Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Other Villains

If you are a fan of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' smash hit and bloody wonderful updated Holmes series, Sherlock, you may know by now that the identity of the show's next nemesis has been revealed. Charles Augustus Magnussen will be played by Lars Mikkelsen, the Danish star of such hit shows as The Killing and brother of fellow veteran villain Mads Mikkelsen who starred opposite Daniel Craig in bond film 'Casino Royale' and is the title character in the Hannibal series.  
Following on from the brilliant Moriarty who met his apparent demise in the series two finale (he shot himself in the head but Sherlock survived a close encounter with a pavement so who knows!), there's much pressure on Mikkelsen and the production team to create a villain as effective and memorable as Andrew Scott's dangerous beegee-loving lunatic but let's hope Moffat and Gatiss' Midas touch continues.They are certainly sticking to their golden rule, to remain close to Conan Doyle's originals, as Mikkelsen will presumably be playing a modern version of Charles Augustus Milverton, the Master Blackmailer, who was such a formidable foe for the Great Detective that the one story he appears in was named after him
The choice to take another villain from the canon rather than create a totally new one shows that although Holmes' most famous adversary has bit the dust, Sherlock has still got a lot of mileage left in terms of who Baker Street's Finest can be pitted against. Here's a list of some Conan Doyle creations who could be great inspirations for further villains in the series - and may well be already set to appear. 

Dr Grimseby Roylott
Roylott is the devious doctor from 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band', one of Conan Doyle's barmiest and best short stories. Possessing a menagerie of exotic animals including a cheetah and a baboon, Roylott aims to get his hands on his stepdaughter's fortune by attempting to murder them with a deadly swamp adder snake - until Sherlock Holmes gets on the case! Moffat has stated that 'Speckled Band' is his favourite Holmes adventure and would apparently love to adapt it sometime. In that case, it seems highly plausible that sometime in the future we may see a modern version of Roylott on screen. An updated take on the story appears on John Watson's blog titled 'The Speckled Blonde', after a joke made on screen in 'A Scandal in Belgravia.' Who knows, they could adapt the adaptation...

Von Bork

As the story that this no-gooder appears in, 'His Last Bow' - Sherlock Holmes' finale case before he retires - is to be updated as series three's finale, 'His Last Vow', it is very possible we could see the scheming German agent brought to life. Sherlock's valedictory case (before he goes off to keep bees on the Sussex Downs, trivia fans) sees Holmes turn spy to thwart Von Bork from feeding military information to his home country on the eve of World War One. As it has now been revealed that Magnussen is the big cheese this series, he will likely be the star of the series finale but Von Bork could still make an appearance in a secondary role. Moffat, who is writing the episode, would certainly have fun revamping Von Bork's story, quite particular to its time period, to the 21st century. 

Colonel Sebastian Moran

Colonel Moran must be a dead cert to appear in Sherlock this year, and a fine villain he shall be. The antagonist of 'The Empty House' (to be updated as 'The Empty Hearse' this series by Mark Gatiss'), Moran is out for revenge on the recently-resurrected Holmes (having survived his fight with Moriarty atop the Reichenbach Falls). The reason - he's Moriarty's right hand man and the second most dangerous man in London after the pernicious professor. Moran's such a well-known figure from the canon to Holmes fans, Moffat and Gatiss surely couldn't help themselves but slot him into the series. 

The Giant Rat of Sumatra

Yes, a rat can't technically be a villain but going by the concept alone I thinks it is safe to say that the enigmatic rodent would stray into antagonistic territory. The centre of the Holmes canon's most well-known 'lost' story (unchronicled adventures of Holmes and Watson's that Conan Doyle only hinted at), a great deal of people would love to see the Rat finally realised on the small screen. Plus, many have already got their hopes up thanks to the clues to this year's episodes that were released last year; 'Rat. Wedding. Bow.' The Giant Rat and whatever adventure that revolves around it for which, 'the world is yet to be prepared' for would make an excellent and unexpected addition to Sherlock series three. Oh, please Mr Moffat, Mr Gatiss, I think the world is more than prepared now. Maybe a shock twist will be that Magnussen will turn into a giant rat. You heard it here first, folks.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Best of the Master

Every hero needs a nemesis. Just as Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty, Superman has Lex Luthor and the teletubbies have those tyrannical speaker things that come out the ground and dictate their lives (I think I remember that right), the Doctor has the Master. Both are Time Lords, higher beings who should not be interfering in the affairs of other worlds yet do so for their own very different reasons; the Doctor seeks knowledge of, and more often than not save, the universe, the Master seeks to control it. For over forty years and across numerous actors, the Doctor and the Master have battled in incidents involving everything from the fate of the entirety of reality to whether or not the Magna Carta will be signed. Whatever the occasion, though, the pair are inseparable and absolutely need the other one to define themselves by. The Master, full of greed, is the perfect antidote to the Doctor, full of compassion, making him one of Doctor Who's most enduring characters. Here are some of his most masterful moments. Go on, or do I have to hypnotise you to read on...

