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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Christmas Is Coming! And so is Doctor Who.

I've been thinking about something a lot lately. Something which occurred to me in a quiet moment of contemplation, as I lovingly slipped another William Hartnell Doctor Who into the disc drive, and which has returned to haunt my thoughts on any number of occasions since.

In fact, I've been thinking about it so much, that I've sat down to write this post more than once, just to get it out of my head, before realising that actually, I should probably wait a little while, until we were at least somewhere near a suitable time to post it. As will soon become apparent, posting this any sooner would have just been odd; I'm pushing the boundaries putting it up this week.

So without further ado, let us crack on.

I'm going to talk this week, about Doctor Who Christmas specials. Mainly, about how Steven Moffat looks set, this year, to smash the big tradition of a Who Christmas ep; and no, I'm not talking about them being shit. (He smashed that tradition two years ago)

I speak of course of the notion of the Doctor being on his own in the Christmas ep. With the exception of the first special, The Christmas Invasion, in which the Doctor was essentially an extra in the Rose Tyler Show anyway, the Russell T. Davies (RTD) era saw the Doctor on his own every Christmas. But why was that the case?
Rose Tyler Saves The World. Almost.
I thought about this for a while, and then I thought about it for a while longer because apparently thinking about this stuff too much is my 'thing', and I came up with a couple of potential reasons. They're probably wrong, but what the hell, I'm just spitballing, as our Stateside cousins would have it.

It would be tempting to say that it's just coincidence, of course. Take RTD's insistence, which I still don't understand, on never having a stable TARDIS crew from one season to the next; together with his strict adherence to the 'introduce in the premiere/write out in the finale' model of companion story arc; and you get a state of affairs that just happens to leave the Doctor on his between each season.

I don't believe that that coincidence is the reason though. Say what you will about RTD as a writer of Doctor Who; go on, say it, you're among friends here; but as a producer and a showman he knew exactly what he was doing. So there was definitely a method in his madness. I'm just not sure what the method was. I've kind of narrowed it down in my own head to one agenda. But then I came up with another one that basically contradicts all of my; I thought; well reasoned arguments. Bear with me here.

Agenda One

Teatime on Christmas Day is pretty much as plum a timeslot as you could ever hope to have for a family drama show, and no matter how good your numbers during the year; and Doctor Who's numbers were consistently excellent; you're almost certain to do considerably better on the big day. So is it possible that RTD, seeing a much larger casual audience within his grasp than would ever watch the show normally, set out to convince some of those extra viewers to stick around for the series proper? And having decided to do that, is it possible that he thought the best way was to have an unencumbered Doctor, able to fully command the screen in a way that he couldn't with a strong companion by his side?

You wouldn't want to do it every week, but one episode of Pure Doctor, to show people what kind of character they'd been missing out on by not watching, could well have been the plan, yes?

Agenda Two

The Doctor being on his own at the end of Season 2 left a Catherine Tate sized hole in the Christmas special.

First of many

The Doctor being on his own at the end of S3 left a nice slot for Kylie Minogue. And where would David Morrissey have parked his trailer, if the Doctor had had a sitting companion at the end of S4?

Personally, I don't think the show needed a big name guest to sell the Christmas specials. It seems that someone in the production hierarchy did though; and knowing his love of spectacle I'm just gonna go ahead and blame RTD. Although blame may not be the right word; certainly their presence did the show no harm, and just imagine how intolerable that Cyber-King bollocks would have been without Morrissey there to salvage a bit of dignity. I'm just saying the show didn't need them to get the big ratings.

Cheers Dave, you've done me a solid and no mistake.

Now as I say, agenda 2 pretty much contradicts agenda 1 entirely. If your intention is to highlight your leading man and do a hard sell on your main character, you don't bring in a massively high profile guest to steal his limelight; that's just common sense. So if either is correct it's probably that one; an assertion given yet more credence by Steven Moffat's attitude to the specials since taking over.

Despite his constant (and bewildering, frankly) defences of RTD's work on the show, it's a demonstrable fact that when he took over Moffat went out of his way to not only do things differently going forward, but also to 'fix' many of the problems caused by RTD. Odd behaviour for someone who claims that RTD didn't cause any problems, but there you go.

Think about it; he spent his first season in charge crafting a storyline that gave him an in-story excuse to ditch any and all elements of the show's past that he felt like ditching, he kept his companions around for his second season, he spent said second season crafting a story designed for the sole purpose of undoing the Doctor Messiah bullshit and getting him back to being a mysterious stranger again... and all while writing episodes that make sense to someone with keener critical faculties than a toddler. One thing he didn't change, was the way they made the specials.

A Christmas Carol. AKA The First Decent Special

In his first stab at the form; A Christmas Carol; he contrived to sideline his companions in order to make way for Katherine Jenkins and Michael Gambon and in his second; The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe; he practically wrote them out altogether so that Clare Skinner could have her day in the spotlight. It seems that one RTD tradition needed to be maintained, at least.

Bill Bailey's a funny fella isn't he? Yeah. Yeah he is.

Until this year. This year, we're getting a new, permanent (you know what I mean) companion joining the show, in the Christmas special itself. Now, I'm sure that there will also be a couple of big name guest stars, but I very much doubt that Moffat is going to allow his new creation, who will need to be protected for her tenure in the show proper, to be overshadowed by a bunch of day-players. A weak debut for a major new character; whom you're probably gonna want to sell posters, lunchboxes and dolls of before she gets another episode aired; helps no-one, and I think the BBC, and indeed Moffat, is smart enough to know this.

Jenna Louise Coleman

So, I'd be very surprised if the focus is not firmly on Jenna Louise Coleman as new companion, er... I'll confess I don't actually know the characters name (which is a good thing, because it means my 'know absolutely nothing about a show going in' skills are getting better), at the expense of any old friends (I know about them, my skills aren't that good after all) or one off big names. Which means another RTD era tradition bites the dust; are there any left?

