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: (Cyberman from beneath)
My final film watched of 2015, I recorded this one off the Horror Channel a while ago, and watched it on New Year's Eve. It's a Hammer horror classic, right from their glorious hey-day, in which the Germanic village of Vandorf is troubled by the spirit of a millennia-old Gorgon who comes out when the moon is full and turns people to stone. It is also one of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing's twenty-odd screen collaborations. I have seen it before, but a looong time ago - probably a good 20 years, I reckon.

It is almost really brilliant. Much of the usual reliable production team is here - James Bernard doing the music, Bernard Robinson the sets, Michael Reed the photography, Rosemary Burrows the costumes and Terence Fisher the direction. Quite apart from Lee and Cushing, the cast is great too. Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe and Patrick Troughton are all worth the entrance fee alone, but Barbara Shelley particularly shines in a role which really shows her range: kind, gentle and loving, strong-willed yet afraid and internally conflicted, while always remaining entirely convincing as a single, coherent character. I already loved her from Dracula Prince of Darkness (in which she is similarly wide-ranging), Rasputin the Mad Monk and Quatermass and the Pit, but she really excelled herself in this one, and I'm now thinking I should make a point of seeking out some of her other appearances.

What lets it down, though, is a story-line which doesn't fully work through its potential. There's a good idea on the table. But discussing it involves spoilers, and it is best to see this film unspoilt if you can )

I am also going to come right out and say that I don't think Christopher Lee is particularly good in this film either. His character is actually the good guy, who arrives half-way through the story, applies an open-minded rationalism to what is going on, figures out what the villagers are hiding and eventually dispatches the Gorgon. And this is something he is definitely perfectly capable of doing well, as his performance as the Duc de Richleau in The Devil Rides Out shows. But for some reason he evidently decided to give his character in this film a sort of brusque gruffness which just didn't work for me. This isn't to say he's abysmal. He has some good confrontation scenes with Peter Cushing, where there is a lot going on emotionally on both sides of the equation. But of the two, Cushing's depiction of a man who, while rather unlikable overall, elicits our sympathy through the obvious mental anguish caused by his attempts to cover up spoiler's ) crimes, is distinctly more compelling and interesting to watch.

Finally, what can we make of the use of a Greek mythological creature in this film? It's only to be expected, really. Hammer in this period were clearly working their way through every monster they could think of in their search for suitable new material, and they were bound to turn to Greek mythology at some point. It also happens to make the middle entry in a nice trio with The Mummy (1959) and The Viking Queen (1967): Egypt ✓, Greece ✓, Rome ✓ - and I think there is clear hierarchy of priorities at work in the order they went about them, basically working from the culture with the most potential for macabre fantasy stories to the one with the least. The particular choice of a Gorgon I would guess probably springs from a fairly simple pragmatic equation - another spoilery bit here ), and her only non-humanoid attribute is the snakes, making the special effects relatively manageable too. (This film pre-dates Clash of the Titans (1981), so its Gorgon does not have a snaky tail - Ray Harryhausen invented that.) The effects are still pretty poor, and this is a major flaw in the film - but imagine how much more trouble they would have had trying to do the sphinx, harpies, Echidna or similar.

Meanwhile, Bernard Robinson took up the Greek cue in his set design, making a nice replica centrepiece of the Belvedere Torso for the entrance-hall of the castle where the Gorgon likes to lurk, which was used to good effect in turn by Michael Reed's photography:

The Gorgon castle.jpg

On one level, this was a reasonably obvious creative touch for a film about people being turned to stone by a monster from Greek mythology. And the particular choice of the Belvedere Torso is not difficult to explain. It's an extremely famous piece of Greek sculpture (technically a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, but that is true of most surviving 'Greek' art), of the type which you would come across pretty quickly if you picked up any book on the topic. But then again, there would have been lots of other options in the same book too, and homing in on one which expresses anguish and tragedy so eloquently through its twisted pose and fragmentary state deserves credit; as does the fact that its missing limbs and head both resonate rather nicely with what happens to some of the Gorgon's victims, and eventually also the Gorgon herself, over the course of the film. Possibly the Laocoön, with its snaky theme, would have been an even better choice - but then again I see why a replica of that statue would be considerably more time-consuming and expensive to make. Also, it left the stage clear for 28 Days Later to use the Laocoön statue in a very similar way many decades later - maybe even inspired by Bernard Robinson's set designs, who knows?

