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.

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Why is ‘Game of Thrones’ so compelling to watch?

So after a week in (literally, for once!) sunny Wales, I came home to catch up on the TV show of the moment, ‘Game of Thrones’. I’ve read up to book five, so I knew what I was coming home to, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. My dread was more than justified; Ellaria Sand’s face captured it all, as the brutal actions leapt from page to screen in the most horrifying manner, seeing the end of yet another favourite character (mental note: as soon as you like a character, you’ve essentially signed their death warrant).

This is a world where our heroes and loved ones are torn apart and what we deem ‘evil’ gets to triumph. King’s Landing saw off the imagined hero of our tale, the Red Wedding saw the noblest family eradicated, the purple wedding nearly brought us justice but then fan-favourite Tyrion become endangered int he process…I could go on.

So why do we keep watching when we know we’ll be frustrated and unable to sleep afterwards? 

I think it’s because there’s nothing else like it. No matter which good guys have to bite the dust in the name of justice, our major motion pictures and TV series always revert the world to what we think it should be after the mess of battle. Look at the latest Marvel craze; ‘Thor’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Captain America’, ‘Spiderman’, ‘X Men’…It doesn’t matter what the cost is, because we know the world will be safe at the end (except for that lurking Loki threat, but that proves my point – they won’t kill off everyone’s favourite anti-hero just yet). No one has ever just let the world live out as it should in these kinds of shows; there’s always been an end point of good triumphing, whereas in Westeros it’s not about good or evil, it’s about people acting upon impulses, their wants and needs and desires, rather than the overall cosmic balance of the universe.

As well, characters mean nothing to G R R Martin. Maybe that’s too sweeping, obviously he’s invested in them, but he doesn’t have heroes and villains, he doesn’t have favourites and intended victors, he has people. He writes about their lives and (more often than not) their deaths, acting more as a biographer than the god of his narrative world. Look at how in ‘Lord of the Rings’ only one of the Fellowship is sacrificed despite hourly mortal peril and insanity-inducing rings and wizards with unlimited powers. Even Gandalf can’t stay down when he’s taken, because his narrative function is to see the Fellowship to their end. Martin, however, openly states that Robb Stark cannot avenge his father just because his cause is noble, and practically punishes us for daring to invest in a character (he hears ‘oh that Red Viper guy, he’s cool’ and translates that to ‘Red Viper seems popular, better slaughter him’). Nobody seems destined to get to the Iron Throne and stay there, because it’s a game and they are, by nature, down to luck and chance and choices.

In this sense, it’s also compelling because we have literally no idea what will happen next. Even the Lannisters don’t seem comfortable on the throne, and for those that know what’s next, they should be watching those spikes a bit more carefully. No one seems a likely king or queen, they all have their own campaigns (the Red Woman’s religious trail, Dorne’s vengeance, Daenerys’ slave fixation…), and not one leads directly to Westeros. Even Stannis has abandoned his quest and will end up further north than planned, despite his attempt on King’s Landing. You have to watch because you can’t guess; this isn’t soap opera land where we’ve seen the rising action and denouement a million times.

Yes, G.R.R. Martin has presented us with something unique and breathtaking in it’s sheer brutality. We’ve embraced the horror and the unknown, and are through the looking glass and even those who have read the books are stunned into submission with the twists and changes presented to us (the Night’s King, anyone?). I reiterate, it’s compelling television, which hasn’t been seen before and can never be copied with the same success.

The Absence of a Miracle…

I am utterly devoted to ‘Torchwood’ series one to three. I have watched and rewatched them to the point of being able to echo the dialogue in my sleep (sad but true). So where did ‘Miracle Day’, a series long-awaited for and highly anticipated, lose this particular fan?

