Monday, 30 June 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: June - TV Special

Continuing on with the resurrected Monthly Mini-Reviews feature, this time around there's a cornucopia of goggle-box-based goodies for you to feast your eyes on. In other, less purple, terms - it's the Monthly Mini-Review TV Special! First up, speaking of resurrections...

In The Flesh (Series Two)

After the cancellation of Being Human, I was left bereft over the lack of interesting supernatural dramas on British TV - for about a month, that is, as right around the corner came In The Flesh, another BBC Three show which had a similar melding of the monsters with the mundane. Set in a small Northern village after the Zombie Apocalypse, it saw Zombies (or Partially-Deceased Syndrome sufferers) return home, having been treated for their conditions, only to be met with prejudice and hostility.
The second series really comes into its own, expanding the mythology of the show and deepening the characters. Luke Newberry as the put-upon Kieran continues to be a talented find, ably supported by Emily Bevan as the (ironically) lively zombie Amy and the obligatory brooding Irishman (I'm thinking Being Human's Mitchell) in Emmett Scanlan's Simon.
Despite the impending death-knell of BBC Three itself, as the series has just won a BAFTA and has been met with positive responsive and garnered a strong fanbase, I suspect that this Zombie show won't be easy to kill off...

Penny Dreadful: 'Night Work'

Since hearing about the upcoming Victorian gothic series, helmed by John Logan and Sam Mendes (the writer-director team behind the recent excellent Bond film Skyfall) I've been very intrigued. And, although, I've only got around to watching the pilot episode so far I would say that intrigue was justified.
In its premise, it's a dark and heady blend of the 19th century's most famous macabre works, featuring Dr Frankenstein and his monster, Dorian Gray, a hunt for a vampiric Mina Murray and an Egyptian curse, however, whereas previous riffs on this idea, namely Van Helsing, went all-action, from what I've seen so far Penny Dreadful sees itself as a good old-fashioned supernatural soap opera.
The stonking, and positively Bond-laden cast, is headed by Eva Green as seer Vanessa Ives, Timothy Dalton as game hunter Malcolm Murray and Josh Hartnett as American cowboy Ethan Chandler who all get a chunk of the action, or rather dialogue, in this opening hour which neatly sets up several threads of the series. Channelling the lurid, melodramatic stylings of its namesake but marrying it with a somewhat sombre, contemplative feel, Penny Dreadful is certainly one to watch.

Torchwood: Children of Earth

As easily the best instalment of the wildly uneven Torchwood (although don't tell my younger self I said that, he was obsessed with it), and one of my favourite individual television series ever, I was due a rewatch of 2009's Torchwood: Children of Earth for the first time in several years. Thankfully it did not disappoint.
To my mind, this is the Torchwood series which most satisfactorily reaches its mandate of being Doctor Who's mature sister show, examining the political and social effects of alien incursion far more than Who ever could or should. It also isn't afraid to push the boundaries far further than can be done on Doctor Who, producing some truly shocking, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking moments across its tightly-plotted five episodes. The main three cast members - John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd - are all on top form but Peter Capaldi (hey, whatever happened to him?) steals the show as pressured politician John Frobisher, a man who is forced to make difficult choices when placed as the ambassador of the human race. This is simply science fiction drama at its best.     

Bates Motel (Season Two)

While it is by no means needed, a prequel series to Hitchcock's seminal thriller./horror film Psycho that focussed on the teenage years of the crazed cross-dressing killer Norman Bates was something that caught my interest.
The best parts of the series are undoubtedly those that feature Norman and Norma, played rather solidly by Vera Famiga, who are embellished significantly beyond Hitchcock's, literally, 'psycho' characterisation to become three-dimensional people, with good and, in particular, bad points. Particular praise should be given to Freddie Highmore (once the innocent Charlie Bucket from Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) who siphons off several of Anthony Perkins', the original Bates, mannerisms while giving the character his own spin. Inspired by Twin Peaks in its presentation of a suburban town full of secrets, it can be hit-and-miss but this second series improved upon the first, taking Norman further down the dark path. You wouldn't think it to look at him, would you? Why, he wouldn't even hurt a fly... 

