Sunday, 24 May 2015

Review: Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

Saturday 23rd May marked the first of a new Doctor Who musical event in the UK - the Symphonic Spectacular! Here's a riff on this melodious matinee...

While many film scores are well celebrated (and, now that I mention it, you might like to know I've recently written about my favourite superhero movie themes here) there's not a lot of love for television soundtracks. Doctor Who, of course, is the exception with its incidental music being yet another aspect of the show that it does better than anyone else. Over the last ten years, Murray Gold's music has been just as thrilling and moving as any of your favourite film scores and deserves him a place amongst the best score composers working today. The Symphonic Spectacular which, much like the Proms Doctor Who specials before it, is dedicated to showcasing Gold's, er, gold-standard stuff has been touring Australia since 2012 but has now crossed over the pond.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to attend the premiere performance yesterday - but not before a spanner was thrown in the works. The day before the event it was revealed that builders had uncovered an unexploded WW2 bomb in the vicinity of Wembley (where the concert was being held). Still, it was decided that the show must go on...

Only one thing was certain. Whether it be from the music or the bomb, this was definitely going to be an explosive afternoon.

At about two and half hours (including interval), this was the perfect afternoon out for any Doctor Who fan. The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales played a cherry-picked selection of Gold's music just as well as they do in the actual show - although it's even more impressive in the flesh. To give some extra entertainment for the kids (oh, all right, everyone), various monsters also popped up throughout (a highlight was the Daleks ordering the orchestra to play some Dalek music or face EX-TER-MIN-ATION). What's more, the event had a charming and cheeky host in the form of none other than the Fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison, who has quite the repertoire of good-natured digs at such varied targets as conductor Ben Foster, his fellow Doctors (particularly Colin Baker) and even Adric ('cos that kid doesn't get enough flak).

But of course the music is the real star of the show. The pieces chosen are mostly from the recent Series Eight but memorable melodies from previous eras also get a look in, including 'The Doctor's Theme.' It's a tough one to call but, for this audience-member, favourite pieces include the always inspiring 'All the Strange, Strange Creatures' (a great excuse to get lots of monsters on stage), the air-thumping anthem 'I Am the Doctor' hidden in the medley 'The Pandorica Suite' as well as the moody, elusive Twelfth Doctor theme 'A Good Man?' Plus, there are a couple of extra-special treats for those who don't rush off at the end.

So, although the bomb thankfully did not go off (it was removed and detonated safely elsewhere, for anyone interested), the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular certainly was da bomb!*

The Daleks invade! Luckily, the Doctor (Peter Davison) is there to save us.
*I'm never saying that again... 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Monthly Scribbles: Inside Series Nine

Well, now that April's upped and left (won't be seeing her again til next year now - just the odd phone call wouldn't go amiss), it's time to look at what happened over the past month. Up first, the Doctor will be seeing doubles in the next series...

Doctor Who Series Nine is shaping up

Quite a few details about the 2015 series of Doctor Who have come to light over the past few weeks. One of the most high-profile was the news that Game of Throne's Maisie Williams is to guest star in episodes 5 and 6 of Series Nine - The Girl Who Died, co-written by Series Eight's Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, and The Woman Who Lived, by Torchwood writer Cathrine Treganna. With all the coverage she is getting, it's assumed Maisie will be playing a major character. The prevalent theory is that she will be a younger version of Clara. The character's detractors will no doubt be pleased that there may be two Claras runnng about this year...

Elsewhere, we now know UNIT head Kate Stewart will be back not once but twice in Series Nine, in episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8. And let's not forget this rocking monster, the first new enemy to be revealed from the series.
However, the most intriguing tidbit we now know is that Series Nine will be much heavier on two parters. In a move away from the usual series structure of the one-three double-decker stories, apparently every two episodes of the series will be linked in some way - with it only being revealed that they will be of the same story when you watch it. This is a very bold new way of laying out a series and one I'm very excited to see unfold. Hurry up, August!

I was Sherlocked! 

Let's zoom in from the whole of time and space and forcus on Baker Street now. This month, I was lucky enough to attend the first official Sherlock convention. I could only make it up to London for one of the days but it was still good fun, although I unfortunately missed Benedict Cumberbatch's appearance. A highlight was Moffat and Gatiss' talk - the pair being as entertaining and informative as they always are (with some tantalising hints about what stories they want to do next on the show) - and there was always something to do (with prop musuems and, well, the endless queing). You can read a fuller write-up of the event here.