I’m currently rewatching series one, which is what has brought on this long overdue review-cum-rant. Series one and two were based around standard sci-fi concepts: aliens, myths and legends, with intricately woven touches of humanity displayed throughout the storylines. You fell in love with the flawed characters, celebrated their victories and mourned their losses. They were normal people thrown into a world of abnormality and absolute wonder; we were companions to their journeys, rather than unknowing spectators. Case-in point: ‘Countrycide’. My personal favourite episode, we were with the Torchwood team through their harrowing experiences in the country, up until the final reveal where ignorance became revulsion. This culminated in the magnificent third series, which delved into the moral dilemmas faced when facing the unknown, and the devastating ramifications of horrifying dilemmas. It was all going so well…

…Then came ‘Miracle Day’; a day to be remembered, for beginning the downfall of ‘Torchwood’. Gone was the Cardiff base, all but two of the team, and the gritty edge. We were left with the cheesiest of television, from dialogue to direction. Jack went from an enigma to a pussycat, fawning about over emotional decisions when, previously, we’d seen him sacrifice his own grandson whilst only shedding a tear to mark his remorse. Gwen moved from lovingly loyal to psychopathic, claiming this was over her father and baby but actually barely registering their existence unless necessary to create some crocodile tears. And the CIA agents…I have literally no idea why Esther’s family was introduced, besides trying to make us love a woman who barely did anything apart from die. And Rex…I almost liked him, I’ll admit, but sometimes his arrogance in his abilities went from a character feature to plain ridiculous – in such a unique situation, the ability to cooperate with the only three people in the world who are willing to put up with your efforts to help is a given.

Alongside Esther’s redundant family, there was Jack’s love interest. Now I was not one of the hundreds complaining about Jack’s gay love interest: it’s been a clear plot point since ‘Day One’ that Jack would have anything with a pulse. So Angelo was no exception, and Jack falling for him was a touching side to him that we didn’t witness with Ianto; we saw love where previously we saw desire and loneliness. But why? It didn’t fit with Jack’s timeline that we’d created in series one and two first of all; then it added absolutely nothing to the plot. Angelo wasn’t needed for the cause of ‘Miracle Day’ to be discovered, his part in this was just wedged in to make the plot clumsily link together.

What I missed most of all, though, was the chemistry. Jack and Gwen’s hidden need for one another was sealed off, and the new characters were tools, rather than the friends they claimed to have become by Esther’s funeral. I could not foresee a future for Torchwood and Rex, despite the (quite obvious) twist at the end. It’s not even missing the original team; I loved the additions to the team in ‘Children of Earth’, particularly the quirky Lois Habiba who’s sharp-minded tactics fitted in with the team’s needs. I appreciated the new enemies they faced for their dedication to their purposes; unlike the ‘Family’ who didn’t seem confident in their knowledge of what to do with the Miracle, or why in fact they were even bothering with it. Compare the sinister Prime Minister, covering his own tracks in an attempt to strategically defeat a looming threat without being hounded as a murdered, to the Family, craving immortality for the sake of it. I think we have a winner.

I think the conclusion I came too, after devotedly suffering through ten episodes of ‘Miracle Day’ to a fairly visually epic conclusion I’ll admit, it didn’t deserve a series. What ‘Torchwood’ deserved was a return to the glory days of the first three, where the ‘Miracle Day’ was a two-parter at best, dealt with punchily and dramatically, as opposed to be drawn out to tedious heights. It spread itself too thinly to maintain an action-packed pace, and as such lost a lot in the delivery that the other series had thrived on.

As such, I think ‘Miracle Day’ was the opposite: misfortunate, ill-executed and wasting the brilliant talents of Eve Myles and John Barrowman which we had loved before. Keep the miracles out, and maybe the magic can return.

X Factor Auditions 2011: It’s a question mark from me.

 This year’s ‘X Factor’ is full of changes: more auditionees than last year, three new judges and new expectations.

First thing’s first: the new judging panel. Gary Barlow is, in short, a wonderful man. He’s firm but fair, and knows how to judge talent. I wish the same could be said for Tulisa from N Dubz, who really doesn’t seem to have a clear knowledge of what constitutes talent. Unlike the gorgeous Kelly Rowland, who is both fierce and loving, at one point moved to tears but in a non-Cheryl-Cole way (i.e. it seemed genuine). And then there’s good old dependable Louis Walsh, who doesn’t chuckle at the little Irish man who rambles on about nothing? Together, though, they didn’t seem like the old panel. There was no particularly interesting chemistry or bond between them, and in some respects this meant they did the job of finding talent efficiently and without distractions, but the cattiness and infamous put-downs of the previous series were definitely missed.