'I am the Master and you will obey me!'

The Master first appeared in 1971's 'Terror of the Autons' against Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor and instantly makes an impression. We find ourselves in a seemingly innocuous circus - and we all know that circuses in fiction are rarely charming, harmless places - when, shock of shocks, a TARDIS arrives in the shape of a horse box and out walks a man in black suit and goatee, and soon hypnotises someone to do his bidding. From the off, the Master is a force to be reckoned with, the brilliant Roger Delgado immediately nailing the brand of suave, understated villainy that his Master is known for. Doctor Who would never be the same again.


While you might expect all of the Master's best moments to involve scheming or instigating a great big evil plot, here's a great little gem from 1973's 'The Sea Devils' which illustrates a side to the character rarely seen. Imprisoned in Stangmoor island prison, the Master is watching children's television show, the Clangers, on the television and comments to his jailer Colonel Trenchard that they are 'an interesting extra-terrestrial life-form.' The gullible Trenchard completely missing the joke states that they are just puppets. It's a tiny moment but not only demonstrates that even the Master likes to have a joke now and again but is also the fiendish felon testing Trenchard's mental prowess and how easy it will be for him to bend the man to his will later on. Genius.

Merging with Tremas

Sadly in 1974, Roger Delgado died in a car crash, causing the character to be put on hold for several years. It wasn't until many year's later that he returned as an emaciated figure, thirsty for revenge and a way of rejuvenating himself. In 'The Keeper of Traken' (1981) he finally got just that. After failing to take the Doctor's own body, the desperate Master (Geoffrey Beevers) takes possession of the Doctor's friend Nyssa's father, Tremas (have a read of that name again...) played by Anthony Ainley who would face off against Doctors Four, Five, Six and Seven, plus others retroactively in the 20th anniversary special. Speaking of which...

'A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.'

In the star-studded nonsensical birthday party that is 'The Five Doctors', amongst all the stuff about finding the secret of immortality in the fabled Dark Tower on Gallifrey is a scene where the Time Lord council asks the Master - of all people - to rescue the Doctor from the deadly, er, Death Zone. At first it seems an odd choice, but as he delivers the line above you realise that the Master would actually miss his ultimate foe. The Third Doctor once called them best enemies, and here you can see that clearly. It seems a nemesis needs a hero too...

'Or as I've always known him the Doctor...'

1986's 'Trial of a Time Lord' may be a whopping fourteen episodes long but it does at least have the odd absolute cracker of a moment; the best of which involves the appearance of the Master in the penultimate episode. As the Doctor's case isn't going very well at all thanks to the unscrupulous prosecutor, the Valeyard, the Master buts in for no real reason other than just to throw a spanner in the works. Apparently working on the Doctor's side, he reveals that the Valeyard is in fact a villainous future incarnation of the Doctor! This is no doubt a great twist in the story but is also a brilliant moment for the Master as it is just so characteristic of Ainley's portrayal. While Delgado was smooth and urbane, this Master is a trickster and seems to like concocting any diabolical scheme, no matter how harebrained, for the sole aim of making trouble. Just what he's doing here!

'If we fight like animals, we die like animals!' 

The last ever Who story of the original run, 'Survival' is a fabulous piece that sees the Doctor's companion, Ace find out her friends are being taken to a faraway world and are transforming into cheetah people. Also marooned there is the Master, himself becoming more animalistic the longer he stays. At the climax of the story, both enemies are becoming effected by the planet and engage in a savage fight as the world dies around them. Stripped of their intelligence, its fascinating to the see the Doctor and the Master's raw spite for each other come out until the Doctor composes himself enough to get away. Not a bad way to end.

'I always drezzz for the occasion!' 