I think that post actually had a point, buried in there somewhere. Unusual for me, that. Don't get used to it.

No idea what I'll bore you with next time, you'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Caprica; Too Soon An End (Or 'Isn't Magda Apanowicz great?')

First things first, DID YOU SEE MISFITS ON SUNDAY? Fuck was that all about eh? Actually swore at my telly at the end there.

Ahem, anyway, to the business at hand...

(This is not the post I originally had planned for Caprica part two. That was much longer; lucky escape for you there; and went into much more depth about the pros and cons of the many changes that occurred between the first group of eps and the second. It also focused much less; but still a bit, let's be honest; on Magda Apanowicz)

The first half of Caprica was, as I said in my earlier post, really really good, while at the same time being far too slow to attract a modern audience; something you'd have thought a seasoned bunch of pros such as the Caprica producers/writers would have realised.

I said I'd revisit the show on here once I'd watched the back half of the season and here I am, being true to my word for once in my life. I'd have done it sooner, had indeed written something last week, but things went a bit tits up and you had to wait. Never mind though, better late than never eh?

The truth is, whatever they did in that final run of episodes it was going to be too little too late. Oh, I'm sure that if their had been a massive surge in popularity then the show would have been renewed; that's just common sense; but the chances of that actually happening? Slim to none. You can blame the long hiatus all you want, and no doubt it did rob the show of whatever scant momentum the cliffhanger gave it, but the truth is that the damage done by the earlier episodes' glacial pacing was too much to overcome; people had made their minds up that it was boring, and all the excitement in the world couldn't change their minds if they weren't watching to see it. It was Carnivale all over again.

Credit where it's due though, they gave it a hell of a shot.

Of course, in order to up the pace in the back half to the extent that they did they had to make some sacrifices. For one thing I refuse to believe that when they hired James Marsters they intended to write him out as quickly as they did; and the same goes for John Pyper-Ferguson.

What do you mean you're killing me off? Do you know who I am?
For another, the reduced screentime for little Willy Adama was a crying shame, because that kid is going places; and I'm sorry, but if you tell me that you saw what they did with his character coming I will flat out tell you you're a liar.

You can't kill me, I'm in the bloody sequel!
I'm not here to list all the things that were wrong, or if not wrong then...less than ideal; I want to be positive, because the show deserves it. In large part, and I make absolutely no apologies for this, due to Magda Apanowicz.

Young Miss Apanowicz was a new face to me, when I began watching Caprica; she was, as I learned from (only) regular commenter Steven Glassman; WHY WILL NO-ONE LEAVE A COMMENT AND THUS VALIDATE MY SAD EXISTENCE; on Kyle XY for a while, but that's another of the many great shows I lost track of after one season and I had no memory of her. Luckily, a quick wikipedia search tells me that she joined in S2, so hurrah, not going senile yet.

I praised Apanowicz when I watched early Caprica, but grouped with Alessandra Torresani and Sina Najafi, as 'the young cast'. In the back half, though, she's deserving of individual praise, as she manages; no easy feat when you look at some of the more experienced cast members; to effectively steal the show. From idealistic schoolgirl in over her head

through terrified trainee terrorist,

 to cylon messiah,

she has a hell of an arc and she plays it beautifully.

She may be helped in this show stealing; not to take anything away from her, because she's brill!!; by Najafi's aforementioned reduced screentime, and Torresani's character going down a storytelling cul-de-sac that not only felt like something out of another show altogether, but was also way beyond their budgetary capabilities; she wasn't best served by the writers, let's just say that.

I would have dearly loved to watch a second season of Caprica, and I didn't think I'd say that after the first run of eps. That a second year didn't materialise is a shame, but hardly a surprise, given how far out of their way they seemed to go to alienate the viewers early on. The likes of Esai Morales, Eric Stoltz and Polly Walker will of course land on their feet, but I've really got my fingers crossed that this is not the last we see of Magda Apanowicz. She's too damn good.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A random round up of odds and ends and things and stuff.

Last post, I said that I was going to be talking about Caprica this week. And I wrote an essay about Caprica to post this week. And somehow, either through my own incompetence or blogger being shit, or perhaps a combination of the two, I've lost the essay about Caprica that I was going to post this week.

I only noticed this fact when I came to put the finishing touches on it prior to posting; tags, a title, more pictures of Magda Apanowicz than is seemly; so I didn't have time to do the whole thing from scratch. I'll re-work it for next week, maybe, unless I get distracted, but in the meantime you'll have to make do with a quick round-up post. I know, you're gutted!

Magda Apanowicz. No way I wasn't having at least one.


I laughed at Switch this week. Not only did I laugh, but I laughed at something that the makers had intended to be funny, as opposed to just laughing at the general incompetence unfolding onscreen and the fact that this rubbish ever made it in front of a camera. So a result there for the Switch team, and it only took them, what's it been, 4 weeks? 5? Seems like it's been on forever, to be honest.

Lacey Turner. Didn't make me laugh.

Of course, the stuff I found funny was all from the marine biologist with anger issues. You know, the guest star. Who we'll probably never see again; he wasn't in the next time trailer, at any rate. So I look forward to not finding it funny again next week. That's a good thing though; the world has righted itself.


Yes, I'm finally watching the complete box set of the worlds greatest secret agent; after it was held hostage for months by my unsavoury brother. At time of writing I've only watched the first 2 seasons but I'm happy to confirm that it's every bit as hilarious as I remember it.

He's the greatest!
There are the occasional gags that would fall flat a little today through no fault of their own; I'm thinking of the likes of the 'kamikaze twin-tubs' in the killer washing machine episode, which would die a death with today's kids based purely on the fact that they wouldn't know what a twin-tub is.

