Doctor Who: The End of Time Pt. 1

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Well, I seem to have come away from the whole thing a bit more positive than some others. Although I agree with much of Jennie and lizbee and various others’ reactions I’ve seen, I did still come away from it feeling quite positive.

One of the main things which bothers me about RTD-era Who is the relentlessly breathless pace, to the extent that the occasional moment when characters stop to have a chat feels like beautifully scripted drama just because the running around has stopped and people are actually looking at each other properly while they speak. The cafe scene in this episode could have been such a thing, except in this case, the episode had been slow burning for most of what lead up to it.

It’s not that there’s not been episodes with a slightly more sedate pace (Midnight, Human Nature, etc.), and of course it being a two-parter does help, but even so, this felt more like what Doctor Who is in my head than many episodes of the new series, even if the actual plot was a bit of a mess of strands being drawn together.

At this point, I think I’ll break into the seemingly traditional bullet-pointy list of things I liked or didn’t.

  • Liked that the Master was less of a loveable sexy rogue type and more of a genuinely psychotic evil weirdo, it seemed to correct the balance that was a bit off in the previous Simm master. Quite liked that he was wearing a lead around his neck.
  • Liked that it was largely Wilf driven, and that Donna stayed in the background being amusing in small doses.
  • Liked the attempt to build mystery around various things, from the woman in the church at the beginning and on the telly talking to Wilf, to the Doctor’s questioning Wilf’s importance. Of course, this being RTD the answers are likely to be crashingly dull, but hey.
  • Excellent cameo for June Whitfield.
  • Like the implication that each incarnation of the Doctor kinda resents that they have to go and the new man has to replace them.
  • The voodoo-y resurrection of the Master. I imagine Lawrence Miles is seething, though.
  • Didn’t like the force-lightning Master, not because it was done as such, but because it’s not explained in the slightest, and seems daft.
  • Didn’t like that the episode seems likely to have alienated a lot of the casual audience which it has always been so careful to address at Christmas more than in the series proper. If the mystery woman is indeed Romana, then of course that would be interesting to me, but I have a feeling that about 3 million of the audience might well switch off under the weight of continuity on New Year’s Day if RTD isn’t careful. The production team seem to have slightly taken their eye off this particular ball, on the excuse that it’s their last story and they can let themselves off the leash a bit. Which is true, but should that be the Chrismas special? I mean, Christmas is always just background, but usually the tone of the episode seems roughly in tune with Christmassyness. This was rather darker than that, which I personally enjoyed but which might have been a bit alienating for some of the audience. Just wondering…
  • Corny Obama-double stuff, and the shoe-horning of some set-up for it into the dialogue between the two guys at the burger van and the lady serving them in possibly the least convincing dialogue yet seen in the new series.
  • The continuation of the Master’s drums thing. I mean, how much can you really do with that? I hope something interesting is made of it in this story, and that it’s then left alone in future and the Master is allowed to just be a mad evil genius.
  • Lack of female characters driving anything much forward. Lucy Saxon killed off early, and that’s about it. Even the evil rich person’s daughter was largely passive throughout. Couldn’t his daughter just have done it herself or something, without daddy’s help? NB. This is not a request for more Donna, just for more people who are women but not Donna.

Anyhoo, think that’s about it, can’t think of anything else right now. I haven’t discussed the return of the Time Lords, because I’m not sure there’s any worthwhile evaluation of that to be done before Part 2 goes out. We’ll have to wait and see…

Done Seen Watchmen

James Graham has posted a good, thoughtful review with which I am 99% in agreement here, so I won’t put myself to the trouble of writing anything similar. Instead, here are a few random thoughts.

1. For goodness sake, Jon, put some pants on. I know he’s naked for most of the graphic novel, but there’s… what… five frames that actually show proper full frontal nudity? In the film, it’s every five minutes.

2. Many films invite the use of a particular line as a one-line review. Watchmen, it occurred to me, does this in the form of Jon’s line “they’re making me into something gaudy”, which seemed to me curiously appropriate.

