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Alex's Thoughts
My blog, where I talk about my thoughts. I think about all the important things in life - namely, television and other such media. Usually Doctor Who, although other TV shows can and do turn up on occasion.

To see posts on certain subjects, take a look at the index - that's where all my own posts are logged.


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TV Pilot Review: Meatspace

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Whatever creative endeavour you choose, just do it. Do it everyday, despite what people say, whether they say you’re bad at it or you’re weird, just do it. Keep doing it because they say that. Do it in the face of everyone who tells you not to. 

I feel like I need to give some context for this. Meatspace (as in, the opposite of cyberspace) is a half hour television pilot which was made by a group of volunteers across four days on a budget of £200. It’s going to be broadcast live on the writer/director’s YouTube channel on Friday September 5th at 21:00. 

It was written and directed by William “Trilbee” Carlisle, who I know of from his television and film reviews at MrTARDISreviews and TrilbeeReviews. It’s consistently interesting stuff, with some very insightful criticisms of different media. Obviously, I was interested to see what his own TV show was like, so I volunteered to review the rough cut of the episode as part of the press release. And here we are.

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Lydia, David, and Jamie.

Meatspace revolves around four university students, each of whom has their own creative talent. There’s Jamie the film maker, Lydia who writes prose, and David who’s undecided. And then the fourth character is Megan - shy, reserved and awkward, it’s her hidden musical talent and whether she should share it with the world that drives the plot of the episode. 

At times, it does come across as a little cliché, the idea of the quiet musician discovering the worth of their talents, but honestly, it’s very rare. Because of the strength of the writing and the characters, it feels a lot more original than it probably is. For example, there’s a brilliant speech towards the end, which I’ve quoted from at the beginning, where the writer, Lydia, is talking to Megan. But that doesn’t really matter, as it goes - what’s most important here is introducing the characters, since it’s a pilot, and it does that admirably. There’s a pretty good sense of who each character by the end of the half hour program - it’s not perfect, but they’re well rounded characters, and there’s enough there to build on in future. 

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And here’s Megan, right before Lydia’s amusing anecdote and subsequent inspirational speech - both of which are standout moments.

Because this is a sitcom, the obvious comparison point (in terms of genre and target audience rather than tone and style) is The Big Bang Theory. To be honest though, that does a real disservice to Meatspace, because, frankly, it is better than The Big Bang Theory. In half an hour, it’s better than 8 years of The Big Bang Theory! Big claim, I suppose, but I’d stand by it. Or rather, not better than every single episode, but the average episode - if you’re channel surfing and find a random episode of The Big Bang Theory, it probably won’t reach this level in terms of writing. Mainly it’s because Meatspace is a smarter; there’s a lot less of a sense that you’re being talked down to.

It’s also a lot funnier. Meatspace is actually genuinely very funny. It opens with a Jenga sequence which, in a brilliant subversion of the joke you expect, had me properly laughing aloud before the two minute mark. The whole thing is littered with jokes throughout - the standout character is probably Jamie, who was played by John Ferguson. He’s very funny, and has brilliant comic timing. One of his best lines is to do with knocking on the front door. Won’t spoil it, but it’s very good.

When you think about it, that’s actually ridiculously difficult. Writing funny, natural dialogue for teenagers/young adult characters is unbelievably hard. (I wonder if some of it was in fact based on real exchanges that actually happened, because of quite how natural some of it is.) But here, it’s largely on point. Sure, there’s a few times where the actors seem to struggle a little with certain lines, but taking it as a whole, you’d barely notice it. I think it’s fair to call the humour an unqualified success. Seriously, it’s very funny. (And it’s not just the dialogue - there’s some pretty good, and quite subtle, sight gags as well.)

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It’s the funniest thing, honestly.

I think it’s also worth commenting on the direction, which is quite impressive, all things considered. Because this was filmed in real rooms and buildings, not a three wall sound stage, the camera angles need a bit more thought to them, and are generally quite interesting. There’s a few issues with lighting, but since I was watching a rough cut, it didn’t bother me so much - it’ll be fixed for the actual broadcast. There’s a texting sequence which looks a bit dodgy as well, but it’s clear, obvious and understandable what’s going on, so it’s fine, generally.