For the most part though the interplay between David Jason and Terry Scott; and the sublime insanity of the narrator; make up for any such tiny faults. This is a show I'm going to have a lot of fun with.

Wizards Vs Aliens

Since last weeks post where I talked about the opening 2-parter of this show I've watched four more eps (2 stories). This weeks was ok, if a little incoherent; I'm hoping the new character it introduces comes back, because there are a hell of a lot of loose ends there; but last weeks was just...

Ok, I know it's a kids show, but it's a kids drama, not a sit-com. And even if it was the latter, I should think they'd struggle to justify this:

The Grazlax. 99p in all crap toy shops.

Press Gang

Not Quest related; although it's written by Steven Moffat, so, you know...; but I just wanted to do a little squee that I've gotten my old DVD's of seasons 1 and 2, long thought lost, back in my possession. Spike. Lynda. Colin. Poor unappreciated Kenny. God I loved this lot when I was a kid.

Lynda and Spike. Loves young drea...hahahaha
Press Gang. If you've never watched it, watch it. And if you haven't watched it since you were a kid, watch it again. And if you watched it as a kid, watched it again as an adult, and then watched it for a third time this last weekend, well, you've got another Sunday coming up, right?

Doctor Who

No, it's not what you think, I'm not so far behind that I'm just now watching the most recent episodes; Who is the one show I resolutely refuse to be behind on. No, inspired by Lindsey (Pottermoosh) Williams frankly brilliant Moosh Watches Who, which if you follow me on twitter you'll know that I'm ever so slightly a wee tad bit obsessed with, I've started watching Classic Who from the very beginning.

I've been meaning to do this for a while now, and MWW has given me the nudge I needed. My plan is to watch one episode a day during the week and two a day at weekends, which for those of you who don't have a calculator handy comes to 9 episodes a week. I thought that this would let me quite quickly catch up to MWW, which was updating twice a week, and then slow to her pace and watch along. Of course, she's now upped her pace to one a day, so it's gonna take a little longer than planned, but hey ho, I'll get there eventually.

The First Doctor. Difficult.
It's proving to be a bit of a slog, I'll be honest, but what the hell, it has to be done.

For those who didn't know; and as a blatant excuse to pimp another of my projects; Moosh Watches Who is actually the inspiration (thing I blatantly copied) for my Sometimes Soaps Are Good Too blog, on which I watch old soaps an episode at a time. I say old soaps; there's only one so far (Dark Shadows) and at a rough estimate that'll take about 20 years at my current pace so there may be some re-thinking in order, but yeah, anyway, Dark Shadows. Check it out.

Just be warned though, I stole her format, I didn't steal her talent, so if you read mine after hers, be sure to adjust your expectations accordingly. Thank you.

So that's the basic run down of what I've been watching of late; I hope it was mildly interesting for you. There's other stuff as well, like Vampire Diaries, Misfits, Merlin... but I'll talk them at a later date. Or maybe I won't. Who even knows anymore? Not me!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Wizards vs Aliens

At the risk of alienating the adults amongst my readership, such as it is, I'm going to talk again about childrens television. Again. Sorry y'all.

With Wolfblood; CBBC's spectacularly well received supernatural drama created by Debbie Moon; having completed it's first run and disappeared from our screens for the time being it's time for CBBC to launch it's next attempt to take the sci-fi/fantasy world by storm and indoctrinate a new generation into it's charms. Namely, Wizards vs Aliens.

From the people who brought us The Sarah Jane adventures, Wizards vs Aliens is the tale of a bunch of aliens coming to Earth to steal it's magic, and being faced with opposition from a bunch of wizards. Pretty self explanatory really.

I had been operating under the impression that this show was put into production following the unavoidable early cancellation of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which came about when Sarah Jane herself, Elisabeth Sladen, passed away. It would seem, if this month's Doctor Who Magazine is to be believed, that that is incorrect; the show was actually conceived much earlier, as a stop gap to fill SJA's slot while Elisabeth Sladen underwent treatment for the illness that would eventually claim her life.

Regardless of the time frame though, the fact remains that this is a show created by, written by and made by the same team that produced SJA, and by that token will be judged to it's predecessor's very high standards. Sadly, it will be found wanting, when it is.

If we're being sensible though, we'd expect nothing less. That show caught lightning in a bottle. It had a lead of immense natural charisma in Sladen, 3 young cast members without a weak link among them; especially in the first season, because I don't care what anyone says, the show lost something very special when Yasmin Paige left; and let's not kid ourselves, in the Doctor Who universe, it had an incredibly deep and fully realised mythos to draw from. WvA doesn't stand a chance against that.

Scott Haran and his posse
If we take those comparisons out of the equation though, how does it fare? On it's own merits, as a new show, does it make you want to keep watching? At time of writing only the opening two parter has aired; though the second story will have by the time this is posted; and I have to say that yes, the opener did it's job. I enjoyed the show. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it.

I'm still going to complain though. Come on, you knew I was.

Some of the aesthetics bothered me; the logo looks cheap and the theme music sounds like it should be attached to a sit-com, rather than a drama; the main villain, who is a puppet voiced by Brian Blessed which should make it awesome by default but doesn't, looks ridiculous; and the hidden base of the wizards is through a portal in the toilet. That last point just... it's a joke, I understand that it's a joke, I get the joke, but it's a joke that's mildly amusing, once; and they've tied themselves to it for the duration.

The Nekross alien dudes. Shiny.

All of that pales though, in comparison to the biggest of my problems with this show; something which I may have mentioned once or twice since the show was first announced; that bloody horrible title. It's not even that it sounds tacky and cheap and third rate sci-fi original movie-ie. I mean, it is that, but it's more than that; it's incredibly prohibitive, from a storytelling standpoint, surely?

Nekross King. Should be awesome, just looks stupid.

