-minute short which needs to make sense to people who may never have seen the Eighth Doctor or the Sisters of Karn before, but in some ways the script felt to me a bit work-a-day and pedestrian. Cass in particular felt very generic, and the way she died in order to prompt the Doctor into finally engaging with the reality of the Time War makes her a classic Disposable Woman.

But above all I think my sense of slight disappointment reflects how invested I've become over the years in my long-running assumption that it was Eight who took on the burden of ending the Time War, dying in the process and turning into Nine. I've always liked that image precisely because all we have seen of him (on screen - I do know about his audios) is a rather starry-eyed ingénue Doctor in a frock coat. The idea of Eight the romantic idealist gradually watching the Universe turn to chaos around him, changing himself in response as it does so and finding a steely core of determination and responsibility that made him step up to the mark to bring it all to an end - but at the cost of his life - is really powerful. I get that in a way we do see a much-changed Eight doing the beginnings of that in Night of the Doctor, but it isn't the full narrative trajectory I'd always imagined for him. The truth is I am very fond of the Eighth Doctor, and I wanted him to have that story in the shadowy territory which lurks between his movie and the start of the revived TV series

As for the wider character of the Doctor, I'm also just not that keen on the whole set-up which we got at the end of the last series of him having distanced himself from the actions of the Hurt Doctor (aka the Warrior Doctor). If, as looks so likely now, he basically renounced his normal persona in order to end the Time War, and then denied that it was ever anything to do with him afterwards, that just double-trashes my favoured image of Eight fully owning the decision and taking it, and its consequences, directly on the chin. There is a lot of weight in the idea of the Doctor being faced with two really appalling options, and making a wise choice between them in a way that is consistent with his morality both before and afterwards. Contracting all of that out to a temporary personality instead really feels like a cop-out to me.

Maybe I (and many others) have got the wrong end of the stick, and the story of the Hurt Doctor won't be as I am expecting it to be at all. Maybe part of what we'll see in the anniversary special is Ten and Eleven finally re-absorbing his actions into their personal timelines, and coming to terms with them as their responsibility after all. I hope so. Moffat is certainly good at toying with us and misdirecting our expectations. All I know for now is that the signals we've been given in this prequel aren't really pointing in a direction which I feel as enthusiastic about as I would like to for the 50th Anniversary Special of my favourite TV show of all time. Here's hoping the special itself changes that.

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
And so at last we get to the season finale! New Who Season 7 has been pretty patchy all told, but I really enjoyed this closing episode. It was well-paced, well-scripted, exciting and most importantly has given me lots to talk about! I'll work through the bits which most struck me in roughly the order in which they occurred. You can assume I thought anything which I don't discuss explicitly below was generally jolly good.

Companions and assistants )

Trenzalore )

The TARDIS )

Prophecies and their fulfilment )

Clara's decision )

Good Doctor, bad Doctor )

Minor trivia )

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strange_complex: (Cyberman from beneath)
I never did finish reviewing the most recent half-season of Doctor Who at the time, so here I am belatedly catching up with the final two episodes.

This was Neil Gaiman's second Who story (after The Doctor's Wife), and it's fair to say that it wasn't as good as the first. There were a lot of good elements in there, but they didn't manage to add up to the sum of their parts - a lot like many other Doctor Who stories over the last couple of years.

The re-imagining of the Cybermen was definitely one of the good bits. They now look genuinely technological, rather than like men in suits, and it occurred to me that this change was deliberately referenced in what happened to Angie's phone in the story - a chunky old thing deemed by Cyber technology early on in the story to be in need of an upgrade, which is replaced with a shiny new model by the TARDIS at the end. Yes, these are definitely iCybermen to Cybus industries' old Nokia jobs. The way they constantly upgraded themselves, using software patches as much as hardware, and could move with supernatural speed lent them a new scariness which they always ought to have had, but have never been allowed before, while the scuttling cybermites were genuinely scary - especially when they came out of the chess-playing automaton. I still wish the Cybermen would rediscover their creepy inhuman speech patterns from The Tenth Planet, but I can now see good things being done with them in the future.

