Sunday, April 30, 2006

WHO Websites

The BBC seems to be having a field day with spin-off websites. Here's a few: (the password is 'victoria') Interestingly, this one comes up as a BBC site but with no content at present: David

Doctor Who - School Reunion

What a strange little tale. I think this is another story where it could really have done with a second episode to add some meat and depth to the situations. As it is, the whole thing is so fast and furious that you don't get to know anyone. Which is a shame as the episode is about relationships and we could have done with more time to explore it all. The Doctor and Rose are at a school - Deffy Vale High School as it tells us on the wall of the canteen hall - as a result of Mickey calling them to let them know that something strange seemed to be happening. There are two plots emerging, and neither have the slightest thing to do with each other - a very strange state of affairs and something which doesn't work in dramatic terms. The established wisdom is that in a drama (be it literary, theatre, TV or film) it will work better, be more rounded and 'feel' right if all the characters are driven by the same or similar needs or aspirations, if the core themes are reflected throughout. But here we have a very strong theme of companionship and love running side by side with the story of a bunch of generic 'monsters-r-us' trying to gain ultimate power for themselves. These are uneasy bedfellows and show why this story should have been longer. It would have been far more effective if, for example, the Krillitanes were not evil, but were seeking something related to that which Sarah Jane is seeking: closure on a period of her life; maybe hanging onto past dreams ... Then the whole of the mcguffin about the intelligence-enhanced schoolkids using computers to solve the so called 'Skasis Paradigm' (perhaps a sly acknowledgement of the Skeksis from the 1982 Henson film Dark Crystal the design of which seem to have inspired the Krillitanes) and provide ultimate power to the Krillitanes could have been dropped and rethought. If it was really that easy to crack this paradigm then why has no-one else ever done it? As it is, the Krillitane plot is the poorest aspect of the episode. But by far the strongest element was the complex relationship between Sarah Jane Smith, Rose, Mickey and the Doctor. Sarah is feeling cheated, as though there was something wrong with her, that she had done something wrong which was why the Doctor never came back for her and why she spent the rest of her life waiting for him. Rose realises that she is just one in a long line of travelling companions for the Doctor, and that just as the Doctor never mentions Sarah, so may she never be mentioned once she leaves him. Mickey realises that he is the robot dog - the reliable source of information. The 'stay in the car'/'stay at home' character who has all the answers. And the Doctor is forced to admit that he loves his companions (though he cannot use the word), and is alone despite seeing them all grow old and die. It's a hard equation, and yet the scripting and the acting allow it to soar, and the end result is a sequence of realisations and acknowledgements on all levels which brings tears to the eyes. The idea of Mickey realising that he is the 'robot dog' also made me wonder if this was setting up something for later on. With Mickey travelling with the Doctor and Rose at the end (much to Rose's displeasure) does this mean that he will sacrifice himself for them the same way that K9 does in this episode? Certainly food for thought. Unfortunately there are some less than satisfactory elements. The inclusion of the reference to Torchwood at the start was OK I suppose, but are we going to have this rammed at us every week? What was all the stuff about the Krillitane oil about? Where does the oil come from? Why does the school explode at the end? Did K9 detonate himself? It's probably, however, the Krillitanes exploding after getting the oil on them - as happened with the dinner lady earlier in the episode. And the cliched fat kid, Kenny, who saves the day. Oh dear. Also, why did Sarah have K9 in the back of the car at all? She said the dog didn't work and had broken ages ago. Maybe she drives around all day with the dog there? And how did he get out of the car to save the day in the canteen? Maybe we can just gloss over this - perhaps Mickey lifted him out after crashing through the school doors. There are some lovely elements too. I was especially impressed with the simple effect of the Krillitanes attacking the staff seen through the frosted staff room window. Very nicely done. As were the Krillitanes themselves, though a little too CGI fast, they looked quite effective. I was slightly puzzled as to why Mr Finch (or Brother Lassar - spelling guessed at) was human when the rest were bat-things. I know they sort of explained this, but I don't think it made much sense. And if Finch was in human form, how did he get on top of the building opposite the cafe to keep an eye on the Doctor and co? A final puzzling point with regards to Finch. He hears the Doctor say he's a Time Lord, but then seems to know that he's the last surviving one. But the Time War was in the future wasn't it? The Dalek in Dalek had fallen back through time and that was to the year 1938 (50 years before 2012 when Dalek was set), so how can there be no Time Lords in the year 2006 or whenever School Reunion is set? Overall I really enjoyed School Reunion, despite all my prior reservations about bringing back Sarah and K9. Elisabeth Sladen did a great job with the character and the role and managed to bring out the pathos well. Her early line 'I thought you died!' sounded so like her earlier incarnation, and she managed to play off against Billie Piper very well indeed. Anthony Head was awesome as Finch - a superb character, underplayed, and very well observed. Every movement, every word was delivered with understated precision and was a joy to watch. Next up ... clockwork people ... spaceships ... history ... I have no idea what The Girl in the Fireplace will be like!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Doctor Who - Tooth and Claw

