Screenplay by: Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Produced by: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, etc.
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Edgar Wright is one of my favourite directors working today. His films possess an endless series of cinematic techniques such: long takes, quick cuts, swooping camera moves, canted frames, Steadicam, camera holds, frame switches, pans, scans, tilts, low-angles, metronomic editing, blurred dissolves, point-of-view and god’s-eye view shots. Moreover, Wright’s use of humour, music, colour, casting choices, and cross-genre collisions are spectacularly imaginative and entertaining. His latest film Last Night in Soho (2021) is no different. I was enthralled and excited throughout this ripping big-budget exploitation film, which juxtaposes influences such as Stephen King, Brian DePalma and Doctor Who, with a suggestion of Dario Argento and giallo cinema.
Last Night in Soho (2021) is both a love and hate letter to the Soho area of central London in the 1960’s and the now. If hate is too strong a word then at the very least the myriad of storylines collide to create a cautionary tale of one young person’s move from Cornwall to London to study fashion at the University of Arts. Major acting talent Thomasin Mackenzie is Ellie Turner, a passionate young woman who loves the sixties music and style, but also mourns the loss of her mother at an early age. Leaving her comfortable home she shares with her Grandmother (Rita Tushingham), Ellie experiences London and student life with initially mixed results. Finding it difficult to connect with her obnoxious room-mate, Jocasta, she moves into an antiquated bedsit, with imperious Diana Rigg as her landlady no less. All of a sudden her incredible journey into the glamorous and seedy past of Soho begins.
As with many of his films Wright establishes several storylines simultaneously. He brilliantly crosses rites-of-passage with period drama, romance, musical, detective and finally the horror genre. Ellie finds her feet at University, gets a job in a bar, receives praise for her initial designs and starts a budding romance with fellow student, John (Michael Ajao). At the same time her life becomes entwined in a surreal twist with that of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an engaging character desiring showbiz stardom who happens to live in Soho, but in the 1960’s. Ellie’s psychic link with Sandie brings her vivid dreams, but a striking empathic connection.
While Ellie is nervous and insecure within her London experiences, Sandie is the opposite. The theme of duality in their polar characters is both emotionally and visually breathtaking as their twin journey brings positive change and developing confidence in Ellie’s character. Yet, when Sandie’s career desires are exploited for nefarious gain by a local face called Jack (Matt Smith), both woman head for darker spaces in the shadows and smoke of the capital. Here the issue of mental health is intriguingly explored too. As Ellie is drawn further into Sandie’s nightmarish existence, she struggles to hold on to reality and the present.
Despite some minor wrinkles in the narrative and geographical London liberties taken, Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon. Sure, Edgar Wright has his cake and eats it with mild virtue signalling relating to the “Me Too” movement. The male gaze eats up Anya Taylor Joy’s stunning charisma on screen, making us complicit in her downfall. Nonetheless, with issues relating to grief, mental health, sexual exploitation, identity, doppelgängers, urban breakdown and many more all enveloped into a craftily structured plot, you won’t find a more breathless cinematic experience all year.
Produced by: Aidan Elliott, Martin Gentles, Arnon Milchan, Ed King, Roy Lee
Screenplay by: Remi Weekes
Story by: Felicity Evans, Toby Venables
Cast: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith, etc.
Cinematography: Jo Willems
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Similar in spirit to the Jacques Audiard directed film, Dheepan (2015), the latest Netflix film release, His House (2020), takes the migrant experience as a key narrative driver, then filters it through exciting genre style. While Dheepan (2015) started as a story of survival before crossing over into thriller territory, His House (2020) superbly combines social commentary with the horror genre. Moreover, a key plot reveal later in His House (2020) is extremely similar to that found in Dheepan (2015). Nonetheless, it is a powerful film, both unnerving and thought-provoking in equal measure.
His House (2020) introduces us to Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), a refugee husband and wife seeking asylum in Britain from South Sudan. Having survived a treacherous journey from this war-torn part of the world, their young daughter is not so lucky. Alas, Nyagak (Malaika Agibaka) dies during a stormy boat journey. This incident and their social status immediately garners sympathy and empathy for the protagonists. Allied to this, on achieving probational asylum status their jaded case worker, Mark (Matt Smith), brings them to a rundown council estate to live in. It is to Bol and Rial’s credit that they accept their new abode with gratitude. Bol especially is keen to mix with the locals and fit into the British way of living. However, the two soon encounter indifference, racism and prejudice.