Except it didn't really end. In 1996 Doctor Who was brought back for one night only in a British/American co-produced TV movie with Paul McGann as the Doctor and Eric Roberts as the Master. At his most vengeful, the Master is again dying and, having trapped the Doctor in his own TARDIS while Earth is beginning to fall apart, is about to take the Doctor's lives for his own. But first, the Master changes into something more fitting for the occasion. This is another one of those scenes that nails the Master; while also being unutterably evil and irrevocably insane, the Master is also very camp. There's something inherently over-the-top about him and this scene is one of the campest across all his lives.

'The Master Reborn'

When the show was rejuvenated it took until 2007's 'Utopia' for the Master to return - but it was well worth the wait. Hiding at the end of the universe, it turns out that kindly old human, Professor Yana, is actually the Master in a disguise that fooled even himself. Taking the Doctor's TARDIS, the dying Master swears that if the Doctor can be 'young and free' than so can he before regenerating into a new body. The last few moments of this episode on first viewing are some of the most exciting of the revived series. Derek Jacobi is superb at turning his performance from bumbling and absent-minded to oozing evil and the first glimpses of John Simm's bundle of murderous energy leave us wanting more. Thankfully, we got that the very next week...

'I refuse...'

Despite ruling over the Earth for a year, while keeping an aged Doctor in a birdcage, 'The Last of the Time Lords' sees the Master defeated and all his efforts undone (let's not get into it here). And as if things aren't bad enough for the poor guy, his wife shoots him. In the Doctor's arms, the Master realises the only way that he can win; by refusing to regenerate and dying. Earlier I mentioned how we had seen how much the Doctor meant to the Master, here we see it the other way around. As the Doctor sobs and cradles his enemy, he is not so much grieving over the loss of the Master per se but more at losing the last remnant of his homeworld other than himself. He was once again alone in the universe.


When the Tenth Doctor's own death knell tolled in 2010's 'The End of Time: Part Two' the Master had to be involved. The Time Lords have returned and, obsessed with survival are planning to bring about the end of time itself (and, yes, that does make sense). Their link to Earth is the Master, the sound of drums in his head, the cause of his life-long madness, is a signal that connects the time-locked Gallifrey to the present-day. While the Doctor is about to be killed by Rassilon, the Time Lord president, the Master intervenes. Full of revenge for what they've done to him, he attacks the Time Lords and disappears with them back into the Time War. After all the years of fighting, the Master and the Doctor act on the same side against a bigger evil. Could his final act be his own sacrifice? Somehow I think he still out there in the Whoniverse somewhere. Up to his old tricks...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Monthly Mini-Reviews: June

Welcome to another line-up of mini-reviews for your reading pleasure! First up, stretching the definition of what this monthly feature is for, here's a look at something I attended recently...

Return to the Eleventh Hour

Over the weekend I went to my second Doctor Who convention and am pleased to say it was as enjoyable as the first. Whereas the previous one I went to was a celebration of Russel T Davies' Who, featuring guests such as David Tennant and Billie Piper, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd from Torchwood and Anjli Mohindra from the Sarah Jane Adventures this one was largely dedicated to the Matt Smith era - with two of the headline guests being Madame Vastra and Jenny themselves, Neve Mcintosh and Catrin Stewart. Plus, it seems just because the organisers could, Catherine Tate was also there!
The guests (of which these names are just a selection) were all extremely nice, funny people and my fellow conventioners were also very friendly, coming from a variety of places from across the world. At one point, Karen Gillan was attached to appear at the convention and while I can't deny, as a big Amy Pond fan, that her attendance would have been brilliant, Catherine Tate stole the show all on her own, being incredibly warm and inviting  - and hilarious. Her Q and A session that wrapped up the weekend must be the highlight of the convention. However, close in second place must be the unexpected surprise of Simon Fisher Becker, who played the wily and blue Dorium Maldovar in a string of appearance in the show recently, slipping into character at the event's closing ceremony - as a life-long Doctor Who obsessive himself, he knows what the fans like.

