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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Please Doc, don't be naff.

Ah, Christmas, how do I love thee? Not at all as it turns out, sorry. Yes, I am of the Bah Humbug persuasion, and proud of it.

Anyway, this is not the place for a big woe is me whingeathon, this is a place to discuss television shows. Of which there are none worth watching over the 'festive' season. The US imports have either ended (and I talked about those a couple of weeks back) or are winding down for mid season breaks (I've not watched last Fridays The Event yet; I'm rationing it). The only bright spot on the horizon is a Christmas special that holds out a little hope of not being totally shit.

I speak, of course, of The Weakest Link. No hang on, Doctor Who, that's the lad.

I know, I know. I'm well aware that since Doctor Who returned to our screens with 'Rose', the annual Christmas special has fostered a jealously guarded reputation for being, well, a bit rubbish. Credit where it's due, it's a rep they worked hard for. To produce something as mind bogglingly atrocious as 'Voyage of the Damned' or the execrable 'End of Time' takes true grit and determination.*

To be fair, The Christmas Invasion wasn't all bad.

The novelty factor of Tennant assuming the role for the first time bought it a lot of leeway, any episode that heavily features the rather wonderful Jackie Tyler scores points from me and then we have the delightful Penelope Wilton back. Of course, Tennant is hardly present for most of it and when he does wake up he struggles with some of the awkward tonal shifts in the script, Jackie is saddled with that Godawful clunker of a line that absolutely NEVER works (you know the one) and Wilton is only back so Davies can contradict what he wrote in the Slitheen storyline in aid of a half baked 'dark Doctor' moment that isn't half as clever as he thinks it is. Add to that the frankly ridiculous notion that there would be a button on the side of the ship that makes a huge chunk of said ship fall off and, well...So swings and roundabouts.

The Runaway Bride is better, because we at least have a Doctor who's active throughout, we're finally free of that nauseating Doctor/Rose pseudo romance thing that fucked up S2 and the Racnoss makes a half way decent villain but it still had it's flaws. Chief among them one Donna Noble . Now, I'm not one of those people who hated the Donna character. Indeed, I think that the Doctor/Donna relationship in S4 was probably the best Doctor/Companion pairing in RTDs era but I absolutely do subscribe to the theory that she was bloody awful in her debut. And I think that the blame for that is pretty evenly shared between the writer (who was it again?, oh yes) and the actress. Given that she was written as a screeching harridan for most of it, Tate probably took one look at the script and thought 'to hell with it, if they want pantomime I'll give them pantomime'. She's capable, as she proved so well in S4, of more than that but she lowered herself to the material rather than trying to elevate it.

The Voyage Of The Damned was next and was the first time I watched one of these and thought 'this is shit' while I was still watching. Previously I would get swept up in the moment and only realise during the comedown just how riddled with flaws they were but here it was just in your face from the get-go. I won't go into all the flaws, because frankly I don't have the inclination to waste my time on what would be an overwhelmingly negative rant so I'll just mention the one moment that actually genuinely offended me in it's heavy handed, club to the head, oh fuck off, Doctor Messiah bullshit.

It was the heavy handed, club to the head, oh fuck off, Doctor Messiah moment.

Seriously, that speech? And the striding through the wreckage, with the lighting and the flashes around him and the soaring music? The ship is falling apart and they are all going to die so the Doc figures now is the perfect time to stop for 5 minutes so he can tell everyone how great he is and how he's going to save them all. Which he then doesn't do. Awful. Still, Kylie in that uniform. Phwooaar eh? Weeell, kind of anyway.

Then we come to that Cyberman bollocks with that giant machine thing terrorising London and finally The End Of Time.

One had Dervla Kerwan looking lovely, offset by Davies forgetting (or just not caring) that he'd retconned the Cybermen origins, so he could crowbar in a past Doctors montage. These montages work, and fans like to see them, but they have to have a logical reason for existing. This one didn't.

The other story has Davies pissing on everything he'd done in the previous 5 years.

Here's the thing though. Poorly thought out, lacking in any kind of logical story structure and chock full of risible dialogue they may be; alright, definitely were, but there was one thing that can not be denied; they didn't lack for spectacle. The hope then, is that under the new regime, that spectacle, which is a big part of what you want from a Christmas blow-out, can be married to something resembling a cohesive narrative.

You see, for all my carping and moaning, (and I'm not alone and far from the most vicious) these shows were successful. Massively so. They pulled in the punters and got the big numbers. Is that enough though? Eastenders and The X-fucking-Factor can do that. As a writer, wouldn't you like to do the big numbers and tell a good story at the same time? The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the episodes above could all have been made so much better with an extra draft and a few nips and tucks. None of them were unsalvageable. If they'd had a writer who cared as much about making good telly as he did about boosting his own ego, who knows what they could have been.