As the narrative continues Bol and Rial have more to contend with than ignorant locals. Rial is resistant to integration as she desperately holds onto her Sudanese clothes and customs. While Bol is clearly trying to distract himself from the tragedy, Rial’s grieving takes the form of clinging onto the memory of her daughter and their Sudanese ways. This familial division is exacerbated by disturbing supernatural phenomena, as a strange dark spirit and the ghost of Nyagak both appear. Could it be grief and guilt manifesting such spectres? Or are they suffering from post-traumatic stress following their harrowing journey to Britain? Or has a genuinely evil spirit hijacked their attempts to build a home and find peace?
Declaring himself as a director to keep tabs on, Remi Weekes, has written and directed an excellent first feature film in, His House (2020). The pacing of the story is excellent as we get flashes of Bol and Rial’s past in Sudan, juxtaposed with their attempts to acclimatise in Britain. As someone whose life is extremely privileged when compared to that of such characters, I was both moved and fearful for the protagonists. This is not only down to an excellent script full of subtext, symbolism and dread, but also due to Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku’s compelling performances. Furthermore, you really feel the pain of the couple’s loss and suspense created by that which lurks within the stained walls of their apartment. While there are many tense moments, my one reservation with His House (2020) was there arguably wasn’t enough true horror moments. Having said that, the actual reality of Bol and Rial’s situation in losing a daughter, suffering British administrative red-tape and living amidst everyday prejudice, is far scarier than ghosts and monsters can ever be.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES by PAUL LAIGHT
With SEASON NINE upon us and in appreciation of Doctor Who, from circa 2005, I look back in admiration at the last 10 years of the Doctor in his new inceptions. I’ve picked some of my favourite episodes incorporating TWO episodes from each of the eight prior seasons! So here goes: GERONIMO!
EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer: Robert Shearman
This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on. This was a very gripping episode and one where Eccleston’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”
EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child. I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans. In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor as they dance together amidst the horrors of World War II.
EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat
What if the Doctor fell in love? This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Madame De Pompadour. 3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor finding a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Sophia Myles and David Tennant is electric.
EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies
And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the Doctor. It’s full of action and emotion as the Doctor and Rose bid a sad goodbye. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.
EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell
In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens. It’s a wonderful concept and brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird Deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams. Martha (Freema Agyeman) excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war – doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day. There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call.
EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat
What makes a classic Doctor Who episode? Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs? Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers. Blink introduced the terrifying Weeping Angels so don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman and they’ll drain your life just as quick. The episode is Doctor-light with Carey Mulligan playing haunted Sally Sparrow, and while the writing and structure are tricky, Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.
EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer: Gareth Roberts
There are probably way better episodes but I chose this light and fluffy one because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries. It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.
EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffatt
This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot and enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”. Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into. It was this surreal Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.
EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts
Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here. I’ve added another episode because Season 4 was extended by a series of specials. The Planet of the Dead as it was another fun episode full of verve, pace and great images including a bus stranded in the space desert. I love episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.
EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer: Richard Curtis
The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Steven Moffat. However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story. Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically. The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement.
EPISODE 5.11 – THE LODGER – Writer: Gareth Roberts
Season 5 was brimming with imagination and great science fiction involving the “cracks in the Universe” which worked paradoxically but still created SO many questions. Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker while utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.
EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer: Neil Gaiman
This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY with paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faced an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Standing alone from the big story arc was the episode The Doctor’s Wife. It was an immediate hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS. The whole show is about the lovely relationship between Idris (TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around. Jones is amazing as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous computer ‘House’.
EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer: Tom McCrae
In The Girl Who Waited Amy Pond becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself. So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterized as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self. It’s a heart-wrenching episode which Karen Gillen owns; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited.
EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat
Season 7 opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks! Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.
EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat
Angels Take Manhattan was so heart-wrenching as Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show against old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story. It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again. Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this: the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL! Incredible! Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.
EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara: “Am I a good man?” Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror. However, I loved the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express as it crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time. The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim. It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.
EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode is pitch black darkness personified as the Doctor and Clara end up in the Nethersphere, where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up throughout the season. Death casts a looming shadow and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one harrowing scene. By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect. A superb episode with no kids in to ruin it and thankfully the Hollyoaks style romance is replaced by a morbid bleakness.
SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
I’ll round up this run through with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie. It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!
I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show. It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team. If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!” But, “new” DOCTOR WHO has on the whole has been brilliant too. I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.
I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat. I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television. I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.
The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.
Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The TenCommandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as: Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.
While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut. Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.
Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV. Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.
Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set. Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation. Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me. Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.
While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen. But is it better than the cinema? Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS! Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.
The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.” Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot. Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema. It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!