Obviously I also liked the Romanesque Imperium, what with its emperor, the Doctor pretending to be a proconsul, the eagle wings and laurel wreath on Clara's badge of command, and the (obliterated) Tiberian spiral galaxy. This was mainly just about conveying the workings of a galactic empire efficiently by using signifiers taken from a familiar real-world equivalent. But having done that smoothly and swiftly it bought space for a nice exploration of what it means to be the single individual with ultimate responsibility for the safety of an empire, who, even with the best of intentions, still sometimes has to do dreadful things for the sake of the majority. Porridge is explicitly coded as a 'good' emperor, and of course as several people pointed out when this episode aired there are certain parallels between his story and Gaiman's stand-alone Sandman comic August, which follows Augustus as he spends a day disguised as a beggar on the streets of Rome, and accompanied by a dwarf actor. But the influence of the 'bad' emperor stereotype (think Caligula, Nero, Commodus) on contemporary popular notions about (Roman) emperors is still clear from his line, "I could have you all executed, which is what a proper emperor would do".

We got some brief glimpses into the dark side of the Doctor, which I usually like, but which here mainly left me with a sense of how much further they could have been taken. I liked seeing him unable to help admiring the cybermites, actually telling one of them 'you are beautiful!' even when he has just warned whoever might be watching him through it that the children are under his protection. And I liked that the Cyber Planner was also able to take control of nearly half of his brain awfully easily, almost as though there's a big part of him which is pretty open to megalomaniacal plans to take over the universe. But on the whole the good Doctor, bad Doctor struggle fell flat for me.

In fairness, psychological battles are not very easy to portray on screen. You can either depict a clear good vs. evil battle or paint a convincing portrayal of a character genuinely torn between two options who might go either way, but not both. This story went for clarity, but in the process it ditched a lot of the potential horror and tension which could have come out of the situation. The 'bad' Doctor was really just the Cyber Planner, while the 'good' Doctor remained himself, always distinct and articulate throughout the struggle. So we never really saw 'our' Doctor being drawn towards evil, or feared that he might succumb to it. And that's before even getting into the awkward shifts between portraying the struggle as seen to external observers and the struggle playing out within his head.

I also didn't think that what I understood to be the moral issue at the core of the story was well enough articulated or worked through on screen. OK, so there's quite a lot of set-up about how the human empire has got into the habit of destroying whole planets in order to contain the Cybermen. This potentially has a lot of resonances for the Doctor, who apparently faced a similar issue himself in the Time War, not to mention with the Daleks in Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways and the Pyroviles in The Fires of Pompeii. But when the issued is raised directly at the end of the story he sounds very casual about it. He's encouraging the emperor to detonate the bomb, saying that surely that's a price worth paying to stop the Cybermen. And that would be fine if we knew that he knew it wouldn't actually kill everyone with him on the planet (including Clara and the children), but merely prompt the Imperium to locate the emperor and pull him (and everyone else) back to his ship. I'm prepared to believe that that was something the Doctor knew all along and was part of his plan, but there should have been at least a hint to that effect on screen at some stage for the moral arc of the story to work properly.

And it's a much more minor issue, but why make a big thing of the Comical Castle being comical, when it fact it wasn't - not even slightly. Just one scene in which a Cyberman came perilously close but then fell foul of a distorted mirror, automated mannequin or false floor would have been enough pay-off from that set-up, but we didn't get it - which looks like poor script-editing to me.

Finally, I was so sure, along with the rest of fandom, that we were getting a sequence of themed references to previous Doctors in each episode of this half-season. But this one, where we should have expected a Sixth Doctor reference, is where the theory fell down. It's not that there weren't any. This is a season working hard to remind us of the programme's past, in keeping with other strategies for the anniversary year like the monthly short stories and BFI screenings. So the Sixth Doctor appeared directly in the montage of past incarnations that the Cyber Planner flicks through within the Doctor's head. But so did all the others, while there was no line or setting with the same ostentatious feel as the references to previous Doctors in the other stories to foreground Six particularly. So I guess that was either wishful thinking from fandom or a genuine intention on Moffat's part which he only half carried through. Like so much else in Doctor Who these days, it's difficult to be sure.

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strange_complex: (Adric Ugg boots)
Yay! For the first time this season I was able to watch Doctor Who live on broadcast, it was a good episode, and I have time to write up my thoughts this evening! Happy times.

I am so glad that the Jenny, Vastra and Strax Show is becoming a regular feature, and even more so that we haven't had a weak episode with them in it yet. I wouldn't call this episode mind-blowing, but it definitely qualified as a really good romp, and because it didn't try to position itself as anything more it left me well satisfied. The running jokes around Strax's battle plans and Mr. Thursday repeatedly fainting, the proper mad-scientist-style steaming coloured liquids in conical flasks, and the brilliantly groan-worthy satnav urchin all helped to seal the silliness deal. Meanwhile, Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling both entirely lived up to their promise, were done great justice by the script, and delivered the proper character-driven drama which I craved and missed in Cold War and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.