The acts themselves were ambivalent. The stand-out act was a 28 year old soldier singing ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ beautifully. There were no real crackers though, and to be frank, I don’t think I saw the winner of the ‘X Factor’ today. The controversy, though, came with a sixteen-year-old nicknamed Bambi. Painfully shy, the voice that came from this young girl was absolutely fantastic, and she belted out Alicia Keys beautifully. But then came the judges’ verdict: come back in a few years, not ready yet, nothing special. The audience acted as the fifth judge and demanded a ‘yes’, a request only obliged by Louis. The others said no, and the fifth judge was not impressed. Every subsequent act was followed by a cacophony of chants for Bambi, particularly when two other sixteen-year-olds with considerably less talent were put through. And it was ignoring the audience that cost the judges dearly: the atmosphere in the LG considerably flattened, and the faith in the judges’ ability was clearly knocked. Not helped by Tulisa’s little dig at the end of the show: ‘thanks to SOME of you for making us welcome.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, but the tickets the audience were sent and the comedian compering the show instructed us to make our voices heard: well, what’s the point of being heard if no one notices?

Then there was Madika, whose performance Gary Barlow called ‘forgettable’. After being rejected, every child’s worst nightmare came true: the girl’s mother stormed the stage and demanded her child be allowed to sing a second song. Gary, quite rightly, asked what the point would be when she’d already been rejected once; Tulisa thought confronting the mother on stage was the right way to go. Hint: never confront an angry mom. She went home dejected, the judges sat back in their questionable decision not to allow her a second song in the face of some of the awful acts who just weren’t told to shut up.

Take the guy singing Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’ whilst writhing on the floor. The most boring, mumbly voice meant the song went more like “mrrrrrhh mrrrrrhhh’ than resembling lyrics. Kelly Rowland was left justifiably speechless, and yet he was allowed to sing Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’, which allegedly made girls fall at his feet…in agony, perhaps. Then there was Eugene, who came on stage in a high-vis jacket and just kept talking and talking and…After “singing”, he just would not leave the stage, so Gary Barlow (at this point every audience members’ hero) went on stage and confiscated the mic, forcing horrific Eugene to get off. Thank. God.

So my question mark comes from a comparison with the experience of last year’s Birmingham auditions: there was informed judgement but no sparks to catch our interest. In turn, this meant the atmosphere fell flatter than last year: less cheers, less involvement, it was like being an audience at a theatre production rather than at a show where the audience are expected to be massively involved. Everything felt a little stale instead of refreshed by the new panel, and what I believe is that this comes from Simon Cowell’s absence. He’s charismatic, fair and firm yet witty, and a born leader: the judging panel felt like they were floating around without an anchor to weigh them down. Essentially, Simon Cowell both is and has the X factor, and without him it wasn’t so much as a showbiz affair.

Cancellations and Renewals: The Verdict

One less doctor in the House.

The USA television schedules have been announced: cuts, renewals and cast cullings have been announced, and as usual there are tragedies, travesties, and a few correct choices.

One of the main issues facing shows at the moment is that renewals are usually announced after the series have finished filming. So when cancelled, some shows are left on juicy and irritatingly unanswered cliffhangers. And then there are things like ‘House’: eighth series granted, the worry of Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson) not returning out of the way, and what happens? Lisa Edlestein, the wonderful Dr Cuddy and one half of Huddy, announces she won’t be returning. Personally, I think there’s more to her decision to leave than meets the eye, but what it means is that, like ‘CSI:NY’ and Stella last year, Cuddy won’t be given an on-screen exit. Instead, of the fundamental elements of ‘House’ is likely to just be writing out without much of a fuss, instead focusing on the future instead of giving Cuddy the send-off she deserves. Hopefully, the creators of the hit show will realise that, perhaps for the best, series eight should be the last.