Overall, worth watching for Barbara Shelley, the Lee-Cushing pairing and the general Hammery goodness, but not in the first rank.

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strange_complex: (Strange complex)
Well, I think we can safely say that Moffat's decision to go heavy on the two-parters this season was a good one. Oh, mid-story cliff-hangers, how we have missed you! Plus the obvious advantages of being able to develop both characters and complex mysteries over a more generous span of time. Not all two-parters are perfect, of course. Mid-season ones in particular have tended to be a noticeable New Who weakness, in fact. But perhaps that was only ever because they were in the middle of the season, rather than because they happened to be two-parters, all along?

I'm also starting to think I like the pitch of the Doctor's character a little bit better this season. He seems less arrogant / grouchy for the sake of it, more at ease with himself and more natural in his exuberance when he shows it. Maybe it is partly to do with how his relationship with Clara has developed? Now that she is stronger too, and we've got past the whole lying-to-each-other theme from last season, he too seems to have become more enjoyable to have around the screen. The business with the cue-cards, with the Doctor needing to make a thing about even a whole dimension (inside the TARDIS) only having room for one him, and Clara being all 'yeah, whatever' in response, was all just lovely for being obviously a performance on both sides, rather than fragile and tense for being a little to close to the truth as it tended to be last season.

It helps, too that I absolutely love cabin-fever stories like this one - and even better when they acknowledge what they are, as this one did when Cass told the Doctor he could "stay and do the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing" if he wanted. In fact, I think this story was actively nodding at some of Doctor Who's very own cabin-fever stories of the past )

Other strong moments which I haven't had occasion to mention yet include spoilers )

Diversity issues also involve spoilers )

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strange_complex: (Cyberman from beneath)
Cor, is it really season finale two-parter time already? This season has gone fast! And although there have been two episodes which I found weak (Kill the Moon and In the Forest of the Night), on the whole it has been pretty strong - above all for the key themes and motifs developed and explored from different angles from episode to episode.

This episode certainly felt like a logical culmination to the season as a whole, but it also served up plenty of surprises, as well as some interesting plot ideas and some proper emotional weight )

For all that the fact of Missy collecting dead people had been well established throughout the season, I must say I never quite expected Doctor Who to do a katabasis story )

On Missy herself, woo-hoo to the spoilery goodness )

Smaller points )

Finally, obviously I knew the title of this episode from an early stage in the season, which is partly what has encouraged me to keep running Water-and-Breathing Watch )

OK, that's it - I am caught up, and am now off to bed. Looking forward to the final instalment tomorrow!

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strange_complex: (Cyberman from beneath)
The first half of this season of Doctor Who has been characterised by Steven Moffat either writing or co-writing all of the episodes himself, except for Robot of Sherwood, which he apparently trusted Mark Gatiss to do on his own. We now move into a second phase - a run of stories by writers who are all entirely new to the series.

I think the biggest consequence of that this week is that the sciencey plot details suddenly went from sketchy-but-good-enough to utterly hokey )

I also didn't like the way the entire story was precipitated by Courtney Woods' desperate desire for the Doctor's approval )

That said, we did get some pretty decent material as the episode unfolded )

In the end, though, that whole discussion was utterly undermined by the have it both ways ending )

Other notes - this was an episode heavy with Classic Who continuity references )

Meanwhile, Water-and-Breathing Watch was once again on the case this week )

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strange_complex: (Dracula Scars wine)
After a wonderfully Whovian weekend, it's time to get back to some film reviews. Not least because I'm already three behind, and am going to the cinema again tomorrow.

So, having watched Cracks and sent it back to Lovefilm, I've progressed onwards to borrowing some of the Hammer Dracula sequels from them on DVD. I still want my own copies for Christmas as well, but am not going to muck about making myself wait until then, when I know very well that December is going to be an utterly miserable month for me thanks to family health issues. My policy is to get some nice indulgence under my belt now, while I still can. I chose to rent this one first because, like Risen from the Grave, I haven't seen it for a fair while, and as an added bonus it has Patrick Troughton in it!

