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Monday, 26 September 2011

Closing Time

THEY'RE BACK! No, not 'THEM'. THE OTHER THEM! And their metal pets.

And him. And her, but not for much of it. And that woman from Open All Hours. Yes, this week the Cybermen returned, with their Cybermat pal, Craig Owens returned with his girlfriend, Sophie and their new son Alfie "Stormageddon" Owens, in a jolly old beast by Gareth Roberts with a nasty sting in the tail. And Nurse Gladys Emmanuel on the make-up counter.

It's been two hundred years since the Doctor said farewell to Amy and Rory, during which time he's popped in to film with Laurel and Hardy, escaped from a prisoner of war camp and got himself imprisoned in (and subsequently escaped from) the Tower of London... But his imminent death has never felt so... imminent. He has just one more stop on his tour before he takes himself off to Utah to get shot by that mysterious Impossible Astronaut. More about just how mysterious that astronaut still is later in the week.

No, before he dies our Doctor pops in to visit his old pal Craig, again wonderfully played by James Corden.

Of course, when the Doctor is about, nothing's easy and before long he's working in a shop in order to work out what the hell is happening to a) the electrics in this place and b) all the people who are disappearing as well as doing his level best to make sure Craig and Alfie are safe. All this in an episode that is equal parts touching, funny and exciting.

Some have said that the Cybermen were wasted in this one; that since they were literally only just getting started with their invasion - due to having crash landed who-knows-how-many years ago in what would eventually become Colchester - when the Doctor and Craig blow the lot of them up with love (the only time a "Love Conquers All" resolution has actually worked properly, in my opinion). I don't think they were wasted. In fact, I think this is my favourite Cyberman story since the show returned in 2005. A battered faction using any means they can to get themselves back to full power; lovely.

But this one wasn't about the monsters - much to the obvious disappointment of many more difficult-to-please fans. This one was Doctor Who's way of doing "new father struggles to cope but realises that, with help and patience, he'll get there in the end" - and it was it doing it well. The character of Craig suits awkward new-fatherhood. And, whether you liked the episode or not, there's no denying that Matt Smith and James Corden are the best Double Act on telly at the moment. They bounce off each other in ways that fill the screen and engage you with every word. And you only had to watch Doctor Who Confidential to see just how well the two get on off-screen. I, for one, would welcome a third adventure with Craig Owens - let's have a DVD box set in fifteen years time called "The Lodger Trilogy", complete with audio commentaries with middle-aged funsters Matt Smith and James Corden. I'm smiling at the very thought... I bloody loved Closing Time. It was exciting, humourous, brilliantly performed and, most of all, a lot of fun!

But the fun can't last, kids. Because next week the Doctor dies again. And the final moments of Closing Time reveals the awful truth about just who is responsible. Many of us guessed it, but - even now - I'm not sure... Yes, Kovarian kidnaps newly qualifies Doctor River Song and positions her beneath Lake Silencio in the space suit; there to kill strike the Time Lord dead.

It all seemed too obvious, didn't it? The captain of the Tesselecta told us, back in Let's Kill Hitler, that Melody Pond is the woman who kills the Doctor. And we know from their records that the Doctor has always and will always die on the banks of Lake Silencio in Utah. 2 + 2 = 4. But could Moffat make it equal five? Is it possible that - yes - Melody kills the Doctor (and we've seen her do it, back in The Impossible Astronaut) but, through whatever mysterious means, she is replaced by someone more in control when it comes to sorting this whole mess out?

Nobody but those-in-the-know know. Luckily we don't have long to wait to find out. In a matter of days we'll see just how this is all resolved (though don't expect answers to every question we've been asking... we ain't getting them!). And, judging by the Next Time trailer (below), it may not be as simple as it seems. "502 never 503" indeed!

