Friday, 13 March 2015

Cucumber/Banana/Tofu - Series Review

How do you end a series? In fact, how do you begin a series? How do you create a plot, and maintain it, and keep it exciting, and yet feature within that the reason why you are writing?

Those are the questions I came to Cucumber with. Those are the questions that approach me every time I try and write a script. So, how did Russell T Davies answer them? And how just was his latest "gay" drama?

I could spend several paragraphs rallying against the terminology that it is a "gay" drama. It's not. It's just a drama. It focusses on a gay man, and his long-term boyfriend. Cool. So how was it as a whole? Well. Up and down. Very up and down. I don't think it had the best of starts, as a series, although in hindsight, it did set out what would happen very well. It was the beginning of the end, as it were. Except - there is no end. The end comes in Episode Six - that is the end of a series, right there. But it's not the end of this series, and quite right too. Because we needed the reaction to Lance's death, we needed to see the aftermath. So maybe the series should have ended at the close of Episode Seven. Is the final conversation between Henry and Freddie the way to end the series?

For this series, probably yes. From what I can gather from interviews (and the marvellous 'The Writer's Tale'), the initial plan for the series could have gone:

Long term boyfriends split (inc. swimming reference) after a night falls apart > probably threw in Freddie around here and the 'dream flat' (which is an idea I love) > one man's death after a terrible night out > "Being Gay".

Please contact me Russell T Davies and correct that if need be.

So, that provides stepping stones. Flesh out other ideas, throw in Hazel (yay!) and there you are. A series. An ending that had been in his mind for ten years. It says everything about the series - in fact, it says everything about the series on a deeper level, and a level that the series has only brief alluded to. It's a comment about sexuality - not just sex. Henry's wish to not have penetrative sex is, for me, the complete opposite to Davies' other trope of 'all gay men have sex lots'. My first watch of Queer as Folk (I've watched it since and I do love it) was quite critical. It was showing gay men having sex, like their life pivoted around that. I'm sure for some gay men it's true. I'm sure for some straight men it's true. But it can't be for everyone. Nor can Henry's situation. So what about the people who just don't like sex? What about the people who save sex for committed relationships? I know Davies made it clear that he couldn't and didn't want to represent EVERYTHING and EVERY POSSIBILITY - but it seems to me that he is, overall, still presenting extremes.

This continues into other characters. Freddie, for example. Freddie is very clearly bisexual (not that the word 'bisexual' is ever used in relation to him), and yet called gay by Henry. It's tiny, but it's an issue. I know that people are wanting bi-visibility on TV - and I feel that this had the opportunity. It's the biggest drama for the LGBT+ community in years (at least, that's my judgement from what I've read on the internet). It's also a big drama for those who aren't gay. It's a landmark. It's Russell T Davies. This had the chance to do something and it did not.

But - is that a good thing? If Russell T Davies told me that he used the word 'gay' for Freddie because Henry was 'old fashioned', I might concede. (Although bisexuality being 'modern' is equally irritating.) If he told me that he wasn't bothered about using the labels correctly - that would be a problem - if he said he felt that the labels didn't matter - that would be different. Is this making the point that the labels don't matter? Well. If it is, it probably needs to be a bit more obvious about it.

Yet - despite all of these complains - there are some very interesting conversations about bisexuality (and not just in terms of sex) in Episode Four. And it's funny. Cucumber is funny, all the way through, and that's one of its highlights. I'm getting overly political - and I tried not to turn this into a sexuality rant. Davies has fallen into tropes and extremes. This has happened. But. Is the drama good aside from that?

This is another up and down. It's hit and miss. Overall, I think, a hit. For Episode Six alone. Episode Six is worthy TV in its own right, regardless of the series that happens around it. Episode Four, the date nights, is also amazing TV. Superb stories. Episode One is a bit of a miss - I didn't feel it introduced things very well, and it was an odd mix of comedy and dark drama to the point that I felt slightly confused or bewildered by it. It was TOO much.

