Friday, 23 November 2012

Countdown to Doctor Who at 50: The Tenth Doctor

Happy birthday, Doctor Who; you're forty-nine years old today! To celebrate let's continue my countdown through all the Doctors, which has reached its penultimate stop with the brilliant Tenth Doctor. Allons-y!

I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm 903 years old, and I'm the man who's gonna save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?
                                                                              The Doctor (David Tennant)

After Doctor Who became one of the biggest shows on television once again with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor for one wonderful swift year, the pressure was all on his successor. If he wasn't well-received the show's popularity might have dwindled as quickly as it rose. However, this was not the case as upcoming actor David Tennant was chosen to be the Tenth Doctor. With Tennant in the lead, Doctor Who continued to grow and grow in public adoration and perhaps enjoyed its most popular period up to that point. As a sign of how successful Tennant's Doctor was it could be argued that he has replaced Tom Baker in the public consciousness as 'Doctor Who.' If that isn't success I don't know what is.

Just from first glance, the Tenth Doctor is straight away very different from previous Doctors. Clad in pinstriped suit, converse trainers and 'sticky-uppy' hair, he's a younger, more modern character who might reference Kylie Minogue (and meet her) rather than Shakespeare (although he met him too). Underneath though, he's still the Doctor we know and love, the genial, lively persona which hides a kind yet lonely soul, one that still bears his predecessor's survivor's guilt. In fact, he was a Doctor who perhaps cared more than any other; taking deaths to innocents personally and refusing to give evil-doers second chances. As his own life continued and he lost so much along the way, his righteous side was shown more often until he had to face his inner - as well as external - demons when the whole of time itself was threatened and the Doctor once again put others before himself. In many ways, then, the Tenth Doctor is a coming-together of traits from all the previous Doctors - the Fourth's manic energy, the Fifth's vulnerability, the Eighth's love for life - but he was also a lot more human, allowing the weight of the world to get to him. Effected, maybe, by his many human companions...

Shop girl, Rose Tyler, whom had been travelling with him since his previous regeneration, was particularly special to this Doctor. The inseparable pair shared several adventures in which their fondness for each other grew until they were forced apart. When an Earth-shattering even occurred involving a Dalek/Cybermen war, Rose became trapped on a parallel world. While Rose's loss left a huge shadow over the Doctor, he did have other companions to see the universe with such as Martha Jones, a trainee Doctor who saved the Doctor's own life on numerous occasions, and Chiswick girl Donna Noble, the most important woman in the whole of creation. As other friends included Captain Jack, Mickey Smith, Jackie Tyler, Lady Christina, Jackson Lake, Adelaide Brooke and Donna's own grandfather Wilfred Mott, Sarah Jane Smith was not lying when she said that this Doctor had 'the biggest family on Earth.'

The Ones to Watch


Rightly seen as one of Who's greatest episodes, this is a gripping, creepy and funny mini-movie that, although others have been Doctor-lite, feels unique in the history of the show. Carey Mulligan becomes the show's lead for forty-five minutes and pulls it off brilliantly.

The Stolen Earth/ Journey's End

Series Four's two-parter finale is a great big, throw-everything-in party celebrating the Russel T Davies era of the show. You not only have every companion of the Tenth Doctor but also a humongous load of Daleks plus their creator, Davros! Sure, it isn't the tightest plot line Who's ever had but it includes an excellent cliffhanger and a heart-breaking exit for Donna.

The Waters of Mars

A fascinating and rather bleak episode from the tail-end of the the Tenth Doctor's time, 'Waters...' sees the Doctor on a doomed Martian base which he can't save from destruction without breaking the laws of time. Lindsey Duncan is excellent as the captain of the base while it includes perhaps the Doctor's biggest ever character development...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Elementary, My Dear Bloggers

Although it's already been on screens both sides of the Atlantic for several weeks now, hang up your deerstalkers and grab your 'I<3 NYC' caps as today I'm taking a look at the US' take on a modern-day Sherlock Holmes...

I've known what to expect from Elementary for ages. When I first heard that an American version of Sherlock was to be made I was less than thrilled - as I was of the opinion that it would be a mere diluted copy of the original. As time went on, however, it became clear that Elementary was going to take Sherlock Holmes to somewhere different; literally, by being set in New York and figuratively, by having a female Watson.
As a Holmesian, I wasn't best pleased with the changes but I tried to reserve my judgement till after I had seen the show.

Now I have seen it, it's time to unleash it.

Firstly, Elementary is not as good as Sherlock. This isn't a harsh criticism as not many shows (if any) are and I wasn't expecting it to be. Instead, Elementary is a decent police procedural drama and seems quite happy being so. Comparing both shows does neither justice but I'm going to do so anyway.
Whereas Cumberbatch's Sherlock has great, big adventures involving royal scandals, giant dogs and dramatic falls, Lee Miller's rendition is a specialist in homicide, as Captain Gregson tells us in the pilot, working with the police to bring killers behind bars. Clearly then, Elementary's plots are a lot less puzzlebox than a Sherlock but they are still enjoyable if you enjoy those sort of story lines. (In one episode involving a serial killer known as the Balloon Man, I felt a little short-changed that I saw all the twists coming before Holmes himself did but I'll forgive that.)

