strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)
I am very happy to say that I now have my laptop back. Since several of you were kind enough to comment on my post about the original fault, and some of you got really quite into speculating about what the problem might be, I will report back that it was indeed a hardware problem. It now has a new screen and LCD back-light unit, and is fine again. Which means that I can now write reviews from the comfort of my sofa once more - yay!

So, continuing with my Doctor Who reviewing, I reach new writer Jamie Mathieson's second story - another good effort, justifying Moffat's confidence in giving him two episodes right from the off. That said, although it was solid all round in ideas, realisation, characterisation and script, and also did a very professional job of carrying forward the big themes of the series, I don't think I have anything very major or original to say about it, especially some ten days after broadcast. So just a few notes follow.

The most obvious 'hook' to this episode is that the Doctor's imprisonment in the TARDIS allows Clara to take on his usual role - something which she has progressively been doing anyway over the course of this series, but which is fully developed and articulated here. Early on, she takes possession of the sonic screwdriver, joking "Does this mean I'm you now?"; by about mid-way through the episode, she is going round saying things like "I am the one chance you've got of staying alive"; and by the time the TARDIS is in siege mode and she can no longer communicate with the Doctor, she explicitly switches from asking "What would the Doctor do?" to "What will I do?" The answer, of course, is to save the day by working out that she can use the 2D beings' power against them - though it very much deserves notice that the detail and execution of the plan falls to Rigsy, whose painting of a door provides the 'bait' needed to attract that power and recharge the TARDIS. This isn't the absolute first time that a black character has saved the world on Doctor Who - Martha did it too, and indeed took on the role of the Doctor herself while he was a shrunken puppet living in a cage. But it's still too rare, hence the need to notice it and to hope for more.

Just like The Mummy on the Orient Express, this story had a high body-count, but because this time the Clara is in the Doctor's role, balancing individual lives against the greater good, Flatline importantly gives him the opportunity to see what that sort of behaviour looks like from the outside - something which evidently unsettles him. At the end of the story, he finds Clara just a little too 'chipper' given how many people have died, and when Fenton (the community service overseer) callously declares that they were just "community pay-back scum-bags", and that the objective in a forest fire is to save the big trees by sacrificing the brushwood, he feels moved to snap, "It wasn't a fire. Those weren't trees. They were people." This is a stark contrast from his coldly scientific usage of dying people to extract information about the mummy in the previous episode, suggesting that he has actually learnt something about himself from the experience, and in the end his judgement on Clara articulates it quite clearly: "You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it." Clara, by contrast, has perhaps learnt rather less, as she continue to lie to Danny about her activities with the Doctor like it's going out of fashion, even when it's obvious that he knows it - something which should, of course, build into a meaningful emotional confrontation in the next episode, but I already know does not. :-(

Like the previous week's episode, this one too was buzzing with Whovian intertexts. We've seen the outside of the TARDIS shrink before in Logopolis, but shouldn't forget also The Time Meddler in which the Doctor shrinks the inside of the Monk's TARDIS so that he can't get into it, or Planet of the Giants, in which its inside, outside and inhabitants all shrink to approximately the size of ants in a thimble. Post-2005 Who was also strongly in evidence. Non-corporeal beings tried to take over dead human bodies in The Unquiet Dead, the relationship between real people and 2D drawings was central to Fear Her (though to much poorer effect), and the Doctor's proclamation that "This place is protected" as he sends the 2D people back to their Universe is of course a repeat of what Ten told the Sycorax. Meanwhile, as Matthew Kilburn has pointed out, the very subject of 2D beings can be taken as a meta-reference to the entire show, which is of course (nearly) always experienced by its viewers in 2D, and at its best feels as though it is emerging into and taking over our 3D world. On the whole the effect of these is merely the simple, obvious one of reminding us that this story forms part of a much larger complex narrative which its writer is intimately familiar with, but that in itself is always pleasing.

Finally, Water-and-Breathing Watch wasn't entirely sure there was any 'significant' water this week, though obviously there was some from time to time - e.g. unexplained steam inside the TARDIS, drizzle while Clara was looking at the mural, or a water-bottle clutched in the hand of the community service bloke who told her to "Cheer up, love". More striking, though, was the fact that as the life-support system on the TARDIS began to fail, the Doctor inside was struggling to breathe - now a repeated theme this season, which I'm sure will feature in the finale.

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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: (Cathica spike)
I've entered the Sixth Doctor era. This would appear to mean unusual verbosity, even for me. Sue me: there is Classical receptions and meta-commentary, and I have Stuff to Say about both of them. You have been warned.

Sixth Doctor: The Twin Dilemma )

Sixth Doctor: Vengeance on Varos  )

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
OMG, why am I reading an article which contains sentences like this:
"Sahlins' argument is thus for a dialectical relationship between externally generated events and localized actions"
when I could be doing this Who meme taken from [livejournal.com profile] snapesbabe?