And speaking of shows being flogged to death, the US certainly has a different philosophy to ending shows than the UK. Series

Flogging a dead Lane?

like ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Robin Hood’ have all come to timely ends, whereas shows such as ‘Desperate Housewives’ keep coming back, despite falling viewing figures, stilted storylines, and actors that look like they’ve had enough. True, the return of Paul Young in series seven has done the show wonders by adding that little bit was missing: the dirty laundry that existed in the street before the Applewhites and the Bolan’s were transplanted in to kickstart the shows popularity. And don’t get me wrong, I love my weekly dose of ‘Housewives’, but I don’t think these women can have many more issues without the whole of Wysteria Lane being sectioned. Characters like Lynette and Tom have moved from the epitome of modern marriage to whingy and whiny in their endless squabbles. Argument, potential affair, and another baby: repeat until you’ve reached five kids. Gets a bit obvious. Wysteria Lane, if continuing much longer, will move from hysteria to downright irritating.

But then there are the renewals you pray for. Personally, I was bouncing off the walls when ‘The Vampire Diaries’ was renewed: it’s a show that’s just getting off the ground, with so much energy and passion behind it that it can’t fail to continue in its success for at least another series. It’s wonderful when you see actors enjoying their jobs; again, a major issue with the ‘House’ cast, which practically churns out an interview per week from an actor who hates being far away from home and can’t wait for the series to finish so they can’t scat, stat! Equally, CW’s renewed drama ‘90210’ doesn’t pretend to be anything but superficial, but

Where is the love?

sometimes when you see how the cast are treated (considering in this the abrupt departure’s of Harry, Deb and Ryan) it makes you doubt the passion behind the cameras. The ‘CSI’ franchise, despite ‘NY’ being renewed, have also had their public knocks: constantly downgraded despite brilliant productions, their renewal feels like it’s flying in the face of those people constantly heckling ‘cancelled!’.

Then there’s the staples, the TV you cannot do without: ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Family Guy’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Glee’…all have been renewed, and all provide fabulous background or chill-out TV. But then comes the next issue: ‘Glee’ may have been renewed rather early on in its life, but UK viewers are going to have to prepare for a massive shift: from freeview-accessible E4 to selective and charged-by-the-month Sky. Going the way of ‘House’ and ‘Lost’, ‘Glee’ shifting channels is almost a certain nail in it’s British-viewer coffin. I’ve no doubt the popularity of ‘Glee’ in the US will continue its musical reign of TV, but perhaps it won’t be singing as loudly this side of the pond.

However, this year’s cancellations and renewals haven’t disappointed this viewer, and most cancellations have been pretty expected, particularly shows with short shelf lives such as ‘The Event’ (wannabe ‘Lost’, actual failure) and ‘V’. Here’s looking forward to another year of fabulous TV!

Renewed and Proud!

The Vampire Diaries: Where did it all go right?

For the past six months, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ has been my drug of choice, with a weekly fix barely being enough to keep me going.

With the finale episode, ‘As I Lay Dying’, airing in the State yesterday, I have to wonder: what is it that makes TVD such a compelling program?

Well let’s start with the basics: characters. Each one remains true to who they are, there are no massively unexpected changes which make you question the skill of the writers. We know Damon has a softer side, just as we know Stefan has been struggling not to be a ruthless killer. Likewise, despite all the insanity, it’s remembered that Elena, Bonnie and Caroline are actually still young girls struggling to find their way in the world, let alone finding it with the added pressures of the supernatural.

Moving on: plot. There has never been a slow moment, and it’s clear that the writers aren’t just hashing this together as they go along. One event leads into another, some events have clearly been set for a shock ending miles in advance (fake curse, anyone?), whilst others are clearly the offspring of all the other shocking moments hearts have been racing to. There’s not been a stilted moment. Releasing Katherine led to discovering the curse, the curse naturally led to Elijah and the big bad Klaus, which has ultimately led to Klaus’ plans for species domination. It’s all been flawlessly sewn together, everything has clearly had a known destination from the start. 