Yet of course, this sets the tone perfectly for the later episodes. That IS the tone. Comedy, and drama, and the drama veers into the dark and steers into the light. At the heart, it's Henry's attempt to win Freddie, the mostly-bisexual flatmate. And they have some lovely moments, all of the flatmates do. There are some wonderful scenes. And these wonderful scenes spread across to other moments and characters too. Any scene with Cleo in is pretty awesome, and her confrontation of Henry (the one where she smashes the mugs and says her daughter is "raw down there") is stunning drama. The scenes with Henry/Lance in the cafe, Henry/Freddie in another cafe, Henry/Veronica at his house, and others. The series takes great delight in pausing, for a long time, on one scene, and one conversation, in one place - and more drama needs to do this. It works brilliantly, and Davies handles character and dialogue as well as I'd expected him to.

And despite my moaning above, I'm neglecting the fact that it is a series about sex. If you want a series about the nuances of sexuality, Bob & Rose (also by Davies) is definitely a good place to start. This is not that series, and it has a different aim. To boil down all the issues about sex to sexuality is a move that I feel should have been explored more - to drop it in the last line feels like it has much more potential. But for this series, talking frankly about sex is the right thing to do. It does it all the time and it does it, for the most part, really well. What I think is missing from TV is a drama looking head on at sexuality, not just sex, but that is not Cucumber, and it was never really meant to be.

I love Davies' writing because there's always an element of something else in it - something just outside of reality, something slightly more exciting than it. Everything is heightened. Canal Street is always glittering (and this is something deliberate). In the first episode of Banana, Dean runs off to meet his Grindr match. Do people run, anywhere, ever? Not really. But the fact he runs is great. It shows an energy, and Davies' scripts have an energy that real life is often missing. He also shows the mundane day-to-day workplace, and the scenes with Lance at the Aquarium in Episode One are very dull and overly factual (a similar thing could be said of Henry at HC Clements). But on the most part, there is energy and there are extremes. So maybe those extremes I mentioned above deserve a place here. It's all part of the colourful world Davies creates - the world which uses music wonderfully and, more often than not, finishes with a song. (Although the mini-poem at the ending of the last episode of Banana maybe took this a step too far.) It's drama that really does take you away from where you are.

This follows in the creation of the dream flat and, in the last episode, the LGBT (and others) Collective at Henry's house. Everything is perfect, set up just as you might dream it. In the case of the Collective, this is disturbed very deliberately by reality. The series becomes very real in the last episode, treating dreams as just that. The dream flat, which, again, Davies admits to be idyllic and perhaps not realistic, is a great way of getting the characters to interact and to develop. It's not only a perfect dramatic technique, but it's great for the audience, creating a safe haven for them as well as the characters.

Will I miss Cucumber? Definitely. It's been great and definitely something look forward to every week. There aren't enough dramas that I look forward to every week, and that address interesting issues (even if not all of them) as Cucumber does. It's definitely right to end it after Series One though. It's a complete story, and one that I don't think could have ended any other way.

So what about Banana? That's also been brilliant. I've loved it. The 23 minute stories have been so interesting and well crafted. I felt Episode Four (Helen's story) didn't quite live up to the potential it had, and what felt like never-ending scenes on social media dragged the story down to what felt like a standard story/social commentary. Charlie Covell, who wrote Episode Four, redeemed herself with writing and acting in Episode Six, which was a highlight of the series. Beautiful storytelling. Episode Two remains a highlight - the story of a young girl's love for an older woman was written so so so well, and I could enthuse about it forever. Episode Eight was probably the only other misfire for me. It had its moments but it did seem tagged onto the end of a series that was very sure of what it was. All of the Banana stories are worth a watch though. They're so lovely and such interesting studies of character, and they do contain some of the finest writing from TV in recent years.

And as for Tofu... I don't feel it reached its potential. It could have been SO interesting and informative, but instead, every time it begins to tell interesting stories, it falls short, and ends. They're too short to address anything in-depth. That means sometimes I feel that they ended without really saying anything worth watching, and sometimes they ended when I would have been interested to hear more anyway. But there have been some really interesting stories within it, and if you've got some time to kill, it  might be worth a watch. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it though.

Cucumber and Banana though are must watch. They are a landmark for TV, and although the tropes do feel extreme and some things do stray into feeling even outdated, they are enjoyable dramas, containing (mostly) very fine writing indeed.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


So today I was having a go at writing some stuff - and I wrote this! Hope you enjoy some random ramblings about the Void.