Also, watch the Prequel to The Wedding Of River Song on the official BBC Doctor Who site.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Doctor Who Christmas Casting 2011 Revealed

So it seems we have our guest cast and a setting for the story of this Christmas' Doctor Who special! If you don't want to know then do not read any further (although with the photos and all it's probably too late). It may also be worth you living in your basement eating nothing but rice with no contact with the outside world until December, too... This news will be out there tomorrow morning.

The guest stars this year are:

Arabella Weir; former Fast Show actress.

Bill Bailey; troll-like funny man.

Alexander Armstrong; Pointless tv bloke, funny man and voice of the computer Mr Smith in the Sarah Jane Adventures.

And the one we already knew about, Outnumbered star Claire Skinner.

The story takes place during World War Two which lends more truth to the rumours of a Doctor Who take on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I wonder just how well that will play? I suppose we shall see. Actual story detail is thin on the ground, as is to be expected at such an early stage, but the 'Star' newspaper claims "The special sees the Time Lord (Matt Smith, 28) crash land in war-torn England. Posing as the caretaker of a creepy old house in Dorset he embarks on a magical mystery adventure with Madge Arwell and her two children, Lily and Cyril."

As for the cast, I'm more than happy with that. Looks like this will be a jolly old episode, funny too! There isn't anything official on which characters they'll all be playing but we know Claire Skinner is playing "a Mum" (presumably the companion for this one) and I would put money on Alexander Armstrong being a bumbling professor type. As for Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir - who knows?! But I can see Bill being some magical, alien being - all made up and all. 

I'm quite excited about this now! Roll on Christmas!

Monday, 19 September 2011

The God Complex

Okay. Let's get what I didn't like out of the way first, then I'll tell you how much I enjoyed the latest episode of Doctor Who. This one felt a bit rushed. And yet, at the same time, lacking in reach. It felt that they rushed through so much that it left a large hole in the middle of the episode. But, as I shall explain, The God Complex redeemed itself. Luckily.

Let's accept this one for what it was; nothing spectacular, but nice all the same. The idea was lovely - a sort of modern take in the Minotaur in the Labyrinth... And an effective one! I almost wish they'd not bothered with the "fears within rooms" thing though. What would have been wrong with a spacey prison, floating about keeping its Minotaur inmate out of harm's way, yet picking up the odd snack for him while it did so? Yes, there would have to be a reason, a method of selection for these snacks, but that would be worked out...

The Minotaur looked great, it worked well as a "chase" villain. I wish it was the Doctor and a group of people running away from a big monster. Something that simple would have worked very well.

That's not to say this episode didn't work as it was. As I've mentioned, the idea was good! They missed a trick not including some seriously creepy fears (the nerdy blogger afraid of girls, the clever would-be companion afraid of being a disappointment, they all seem a bit by-numbers for my liking) within the rooms and, given time, the whole "Rory not having a room" thing could have been explored in far more interesting ways. It was basically overlooked in the episode. Such a shame!

But what really did work well here was the tone. It was well-lit (as in bright) and it was familiar. The Muzak was a lovely touch and the ventriloquists' dummies were wonderfully creepy. As was the clown. It seemed that the forgotten fears, left behind long after their hosts had died, were worse than those of our survivors. Another shame.

Aha! Now, our survivors! There's a thing! I won't talk about the obviously meant-to-have-been-thought-as-the-next-companion Rita - everyone's talking about her, so I won't. I will, however, talk about Gibbis. Yes, I know everyone's talking about him too, but I want my say. I thought David Walliams' performance as the alien afraid of everything was wonderful. You could tell it was Walliams, but you never felt - or at least I never felt - as though it was a parody character. I think we all expected "a funny, cowardly alien" and what we were given, subtly, was a back-stabbing swine who would sacrifice the lives of anyone else, willingly, in order to survive himself. Now that's about as dark a character as we're likely to get on a Saturday tea time. Truly chilling, especially as most of Gibbis' darker, more selfish lines were delivered with a knowing smile behind the eyes.

Visually, this one was a treat. I thought the direction was faultless and the performances across the board were incredible. I also think that the monster of the week was one of the better we've had. I just wish it was all about him.