It's the fifth in the series (sixth if you count Brides of Dracula), and by more or less any standard, it is a bit rubbish )

BUT! All that aside, I still kinda like this film. For a start, it has Patrick Troughton in it - and his character, Klove is easily the best-developed secondary role in the entire film. He has a dilemma! Should he serve the needs of his master, or turn against him to help the pretty girl whose photograph he has found in the pocket of the unfortunate Paul? His vacillations on this issue drive much of the plot, and needless to say The Trout plays it all very convincingly. So, of course, does Christopher Lee his Dracula, who remains as dignified, imposing, erotic, violent, sadistic, and yet strangely sympathetic as ever. You've got to hand it to Sir Lee for his sheer professionalism, here as in every film he has ever made, which has rescued many a second-rate production from otherwise-deserved third-ratedom.

Above all, though, what I really like about Scars, I think, is that it has absolutely loads of what I call 'castle business' - that is, scenes of Dracula mooching around in (what remains of his half-burnt) castle, welcoming guests and offering them wine in a slightly creepy way (see icon for details). I love this stuff, because it recalls the early scenes with Jonathan Harker from the first film, bringing back Dracula the icily-polite and oddly-disconcerting host, whom we haven't really seen since then. It adds so much to his character for me - in particular strengthening his identity as the faded aristocrat, rather than just the evil Satanic monster. Here, it is also used to good effect in evoking sympathy for him, as he refers with obvious anguish to the losses caused by the burning of his castle - and establishing that connection with the audience really helps to make his sadistic / violent scenes a hundred times more effective.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of nice details to note about how this film develops Hammer's Dracula 'mythos' )

Finally, to my utter delight and complete amazement, I was astonished to find a commentary track on this DVD featuring none other than the great Sir Christopher Lee )

Weird, but nice, and it's even made me feel warm towards him again in a way I haven't really managed since I got banned from his web community. For that, I am grateful, because he was such a childhood icon to me. I still think he's arrogant and inconsistent and basically self-serving - but if he can say a few good words about Scars of Dracula, even if only to contradict them again a few moments later, then he's good with me.

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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: (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: (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: (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  )

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strange_complex: (Adric Ugg boots)
Just bringing myself up to date with my Who reviews here, before I move on to an overall review of the books, films and cult TV I have been gorging myself on for the past twelve months...

Fifth Doctor: The Visitation )

Fifth Doctor: Black Orchid )

Fifth Doctor: Four to Doomsday )

And, as happened previously for the Third Doctor, I have now seen all of the Fifth Doctor stories currently available on DVD. So it's on to Sixie (OMG what am I letting myself in for? ;-p @ [livejournal.com profile] miss_s_b) forthwith.

In the meantime, here are some common points which struck me about the Fifth Doctor era:
  • It's notably more Earth-focussed than the Fourth Doctor era – enough, in fact, for it to be acknowledged in the script at the beginning of Black Orchid, when the Doctor asks the TARDIS, “What’s the matter old girl? Why this compunction for planet Earth?” As for so many things from this period, knowing this helps make more sense of the similar approach of New Who. It also means more [pseudo-]historicals than in the Baker era, as the production team try to vary the precise character of the Earth setting a little.
  • Cliff-hangers in this period are also notably different from earlier eras. For Pertwee or Baker, they tend to be terrible things being about to happen to companions and / or big reveals of monsters or terrifying alien devices. For Davison, though, they are much more focussed on him: generally close-ups of his face registering horror, resignation, dismay etc.
  • The stories almost always start out well, but all too often a faint sense of ludicrousness begins to overlay the proceedings (usually at around the same time that the main monster is revealed), soon followed by pointlessness.
  • While the DVD extras of the Pertwee and Baker eras are full of people expressing admiration for each other and remembering what a great time they had, these ones largely consist of people politely trying not to be too rude about Jonathan Nathan Turner. I can't blame them.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I'm pretty slow writing these at the moment, but still watching avidly, and writing when I can manage to.

Multiple Doctors: The Five Doctors )

Multiple Doctors: Dimensions in Time )

A digression on Tom Baker )

Third Doctor: The Curse of Peladon )

And that's me done with Three for the time being, since I have now seen all of his stories that are available on DVD. At some point I'll go back in fill in the rest via Other Means - but for the moment, I'm well into the Five era instead. Write-ups of that will appear... eventually...