  It's interesting, the blank page.
   It never feels inviting. It feels like a contained sea of nothing. I used to form black swirling and spiky shapes, elegant stretches of lines and forms, creating masterpieces of pen, with symbols threaded throughout. Just drawing, just colouring; giving the impression of darker shades. Like henna on somebody's hand, patterns on a blank sheet of paper.
   But then words were invented and words became sentences – which in my mind, was a mistake. I mean what good have sentences done for anyone? I mean yes, sentences themselves are harmless enough, right up until the moment when they're not. Same as everything really. But what's dangerous about sentences, and the possibility to say anything within them, is that people don't. Sentences create a void, because they are fixed and often simple. Even if they hint, they throw some grey shadows onto the thick black unknowable substance of silence, they can never truly sum up the void. For it is a void. By creating sentences, we created silence – the ability to say and the ability not to say. And it's what is not said that is the most powerful weapon of all.
   Sentences were designed to create some form of reassurance – they provide a definite answer, and if this is not given (it is only one possible option of a thousand million darker ones after all), then another's mind will rummage hands through the thick black sludge of the void.
   The void is opaque and yet for some it is grey. That's because if you separated some of it, swung it into a clear container and held it up to the light to see your options, to look at what you might not say, it would appear lighter. The light would form a shield of hazy particles around it, and you might think it looks grey. When it isn't. It's only opaque, all it can ever be.
   It's hardest for those faced with blank pages. Blank pages instruct sentences, and formless yet forming shapes are beautiful but conduct neither what it said nor what is not said. The sentences instructed by the blank pages (though some of them have lines – praise be to whoever invited lines, at least they encourage some form of terrible creativity) have to be fixed. They can be tweaked but they are fixed. Speech is written through those sentences, sometimes. But it is placed onto sentences commanded, not through them. Speech is clever enough not to be recorded accurately or written down. Even if it is close – speech is a facsimile.
   For you cannot have speech without the silence. It is what is not said that is more, most, powerful, and you can say what is not said, or hint through fixed body language and vague suggestions you're not entirely sure of yourself what is not said, but it is not what is not said. For what is not said contains such a myriad of options – although the word 'myriad' makes it feel far too colourful. So how can anyone pinpoint suggesting what is not said? They may occasionally pinprick success, by saying what is said in such a way it is implied what is not. But this is a rare occurrence.
   We cannot truly know how people think, or what they are truly like, and characters are just as secret. If you have them say everything they are weak, but no one ever says everything.
   No one ever says anything really.
   It is when you sense a sense of someone else's anything that you know someone else's opaque sludge of what is not said has been slightly diminished.
   But for the majority we cannot capture silence. We have never been able to capture the impossible.

JR Mortimer

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Orphan Black | What To Do Next

[Mild Spoilers - but really you should have watched both series by now.]

After an awesome Series Two of BBC America's Orphan Black - I feel a bit lost. [A side note - if you have no idea what Orphan Black is, I highly recommend you borrow a DVD of Series One, or find it on the internet. You won't regret it. Just don't watch the episodes out of order. Both series are available on Amazon, and Series One is here on Instant Video - so go watch!]

Doctor Who's back in August, but aside from that and the prospect of more box set watching, I'm gonna be a bit stuck. Over the last few days since the finale (which was awesome - that's my comprehensive review of it), I've been researching lots of different aspects of the series. I got into Series One a few weeks before Series Two aired, and I got my friend into Series One once Series Two had already started. We had little, or no, time to wait before another batch of ten episodes. But now me and my friend are both up to date - and so we have a year's wait 'til the next series airs. We have a lot of time to fill. Which is one way is great - I can research the behind the scenes aspects, follow all the Tumblr and Twitter accounts, and I have time to find out more stuff about the series I love.

It's also a bad thing - because the researching isn't going to take a year.

But until the next series is on, here are some things you can explore, use and/or obsess over until the series returns.

There's a lot of music in the series and in connection with it, and here are some different links I've found. The first is the Series One Finale Music, which can be found here. There's also, on YouTube, a collection of the music from Series One, an unofficial mini soundtrack, which can be found here. Additionally, you can listen to the heartbreaking version of Cosima's theme from the end of Series Two Episode Eight, which is here. Probably best to listen to that after the Series One Finale Music, for most impact.

And if you need cheering up, I suggest this! This is the Clone Dance Music from the Series Two finale, and can be found here.