I can't say I DIDN'T enjoy this episode because I really did! I scored it 7/10 on the Gallifrey Base Rate and Review thread. But it gained a whole point for the last ten minutes. Yes, boys and girls, it would seem that for once we have a happy departure from the TARDIS. So far, just since 2005, companions have been fired, abandoned, lost in parallel universes, neglected, mind-wiped, dropped into burning engines and - in the case of so many would-be companions - completely overlooked before the adventure had a chance to begin. But with Amy and Rory it seems the decent thing has been done; before their lives can get any more fucked up the Doctor has bought them a house and a flash motor and allowed them to live happily. This obviously means that sometime in the near future something terrible will happen to them. Allowing companions to just leave is against everything Doctor Who holds dear. We shall see.

Anyway, bottom line: not a bad episode, by any means. Exciting enough, full of ideas and a fine example of the show looking as good as it ever will. But there was something lacking this week. I just don't quite know what. That last Goodbye scene saved it from a far smaller place in my memory. So, once again, the Ponds make Doctor Who for me. Awesome. 

OH! And next week we have Cybermen. I love Cybermen. I have one in the title-bar of this very blog. I can't wait :)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Girl Who Waited

So, this was the mysterious one that nobody knew anything about! Tom MacRae's Doctor Who offering. The elusive Episode Ten. And I'm so glad I knew very little about it! This is one of those episodes that sounds a bit rubbish on paper, but shines so brightly on screen (literally, in this case) it hurts.

The premise was this: The TARDIS lands on the planet Apalapachia (or something) and find themselves under a quarantine. There's a plague that kills only two-hearted life-forms, Chen 7, so our Doctor has to sit this one out in the TARDIS. "Sit what out?" you ask?

Well, due to a forgotten phone, a wrong button and an accelerated timeline, Amy's got herself stuck in an alien clinic, pursued by well-meaning but deadly Handbots. When Rory heads off to find her he doesn't expect 36 years to have passed for her during the 10 minutes or so he's been gone. And so begins one of the most emotional and well-acted episodes of Doctor Who I've ever had the pleasure to sit through.

Seeing a main character aged is something that's been done before, but always superficially. Martha was aged in Torchwood's second series but it didn't last long, and we've seen the Doctor himself aged to hundreds of years old in the finale to series three, but again, it wasn't for long, or for real.

This time, it's done properly. Kudos to Karen Gillan who carries this episode almost all alone and does so expertly - this should be enough to shut the "Karen Can't Act" lot up for good! She clearly can. The subtleties she shows in her performance as "Old Amy" is a pleasure to behold. She's such a bitter, hard, unforgiving character that you almost see her as the villain of the piece, especially when she refuses to help save "Our Amy" from her lonely, heartbreaking fate. And she plays the same person "as a different character" as well (if not better) than Tennant did as John Smith in The Family Of Blood.

More than anything else it's the relationship between Rory and Amy that makes this episode so wonderful - lots of little things are revealed about their past together that cements these two, in my mind, as the best-fleshed-out companions we've had. Sure, Russell gave us families and friends to potter about with, but in Amy and Rory we have a real sense of knowing all about them without ever having seen the life together we know so much about. Their first kiss to a silly song, in particular, was a lovely beat; a "get out of this" plot resolver and a beautiful nod to a history unseen. The story is simple, the conclusion a little simple also, but the episode looks, feels and sounds so perfect that it's difficult to find anything at all to complain about.

So I won't. As you know, I have an almost medical inability to criticise Doctor Who - you should never, ever use my reviews as a measure of quality, I always like it. But this time, even if I DIDN'T always enjoy the show, I'd be singing its praises. It seems that, in many different forms, this series is throwing out some great episodes: For emotion, this one is up there with 'Vincent and the Doctor'. For excitement, it's up there with 'The Pandorica Opens'. For pure good looks it beats almost anything we've been given before. And for making a grown man cry... well, we'll leave that, okay? Rory's choked "I'm sorry, I can't do this!" at the TARDIS door, when "old Amy" is begging him to let her in while at the same time telling him that he really, really shouldn't, broke my heart. And when Doctor Who can do that, you know you're on to a winner. 

