strange_complex: (Cyberman from beneath)
Well, I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing (well, lying - on the sofa, of course), that looked very much like two good episodes in a row. Not only that, but some strong themes for the season now seem to have established themselves, and I like where they're going - so that's where I'm going to start.

This season's big themes, and Missy's role in them )

I can see your roots )

Clara )

Smaller things )

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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: (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: (Saturnalian Santa)
Well, I would love to be able to say that the annual Doctor Who special is my favourite Christmas TV. And indeed it probably is fair to say that one of my favourite parts of Christmas Day is sitting down to watch that year's Doctor Who special. But the truth is that the story-telling in the Doctor Who Christmas specials usually falls solidly within the bottom quartile for quality by comparison with the ordinary weekly episodes produced in the same year, and the one broadcast last Christmas (Narnian forests and tropey guff about motherhood, for those who have blanked it out) was just awful.

Meanwhile, on a stage which extends beyond Christmas Day itself, the Doctor Who specials have to contend with The Box of Delights, and they simply cannot win that fight - not any of them. Quite apart from the fantastic theme tune and opening sequence, Box offers childhood nostalgia, time travel, snowy landscapes, Romans, magic, paganism, scary wolves, some absolutely fantastic villains and Patrick Troughton.


It isn't perfect. I don't know what's changed in how child actors are trained since the 1980s, but you definitely seemed to get a much higher incidence of clipped woodenness back then than you do now. I was also surprised to find, when I bought myself a DVD of The Box of Delights last December and re-watched it for the first time in at least a decade (and only the second time since my childhood), that the story was much less well-paced and structured that I had remembered. But it is a tribute to how captivating it was to me as a child that a very vivid memory of the individual scenes, characters and excitement of the whole story has stayed with me all that time. It captures a very British sense of Christmassy magic, without descending into cliché and schmaltziness, which I really don't think any other seasonal TV production has ever come close to.

So this has to be my nomination for favourite, and I am already looking forward to watching it again this Christmas. This time, though, at the steady rate of one episode a day until Christmas Eve, à la [livejournal.com profile] altariel, rather than all in one joyous rush of rediscovery like last year.

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strange_complex: (Fred Astaire flying)
10. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists (2012), dir. Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

I saw this in Bristol while visiting [livejournal.com profile] hollyione and her family - which seemed very appropriate, given that that is the home of Aardman Animations. Ever down with da kids, it was my first ever viewing of a (modern) 3D film - which was much as I expected it to be, really. Fun, novel and perfectly effective, but I wouldn't say it added enormous amounts to the experience of watching the film. I think seeing a live-action film in 3D for the first time will be quite a different experience from seeing an animated one - and in fact maybe it is something that's better-suited to animated films anyway. But I'm glad I've got some idea of what it's all about now, and I'm sure I will get round to a live-action equivalent sooner or later.

The film itself was good stuff, packed with silliness, steampunkery and deliberate anachronisms, and including a particularly enjoyable turn from a plotting, scheming, Samurai sword-wielding Queen Victoria, lots of great jokes in the background (e.g. a dentist's surgery owned by one D.K. Ying), and a super-intelligent chimpanzee owned by Charles Darwin who talks by using flash-cards. It's heavily reliant on tropes and clichés, only some of which it really challenges, but I guess that's about all I was expecting from a light-hearted child-oriented comedy. I assume that a sequel is planned, as there was a running joke throughout about none of the pirates realising that one of their number was very obviously a woman in a bad fake beard which was never resolved. I'll see it if I get the opportunity, but probably won't go out of my way to do so.


11. The Sorcerers (1967), dir. Michael Reeves

I saw this two years ago at the Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend, absolutely loved it, and bought it on DVD soon afterwards. So when [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan was round at mine recently and we wanted something to watch, it was readily available, and seemed the obvious suggestion, given our shared appreciation of both vintage British horror films and its star, the delectable Ian Ogilvy. I don't think I have too much more to say about it beyond what I wrote last time, but it remains a real classic, boasting a winning combination of charming period detail, a genuinely compelling story, strong character-driven dramatic tensions and a really first-rate cast. 'Twas a pleasure to watch it, too, with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, who appreciated its finer features just as much as I did, and also very impressively worked out exactly how the story would resolve from a few fairly minor clues, long in advance of the actual denouement. This is definitely one I will keep coming back to, I think.


12. Ziegfeld Follies (1946), multiple directors

Finally, I saw this on the May Day bank holiday Monday, again in company with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan. It's kind of at once both the glorious apogee and the dying gasp of the musical variety theatre show genre of vintage films. Wikipedia relates how the original Ziegfeld Follies were a series of real-life Broadway stage shows, inspired of course by the Parisian Folies Bergères, which ran from 1907 to 1931. This film, made after Ziegfeld himself had died, brings that show to the big screen - and in full technicolor. But while there are many films from the 1920s and 1930s which essentially import the theatrical song-and-dance show format into the cinema, most of them make at least some effort to tie the big numbers together with some kind of rudimentary plot. This one? Didn't bother. There was an opening vignette of the great Ziegfeld up in heaven, imagining what it would be like to produce one last show, but after that it was just dance number after song after comedy sketch, without even returning to Ziegfeld saying how marvellous it had all been at the end. It was simply a big-screen presentation of the same sorts of acts which (presumably) featured in the original show.