Admittedly, it’s not perfect - there’s a few duff lines here and there, like I said, and maybe the final scene could have been extended slightly. There’s also one quite misjudged sequence around the twenty minute mark, which is just… bizarre. Still, it doesn’t detract from it much. 

So, Meatspace. I think I’m going to give it a 9/10 - it’s honestly that good, and you should all watch it. Friday 5th September at 21:00 on the TrilbeeReviews YouTube channel! You can check the MrTARDISReviews facebook page for more information.

(If that’s not interesting for you enough, Meatspace is also going to be part of an intra-media experiment, with updates to each of the characters facebook pages during and after the live broadcasts, with the opportunity to interact with them as well. For obvious reasons, that wasn’t part of my review copy, but the idea fascinates me.)

I read The Fault in Our Stars recently (quite enjoyed it, very well written, would recommend) and something that struck me about it was that it was actually quite funny.

I found that a little bit odd, because I wasn’t really expecting that. From what I’d heard about it, I was expecting it to err a little bit more towards the bleak and depressing. (When I mentioned to my friends that I’d read it, the first question was “Is it as depressing as it looks?”)

But it’s not. I mean, yes, there is obviously an ever pervasive sense of… tragedy, I suppose, with regards to their situations, but it’s rarely at the forefront of things. Which I suppose is part of the point - dealing with cancer isn’t a collection of moments, it’s a long process of dealing with cancer. Despite that though, it’s honestly really funny. A lot of the humour is in the dialogue, where there’s a lot of jokes, and a lot of witty banter.

I suppose what it comes down to really is something Joss Whedon once said. "Make it dark, make it grim, but for the love of god, tell a joke." And he’s right, really. For one thing it can make it a bit more palatable (I’m not sure the book would be quite so popular if it was dark and grim the whole time; stories should be enjoyable on some levels at least), but I think it also works as a juxtaposition, and can make things more tragic. To say "Look at these happy, funny teenagers, and how they’re cut down in the prime of their life" seems a little bit more sad, to me, than "These people are in a miserable place and will only get worse". Contrast provides emphasis. 

Doctor Who Review: Deep Breath

You have replaced every piece of yourself, mechanical and organic, time and time again. There’s not a trace of the original you left. You probably can’t even remember where you got that face from.

Regeneration is a tricky old thing, isn’t it? It’s all well and good to say that life depends upon change and renewal, but it can be pretty weird to see a new Doctor in the role.

When Christopher Eccleston regenerated, I had only been watching the show for about two episodes, so I didn’t really get what was going on. When David Tennant regenerated, I was generally okay with it; I got the concept, and I thought he’d had a good run. With Matt Smith, it’d been quite a surprise, and I thought it was a bit of a shame - I think his last year wasn’t really as good as it could have been.

I like the fact that the show changes. I like that every few years, Doctor Who completely reinvents itself, and you end up with something new. I think it’s brilliant - it’s how it’s lasted 50 years, after all. So I’m never going to begrudge the show a change, though I might be a bit trepidant about it.

But there was no need for any trepidance here, was there? It was fantastic.

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Doctor Who Series Eight

With Series Eight broadcasting in a few days time, I wanted to collect together everything that I’d written on it into one place. 

Starting with the Doctor, there’s my initial hopes for the Doctor, as well as my initial thoughts on his outfit (which has grown on me since writing that; it looks a lot nicer in recent photos than in the original one.)

There’s also a pitch for an episode with Ian Chesterton, as well as an outline for a short jokey scene.

On the topic of companions, I’ve got a post about Clara’s duplicates, my thoughts on Danny Pink, and how a series with a detective companion might work out. There’s also my thoughts on the Master, and how he might work with the Twelfth Doctor.

Finally, there’s my thoughts on the first full length trailer, the Deep Breath trailer, the Listen trailer, and a recent radio trailer.

