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: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So! Film festival, day two. Here is the overall schedule for the day:

Saturday schedule.jpg

And here's what I did:

21. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), dir. Gordon Hessler / interview with Caroline Munro / Ray Harryhausen's Lost Treasures )

Interview with Katy Manning (aka Jo Grant from Doctor Who) )

Met Caroline Munro and got her autograph )

Doctor Who season 22 show-makers' interview )

Afterwards, I joined [ profile] newandrewhickey, [ profile] minnesattva and [ profile] innerbrat for the first 45 minutes or so of The Rocketeer (1991), a sort of larger-than-life SF comedy about a US stunt pilot in the 1940s who finds a jet-pack, with Jennifer Connelly as his under-impressed girlfriend. I could see it was good and would have stayed to watch the whole thing if there weren't competing features on the schedule, but there were: two live commentaries from the Tenth Doctor era, marking the fact that his first full season screened ten years ago now. Ten is much more my thing than Six, so off I slipped...

Live commentary on New Who 2.3 School Reunion )

Live commentary on New Who 2.13 Doomsday )

All this time, Galaxy Quest had been playing in another room, which is a pity, because once the Doctor Who stuff was over and I went to join [ profile] innerbrat, [ profile] minnesattva and [ profile] newandrewhickey in the screening, I realised what bloody good fun it was to watch at an actual con. But then again I have seen it multiple times before, and those live Doctor Who commentaries really were great, so I think I made the right choice.

After the film had finished, we went for food at a seriously good pizza / pasta place just down the road. It was nominally just a take-away / sit-in at fixed tables place, but the quality of the food was way better than you'd normally expect for a place like that, and along with the cute student room I was staying in and the well-appointed Co-op just below it, this was one of a number of things that really made me fall for the area where we were staying. Like, on one level, it was just edge-of-city-centre ring-roadish urban redevelopment, with a lot of medium-rise new-builds, but on another it did actually feel somehow quite modern and dynamic and nice to be in. In fact, hell, let's have a picture of it which fails to do justice to the intensity of the sunset on the Friday evening:

2016-08-26 20.27.12.jpg

22. Blood of the Tribades (2016), dir. Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So! A new season of Doctor Who, then! I missed the first episode because I was in Bournemouth for Lib Dem Conference, and although I did catch up with it last Saturday (effectively watching both as a two-parter that evening), I haven't had time to write about them until now because I wanted to get conference written up first, and have then had a busy week.

I really liked these two episodes, though. I went into them with fairly low expectations, after a week of reading various comments around the internet to the effect that The Magician's Apprentice was not that great. So it may be that the low expectations in themselves helped me enjoy both episodes more than I might have done otherwise. But certainly, watched together, they seemed pretty strong to me.

The basic set-up and central drama, revisiting the Genesis of the Daleks dilemma by giving the Doctor the power of life and death over a being whom he knows will kill billions but right now is powerless and innocent, is sound enough and professionally handled. OK, you could argue it's a lazy re-hash of Doctor Who's back catalogue, but I liked the structuring principle which meant that we kept getting new takes on how the Doctor had actually responded to that dilemma right up until the end of the two-parter, even while the consequences (and causes) of his actions played out in another time-line.

The real star of this story for me, though, was Missy. Looking back at my reviews for the last two stories of last season, I didn't have terribly much to say about her beyond the gender-switch thing, but this story really let her blossom into a fully-developed character, so that she has officially become loads of fun. In particular, she is far more interesting here than she ever was in the last series for the ambiguity around whether she is temporarily collaborating with the Doctor and Clara purely out of expedience, or out of some kind of respect for her history with the Doctor. This really broadened her out from a fairly one-dimensional villain into a fully-fledged incarnation of the Master, whose relationship with the Doctor always was shot through with the ongoing reverberations of their childhood friendship / rivalry. As others have said, Michelle Gomez's performance very much rose to meet the new opportunities, replete with echoes of Masters past along the way. So I am now really looking forward to seeing more of her (and her gorgeous purple Victorian outfit!) in the future, and fervently hope that she will displace River Bloody Song as Doctor Who's resident mysterious recurring female character. I'm also looking forward to meeting her daughter (or son by this time, of course) - though in grand Whovian tradition, it could literally be decades before we do.