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Well, while I have a relatively normal weekend on my hands, I am going to get caught up with some unwritten reviews. I have spent most of the day on the sofa with my laptop writing this, while the TV burbled away in the background. It's what makes me happy.

Multiple Doctors: The Three Doctors )

Third Doctor: Carnival of Monsters )

Third Doctor: The Green Death )

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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: (Ulysses 31)
With Sarah Jane covered, I'm now taking two parallel approaches to my Who viewing: returning to the early days to watch William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton's stories sequentially, while also joining Lovefilm and sticking all DVDs released to date for the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors on my request list (well, except for Seven's final story, Survival, that is - I feel that particular one actually does need to be watched last).

When I said 'sequentially' for One and Two, what I'd originally really meant was 'sequentially but omitting those stories that are more than fifty percent missing'. Having watched Hartnell's first three stories back in January, then, that meant I was scheduled to sail right on past the next story, Marco Polo, and pick up at The Keys of Marinus instead. But then [livejournal.com profile] gair pointed me towards [livejournal.com profile] altariel, who had listened to the sound-track with linking narration, and she was so enthusiastic about it, actually ranking Marco Polo as the strongest story in the first season, that I decided to give it a try after all.

First Doctor: Marco Polo )

I'm definitely glad [livejournal.com profile] altariel stopped me from missing this one, then, and plan to continue with audio and / or still reconstructions when I get to other stories for which the original footage has been lost. I do reserve the right to rethink this policy when I get to seasons 3-5, though, where only four stories survive entirely complete out of a total of 26. That could get kinda tedious - at least unless tempered pretty heavily with complete stories from later eras. We'll see.

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: (Default)
Last night, [livejournal.com profile] damien_mocata, [livejournal.com profile] captainlucy and myself went to the QFT to see I ♥ Huckabees. It was really excellent, and I would highly recommend it to anybody. Surreal, funny, thought-provoking, and boasting some great performances.

It's rather hard to really convey what it is about by just describing it, but it hinges around a husband-and-wife detective team, Jaffe & Jaffe (played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), who work not on crimes, but on solving people's existential problems. Their methods involve teaching clients to deconstruct themselves and their lives, stressing the inter-connectedness of everything, and introducing clients whose cases are related to each other to help them 'progress'. Meanwhile, they have a dark alter-ego, Caterine Vauban (played by Isabelle Huppert), who poaches their unsatisfied clients, telling them instead that nothing is related, and carries a business card with the slogan, 'Cruelty, Manipulation and Meaninglessness'. Or wait: could Vauban and Jaffe & Jaffe actually be working together???

As I said, the film is highly surreal, and you will have to watch it yourself to decide on this. Even their web-site will warp your mind: go on, check it out! (Don't if you have a 56k modem, though...)

I also came away from the cinema with a rather pleasing trophy. Early on in the film, a young man, who is trying to understand the meaning of a series of coincidences which have brought him into contact with a Sudanese refugee, calls on Jaffe & Jaffe and uses a business card of theirs (which itself came his way by a bizarre coincidence) to find their firm within a bewilderingly large office building. I knew I had seen that exact same card earlier on that day, but couldn't for the life of me remember where. So when we came out, I checked the cinema listings leaflet which was by the ticket counter, wondering if there had perhaps been a picture of it in there. Then the man behind the counter, hearing me explaining to Francis and Michael what I was looking for, came to my rescue: in fact, they had a whole pile of Jaffe & Jaffe business cards lying just to the side of the counter, and I had obviously seen these without really registering it consciously while paying for my ticket. Somehow, it felt like the perfect event to follow the film: I myself (and Francis and Michael) all ended up with our own copies of the Jaffe & Jaffe card, through our own somewhat surreal experience.

The card itself, which I shall keep as a memento, looks like this:

Jaffe & Jaffe )

Sadly, they did not have a copy of the Caterine Vauban card... but I can foresee her slogan inspiring many an LJ title or subtitle in the future.

After this, the three of us went back to my flat (via the offy) to watch The Devil Rides Out, a Doctor Who episode (part one of The Web of Fear) and some random snooker. All in all, a most pleasant evening.

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