Why I’ve Given Up On Doctor Who

Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant and Russell T. Davies. What do they have in common? The greatest four series and specials of sci-fi/fantasy television produced in the 21st century. So what happened?

Let me get this out there now: Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi are fantastic actors, as are the people around them. But something has gone catastrophically wrong since the end of the Davies era Doctor Who, and it’s only getting worse. The final straw came with the lamest episode to date, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, also known as an overactive imagination not screened out during the writing, editing or filming process. I’m not arguing that imagination is bad, but the failure to contain it appropriately has led to bad writing decisions, which is leading to the downfall of a fantastic series that doesn’t deserve to die the death of fallen heroes.

I’ve not been a fan of the Moffatt era since ‘Amy’s Choice’, where everything started to get too convoluted. Both that and the imagination comment suggest I shouldn’t be watching this type of programme, but let me re-iterate that these things can be used well, nay successfully, if used right. But Moffatt and co. have tried to replicate the success of the Bad Wolf, Torchwood, ‘something on your back’, Harold Saxon mysteries by heavy-handedly thrusting a million potentials and clumsy space expressions in viewers’ faces, hoping they’ll see through the fog of unexplained theoretical concepts in order to make sense of the mess.

Let’s take the aforementioned ‘Magician’s Apprentice’. The hands with eyes on: spooky as hell, a riveting start. The appearance of young Davros, mystifying. Planes stopping? The Master/Mistress randomly involving herself in the Doctor’s affairs? The random inclusion of UNIT? The Doctor playing guitar in a party-cum-sacrificial ceremony? I could go on I’m sure, but I stopped watching; there was no story, there was a fanboy vomiting Whovian all over my screen. I’m not saying prior Who episodes were simplistic, but they followed one plot with occasional hints at what was to come, without feeling like something to prove was on the agenda. There’s nothing clever about writing things because you can, but there is in writing one thing well.

And then there’s the assistant overload. They’ve become more important than the Doctor, and no-one seems to appreciate that you can have a clever, sassy female on screen without making her as intelligent as a something-thousand year old man, the titular character who should be the centre of the story. Rose was smart and loved, but she needed the Doctor. Martha, a wannabe medic herself, was clearly in the know, but she did everything she did because she needed the Doctor, not because she could simply outdo him. Donna, Lindsay Duncan’s Adelaide Brooke, Michelle Ryan’s Christina De Souza – all flying the feminist flag without being a master in the own right. Again, Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and the like are all wonderful actors, but they are being pushed into a limelight that wasn’t meant for them, not in this show.

I suppose, without rambling on, my complaint is with a lack of refinement; it wasn’t all peaches and cream in the prior series, but it was bloody brilliant nonetheless because of a mix of subtlety, explained madness, and sophistication within the ideas, instead of a mental splurge and the feeling that every line is an intended witticism without real meaning. When the next creative change occurs on Doctor Who, chances are I’ll return to the screen and indulge in my favourite time-traveller once more, but until that moment, I’ll leave the TARDIS and keep my feet firmly in reality.

The New Me…

I am unashamedly devoted to my bookoftomorrow blog, but there’s always room for more literary love and you’ll find it on my sister blog, Natalie Morris – the home of my forays into the literary world.

Sold as the home of a wannabe writer, ranting reviewer and scribbler of stories, it’s the new platform for my literary ambition – who knows, it could be the start of something wonderful.

Happy reading…💕

‘Little Women’: Why Mrs March is one of the Best Literary Mothers

Mothers have it hard in literature. They’re the strict ones that form a sense of rules and obligations, whereas the dads are the heroes, the safe harbours in storms, the ones who gently guide children without being pushy or overbearing. The Atticus’ of the world have often been a source of inspiration and admiration – but where is the female equivalent?

The clue’s in the title with ‘Little Women’ – it’s all about the girls. And as such, Mrs March delivers more than her absentee husband, so much so that I think – after years of searching – I’ve finally found a literary mother who is a heroine for her children and readers alike.

1) She’s approachable: Her children talk to her about everything, and she never judges them, only listens and gives her sage advice.