Pic by Shaun Lyon. www.gallifreyone.comThat was a bit better. After the visually brilliant but scattershot plotting of New Earth, comes Tooth and Claw, a far tighter story with more great visuals and a werewolf to boot. One of the problems with reviewing is that it's always a lot easier to write something if there are elements which can be picked out as being lacking. With Tooth and Claw this is hard as the overall story is excellently paced, with some superb dialogue and some brilliant character pieces from the guest cast. We open with a group of Kung-fu monks arriving at a Scottish house and promptly delivering a mysterious covered cage to the cellar, wherein they have chained the Mistress of the house and most of her servants. When the cloth covering the cage is lifted, Mistress Isobel (Michelle Duncan) screams in abject horror ... A great start, but what exactly is she screaming at? As we see later, all that is in the cage is a somewhat quiet and weedy looking cowled figure ... The Doctor and his 'feral' companion arrive in a location they were not expecting to be, and promptly get involved in a story which sees a falling 'star' carrying an alien entity to Earth which can take on the appearance of a human while it waits to emerge. The Doctor and said companion take refuge in a building where the monster reveals itself and chases them, and a dwindling group of surviving humans, up to the top of the building, where the Doctor realises he can use the power of light, focussed by a diamond, to defeat the alien shapeshifter ... ... ah. Now hang on, that's the plot of Horror of Fang Rock! Surely not ... The main problem really is that, unlike Horror of Fang Rock, Tooth and Claw is all far too rushed to really develop the themes of an alien which can remain hidden until the appropriate moment. I remember with fondness the Doctor's wonderful episode-ending line in Horror that he thought he was locking the enemy out ... but instead he'd locked it in ... with them! Well there was none of this here. Instead we know from the word go who the monster is, and once it emerges then it's running and killing for the rest of the episode. Other points of comment: Queen Victoria was a bit of a wet fish. I'm not sure that Pauline Collins was the right choice for this part as she seemed totally lost in it. However, it is worth pointing out that the only reason that Collins seems weak is because the others were so strong. Particularly Ian Hanmore's awesome Father Angelo. A brilliant portrayal of the evil chief monk, and he really looked the part - sort of Richard O'Brien crossed with Patrick Stewart. It's a shame he died (or did he? We never saw this on screen) as he would be a great returning nemesis. The other character who impressed me was Jamie Sives as Captain Reynolds ... another brilliant piece of restrained acting. In fact, just about everyone was top notch. Which also had the effect of throwing Billie Piper's gooning into sharp relief. Rose's trying to get Queen Victoria to say 'We are not amused' was both silly and annoying. Maybe this was something included for the kids. Which is certainly what the werewolf was not - complete with the bone cracking sound effects which were left off the transformation of Dr Constantine in The Empty Child last year, the werewolf was scary, fast, growly and hairy and I'm sure the bringer of many nightmares last night. The deaths, though bloodless were likewise terrifying - in part because nothing was seen, leaving it all up to the fertile imaginations of children to decide what an 8 foot slavering, toothy man-wolf could do to a weak human body, especially given the state it left the cage in. Random questions: How does the Sonic Screwdriver now affect old-style mortice locks? How did Queen Victoria get her box from the 'safe' without the key to said 'safe'? Maybe they hadn't locked it. Why was Rose described as 'naked' when all but her arms were covered up? When Isobel noticed that the Monks were all garlanded with mistletoe and that the wolf left them alone, why did she then start cooking the stuff in the kitchen? Why not simply make more garlands from the piles of it left lying around? Why at the end when the wolf vanished, did the light from the telescope stop? It was still pointed at the moon. And while we're on that subject, where did the wolf go anyway? Moonlight made it change, but too much moonlight destroyed it? Made it go back to where it came? Caused it to super-evolve? I suppose it doesn't really matter, but this is another ending where the Doctor cobbles together some deus ex machina(**) to save the day ... it would be nice to have some 'proper' endings some times. I can't finish this review without mentioning Torchwood. Probably the most dreadful aspect of the episode. I internally groaned when the house was revealed as being called Torchwood house (and my kids also groaned unprompted by myself), but then the coda ... what a shoehorned, crowbarred piece of nonsense. And all this isn't even relevant - from all reports, Torchwood is not aimed at the same kiddie audience that Doctor Who is. It's an adult show planned for an after-9pm timeslot ... so what's with the blatant cross promotion? If you're going to do this then at least be subtle about it. Overall I really enjoyed Tooth and Claw. A great little episode which is, as far as I can see anyway, totally internally consistent. The acting was brilliant (except perhaps for Piper's Rose who for the first time seemed out of sorts here) and the overall impact high. Next week we appear to have an episode of The Demon Headmaster to look forward to ... (** - Ok, ok, so Deus Ex Machina doesn't exactly have the meaning I intended here ... I *know* DEM usually means 'a god from the machine' - in other words a cop-out, a little like the ending of Boom Town perhaps - but according to my dictionary it can also mean 'a romantic or artificial ending' and this is closer to my intent here - that the endings seem to be artificial rather than flowing from or having any connection to the preceeding plot threads - Why does shining moonlight through the crystal affect the Wolf at all? What happens there and why does this resolve things?)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Doctor Who - New Earth