Missy wouldn't have worked anything like as well as she did, though, without Clara to play up against - and torment a bit. I thought Clara's side of the dynamic worked particularly well during their first encounter, when she was able to pin Missy down to business and stop her from randomly killing people because she could by insisting that Missy 'make [her] believe' that there really was something serious going on relating to the Doctor. That is the same self-assured, experienced Clara that she had grown into by the end of last season, and whom I like very much.

Clara's moments trapped within the Dalek shell, unable to communicate her human emotions and even frighteningly unable to convey her identity to the Doctor were excellent too. They were stronger for recalling the life of Oswin Oswald her fellow-inmates in Asylum of the Daleks, but would have been good anyway for giving us a new level of insight into the horror of what Daleks are - not to mention an explanation for why they shout 'exterminate' all the time! Fine achievements after over fifty years of them.

Then there were the scenes between the Doctor and Davros - also good, and for much the same reasons of ambiguity as those involving Missy. Probably Davros is just Evil, and tricked the Doctor into coming to Skaro so that he could harness his regeneration energy. And probably the Doctor, for all his compassion, knew full well that he could turn Davros' plans against him by activating the gloopy dead sewer-Daleks, so was never really in Davros' emotional grasp. But maybe, just maybe, on some level they do actually also like and respect one another. Certainly, it was compelling to see these two ancient enemies recognising each other for the two sides of the same coin they have always been, even if it was only a temporary and somewhat illusory truce.

In general, then, excellent character-led drama, with just enough new twists on the familiar staples of the format to make the story seem new. On the other hand, though, I could really have done without yet another fake companion death, and particularly one used so overtly as a fridging device to push the Doctor into doing (plot-necessary) crazy things in the Dalek city. And while I appreciate the attempt at representing racial diversity by putting black faces in the crowd in AD 1138, still in this story a black character (young Davros' companion in the hand-mine field) was the first person to die on screen yet again. Doesn't anybody explicitly double-check scripts for this, given how a) common and b) fucking racist it is?

Finally, two things in this episode reminded me strongly of The Fires of Pompeii - 1) the hand-mines with eyes in the palms of their hands, much like the Soothsayers of the Sibylline Sisterhood, and 2) the Doctor and Clara standing on a hill-side, watching the destruction of the Dalek city. This is what I mean on the latter point - the composition of the shots is never quite the same, but the general feeling is very, very similar:

Pompeii watching destruction.jpg

Dalek city destruction.jpg

So Caecilius in Fires of Pompeii and the Doctor in The Witch's Familiar have now stood in similar settings, watching cities being destroyed, while wearing the same face. And since the Doctor said himself at the beginning of last season that he must have been trying to tell himself something by choosing it, I feel like we should pay attention to that.

A few smaller, random thoughts to finish us off:
  • Missy's static planes reminded me really strongly of the various examples of planes caught mid-flight by Google mapping satellites.
  • Davros being referred to as a Dark Lord and being served by an intelligent snake all seemed very Harry Potter.
  • But there was also something very Darth Vader-ish about Davros having once been a round-faced little boy on a desert planet, becoming dependent on a life-support system later in his life, and wanting to see the Doctor with his own eyes in his final moments.
  • Davros' supposedly-dying speech rang some strong Augustan bells for me. Compare and contrast: "Did I do right? Tell me, was I right? I need to know before the end - was I a good man?" and "Did I play my part well in this comedy called life?" It is classic Great Man / Strong Leader stuff - the iconic historical agent with power over millions revealing his inner humanity just before the end.
  • There was a strong set-up for a scene in which the Doctor would have to pull the Dalek wires out of Clara's head, causing her significant pain in the cause of restoring her humanity, but in the end we didn't get it, and skipped straight to her being fine and running along a corridor again. Looks like shoddy editing, I would guess because the story as initially planned turned out to over-run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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strange_complex: (Cities condor in flight)
I've always meant to read this. I've read, listened to or watched everything else Douglas Adams ever produced after all, and this was the last remaining item of his which I hadn't experienced. Except that obviously, it isn't actually by him, so the urge was never quite strong enough to make me actually hunt it down. But then when I saw it for £1 on a book-stall at the excellent Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space conference in the summer, it seemed silly to pass it up.