However, as with all these crime dramas, its the lead characters that make the show different so Elementary's success very much relies on how well Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui perform as the intrepid investigators. In my opinion, its half-and-half.
Lucy Lui doesn't do it for me as Watson. While not actually against the transformation of the good Doctor to a woman, I feel, in this case, it has had the effect of reducing the character. While Martin Freeman of course has the role of surrogate audience figure who is there to react in shock at the great detective, he also gets a clear character, a brave ex-soldier who craves the adventure as much as Sherlock. Lui's Watson doesn't have this development. By taking out the traditional parts of the doctor's character, little is put in its place apart from a unexplored back story concerning her failure to save a patient on the operating table. It's a strange thing to apply to a character the audience is supposed to automatically side with and is not what is needed.
On the other hand, as an admirer of his performance(s) alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle's Frankenstein stage play, I was already predisposed to like Jonny Lee Miller in the role. Thankfully, what I've seen has confirmed this hope, as he gives an enjoyable turn in the role . Without the ice and arrogance of Cumberbatch and the original, his Holmes is a man with all the intellectual prowess you would expect but also, as we are forthrightly told in the pilot by Watson, a deep-down longing to understand people.To demonstrate a difference between the two, after discovering a dead body from one of his deductions Lee Miller says 'sometimes I hate it when I'm right' - something I can't imagine being said by Sherlock's Sherlock. On the whole, I think Lee Miller has delivered a quirky, engaging character - I just don't see him as Sherlock Holmes. Which leads nicely in to my next point.

While I can take the more ordinary crime plots and the fuzzy characterisation, my main gripe with Elementary is how 'unHolmesian' it is. Its starved of references to the canon so much they seem to have a strict quota of 'one nod per episode' as the pilot revealed that Holmes kept bees while another episode focused on his erratic sleeping pattern. During the episodes, I was crying out for any sign that what I was watching was Sherlock Holmes. Not much came.
Also, the two leads are so far removed from their literary counterparts they might as well be different characters. Even their dynamic has changed. While the originals are best friends, pure and simple, Elementary employs a needlessly complex relationship which sets Dr Watson up as Holmes' live-in sober companion to help him keep off his addictions. What would have been easier to swallow was if, as this reviewer suggested, they were meant to be descendants of the Victorian versions which would have allowed them their significant changes. As it stands, the writers will need to do some work to make them the inseparable duo Holmes and Watson should always be.

Overall, Elementary really isn't a bad show with a very good leading man, decent crime plots and is peppered with some gentle humour. To enjoy it most you need to dissociate it in your mind from both Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes in general. However, for this reviewer, as the main character is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, it's a hard thing to do.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Return of the Cybermen

Neil Gaiman's writing another Doctor Who episode! And it's going to feature the Cybermen! I'm sorry, I couldn't keep that in long enough to do a proper introduction. Yes, the wonderful Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed writer of everything from novels to graphic novels and last year's immensely amazing Doctor Who episode 'The Doctor's Wife s (read my previous post on Mr Gaiman's considerable talent here) has confirmed that his episode being filmed very soon will feature everyone's favourite silver cyborgs - and he's also promised '(he) will make the Cybermen scary again.'

As a fan of Gaiman's work (you probably didn't need me to point that out), the idea of another episode by him excites me but its even better news that the Cybermen will be involved. In every appearance of theirs since 2006's 'Army of Ghosts' they have been little else but stomping thugs who's heads often get blown off. Also, as some of the best moments, and indeed whole episodes, off Doctor Who are scary I'm all for bringing back scary Cybermen. 'The Pandorica Opens' in Series Five featured an terror-rific scene where Amy is attacked by a one-armed, rusting Cybermen with a mobile head that moves like a squid but, I feel, much of their power has been lost over the years.

Presumably, one of the main influences of this episode (the seventh of next year's run) is Patrick Troughton story 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' which is arguably the Cybermen at their creepiest; investigating some abandoned caves, the Doctor encounters dozens of slumbering Cybermen... who don't stay asleep for long. Apart from just being a fab story, it will be extra fun having a modern episode drawn from this one as Matt Smith has repeatedly said how much he enjoys the episode. That man has good taste.

The actual storyline is being kept safely under wraps - although perhaps not too safely as its been known that one actress working on the episode left her copy of  the script in a Cardiff taxi only for a loyal fan to find it and return it to the studios. Bad luck, Internet spoilerphiles. However, fans are still brimming with ideas. Many believe it will see the Cybermen completely redesigned but it looks like we'll have to wait and see...

For now, here's a picture (which I do not take credit for) of Neil Gaiman with a Weeping Angel. Don't look at it too long. And don't.. well, you know how it goes.

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