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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.'