I’ve kind of cheated a bit with the title of this little cultural review as technically there are only TWO proper doctors Dr Who and Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer. However, for me the mastermind behind The Prodigy — Liam Howlett — is a Professor of hard-beat-dance-music. Plus, there’s always a lot of medication knocking around PRODIGY gigs, I imagine, so there you go,THREE DOCTORS! Of course, Dr Who is NOT a medical Doctor either but he has cured the end of the Earth many times before so that counts as well. Even though he isn’t real. But, who cares!
THE DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE – CARDIFF
Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon. The character and show have been on BBC Television (aside from the mild 90s hiatus) for 50 years, yet, in between that there were still audio recordings and novelisations of his adventures. Over half-a-century he has become a worldwide sensation and one of the most adored and recognised cultural icons; and he’s completely fictitious. Dr Who does NOT exist! He is a story; a myth; a character who has risen and regenerated from the grave many times; a character who performs miracles; has disciples and is an imagined hero who is worshipped by many followers all around. Now, Dr Who has a Church! It’s in Cardiff. Who knows how Dr Who will be seen in 2000 years? Stranger things have happened.
The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay is a wonderful pilgrimage for fans of the show. I heartily recommend it if you want to see a plethora of old Tardis’, sets, costumes, monsters etc. The setting is a huge aircraft hangar which houses everything Whovian from past to present and I just felt a wonderful sense of nostalgia plus wonder at the imagination and work which has gone into creating the TV show and Whoniverse as a whole. I heartily recommend the Dr Who Experience if you love the show. Even the silly, little interactive tour you get at the start where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor himself guides you through a perilous journey is a laugh. Great fun for big and small kids of all ages!
OPPENHEIMER – VAUDEVILLE THEATRE
Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer: a father of peace or maker of death? One would argue that he’s both! Indeed, this wonderful piece of theatre attempts to answer this complex and many other fascinating questions about the man whose work led to the United States unleashing nuclear hell on Japan during World War II. Being about physics and science stuff this could have been a very dry and dusty play but it was produced with such verve and energy as it collapsed a key period of Oppenheimer’s life into a brisk few hours of performance. But it wasn’t; quite the opposite in fact.
The production bounced and sang with some wonderful scenes explaining the physics, politics and personalities of the time. The many Scientists and Military personnel are shown struggling with the logistics and ethics of the time; none more so than Oppenheimer himself. I mean he wanted to be remembered as a pioneer but he knew it would be to some cost; and so it proved. On the other hand, from another perspective, his and his teams’ actions COULD have saved lives. John Heffernan as the genius, philanderer and bon vivant Oppenheimer is incredible. He lights up the stage like a firework bursting with sparkle then darkens it with shadow as he battles both his doubt and demons. Of course, I know the physics were far more complex but I congratulate the writer for making the subject interesting again and hanging it all on such an intriguing and complex character and period of time.
THE PRODIGY – ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON
Life is an interesting experience. I’m not looking forward to death. And I certainly won’t be able to look back on it. Also, some people don’t like the idea of getting old. I don’t mind it. Because as I have got older I have started to like loads of things I didn’t used to like OR was indifferent of. Coffee is one of those things. I love coffee. The Theatre is another thing I really enjoy now. And the dance-electronica-hard-beat-kings-of-Essex The Prodigy are another cultural phenomenon I used to dismiss but now recognise as great music!
I have my son to thank for my new found admiration of The Prodigy. He started listening to them a few years ago and while I knew of their existence I have firmly — aside from a couple of Chemical Brothers albums — been a straight guitar-based-indie-listener as a rule. But having bought Their Law: The Singles, The Day is My Enemy, Invaders Must Die and the under-rated Always Outnumbered – Never Outgunned I became very impressed by the group. To create pulsating, punkish and heart-racing music of their kind and last from the late 80s to now I think shows a great level of ability and commitment to creation.
The gig at Ally Pally itself rocked and the crowd loved every moment of the brilliant lightshow, crunching guitars, pounding drums/beats, driving basslines and frontmen Keith Flint and Maxim screaming and goading the crowd into euphoric submission. Special praise for the architect of the operation — Liam Howlett — who has found a very successful formula and has a tremendous back catalogue of tracks to work with. Howlett bleeds, sutures and threads the sounds together with the skill of a musical surgeon. If that doesn’t make him a kind of Doctor I don’t know what does!
DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
Suddenly the Doctor was very, very young; almost a child in vision and attitude as played by the tall-stick-insecty-excitable-Tigger that was Matt Smith. My brain exploded. I was used to the Doctor being an elder statesman and of course this shifted somewhat with Eccleston and Tennant, however, they seemed older. These were actors who had done Shakespeare (I think) and looked like they’d lived. Not Matt Smith. He was an unknown. He looked like he had just left school and was on a gap year to India or a kibbutz. He was posh. His Doctor wore a bow-tie! A bow-tie! Never fear though because Matt Smith made the role his own over 4 years, a multitude of brain-twisting episodes and seven specials. His strengths were his physicality, mania, fun and playfulness and there was a lot of Patrick Troughton in his performance; playing the fool before revealing a devilish plan by wrong-footing the villain and audience.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON FIVE.
EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer: Richard Curtis
Steven Moffat had written some amazing Doctor Who episodes so it made sense he would take over the production running reigns. The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Moffat. Quite frankly, I found some of the plot twists utterly barmy but still very much loved many of the episodes. Indeed, The Eleventh Hour was a fantastic introduction to Matt Smith and his feisty companion Amy Pond. Plus, the finale involving the Pandorica opening and subsequent Big Bang were impressive works of television.
However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story. Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is the Doctor and Amy’s meeting with Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically. The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement to the artists’ life; something denied him in reality.
EPISODE 5.10 – THE LODGER – Writer: Gareth Roberts
This season was brimming with imagination and great science fiction and the story arc involving the “cracks in the Universe” worked paradoxically but still created SO many unanswered questions. Moffatt asked us to take a massive leap of faith and his ambition and vision was to be applauded; but with the fantasy, complex structural conceits occurring at such it was sometimes tough to keep up on first watch.
Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker, impressing his mates with his football skills and his boss at work. Utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing and buddy-buddy act with the excellent Corden, The Lodger relies not just on laughs and but emotion too. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SIX
EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer: Neil Gaiman
This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY complicated with all manner of twisty, turny, space operatic plots delivered at a whizz-bang pace that at times left me dazed and confused. It was paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faces an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Also, thrown into the mix is Amy’s pregnancy, a weird eye-patched villainess as well as horrific memory-melding monsters called THE SILENCE. Moreover, enigmatic River Song pops up all over the place just to confuse the viewer further! These stories encapsulated within: The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song etc. are all great and full of wonderful ideas and I think in time will be considered classic Doctor Who. However, they don’t quite make my list.
The Doctor’s Wife was an immediate and cracking hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS. Doctor, Rory and Amy pass through a rift which means the TARDIS ends up in a weird isolated place run by a nasty sentient being called HOUSE. In HAL-like fashion, House (voiced by Michael Sheen) steals the TARDIS along with Rory and Amy on board and it is left to the Doctor and an odd, sparkly female being called Idris to save the day. It’s a lovely relationship between Idris (the TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange flirtatious banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around the amidst the crumbling tip that is the place on which they are trapped. Suranne Jones is amazing and beautiful as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous HOUSE.
EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer: Tom McCrae
This is what time-travel films and TV shows are all about for me: presenting complicated paradoxical timelines where individuals eventually face different versions of themselves and must deal with a moral dilemma. It’s occurred to the Doctor many times before in the classic older and the newer series but in The Girl Who Waited it was Amy Pond who becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself. So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterised as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self. It’s a heart-wrenching episode which can be considered Doctor-lite, however, Karen Gillen owns it; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SEVEN
EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat
This season wasn’t as mind-blowing in terms of the over-complex story arc as Season SIX, but it still tested the grey cells and by the time we got to the excellent-almost-made-this-list-season-finale The Name of the Doctor plausibility was on the creative rack screaming for mercy; in a good way. The season traversed the loss of not one, but TWO companions in Amy and Rory, and introduced Clara Oswin Oswald in her various incarnations. One may argue the whole Clara-in-the-Doctor’s-timeline arc was quite baffling and needn’t be so insane but I enjoyed the mystery of the “Impossible Girl”; and it was great to see all the old Doctors again.
Anyway, the season opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks! The production values of Doctor Who just got bigger and better as the seasons progressed and with an Army of Daleks and the planet Skaro on show here the special effects teams were producing TV work of the highest order in shiny, shiny high-definition. Arguably, though the writer(s) could have dug the season into a narrative hole in relation to what comes after but Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.
EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat
Angels Take Manhattan wins out over episodes I loved like: Cold War, Hide and The Snowmen, because it is just so heart-wrenching. Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show which finds the Doctor lose Amy and Rory to old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story. It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again. Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this: the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL! Incredible! Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.
Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who? Say that again: Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who? Yes! This is where the whole-huge-behemoth-new-Doctor-Who-binge-catch-up began for me. Peter Capaldi is a great actor and has been in many fine shows, not least the iconic-Machiavellian-sweary-political-demon in the awesome Thick of It. So, when it was announced he would replace Smith the younger, I was back into the Whoniverse like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. This would be, in my mind, the return to an older, darker Doctor spitting out words of wisdom and barbs to his companions while shooting venomous looks and ire at his villains. The season kind of was like that and kind of wasn’t. I think Capaldi is a fine, fine Doctor and probably would have been better in the previous era as his visage and ability is probably more suited to age of Troughton, Pertwee and Baker. But, overall, he brought a real depth and dark sarcasm to the series which leavened out the more ridiculous and fluffy aspects of the show; the slushy romance and kids basically.
Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON EIGHT
EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson
I struggled big time picking two out because I enjoyed most of the episodes of this season. Many of them had moments of greatness in them but they also had some elements which I personally didn’t like such as: over-reliance on Danny and Clara’s Hollyoaks romance. Having said that there were some memorable concepts, baddies and nods to film genres including: heist movies; earth-saving trees; hatching moons; a Dinosaur in ye olde London; half-faced clockwork Victorians; chilling 2D Boneless; the mysterious Missy; the Doctor as a child; an analysis of a Dalek’s soul; Robin Hood and a shrinking TARDIS!
Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara: “Am I a good man?” Then, just then, I thought we are really going to take a deep look at WHO the Doctor really is! Indeed, the army of writers led by Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror. However, my first choice is the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express and this crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time. The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim. It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber. Brilliant script too.
EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat
This episode is pitch black darkness personified. It opens with Danny Pink’s death, before moving onto a tricky scene where Clara fails to get to the Doctor to change this event. Yet, the Doctor rewards Clara’s desperate attempt to trick him by saying they are “going to hell”. Thus, they attempt to track Danny’s spirit and end up in the NETHERSPHERE or “Promised Land” where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up at the end of quite a few episodes throughout the season.
Death casts a looming shadow over this episode and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one particularly harrowing scene. Further, we also get to delve into Danny’s backstory such as that of the child he killed when serving in the army which, along with Clara’s grief, added texture to the theme of mortality within the show. By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect. A superb episode with thankfully no kids to ruin it and one which the second part Death in Heaven had to go some to match.
SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
I’ll round up this run through of the Whoniverse with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie. It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!
Finally, in doing this piece I have read a lot of critical, blog and online forum reviews during my research I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show. It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team. If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!”. But, the reboot has on the whole. has been brilliant too. I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.
I loved Doctor Who as a child. I am 44 years of age and STILL that child.
For a kid growing up on a Battersea council estate in the 1970s, Doctor Who was an eccentric, colourful, funny, tempestuous and brave hero who fought men, women, aliens, monsters and a plethora of villains and bullies across time and space. The Doctor is the original Guardian of the Galaxy who every Saturday (and later midweek) would travel into my home via the TARDIS and cut a blaze across the living room all to the wonderfully eerie and memorable theme tune. Moreover, he’s a sci-fi James Bond but without the testosterone, misogyny and faint whiff of STDs.
Of course he has his companions and gadgets but Doctor Who is more complex than 007 due to the plethora of fascinating concepts pertaining to temporal and spatial ideas which can brilliantly propel us to any moment in time and place from past to present to future.
Allied to this the mystery and suspense created by utopian and dystopian locations and societies; use of historical figures; incredible and fantastical aliens; and finally allegorical narratives which comment on the politics, socio-economics and scientific aspects of humanity all make Doctor Who one of the greatest dramas in televisual history.
I read someone once write that Doctor Who is a kids show adults can watch. I think it’s the other way round. Doctor Who is a scientist, an action man, an enigma, a righter-of-wrongs, moral, amoral, simple, complex, protector of children and the underdog; sometimes even a villain; but above all else an Earthly treasure and long may he continue.
My Doctor Who childhood timeline contains vague recollections of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton repeats; misty then firmer visions of John Pertwee; solid memories of my favourite – the bold, bellowing, mischievous – Tom Baker; and the young, dashing Peter Davison. I continued watching as the show as it slid down the BBC management’s pecking order.
Indeed, controller Michael Grade hated it while Colin Baker was in tenure. Thus, the nonsensical visual mess, over-synthed-80s-soundtrack and miscast Sylvester McCoy would become final nails in Doctor Who’s creative coffin. They were dark days indeed for the Timelord who went into permanent stasis.