Think about it. The title tells you that the show is about wizards, fighting against aliens. How many variations on that do you have? Especially since the reason for the conflict; the Nekross want to consume the wizards' magic; means that they are tied to ONE alien race as the regular antagonists. This is a show that is, unless they pull off some extremely nimble creative gymnastics, going to get very repetitive very quickly and all for the want of someone saying 'you know what lads, it's great as a concept, but maybe we should just see it as a working title, eh?' But of course, this is the almighty RTD, so called genius, so I'm guessing there was a hell of a lot of yes man-ing going on in his BBC meetings.

All of this may seem like petty complaining to you, and yes, I'll concede, they are all small things. But they are the kind of small things that people notice, even if they don't realise they do; and the kind of small things that will cement a show in someone's mind as good, rather than great. Which is a shame.

Of course, you could say that it's only a kids show, so why hold it up to the same standards as primetime drama. You could say that, but I'd hate you forever. Because do you know what that attitude boils down to? It boils down to 'it's ok to give kids shit, because they don't know any better.' They do know better, they deserve to be catered to by people who respect their intelligence, and they'll respond when they are. Why do you think SJA was so popular? Or Wolfblood? Or what about Horrible Histories? I rest my case.

As I say though, I did enjoy the show, for all my complaining; I think it has huge potential, if they can escape from the traps they've set for themselves. Oh, and if the sidekick character becomes less annoying. I'm not worrying too much about that point though; when Wolfblood started I thought the best friend characters were awful, but by the end of the run one of them, Shannon (Louisa Connolly-Burnham), had become the absolute beating heart of the show and totally stolen it form under the leads noses.

Wolfblood's secret weapon
These things just take time.

Next: A post about the back half of Caprica, or 'Why Magda Apanowicz is awesome.'

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Red Dwarf X

Red Dwarf, eh? Will it ever truly die? I hope not.

I didn't watch Red Dwarf at the height of it's popularity; I was too young and it was on past my bedtime. I came to it with it's later, less beloved series, before backtracking to watch the earlier shows on VHS.

One result of this backwards viewing is that I never really subscribed to the notion that the later seasons were somehow inferior; after all, they were good enough to hook me and make me go out and buy the earlier shows, so how bad could they really be? To my mind, none of the runs are flawless; point me at the show that is; but neither are any of them worthless.

The crew in the early days. Before Kryten.
These days I'm all caught up of course; because if you can't catch up on a show with as relatively short an episode count as this one has, and has years between seasons, then you aren't trying; so I can enjoy the current, 10th, season along with the rest of you.

There were some, and I won't name names but you know who you are, that scoffed at the very notion of Red Dwarf coming back; flogging a dead horse was a phrase I saw bandied about rather more than was seemly; and my question is, why? Why is it flogging a dead horse to make a new run of a show that has, in it's 25 year life, produced less episodes than the average US sitcom produces in 3? Was Cheers scraping the barrel after 3 seasons? 30 Rock? Friends? Don't answer that last one.

So I'm a long time fan who was all in favour of of the show's return from the off. Now that we've established where I'm coming from, what did I actually think of the new series so far?

The crew now. Hardly aged a day.

There's no Holly; of either version; but the rest of the core cast are present and correct and with the exception of a few wrinkles on the face and inches on the waist, look like they've never been away; they seem as comfortable with their characters, and with each other, as they do in any S4 or S5 episode. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised, since aside from their wealth of experience working with each other they're all accomplished comic actors in their own right; Chris Barrie in particular would have been a mega-star if there was an iota more justice in the world.

Best actors in the world would struggle with duff scripts though; just ask the cast of Doctor Who: The End of Time; so it's a relief that the old magic has been well and truly in evidence from series co-creator and writer since episode one, Doug Naylor. There's been the tiniest hint of Rimmer; never the subtlest of characters to begin with; slipping ever so slightly into self parody, which I suspect can be put down to Naylor trying a little too hard to please the fans and giving them too much of a good thing. Happily such tendencies were quickly reigned in and we're left with some incredibly tight stories. True to the 'glory years', these episodes work as 30 minute nuggets of top notch sci-fi, as well as comedy, which is just as it should be.

Personal highlight of the new series for me has been Lemons, which by all accounts has proven divisive. Partly because I do love a bit of time travel, partly because you have to give props for having Jesus as a central character (and figure of fun), and partly because the Church of Judas bit is a classic bit of 'insanity masquerading as logic' comedy. Mainly though, I love it for the palm calculator;

as perfectly timed a piece of physical comedy as you're likely to see on television this year. I'm telling you, Chris Barrie is a f*ck*ng legend.

It seems that the show is setting and smashing all sorts of records for Dave (the channel it now screens on) so I'm quietly confident (and begging on my knees) that this run won't be the last we see of the boys; indeed, there's no reason at all that that season 10 couldn't be the beginning of a regular run to rival the shows original BBC2 stint, in length and indeed in quality.

Come back next week when I talk about something or other. Could be Caprica, or I'm leaning towards something to do with Wizards Vs Aliens. Which, now that I've typed that sentence means it almost certainly won't be either. We'll see.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Antonio's Folly

After last weeks rant about Switch, I thought I'd go a different route this time around, and tell you a story, just to lighten the tone. I'm good like that you know; I like to give you a bit of variety.

The story is about a man, lets call him Antonio. Antonio wanted desperately to be an actor, and he was very good at it too, but for many years the only work he could get was in adverts for tea bags, in which he would romantically pursue his neighbour lady in a sinister ploy to steal her instant beverage aids. Luckily for Antonio, the ads proved surprisingly successful and he was able to parley his fame and/or sexually predatory notoriety into big time network television roles in the US.

Tony Head in the Gold Blend adverts

Unluckily for Antonio, his judgment when it came to these roles was less than sound and he ended up in a show called Virtual Reality VII; a show roundly derided and swiftly canceled. Poor Antonio.