Who's game? )

OK, I'm working now...

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
Continuing with my efforts to explore the Doctor Who archives rather more systematically than I have done to date, I've chalked up another three stories over the last week.

Fourth Doctor: The Ark in Space )

Fourth Doctor: City of Death )

First Doctor: An Unearthly Child )

strange_complex: (Ariel squee)
Actually, I don't know what made me think that would be half an hour long. Inattentive reading of the TV schedules, probably. Very good, anyway: crazy!Doctor, and a chance at last to see Rose's (very plausible) reaction to seeing the Doctor go all explodey and then change into someone completely different in front of her eyes. Can't wait till the Christmas episode now. I think David Tennant's Doctor is going to be fun.

Also, I forgot to mention earlier that I got new shoes in the post today. These ones (in black of course). Sexxay! And also smart enough to wear to work. :)

Plus (as if that weren't enough) a fabulously cool glow-in-the-dark LGBT wristband, sent by [livejournal.com profile] bethanthepurple! Groovay!
strange_complex: (TARDIS)
I've just been out to the doctor to get my annual 'flu1 vaccination. I qualify for a free one every year because of my asthma, and have been having them for six years now: ever since I actually did get 'flu over Christmas 1999, and realised that a small amount of forward planning and a slight prick in the arm was more than worth going through each year in order to avoid it.

So, the jab went fine. I hardly felt it, and that's another 'flu-free winter to look forward to. But while I was there, I noticed the leaflets the NHS have printed up this year to encourage those in vulnerable groups2 to get the injection:

Are you scared yet? )

Let's take a closer look at those little gremlins, shall we?

Fear me! )

Now is that, or is that not, the Jagrafess? Hmm? Is that its goal in the 21st century, then: to take control of Earth through the medium of viral infection? Is that what the NHS are desperately trying to tell us by printing suggestive pictures of it on their literature? Has it had itself cloned and miniaturised a billion times over for an attack not unlike that of the Swarm in The Invisible Enemy? Is it a coincidence that that very story also saw the debut of the lovable K-9, who is set to return to our screens this coming spring? Will he, by then, be deeply involved in a real-life battle against the new and mysterious Jagrafess virus?

And do I now know far more about Doctor Who than I thought I did or ever expected to? I may be protected against the Jagrafess now, but you lot clearly took over my brain some time ago...

------------
1. That's 'flu as in Actual Influenza: not the same as a cold. Even a bad cold.
2. For the record, you qualify if you're over 65, or have kidney disease, diabetes, reduced immunity or any serious chest or heart complaint, including asthma. If that's you, get it! Don't have 'flu.

strange_complex: (TARDIS)
The BBC has given the green light to a third series of Doctor Who. There's an article all about it here, BUT it does contain mild spoilers for the second series, and (at the very bottom) for this Saturday's climactic episode.

If you want to know the basics from the article about signing details for the next two series without getting any spoilers, they are thus:
  • David Tennant has been signed for the whole of series 2 and 3
  • Billie Piper will serve through the whole of series 2
  • Russell T. Davies will write six episodes for series 2
  • There will definitely be Christmas Specials for 2005 and 2006

strange_complex: (Penny Gadget)
I didn't spot any direct Bad Wolf references in last night's Doctor Who, but a bit of surfing around the BBC's 'spoof' Doctor Who websites has revealed that there was one after all.

If you didn't spot it yourself, check out the latest version of 'Who Is Doctor Who' and this U.N.I.T. press release. And yes, 'Schlechter' does mean what you think it means!
strange_complex: (Default)
This Saturday, I had another gathering round at my place to watch the week's Dr. Who episode, followed by whatever took our fancy. Father's Day was up to the usual standard, and we had much geeky excitement discovering the updates on Clive's Mickey's website afterwards, as well as just generally discovering the Geocomtex one, which I hadn't seen before.

We also watched more of [livejournal.com profile] damien_mocata's excellent Friday Night Armistice tapes, some Red Dwarf stuff, and QI (at my insistence!), while simultaneously soaking Jaffa Cakes in Absinthe, eating trifle, spitting Jaffa Cakes across the room (mainly [livejournal.com profile] damien_mocata), and probably some other stuff, but it all seems a bit of a blur now...

Sunday commenced with a good long lie-in, continued with some intensive mucking-about-on-LJ, and then went and got all intellectual on me, when the delectable [livejournal.com profile] thebiomechanoid invited me out to see 5x2 (aka Cinque Fois Deux) with her and a friend at the QFT.

The film was one for provoking questions, rather than providing answers, and it certainly prompted a lot of debate between the three of us afterwards. In essence, it tells the story of the decline of a relationship in five stages. The title can be expanded to mean 'five [events in the lives] of two [people]': those events being their first meeting, their marriage, the birth of their child, a dinner party and their divorce.