We have seen the 'crazed villain tries to enslave humanity with the help of an alien parasite' plot a quazillion times before on Doctor Who of course, but by framing it as a Jenny, Vastra and Strax story, keeping the Doctor off-screen for the first ten minutes and even then revealing him as helpless and paralysed, it felt fresh enough to capture the attention. I loved the flashback scenes in which the Doctor explained how he and Clara had arrived in Yorkshire, too, with their fake 'old film' look - a classic device. That said, I wasn't too sold on the magical machine which could undo the effects of the red poison, which felt like a rather easy cop-out - although I suppose it could reasonably be explained as the end result of the experiments which Mrs. Gillyflower performed on Ada. I also wasn't sure what we were supposed to make of the Doctor kissing Jenny, followed by the rather teenage joke involving his sonic screwdriver when she stripped down to her leathers. Matt Smith's Doctor has reacted uncomfortably in the face of previous romantic advances from both Amy and governess!Clara, and has shown no interest (that I can remember) in Jenny before, so it seems oddly inconsistent to have him suddenly going all Benny Hill over her.

Still, it was great to have a story set in Yorkshire, and some fab northern jokes to go with it as well (Bradford - "All a-swarm with the wretched ruins of humanity"). 'Sweetville' wasn't just riffing off local industrial magnate Titus Salt's planned workers' village Saltaire. It used the design of the factory there directly, with even the concept drawing unveiled at the talk which Jenny attended clearly based on the real equivalent for Saltaire. Apparently the actual filming happened in Bute Town, though, which would explain why the stonework on close-up shots of the cottages looked wrong. People were very into regularly-laid square-cut stone in Victorian Yorkshire, but the cottages of Sweetville have irregular stone.

Finally, sure enough, as I predicted earlier in the week, we had a prominent reference to the Fifth Doctor era, in the form of the line about struggling to get a 'gobby Australian' (i.e. Tegan) back to Heathrow. But, as you'd expect with a series that has as much back-catalogue to draw on as Doctor Who, and a writer who knows that catalogue as well as Mark Gatiss, there were other nods and winks for the knowing as well. The gramophones playing fake factory noises in particular reminded me of the Meddling Monk's recordings of Gregorian chants in The Time Meddler, while the line about the red leech growing fat on the filth in the rivers recalled the eco-warrior stories of the Pertwee era - and especially The Green Death, which seems to have inspired the structure of the title as well.

I feel much better for that episode, and am actively looking forwards to next week's now. Having actual children in the TARDIS promises to be interesting, and certainly something which I don't believe has ever happened before outside of the two films made with Peter Cushing. I wonder if it is in part a reaction to the fact that The Sarah Jane Adventures sadly cannot continue any longer, with the format of the spin-off being folded back into the main show? Anyway, it is certainly something new for new Who, and I hope it makes for interesting new story-telling possibilities as a result.

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I am horribly behind with Doctor Who reviews, partly because I was in New York when this (half-)season started, and partly because I didn't find the first few episodes very inspirational anyway. This is an attempt to catch up.

7.7 The Bells of Saint John )

7.8 The Rings of Akhaten )

7.9 Cold War )

7.10 Hide )

7.11 Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I watched this on Christmas day, but amongst noisy family goings-on, so took the opportunity to rewatch it from the peace and quiet of my own sofa on New Year's day before trying to review it. I enjoyed it very much both times, though. It is certainly Matt Smith's best Christmas special to date, and quite possibly better than some of David Tennant's as well - though I'd have to rewatch those too to be sure.

The opening titles )

Intertextuality )

Design and symbolism )

Victorian values )

The Doctor )

The Vastra, Jenny and Strax Show )

Clara of the split personalit(y/ies) )

Clara's mystery )

Light-bulbs, meta-narrative, parasites and eggs )

The character implications of the multiple Claras )

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strange_complex: (Rory the Roman)
I did watch The Snowmen on Christmas Day, and will rewatch and review that in good time. But I have another catch-up review to do first: The Angels Take Manhattan, which I likewise saw at the time but never got round to reviewing because work was so busy and even my watching had slipped about two weeks behind schedule by the time it was broadcast. Time to put that right.