I'm not going to be terribly complimentary about it, unfortunately, and for that reason if nothing else it's probably best to say a bit about its authorship before I start criticising. Basically, it is the novelisation of a computer game, Starship Titanic, which Douglas Adams produced in the late '90s. Adams originally intended to write the novel as well as the game himself, but as deadlines loomed and he decided that his primary interest was the game, he passed the work of producing the novel on to Terry Jones. So Jones was working with a basic scenario set out by Adams, and presumably some briefing notes about the characters and what ought to happen to them - but the details were down to him. I've never played the game, because I didn't have a computer capable of running it when it came out, so I can't judge how close the relationship between the game and the novel is, and therefore which aspects of the novel might have come primarily from Adams, and which from Jones. So I'll mainly just refer to the author as Adams / Jones, except when I'm explicitly commenting on which of them might have contributed particular ideas.

I thought the book was going to be crashingly sexist for the first 60 pages or so. These are set on Blerontin, the planet from which the Starship Titanic is launched, so the setting is utterly alien, and Adams / Jones could have imagined it any way they wanted. As it happens, the Blerontinians are essentially humanoid (except that they have orange eyes), which is fine and still doesn't make it necessary to import all of humanity's failings into the novel. And yet, nonetheless, their society is gendered in exactly the same way as ours, and while all the people with status and agency (the Blerontinian equivalent of a President, a Journalist, the ship's designer) are male, women appear only on p. 21, where we meet "a young cub reporter with a cleavage" who is there solely to act as an object for the ship-designer's lust, and on p. 29, where we learn that part of the reason why the Starship Titanic is in fact a floating disaster rather than a great triumph is that it was built by the Amalgamated Unmarried Teenage Mothers' Construction Units. By which time I was gasping in horror and wondering whether this could be any worse if Adams / Jones had deliberately set out to parody the sexism embedded in SF by writing an over-the-top exaggerated version of it.

Thankfully, on page 62, the setting shifts to Earth, and we meet four humans, two of whom are women, and the beyond-parody sexism drops away with the introduction of the more veristic characters. There is still some weirdness, though, like a great deal of comment on how one character called Nettie is incredibly hot and wears midriff-revealing T-shirts and so on, which doesn't do anything at all to advance the plot or her characterisation. In fact, character-wise, Nettie is extremely strong, resourceful and quick-thinking, so maybe all the "and she's really hot too!" stuff is about creating a wish-fulfilment super-babe character? Also, there is a very bizarre love-triangle thing between the other female character, Lucy, the Blerontinian Journalist, and Lucy's previous boyfriend, Dan, which basically involves Lucy and the Journalist suddenly and unexplainedly jumping each others' bones in a way that has no emotional plausibility whatsoever, or (again) any plot relevance either. In all honesty, it just comes across as the writing of someone who doesn't really understand a) women or b) relationships between men and women in any terms other than stereotypes and sniggers. I know Adams was never that good at writing women himself (cf. Trillian), but I feel like this bears more resemblance to Jones' Pythonesque world of women as sexy secretaries or mad housewives. Either way, though, it was weird and annoying.

The actual novel, plot, ideas etc are basically OK for a light read, but nothing particularly exciting or inspiring. There is one reason, though, why a Doctor Who fan in particular might wish to read it, and that is for its distinct resemblance to the Kylie Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned. It isn't simply that they are both retellings of the real-world Titanic story. In both, the ship's owners are attempting to perpetrate a massive insurance scheme fraud, and have deliberately sent the ship out with the express intention that it should crash. The details aren't quite identical, because in Voyage of the Damned the owner (Max Capricorn) is actually on the ship himself, hidden in a protective chamber, with the aim of surviving the crash and bankrupting his former company in the process, whereas in Starship Titanic it is simply a case of the company owner and his chief accountant realising that the project will ruin them, and deciding to cut construction costs, scuttle the ship and claim the insurance instead. But a lot of the individual elements are the same - obstructive robots, loss of oxygen, a difficult journey though a damaged ship, people falling into a central engine shaft, and the fact that the planet which the ship either nearly or really crashes onto is Earth.