My policy on spoiler avoidance means I am probably the least 'in the know' person in Britain right now when it comes to this years upcoming Christmas special. However the (slightly excessive) case of hero worship I have going on for Steven Moffat (come on, the man wrote Press Gang) means that my expectations are raised and I have well and truly 'got my hopes up'. I just hope they aren't dashed come Christmas night. I have faith.

*Seriously though, he was taking the piss with that one right? I mean, surely even the staunchest Nu-Who/RTD apologist can't defend that bilge, can they?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Lovers Walk

It's that time of the week again when I put pen to paper, so to speak, and waffle a bit of nowt about the tellybox. It's a bit of a rush job actually, because the thing I intended to post, I've held back until next week, on account of it's slightly christmassy themed and I realised I'd jumped the gun slightly. So here I am, making it up as I go along at the last minute again.

There's a lot of stuff I could talk about of course. The Vampire Diaries and The Event are both well into their respective seasons, there is my tale of woe about how the person I was trusting to tape The Walking Dead for me has let me down, Misfits is trundling along being all kinds of awesome and of course I've always got the option of sticking up one of my top 5's that are tucked away for an emergency but it feels a bit soon for another one of them.

No, it's not going to be any of them. Instead, it's going to be about a certain episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And not just because the last time I wrote about Buffy on here it got more views in a day than pretty much all my other posts combined have managed in months. The power of this show, and Joss Whedons body of work in general, to pull in the punters, years after the fact, never ceases to amaze me. The strength of feeling his stuff brings on is phenomenal.

So if it's not just a cheap attempt to court the attentions of one of TVs most loyal fandoms then why am I talking about this show? Well, I'm in the midst of a rewatch, something I haven't done in a number of years, and I've come across, would you believe it, an episode I've never seen before. I was sure I'd seen all of this show, most episodes several times over, so I had a quick look at my Quest checklist and sure enough, the episode is ticked off. Something obviously went wrong somewhere along the line.

It's funny because the episode in question is actually a fairly pivotal one and I should have noticed that something was amiss during my original viewing of the show. It's from S3 and features the return of extremely popular character Spike, a major presence in S2 who had left town in that seasons finale. This was his sole contribution to S3, so it was a trifle cheeky of them to plaster him and his girlfriend Drusilla (who doesn't actually appear at all) on the packaging of the video releases, but that's by the by.

Spike returns to town because Dru has dumped him. One thing leads to another and he decides to kidnap budding witch Willow and force her to do a love spell so he can get Dru back. As you do.

Of course, none of that pesky plot stuff is really important (at least until the closing minutes). The episode is just an excuse to have Spike back doing what he does best; being really evil while at the same time being really cool, and winding up the regulars with his sarcastic, but true, insights into their lives. He doesn't give a shit, so he can say everything everyone else is thinking. And he does, taking great joy in it. He also gets one of his all to infrequent chances to interact with Buffys Mom Joyce, a character pairing that is never anything less than delightful together.

Those closing moments though, in which every romantic pairing on the show, Buffy/Angel, Xander/Cordelia, Willow/Oz, falls apart, some more permanently than others, is where the episode becomes truly pivotal. Which is where my confusion lies. You see, by rights, I should have noticed something was amiss when I watched the next episode and all the romantic entanglements were so screwed up. What did I think had happened? Especially odd when you consider that that next episode was The Wish and was entirely dependent on the break up of Xander and Cordelia for it's plot. I honestly don't remember. In my defence, it's possible that I did wonder what had happened for about 5 minutes and then just got swept up in The Wish, because it is a bloody good episode.

Anyway, at a time when I'm watching an awful lot of stuff that I'm not particularly enjoying for The Quest (buck your ideas up, terrible new V) it's hard to describe the thrill that comes from finding out that there is a little slice of goodness waiting to be sampled from one of my all time favourite shows. What other missed or long forgotten gems will I uncover on this rewatch? I don't think there are any more, but then again, I didn't think there was this one. For the first time I'm actually hoping for errors in my filing system. When you think about it, it's pretty damning on the current TV output, that I have to turn to 10 year old reruns for my jollies.

Next : Doctor Who at Christmas.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Endings galore

And so, the end is near. Over the last couple of weeks I've watched the season finales of Merlin S3 (BBC1), True Blood S2 (CH4) and the S1 (and series) finale of Blade : The Series (Five USA). I don't really like it when a lot of stuff comes to an end at the same time ; makes the schedules feel all barren. What makes it worse is that I'm pretty sure CH4 and ITV2 are going to have to take a break pretty soon, with The Event and Vampire Diaries respectively, because they are awfully close to catching up to stateside screenings. At least I still have Misfits to keep me warm at night.


The Blade finale was a slight disappointment in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, the exercise was hampered slightly by the fact that the writers felt beholden to the idea of having Blade himself be involved in the big finale. Understandable, I suppose, given that he was, on paper at least, the star of the show, but since he was always the least interesting character in their arsenal his inclusion felt intrusive and unwanted. Marcus facing down the purebloods, and the enmity between Krista and Chase coming to a head would have been much more dramatically satisfying if it hadn't had to stop for a meathead fight scene, that being pretty much all Kirk Jones was capable of contributing.