Mr Holmes trailer

Sticking with Sherlock, here's the trailer for Mr Holmes, which sees Ian McKellen as an elderly Holmes revisiting the case that made him retire. I have some misgivings about the film - it doesn't seem particularly Holmesian in tone and I'm not sure I really want to see my beloved Sherlock Holmes at the end of his life, losing his great mental faculties, but I'm certainly fascinated. Here's hoping it makes a reference to Miss Mary Russell, the retired Holmes' partner in detection - and wife! - in one series of novels.

Highlight of the month

Inside No. 9 (Series Two)

Despite never having seen TV's masters of macabre Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's previous dark comic hits The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, I was very pleased to recently catch the second series of Inside No. 9, a hidden gem of a show that deserves more attention. An anthology series, every episode differs wildly in tone and atmosphere but are linked by the fact they are set in somewhere labelled 'no.9' (e.g. a train carriage, a haunted house, a seemingly-ordinary flat). As with every anthology series, the quality varies but each episode is a tense, witty treat with at least half of the six-part run being outright classics. Shearsmith and Pemberton manage to carve each half hour segment into whatever shape they want - be it a nail-biting horror or a surprising tear-jerker. When it surely returns for a series three, I urge you to go a-knocking on No.9 - you never know what you might find inside...

Friday, 1 May 2015

Top Five Immortal Characters

Immortality has always been a popular trope in all forms of fiction, as it's a perenially fascinating topic. As such there are many great fictional characters who never shuffled off this mortal coil - and here are some of my favourites. 
To keep things interesting I've banned myself from putting any Doctor Who characters on this list (really, I could fill the whole lot up with Who folks - The Doctor, Captain Jack, the Master, the Cybermen...). So read on for a who's-who-and-also-not-in-Who of immortal characters. Hurry up, before we all die of old age...  


Fiction is full of vampires tortured by their immortality, so I've bundled them all into one for the sake of variety (and to represent them I've chosen one of the world's more underappreciated vampires; the Count from Sesame Street. Not enough evil undead give their eternal lives to teach young children arithmatic). They come in different groups. Many like to spend eternity causing bloodshed - Dracula. Some like to spend it righting wrongs - Genevieve Dieudonne who fights the aforementioned Prince of Darkness in Anno Dracula. And others like to switch between both - such as TV vampires Hal York and Spike. Whatever the type, though, you can rely on a vampire to spark an interesting discussion on the nature of immortality. 

The Hempstock Women

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is really the story of two ancient forces battling each other with a small ordinary boy caught in the middle. While the terrifying Ursula is vehemently on the side of the bad, the Hempstock women serve as the boy's saviours and prove that immortality doesn't have to make you tortured - it can just make you wise. The three Hempstocks (almost personifying the stereotypical three witches) and the nature of their long shelflife is well dealt with; we know they were around at the time of the Domesday Book and beyond but we never really find out who or what they are. The Hempstocks tell us that, yes, we don't understand all the mysteries of the universe but sometimes it's better not to. 

 Peter Pan 

It is an oft-discussed notion if one would choose immortality. Certainly, most of the characters on this list would call it a curse. But Peter Pan, the Boy Who Never Grew Up, chooses to be immortal rather than face the terrors of adulthood. At first, just as Peter does, many of us would love to be carefree children forever but there's tragedy in Peter's decision, as ably presented in the surprisingly good 2003 film and messed about with in Steven Spielberg's Hook, as he cannot do such grown-up things as reciprocate his feelings for Wendy. Ultimately, though, it's up to you whether Peter's life is a blessing or a curse, making him one of the most interesting immortal characters around. 

Edward Scissorhands

I was going to put Frankenstein's monster on this list but then remembered that immortality is not really an attribute of Mary Shelley's original creation, more of the films that it spawned. So instead Frankie's gothic cousin Eddie takes his spot on this list. A cross between the monster, the Beast and Tim Burton himself, Edward is an innocent who, just like the monster, is corrupted by the outside world. Unlike Frankie, he's also one half of a doomed romance, partly made impossible by his immortality. Edward serves as a warning that it's no fun to be different. 


 While others on this list might not have enjoyed their immortality, they at least had the comfort of being frozen in time, never ageing. Unfortunately, Tithonus, one of the unluckiest figures in Greek Mythology, learnt the hard way that your should always check the fine print when wishing for eternal life. After falling in love with this lowly mortal, the goddess Aurora pleaded with Zeus to make him immortal - unfortunately, she forgot to ask for everlasting youth. Thus, Tithonus grows into a withered husk of a man - who his immortal lover eventually grows tired of. Tithonus is the epitome of all immortal fictional characters as he embodies the idea at the heart of all of them; we might all wish for longer lives but you have to be careful what you wish for. 
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