Presumably, this is very much the sort of stuff which also features in the game, and thus comes originally from Douglas Adams. So it's rather nice to know that long after The Pirate Planet, City of Death and Shada, Adams was still shaping Doctor Who stories from beyond the grave (and indeed not for the last time, either). As for the game itself, I would still like to have a go at it one day (if it's even still compatible with today's computers), but have a rather long list of things which are a higher priority than it, and also suspect that I've gathered much of its contents from the book. If anyone has ever played it, do let me know if it's worth tracking down.

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

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

The sweet spot between silly fun and format-redefinition )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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strange_complex: (Janus)
I watched this on Saturday at my parents' house, but then also rewatched the whole two-parter after I'd returned to Leeds, so that I could judge it as a whole and reassess some its earlier parts in the light of later revelations. So this review will go back over The Rebel Flesh to some extent, as well as covering The Almost People. After all, as I said last week, The Rebel Flesh was very hard to judge in and of itself.

That Ending and the build-up to it - in my view, Moffat and Graham between them botch the emotional weight of the scene )

Anyway, obviously that's the main issue everyone has been talking about since the episode aired, but there are a few other things which struck me about either or both episodes.

The Rebel Flesh - acid baths, zeerust and badly parodied idioms )

The Almost People - Doctor Which, Rory and red balloons )

The coming two-parter - Roricus Pondicus and the she who tells )

All to be revealed in a scant 24 hours - woot!

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strange_complex: (Obelix boar)
So with all the historicals covered now, and my paper delivered, I can go back and fill in the stories which I had to skip over before the CA conference.

First Doctor: The Savages )

The Doctor as intergalactic hero-figure )

Steven )

Dodo and gender divisions )

Still, on the whole, not a bad effort, and certainly an important step forward in the grand tradition of rebellion-fomenting Doctor Who stories.

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strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
I did watch this last Saturday while staying at [ profile] hollyione's house, but missed the first couple of minutes and spent parts of the episode chatting, so have re-watched it this afternoon in order to do it full justice.

I wasn't sure whether I'd liked it last week )

Watching again, though, I found most of these concerns put to rest )

So, yes. I think I like this Doctor, and I like this era )

Some other minor issues )

OK, I think that's everything, so I am ready to watch this evening's episode. Awesome!

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I am:

Happy, because of this spoiler )

Sad, because of this spoiler )

Happy, because of this spoiler )

Sad, because of this spoiler )

Happy, because of this spoiler )

Sad, because of this spoiler )

Happy, because of this spoiler )

In short, conflicted. Which I think was the point of that.

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
It's been a quiet but lovely Christmas here in Birmingham. I'm the last one still up - everyone else has staggered off to bed after being lulled into a pleasant stupor by turkey and pudding and brandy and the Father Ted Christmas special. I've got the cat curled up next to me and a fire slowly dying in the grate, while on the opposite side of the room is a truly humongous pile of presents, including such goodies as a book of 1930s women's style pages from the tabloid newspapers, a new ash-pan for my fire (well, I think it's exciting!) and of course three Doctor Who DVDs (all of First Doctor stories).

Like last year, I willingly helped out with kitchen tasks during the earlier part of the afternoon in order to ensure that I could enjoy the Doctor Who Christmas special at 6pm without feeling guilty. It was worth it, although overall, I was rather underwhelmed by the episode. It seemed too burdened down with the need to drive forward an epic plot, with the result that the newly-introduced characters were nothing more than cardboard cut-outs, the bits that were plot-heavy lacked subtlety and the bits that weren't sometimes dragged. Even David Tennant often appeared to have all too little to do.

Then again, it was only part one of a two-parter, which over its total length is obviously going to have to wrap up all the unresolved story-lines of Russell T. Davies' entire tenure. We always knew it was going to be EPICALLY EPIC, and given what the last few years of the programme have been like, that does seem like the only appropriate way to finish it all now. So it's no good expecting subtlety or departures from established formulae at this stage, really.