All was not lost though, because fast forward but a little time, and Antonio would find himself playing a pivotal role in a TV show so influential, so longevitudinal*, so downright good, that he became loved by many, thus cementing his place in the history books as an adorable duffer.  Of course, even the most logevitudinal shows have to end sometime and after 7 years it was back to looking for work again.

After some guff about a pair of lovable ex-cons being lovable while pulling off loveabley naff lovable crimes and a guest stint as someone called The Demon Headmaster on Primeval, he struck gold once more when he was cast, as The King no less, in a major BBC drama series about some famous wizard or other; I think his name is Catweazle.

Now, in something of a departure for Antonio, The King is a bit of a villainous role; his first attempt to play the 'baddie' on a long term basis. And would you believe, he's good at it! Well, as good as he can be, given that any true nastiness has to be restrained for a family audience, meaning that he is forever being talked out of doing bad stuff, or being foiled in a comedic fashion, or having a tender moment with his Son. Aww, isn't he just a big teddy bear? Don't you just want to hug him? Well, no actually, I want him to chop someones head off and throw their body from the battlements, but it doesn't look like I'm going to get it.

Ironically enough, in recent years the show has become progressively darker to the extent that, while we're never going to see Spartacus levels of gore, there was definite room for some creative despottery; ironic because one of the major milestones in said darkening was the killing off of The King. Oh Antonio, will nothing ever go your way?

King Arthur. Uther thinks he's shit.

But wait, what's this? An episode set several years after The Kings death, which sees Antonio back to play his characters vengeful spirit, determined to put an end to his son and heirs uselessness at Kinging. Like letting commoners be Knights; solution, kill the knights; and letting a commoner be Queen; solution, kill the Queen.

Gwen the Queen. Uther thinks she's shit.

At last, an opportunity for Antonio to show off his inner nutter and really go to town as the psychotic villain he only hinted at as Tea Bag stalker! Except, well, that's not what happened. Instead we got, well, I don't know what we got. Did he think he was in a 20's b/w silent movie? Did he think he was in a pantomime? Did he think the script made no sense and so didn't give a f*ck?

Uther as a ghost. Is shit.

Wasted your chance there, Antonio. Wasted your chance.

All of which was just a really long winded way of saying 'What the Hell did Anthony Head think he was doing in Merlin this week? He's so much better than that!' Great episode regardless though.

*That means long running, or having longevity. Yes it does. Yes it does!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Didn't do a Quest post last week, so here's just a brief rundown of my sci-fi/fantasy viewing in the last fortnight:

Doctor Who ended on an episode which wasn't Moffat's best but was still great; Merlin came back with an excellent 2-parter that was marred only by some dodgy CGI and a certain character surviving seemingly mortal injury yet again when it's as clear as day that she should have been  killed off ages ago; I finished off the commentaries for the first half of Caprica and moved on to the episodes from the second half; Wolfblood continued to be top shizz; and The Vampire Diaries came back for a fourth season of 'this person is dead, oh no they aren't, actually they might be, but they might not, no they're someone else who's pretending to be the ghost of the first person but is really a hybrid of the second person and a third person's goldfish, but no, hang on, no-one can die after all, unless it's a Tuesday and they have a hole in their jeans and a G in their name, because of the magic jellyfish.'

Oh, and some witches had a good laugh about raping a guy.

I didn't have high expectations going in to Switch. Everything about it screamed low rent Charmed rip-off. Just think about that for a second. Exactly. What I didn't expect was that it would not only be a charisma free bore-a-thon, but that it would also be a moral vacuum.

First things first, they killed a cat; by accident; and brought it back to life. I don't have a problem with that seeing as how messing with the veil is a staple of supernatural drama; and given that the show was trailed with a heavy emphasis on quirk and comedy I wasn't exactly expecting Pet Semetary; but some consequences would have been nice. Instead it was just a stepping stone to the next crisis, which was equally pointless. And resolved in a manner so predictable you wanted to slap them for taking an entire episode to figure it out. Imbeciles.

Boring and predictable do not amount to the same thing as 'moral vacuum' though. No, that's where the other main plot line comes in. One of the lead characters; I don't know their names yet, don't hate me; works in a shop with two men. One of them is her friend, and gay (which will be important later) while the other is a new guy that both she and her (shockingly camp) gay friend fancy. He shows zero sign of making a move on either of them though, so rather than do the obvious thing of perhaps asking him out, she goes home and recruits her friends to put a spell on a piece of jewelery so that he would be hopelessly attracted to the person wearing it.

Now, seminal Buffy episode Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (and the other 978 'don't mess with love' cautionary tales) have taught us that this will go wrong. She's doing it anyway though. Not a one of her friends objects, which is moment the first of making this whole cast seem like conscienceless monsters.

She meets up with him and as soon as he sees the brooch he's kissing her face off. Then it;s off home for lots of noisy sex. Anyone see the problem here? It's Torchwood's 'Owen and the pheromone spray' all over again. She essentially roofied him. It's rape. Which her flatmates respond to with wry smiles. Moment the second.

Now, if this was heading down a 'there will be repercussions' route I could tolerate it. So I kept watching, waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting for the moment of redemption.

 I thought we were going to get it when she met up with him in a club and he started showing slightly creepy signs of potential stalker-itis. Was she going to face the consequences? No, it turns out that's just what these writers think romance sounds like.

Then he tells her that she's changed his life, because 'I used to think I was gay, before I met you.' This obviously means that she can no longer see him, because apparently having a witless sex slave is no fun if that person would choose a different gender, if given the choice. Remember, she doesn't want out because she realises what she has done is creepy and wrong; she wants out because, well, she's a shallow person with very warped priorities.