2) She’s devoted to them alone: She’s not a career woman (insofar as she could be in the period), she’s not a socialiser or so devoted to charity she forgets it starts at home. They are her sole reason for living, and every child needs to know that their parents see them as a key component to the world to stop them from feeling alone.

3) Her advice isn’t preaching: Her daughters accuse her of nearly sermonising to them at points, but her intentions prevent this from being true. Wellbeing, peace and happiness are all that matter to Mrs March – there’s a key difference between teachers and lecturers, and she’s got it nailed.

4) She accepts all: A male going around unescorted with four females?! A young lady who wants to run away to the big city and sell her writing?! Scandal! Not in the March household – she lets things run their course, protecting yet not preventing until lessons are learned through experience rather than the aforementioned lecturing.

5) She’s brave: She loses a daughter and perseveres for the others and her grandchildren. She teaches Meg that family loyalty doesn’t always mean you’re in the right where a mother’s concerned – not always easy where family’s concerned. She faces hardships stoically in order to show her girls what a woman is capable of when she wants to protect the things she loves.

I could go on, but ironically I’d end up preaching myself. Mrs March goes right along Mrs Weasley in the motherhood hall of fame, and proves that not all books have to be centred around doting fathers who make us go ‘n’awww’.

Live Screening: ‘Othello’ @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre

In a continuation of a pioneering project, cinema screens played host to a live screening of the RSC’s 2015 production of ‘Othello’. It was a riveting version of one of Shakespeare’s most contentious pieces that eradicated the issue of race in favour of camaraderie and mental anguish.

In particular, Lucian Msamati’s Iago was something I’d never considered in such a villainous character before: a victim of his own villainy. Indeed, the emotional response to Othello’s torture when demanding the ocular proof, and his obsessive compulsive need to clean and clear after committing one of his many sins made Iago into something previously unconsidered. This was an Iago that wasn’t pure evil, hatred personified etc. This was an Iago with many sides; a betrayed husband, a hurt friend, and as mentioned before, a victim of circumstance and a lie that grew beyond him.

It was interesting that, in cast interviews before the show, Hugh Quarshie (Othello) said of Shakespeare that it isn’t the plays that keep people coming back for more, it’s the stories behind them, and you could tell director Iqbal Khan had taken this stance to heart; that it’s not the events, but the moral and themes behind them that captivate audiences across eras. This was perhaps most obvious in the rap battle – that’s right, a Shakespearean rap battle. Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and the army officer’s rap battle put some of the race contentions back into the play, showing how situations can go from innocent to enraging in a heartbeat – Cassio’s dismissal became less about Iago and more about the responsibilities of role and rank.

My final thought has to be on the casting of a black Iago. Suddenly, a play considered racist became about everything but race, because not only did Iago have no issue with Othello’s background, but he was part of an army that incorporated all races. It was fascinating to have this element taken out; as someone who knows a lot about Shakespeare’s works, it unsteadied my knowledge and made me sit up and pay attention to see how this reinterpretation would pan out for characters and events alike. It meant Othello was mad from jealousy, and not a victim of birth in a foreign land, and Iago felt aggrieved for his inner qualities, and not just for losing position by a foreigner’s hand.

I could mention a lot more – in particular I feel I haven’t done justice to the female leads – but this could go one forever when faced with a play full of delicate intricacies of character, subtle intonations of situations and so on. But once again, the RSC have turned a masterpiece into something more.

Review: ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller

It’s been awarded to the eyeballs, so ‘The Song of Achilles’ has been on my reading list for a long time, and what a song it has to sing.

The first few chapters are dizzying; literally every Greek hero gets a mention, from Odysseus to Menelaus to Ajax, almost all of the legends are pushed into the same room, which makes the choice to follow pathetic Patroclus puzzling at the outset. Weedy and a disappointment to his heritage, the young boy seems like he’d be a weak protagonist – by the end, this presumption is proved so spectacularly wrong it’s embarrassing.