There are various other songs featured in the series, including the song in which Sarah becomes Beth in Series One, which can be listened to here. I'm looking for others and will update them soon.

To carry on the music theme, I'll first bring your attention to this. Apparently, Maria Doyle Kennedy (Mrs S) sings! You can find her songs on iTunes here.

I was going to recommend other TV shows and films the cast have been in, but there's a lot of stuff I've never heard of, and a lot of stuff I wouldn't recommend. So in terms of the cast, I would say the best thing you can do is just rewatch the series.

There are a wealth of interviews and behind the scenes things though. They're worth watching if only to realise that Jordan Gavaris, who plays Felix, sounds so unlike Felix. (As a side note, it's worth reiterating how amazing the actors are in this series.) Here's a search of some of the interviews, which includes some trailers as well, and here's some more. It's worth looking for a Comic Con panel last year with Tatiana Maslany, Gavaris and Dylan Bruce as well.

In terms of conventions, Dylan Bruce was at MCM Comic Con in London earlier this year. There's an MCM Comic Con in various other British cities, and also one in London in the Autumn - but guests for that are yet to be announced. I'm hoping for Maslany and Gavaris, and planning a cosplay with my friend. That's either awesome or quite sad, but I'm going for awesome. I've no idea about American conventions, but I guess there's a reasonable chance of the cast/creators appearing at San Diego Comic Con in the Summer.

Unofficial, unfortunately, but still amazing. There are lots of places to get Orphan Black related items, particularly t-shirts.

RedBubble do a great range of t-shirts. Some of them look better than others, but some of them are amazing and adding themselves to the top of my shopping list.

Etsy do a great range of fan made items from a variety of people, which are also great. I should point out that the more you scroll down that search, the less Orphan Black results you get.

There's a series lack of Orphan Black books, unfortunately, but I'll get onto an alternative for that under 'Miscellaneous'.

If you don't own the series, then that's a mistake. Series One is available pretty much worldwide, and the link for the UK can be found here at Amazon (and here if you want BluRay). Series Two is only available in Region 1 so far, and has the most beautiful cover. It can be found here if anyone is actually reading from Region 1.

Tumblr tells me this is 'Alison dancing on things she shouldn't. So there you go.
In a bid to cover everything that's left and doesn't really fit in the categories above, I've created this section. A number of things can be listened to/watched etc..

There's fan videos, though the majority about Cophine (Cosima/Delphine), and I've picked this one to link to purely because of the song.

I've also tracked down the song (thanks to YouTube) used in the Series Two trailer for BBC America. It can be listened to here and it's called "Alarmed". (The section used for the trailer starts around 1.15 in.)

There's also fan fiction! Not quite as good as an actual Orphan Black novel, and possibly not the next best thing, but there is a lot of it. Again, the majority are about Cophine, but there's some others threaded throughout if you enjoy reading it. The biggest source is here.

And fan art! DeviantArt is usually the best place to look, and the link is here (again, most of the search is relevant), but often the show's creators and cast on Twitter post fan art, so you can find some there too. (I'm not going to post to their individual Twitter feeds, but aside from the cast it's worth looking for Graham Manson and John Fawcett.)

If you're interested in reading, Ethan Duncan's favourite book can be purchased here! Unfortunately not with the same cover.

I may well add other things as I find them - but for now, enjoy exploring, fellow members of Clone Club! Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Best Book Ever Written?

That's got your attention. Now you're here, hello reader, you can stay, and read my review of  a short story that you just have to buy.

But I'm probably quite biased as to why.

The book I'm reviewing is this one, The Ever-So Heroic Adventures of Captain Square Jaw: Square Jaw and the 49-Page Adventure! It's written by Danson Thunderbolt, who is my best friend's dad. Reason one why I'm bias. The book has been written to raise money to buy supplements for my best friend's brother Luke, and you can read about why such supplements are needed (and they really are needed, so from right now I urge you all to buy the book) here. There are 38 different blogs about life with Luke and his dad, and they're all worth a read.

So that's why I'm biased - and I should probably feel obliged to say that the book is amazing. The thing is - I don't need to be obliged to say it. This book IS amazing, genuinely. And it's only 49 pages, so what more could you want? I read it in about two days, and I could've read it in much less time if I was able to sit still and read a book for long enough.