Also! Each week I’m going to write a review of the episodes, in the same vein as my recent Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor, which should hopefully be quite detailed and in depth. (I’m also thinking of calling it Twelve Weeks of the Twelfth Doctor, but maybe not.)

Only three days to go!

On I, Robot and Adaptations of Source Material

I keep almost writing iRobot rather than I, Robot. I feel as though there’s probably some kind of post-Apple reboot possibility with a new focus, and a different level of relevance now that technology has become far more prevalent in our daily lives. (If any of you do anything with that idea, I want 10%)

Anyway, I watched I, Robot for the first time this morning. I really enjoyed it, would definitely reccomend. Will Smith was in it, being all Will Smith-ish, the direction was excellent, and there were some really nice moments with the robot, Sunny. Excellent film. Go watch it, everyone. 

I also read I, Robot the book a few weeks back. (This edition, in case anyone’s curious, or that makes a difference. Other book suppliers are available, but this one is a really beautifully bound copy)

Now it’s a really good book, and very cleverly written. It’s a look at robots, and their changing place in society, across about 70 years or so. It also takes the concept of The Three Laws, and really runs with it - every story in the book (it’s essentially an anthology story) examines the laws from a different perspective. My favourite, I think, was the one with the mind reading robot, because it was really clever, but I loved all the ones with Powell and Donovan.

Having said that, though, the only thing that the two really have in common is the basic tenets of the world. Really just The Three Laws (capitalised for dramatic effect) actually.

It’s interesting, I think, to look at adaptations like that and the differences in the stories, and to weigh the merits of it. The Will Smith version is, I think, probably a bit more suited to the cinema, but that’s not to say Asimov’s version is impossible to put on the screen. 

Either way, I liked both versions, so it’s really a purely academic debate. But it got me thinking about other adaptations, and the approach taken towards them.

Under the cut I have got a fairly long, slightly rambling and highly controversial discussion (or rather, monologue) about Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, comic book movies, as well as the Star Trek Reboot and, of course, Doctor Who.

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I read a quote recently, on a writing blog that I follow. I forget who it’s from - an author, obviously, but I couldn’t give you a name any more specific than “Sarah someone, probably”. There was definitely an S.

I digress, however. The quote was "Better writers don’t have more time than you to write. They make more time than you".

That’s hit home a hell of a lot more now because I’ve just found out that an acquaintance of mine, of a similar age and at a similar point in school, is actually a rather successful self published author. I mean, I’m in actual proper awe. It’s amazing.

So, obviously, I’m going to make a change, and divert more of my time to writing, and less of it to wasting time.

(I say that now, in a week, I’ll be back to bitching about the use of apostrophes after the letter S and whining about Man of Steel)

There is nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!
The Valeyard
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Song: Faces
Artist: BBC
Album: Doctor Who Series Eight Trailer
Played: 120 times.

And now there’s a new radio trailer!

This one focuses, essentially, on the fact that Peter Capaldi has been in Doctor Who before. It questions where the faces of the Doctor actually come from - how he ends up with a face that’s already worn in, with wrinkles and laughter lines. It’s quite similar to something that Moffat discussed in DWM, around the time Capaldi was first cast.

It’s covered in lines. But I didn’t do the frowning. Who frowned me this face?

I admit, I’m not entirely sure what to think of this. I’m more or less okay with Capaldi’s previous characters being left unexplained; it never really felt necessary, given all the other occasions things like that have happened across 50 years, and that I was worried about over complicated retcons (Twelve was in Pompeii, using the chameleon arch!) and the frankly quite real possibility that it wouldn’t have a very good payoff and would just be a bit rubbish.