Besides, Bernard Cribbins was spell-binding throughout, as was John Simms actually - something I never quite felt with his previous appearances. And there were some great individual moments. Extremely spoilery list )

I might try and have a think about what's likely to come up in the second part tomorrow, but for now I think I'm too tired and turkeyed-out. Hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and are blessedly free of post-festive hangovers in the morning.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
Hahaha! Gotta love what they can do when it ain't part of the 'proper' series. Not really that spoilery, but whatever )

Looking forward to it!

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
Hmm, I guess that was OK, but not exceptional. But I don't want to spoil you, all the same )

Er, and that's it, really. Nothing much else of substance or depth that I could see. But can't wait for the Christmas / New Year's specials, all the same!

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strange_complex: (Seven Ace)
This is, of course, the novel on which the two-part Tenth Doctor story, Human Nature / The Family of Blood is based. I read it online courtesy of the BBC, but did so increeeediiiibblllyy sllooooooooooowly over a series of short sessions while eating lunch-time sandwiches at my desk. Since I don't have that sort of lunch-break every day, and indeed often do not do so for a week or more at a time, it has taken me since last December (when I finished The Well-Mannered War) to complete the book. That wasn't too much of a problem for understanding the plot, since it is similar enough to the TV version for my memories of that to have helped me keep track of it between gaps in reading. But it probably did mean I maintained less of a grip on all the various minor characters than I might otherwise have done.

The novel features the Seventh Doctor rather than the Tenth - although, spookily, someone claiming to be the Tenth incarnation of the Doctor does pop up at one point. The premise is also slightly different from the TV version. In the novel, the Doctor comes to the Aubertides wanting to be human, and the technology to enact that transformation comes from them, not the Time Lords. The only problem is that they have offered that technology as a bait, in order to get a Time Lord into a vulnerable enough position for them to be able to steal his technology and ability to regenerate from him. Hence their pursuit of the unsuspecting school-teacher, John Smith - protected in this instance by Bernice Summerfield, a companion of Cornell's own creation.

I think I actually prefer this set-up to the TV adaptation. One obvious difficulty with the TV version is that it requires us to accept that the Doctor has known how to transform himself into a human all along, without ever having mentioned it before. That's one of the problems you run into after forty years of continuity, and I wouldn't want it getting in the way of good stories. But having the technology come from a previously-unencountered source instead does feel more convincing. The setting for the novel also changes the Doctor's motivation for becoming human in the first place. Whereas in the TV episode, he does it in order to save the Family of Blood from their own desire to hunt him down and devour his life force, in the novel he knows nothing about that at the point when he makes the decision. Instead, it is implied (though never explicitly spelt out) that he does it because he wants to understand humans better, and perhaps also take a break from himself - something that is certainly an outcome of his actions in the TV series, but not his actual reason for doing it. That said, perhaps his motivations in the TV version are more in keeping with the established character of the Doctor - certainly of the Tenth Doctor, anyway.

Either way, the idea of making the Doctor experience life as a human is real genius, and even with my rather limited experience of Doctor Who novels, I think I can fairly safely say that this is as good a Who novel as the TV adaptation is a Who episode (or two). The writing is markedly better that the other Who novels I've read so far, and there are lots of great little scenes set into the narrative. I especially enjoyed one early on in the novel, where the Doctor / John Smith finds himself teaching the boys about the rebellion of Boudicca / Boadicea. Cornell uses it as an opportunity to set their early-twentieth century understanding of war and rebellion against the Doctor's 'out-of-time' (but obviously late-twentieth century) perspective. It works nicely in its own right as a case-study of the way that history shifts and changes entirely according to the needs and interests of its interpreters, and it also serves an important narrative purpose in bringing out some of the main themes of the novel - aggression, resistance, and the acts of individuals caught up in wars beyond their control. But in the context of a story which in itself also constitutes a particular interpretation of early-twentieth century Britain, it also draws attention to the fact that we too are viewing the past through the filter of the present as we read. We end up with multiple different histories all bouncing off one another, and I thought it was fantastic.

