Sunday, 19 December 2010

It's nearly Christmas

So almost time for a new Christmas special. I haven't posted much during the last year - no particular reason - so I thought I'd have a look back at what 2010 brought us. Well, I was immensely relieved to find that all the doomsayers were proved completely wrong, and Matt Smith was, right from the word go, demonstrated to be absolutely the perfect choice to play the Doctor. On the evidence of this first year, he's become my favourite Doctor of the modern series. Certainly I admired Eccleston's performance, though I became increasingly disenchanted with the smugness and mockney mugging of Tennant - but Smith comes out of left field and keeps surprising me. He's no doubt been helped by the quality of his episodes. Don't get me wrong, there were terrific scripts in previous seasons, and there were some lesser episodes this year - been overall, Moffat has crafted a story arc of wonderful complexity. I also love the way he took the piss out of RTD's series finales by having all the monsters team up to capture the Doctor - only to pull the rug out from under the whole thing and do something more more clever and intimate for the last episode. So a huge thumbs up from me so far. Let's see what 2011 brings.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Are you getting excited yet?

I am. Ridiculously so. I haven't been as stupidly excited as this since 2005. Just under a week to go until the new series. The trailers look amazing, and Matt Smith has an interesting way of speaking and moving - his diction seems a lot better than David Tennant's, that's always a good sign. I'm just hoping that the trailers aren't giving me a false impression. No, it'll be great!

It's funny, actually, but I seem to be almost spoiler-free for this new series. I'm not a person who goes around seeking out spoilers in any case, but somehow they just seem to drip into your consciousness, especially when you spend any length of time hanging around internet-based fandom. That was certainly the case for the Tennant series, but this time around I don't seem to know anything, other than what's been released in the trailers and so on. Maybe Moffat's less of a publicity whore than Russell Davies was, but they seem to have kept it much closer to their chests this time. It just adds to the sense of building excitement.

I'm supposed to be working on an assignment for this management course I'm doing, but I just can't get my brain in gear, so here I am writing a completely pointless blog entry. Anything to keep me from what I actually should be doing. Oh well... (I've also been working on my Space: 1999 site, and I should have some updates going up on that soon. Yeah, I know, it's about time...)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Peter Graves RIP

It's a fact that time catches up with us all. People get old and they die. That's just how it is. But it does seem in the last few years as if everyone of my heroes has been shuffling off this mortal coil, and that suddenly seems to make one aware of mortality a bit more. I've tried to think why this should be; and I suppose it's down to the fact that I love tv shows of a certain vintage - particularly those of the sixties and seventies - and inevitably, the stars and producers of programmes made 30 to 50 years ago are nowadays going to be in their 70s and 80s; I'm not surprised to see them dying, and really I'm not saddened. I like to celebrate what they gave us in life, so today I commemorate the passing of Mr Peter Graves.

To me, he will always be the mastermind behind the Impossible Missions Force: the star of America's greatest ever television show. Mission: Impossible is a show I love to watch and rewatch. I'm amazed by the complexity and subtlety of the plots. The nonsensical and frankly insulting movie franchise can't detract from the magnificence of the original. Mr Graves played the role of Jim Phelps with a great sense of gravitas and dignity - it's a show that perhaps teeters on the edge of self-parody, and the straight-ahead and serious performances are what holds it all together. To compare with a more recent example: Hustle has essentially the same premise, a team of sophisticated conmen setting up the perfect sting operation - it's a fine show, but I find all those knowing little winks to the camera annoying - they really detract from the drama of the situation. The IMF conversely are playing for high stakes - the safety and security of the free world - and one doesn't doubt the commitment and dedication of those agents. Peter Graves does a magnificent thing at the beginning of each episode, when he's listening to the tape of the mission briefing - tiny little flickers of thought and intelligence can be read in his face, suggesting that Jim is starting to put together the basis of the plan right there and then. A masterclass performance. He won a Golden Globe for the part in 1971.

Peter Graves 1926-2010

Friday, 8 January 2010

The End of Time

Blimey! Nearly a year since I last posted anything. So after all that speculation last time, what have I got to say now I've finally seen Matt Smith in action? Well, he's still got legs... hopefully, that applies to the series as well! Seriously, the new series preview looked interesting, and if the vague rumours I've heard are reliable (I tend to avoid large-scale spoilers and set reports) then it looks like Moffatt might be taking the show in some exciting directions. Let me get this straight, I'm not expecting some huge shift in style - the show's a success and I doubt the producers are going to want to tamper with that - but if they can avoid some of the worst excesses of the RTD era, then I'll be happy. It's hard to tell exactly what Smith's going to do with the role, but hopefully we've seen the last of the "mockney geezer" stylings that made me want to give Tennant a good slap on occasion.