But what a spectacle, though! The sweeping ball-gowns! The fairy-tale sets! The hair-pieces! The bubble-machines! The underwater synchronised swimming! The horses with their hooves covered in glitter! And an all-start line-up including Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. In fact, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire do a duet at one point, which includes the two of them waltzing together - surely a thing few other films can offer. On the whole, I could have done without the comedy sketches in between the songs and the dances - although one about what it'll be like when television takes off was certainly very interesting in terms of revealing cinema's anxieties about the competition. It was all based around a spoof of a show sponsored by 'Guzzler's Gin', whose host kept on slugging back the stuff to his obvious displeasure, while getting increasingly pickled and insisting that it is 'a good, smooth drink'. The songs and dances, though - they could not have been any more extravagant and spectacular if they had been staged on a set made of pure diamonds.

But that's what I mean about it being both apogee and dying gasp. This genre really belongs to the 1930s, when it offered a form of escapism from the depression, and it has very obviously been taken to its logical extreme in this film. There is just nowhere else left to go. Plus, it was 1946! There'd just been a war - cities had been ravaged and men were returning broken from the trenches. People in Europe had already started making sombre black-and-white films about their experiences, and a huge musical song-and-dance extravaganza looks embarrassingly out of place next to all that, even at a distance of nearly 70 years. It was definitely time to hang up those dancing shoes by the time this film was made - but nonetheless I'm glad that the final waltz was captured for posterity in all its colourful glory.

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
I didn't write anything about this episode when it aired, as I was too close up against an article deadline to have any spare energy for blogging. But I did watch it at the time, and also rewatched it after I'd submitted the article, and enjoyed it very much. And besides, I've written about every other episode of Sherlock which has aired so far - so I may as well keep up that record by noting down a few things I particularly enjoyed about it.

Sherlock has always had incredibly strong design / mise-en-scène, but two examples of that particularly impressed me in this episode. Firstly, the rain cascading down the window-pane behind John when we see him in therapy at the very beginning, looking for all the world like a waterfall. It seemed to me almost like a declaration right from the very start that yes, that's what this story is all about, but it is going to be handled allegorically.

Secondly, the fact that in every one of the three high-security locations which Moriarty infiltrated - the Tower of London, the Bank of England and Pentonville Prison - we specifically saw cups of tea being splashed or spilt as part of the scenes of panic when people realised what was happening. What a fantastically British way to signal a terrible catastrophe.

Then there was Molly being the one to spot that Sherlock was sad when no-one was looking, and being brave enough to ask him about it, and clearly clever and trustworthy enough to play a major role in helping him to fake his own death at the end. Her scenes in this episode suddenly rounded out her character enormously, and brought out new sides to Sherlock, too, so that their interactions were incredibly affecting and touching. I could go on about this I'm sure, but I think this lady has already nailed it.

As for Sherlock's apparent death, and how he did it, there are a whole bunch of theories collected here. I'm not quite sure what I think, mainly because some crucial issues hang on what the 'rules' of Sherlock actually are. In particular, is this the sort of show in which we're supposed to believe that someone could jump off a tall building and into a garbage truck full of sacks and survive the experience? Perhaps if the sacks were maybe stuffed with something extremely good at absorbing shocks, like the squash ball Sherlock is seen bouncing against a bench in the lab? It's possible, as we have seen Sherlock pull off some pretty super-human physical feats before, particularly in fights - but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work in real life.

Also worth asking - is Moriarty actually dead? His apparent death could certainly be faked to a level that would convince most ordinary people by simply using a fake gun and a bag of fake blood. Sherlock Holmes probably wouldn't be fooled by that - but then again, given his ultimate aim of throwing Moriarty's henchmen off the scent by faking his own death, Sherlock would have no particular incentive to call Moriarty's bluff if he knew Moriarty was faking it. Maybe Sherlock knows perfectly well that Moriarty isn't dead, but goes ahead with his own fake-death plan anyway, because he knows that that is a better way of resolving the immediate situation? Given Moffat's track record on this issue, it seems to me wise to reserve judgement on Moriarty until we know for sure either way.

My only real complaint with this episode was the usual one - that when Sherlock and John are running away from the police in hand-cuffs, Sherlock instructs John to take his hand, and John has to respond with an uncomfortable joke: "People will definitely talk!" So I guess I'm still waiting for the episode of Sherlock in which that tired old trope isn't dragged out for another flogging - which is pretty depressing, six episodes in.

Other than that, though, this felt to me like pretty much the perfect Sherlock episode. I await the next series with pleasure.

