strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
So, yes - still a week behind on Who blogging, then. But I did really enjoy this episode, and not just in and of itself, but as yet another entry in what has so far been one of the thematically-strongest seasons of Doctor Who I've ever seen. Fear, heroism, companionship and prejudice are all being developed steadily and substantially from episode to episode - as the genre of each story permits, of course - and it is really looking impressive. I don't know what changed or what happened, but it really seems like Steven Moffat has his eye 100% on the ball at last. Perhaps things will suddenly go downhill again this evening, or perhaps the price we'll pay for this is a shoddy next season of Sherlock? But right now, I am liking it.

In this particular episode, there was a lot of very good stuff about fear and bravery and what makes a hero, but most of that has been discussed at length all over the internet, so I won't be adding much if I talk about that now. Let's just say I liked it a lot, and leave it at that. Perhaps more interesting, and less thoroughly raked over, was how much the story really explored the relationship between the Doctor and Clara )

Companionship issues aside, Listen was more straightforwardly a classic ghost story, and like all the best ghost stories, it kept the matter of whether or not there is actually an unseen other-worldly entity out there as ambiguous as possible )

Other things... I like the way the Doctor and Clara are positioned as complementary equals in this story )

I also think there was a nice little riff on Harry Potter )

Then, of course, there is the scene in the barn )

Finally - and I am sorry to keep going on about this - there really is quite a lot of watery business going on in this season ) All of this could still turn out to be nothing remarkable, but in case it isn't, I'm setting out the pattern as I see it so far here. Time will tell.

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strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
2009 was my third year of reviewing all of the (non-work-related) books I read and films I watched here in my journal, and my second year of also doing the same for Classic episodes of Doctor Who. My overviews of 2007 and 2008 are at the links, and the same for 2009 follows below.

Books )

Films )

Doctor Who )

Other telefantasy )

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strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
So, back to Poirot! I've got loads of them to get through now, after all.

This is Hastings' second outing, and takes the duo to northern France. There, of course, Hastings serves the very useful linguistic purpose of being the only person present in quite a large number of scenes who needs everything to be explained to him in English. That said, there are a number of other scenes in which he isn't present and Poirot discusses the developments of the case with local French officials, but Christie takes the classic SF approach of just carrying on as though everyone spoke English anyway. She even continues to characterise Poirot via the use of French phrases and syntax, while the French characters around him converse in perfect English - which is slightly disconcerting.

The story is again largely as replicated by the TV adaptation, but with a few differences which speak volumes about the approaches and priorities of each. Spoiler cut, just in case )

In short, then, the novel is stronger on the plot, but the TV adaptation is stronger on characterisation. And, as I observed for the last Poirot novel I read, the TV version is better on detail and richesse, too. Once again, Christie gives us lots of dialogue and action, but very little setting and atmosphere. And my personal preference is very much for the TV approach.

That said, I was distinctly impressed by the literary twist which she suddenly served up on the last page. Won't really spoil the plot this time, but you never know )

In other words, all of a sudden Christie is drawing attention to the fictional nature of her story, both by suggesting that Hastings is an unreliable narrator who may be relating what he wanted to happen, rather than what actually did happen, and by suddenly transforming her two characters into figures from a romantic fairy tale. In some ways, it's rather out of keeping with the straightforward tone of the rest of the novel - but it is nice to see the occasional touch of something a bit more interesting popping up alongside all the careful plotting, in any case.

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strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
It's no secret that I've been watching a lot of Poirot lately. It's part of my growing obsession with the 1930s - in fact, in a sort of circularity, it's probably also part of the reason why I was so attracted to my house and its neighbours in the first place. For a girl drawn to the style moderne in any case, the luxuriant treatment which it gets via ITV's Poirot cemented that attraction, iconising it into something truly to be aspired to. And, once I moved in, how much more exciting the TV series became in its turn, as I could imagine myself inhabiting the same universe as the strange little Belgian detective.

A tangential eulogy on the TV series )

Thus have I gone from half-watching Poirot whenever it happened to be on without really paying full attention, to being utterly caught up in it, and indeed last weekend finally deciding to invest in the DVD boxed set. And it seemed to me also that it was about time I extended my interest to actually reading some of the books. In fact I did read a Poirot novel some years ago, when I had just turned 17 and we were staying for a family holiday at a gîte in France. There on the bookshelf I found a copy of Le Crime de l'Orient Express, which I devoured during the long afternoons when it was too hot to go out. But while it taught me a great deal about how to use the past historic tense (the one tense we hadn't 'done' as part of our French GCSE, and which I felt disempowered without), it obviously wasn't an authentic encounter with Christie's original English prose.

This time instead, I've gone right to the root of the matter. I spent my Christmas book-token on a volume containing the first four of the Poirot novels to feature the character of Hastings, including the very first one of all, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Technically, I've seen the story on TV, but since it belonged firmly to my 'not-really-paying-attention' phase, I could remember very little about the plot. I knew there was something important about the spills on the mantelpiece, but I had no idea whatsoever who had committed the murder, so it didn't really spoil the 'whodunnit' aspect of the novel for me. Not that I think that will ever be the important thing for me anyway - as with my watching of Doctor Who, it is the (semi-)fantastical settings and the characterisation that attracts me to the Poirot stories.