The story is complex in itself - there were a lot of interesting explorations of (anti-)romance, sexuality, morality, different kinds of love and the interplay between different kinds of characters. But what it made it a little different from the norm was that the five events were told in reverse chronological order: rather like Memento, but with longer chunks. In other words, the order which I have listed above is actually completely reversed, the result being that when, at the end of their first meeting you see them both swimming off into the sunset, it looks like a perfect romantic ending in both appearance and its context at the end of the film... except that you, the viewer, actually know already exactly how it is all going to pan out. (I wouldn't be giving too much away if I said 'not well').

There were also all sorts of intriguing resonances between the different chunks of the story and the different characters within it, which were simply presented 'as is', leaving you to guess whether they had any deep and profound meaning or not. And on that topic, [livejournal.com profile] thebiomechanoid, I did look up the clauses of a European Civil Marriage ceremony, and found that article 213 reads:

"The spouses have the duty to live together; they owe it to each other to be faithful and provide help and assistance."

The other clauses which are usually read out can be found here, on a page about the wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Claire Coombs, and they match perfectly with my memory of the clauses read out at the wedding of Gilles and Marion in the film. So I would say that it definitely is significant that that was her room no. in the hotel, since of all the clauses it is this one that relates most closely to the problems in their marriage.

After the film it was on to Dukes for excitable conversation about the film, Diet Coke, exam motivation, tall buildings, LJ (inevitably), Cambridge, jazz and how we didn't really feel much like going home. But, eventually, we did, and, with regret, brought the weekend to a close.

Le weekend

Monday, 25 April 2005 09:14
strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
Doctor Who

It actually just gets better and better, doesn't it? I mean: the little pile of M&Ms by the red telephone, the many alternative Tardises and, best of all, the Massive Weapons of Destruction. Did the old Who ever boast such delightful symbolism or topical resonance? I propose from this day forth always to say 'Massive Weapons of Destruction' in everyday conversation rather than 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' in tribute to this weekend's episode.

And if that all weren't enough, we have the Daleks to look forward to next Saturday night. * faints from excitement *

Lysistrata at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast

I went to see this on Saturday evening with my colleague, John Curran, our three MA students and one of their boyfriends. It was OK, but I think I've been rather spoiled by the stunning tragedies put on by the Actors of Dionysus, not to mention a bright and breezy student adaptation of the Birds which I saw while at Oxford, and which had translated all the references to contemporary Athens into references to modern-day Oxford instead. While AoD's tragedies are innovative, fresh adaptations, which offer profound contemporary relevance and stunning choreography and manage to strike at the very core of one's emotional being, and the Oxford Birds at least drew on the real experiences of its cast and crew, Saturday's Lysistrata was merely... average.

A pity, because Aristophanes' writing at the time was incredibly bold and topical, and of course there is plenty of local significance that could have been drawn out of a play between two warring communities whose women decide to draw the conflict to an end themselves by holding a sex strike. But the attempts made to do so were half-hearted, the translation sounded suspiciously to me like what I remember of the Penguin one, and many of the lines came across as simply being spoken: not meant. This will probably sound like the most snobbish thing I've ever said, but it felt... provincial.

Still, it was nice to go out with our students, and I'm sure we did much to promote intra-departmental bonding in the process. And I enjoyed some very nice pan-fried duck with a summer fruits sauce in a bistro where we ate before the performance. So by no means a wasted evening.

strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
Only yesterday, someone was assuring me that Christopher Ecclestone wasn't going to quit as the Doctor after all, but that it was all a publicity stunt to get people excited. Guess not...

I'm sure this David Tennant guy will be fine, although I didn't watch any of Casanova, so I can't really comment myself. But it just annoys me that a whole incarnation has been used up on only one series, especially given the previous one was wasted on only a one-and-a-half-hour film. There are only 12 to play with, and the remainder need to be conserved! *mutters things about responsibility in the general direction of Christopher Ecclestone*

Also, if this must happen, I'd ideally like to see an older Doctor follow Ecclestone, just to keep a bit of variety in the role. Sure, there's a fine tradition of younger Doctors to follow - especially Peter Davidson. But I'd like to see an actor who can tap into those aspects of the Doctor's character so splendidly explored by people like Jon Pertwee.
strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
Well, it was good, wasn't it? Just like everyone's been saying.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, try harder.)

He was good, she was good, even Clive was great. In fact, I think my favourite line in the whole episode was one of his:

"It's true. Everything I've read, all the stories. It's all true."

...which then transpire to be his last words ever, before being brutally gunned down by an Auton at the very moment of his epiphany. Perfect.

And I liked the 45-minute format, too. One of the many things which helped to make it entirely up-to-date. After all, that's how long sci-fi episodes are these days: not 25 minutes. It felt like a brand new series: fresh, catchy and contemporary. Yet with a rich legacy upon which to draw. The theme music fell into the same category: that old, classic tune we all love, but with a new driving, rushing violin line to get the pulse racing.

The Doctor has always travelled in time. He's made it into the 21st century in very fine form, I think.

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