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
I think the second episode of this season's Sherlock fell for me into the category of 'perfectly decent, but not outstanding' TV. Above all, its characters were not seeking to deceive one another on the same scale as had made last week's episode so thrillingly alive with alternative possibilities for me. Oh, sure, there was misdirection early on to the effect that Frankland was a friendly and reliable fellow while Stapleton was an eeeviiiilll mad scientist, but there was nothing on the scale of battle of wits between Sherlock, Adler, Mycroft and Moriarty from the previous story, and the motivations of the regular characters were never really in doubt.

Partly, of course, that's just the nature of the original Arthur Conan Doyle story, and there's also a fair case for saying that the middle episode of the series needs to rein in the pace a little between the sha-bang of the opening episode and what is clearly going to be an epic confrontation next week. But even with that understood, I felt I could have asked for a little more from it. What The Hound of the Baskervilles can offer is a creepy atmosphere of growing tension, and I felt that was missed, too.

Perhaps I wrecked the suspense for myself by reading the lovely [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos's write-up of the preview screening shown in Cardiff on Tuesday, so that I knew before the story began that the fearful visions which the characters would experience were the result of hallucinogenic drugs. But I certainly felt that with Sherlock in particular, his attack of the terrors came on too quickly and too intensively for us to stand any real chance of believing that he was seriously facing up to a new and unsettling emotional experience. This would have been far more effective for me if we had seen him experience a few smaller moments of self-doubt earlier on (whether brought about by real experiences or by lower doses of the drug), so that we could believe the full-scale attack was an escalation of genuine fear, rather than obviously something anomalous. It could have been a really amazing moment in the ongoing development of his screen character to believe that he was really experiencing the break-down of his treasured logic and self-assuredness - but it didn't happen for me.

Still, it was great to have Russell Tovey on board, especially in the scene where his outside light kept getting set off, reducing him to a ball of sobbing terror. That really did look like a man who had been slowly and systematically pushed beyond the limits of endurance. And Sherlock's relationship with Watson developed a little bit when he described him as a 'friend' for the first time. Plus I liked the way the flashing light on the moor was at first misdirection (Morse code), then a joke (a different kind of dogging), then a plot device to ensure Watson wasn't exposed to the hallucinogens the first time around and finally the prod needed to help Sherlock figure out that 'hound' might be an acronym. That is definitely getting good value out of a single device.

Problematic portrayals were less of an issue than last week - but of course that's partly by dint of keeping women in the role of secondary assistant characters and not having any ethnic minorities (that I could spot) at all. And meanwhile, there, yet again, is that ridiculous running 'joke' about how everyone keeps mis-reading Watson and Sherlock as a gay couple. I liked this in the first ever episode, because any acknowledgement of queer sexuality on mainstream TV is cheering, and found the prospect of a heterosexual and heteronormative Watson being prompted to rethink his own attitudes by finding himself labelled as gay appealing. But that really isn't how it has turned out. Instead it is just the same childish gag about what a trial it is for a straight person to be continuously mislabelled as gay, like a broken record week after week, and it is REALLY annoying me now. Partly because it is offensive, but also because it is taking up screen time which could be used for more nuanced character development, or more intricate plotting, or - well - anything really.

So now I feel like one of those people who makes others wonder why they even watch a show if all they can do is criticise it. To which I can only give the classic reply to that accusation, which is that there is so much about Sherlock which I do like that it makes the flaws doubly annoying - and meanwhile I have written enough about it previously to feel that I can take its strengths as read now, and don't need to repeat them. In case it needs re-stating, though, I do think that Sherlock and Watson as characters are brilliantly drawn, that the plotting of the adventures they share together is (nearly) fantastic, that the scripts are witty and lively and clever, and that the visual design is absolutely outstanding. I bloody love this series, and can't wait until next week's grand finale. But I still think it could be better.

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
So Sherlock is back - complete with the problems that surrounded its treatment of minority groups in the first season. Within a couple of hours of the first story airing, Stavvers argued that the treatment of Irene Adler had seen what looked like a genuinely strong and self-directed female character reduced to tropish helplessness when we learnt that Moriarty had been advising her on her criminal activities, saw her security code compromised by her foolish willingness to be influenced by her romantic attraction to Sherlock, and then saw Sherlock rescue her from execution. Jane Clare Jones followed up in the Guardian saying much the same.

While I absolutely agree that problematic portrayals of female characters are, well, problematic, and fully recognise that Moffat is particularly prone to perpetrating them, the problems with this particular character didn't strike me as forcefully as they obviously did some viewers. I think this was because Sherlock as a programme makes so much use of misdirection, and reveals the 'true' solutions to its mysteries only fairly sparingly and sketchily. By comparison with, say, Moffat's recent Doctor Who Christmas special, this leaves an awful lot of room for us as viewers to generate our own alternate readings - indeed, it actively encourages us to do so.

