Saturday, 30 January 2016
Friday, 1 January 2016
What happened to the genius who gave us the hilarious Coupling, and wrote Who stories like The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead? If you look back through this blog you'll see that I've sung his praises. By writing Who and Sherlock simultaneously, it seems he just bit off more than he could chew. Good storytelling is the bedrock of a programme like this and, for me, that has just not been there.
This season (and, sadly, most stories since Mr Moffat took over) have fallen into two types:
"edited highlights" (the plot escaped the writers, and the episode came over as a series of extracts - more like a trailer than a coherent story. Examples: Before the Flood, The Woman Who Lived) and Laboured centre pieces (instead of a plot. Examples: The Witch's Familiar, Face the Raven).
My capsule reviews of the 2015 season:
The Magician's Apprentice Witty but chaotic. Superficially entertaining but highly forgettable.
The Witch's Familiar A let-down. Glib, with implausible story ideas coming out of nowhere. No progression, no sense of drama, just "What silly idea will he come up with next?". In this case, it was Clara in a Dalek.
Under the Lake A spaceship within a spaceship; crew dying and being replaced by ghosts. Tedious.
Before the Flood More of the "edited highlights" syndrome.
The Girl Who Died Brought back to life "because I can...although I'm not supposed to". A retread of an idea that didn't work the first time (Russell T Davies' The Waters of Mars).
The Woman Who Lived. Maisie Williams couldn't bring it to life. Her immortal character should have been fascinating and empathetic but, for me at least, simply wasn't.
The Zygon Invasion Again, little story progression, just a plunge into something already in progress and a lot of rather clumsy parallels drawn between aliens and immigrants. The wisecracking character of the Doctor was annoying despite Peter Capaldi's still-excellent performance.
The Zygon Inversion Too much emphasis on what Hitchcock called a McGuffin (the Osgood Box) which in no way justified the time spent on it. Sadly, the script again did Peter Capaldi's Doctor no favours, and it's hard to believe that the "big centrepiece" where he imitates an American game show host was the actor's idea.
Sleep No More Very much an "edited highlights" type episode. Where was the plot? Neither Capaldi nor (also excellent) Reece Shearsmith was able to revive this one.
Face the Raven A whole episode centred on Clara "dying", trailed ad nauseam in advance and maddeningly laboured, complete with "sad" music to hammer it home to us how tragic it all was. The idea was supported by a threadbare "story" full of holes - obviously there were numerous different ways to save Clara. The only way that killing off the character would have worked would be to have her die suddenly and unexpectedly and perhaps be lost in time simultaneously, so that there was no prospect of a return. Awful.
Heaven Sent An ordeal of an episode, a long way from my idea of entertainment. Yes, Capaldi was great but it must have been almost as much of an effort for him to struggle with such a bleak and empty script as it was for the Doctor to "break through".
Hell Bent An improvement on the thoroughly depressing Heaven Sent because it wasn't so extreme, but was still more annoying than entertaining for trying to outsmart the audience right through. Once again, Steven Moffat undermined his own history by reviving a character who supposedly could not be saved.
The showrunner certainly seems to go for arbitrary titles - shouldn't the last two episode titles have been swapped?)
So, a lot of moaning from me. In an effort to be constructive, I think the show still has potential to improve a lot. What I would like to see is
- A return to 25 minute episodes with 4 or 5 episodes per story. It was demonstrated very well back in the 1980s that the programme didn't really work in 50 minute chunks, so why not return to the tried and trusted structure? Plenty of successful and long-running programmes have episodes of 30 minutes - 25 when you subtract the ads on commercial channels.
- 10-15 minutes of coherent exposition in each episode, and a cliffhanger at the end of each
- Consistency with the pseudo-science outlined in the programme. For example, the Tardis should not fly! William Hartnell said in the pilot episode "This doesn't roll along on wheels, you know" and it makes no sense for it to fly. The "science" in the programme tells us that the atoms of the ship are disassembled and then reassembled in the new time and location, so the flying makes about as much sense as telling us that an Airbus 380 can be speeded up by dematerialisation. Similarly, the inside is in a different dimension from the outside, so "turbulence" should have absolutely no effect on the interior.
- A less self-obsessed (and, by extension, less self-important) Doctor and companions. The show at its best was about overcoming monsters and evil genuises, not endless introspection. Jon Pertwee's version was one of the more arrogant Doctors but this never (in my opinion) made him unlikeable. Only when the production team chose to deliberately emphasise this aspect (in the Colin Baker era) did audiences start switching off in disgust.
- A new composer or two. The old series had a little variety and that is seriously needed here. No-one would have called Dudley Simpson's scores subtle at the time, but that's how they seem put alongside Murray Gold's plodding, obvious (and apparently non-stop) compositions.
- No deus ex machinae! The story resolution should come out of something we've already been shown, not thin air.
I know things are unlikely to change radically while Steven Moffat is at the reins, but maybe when he moves on (in 2017?) we might get some of this.