And the Doctor's cruel and deceitful means of "saving Amy", then dumping the responsibility of Old Amy's inevitable death/non-existence firmly within Rory's hands brings up an important question: Now that Amy and Rory know how ruthless the Doctor can be, even to the people he cares about most of all, will they even want to travel with him anymore?

Whatever the fallout from this beautiful episode, it's a relief to know that, no matter what, Rory will do all he can to assure his wife is safe. He loves her, she loves him, they are perfect together. I've never been one to gush over in-show relationships, but I love this dynamic so much. It really is true love - rarely at the forefront of everyday life, but always there as the most important emotion you can ever feel. And both parties know the other feels it. It doesn't get much better than that. And as far as this episode of Doctor Who is concerned, that same sentence will do just fine.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Night Terrors

Doctor Who fans seem to have issues with Mark Gatiss' scripts. I don't know why. I know the episodes written by him are not always the best in the series, but often that's not due to the script itself - more due to direction, design or performances...

Luckily, I don't think that Night Terrors suffered in any such way. In fact, this is a beautiful little story that isn't massive or epic or important, but rather a bit creepy, a little bit sad and a lot good looking. Of course, others will inevitably disagree and that's up to them. For me, the dolls are the most nightmarish of Doctor Who monsters we've had since 2005 and the whole idea behind this story was lovely.

So, [spoiler] George is afraid of everything, but because he's an alien his fears are manifested into terrifying realities once banished to the cupboard. It's up to the Doctor and his friends to talk George around and convince him not only that the monsters that are so real don't have to be, but also that his family love him very much. This is a very human story with a genuinely creepy monster. Yes, monster. A perfect Doctor Who idea - creepy dolls in a giant dolls' house. Wonderful!

So it seems that this episode may have silenced at least some of those criticising Gatiss' episodes. Maybe. For me this is just what the series needed. A break from the arc. This felt like the perfect episode for Matt Smith.

Once again, this episode highlights the reason why Matt should be cast beside children more often. He works so well with the kids. And the actor playing George was odd enough to pull of being an alien alongside Matt, who is exactly the same.

The ways in which the characters in this story ended up "in George's dolls' house" were also scarily everyday. An old woman sucked into a heap of black rubbish bags, a nasty old man sinking terrified into his grubby carpet while his beloved dog watches on nonplussed, a falling lift... 'Horrors' that can be seen in most kids' everyday lives - I mean, whose nan DOESN'T have a carpet like that?! Complain if you want about how this one "clearly depicts a drop in budget" but I think it's the normality of the setting combined with the simplicity of the "monsters" that makes this one so enjoyable! What little SFX there were in this one were excellent, though! Those transformation scenes were what we were promised with the Ood/human switch in Planet of the Ood - truly horrific and completely unsettling. 

What, then, of the possible similarities with previous Who episodes? The creepy kid/alien (Fear Her), the miniaturisation of companions (last week's LKH), the Love Conquers All ending (The Doctor Dances) and, if you're being picky, bins eating people (Rose)... If you look hard enough there are similarities to be found. But then, that's what Doctor Who does sometimes. It's not as though they were direct lifts from other stories, just similar themes! I have no problem with that :)

However, I do have a problem with this: I bet some of you switched over after the episode finished and watched The X Factor instead of Doctor Who Confidential, didn't you? And in doing so you missed the best thing I've seen in ages - namely Arthur Darvill having a chat with Jamie Oram (George) in the back of a lighting van, didn't you?! You MUST catch up on that because it might have been the cutest thing I have ever seen. 