Take, for example, the issue of how Irene Adler really feels about Sherlock. Our understanding of this is reversed multiple times during this story. For a long time, we're encouraged to believe that she is falling in love with him - all those comments about how 'brainy is the new sexy', the flirty texts, the conversation in Battersea Power Station where she suggests to Watson that both of them are strongly attracted to Sherlock in spite of their usual sexuality, the intimate scene between them in his flat. But on Mycroft's flight of the dead and in his office afterwards this apparent scenario is reversed, when she claims that she was playing Sherlock for a fool all along, entrapping him into decoding the Ministry of Defence official's email for her by merely making him believe she was in love with him. And moments later, the switch is flipped once more when Sherlock states that by taking her pulse and observing her dilated pupils in his flat he was able to detect the real truth - that her act had become a reality, and she had genuinely fallen for him after all.

I've no doubt that that is basically where Moffat signs off. This is his intended portrayal of the characters' motivations, and we are then meant to understand that Adler is undone by the weak, feminine sentimentality which drove her (already some six months earlier) to use a pun on Sherlock's name as the PIN code for her phone. That is problematic. But by the time this scenario was presented to me, I found I had got into a state whereby I was automatically reading everything I saw as potentially untrue. Sherlock was telling me assuredly that Adler had been attracted to him. But was even he right about that? Or, indeed, was that what he really thought, as opposed to (say) a bluff intended for Mycroft? And meanwhile, so much else in the episode remains ambiguous or incompletely explained. For example, did Sherlock ever really think that Irene Adler was actually dead the first time? After all, he'd had every opportunity to study her naked body in great detail. Would he really have been fooled by the substitution of a body which merely had the same measurements, when (for example) the shape and size of a woman's nipples, belly-button and indeed other parts are so very distinctive? Or was he complicit in helping her to fake her death that first time, too?

In that frame of mind, and with so much room for manoeuvre, almost everything about the story becomes extremely fluid. To continue with the example I've used above, it isn't hard to flip the switch on the does she / doesn't she fancy him question yet again. I've already suggested above that Sherlock himself may be lying about what Irene's pulse and pupils revealed to him - perhaps as part of a wider collaboration between the two of them of the sort which Roz Kaveney sketches out in the comments on Stavvers' blog. But even if he's not, she could have faked those symptoms. A little bit of ecstasy taken at the right moment would probably do the trick, for example - and she is clearly a woman who knows how to obtain and use illicit drugs effectively.

From that point onwards, you can go on to build all sorts of variant interpretations of the closing scenes. Did Irene, for example, a) make Sherlock believe she was in love with him so that he would finally figure out the code to her phone, as well as b) carefully manipulating him into falling in love with her in spite of himself so that he could then be relied upon to protect her from the consequences of that by helping her to fake her own death a second time? Because that could actually work out quite well for her by creating a clean break if she had begun to feel her embroilments with people like Moriarty had got rather too deep and she wanted a way out of it all - and she would have maintained total control of her own destiny throughout that scenario.

I am not saying that the above is the 'correct' reading of this episode, or even that it's the one I most subscribe to myself. My point is simply that this series fosters variant readings of itself to such as extent that even when the script-writers' intentions are problematic, I find the impact of that on me as a viewer is considerably watered down by the pervading sense that many different readings of what I am seeing are all true at once, and that I can never be 100% sure of any of the characters' aims and motivations. This, of course, is part of what make the show so irresistible, whatever the final verdict on Irene Adler.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
This weekend saw horror film fans from across the country gathering in Bradford for the 10th annual Fantastic Films Weekend. I didn't see quite as many fantastic films, or indeed little-known TV gems or enthralling interviews, as I'd originally planned, because I've been trying to be a little more sensible about not over-doing things since making myself ill that way in late April / early May. I realised that the important thing was to enjoy myself and feel relaxed and happy, rather than to approach the weekend as though it were a competition to see how many films I could possibly fit into the time available. So I missed the Friday altogether in favour of getting really on top of my work, and then took the Saturday and Sunday nice and easy, enjoying a good lie-in each morning and then just trundling over to Bradford for the things I really felt I couldn't miss. The result was that I only saw two actual films stricto sensu over the course of the weekend - but also two excellent interviews (one live, one recorded), and two rather unforgettable TV dramatisations.

8. Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971), dir. John D. Hancock )

Sinister Image (1988): Vincent Price in conversation with David Del Valle )

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972), dir. Kenneth Johnson )

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
This is normally the time of year when I look back over the books, films and TV which I have consumed over the past twelve months. Previous posts in this series can be found at the following links: 2009, 2008 and 2007.

Unfortunately this year I am at a bit of a disadvantage in looking back over the books I have read in particular, as I have completely failed to keep on top of reviewing them. I knew I'd got behind, but have just looked at my books read 2010 tag, and it turns out that I have only actually managed to review three books this year, with the most recent written up in February. I am also behind by one film review and two Doctor Who reviews - although in both of those cases that represents a much smaller proportion of the total. I've been actively focusing on clearing the backlog of film reviews during December (I managed six - not bad), and was going to get on to the books and Doctor Who after that, but never quite made it.