I felt that this was a story which made a lot of emotional sense in the way that it dealt with Amy and Rory's relationship with each other, and with the Doctor, and with the close of that story. It also put forward some interesting models for the way that Doctor Who deals with time, had a delicious meta-referentiality to it, and made good use of symbolism and locations. It is completely fair to say, though, as some reviewers did at the time, that the central idea of the Angels' 'farm' at Winter Quay didn't really make sense )

That aside, though, the rest of the story was great. I found the meta-fictional aspect particularly pleasing )

Other, smaller details about this episode which I liked included things like the very effective shots of New York statuary early on to establish the right atmosphere for the story, Amy's smart-specs, and the name of Julius Grayle - definitely spelt that way, as we saw it written out on The Dying Detective's typewriter, but with a nice aural pun on 'Grail' that is very appropriate for a collector of rare and impossible things. Best of all in my book, though, was another inscription, visible over the door of the Winter Quay building when the 1930s detective first enters it in the pre-credit sequence:

Angels HYGEIA

It is in Greek lettering, and reads ΥΓΕΙΑ - i.e. Hygeia, daughter of Aesculapius and goddess of health. As far as I could see it was a genuine inscription on the building, not a prop, probably suggesting that the exterior location used for the Winter Quay building was originally a hospital. But its clear placement within the shot shows that the production team knew full well what it meant, had chosen this building for that reason and were making the most of it within the story. It is, after all, a source of life and health for the Angels.

We also get yet another reference to light-bulbs - a thread which has been going all season and is yet to be resolved - when River asks whether the bulb on top of the TARDIS needs changing. And, talking of the TARDIS, I noticed a shift in established canon regarding its the effects of its translation circuits. River tells Rory that he can read the inscriptions on Chinese vases in 1938, even though the Doctor and the TARDIS are both in 2012(?ish?) because it is a gift of the TARDIS which hangs around. This certainly wasn't the case in The Christmas Invasion, when Rose and Mickey, who had both already travelled in the TARDIS, could not understand the Sycorax while the TARDIS was out of action because the Doctor was still busy regenerating properly. But it does at least now explain how on Earth Nefertiti and Riddell could understand one another after they had left the TARDIS and shacked up together at the end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Time to rewatch The Snowmen now, I think. :-)

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strange_complex: (Meta Sudans)
I'm still way behind on Doctor Who reviews, and have yet to even watch The Angels Take Manhattan - though I have a fair idea of what happens in it, since I don't care in the least about spoilers, so have been quite happy to read any comments about it which fell into my path. That's not to say I've read widely amongst reviews of either Power or Angels, though, since I simply haven't had the time to do so. So these are very much my own thoughts about Power, written from within my own little bubble.

The actual plot )

Amy and Rory )

Guest characters )

Cool bits )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
And now, for my return train journey, let us consider the matter of A Town Called Mercy.

History and past continuity )

References beyond Who )

Kahler Jex and the Doctor )

Weaknesses )

Cool bits )

Future implications )

And now I think I deserve to finally watch The Power of Three...

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
As I said earlier in the week, I’ve been busy (though happy!) lately, and so am horribly behind with Doctor Who reviews. I’m writing this up while on a train to London, where I will deliver a workshop on Space and Ancient History for school-teachers (which might as well be called Space, Time and Ancient History, since you can’t really talk about space without talking about time). An appropriate context for writing about a Doctor Who story with an Egyptian queen in it, I think. Obviously, I‘m writing this with the benefit not only of having read many other people's reviews of Dinosaurs, but also of seeing it with the hindsight of A Town Called Mercy. I've tried to acknowledge the effects of both of those where relevant. I also haven't yet seen The Power of Three, let along The Angels Take Manhattan, so I don't know where they will take us. As for my last review, I've grouped my thoughts under thematic headings.

Overall writing / plotting )

Time and history )

Guest characters )

Solomon and his death )

Awesome bits )

Past continuity )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Eleven dude)
I watched this last night with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, and felt so-soish about it. It had a few neat ideas and surprises - which are themselves spoilery ) - but didn't really wow me. There wasn't much in the way of punchy character moments or intriguing puzzles. I guess in a way that shows how the bar has been raised over the course of New Who, by both Rusty and the Moff. This was a decent enough episode really, but I was somehow expecting more. I've watched it again this morning to see how knowing about Oswin's real situation from the start changes it, and spotted some things which made me slightly more impressed than I was last night. But then again I've also confirmed that some of the things which didn't appear to make sense last night genuinely don't, and also been made angry by a line which I missed the first time round, but which the internet did not. So in the end I feel much the same as after the first viewing - so-soish, but with an extra hint of *growl*.

My obviously very spoilerific thoughts after re-watching are gathered below under a series of headings.