Sorry to go all gushy there. Bottom line; I loved Night Terrors. Wonderful, creepy stuff! Bravo!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

There have been many time travel movies throughout the decades, from the classics like The Time Machine, to Back To The Future, The Jacket, The Butterfly Effect and the brilliant indie movie Primer. All have a different take on how it all works. But none of them have entertained the nerd within me more than the hilarious and complex Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. Not a new movie - it came out in 2009 - it almost passed everyone by. I'm not really sure why, because this low-budget gem is lovely!

It follows two Sci Fi (sorry, Science Fiction, or SF) fans who spend their time working nerdy jobs in the day and talking nerdy stuff in the pub by night. Along with their cooler, more sceptical, critical friend they inadvertently end up on an isolated trek through time via a time leak in the toilets of their local, helped along the way by one sexy SF time travel chick and hunted by another. Full of twisty-turny (I struggled to not write Timey-Wimey) scenes exploring the more complex, responsibility-laden aspects of time travel. I won't give the game away, but for a movie set exclusively within a pub it is amazing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel stars Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd), Marc Wootton (My New Best Friend) and Dean Lennox Kelly (Being Human, Doctor Who). Watch it if you can!

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie

Today I went to see The Inbetweeners Movie starring Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Blake Harrison, based on the fantastic and juvenile hit E4 series. If you know the show then this movie will do it for you - if not, watch the show on YouTube first, you need to love these characters before you can forgive them for ANY of the things they do in this movie.

This review is not exactly spoiler free, but it doesn't matter, since nobody watches this show for the plot line. I sat in a dark cinema and laughed for almost 2 hours straight today and remembered why this little show holds such high office in my heart.

I'm not a LOLer. I do the "blow out through your nose and raise the corner of your mouth" chuckle. But when I watch The Inbetweeners I LOL. A lot. And the movie - although it's not quite as laugh-out-loud-at-able as the tv series - manages to pack at least one big laugh every ten minutes. When the news of an Inbetweeners movie broke there was only one premise that could be followed. It's one that has been done before, but there was nothing else that would have worked as a movie. Yes, it's "Boys On Holiday".

And dear lord alive, what a holiday. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, but also - since they're on the big screen - things go right too! The film follows the four on their Pussay Patrol in Malia, chasing gash across the beach and - shockingly - getting some! But it's not as straight forward as it sounds. 

As I say, it's not a very original concept, but it's effective. Ten times funnier than Kevin And Perry Go Large, thankfully. And as much as I don't want to give away the gags - of which there are MANY - I do want to mention a few of my favourite moments in the film. 

First off, Neil's "shit in the childrens' toilet" dilemma had me unable to breathe - partly due to laughing too hard, partly due to the sheer vomit-factor. It is unbelievable. Also "coke through the nose" inducing are the shapes our zeroes throw on the shiny floors of Malia's least-cool club. I now have a "dance" that is ironic and funny and entirely manageable for someone with two left feet, such as I. I cried laughing at Will's dance moves, cementing the fact that Simon Bird is a genius firmly in my mind once more. If you haven't seen him performing stand-up then search for his Student Chortle Award sets on YouTube now. 

Look out also for Jay's encounter with an ants' nest, Simon's misjudged romantic ending (I am still laughing about this, poor sod), Will's lost glasses and Neil's wonderful ways with women. 

Ah, Neil. The only member of the crew who has accepted the fact that you only live once and while on this Earth you may as well just enjoy yourself. The happiest Inbetweener, worried about nothing. He takes a large chunk of the laughs in the movie, something his character is short of in the show, I think. Also, a perfect piece of casting genius sees Anthony Head playing Will's dad (Head being the real life dad of the actress who play's Carli) and we learn, once and for all, why Will's parents split up in the first place. 

The film is often very near the knuckle - sometimes finding itself immediately on top of the knuckle - and crosses the boundary into male full frontal nudity (we see at least two of the boys' cocks - something I wish I could un-see). The romantic sub-plot is beautifully pitched and surprisingly believable - it gives hope to all of us who would call ourselves honorary Inbetweeners. I loved this movie. At last, the "loser boys on holiday" cliche actually works. It's the show's sense of sick humour and then some. Lovely!