Nevertheless, I am going to write up an overview post now anyway, in keeping with my normal practice, even though not everything I'll be looking back over has actually been written up here yet. And I do want to get on top of the unreviewed material, so that is a little goal which I am setting myself for January - try to write up my unwritten book, film and Doctor Who reviews for 2010, while doing my utmost to avoid accruing any more. And maybe also learn to write shorter reviews, so that this doesn't happen again in the future. Although I do believe that I resolve something of the sort around this time every single year, and I never manage it - so I may as well just accept the status quo.

Books )

Films )

Doctor Who )

Other television )

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strange_complex: (Janus)
Mine has certainly started out well. I decided, rather late in the day, to host a New Year's gathering at my house - nothing epic, as I knew most people would already have plans by the time I announced it, but just a convivial little get-together with canapés and champagne. And so it transpired. My neighbours and their friends popped round to kick off the evening with a glass of wine, and then [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy arrived, shortly followed by [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut . My pictures are a bit rubbish, because my proper digital camera has died, so I could only use my mobile phone which has no flash. But I hope they give some inkling of how glamorous and lovely everyone looked:


We discussed topics as diverse as false nails, plushies and how people respond to civil partnerships, punctuated by a lot of uproarious (and increasingly filthy) laughter, and then saw the New Year in with Heidsieck champagne to the accompaniment of Big Ben's chimes and seemingly infinite quantities of fireworks on BBC 1. And we'd hardly started at that point, either. More champagne and the fun of compiling this year's Death and Scandal lists kept us going until nearly 3am.

Talking of the lists, I have ended up left with the paper copies of both, so I assume it is my responsibility this year to type them up. Last year's are both available on [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan 's journal, though to friends only. The Scandal List doesn't seem to have scored a single hit, unless you count the low-level miasma of scandal which perpetually surrounds both Nick Griffin and Silvio Berlusconi. The Death List did a bit better - we correctly predicted the death of Michael Foot, who was first on the list. But otherwise I don't think we got anybody, despite taking a scatter-gun approach and listing a hundred-odd people. Anyway - can we do better this year?

Scandal List )

Death List )

Obviously there are quite a few names on both lists - so it's bonus points if they die in a scandalous manner.

[livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy wended their way home in the early hours, but [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut stayed overnight - so we had girlish dormitory-style fun getting into our pyjamas and calling out 'goodnight!' to each other, and then having coffee and chat this morning. Once both had taken advantage of my shower (a rare luxury, as theirs has turned into a 'unique water feature' which is currently unusable for its intended purpose), we headed out to a local cafe for a hearty English breakfast over a shared copy of the Saturday Guardian. And finally I was a big brave girl and gave both of my guests a lift down to the railway station - much helped by [livejournal.com profile] biascut's navigation and a general absence of traffic. There certainly weren't any buses to contend with, anyway, because for some reason they just don't run at all for the whole of New Year's Day in Leeds - which is a pretty rum deal if you ask me.

And now ITV 1 is thoughtfully doing a re-run of Downton Abbey, which is very kind of them, as I missed it the first time round, and it is just the ticket for sitting writing an LJ entry in front of. The characters are all a bit more spiteful and back-biting than in the lovely new version of Upstairs, Downstairs, where the household itself was largely wholesome and kind-hearted and most of the drama came from external events instead. I think I like Upstairs, Downstairs better - but that's partly because what I wanted from it was a heart-warming nostalgia-fest, and that's largely what I got. I do hope it will get a longer run with more time for slow-burning story-lines now.

All in all, then, an extremely pleasant turn to the year - and I'm sure it's no coincidence that I am feeling quite optimistic about the prospects for 2011 as a result. The only downside so far is that I had thought over the past couple of days that I was probably fighting off the first signs of a cold, and by the time I went to bed last night it had indeed settled firmly in my nose, making it rather difficult to sleep. But I don't feel too ground down by it, and don't exactly have much to do today anyway. So it could be worse.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Who Bechdel test)
Via [livejournal.com profile] altariel, and with thanks to [livejournal.com profile] communicator for compiling the list, here follows a meme based on the BBC programmes and other services mentioned in Mitch Benn's new song, I'm Proud of the BBC. Bold = love (or have loved) it, Plain text = neutral, Strike through = never seen / listened to.

Obviously, there's some stuff on the list that I think is a bit rub, too - like Last of the Summer Wine or Songs of Praise. But that's not the point here. The point of the song, and thus also the meme, is how much stuff produced by the BBC most of us have seen or otherwise experienced (and thus have in common whether we liked it or not), and how much of it really is chuffing good, and thus worth being proud of. I'm happy to extend that pride to programmes and services which don't appeal to me personally, but which I can see are well made and well suited to their target audience.