While the show served it's purpose in that it brought the series arc to a head, with the Aurora project being exposed and Marcus making his move against the Purebloods, and it set the various regulars in new positions for a prospective second year they sadly felt the need to end on a cliffhanger, which we'll never see resolved due to the shows cancellation. Now, I have nothing against serialised storytelling, prefer it in fact, but I've always felt that unless you are absolutely sure you are coming back you should end the season in such a way as to have it work as a series finale, which this show would have done if not for that scene. The fact is though, even if the show was coming back, that cliffhanger didn't work for me. It came out of nowhere and pretty much contradicted a lot of the character beats from earlier in the episode. It felt like a shock for the sake of a shock and it didn't sit well with me.

True Blood

I'm a bit behind on this show, having had to wait for CH4 to show it due to loss of FX subscription so it's one of those shows that I can't really engage with the online discussion of, for fear of spoilers. Which is a shame,because if ever a show would have had me raving on the forums it would have been this one.

S2 was a massive improvement over S1, already a great show, thanks to the years Big Bad, Marianne, being a much more interesting and chilling character than S1s mystery serial killer. A nutjob who who kills women who consort with vampires is never going to be a match for an immortal nutjob who brainwashes an entire town into animalistic orgies of sex and violence in order to resurrect an ancient God. Stands to reason.

The real standout characters in S2 for me where Jessica, Jason and Andy. It's all to easy to dismiss them as comic relief, given that their storylines were so often played (successfully) for laughs, but these characters were rife with genuine tragedy (Jessica) and heroism (Jason and Andy).

Jessicas shyness and awkwardness around the older but equally inexperienced Hoyt, leading to their eventually sleeping together and her discovering that, due to her vampiric nature her physical virginity would reassert itself, meaning that sex would forever be painful was one of the most endearing, tender and real love affairs you'll find in vampire fiction. Not for them the heightened, epic love affairs of a Buffy and Angel, Edward and Bella, or indeed a Bill and Sookie. This is human/vamp romance in the real world, and it's heartbreaking.

Jason and Andy meanwhile, are probably the most truly heroic characters in the show during this season. They have no abilities to speak of, like Bills vamp strength and speed, Sams shapeshifting or even Sookie with her telepathy. They are simply ordinary people who see their town in danger, a town that has belittled and ridiculed them for years, and step up to do what they can anyway. That they failed is not the point; they tried, knowing full well that they were walking into a situation that would likely see them killed. Proper heroes, in my eyes.


And so we move away from vampires, and hit Merlin, the BBC Saturday night adventure show based on the Arthurian myth. I was, when this show was first mooted many moons ago, one of those skeptics whose first impressions from the premise (young Merlin comes to Camelot and has to hide his powers while working for Arthur who is the same age as him) were that the show would be, not to put too fine a point on it, shit. I based this on the age of the Merlin character. They could do what they wanted otherwise but having Arthur and Merlin as contemporaries just seemed wrong.I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt though, and reserve judgment until after I'd actually watched the thing (radical concept, I realise). The show has, over the last 3 seasons, managed to completely assuage* my fears and is a show which I now enjoy immensely.

Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) are a solid central double act, with a good line in warm friendship disguised as mockery and Angel Coulby (Gwen), Richard Wilson (Gaius) and Anthony Head (Uther) round out a quite frankly stellar regular cast. Katie McGrath is also in the cast, playing Morgana, but she doesn't rate the 'stellar' tag. She barely qualifies for the 'actress' tag, to be honest. One weak link can't sink the ship though, and the others more than carry her.

The 2part finale of the shows 3rd season was, in many ways, an answer to the criticisms of those, unlike myself, who never got over the whole 'that's just not right' attitude to the show. The relationship between Arthur and Gwen becoming public, the introduction of the Round Table, Lancelot Gawain and others being made knights, the Lady in the Lake and of course the Sword in the Stone; all of these exciting developments and many more served to bring the show closer to 'proper' Arthurian history. Not that there is any such thing as historical fact with these characters. Still, some people have a hard time telling the difference being History and Myth, and those people had been complaining about this show from day one. With a bit of luck, these developments will calm them down a bit.

While certain of these elements had been hinted at previously this was the first time they had all been explicitly shown. To introduce them all in the space of one story could have been a massive mistake by the producers. As much as the viewers wanted to see them, bringing them all into play at the same time ran the risk of the show turning into one big exposition heavy info-dump, with the story making way for a simple checklist. Julian Jones, writer of this 2parter, was well up to the challenge however and managed to produce something that was, above all else, a rollicking good adventure story for all the family. What more can you ask for on a Saturday night?

With all of these departures from the schedule, it's looking like the Quest pickings on the basic channels are going to be slim on the ground in the run up to Christmas. A delve into the DVD shelves (and possibly *cough* the intenet *cough*)is looking likely.

*I'm not entirely convinced that this word means what I think it means but what the hell, right?