Pic by Shaun Lyon. www.gallifreyone.comI had been really looking forward to seeing New Earth, the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who. And on the whole I wasn't disappointed. The story was written by Russell T Davies and had all the hallmarks of his work - a fast and furious pace, some great dialogue and also some gaping plot holes where things just don't stand up to any sort of detailed thought. We opened with Jackie and Mickey saying goodbye to Rose as she headed off for more adventures with the Doctor ... nice I suppose, but I hope we don't spend too much time this season dwelling on the sub-EastEnders soap plots (some hope). The TARDIS arrives on New Earth in the far future, summoned there by a note on his psychic paper to visit ward 26. The CGI effects of the hospital and New New York with all the flying cars was very impressive. The first of the questions though: how could Chip (superbly played throughout by Sean Gallagher) tell that Rose was a pure blood human just from the picture transmitted from one of the spider robots? He himself did not seem to be terribly intelligent and so this information seems a bit of a leap for him. Arriving in the hospital, and my first thought was how similar the space looked to the museum in Dalek, the vast hall in The End of the World, and the levels on Platform One in The Long Game, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways ... possibly because it was recorded at the same location?(This is an assumption, by the way, but the space does seem very familiar). Then we are into some nice comedy moments with the liquid disinfection in the lifts (question though: how could Rose continue to hear the Doctor after his lift door had closed and he was headed up?). Once the Doctor arrives in Ward 26, the mystery message seems to have been from the Face of Boe, who is apparently dying of old age, having lived for thousands, if not millions of years. He is being tended to by Novice Hame (Anna Hope) who was by far the best of the Cat Nuns - a superb piece of character acting which the series seems to excel at. Meanwhile Rose finds herself in the basement and encounters Cassandra (voiced by Zoe Wanamaker) and her cloned servant Chip. Now Cassandra claims to be the last human and has film of her attending a party with people in what seem to be very 20th Century clothes ... The presence of film seems to suggest around the 1970's or 1980's or it would have been video, as well as the styles at the party, which would make Cassandra considerably older than the Face of Boe ... but the Face was meant to be the oldest creature alive I thought (and didn't he have a baby as reported in The Long Game and yet here he seems to be the last of his kind - maybe I'm getting confused). There are some awesome lines here, with Rose referring to Chip as 'Gollum' and the 'So you're talking out your -' ... '- ask not' exchange between Rose and Cassandra. In short shrift, Cassandra uses a machine called a psychograft to take over Rose's body (she knows the term 'Chav' - a very 20th century expression. We could here also digress into why Cassandra is so horrified at this when she is in Rose's body as surely she would have known this beforehand, but we won't). Mention however must be given to Billie Piper as her performance as Rose/Cassandra is nothing short of inspired. She is totally convincing and very sexy and her kiss with the Doctor is a brilliant comic moment amonst several in this episode. Meanwhile we have discovered that the Cat Nuns have a secret ... people stashed in pods similar to those used by the Graske ... and that they are quite ruthless at destroying the people if they feel like it (though quite how a single lever on the wall incinerates just the one specific pod is unexplained.) The Doctor is starting to get suspicious, with diseases like Petrifold Regression, Marconi's Disease and Palidone Pancriosis being banded about and cured by the Cat Nuns and their mystery medicines. So the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra investigate and find themselves in the Nestene lair from Rose ... except this time it's banks of the pods all containing humans infected with every disease known in the galaxy. The