However, having said that… I really do like the dialogue in this trailer, and I feel that it might have the potential for something really pretty interesting, especially, or perhaps inevitably, if tied into the return of Gallifrey. (As a sidenote, I’d rather Gallifrey wasn’t dealt with until series 9 or perhaps even 10. I want Twelve to settle a bit first, for us to get to know him, before we see this potentially massive upheaval and the ramifications. Equally, I would like to see Twelve with the Time Lords, properly, and not just have one episode before regeneration or something similar)

So… thinking about it, this is getting me rather excited. I do love Doctor Who.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Recently I decided that I should actually read some of older, highly acclaimed pieces of science fiction that I owned, by two of the most famous science fiction authors… ever. That meant I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, and then Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Fahrenheit 451 is, at it’s heart, about censorship, and revolution. It’s set quite far in the future, in a society which has all but wasted away - everyone is vacuous and vapid; they pay little attention to the world around them, and many are dependent on television. It’s remarkably prescient, actually, given that it was written 50 odd years ago. 

Because of this, you’ve got the firemen - they burn the books. It’s censorship to keep control, to keep an equilibrium. It’s never really questioned that books are bad, and damaging, and that what they contain is nothing more than a corrosive, corruptive influence.

Despite that though, you’ve got little pockets of resistance. Teachers, professors, librarians. People who hoard away books, keeping them secret… and, in one horrific sequence, being burned alive for their troubles.

The book is about a fireman, Guy Montag, and it basically follows his journey from book burner to book reader. It’s a fascinating portrayal of his change, which shakes his worldview to the core and skirts pretty close to a descent into madness. It’s actually pretty fascinating.

The society is brilliantly depicted, and is a scary reflection of how things are today, particularly the dependence on reality TV. The edition of the book I read has an introduction and an afterword by Ray Bradbury where he remarks on it, and it’s interesting to see his thoughts on the world he’s created.

What I found fascinating though was the concept of the restriction of information and censorship, and the problems that causes. Pretty heavy stuff. Food for thought, as it were.

It’s pretty well written too. On some levels, that was kind of a surprise, although I know it shouldn’t have been. Mistakenly, I’d sort of assumed it wouldn’t be all that accessible, given the age of the book, but not at all. It’s simple and effective prose, which tells a great story. 

I’d definitely reccomend this book, particularly if you’ve got an interest in future dystopias, and revolutions in stories. I actually suggested it to a friend who likes The Hunger Games; there’s some similarities in the culture of the Capitol and the society Bradbury presents here, and, to an extent, the revolutions.

So! Basically, this was a really, really good book. 

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Doctor Who Series 8 - Deep Breath Trailer

Woo, another new trailer! Tensions mounting, excitement rising…

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? I don’t have a great deal of analysis here, to be honest. Dinosaurs! Victorian borg! The Doctor!

It seems to be somewhat in the vein of The Christmas Invasion, actually, in terms of post-regenerative stories. That’s a good thing, I rather like that one. 

Roll on August 23rd!

Book Review: The Chronicles of the Invaders - Conquest

So, recently I read a book. I do that often, though perhaps not as much as I would like. Anyway, the book was called Conquest, and it’s part of a series called The Chronicles of the Invaders - which is a much smarter title than it seems…

Syl Hellais is the first of the Earth-born Illyri, a beautiful, civilized but ruthless alien species who now rule our planet. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

Humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

On her sixteenth birthday, Syl will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save Paul Kerr’s life.

As blurbs go, it’s perhaps not one of the best. It does, admittedly, comes across as a ted generic, and isn’t really as indicative of the quality of the book as it could be. But that’s what this review is for, I suppose.

The book starts with a really beautiful prologue, which details the early days of the alien invasion, and explains how society changed and reacted to first contact. It’s a really smart and well written piece, and sets up the world extremely well. You can read the first chapter here - I’m just going to link to the whole thing, as opposed to quoting it, because I’d eventually end up transcribing whole chapters.

Encouragingly, the book takes a rather different tone to standard YA fare - we don’t see the usual thing where the humans are good, the aliens are bad, but the good alien recognises this and helps to kick out the other aliens. (That is usual, isn’t it?)

The story is far smarter than that; it’s a tale of political intrigue, subterfuge and revolutions. It’s actually somewhat reminiscent of an old episode of The Next Generation, if the concept had been pressed further and developed. That, coupled with some very detailed worldbuilding, makes for a pretty immersive and gripping story.