The cast of Switch
Back at the flat, the coven get a lecture from a slumming Caroline Quentin, who is the mother of, er, one of them, and is disappointed in their skill levels. Desperate to impress her, they blurt out that they have raised the dead (the cat) and done the love enchantment. Oops, silly girls, that's dangerous magic that goes against the natural order and not to mention is fucking rape; talking about the 'love' enchantment there, not the cat. Quentin, far from being impressed, goes absolutely batshit mental with them, and tears them a new... No, actually, she's well impressed and starts having orgasms at the thought of the bragging rights she'll have at the next solstice. Moment the third.

After that some things happened and the various plots kind of meandered to their predictable ends and she figured out the way to get out of seeing her gay slave anymore. She gave the brooch to her gay friend. Yep. So now, the guy she coerced into bed is full on into her mate, and though we don't see it, we can probably surmise that some rampant animal sex is going on between the two of them as we speak. With the victim still having no free will and the other guy, who isn't in the know about magic, having no clue that he's essentially been given a sex doll as a gift. Moment the fourth.

At not a single point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the messing with his head. At no point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the fact that he is having sex against his will. At no point does any character voice an objection, however mild, to the fact that he has been consigned to this life, seemingly indefinitely. But I guess it's ok though right? I mean, he's gay, and he's been made the sex slave of another  gay man, so he'd probably be ok with it, right?

This show was never meant to be a hardcore, full on drama. It is quite clearly intended to be a bit of lightweight romantic fun. I have no doubt that the writers would protest the rape allegations, as the writers of Torchwood did with the Owen character; but it changes nothing though. Whatever their intentions; and I'm willing to believe they were innocent; the whole exercise was woefully misguided, wrong-headed, and offensive.

Or was it just me?

See you next week. No idea what I'll be talking about, but you never know, it might be interesting.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


The art of the successful spin-off is a very tough nut to crack; for every Xena: Warrior Princess or Angel, there's a Lone Gunmen or Crusade. So it's a brave writer/producer who takes on the task; and a brave viewer who gets their hopes up.

 The risk; or the biggest among many; is that in attempting to create a success, the writer will steer a little too close to the original show; which, if it's getting a spin-off is presumably popular; on the basis that that's what the audience wants, so why not give them more of it? All you get when you do that though, is a watered down copy, giving the law of diminishing returns a head start.

Compare, for example, Star Trek: Voyager to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The latter took risks, daring to deviate from the formula devised in the original Star Trek, and honed by The Next Generation. As a result the writers managed to craft a compelling epic that is fondly remembered to this day by not just Trek fans, but most fans of good sci-fi. Voyager, on the other hand, was as close to a carbon copy of The Next Generation as the writers could get away with, and told warmed up stories, using warmed characters, to a barely lukewarm audience. To most of those that remember it today, it's a joke; a bland mess.

Stargate: Atlantis is another example. Successful enough in it's way; 5 seasons is a respectable run for any show not being compared to a parent show that ran for 10; it nevertheless failed to ever truly capture it's audiences hearts and minds the way Stargate:SG1 did. And the writers knew it, which was why they scrambled around for the whole five years, changing this and tweaking that and changing the cast every season, in a desperate attempt to find a dynamic that sparked even half as well, or had a fraction of the seemingly effortless chemistry, of the SG1 cast. They never did manage it.

Which is why they took a leaf out of Deep Space Nine's playbook, and threw out the rules with their next spin-off, Stargate: Universe. A move, ironically enough, that saw them ending up with a show very similar in premise to Voyager.

Sadly, although most would tell you that Universe was by far the better show, the damage was apparently done. Maybe audiences were put off by Atlantis, maybe they were turned off by the darker premise, or  perhaps they were just worn out on the Stargate concept and the franchise needed a rest; but whatever the reason, Universe didn't come close to the longevity of even the lesser of it's predecessors, quality be damned.

So if neither method is a guarantee of success, even when done well, what's a writer to do? There's no answer, except to say that they do what they think is best at the time. And in the case of the Battlestar Galactica writers, what they thought was best was to make a show so far removed from the aesthetic of Battlestar as to be almost unrecognisable. What they came up with, was Caprica.

Whilst Battlestar was the quintessential space opera with the bulk of it's action taking place aboard various ships, Caprica could, in a great many ways, pass as being set in a world that was a contemporary of our own. While budgetary constraints were obviously a factor in making the decision to go that route the justification; that even in futuristic scenarios not everyone would have access to all the latest mod cons; is a sound one. I know I'm still waiting for my first go on an ipad.

For the 2 of you who don't know, Caprica was a prequel to Galactica; in itself a further justification for the lower tech levels on show. I've gone on record in the past as having a deep dislike of prequels in general; and I stand by that assertion; but I've also gone on record as not liking remakes and these writers proved with Galactica that they can do those pretty bloody well, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But do they pull it off?

Yes and no. The show isn't a classic. Let's get that out of the way first. But it so easily could have been and, given the talent involved, probably should have been. It's problems are not due to it being a prequel, nor are they due to it failing to compare favourably with it's progenitor. In truth, the problems facing Caprica are almost entirely down to the writing staff taking far too long to get anywhere.

There isn't a duff scene in this show, but there are too many, and the plot takes forever to develop. It's bizarre that the writers; some of the absolute best in the business; didn't realise that they were strangling the show at birth with their increeeeeeeedibly slow pacing. As I say, take any scene in isolation, and you'll get goosebumps; take 7 scenes in succession, you'll get bored. And it's a crying shame.

The biggest problem, I think, is that there is simply no threat. The danger in Battlestar was all pervasive and ever present, whereas here you'd be pushed to say exactly who the villains even are. They do exist, they just aren't particularly scary, and it's not until very near the half way mark of the show's run that any kind of cohesive narrative starts to take shape, and the protagonist/antagonist dynamic is properly established.