Doctor realises that Rose is not Rose as she didn't care about the humans, and before we know it, the pods are opening and infected humans are on the rampage like something out of a George Romero film. But meanwhile we can ponder how Rose/Cassandra knew how to give them all a shot of adrenalin and how to open the pods (maybe it's by using the same multi-functional lever as before). But then one of the infected zombies shoves his arm in an electrical socket and every pod in the place opens ... what sort of a system is this! It's a wonder that the people had not escaped the last time there was a power failure. The CGI effects of the sickness spreading was surprisingly poor and on the Cats especially barely noticeable. But we're more concerned with Chip and his incredible ability to teleport. He gets left behind in the basement where he hides in a large empty drum ... and then he's amazingly in the isolation ward and hides in one of the pods ... but then he re-appears back in the wards ... an incredible talent to be sure. Unless there are actually many clones of Chip around ... After some bodyswapping shennanigans between Cassandra, Rose and the Doctor (what happened to the need for the psychograft machine? This seems to have been forgotten) the Doctor gets hold of all of the medicines and mixes them together, using the lifts' cleansing mechanisms to deliver the antidote to all the infected people. So ... let me get this right ... the Cat Nuns were keeping all these people as lab rats to test out cures and so on ... but when the Doctor mixes together all the cures, it cures in turn all of the lab rats ... so why were the Cat Nuns keeping them at all then? If they already had - in a single ward mind - the cures to every disease known available to them, then they surely have the best hospital going and there is no need to experiment any further. And in any case, since when does mixing all your medicines together in a vat and then spraying them over people actually work? Most of the medicines were in intravenous drip bags which suggests internal application through mixing them with the blood. What a strange and simplistic denoument. Despite the large suspension of disbelief needed here, the end play is excellent. The scenes of the Doctor bringing healing to everyone, and where he hugs the woman who has never been touched in her life are simply superb, and are very moving. But don't forget the plot ... the Doctor returns to see the Face of Boe who has woken up and isn't dying after all ... why was he in the hospital then and why did he call for the Doctor? But he delivers a cryptic message to the Doctor that they will meet for a third and final time and then he will deliver his message to the Doctor, before teleporting away somewhere else. You'd think he could figure out an easier way to tell the Doctor this ... Oh well. It all adds to the mystery and might be part of any ongoing theme or plot that this season has (aka Bad Wolf last year). As a coda, Cassandra ends up in Chip's body who then conveniently dies on her, but not before they have travelled back outside the hospital (doubtless avoiding all the NNCPD cops swarming everywhere) and back in time to that party where Cassandra was holding forth on the film. There Chip/Cassandra is the one who tells the human Cassandra that she is beautiful before dying at her feet. It's odd that Cassandra earlier recalled being told that she was beautiful, but not the messenger dying. Nor that he looked like her future cloned slave. Selective memory obviously. Overall I really enjoyed New Earth. I don't think it is perfect, but it's not at all bad. It's great fun and rattles along at a good pace, but if you scratch the surface then it starts to really not make a lot of sense. Billie Piper was brilliant as Cassandra, and David Tennant made a very watchable and entertaining Doctor. I do worry a little about the series plundering its own recent continuity quite so much (Cassandra, the spiders, the Face of Boe) but as long as they remember to try and keep it to the background then things will be fine. Next week we have a foray into Werewolves to look forward to, and reports suggest that this is one of the stronger episodes. Until then ...