The melody of Achilles’ song is his love for Patroclus, angering his sea nymph mother and causing controversy elsewhere, but ultimately showing a love that defies convention and boundaries. Knowing that their love moves to the slow battlefield of Troy, my mind leapt to the obvious and correct conclusion as to the source of the infamous Achilles’ heel, but that didn’t reduce the tragedy or wonder at the journey the two men embarked upon.

Patroclus may be almost an effeminate writer, denying the stereotypical manly pursuits in favour of love and academia, but eventually you warm to his. Miller’s persistence in giving Patroclus a more eloquent writing style pays off, creating a character who genuinely believes in what he feels, rather than someone being swept away in the heat of a summer romance.

Miller is also talented in splitting characters in two, making them one thing and another simultaneously – take a man who wants to be in love but also wants to be on Olympus. Achilles is brutal and generous, heroic and humble, and so on. But his dualities never feel clashing; they are two sides of the same coin, and it is wholly believable that this man is struggling with his potential identity as a God. This is done with others such as Menelaus and Odysseus, whose love for Penelope shines through at opportune moments, but Miller doesn’t shy away from creating outright personalities instead of these mixtures. Take Thetis, the sea nymph who inspires her son Achilles to a greatness beyond human means; she’s an out and out antagonist, and her presence is crafted so that we feel Patroclus’ fear and loathing whenever she is near, albeit her final act in the novel buys her a slim chance of redemption for the readers.

It’s difficult to go into plot without spoiling everything, although readers of Plato and ‘The Iliad’ will no doubt have an idea as to Patroclus’ importance and the outcome of the Trojan war as a whole. ‘The Song of Achilles’ is bloody and beautiful, and left me wanting more but being denied by the legends of Greece. Miller’s debut is well worth the investment, and something that will haunt readers beyond the final pages.

Review: ‘Matilda’ @ Cambridge Theatre

I’m a massive Roald Dahl fan, and finally managed to go and see the musical version of ‘Matilda’ this week, and it was definitely worth the wait.

I’m always mildly nervous about child actors, and this was a stage filled with them – yet my nerves could not have been more wrong. These were kids so talented it made me feel slightly ashamed of myself, their voices were well trained and they were absolute comic gems in places. Matilda (Violet Tucker) was superb, and her telling of the Acrobat and Escapologist story was absolutely entrancing – in fact I’d go as far as to say this was one of my favourite bits of the show. It’s astounding to think this is Violet Tucker’s professional debut, and a credit to her incredibly talent.

As always, favourite characters are soon picked out, and I had three this time, and I’m lightly concerned about my choices – Mr and Mrs Wormwood (Kay Murphy) and Ms Trunchbull were no doubt my highlights! Craige Els was a hilarious Ms Trunchbull, playing the evil headmistress with such comedic contempt that you celebrated her rises and falls without choice – you were thrown about by the pigtails into a world of ridiculous maggoty vengeance, because if it’s not right you have to make it right! Trunchbull’s solo was magnificent, unfortunate when you’re supposed to be rooting against her!

The Wormwoods, on the other hand, were so trashy it was brilliant – they were stereotypes gone crazy! Mr Wormwood’s (James Clyde) solo is a treat that you must make sure you return to your seats for during the interval, it reeks of Tim Minchin’s sardonic style and deliciously satirical critique of society’s priorities, as do many of the other musical numbers.

Speaking of which, shortly after the interval there’s a song performed on swings, ‘When I Grow Up’, and again it was a clear favourite of mine, speaking to the adults and children in the audience equally – in particular, I loved that the adults and children were linked in the performance, because let’s face it, we never truly feel like we’ve grown up until life’s passed us by!

And at the hear of it all, the message that life is more important than petty feuds, bullies and television is one that is carried throughout this – yes, books might be Matilda’s source of adventure, but friends and family are the wonder of the world, and it’s these things that allow Matilda to live her happily ever after at long last.

Fans of Roald Dahl and newbies to his wonderful world alike will enjoy this musical, and best of all the theatre’s cheaper seats in the Upper Circle allow spectacular viewing, so everyone can afford to invest in the magical world of ‘Matilda’.