Square Jaw is the creation of Danson Thunderbolt, who is, himself, the creation of my friend's dad. He's a pirate with a, if you could believe it, square jaw, and a manly chest, currently captain of the ship 'The Manly Pose'. It's a children's book I suppose, but I'm eighteen and the humour appeals to me greatly. I read the last chapter in school and was giggling away in the library when everyone else was being quiet. It keeps you laughing up to the last word, literally.

The book is essentially 49 pages (50, including the cover) of wordplay. The normal conventions of reading a book are taken and played on; you think one sentence means something, it in fact means that and something else. It's amazingly difficult to explain - so you should buy the book and find out for yourself.

It would feel strange closely exploring the characters and the plot in a book that has the characters themselves question the presence of a plot. The characters' positions in the novel become part of their character, if that makes any sense, and the lack of depth for some characters is taken as another opportunity for humour. The book keeps up the energy that it starts with, and Chapter One (titled 'The First Chapter') is a constant run of jokes and wordplay that kept me very entertained. The humour might not be to everyone's taste, and if it isn't I suggest you go and find your childhood self again. After all, as a wise and curly haired man once said, "there's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes". The humour is clever and quick, and the unexpected jokes and wordplay happen all the way through.

Plus, despite the fears of the characters, there is a plot! I don't often make it to the very end of books, and I still get quite excited when suddenly the tension and action increase as you near completion. This excitement and tension were definitely present in Square Jaw, and the 'death' scene [not a spoiler] in the last chapter of the book manages to be both hilarious and really quite sinister. Even the surreal resolution (surreal is good, you'd expect nothing less from the story) feels real, and manages to be both intense and funny.

But at the end of the day - the book is an excellent read, and it would be silly to analyse it any further. The money goes to a good cause, and you'll have a great time reading it - so what's not to love?

Unsure if you'd like the book? That 'Sample' button on Kindle can  be incredibly tempting, I know, but don't use it. Just press 'Buy'. It's only £1.02, and 35p of that will go towards the supplements that my friend's brother really needs. So be nice, and buy it. And if you really like it (hooray!) then you can buy the full sequel (that was written first...) here. There was a stage play of that, locally, last year, and it was amazing. It's had great reviews, and they're all correct. The stories really are wonderful. I can remember my friend telling us all in Primary School that his dad had written a book. I thought it was tremendously exciting - and it still is.

(So... any chance of a sequel/second prequel/future short story? I hope so.)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Elementary | Season One

"Can you believe they're making an American Sherlock? They're going to ruin it." A paraphrase of the first words between me and fellow friend/geek Jake on the discovery that Elementary had been commissioned.

Next thing we know, the series has been made, Jake has seen the first few episodes - and he tells me it's awesome. He sees Jonny Lee Miller is great, a female Watson (which me and Jake had thought of for our own fan Sherlock series some months before) worked excellently and the whole series was one I should watch.

Except I can't get the series on my TV. At all.

So - on seeing the DVD in HMV just after Christmas, I bought it! And in just under a month I've worked through the whole of Series One (so for those of you who are miles ahead and need reminding - I know who Moriarty is, but Mycroft hasn't turned up yet).

It is amazing. It is, fundamentally, an American crime series, and so shares many similarities with other American crime series. But it needs wonderful lead characters to make it stand out and feel different - and Elementary has those. Miller is an amazing Sherlock Holmes. He is a real person (you could argue Cumberbatch's portrayal has, unavoidably, become more of a caricature of his own character) and the huge series gives the writers, actors and audience a chance to explore and learn more about him. Admittedly, character growth is fairly limited - as you would probably expect with Holmes. The episodes take place over about ten weeks in all, I imagine. But Sherlock doesn't need to grow. He is challenged enough, and he's always portrayed amazingly by Miller.

Joan Watson is a character who goes through a lot of growth. She changes careers from sober companion to Sherlock companion - and, wisely, that isn't a decision that happens in a moment. It grows, giving a new look on the Holmes/Watson relationship, and allowing both characters and their relationships to be explored. Watson is portrayed fantastically by Lucy Lui, and to see Watson becoming more confident (and also more challenged) is great. She lives a proper life, that is intrinsically linked with Holmes'. She differs completely from Martin Freeman's Watson - which is good. Anyone who expects this to be a conventional Sherlock Holmes series, or anything like Sherlock, is wrong. And that's a good thing.