The Dark Knight Returns

For the third year of my Creative Writing degree, I'm studying graphic novels (I know, university's a grueling thing, really) and so in preparation I decided to read that bastion of comic book greats, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns which sees an old Bruce Wayne come out of retirement to clear up Gotham City once and for all. As a fan of the bat from mainly his many forays onto the small and silver screens, it's interesting to read the comic from which both Tim Burton's and Christopher Nolan's film adaptations were inspired. However, none of the films have gone as far as this in its depiction of violence and a very amoral Dark Knight. Personally, I prefer my Batman a little more heroic and the story's primary villains, the Mutants, have none of the show and iconography of many of Batman's other enemies. Having said that, you have to admire Miller's ambition and confidence to take Batman's world and make it his own.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World 
While it is not a superb film, I was left rather fond of this unusual genre-bending sort-of romcom when I saw it for the first time this month. An asteroid is set to hit Earth and while the rest of the world lives it's way to oblivion, Steve Carrel is sitting around, moping after his wife has left him  - until quirky Keira Knightley drops into his life and the pair end up on a road trip to tie up loose threads before the end of the world. It's an intriguing spin on both romantic comedies in general and the usual presentation of the apocalypse; the film explores just how different people really would react if the end was nigh. Although I am not totally convinced by the film's climax, it's lightly funny and occasionally touching and I would recommend a watch, though it might not be good enough to feature on one of those 'films to watch before the world ends'-type of lists.

Top Five Fictional Sidekicks

To tie in to my upcoming mini-blogathon concerning favourite fictional characters, I thought I would follow on from my previous post, Top Five Fictional Characters With No Name, with a list of the best sidekicks from fiction. A hero is nothing without a loyal trusty sidekick who will never leave their side - as I, a humble blogger, am nothing without readers. So do read on and discover a few of the most loyal and trustiest sidekicks of them all.

Appeared in: the Blackadder series, played by Tony Robinson

It's a staple of comedy that the main character will have a bumbling idiotic sidekick and the fiendish Edmund Blackadder's servant through the ages, Baldrick, is the epitome of the stereotype. As with the best double acts, Baldrick is a perfect foil for his wily master; with a brain not big enough to be spread over a small water biscuit, he often tries to aid Blackadder in his schemes with a 'cunning plan' that always fails to live up to the promise. On a side note, if you're not familiar with the Blackadder series it's the Shakespeare of television comedy and is a clever as a fox that's been made professor of clever at Oxford University.

Ron and Hermione
Appeared in: the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling and film series, played by Rupert Grint and Emma Watson

We're all familiar with these two. That boy wizard in the glasses would surely have never made it through all the magical mayhem if it were not for his infallible friends. Both are likeable characters; while Hermione is the intelligent one, Ron is generally seen as the comedy sidekick thanks to the character's presentation in the films (though Rupert Grint does a great job, particularly in The Deathly Hallows: Part One) but he is more fleshed-out in the books. As with everything in Rowling's stories, Ron and Hermione come from familiar moulds but the moulds work well, hence why they are moulds in the first place. Moulds.

Nick Carraway
Appeared in: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When thinking of classic sidekicks one's mind doesn't necessarily jump to the narrator of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. However, I'm fond of Carraway (not neccesarily Tobey Macguire's film version, although I didn't dislike him as others did) and find his friendship with Gatsby rather Holmesian/Watsonian. Like many other classic sidekicks, we see the hero of the story through Nick's eyes; while Gatsby is the star of the novel, Carraway, his closest friend, is an equally well-fleshed out character who contrasts and compliments the protagonist. Definitely a sidekick. A great sidekick.

Sarah Jane Smith
Appeared in: Doctor Who, the Sarah Jane Adventures and K-9 and Company, played by Elisabeth Sladen

In its illustrious fifty-year history, Doctor Who has featured many beloved sidekicks, or companions as we fans call them, for everyone's favourite eccentrically-dressed, Sonic Screwdriver-using alien. But of them all, Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith is the most treasured; a character that every companion created since is measured up to. An intelligent, adventurous journalist, Sarah was the star of her own popular spin-off show (that was only cancelled upon the event of Sladen's untimely passing) and, like the Brigadier, has worked with multiple Doctors. Sarah Jane is simply the Doctor's greatest friend.

Dr Watson
Appeared in: the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and numerous film and TV adaptations and literary pastiches

In a list of the greatest fictional sidekicks, who else could take the top spot over Baker Street's finest doctor, chronicler and moustache-spotter, Sherlock Holmes' right-hand man, Dr John (sometimes James, but let's not get into that now) Watson? He is everything the hero's best friend should be; an everyman to contrast with the hero's extraordinary nature but also with a streak of brilliance to be of aid to the hero. Together with Holmes he is known for being one half of the greatest friendship in literature but even by himself Dr Watson is one of the most popular and enduring characters fiction has ever produced.
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