Speaking of Klaus, he’s a testament to the casting. Joseph Morgan is a brilliant kiss-him-or-kill-him character, fitting in perfectly with Daniel Gillies’ Elijah to blend their stories. Likewise, the original cast are brilliant at representing their characters. Elena struggles without becoming whiney or repetitive, Damon’s a jerk without making you want to switch off, Stefan’s a perfect mixture of good trying to overcome evil…The supporting cast have never let them down either, with my personal favourite being Candice Accola, a.k.a. Caroline, who epitomises the abnormality of the events in Mystic Falls. She’s been like a gauge to measure events by: moving from innocent human to confused victim of Katherine struggling to cope with her new life, she’s demonstrated the place of humans and human emotions within this supernatural drama. Talking of Katherine, Nina Dobrev cannot go unpraised for her doppleganger double-act. She switches between the two without compromising our belief that she’s Elena and Katherine, instead of being Elena as Katherine or vice versa. It was a massive risk having one person in two roles, but Nina Dobrev pulled it off to a fabulous effect.

I’m going to have to stop, because I could literally rave about this show for hours. It’s stunning, it’s effects and plotlines are meticulously thought-out to ensure viewers aren’t cheated or thrown in a direction that didn’t suit the story, and the acting is breathtaking. All that’s left to say is, farewell season two and all your troubles…now, roll on series three.

Review: Cheryl Cole on ‘Piers Morgan’s Life Stories’

I can only imagine that the ratings for Piers Morgan’s interview of the national sweetheart that is Cheryl Cole are through the roof. And better still, viewers were far from disappointed: cheryl’s heart-rendering memories of the turbulent two years that have dominated her media image really did help to remove the soap opera lenses in order to see that, actually, she’s a young woman trying to live through heartbreak and troubles.

The most touching part, in my opinion, was after the video clips explaining Cheryl’s fight with malaria, where the video stopped and all Cheryl could say was a small and yet resounding ‘oh’. It spoke volumes compared to some of her more rehearsed answers, showing how fresh the fear still is, and how unprepared she was for the threat to her life that ensued.

Piers Morgan – normally an arrogant figure of annoyance – was incredibly sensitive for once, timing his slight jokes and moving from tough subjects at appropriate times in order to
Ensure this was different to the usual bullying, biased news junk we’re spoonfed – Morgan’s sensitivity proved to be one of the factors to the interview’s success, as if legitimised it’s attempts to explain the truth instead of gossip-mongering. Piers kept his input to a minimum to fulfil Cheryl’s mission throughout the interview: giving her side and setting the record straight.

As far as Ashley Cole’s concerned, the less said the better. The only thing talking of his disgusting betrayals did was show Cheryl as an everywoman – touchingly referring to her happiness and how he wad her best friend demonstrated her dignity and poise throughout the worst of times, as well as giving a touching finale to the cheating trials by giving Cheryl a hopeful future.

The video footage was well-selected, and instead of trying to cram in as many celebrity faces as possible, it was a carefully crafted montage of Cheryl’s nearest and dearest. The only questionable inclusion was Pete Waterman, who seemed determined not to comply with the national view of Cheryl as a darling, trying to stir trouble by claiming she was attention seeking, when we saw that Cheryl purely wanted to live her dream. Thus led onto her role on ‘X Factor’, moving her from judge to fostering creativity. Likening herself to Simon Cowell may have been a slightly terrifying projection into the future, but it enhanced the promises tomorrow holds for her instead of the pain held in the past.

The future looks rosy for our Cheryl, and while some celebrities may take opportunities like Piers Morgan’s ‘Life Stories’ as time to bawl and fake-laugh their way into the publics good graces, Cheryl has used the opportunity to shine her halo and shine like the superstar she is. She definitely doesn’t need that parachute any mire, she’s landed safely into a world that adores her.