Things which didn't make sense )

Careful structuring and symbolism )

Oswin )

Amy and Rory )

Racist, sexist and biphobic clap-trap )

Things that were fun / cool / scary )

Past continuity )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Rory the Roman)
So, the Doctor Who Christmas special, then. I am usually an absolute sucker for these, frequently believing them to be far better on the day of viewing than I later realise is really justified. But sadly this one failed to wow me even on Christmas day itself. [livejournal.com profile] swisstone has already covered most of the plot-holes and lazy clichés, thus saving me the trouble, and I agree with his basic thesis - that Steven Moffat is not really giving Doctor Who the attention it needs or deserves. So I will stick to noting a few things which particularly struck me as I watched.

The two stand-out aggravations for me were mystical motherhood and negotiable death. On the mystical motherhood side, I couldn't shake off an icky feeling throughout the story that someone had pointed out to Moffat some of the sexist tropes which have cropped up in his previous stories, so he decided to Do Something About It and redress the balance - but completely failed because he assumed that femininity is essentially equivalent to motherhood, and can only understand motherhood anyway by treating it as strange and mystical and quasi-supernatural. I thought while I was watching that I recognised this as a common trope by male writers who are trying to portray women positively, but still fundamentally viewing them from a patriarchal and reductive point of view. However, having typed a seemingly endless string of searches involving words like "trope" "women" "feminine" "motherhood" "mysterious" "mystical" and "magical" into Google, I still can't seem to track down a basic description of it or a list of other examples, even on TV Tropes. Surely I'm not making this one up, am I? More likely I'm just using the wrong search terms. Anyway, it's annoying.

As for the negotiable death, Moffat has done this so often now that it is intensely predictable, and I groaned with resignation at the inevitability of what was to come as soon as Madge started seeing visions of her husband's 'death' in the time vortex. That's annoying in itself, because it makes Moffat's stories less able to surprise or enthral, but I find this particular device repellent even if it is only used once. It undermines our ability to engage meaningfully with in-story deaths, so that any emotions which they provoke have to be regarded as temporary or provisional until we can be sure whether or not the death is 'real' - often much later in the story. And it toys with the viewer, dangling a hard-hitting narrative with a very powerful emotive force, but then just waving it all aside without working through its consequences properly. I would respect Moffat very much if he had dealt with parental death properly in the Doctor Who Christmas special, and equally much if he had chosen not to include it at all. But what he actually did smacks of wanting to have it both ways - maximum emotional impact and a fairytale happy ending - without being prepared to do the creative work necessary to make the two consistent with one another. In other words, it is lazy writing again - not to mention insulting to people who have had to deal with the utter non-negotiability of death in the real world.

Other than that, I also felt that we hadn't had enough time to get to know the family and their wartime lives before they came to their Uncle Digby's house, so that it was difficult to get any real sense of how fantastic the house might seem to them in comparison to everyday normality, or how badly they needed such a wondrous experience. Here, in fact, it would have helped if the children had known by the time they arrived that their father was dead, so that we could have seen them briefly being able to forget their pain and loss as they got caught up in the magic of what the Doctor had in store for them. As it was, all the Doctor's efforts seemed rather embarrassingly over-blown from their point of view. And although this in itself could have been been used to move the emotional trajectory of the story forward by tipping the children off to the fact that something more fundamental was wrong within their family, it wasn't.

Meanwhile, I'm sufficiently steeped in the work of Ray Harryhausen at the moment to notice how similar the design of the Tree King and Queen was to that of the wooden figurehead who comes alive and starts attacking people in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and to be very little surprised to come across yet another example of the extent of his influence:



But as for Doctor Who, I don't really have anything else to say about this story.

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strange_complex: (Rory the Roman)
Well, that was pretty good fun on the whole, and more satisfying than I expected it to be. I'm not going to comment in any detail on the many plot resolutions )

Back in this story, I loved the cracky mash-up of all of time happening at once )

I liked alt-universe Amy )

Meanwhile, Rory gets to be awesome and warrior-ish again )

What I didn't like, though, was River's role in it all )

Oh, and finally, I guess the mirrors I've been busy spotting never did come to anything terribly substantial, except simply as a symbol for a parallel world (cf especially Alice Through the Looking-Glass). But there was just one more to round us off anyway, which the Doctor leaned up against for a while in Amy's utterly awesome and rather Once Upon a Time in the West-ish train carriage office. Jolly good.

Anyway, there we are. New Sarah Jane Adventures starting on Monday - though watching it will be a terribly, terribly sad experience now.

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