The show was consigned to a televisual black-hole never to be seen again. So it seemed until It briefly sparked as a BBC TV movie starring the handsome and quirky Paul McGann. Yet that star burst as quickly as it arrived. Flash-forward to 2005 and Doctor Who was relaunched with Russell Davies as the showrunner and serious actor Christopher Eccleston adorned in a cool black leather jacket commandeering the TARDIS. We were ready, once again, to go boldly go where no Gallifreyan had gone before. Sorry, wrong show.
With one foot in the past I watched the Eccelston season and really enjoyed the reboot. But somewhere along the line I lost touch around 2nd season David Tennant. Thus, when one of my favourite actors, Peter Capaldi, was announced as the 12th Doctor I decided to get back on board the TARDIS and in 2014 did a massive catch-up on the show. And you know what? I loved it.
So, in appreciation of Doctor Who, circa 2005 onwards, this piece looks back in admiration at 10 years of the “new” Doctor. I’ll list my favouritest TWO (not necessarily the best) episodes of EACH SEASON; and with so many good episodes I am probably wrong! Remember it’s just the internet and my opinion so let’s do this: GERONIMO!!!
Seasons greetings! Double busy leading up to Christmas with lots of cultural stuff going on so I’ve consolidated all my viewings, derring-dos and reviews of last week into one manageable post. Enjoy!
**Contains mild spoilers**
BILL BURR – I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY (2014) – (NETFLIX)
The Massachusett’s born fortysomething everyman comedian is an absolute straight-talking joy. He sails close to controversy on many occasions giving political correctness no mind at all. But it’s not shock for shock’s sake but rather well thought out and cutting rants covering domestic violence, plastic surgery, guns and the cult of celebrity. I particularly love his cracking-take-no-prisoners-delivery and he is very adept at imaginary on-stage conversations which are relentlessly hilarious, hitting his targets full in the face.
DR WHO – THE MIND ROBBERS (1968)/SEEDS OF DEATH (1968)
From the 6th season of the classic science-fiction serial, with Patrick Troughton as the eponymous time-traveller, these two episodic stories find PT on great form with Zoe and Jamie as his companions. The villains of each piece are The Master (not that one) of the Land of Fiction and The Ice Warriors in Seeds of Death. The latter foes are particularly nasty pieces of work although they do find themselves undone if you turn the heating up a bit. Troughton is a fantastic Doctor playing the fool while hiding a devious mind as he allows the enemy to think they have the upper hand before prevailing victorious.
DR WHO – SEASON 7 (inc. DAY OF THE DOCTOR)
I’ve really enjoyed Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor and some of the episodes have provided some cracking televisual entertainment. Some of the concepts and plot twists, I must admit, I found initially baffling but that was because the writing was so fast-paced and spirited. But overall Steven Moffat and his whole production team deserve credit for a fun, funky and very dark (where Amy and Rory were concerned) season which also introduced a sparkling new companion in Clara (Jenna Coleman).
Personal highlights for me included: Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan, Cold War, Hide and the 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor which had THREE Doctors and a history-bending game changer. Brilliant to see John Hurt appear as The War Doctor and Tennant return also. I am very pleased too that I have watched the Time of the Doctor too and I am finally onto Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord; which is how this latest obsession began.
This obsidian painted comedy about family grief features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher: a crazed-heavy-metal-anti-heroic-outsider-mentalist. Hesher crashes into the lives and the house of the Forney family as they attempt to get over a recent death. And while he seems to be a negative reality void sucking the life out of them he kind of becomes an anti-angel providing some kind of weird and wonderful family therapy.
It’s a difficult film to get into initially as it’s quite bizarre but ultimately it’s got a great little black heart of gold showing that togetherness will overcome. Despite an A-list cast including Natalie Portman it’s very much a low budget-under-the-radar gem with a loud heavy rock soundtrack.
PAUL FOOT – SECRET CHRISTMAS COMEDY SHOW 2014
Myself and Brett Sharpe have formed the Dr Who-Paul-Foot-Spurs-Supporters Fan Club. It’s very niche but inclusive club which anyone can join if they like those particular cultural phenomena. Our inaugural Christmas outing was to a secret location in London and involved seeing the master of merry mirth — Paul Foot — putting on his own little show for his fans or connoisseurs as he calls them. It was an incredible show made all the more marvellous because it was in an intimate venue above a pub. I cracked up throughout as Foot treated us to some of his greatest comedy hits including: RADA story; EUROSTAR story and how to get REVENGE on BED & BREAKFAST LADY.
RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) – BFI SCREENING
Here’s a surprise: I love Star Wars! Not the prequels but the original films. I saw them all at the cinema and they are three of the most perfect piece of entertainment one could hope for. They captured the imagination of a wide-eyed seven, ten and thirteen year boy (that’s me!) when each of the trilogy was released. With their: spaceships, creatures, heroes, mercenaries, droids, monsters, light-filled swords, noble Knights protecting the Empire and rebels battling gigantic Death Stars – WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE! I watched the final film in the trilogy at the BFI Southbank’s majestic cinema NFT1 and Return of the Jedi looked wonderful. I laughed, gasped and cheered in all the right places as Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo etc. fight and defeat the Dark Side in a galaxy far, far away.
SPURS Vs NEWCASTLE – CAPITAL ONE CUP QUARTER FINAL
I went to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs against Newcastle in the Capital One cup and what a terrific performance they put on. It was tight for a while against an under strength Toon – who had been in good form in the League – but a mistake from their young keeper allowed Bentaleb to score the first. Chadli made it 2-0 with a fine run and shot before Kane and Soldado finished the Northerners off! The great news is we got Sheffield United in the semi-final so MUST have a positive chance of getting to the final at Wembley. Since this game we also beat Burnley 2-1 at home so allied to our last-gasp win against Swansea the Pocchettino’s Spurs are on a grand roll for now.
ST VINCENT (2014) – FILM REVIEW
I love Bill Murray. The guy is a comedy legend and general all-round media eccentric. He’s been in some terrible films and some classic movies. The one over-riding consistency in all his movies are he is ALWAYS brilliant. In St Vincent he plays a curmudgeonly scoundrel who sleeps with hookers and drinks himself unconscious. When Melissa McCarthy’s single mother Maggie and her son Oliver move in next door Vincent becomes an unlikely babysitter to the boy. It’s an okay film which promises much dark and bittersweet humour in the vein of Bad Santa (2003).
However, while Vincent starts off as a bit of a scumbag he is redeemed far too easily for my liking and while the script is very witty it runs out of steam just past halfway and even Murray cannot save an overly saccharine and sickening ending. Also, Naomi Watts is wasted as an offensive stereotypical Eastern European prostitute while McCarthy is criminally underplayed given very little to do. A disappointment overall as all the plot strands are resolved easily and without any real comic or dramatic thunder.
Here’s a written round-up of some of the stuff I’ve been watching, tele-viewing, cinema-going, generally experiencing, listening too, visiting in the last few weeks or so.
ALTERNATIVE COMEDY EXPERIENCE – COMEDY CENTRAL
Pedant-king and all-round comedy god Stewart Lee picks the acts and overlords the 2nd season of The Alternative Comedy Experience. It features many comedians arguably TOO off-mainstream, surreal, political or whimsical to be considered for a show such as Live At The Apollo; yet, there are mostly wonderful comedians on view.
I winged through the whole season pretty quick and my favourites included: Stephen Carlin, Bridget Christie, Michael Legge, Tony Law, Paul Foot, David O’Doherty to name but a few. Lee himself only appears in interview form but it’s a fine showcase for some of the more alternative comedy minds on the circuit.
DR WHO – CATCH-UPS
The Horror Channel – SKY CHANNEL 319 – often shows some questionably poor films but it also shows some classic Dr Who’s from yesteryear. I’ve watched a couple of the TOM BAKER stories — HORROR AT FANG ROCK and CITY OF DEATH – and maybe it’s nostalgia for my youth but I think he IS the perfect Doctor: manic, emotion, performance, eccentric, dark, yet funny too. And that booming voice has real authority. He just makes everything – however far fetched – seem so real believable. His delivery is Shakespearean.
Having watched all of Eccleston and Tennant’s episodes recently I’m now onto the youngest Doctor ever – Matt Smith! The stories are great and while his assistant Amy is bland yet lovely, I’m warming to Smith. He’s like an excitable Tigger on speed with a quirky energy and a hint of darkness. I want to see him really go dark the way Eccleston did at times but in the episode AMY’S CHOICE we got a hint of a darker side in the form of the Dream-Lord played by fine actor Toby Jones so I look forward to more of that element in future, past or present episodes. Also, I loved the VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR episode in which the Doctor meets Van Gogh; artistry, depression and a beastly blind being is hellbent on destruction in a very touching episode written by Richard Curtis.
DRAYTON MANOR THEME PARK
Me and my son Rhys (13) love going to theme parks. My motion sickness seems to be getting worse but I braved the 130 mile journey and drove to Drayton Manor near Tamworth in the hope of holding my breakfast down. It was an overcast but occasionally sunny day and thankfully off-peak so we avoided legions of people and massive queues for the rides. It was a fun day out and we went on most of the rides and visited the zoo they have there. It’s no Thorpe Park or Alton Towers but it’s still a great place to visit. While my stomach turned over a number of times I kept my lunch down so a winning day all-round.