This list is a lot longer than I'd realised, just listening to the song )

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
I picked up the new Sherlock DVD set yesterday, and snuggled down in the evening to watch the feature I'd really been looking forward to: the unaired pilot. 'Cos more Sherlock is definitely a Good Thing, and it's all we're going to get for another 18 months, too. *sadface*

The pilot is basically a proto-version of A Study in Pink, but less fully developed and only 55 minutes long - i.e. clearly designed for a one-hour broadcast slot rather than an hour-and-a-half one. Most of the script for the scenes which it includes is the same as in the longer version, although there are some changes towards the end, since the plot is slightly different there too. On the whole, the broadcast version is definitely an improvement on the pilot. It is slicker and more immersive, and the extra material generally helps to build the characters, improves the plot or creates more of a sense of ongoing story arcs by setting up the development of things which would happen later in the series. But there are a couple of plot changes which I found detrimental, too - things which had actually struck me as problematic on first watching the broadcast episode, and which now turn out essentially to have been padding added in to a script which would have been better off without them.

Apparently, I can think of no better way to spend my Sunday afternoon than analysing every single difference between the two in great detail. So the rest of this post goes under cuts, to save you all from length and spoilerage...

The main murder plot )

Mycroft and Moriarty )

The identity of the murderer )

Foot-chases and character development )

Tracing the phone )

The cabbie's means of compulsion )

Acting and direction )

Costumes and sets )

Design finesse )

On the whole, then, I'd say the pilot is definitely worth watching if you can - partly because of the things it handles slightly better than the broadcast version, but mainly just for the insight which it provides into the process of how a television programme is developed and improved. Overall, the broadcast version is better, and I can certainly see why it had to be remade to fit in with the rest of the series. But the pilot is none too shabby, and I'm glad that we now have the chance to watch it.


1. Somehow, I'm perfectly comfortable with the producers' decision to call the main character by his first name, but feel odd extending that same principle to his best friend. Maybe it's just because 'Sherlock' is a really distinctive first name with rich associations, whereas 'John' could mean anybody. But anyway, it means that when I talk about them as a pair, I now end up saying 'Sherlock and Watson'. It's not very neat, but it just seems to be what I have to do when talking about this particular take on the characters.
2. Oh, OK - maybe sometimes I can manage an occasional 'John' after all. I am nothing if not consistently inconsistent...


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strange_complex: (Sherlock Aha!)
I've ended up with oddly mixed feelings about this series now that it is over. Some things about it have been so consistently good - especially the design, the camerawork, and the characterisation of Sherlock himself. I love the way that this Holmes dances the line between being cringe-makingly loathsome and yet also exciting and fascinating and just understatedly nice enough that our sympathies remain with him. And I think Benedict Cumberbatch is doing a brilliant job, not only with the grand gestures but also with the small details which really bring the character to life. The original stories are used beautifully without weighing down the new stories that the series is trying to tell; most of the dialogue and the supporting characters are detailed and rich and witty and intriguing; and most of the plots are neatly structured and satisfyingly resolved. Heck, even the various tie-in websites actually do provide genuine added value, even if the supposed hidden messages on Sherlock's site hardly seem like the work of a master criminal.

And yet... and yet some things which seemed incredibly promising early on have ended up disappointing.

Looking back over my first post about it, I see that I was excited at what presenting Sherlock's face upside down on the first occasion that we meet him was signalling about the series' intentions to invert old tropes. But although I do think that Sherlock and Watson themselves as characters have been very nicely brought forward into the modern world, the rest of what's going on around them unfortunately oozes with unexamined tropes which have most certainly not been inverted at all )

I note also from my first post that, while recognising that the format of the show and its central relationship simply doesn't allow as much room for strong female characters as I'd ideally like, I was also still pretty optimistic about the ones we had met thus far: particularly Sally Donovan, the police sergeant, and Mycroft's mysterious assistant, Anthea. But they have disappointed, too )

I think a lot of the problems here probably stem from the very limited scope of a three-episode run - even if those episodes are each 90 minutes long. It means that many of the characters who seemed so promising early on just haven't had time to be developed properly - and in the squeeze of a limited run, it seems to be the female characters in particular who have suffered. What makes that so especially frustrating is the efforts which the first episode seemed to be making to set up interesting and intriguing characters whom I wanted to learn more about - a promise which was then never delivered on. If they'd just been fairly mediocre in the first place, I wouldn't have minded so much. Entrusting each episode to a different writer obviously hasn't helped much with this: it's noticeable that Lestrade, Mycroft and Sally Donovan vanished entirely from the middle episode, while even the character of Sherlock lost the nasty edge which kept him so interesting in the first and third. On the plus side, I think Watson has undergone a steady and plausible development from the bored, traumatised veteran of the first episode to the active and competent investigator of the third. But Moffat and Gatiss as co-creators really should have taken steps to ensure that this was happening more consistently for the secondary characters as well.

Some things have felt rushed, too - especially the introduction of Moriarty )

So, yeah. The stories are gripping, the visuals are beautiful, and Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft and Lestrade are all well-enough developed to make me want to come back for more. It's just a pity about the rushed schedule, under-developed characters and poor handling of minority groups. But it has definitely been nice to have something this well put-together showing over the summer when most cult TV series are on hiatus, and I am very happy to hear that they will be making more of it. I have already pre-ordered the box set, and will doubtless be back with my thoughts on the unaired pilot which it includes once it has arrived. Give it a bit longer and a rethink on the unexamined tropes front, and this could just start to present Granada's Jeremy Brett series with some serious competition. But it has some way to go just yet.