3. Several of the scenes seem to run on rather too long, mostly because the makers of the film are rather enjoying the song they’ve decided should accompany it.

4. Generally, the pacing is such that I’m not entirely sure if the film is too short or too long. If they had to cut a bunch of plot strands from the original, in an otherwise very faithful film, then couldn’t they have kept some of it by not being quite so self-indulgent? The titles take about ten minutes, for goodness sake.

5. Couldn’t the New Frontiersman have become just a regular newspaper or something? Is there really any point introducing it in the last minute of the film?

6. Despite the plot weirdnesses introduced by the changes, as James describes, I do rather like the new ending.

7. Chopping arms off. Grow up, folks. What, exactly, did that add?

8. Supposedly Terry Gilliam thought it would make a better miniseries. I think I’m inclined to agree with him. That way, you could have kept the sequence of examinations of each main character in an episodic format.

9. I quite like most of the actual acting and stuff.

9a. Rorschach doesn’t sound like that. Sorry.

10. Most of the film’s technical aspects are pretty good, too. The sound design and photography is lovely, and the set design remarkably faithful to the book.

11. It’s just a shame that the film’s writer and director clearly value gratuitous shock value over the character examination of the book.

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Edinburgh Reviews: Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray

Well, this was the cheapest thing I saw all festival, being as it was just £5 for me, a student, to sit up on the slopes of the upper circle. Since then I’ve seen this show being given a bit of a slagging off in the national press, so I’ll leave those interested in the show’s shortcomings to read reviews by people more widely read than me. I quite enjoyed it, thought the whole thing was brilliantly performed and, for the most part, well choreographed (though it is slightly uneven; the opening half hour sets a high standard which the show finds it hard to live up to all the time), holding my attention throughout. The best thing about the show, however, is the design, both lighting and set, and, to a lesser extent, the sound and costumes. The production of this show is absolutely fantastic, and worth the money alone (and I don’t just mean because it was £5).

It’s true that Bourne doesn’t seem to have a lot to say about what a modern Dorian Gray might be, but I can’t agree with the critics who say that the doppelganger is a poor substitute for a portrait. How on earth would an onstage portrait be an effective part of a ballet? Anyway, in some ways the concept hasn’t been completely discarded, with both the art works on the wall in Gray’s appartment, and the billboard featuring Gray which makes two contrasting appearances during the show, carrying on the idea of art mirroring Gray’s moral decline in life. The doppelganger is a bit rubbish not because it’s a bad idea, but because it’s not very well executed: the doppelganger doesn’t especially display the decline that one might expect, either in appearance or expressed (noticeably, at any rate) in the choreography.

Other detractors, including some of the friends with whom I saw the show (admittedly more musically literate than me), have taken issue with the music, which is quite stylised and electronic. Personally, I quite liked it; it’s not like I’d want to buy a CD of it, but it suits the production and sits well alongside the choreography, without drawing too much attention to itself most of the time.

So ultimately, not Bourne’s best work by any means, but probably not deserving of the backlash which it received in some quarters.

3/5

(of course, if I marked the show on the same scale as the Fringe stuff I’ve been reviewing, it would be 5/5, but there seems little point in doing that)

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Edinburgh Reviews: Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler – Double Down Hearts

Apparently Kristen Schaal is in Flight of the Concords, which is one of those programmes that so many people tell me I will like that I’ve become quite resistant to actually seeing it. Nevertheless, Kristen Schaal is also occasionally on the Daily Show, and has been very funny and a bit unexpected on that, so I thought I’d go see this show.