Stoltz and Morales. Pure class.
But let us put aside our disappointment at yet another hotly anticipated show failing to set the world alight, and discuss the cast. Lead roles Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adams/Adama are played by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales respectively, so I don't think I really need to say much on that score; those two are gold. The real stars here were among the young characters. (Note: I said young characters, not young cast members)

The emotional core of the show is of course Zoe Graystone, as played by Alessandra Torresani, but her best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) will herself become just as pivotal a player once the storyline actually starts moving. Although both characters are played as teenagers, they are played by women in their mid 20's, which allows me to say phwoaaaarrr, with impunity.

*insert sexist comment about them being pretty*
Attractiveness aside though (and they are both very attractive), these two absolutely nail their parts. Without the ability of Torresani to scare the bejesus out of you one minute and break your heart the next the central conceit of the show would be dead in the water and Apanowicz, who has the lion's share of the derring do and dangerous activities plays a scared young girl getting in way over her head better than anyone you'll see. These two are keepers, for sure.

Sina Najafi. Future mega star

And then there's young Willie Adama. Just to show that I can appreciate a good performance beyond the ability of the actor to make me fancy them, Sina Najafi was a revelation. I don't know how old he is, but I can't imagine he's done much before this, yet he just owns the screen when he's on it, and his chemistry with the guy playing his uncle is spot on.

He's playing a young boy who finds himself all but abandoned when his father sinks into a depression following a family tragedy and is gradually drawn into the comforting embrace of the surrogate family provided by the local organised crime syndicate. It's astonishing to me that he can seem so equally at ease being the wide eyed kid in the candy store when doing kid stuff, yet effortlessly cynical and wiseguy-esque in the comfort of his gangland friends. This kid is going places, on that I would bet much in the way of money.

All in all, I honestly don't know whether I'd recommend Caprica or not. It has so much going for it, but those pacing issues just make it so difficult to fall in love with. I shall let you know when I've watched the 2nd half of the season. You never know, it could blow me away. Until next time, you lovely little oiks you.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I'm a fool to myself

This week, I was going to write a post all about how I'd started watching the 60's version of Dark Shadows, the soap opera that started life as a sort of Gothic Romance but only really took off in the ratings when it started introducing fantastical elements into it's plots, such as werewolves, vampires, ghosts and, apparently, parallel universes.

But then I had an idea, thought about the idea, discounted the idea, thought about the idea some more, and then decided that yes, it was a stupid idea but I was going to do it anyway, and this post became an announcement.

I have in recent weeks been enthusing on twitter about my new favourite blog, Moosh Watches Who, in which Lindsey Williams; or Pottermoosh as she is known online by the yoof who are, by and large, her target audience; watches Doctor Who from the very beginning, and gives her thoughts on it, an episode at a time. She is very funny, and I love her posts,so I kind of got inspired to try my hand at an episode by episode rundown of a long running show. Not in the style of the above blog of course, because that would require that I be, you know, funny. But still...

Yes, the man who can't update the 3 blogs he already has on anything even remotely resembling a regular schedule, has started a new one. Because he's a lunatic.

Of course, I won't be writing episode by episode breakdowns of Doctor Who, because that way lies plagiarism; given how good her stuff is I'm bound to copy it, even if unintentionally. No, I shall be doing it with, wait for it... old soap operas. Because if there's one thing that has come anywhere close to rivaling my sci-fi love in recent years, it's my new found love of old soaps.

Since I have just started watching Dark Shadows, and that will, in time, become a fantasy show, thus scratching two itches, as it were, that seemed a good place to start. I'll also be doing Prisoner: Cell Block H. I'll probably alternate the two shows, so as not to burn myself out on either.

So yes, I'm doing this. I'd like to think that it means I'll be more of a presence in your reading lists, but what it probably means is that I'll be writing exactly the same amount of stuff per week on an even more erratic schedule than before. So be it.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Wolf Blood

Despite regularly declaring myself resolutely pro children's drama, and jumping to their defence on more than one occasion, I have to confess that I didn't really make that much of an effort to keep up with what the current scene was like, preferring instead to track down shows from my own youth, or even earlier. I don't know why I thought modern children's drama would in all likelihood be rubbish, but I can't deny that that was my working hypothesis.

It wasn't until the arrival on the scene of The Sarah Jane Adventures that I once more dipped my toes into what the yoof were watching and, as I believe goes without saying at this point, I was wowed. This was a 'kids' show that wouldn't have disgraced itself in it's parent shows slot. In fact, during David Tennant's final year in the TARDIS, when we found ourselves limited to special episodes every few months in lieu of a new series of Doctor Who, I advocated running that years SJA as hour long episodes instead of 2-part half hours, and putting it in the vacant primetime slot, or at least a Sunday teatime (where I still believe a decent family adventure drama could thrive). Of course, that didn't happen, but the show was good enough, for long enough, that it's convinced me to show a little faith and trust in CBBC to get it right.

It was with this in mind that last week I settled down in front of the tellybox to watch the premiere episode of WolfBlood, the new half hour drama about werewolves.* And while I don't think I'm insulting anyone by saying it's not as accomplished as the aforementioned SJA, yet, it certainly did nothing to make me regret my decision.

Created by writer Debbie Moon; and as I type that I see the Moon/Werewolf thing for the first time because I'm a total dunce; the series sees teenage girl Maddy attempting to live a normal life whilst hiding from her friends and teachers that she, and her parents, are Wolf Bloods. The task becomes even harder when new boy at school Rhydian turns out to be a Wolf Blood too, but one without a pack whose upbringing in the foster system has left him woefully unprepared to deal with his heritage.

Maddy and Rhydian
 That's pretty much all you need to know to enjoy the series, and in truth it 'is' very enjoyable. The leads, Aimee Kelly (Maddy) and Bobby Lockwood (Rhydian) both have charisma to spare and an easy chemistry with each other which really sells the unique bond between the characters. There are a couple of weak links among the supporting cast of friends and school bullies, but it would be churlish to name names; they're only young, after all, and there are flashes of brilliance from each that hint at great things once they find their groove.