Captain Gregson and Detective Bell are also great characters - Gregson especially gets some great moments. Punching Sherlock in the stomach is definitely one of them. It's hard to explain M and the Moriarty storyline without giving everything away - and so I'll come back to it under the Spoilers heading later.

Other good things about the series: episodes flow well, referencing previous events, and often showing the impact of stories over a long period of time. Sherlock's deductions aren't always perfect, the episodes always have a twist, however minor, within them, and the characters are written consistently well. The other great moments are that the series references Holmes stories more and more as it goes along. A Milverton blackmail story and references to Thor Bridge were great thrills.

Notable episodes are: the Pilot, Child Predator [a really dark story], Lesser Evils, Dirty Laundry, M., A Giant Gun Filled With Drugs, Possibility Two and Risk Management.

I was slightly disappointed, and this is the only occasion, with the finale. For me, it felt like the revelations could never quite do justice to the story we've been following, and certain scenes ended up falling a bit flat...


One of the scenes that falls a bit flat is the flashback to when Sherlock and The Woman meet for the first time. Sherlock's interest in her seems misplaced, and since Irene is such an important character, it feels a shame that these scenes were left to slip - and indeed, were shown at all. A mystery would be much better. To reveal Irene is still alive wasn't an overall shock, but it would have worked if the characters and the relationship was handled slightly better over the last two episodes. The revelation of who Moriarty was also a bit unsurprising, but handled well once we knew.

The series did need something more dramatic. After all this time with the Irene story, her return needed to be more punchy (though the revelation that she might be working for Moriarty was great). There needed to be a 'Reichenbach Fall' moment between Irene and Sherlock - although perhaps that wouldn't have been as intimate as the end scene ultimately was. I just expected a bit more excitement.


Overall, the series has been amazing. I look forward to eventually seeing Series Two, and Mycroft, and the further development of Holmes and Watson. They have a great pairing, well written and well acted, and it is a joy to watch them drive a series that brings so much more to Sherlock Holmes than perhaps any other series has.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Time of the Doctor | Review

I'm going to write two reviews; one written after my first watch, and one written after my second watch, and both will be on this blog entry. It'll be interesting, for me if no one else, to see how my opinion changes, if at all.

There is more to this opinion - but basically, I was disappointed.

I spent the whole episode waiting for it to pick up, waiting for a big, dramatic moment - and nothing happened. It's a hell of a lot of story, but to me it feels like they only chose to show us the boring bits of this epic battle. We saw a few explosions later on - but explosions don't make action or excitement. Especially when they happen rapidly, in the tiny space of Christmas village. The whole setting felt too claustrophobic, too dark. The tone of the episode jumped from Star Wars to arc wrapping to the Fiftieth Anniversary Part II to oh we're regenerating Matt now to oh - he has a new cycle. There was too much happening, with all the focus on the wrong bits.

I could make a list including the things I didn't like.. but I won't. Personally, I just felt let down. Matt should have been given so much more. The episode had some wonderful moments as an homage to his era, and it was great that the arcs were tied up. The Five Doctors reference was arguably the best thing about the episode, and Matt blowing up the Daleks was really quite epic. But all of these good moments were surrounded by mediocre plot and a slow pace. The constant jumping back and forward to Earth felt like a poor parody of The Parting of the Ways. The Daleks had suddenly become the main bad guys for no apparent reason and the whole episode just felt all over the place. My second viewing might change that. I think the first time I was distracted by how slow the episode was going.

The arcs, when resolved, were done in quite a boring way. There was lots of sitting and talking, which wasn't enough to accompany the few stand out, touching moments. People didn't like The Rings of Akhaten because the pace was all over the place - well at least that had a properly big ending. That's what this episode needed. It attempted to emulate the ending of Akhaten (even to the song) - but Matt's speech wasn't quite enough. It didn't help that I'd heard three of his lines before he regenerated already, and that was on Twitter, not even a spoiler site.

I loved that the Time Lords were behind the cracks - that was great. But - the scary Silence Will Fall voice in Series 5 once again came to nothing. The episode so nearly picked up to good moments, only to drop every single time.