Denzil Washington is probably the best movie actor around as he has a knack of turning average scripts into something very watchable and this is no different. I can see why he was attracted to the character of Robert McCall as he is a Robin Hood type who uses his special training to assist those in the neighbourhood and eventually turns his brutal killing abilities to something more global.
This is nowhere near as good as the Fuqua/Washington double-teamed Training Day (2001) for which the actor received the Oscar for Best Actor or the equally brutal Man On Fire (2004) which is something of an underrated classic in my view but while instantly forgettable it’s still unashamedly entertaining and had me gripped throughout the slightly overlong running time.
Spike Jonze eccentric “love” story follows a similar path story-speaking to an episode of Big Bang Theory I saw where Raj fell in love with Siri his Iphone voice system. Of course, Jonze develops the theme of technological romance further over the running time with a beautiful, funny and at times very human dramedy. Indeed, while many people reach for the Internet to find “love” either through pornography or online dating the brilliantly named Theodore Twombly actually falls FOR his computer itself.
I loved everything about the film: the look, cast, design, direction, performances and above all else the cute and always surprising screenplay. Joaquin Phoenix is full of hangdog desperation at the break-up of his marriage and subsequent loneliness. Scarlett Johansson provides the alluring voice of the “Operating System” he reaches out for as their relationship takes some surprising turns. It’s a perfect “first world” piece of cinema which charmed me and almost melted my icy heart.
NATIONAL MOTORCYCLE MUSEUM
My son Rhys has expressed an interest in motorbikes recently and as we were in the Midlands I thought why not check this place out — in Solihull — on the way back to London. It’s a wonderful place if you love motorbikes with hundreds and hundreds of two-wheelers from the earliest days of industry to the modern age. I’m not a petrol-head myself but I was impressed by the array of different bikes on show and felt proud that the country I came from had produced so many beautiful machines and many which had served us during the wars and set many a world speed record. My son was disappointed there were no Harley Davidsons on show so I reminded him in was a “National” and not and “International” museum. Kids eh!?!
OLD BOY (2013)
Overall, it’s not bad entertainment but if you haven’t seen the original then do watch Park Chan Wook’s classic instead. While Josh Brolin in the lead is great Sharlto Copley’s ridiculous English accent ruins much of the tension in the latter part of the film.
It’s still a great story of a dislikeable guy imprisoned against his will and much of the power in the story derives from the mystery of not knowing why he is held captive. The first half of the OLDBOY (2013) remake directed by Spike Lee was pretty decent but the 2nd half seemed as if it was cut to pieces ensuring loss of dramatic impact during the sick twists at the end. It’s slick and a bit silly but the original remains an utter classic of World Cinema. WATCH THAT INSTEAD!
SPURS LATEST (up to 22/10/14)
After Spurs scrapped to a 1-1 derby draw with Arsenal in the Premier League I went to see them play Besiktas at White Hart Lane in the Europa League. Harry Kane put us a goal up but Besiktas did well and only some fine saves from Hugo Lloris kept them at bay. To be honest the Turkish team were the better side in the 2nd half. Indeed, they grabbed a penalty equalizer after a silly handball from Chiriches. Ba made is 1-1.
Spurs have since been defeated by Manchester City in a game which had 4 penalties – two of which were missed by Soldado and Aguero. The Argentinian did however, score the four goals which put us to the sword. The referee was a disgrace really with some dodgy decisions and while we played okay in patches we were outclassed really. I have low expectation of this season but can see glimpses of what the new manager is trying to achieve so we will see what the season brings us.
I suffer from arrested development where music is concerned. I have very specific rock and roll roots on the whole and my favourite kind of music is what some might say is 80s/90s/00s “indie” rock. I do like a bit of rap, heavier rock, dance, electro stuff too though. I do listen to new music but I’m firmly entrenched in my preferred genre and only occasionally does a new band capture my imagination.
My new favourite musical thing is SLEAFORD MODS. A Nottingham-based duo who combine sparse keyboards, drum loops and angry, yet humourous, lyrics spat out from the mouth of Jason Williamson. He is an authentic Midland council estate voice (reminiscent of Mark E. Smith) who rants against media phoneys, social media and delivers poetic rhymes about everyday struggle. Before the Arctic Monkeys became hipster pricks I had great hopes for them. I doubt Sleaford Mods go the same way and become complete Camden cunts. Check out Divide and Exit – it’s a brisk-sweary-real-down-to-earth-shopping-trolley-in-a-canal-treat.