Aimee Kelly

 I'll admit that I found some of the 'moral of the week' writing in episode 3 a touch too on the nose, but that's a minor complaint, and once the supernatural elements came back to the fore the show started to fly again. I hope the difficult childhood/emotional problems/ dealing with adolescence stories continue; and let's face it, they will; but hopefully they'll find a way to more seamlessly blend them with the fantasy. Once they get that balance right, I predict something a bit special from them.

Bobby Lockwood
  So far the story has been very much focused on Rhydian learning to fit in, and Maddy's burgeoning powers (the puberty/virginity parallels here are obvious, but downplayed to better suit the sensibilities of it's broadcaster), but at time of writing I've only seen 4 episodes and there's a lot still to come. I think we'll almost certainly see at least one of Maddy's friends discover the truth; the identity of the mysterious Wild Wolf Blood roaming the woods will be revealed (my money is on it being one of Rhydians birth parents, or the school teacher, although the latter would require some explanation as to how none of the other Wolves can smell him, so I may be talking rubbish there); and if we don't see another supernatural race (probably vampires but I'd rather it not be) then I'll be very surprised.

All told, the show is another impressive notch on CBBC's belt and a credit to Moon and her fellow writers. It's not easy to put a fresh spin on such a familiar concept, but they've done it. I'm begging though, no romance for Maddy and Rhydian. Please.

*The show goes to great pains in-story, to stress that they aren't werewolves at all, but rather 'Wolf Bloods'; werewolf carrying a 'monster' stigma. Fair enough. But even if you accept that werewolf=monster; and I think Buffy, and others including current show Teen Wolf by all accounts, have proved that stereotype doesn't always need to be applied; the fact is that whatever you call them in-story, you want kids (and, er, sad cases like me) to be raving about 'that cool new werewolf thing.'

Friday, 7 September 2012

I couldn't think of a title for this. So I'm going with 'Ballbag'

Brace yourselves. It's a long 'un.

Now I'm sure we all know that Flash Gordon pre-dates the Queen singing, James Bond indulging his Robin Hood fetish, Blackadder's Dad cosplaying as Katar Hol, 80's movie. Don't we? Of course we do.

Adam Strange? Pussy! Superman? Mommies Boy!
We know about the original comic strips; we know about the Buster Crabbe movie serials; some of us may even know about the series of novels from the 70's, (I've read 'em, they aren't very good) and 80's (I've not read 'em, they could be aces for all I know). But did you know about the 1954 TV show starring Steve Holland? Because for some bizarre reason, I didn't. Shocking, I know.

Not now Flash my dear. Ming is busy.
I only found out about said TV show when I was messing about googling Flash whilst in the midst of watching movie serial Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (or Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers Conquer The Universe, or Flash Gordon 3: Foxy Spy Ladies Of Mongo), which I picked up dirt cheap in a DVD discount store.  As so often seems to happen, watching one thing leads to the discovery of something else and I end up further behind than when I started. Well, not really further behind; the shows already existed; but it seems like that because I know these shows exist now.

Case in point; I plan in the very near future to get back to the 90's X-Men animated series, which I am roughly half way through watching. A quick search to update my episode checklists leads me down the link trail to Wolverine and the X-Men. Fair enough, I knew that show existed and had planned to tack it's relatively small episode count on to the end of X-Men. What I didn't know, and what I was about to find out, was that their was a 12 episode Wolverine anime. Something else to add to the list.

Hugh Jackman he aint

This is an all too common scenario, and one which can always be relied upon to batter my head whenever I get complacent. I mean, how many Spider-Man cartoons have their been? Searching for the Conan cartoon reveals a live action Conan series; which it turns out I knew about at one point because I have a full episode list printed off; no memory of it though. And of course there's the time you're reading an article about Children of the Stones and it mentions in passing something called Timeslip.

Timeslip. I know what he was up to. Cheeky blighter.
Even just having a wander in HMV can be a nightmare, as shelf after shelf after shelf is filled with shows that, once I become aware of their existence I become overwhelmed with a mad urge to watch them. Many of them will fester in the back of my brain for a few months, causing untold mental anguish, before gradually fading from my mind. Not because I've become less obsessive, but simply because another new thing has just popped up on a google search for He-Man.

Then there are the times you're flicking idly through Smallville reviews on a comic website and you're suddenly confronted by talk of this:

How had I never heard of that? Christos!

What you may be taking away from this post is that I am not the most educated of men when it comes to television science fiction. I profess to be going to watch everything but I don't really know what everything is. Rest assured though, that as soon as something comes to my attention, it's on the list. It just takes me longer to get around to some shows than others.

Let's take Life on Mars and Being Human, for example. Both have spawned US remakes, and neither of said remakes have crossed my oculars as of yet. Partly for reasons of time and partly because the originals were; and in the case of Being Human, still is; in production. (I'm counting Ashes to Ashes here. Gene is Gene.) I didn't fancy the confusion.

And then there are the shows that just look, or are reviewed as being,so shit that I have no real inclination to watch. It happened with The Net, but I eventually got around to watching that. And it happened with...du du du duuurrr... the 2007 series of Flash Gordon, starring Whitney Fordman, Shady Double Agent Lady From Mutant X, and your Dad's accountant. That one I haven't touched yet. One day though. One day.

Flash Gordon. Apparently

I hope you're all very impressed by the way I brought this here post; which you all thought was rambling aimlessly with no destination in sight, admit it; full circle and back to The Flasher. It's my way of pretending I know how to structure a piece of writing. (Which I don't. I'd have been useless at uni. Essays be damned!)

Anyway, proof positive that The Quest really is impossible. But it's not gonna stop me from plugging away regardless, with not a care for my sanity, or your boredom thresholds. Until next time.