A stand-up duo is not an especially conventional way to do comedy, but in this case it works pretty well; the two bounce off each other with a comfortable chemistry, developing a snappy stop-start rythmn to their exchanges that emphasizes not so much embarrasment as a slight awkwardness. The two don’t so much have a stand-up show as a series of bits, joined together with little bouts of banter. Sometimes the show feels a bit desperate to keep up a constant barrage of new, different stuff, roving between a pastiche play in three parts, two audience members being invited onto stage to win a (live, onstage) date with Kristen Schaal, and some video-based silliness in a wood with fluffy animals. It would be easy to accuse the show of being “of the ADD generation”, or somesuch, but actually, everything naturally seems to flow into the next thing, and the restlessness struck me as springing not from a lack of ability to sustain ideas, but from the urge to be unpredictable. It certainly succeeds there: the show is relentlessly funny, containing for me some of the biggest laughs of the Fringe. Best bit? The “live onstage sex act”. You don’t get to say that very often.

5/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: Clive James In The Evening

I have always enjoyed Clive James as a TV personality and occasionally, when I can be arsed, as a writer, so when I read his article in G2 I figured I’d see what his attempts at stand-up might be like. Unfortunately, he more or less admits defeat at the outset of this show, telling us straight off that there are “other people out there” who can do the modern, quick-witted style of stand-up much better than he can. He tries to excuse himself by saying that he hopes that he brings a sense of “the world” to the show which will make up for this, but the trouble with that as an argument is that there are plenty of stand-ups who do engage with the world at large, and have all the other presentational slickness James admits he lacks.

It was pretty telling that I think I was the youngest person in the audience by a good twenty or thirty years, a couple of days into the run of the show. Clearly there was little buzz about the show attracting anything other than an audience of loyal followers. Nonetheless, I can think of worse ways to spend an hour; occasionally, James is genuinely hilarious, but the overall effect is of a slightly half-arsed attempt, the main intention of which is to sell his new book. Which is all very well at the book festival, but not really if you are listing yourself in the Fringe guide as a comedy show. The show seemed self-indulgent, because I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent as James couldn’t have written a better, sharper stand-up show if he really wanted to.

2/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: London Gay Men’s Quoir – Far From Kansas

We saw these guys on the Royal Mile doing a slot on one of the little stages, and it looked fun enough, so we thought we’d go along and see them. The offer of free sparkling wine on the flier helped, too. Sure enough, “fun” is pretty much the one word you would use to describe this show. Basically, the show is a series of show-tunes, performed under the umbrella concept that they are being sung as an act of worship by some kind of religious movement (The “Friends of Dorothy”) who hold the Wizard of Oz story to be a religious text. The songs bringing out the three divine qualities of love, intelligence, and bravery (but without much intelligence).

The singing isn’t the best you’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty good, and they all blend together well, and the soloists are all good and sing songs that suit them. It’s musically pretty competent, but it could go a little bit further to provide some fireworks in the arrangement and the vocals occasionally. But ultimately, it’s almost pointless to try to evaluate the show like that, because it is so infectiously fun that it’s pretty much impossible to come away having had anything other than a good time.

4/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: Stephen K Amos – Find The Funny

Last year’s show, More of Me, was my first introduction to Amos, and I found it honest and interesting, as well as being well performed, slick, etc. This year, the show is just about finding the things to laugh about in everyday life, and there are a number of gags that are exactly the same as the last show (eg. waiting for Lenny Henry to die -> the BBC’s “one in, one out” diversity policy). Unfortunately, this year Amos comes across as rather more abrasive and arrogant; his way of dealing with heckling is pretty heavy-handed, even extending it to people who haven’t actually heckled, just shouted out something a bit silly when invited to respond to some question or other. This, combined with the fact that the show doesn’t have the honest, confessional feel that last year’s show did, and the slightly self-congratulatory gimmick of getting a member of the audience to count the laughs, left me feeling somewhat less well disposed to Amos than I did last year. It all seemed a bit smug.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Stephen K Amos is a very good stand-up, assured and funny. The show this year may have been treading water (come on, “Find the Funny”? What kind of a title is that? It tells you no more about the content of the show than the fact that it’s listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe brochure), but you never feel like you’ve wasted your money. So… yeah.

4/5

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