The prose is good, and it’s really well written throughout. The descriptions are evocative, and create a pretty good picture of things. The book is also really well paced. That seems like an odd praise to give, I suppose, but it really does help. When you finish the book, you can look back on it and see the chessboard, as it were, and how everything fitted together - right from a mystery that set itself up in the opening chapters…

If I were to have a complaint it would be, admittedly, the ending. The novel comprises the first part of a series, and isn’t exactly standalone. Whilst plotlines are completed, new threads are introduced near the end to carry on the story into subsequent books. It’s an open ended story, but rather more in the sense that The Empire Strikes Back is open ended, rather than A New Hope is open ended.

In all, I would definitely reccomend this book. Probably good if you like The Hunger Games, methinks, and similar smart YA fiction.

8/10

Doctor Who Book Review: Engines of War

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"The death of millions is as of nothing to us, Doctor, if it helps defeat the Daleks"

I think the phrase is “poisoned chalice”. I’m not sure where it comes from, it’s probably Hamlet or something similar. Sort of ironic too actually, given how Eight regenerated.

I’m digressing though, heavily. I should backtrack a bit.

Engines of War is The Time War Novel. It’s so important that you capitalise The Time War Novel. It’s the event novel - probably the most important Doctor Who novel since… The Infinity Doctors. No, scratch that. I don’t think there’s a single Doctor Who book which could be said to cover a more important part of the show’s mythos.

The Time War has been the driving force of most of the show since 2005. It’s affected all of the New Who Doctors, and the Eighth Doctor as well. It’s a Very Big Thing. But we’ve never actually seen it. We’ve built up a picture across nearly ten years from the odd line, a few references here or there, occasional glimpses. Mentions of things like “the Nightmare Child”, or “The Could Have Been King and his armies of Meanwhiles and Never-weres”. There’s the “Skaro degradations”, “the Cruciform”, and the “Gates of Elysium”. 

All of that evocative imagery coming together to conjure a picture of a horrible, eternal, all consuming war fought on a thousand fronts, reaching every corner of the cosmos, corrupting and degrading and reducing the Universe. A war that “made the higher beings weep”, and “made the Eternals flee the Universe, never to be seen again”.

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Who’s there…
Probably not as funny as I think it is, but it made me laugh at any rate. (And, of course, the only reason I tell jokes is to make myself laugh, so it all wins out in my book.)
It’s Dr. Who! 

Who’s there…

Probably not as funny as I think it is, but it made me laugh at any rate. (And, of course, the only reason I tell jokes is to make myself laugh, so it all wins out in my book.)

It’s Dr. Who! 

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Doctor Who Series 8 Trailer - Listen

A new trailer has manifested itself - it’s another short, 15 second one, but it’s interesting nonetheless. 

I quite like the image presented, of Capaldi sitting atop the TARDIS. It’s a bit otherworldly and eccentric, but it makes me laugh as well. I can quite easily imagine him sitting on top of the TARDIS like that, pontificating and spreading wisdom, only for Clara to come and puncture the atmosphere with a sarcastic comment.

What is particularly interesting though is the rumoured title for episode four…

Listen.

The NewWho Reboot

I’ve been thinking, on and off, how I would have rebooted Doctor Who back in 2005. It comes from, I think, my recent watching of the 2005 series.

Obviously, I really liked the 2005 series. I’ve spent the last couple of months singing its praises, after all. This isn’t, I hasten to add, me saying that my version is better (which makes a change) because… it’s not meant to be better, just different. 

The Continuity

One of the big things RTD did was the Time War. He removed the Time Lords, he removed Gallifrey, he removed all the things which had become the trappings of the last few years of the show. (As much as I love 80s Who, even I’ll admit that they took it too far sometimes with the continuity and the references) 
Neil Gaiman has said he’d do the same, as has Steven Moffat. Paul Cornell did something similar with Scream of the Shalka, but not exactly. 

I love the Time War. I think it was a really great invention, it’s given some really great stories over the years. Fantastic concept, and some great drama.

But. 

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