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strange_complex: (Sherlock Holmes trifles)
This production from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss has been well-hyped, which always makes me wary. But it does seem to have got off to a good start this evening. Here are some of the things I particularly liked about it:
  • The fact that the first time we see Sherlock's face, it's viewed upside-down and from within a body-bag. A lovely statement of how the series intends to invert old tropes.
  • The décor of the flat in 221b Baker Street, which managed to capture the feel of - oh, say - the set for the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, while still being plausibly contemporary at the same time.
  • Along similar lines, "It's a three patch problem" - lol!
  • The handling of text messages by just putting the text on the screen as we watch the character reading it. So much more simple and elegant than showing us the actual phone screen! Why haven't I seen anyone doing this before?
  • Similar for Sherlock's thought-processes as he examined the lady in pink lying on the floor. Much better than having him explain every detail to Watson - because although he did do that as well, filling in what he had deduced from his observations as he did so, it gave us as the audience a chance to do a little deducing ourselves before it was all spelt out for us.
  • And indeed all the road signs, road markings and maps overlaying Holmes and Watson's chase after the mysterious taxi-cab. Someone on the design team really know a thing or two about merging text and images.
  • Obviously lots and lots of queer references - not just Holmes and Watson themselves, though that was handled beautifully, but Mrs. Whoeveritwas next door having 'married ones' and 'Harry' Watson turning out to be short for Hariette. Well done!
  • And although the structure of a story centred around the relationship between two men obviously doesn't leave as much room for female characters as I'd really like, we have some promising starts: Mycroft's smartphone-addicted assistant Anthea, and Sergeant Donovan, who is more than ready to viciously deconstruct Sherlock's character.
  • Indeed, the general feeling that Sherlock is dangerous and that getting too deeply involved with him may backfire on Watson. That's an important element of the character, but all too easily eroded if we come to him with the baggage of previous experience, and thus take for granted that he is the good guy and that we can trust him. If we are to understand this Sherlock as someone new, that trust does need to be undermined.
On the minus side, I felt that some of the intended mysteries in the plot weren't as mysterious as they ought to have been. Though they may still spoil it for you if you haven't seen it )

Still, this is nothing that'll matter if the quality of the acting, characterisation, scripting and production we've seen this evening are sustained and (in some cases) developed. I'll definitely be watching next weekend.

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Weekending

Sunday, 18 July 2010 22:03
strange_complex: (Cities Esteban butterfly)
I've had a very lovely weekend, centred around a visit from my old chum [livejournal.com profile] hollyione (aka Amy), her very-nearly-six-year-old daughter Holly and her partner Pete. It's always nice to have guests, as it provides a great excuse to go off and do fun local things which you don't normally bother with on your own, and it's especially nice when those guests are such congenial people to have around. Amy, Pete and I seemed to spend most of our time joking, laughing and sharing our enjoyment of the various things we went to see and do, while Holly was extremely well-behaved - and of course also full of laughter, high-spirits and funny observations in the way that six-year-old children usually are.

Our main excursion was to the National Media Museum in Bradford - the same place that I go to for the Fantastic Films Weekend, but this time in its everyday capacity as a museum. I've looked around the exhibits a bit while there previously for the festivals, but they're more extensive than I'd realised, and really well-designed for children. We played vintage video and arcade games, looked at televisions, video recorders and cameras from the earliest days of TV to the present day, played around in a mock-television studio, pretended to read the news, messed around with strange mirrors and lighting effects, and watched an episode of Mr. Benn together - a nostalgia trip for the three adults, but a new discovery for Holly. Amy was amazed that it was all available to visit for free, and she was right - we're very lucky to have it.

Being out with a child certainly makes you see things in a different way )

Afterwards we wandered through a surprisingly sunny Bradford, where the locals were out and about enjoying a street market and a vintage car rally, and where Amy bought Prosecco while Pete was given a free two-minute Indian head massage. Then we returned home for dinner and a local cinema trip to see Shrek Forever After, which I shall write up separately, and which Holly seemed to enjoy. And today we indulged ourselves in the charity shops of Headingley, had a nice lunch together and walked home past some Scottish country dancers strutting their stuff at a school fête, before my guests had to pile themselves in the car and hit the road for the journey back home to Bristol.

I should add that in the evenings while little Holly slumbered upstairs, we adults settled down with Prosecco and G&Ts to enjoy some more grown-up activities. Well... slightly more grown-up, anyway. We played a few rounds of Eat Poop You Cat, for which I owe a huge debt to [livejournal.com profile] whatifoundthere for alerting me to the game's existence. Unlike her, I can't scan our efforts, because my scanner is currently bust, but I can tell you that we collectively managed to transform the simple phrase "Highway to Hell" into the sentence, "You can listen to great music along the road to hell, but the reception on your car radio may be affected by lightning storms", and also "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" (Amy's contribution, not mine!) into "Dog punt atom mother".