You can read more of my televisual ramblings over on Whatculture where I chose 8 TV Finales That Left Major Unanswered Questions.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Four

Our look back at the past series of Doctor Who - in time for the Twelfth Doctor himself's début series coming in a few months time - this month materialises on the final full-series of the last Scottish Doctor to play the part (fun fact: there's been three); the series that's never a bore and leaves us wanting more, that's Series Four.

Starring: David Tennant (the Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler) with John Barrowman (Captain Jack) and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith). 
Produced by: Phil Collinson and Susie Liggat
Executive Produced by: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson

Best Episodes

The Unicorn and the Wasp by Gareth Roberts
After Series Three's 'The Shakespeare Code', Roberts proves himself as Doctor Who's wittiest and certainly funniest writer with a cracker of a pastiche on Agatha Christie mysteries, starring the queen of detective stories herself. Due to its whimsicality and breezy tone, it's an adventure that might not have the blockbuster factor of other episodes this series but should be equally celebrated none the less.

Turn Left by Russell T Davies
It is rare in Doctor Who that we ever see things get too bad as the Doctor is always on hand to save the day - although, not in 'Turn Left' he's not. One of the show's bleakest ever episodes, 'Turn Left' gives us a skewered version of the Whoniverse wherein every alien invasion goes right, delivering a number of striking scenes, great emotion and Catherine Tate's finest performance as Donna.

Midnight by Russell T Davies
Series Three arguably showcases RTD's greatest work on Doctor Who and that is no better demonstrated than in this chilling stage play of an episode. Bravely taking place largely in just one set, Davies cranks up the claustrophobia with the unseen entity that mimics its prey before possessing them. This is a Doctor Who that isn't afraid to be different and daring and is all the better for it.


To counteract his past two companions who had both harboured romantic feelings for him, the Doctor was now simply after 'a mate' - something he found when remeeting his old acquaintance Donna Noble. 
As with Rose and Martha, Donna's journey aboard the TARDIS is one of maturity and self-discovery as well as one around time and space. Although where they came to appreciate their own worth and skills, Donna is forever racked with a lack of self-confidence which bubbles under her fiery façade. Something which tragically comes to a head when she reaches the 'Journey's End'...
This being the last full series of the RTD era, the series finale has a suitably celebratory feel, bringing together not only Doctor Who with its offspring, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, in the return of Captain Jack and Sarah Jane, but also rounding up all the major characters from the past four years. However, the show still has Donna at its heart, providing the revived series stand-out saddest moment. Previous friends of the Doctor have exited the TARDIS, if not always of their own accord, then with a wealth of wonderful experiences behind them and as better people. The tragedy of Donna's story is that she has her entire time with the Doctor erased, as if it had never happened. Even though he has the biggest family on Earth, the Doctor ends the series alone once again. As he would be until the end of his life. Which was actually, right around the corner.  

Story Arc

Series Four has by far the loosest story arc of these first four series, completing the trend that had begun with Series Two's lighter approach to a linking narrative than Series One. In lieu of shadowy mentions of 'Torchwood' or 'Mr Saxon', we have ominous remarks about the Medusa Cascade, the bees disappearing, 'there is something on your back' and the like which all reference something to come later in the series. However, the recurring motif here is really more of a visual one. Across the series we see, hidden on screens that the Doctor doesn't see, the face of Rose Tyler, the Doctor's tragically lost best friend, screaming out the Time Lord's name. This is kicked off in the series opener when Donna inadvertently speaks to Rose on a street corner and builds to the series' penultimate episode 'The Stolen Earth' where the Doctor and Rose are finally reunited, just in time to face the Daleks yet again. This time, however, returning for the first time since the classic series, they also come head-to-horribly-scared-head-with-a-third-eye with Davros, the original creator of the Daleks, who plots to destroy the whole of reality. Just another day for the Doctor...
With the series basking in and drawing to a close its own mythology that had developed over the past few years, Series Four has a certain valedictory feel, and thankfully goes out with a bang. Ready for a brand-new incarnation of the show. Because the journey never ends...

Next month: Series Five - Doctor Who may have regenerated but it's still got legs...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...