Totally Doctor Who

So the BBC tries to up the anti with Doctor Who and to provide more content for the pre-teen audience that the show has attracted. However Totally Doctor Who was a shambles from start to end. First of all, it didn't have any real sense of being related to Doctor Who at all. Aside from a somewhat confused title sequence showing cartoon monsters and Doctor and the music, the presenters seemed so out of their depth it was embarrasing. Liz Barker reportedly left Blue Peter to do this ... boy was she mis-advised. I wonder who it was aimed at as well - Doctor Who is primarily for a family audience (ie aimed at adults and kids love it as well) and yet the BBC seem to think it's watched primarily by under-5s judging from Doctor Who Adventures magazine and some of the other merchandise, and so this show tried to be hip and with it for today's 'yoof' and totally missed any target in doing so. It will be interesting to see how it develops and if it gets any better as it goes along ... to be honest it can't get worse. It reminded me most of those Saturday morning shows that ITV tried to do to compete with the BBC's Live and Kicking when it was at its peak - almost all totally missed the mark. To be honest I would rather have seen all of that Doctor Who film made by the two fans and featured on the show as that was pretty impressive given their resources.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cinema Macabre

One of the nicest things about going to the annual FantasyCon event is the friends you make and renew every year. It's great to have an annual event where you can wander through a hotel and see people you've not seen for a year and to catch up ... to spot writers, editors and artists at the bar and in the restaurant and to sit down for a chat and a drink and to renew old friendships. At FantasyCon in 2005, we were, as usual, in the bar, and there was discussion about great horror films and why we loved them. Usual bar chat really. But then Mark Morris, a talented author himself, suggested collecting some of these stories of love and passion in a book and Cinema Macabre was born. Various people were leaping in with suggestions of films to cover, and my suggestion was Suspiria, an incredible slice of Italian giallo from Dario Argento which I have loved ... well forever. So I duly penned my piece and submitted it ... Now, this week, the final book arrived ... and Wow. Oh my God was I blown away. It's been produced by Pete Crowther and the folks at PS Publishing and it is possibly the most gorgeous book I have seen. From J K Potter's eerie cover to a nice black and white photo section it looks and feels wonderful. And that's before you even get to the words. Jonathan Ross contributes an introduction and then we're into appreciations of films from the likes of Simon Clark (The Unknown), Neil Gaiman (The Bride of Frankenstein), Brian Aldiss (Les Diabioliques), Jeremy Dyson (Night of the Demon), Christopher Fowler (Witchfinder General), Mark Gatiss (From Beyond the Grave), Simon Pegg (Dawn of the Dead), Muriel Gray (The Thing), China Mieville (Razorback), Graham Joyce (Jacob's Ladder), Ramsey Campbell (Lost Highway) and Justina Robson (The Blair Witch Project). There are fifty films discussed here and some are obvious choices while some are more surprising. But none are dull. The standard hardback edition is signed by Mark Morris and is limited to 500 copies while there is also a slipcased deluxe hardback, which is limited to 200 copies and which is signed by all of the contributors ... yes, that's ALL of them. The 50 writers, plus Ross, plus Potter for the cover. Copies of both editions are available direct from PS Publishing if you're interested. The standard edition is £25 while the deluxe is £75. Visit for more details. I'm so proud to be a part of this project, and hearty congratulations to Mark and Peter for such a superb job in pulling it together.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April 15th

So ... we know now it's going to be April 15th ... the new series of Doctor Who starts then. Personally I can't wait. And apparently the trailers and general PR hoo ha starts today as well, so keep your eyes open. Radio Times are planning another Doctor Who special for the launch, with a cover and an insert special magazine and there will be coverage just about everywhere. I'm planning to resume the regular reviews here each week so I hope folks will stop by and have a look ... until then.