I feel disappointed for Matt. I hope he loved it, and enjoyed it, and the episode really did feel like a goodbye to Matt Smith the actor. But it didn't feel like a goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor, or any Doctor.. at all.

Lots of people have used the word 'rushed', but then changed their mind the second time. I might do that. Cos I felt the rush, the episode did change and jump far too much, an extension of the idea that there was too much story.

My Dad said that the episode ended with a 'whimper' not a 'bang'. I have to say, I agree. It was good for Matt - but not for the Doctor, and I wanted so so much more from the episode.

(I could go on to criticise the rubbish characterisation of Tasha Lem and some other things, but I better leave it there.)

Just before I go - a couple of things about the last five minutes. They were beautiful. I have watched those twice already (sorry, cheated), but Matt's speech was really touching. Capaldi's arrival was less sudden second time, and much better second time. But the first time I saw it I was so dragged down in 'oh is that it?' that it didn't have quite the necessary impact.


So, the second watch is done and... I have mixed feelings.

I shared those mixed feelings with Twitter as I watched, mainly treating it as my notepad so I didn't forget all the points I thought of. I'm going to use what I said to piece together my review here.

The first nine minutes are good. They're a good, standard set up for a Christmas episode and they loosely promise that some good stuff is coming up. Of course, it doesn't really. The Papal Mainframe is probably the first sign of things being a bit not good, in terms of the episode. Tasha Lem seems to be written as a replacement for River Song (she was meant to be in it, apparently) but if this is the case, then it appears barely any of the dialogue was changed from character to character. And if this wasn't the case - then that's worse, because it proves that female characters have to be flirty, if written by Steven Moffat. (Though he did make two exceptions with Kate Stewart and Osgood in the Fiftieth, which must have been written on a really good day.)

So, the Papal Mainframe turn up, just missing the Star Wars soundtrack they need to complete the space-opera-epic look they're going for. The idea of the Space Church is really good - but it feels a bit weird. It feels as if we're meant to know loads about it... and we don't. Or we've forgotten. The Silence's purpose makes a lot of sense - but then the menace that they have in their Series Six story has been lost completely. When they appeared in this episode I felt a thrill - I really quite like the Silence. But they were wasted. An episode just about them would have made a lot more sense. As I said before - who said the Daleks were suddenly the big bad guys? This Doctor's hardly faced them - and what happened to the redesigned Daleks?! It annoys me that out of all the things Moffat has listened to from fans - he chose one that's had just as much divided opinion as a lot of his era has.

A story with the Weeping Angels would have worked too, as they, although slightly overused now, are probably the closest to Matt's main bad guys.

It was good to see the crack in the wall back, but the revelation scenes still felt slow. The problem is that the action in the episode, however many times I watch it, will still be slow, uneventful and not quite right. I pointed out on Twitter that "in between when the Doctor leaves Dalek-Tasha Lem and leaves in the TARDIS was the perfect place for action and a plot". The action needed to happen here - and instead we cut to a scene on the TARDIS (which the episode implies is still on the planet, although we know it's on the Papal Mainframe ship). This episode is really a huge story with all the boring bits shown. "Boring" is a tad unfair, and some moments (eg The Drunk Giraffe, and the scenes with Barnable) were good first time and better second time. But opportunities for this huge battle we were meant to have were missed. The setting feels wrong for that, and for the whole arc.

It still feels, even though I'm (believe it or not) a bit more positive about the episode, as if Matt's arc and era haven't got what they deserve.

"The last 10 minutes are the best," I said on Twitter, "Just a shame the action and excitement, or indeed emotion, weren't at that level throughout." That sums it up pretty much. Matt's proper regeneration moment is stunning, if again slightly oppressed by the setting, which is too dark and too claustrophobic. Yet at the same time - it's too nice. There's no menace in this episode.

Ultimately, I don't know what I'd give the episode out of ten. It was possibly the only episode of New Who I've watched that I've felt bored through on the first watch. I completely tuned out when Handles (who I'm not as fond of as everyone else seems to be) died. The second time I made myself watch that scene - and Matt is good in it, of course, but I can't remember much about it. The episode is just a bit too all over the place and still a bit too slow.

I hope that Capaldi is written good, not lazily. I have my fingers crossed, very tightly.