Monday, 24 March 2014
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
An "self portrait" so sketchy that it barely qualifies for the title. Maybe it's better described as a memoir than an autobiography. What we get is interesting but superficial, lacking in detail and background. We hear something of what (and, occasionally, who) Mr Warren did, but he is so reticent that the book comes over as little more than a "tease". It's not so much the lack of "gossip" as the fact that there isn't much in its place.
I first read this on borrowing it from the library in the 1970s, when it was originally published. Re-reading it this year when I got hold of a secondhand copy, my overwhelming impression was lack of substance - particularly after reading some in-depth biographies of more illustrious people in the media. The illustrations are nice, but I wanted more detail and a bit more depth - more of what Allan Warren himself is about.
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An intriguing novel with a poetic quality. Its extensive use of flashbacks and sometimes harrowing detail of life in the trenches (and its aftermath) means it's not an easy read, or a particularly pleasant one. However, it is convincing throughout and sometimes genuinely moving. Recommended for readers who like to be challenged and provoked, rather than people looking for a "light read".
View all my reviews on GoodReads
Sunday, 2 February 2014
For these reasons, it's essential that the volume of a podcast should be "normalised" (i.e. the peaks should be at the maximum allowed undistorted level) and its dynamic range should be severely curtailed - that is, there should be very little difference between the quiet and the loud bits.
I probably have hearing that is just below average in efficiency and I've lost count of the number of times the podcast was so quiet that I couldn't hear most of it (even when turned up to full volume on my phone), or had a section with various speakers muttering inaudibly in the background, clearly not using a headset microphone. Even Big Finish, who you'd expect to know better, has been guilty of this. Podcast producers, please remember your audiences: if we can't hear it all, you might as well not bother.
Sunday, 13 October 2013
Saturday, 12 October 2013
The name at the top of the bookmakers' lists this summer for the next Doctor Who was Peter Capaldi. I was interested to see the list but pooh-poohed this, as it seemed the production team were set on casting only young actors - I think it was even said at one point that only someone in their 20s could keep up with the pace of production. I was delighted to hear back in August that the rumours were, in fact, true. The choice pleased me for two reasons - firstly, as a long-term fan of the programme (except for the awful period in the 1980s when the production went badly astray) I wanted to see a Doctor with the authority that only an older man could have; secondly, I knew Peter back in the 1970s as a fellow fan - we're the same age and I've followed his career since the 1980s.
I had met Jon Pertwee a couple of times, during the making of Death to the Daleks and Planet of the spiders, and got to know Peter through the Jon Pertwee fan club (started by an old school friend, Stuart Money) which we all helped to run. The history of the official Doctor Who fan club is well documented - Stuart and Peter both applied to run this as they felt they would make a better job of it than the original organiser, a gaffe that still seems to rankle with him. I have fond memories of visiting the good old BBC TV Centre in White City (recently sold off) with SM and PC. My diaries remind me that the first two visits were in December 1973 and 17 April 1974. As fans know, that was JP's last adventure as the Doctor - he left Doctor Who in 1974 but I kept in touch with him for a while via Stuart.
I had exchanged letters and JPFC newsletter articles with Peter from 1974 (sharing our enthusiasm for Hammer Films and SF television) but first met him in 1975. By then, JP was touring in Monty Norman’s stage musical So who needs marriage? In June 1975 the tour reached the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. Stuart, Peter and I went to visit him at a farm at Lamesley Park where some of the actors (including JP) had their caravans parked. Fellow players included Eric Flynn and June Ritchie. In a style of the time, June Ritchie's hair was in a curly perm. Peter (perhaps lacking in tact) told June she looked like Tom Baker, which amused Stuart and me but, for some reason, not June. I had a few photos of this occasion but these have mysteriously (and frustratingly) disappeared.
On 25 August 1975 we went to London with Peter to visit the TV centre again - this time, during the filming of The android invasion, with Lis Sladen and Tom Baker. I think Peter was only considering becoming an actor at the time, but I remember that his sense of humour and skill as a clown were in evidence. He had a routine where he would mime taking out his eyes, closing them, and then swapping around the eyeballs and opening them again to show that he was "cross eyed"; this had my fourteen year old sister in stitches. My only remaining photo of Peter is here - showing him by Westminster Bridge.
The studio visit was an event for all of us, but not quite like previous ones. While Jon Pertwee always struck me as extremely sociable and would chat away to anyone (as would Lis S), we must have caught Tom Baker on a bad day. He greeted us with "Oh hello, so pleased to meet you." and then turned away to talk to someone else. He did have time to pose briefly for photos but, seemingly a minute or two later, he said "Goodbye. Do come again" and thus we were dismissed. TB still went on to become one of my favourite Doctors.
Newcastle and Glasgow are 114 miles apart and, sadly, Stuart and I failed to keep in touch with Peter. I remember his talent and humour, even as a teenager, and wish him success now in his highest profile job!