Anyway, The End of Time. I thought this was quite fun, the first episode being more lightweight (as befitted a Christmas broadcast slot) than the second. Generally, the story was entertaining, though hardly top-flight - it wouldn't be in my top ten of tenth Doctor stories (which will be going up on the Eyespider website quite soon). I found John Simm to be less irritating this time around, which was a plus. The Master's plan was absolutely batshit insane of course, but there's nothing new in that!

As for continuity issues - well, we finally got to see the Time War flashback people have been wishing for - probably about as much as we'll ever be shown of it anyway. Full marks to the producers for still not confirming which Doctor (eighth or ninth) it was who fought on the front line in the final war - that way, we can all still go on imagining it the way we each choose to. (I know, I know, most fans seem to think it was McGann who ended the war - they're wrong of course, but they can go on thinking that - it doesn't bother me...) The final explanation for the Master's madness - whilst it may be a retcon in terms of the last forty years of series continuity - at least tied up the ideas of the RTD series in a nice neat bundle. It's all been about the Time War, and its consequences, for the last five years.

It's pleasing to get confirmation of something I've been speculating about over the last few years - that when the Doctor eulogizes about how wonderful Gallifrey was (for instance at the end of Gridlock) he's really talking about an idealized vision of the world he remembers from his youth, not the world that he really lived on. (After all, if it was so shit hot, why did he run away in the first place...?) He's romanticized his memories of the place, perhaps in an effort to negate his sense of loss or assuage his guilt. This much seemed apparent from past episodes. But here, finally, he confesses that it's what he chooses to remember, and that the Gallifrey of the Time War was a terrible place - something he's not sad to have time-locked. That puts a new spin on things, but also it doesn't invalidate the destruction of Gallifrey in the eighth Doctor novels. We can surmise that the Doctor "restored" Gallifrey following the events of The Gallifrey Chronicles, but I've always been uneasy with the notion that the planet was brought back exactly as it had been, with all the same people still alive. Much more interesting if the new Gallifrey is a completely strange and unknowable place. If the Doctor did use the downloaded Matrix data to somehow recreate his world and his race, that might explain how people can be resurrected in new forms (the Master and now it would seem Rassilon).

Mind you, I'm not certain that Timothy Dalton was playing that Rassilon. Can we take that one line comment quite so literally, I ask myself. The Doctor could be using the name in a purely perjorative context - after all, when Bill Pertwee calls Captain Mainwaring "Napoleon", he's not really suggesting that the Walmington-on-Sea platoon is commanded by the former Emperor of France.

Fans often comment on the contrast between Logopolis and The Caves of Androzani - how the fourth Doctor dies saving the entire universe, whilst the fifth Doctor dies saving the life of one friend. In The End of Time, amazingly, we had both. After all the build-up and the Ood prophecies, we were expecting the Doctor to sacrifice himself to save creation - well, he does that, and miraculously survives it all - only to have to give his life for Wilf. The glass booth was painstakingly introduced in part one - it's a real Chekhov's Gun! - and yet somehow it just hadn't occurred to me what an important role it was going to play in the end. (I don't know, old age is finally creeping up on me...) But I really wasn't expecting the source of those four knocks - a fantastic resolution.

Of course, when I saw that there was still twenty minutes to go, I realized that there was going to be a protracted, sentimental wrap-up. Some have suggested that the ending was self-indulgent. Well, they're right, it was, but I don't necessarily mind that. As someone who's embraced all Doctor Who across its vast multimedia universe, there wasn't really anything unusual about the character vignettes that littered the ending. It might well be a new thing for the tv series, but the books often featured extended epilogues - and these sort of little moments are the very stuff that the Short Trips and Brief Encounters stories were made of: a character moment, a bittersweet reunion, a taking care of business. So it didn't feel particularly new or unlike Who to me.

One interesting thing, from a "Complete Adventures" perspective: the Doctor's opening scene neatly de-links the story from the cataclysmic ending of The Waters of Mars and confirms that the Doctor has been faffing around having a series of utterly silly and inconsequential adventures to try and put off facing his fate as long as possible. Since I've been worrying about where to fit the now (frankly) insane number of comic strips that Doctor Who Adventures have been churning out over the last year, this finally offers me the perfect place - because if those comics aren't silly and inconsequential, I don't know what is...