Now, having read the novel, I am half-satisfied by what it offers on those fronts. The characterisation which I so love on the television is definitely nascent here. It isn't perhaps yet quite so rounded or so profound as what David Suchet does - but then, this is only the first novel, whereas he had the benefit of Christie's total Poirot corpus on which to base his characterisation from the beginning. There's definitely enough here, anyway, to make me want to return and read the other three volumes in my collection at some point.

The setting, though, is pretty deficient. Of course, Christie doesn't have the visual resources at her disposal which the ITV production team do. And fine clothes and elegant stream-line moderne houses don't really belong in a novel set at the end of the First World War. But, as I said above, the settings for these stories are not merely window-dressing in the television series. They are all about creating an appropriate world in which the characters can come to life, and an atmosphere to suit the developments of the plot. The same effect can be achieved on the printed page, as Thomas Hardy demonstrates so brilliantly. But Christie largely eschews it in favour of dialogue and action. The result is that although I do see that what she achieved in her novels was tremendously innovative and exciting and important, I'm left feeling that it was the ITV series which really added the richesse that now makes them masterpieces of the small screen.

I don't know whether that continued to be the case as she developed as a novelist - it's one of the things I hope to find out as I explore her other stories. But for the moment, I think their value to me will be largely as the foundation stones on which a beloved TV series has been so carefully constructed. And there's much to be said for standing on the shoulders of giants.

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strange_complex: (Invader Zim globe)
Well, I haven't posted a Doctor Who write-up here since August, it would seem. What with Belfast, and then Vienna, and then term starting, I haven't had much time for anything but memes and cut 'n' paste lately. Which isn't to say that the last month or so hasn't been enormous fun. Just not conducive to writing about cult TV.

Now, however, I have a whole weekend to myself and nothing in particular to do - for the first time in about six weeks. So it's time to start catching up!

Fifth Doctor: Earthshock )

All in all, good stuff - and I look forward to seeing more of the stories which precede and follow this one.

Second Doctor: The Invasion )

Overall verdict - a real classic with some brilliant moments. Just a pity about the feminist failure surrounding Isobel's venture into the sewers.

What's more, with those two stories written up, I do believe I can allow myself to actually start watching Doctor Who again now, rather than getting by on old episodes of Poirot and Sex and the City in an attempt to stop my write-up backlog growing even larger than it already was. Hooray!

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strange_complex: (Penny Gadget)
Possibly my favourite way to spend a weekend morning is to wake up late, mooch on down to the sofa, and eat my breakfast there in my dressing-gown while watching fluff on the telly and browsing LJ on my laptop. That, in fact, is what I'm doing right now. Normally, my watching fare consists of things like old episodes of Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. I don't pay the slightest bit of attention to the plot, but enjoy the sound of the familiar characters burbling in the background, and glance up at the screen every now and then to drool over the costumes and sets. Today, however, Spice World was starting on UKTV Gold just as I was sitting down. And since I have, technically, sat here throughout the whole movie, drinking coffee and reading Doctor Who spoilers, I now have to blog the film!

I actually saw it in the cinema when it first came out. I thought the Spice Girls were fab, in much the same OTT cartoon character way that I always thought KISS were fab, so I made my sister come and see it with me. It had come out that week, and there was one other girl in the cinema with us, sat right at the back. Pretty soon after that, you couldn't see it in theatres any more.

An unfair fate, though, because the film is ace! It's so ludicrous it goes straight through silly and out the other side into sheer genius. It has Roger Moore in it, being mysterious and stroking a white cat! Meatloaf, saying he'll do anything for those girls - but not that! And Bob Hoskins, who appears for about twenty seconds, for the sole purpose of pretending to be Geri Halliwell in disguise as himself! Not to mention a bad model of a Union Jack-emblazoned bus jumping over Tower Bridge, and even Naoko Mori, later of Torchwood fame.

The jokes are terrible, the plot a flimsy excuse for a succession of set-piece scenes, the acting hammy, and the entire concept deeply self-indulgent - but, but, BUT! It's so self-referential about it all, that you just don't mind. The whole movie turns out at the end to be a bad pitch spun by a couple of desperate producers to the Spice Girls' manager (Richard E. Grant at the absolute top of his game), much in the style of today's Orange 'please turn off your mobile phone' trailers. And it ends with the girls themselves breaking the fourth wall, and giggling at the couple snogging at the back of the cinema.

It's a crazy tongue-in-cheek testament to celebrity culture in the late '90s. And I love it.

strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
I do see that this episode was cool and clever and funny, and doing some interesting things, I really do. It was definitely better than the last two, and probably the last three in fact - in other words, somewhere in the same territory as Planet of the Ood, quality-wise. But I was also disappointed by it at the same time.

Gripes about comedy, pacing and plot )

So that was 700 words of negativity, and now I feel like a miserable old git with no sense of humour... Like I said above, it's not that I didn't enjoy it - it's just that there are a lot of ways in which I think it could have been so much better. Anyway, let's try turning the tables, shall we, and picking out some of the things I actually liked in it - or at least the things I thought were interesting and / or clever.

Musings on cross-references, and especially those involving other New Who stories )

So, maybe not my favourite episode of the season so far, but it's certainly given me a lot to write about, hasn't it? ;-) As for previous weeks, I shall finish up by mulling over the clues it may have included for future episodes:

Running themes )

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