The Time of the Doctor is never going to be near one of my favourites, but then The End of Time and The Parting of the Ways aren't either. People often say that opening episodes are the hardest to write - well, maybe it's the endings.

PS The episode really needed the Doctor to be young all the way through and in tweed, so it properly felt like the Eleventh Doctor was leaving.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Christmas Chill | Short Story

 I wrote this last year, and rereading it this year, I discovered that it's probably better (in my eyes) than a lot of stuff I've written recently. So here it is, a nice, depressing, cynical short story for Christmas, with a weird ending. Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a wonderful and peaceful Christmas. (Basically, the opposite of this story.)

To most humans, it was a time of celebration. Humanity went about their daily business with an added frivolity, an added sarcasm, an added smile that wasn't needed, and occasionally an added smile that was. Relatives and in-laws arrived with presents, and the presents arrived with annoyance after being taken from house to house in the same bag, and building up the hopes of all the other sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and cousins twice and thrice removed that the relatives and in-laws had visited. “Oh no!” The relatives and in-laws would joke. “These aren't for you, it's a very big family y'know!” And then follow this with a laugh that seemed patronising to the little seven year olds who had opened the more exciting and less-sock shaped present in the bag was theirs.

But they were content when they opened their socks.

This celebration was called Christmas. It had been called Christmas by the pagans, and called Christmas by the religious, and called Xmas by all those too lazy to call it Christmas, and agreed that X was a perfectly acceptable abbreviation for Christ. For weeks now, everyone had been readying themselves and trying to get into the festive spirit. Perfectly beautiful landscapes that were untouched became touched by tinsel and occasionally graffiti that coupled the word 'Christmas' with an expletive. Choirs would walk from door to door – singing as soon as the door was even a centimetre away from it's closed position, rather than asking the owner of the house if they would like to hear their singing first. The aforementioned relatives and in-laws would spend most of Christmas in their cars and with their dogs that none of the other members of the family liked, but would receive comments of “we couldn't leave him at home” as the dirtied boots of these rarely seen relatives entered the front door. When their present giving and relative-touring was done, the relatives would return home (with their dog, thankfully) and allow the canine to open their presents for them, not long after a suspiciously dad-shaped Santa had placed them underneath the tree.

On this particular Christmas, a young man was walking home. He had his coat wrapped tightly around him in the cold, and the cold had it's long talons out to scratch any exposed piece of flesh. This was currently only the young man's face, and his cheeks turned red as the talons continued circling themselves on the surface of his skin. The young man, on his walk home from the local town, had been asked by six charities to donate money, and each time he had refused. He wished to, but his pockets were empty, and his wallet had become a rescue shelter for moths, so he simply shook his head and muttered his apologies, and continued his walk towards his home.

Somewhere on his walk home, the young man had noticed the talons of the cold had grown longer, and now seemed to be slipping round his waist and his legs. A further chill had been brought over his body. He had been distracted from it at first, as relatives and in-laws had been coming out of a series of houses near where he lived and had insisted on making some kind of conversation with him about trivial matters. Yes it was cold tonight. He would have preferred to have been in the warm and not making small talk about it. When he was alone, and focussing on the warmth that awaited him at his parent's home (as he had lost his own flat due to a lack of money and an increase in the moth population three months earlier), he felt colder.

It didn't bother him, until the chill started to increase even more. As if someone was not just walking over his grave, but tap dancing on it to music played from large stereo speakers attacked to the gravestone. The chill vibrated inside him, as if it was alive.

If it was alive, then it shall be killed by the heat, thought the young man, as he saw the rooftop of his parent's home appear out of the darkness and the navy sky. Yet the chill did not want to be vanquished – and it increased it's grip on the young man. It felt sentient, growing up the flesh inside his shirt, spreading to him, spreading down his legs, spreading inside him. Then his muscles started to ache, and he found his throat growing colder as he took a breath. He took another breath, and his temperature decreased further.
Then it seemed to reach his heart. The young man was forced to stop walking but the temperature, he rubbed his hands together to try and warm them up, but they only seemed to grow colder. In the distance, the young man could see lights and sound and people – reality. Reality was tempting him, but it was too far away. The young man was shivering uncontrollably.

The cold finally got too much for him – and no one, no relatives, in-laws, or friends, noticed.