That's not to say the novel is entirely flawless. There are occasional sentences which haven't been proof-read carefully enough, and contain awkward repetitions: for example, "The blast knocked Smith's party off their feet, blasting the wooden pub tables into the field beyond the garden." There is also a rather long and boring back-story all about Aubertide society in chapter 7. I personally felt that it would have been better to leave this out, and just concentrate on the one renegade family which actually features in the book - and RTD clearly felt exactly the same way, since that's what happens in the TV version. It also seems rather implausible that this long and ponderous Social and Political History of Aubis is narrated to Bernice while she is tied up as their prisoner, despite a few knowing jokes at the beginning of the process about how they're not going to be tricked into revealing all their plans just because they have captured her - which is precisely what they then go on to do. On the whole, though, this is a jolly good read, and I quite often found myself actively looking forward to reading another little chunk of it on my way in to work.

It gets bonus points for a Hitch-Hiker's reference: Bernice grabs some Aldebaran brandy at one point in chapter 4, which I rather think she must have acquired from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I was also intrigued to note that the phone in the front panel of the TARDIS rings in chapter 12 as a means of communicating with Timothy, the boy who has found the pod with the Doctor's bio-data inside it (what would become the fob-watch in the TV version, but here looks more like a cricket-ball). Obviously, this crops up in The Empty Child as a means for the child to communicate with Rose - but I'd be very interested to hear from more knowledgeable Whovians than me about this device as a story element. Had it ever happened before this novel was written, or is this the first instance? More props to Cornell for creative use of the TARDIS's police box disguise if it was.

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strange_complex: (TARDIS)
I'm now ready to move on to the Seventh Doctor era - but before I do, it's time for a nice palate-cleansing First Doctor story (with bonus discussion of how historical stories 'worked' in Doctor Who at this time):

First Doctor: The Aztecs )

And so I am ready to press on into the Seventh Doctor era. In keeping with the policy I applied for Six, I started with Seven's screen introduction, so that I could get a proper idea of where he was coming from as a Doctor:

Seventh Doctor: Time and the Rani )

In summary, then, a pretty terrible episode, but saved from Twin Dilemma depths simply because it is at least introducing a perfectly likeable Doctor. And thank goodness that's the last P'n'J effort I have to suffer...

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
Yep, I enjoyed that!

Silliness )

Squees )

In short - that will do nicely, thank you. MOAR PLS!

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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: (Cathica spike)
After a minor but enjoyable lie-in and a leisurely morning of breakfast and Frasier so old I hadn't seen it, I headed into town to enjoy duck breast and chocolate tart in honour of [ profile] kissmeforlonger's birthday, and then Weston's Perry in honour of [ profile] kantti and [ profile] deeply_spurious's presence in town.

Sitting in Mr. Foley's at about 6pm, I realised that the world at large now knew who the Eleventh Doctor would be, though I did not. So [ profile] deeply_spurious very kindly looked it up on his iPhone, and thus I learnt. Back home, I find that fandom has (inevitably) exploded, though there are some very sensible posts out there from Pickwick, Lefaym and Ed Zeppelin.

I thought I hadn't heard of him at first, but now that I've seen some larger pictures I realise that I do know him from Ruby in the Smoke and Shadow in the North. And that's about the right level of established public profile for me - he's not a total unknown, but he comes free from too many preconceptions (for me, anyway).

I would have liked it to be Paterson Joseph, but I would have been worried too about how he was going to be handled, for the reasons outlined in my post about Rosita. I'm slightly alarmed at the thought of a Doctor who, for the first time, will be younger than me, but I'm very ready to give him a chance. I was fairly lukewarm about the prospect of Tennant, after alll.

Above all, I hope they'll make use of his youth to lose something of the lonely God / "the one, the only, and the best!" aspect which Tennant has acquired, and go for a Doctor with a little more self-doubt - much as they did with Peter Davison in the wake of Baker (T), of course.

And that's about all there really is to say on the issue until his first story.

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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 @ [ 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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