We also watched a couple of episodes of Blake's 7 - though unfortunately not starting with the first one, which would have been the most logical for me, as it was missing from Amy's box-set. That meant that it took me a while to tune in to the characters, but by the end of the second episode I'd definitely warmed to Cally, Jenna, Avon and Vila (for rather different reasons in each case). I also appreciated the way that the stories didn't always end neatly or happily in the same way that they do on Doctor Who (not that I dislike that in Who - but it's nice to see a different approach). I've still got a lot of Doctor Who to watch (and write up for that matter), but I'm definitely up for some more Blake's 7 at some point.

So, yes - a great weekend. I'm a bit physically tired now, but mentally refreshed and ready to face the week. Wonder if that will last into tomorrow morning? ;-)

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strange_complex: (Asterix Romans)
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and [livejournal.com profile] big_daz at the Cottage Road cinema. IMDb page here.

Yup, it's another of the Cottage Road Classics. The evening of course began with the usual vintage adverts. We were informed that Shell has the power to lubricate, and that Bobbi perming solution would not give us kinky curls. We also got to see some gloriously 1970s adverts for Coke and shoes, the latter featuring Lulu in some cracking flares. And there was a Fairy liquid ad from the 1950s, featuring a young girl who wanted her mother's used Fairy bottles to play skittles with. That one hardly felt like a novel and exciting view into the past, though, since Fairy draw so much on their advertising back-catalogue anyway in a drive to create a sense of nostalgia and tradition around their product that we are still seeing scenes just like it on our TVs every day.

The film itself is a French comedy classic. Actually, I'd never heard of Monsieur Hulot before this showing came up, but apparently the character was a HUGE phenomenon in his day, with a whole series of films and a massive popular following. More recently, the films have provided direct inspiration for Mr. Bean, both in the sense of presenting a central character who is awkward and accident-prone, and in the sense that they have very little dialogue - mainly just gestures, facial expressions and occasional trivial chatter.

M. Hulot is definitely not the same as Mr. Bean, though - thank goodness, because I can't stand Mr. Bean. Where Mr. Bean is creepy, childish and mean-spirited, M. Hulot manages to seem quite sweet and well-meaning even while he is also gauche and absent-minded. I've never felt the slightest scrap of sympathy for Mr. Bean - only an urgent desire to change channel or, failing that, leave the room. But though M. Hulot certainly does things which are annoying (like inadvertently setting off an entire shed-full of fireworks while everyone else is trying to sleep), he does also at least try to be polite and gentlemanly and thoughtful. He even turns out to be unexpectedly good at tennis - not because he has any real skill, but because he faithfully mimics some rather odd racket movements demonstrated to him by the lady in the tennis shop, and they turn out to be a winning formula. By the end of the film, quite a few of his fellow vacationers have had enough of him, mainly because of the fireworks. But others bid him fond and enthusiastic farewells, in terms which suggest that they've secretly rather enjoyed his little antics.

The film has no plot as such, which is why dialogue isn't really necessary. But it more than makes up for that in characterisation. It comes across as an extended bout of high-quality people-watching, interspersed with idyllic shots of a French seaside town and overlain with lilting summery music. We simply follow M. Hulot and his fellow holiday-makers about their day to day business, dropping in and out of people's conversations, picking up on their funny little quirks, and then shifting our attention onwards. The little boys playing naughty tricks on the beach, the bossy mother, the pretentious intellectual, the young woman in search of romance, the jolly English tennis coach, the bored restaurateur, the military veteran reliving his greatest moments. They're all lovingly sketched out and beautifully played off against one another.

It's a tradition at the Cottage to round off classic film nights by playing the national anthem and projecting a picture of the Queen (or occasionally one of her predecessors) onto the screen. In deference to our French cousins, though, this time we had the Marseillaise and a picture of the Arc de Triomphe instead! And then it was out into the evening air (and a huge cloud of dandelion-seeds) to walk home, laughing once again over all our favourite moments. The moment when he got a stuffed fox stuck on his riding-boot; the moment when he was flipped into the harbour by a tow-rope; the deflating tyre at the funeral; the man who dropped his pen in a fish-tank, carefully rolled up one sleeve but then accidentally stuck the other arm in to retrieve it; the paint tin washed in and out by the tide; and so on and so forth. Not the sort of comedy I usually think of myself as liking - but somehow here done just right.

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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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On the box

Tuesday, 11 August 2009 22:09
strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
This evening, the Sci-Fi channel aired the final episode of season one of Dollhouse, the latest offering from Joss Whedon. It's been a busy old time for good TV lately, with new episodes of Dollhouse, House and True Blood airing every week, and I'm here to note down a few thoughts about each of them.

House )

True Blood )

Dollhouse )

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