Doctor Who Review: Flatline

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You were an exceptional Doctor. But goodness had nothing to do with it.

Doctor Who is at it’s best when it does things that other shows can’t do, or simply haven’t been done before. 

That is, I think it’s fair to say, one of the facts of the program. Innovation and originality is where Doctor Who sings; that’s the time when you can say “yes, this is one of the best things on television, and there’s nothing else I’d rather watch”.

And I tell you what, the Boneless absolutely typify this. They just aren’t like anything we’ve seen before. At first there’s this wonderfully strange, sickening sort of body horror - the nervous system, and the skin? That’s some really scary stuff. Then it evolves slightly, and there’s that Banksy style graffiti, shifting and moving and coming to life, claiming its victims by pulling them into the painting. And then those glitchy jittery zombie creatures, almost like something out of a videogame, with their slow lumbering movements, and a real evocation of the uncanny valley. 

They were really very chilling, and really very Doctor Who.

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In this day and age, we have access to a lot. At the touch of a button or the turn of a page, we can open up whole worlds of different stories. Just like that, everything is there to view and consume. Given how quickly we can access these things, and how quickly we dispense with them, it’d follow, presumably, that the stories themselves are equally as transient, correct?

No. I’d argue that stories are never transient, even if they appear to be.

Stories have always carried meaning, had some sort of weight. George Orwell wrote about communism in Animal Farm, and Arthur Miller wrote about McCarthyism in The Crucible. One horror author once said that all his stories had a message, even if it was as simple as “don’t breed crabs to be as large as people”.

But those examples are books; they’ve got a degree of stature about them, they’re respected, recognised. People have been reading books for hundreds of years, it’s a very old medium.

By comparison, television is a baby, something that hasn’t existed for anywhere near as long a time. The idea that it can be anything more than ephemeral entertainment is generally dismissed; people venerate Shakespeare, but not soap operas.

A good example, I think, of a television show that can be said to have outgrown it’s roots because of the message it gives is Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek, once said:

[By creating] a new world with new rules, I could make statements about sex, religion,Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles. Indeed, we did make them on Star Trek: we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network.”

In divorcing his show from pre existing prejudices, removing it from the audience’s preconceptions, Star Trek was able to convey these messages a lot more easily, because it wasn’t grounded in what we knew or recognised.

Now, that was a show that was cancelled several times over and it had a budget so low that the aliens were men in boot polish, but now, nearly 50 years later, it’s spawned over 800 hours of television, 12 movies, and had a massive effect on people’s lives.

One of the things that the show is remembered for is the casting of a black woman in an important role at the height of the civil rights movement in America. Martin Luther King told Nichelle Nichols that her being on Star Trek was important for this reason - he said that she had an equal part, not a ‘black part’, and that was important for people to see. He was right - Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, was inspired to go to space because of Uhura. That little television show had an effect because, every week, it was telling people that in a developed, utopian future, the colour of one’s skin doesn’t matter, and everyone is considered equal.

One day, in the future, I would like to be creating stories. Writing, directing, producing. I’d like to believe, perhaps, that the stories I create could have an impact, could touch people’s lives.

That’s the plan, anyway.

N.b: This was written as part of an English coursework module for speaking and listening.

Doctor Who Review: Mummy on the Orient Express

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Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball! Oh, don’t stop me now, yeah, I don’t want to stop at all…

One of my favourite TV shows ever is House. I’ve never really written about it on the blog, which is something I’ll have to correct one day, but I absolutely love the show. It’s a fantastic Holmes adaptation, and there’s some wonderful, wonderful drama to it.

My favourite thing about it is, perhaps obviously, Hugh Laurie as House. I think he’s brilliant. Every second he’s on the screen is properly compelling; House is, in short, a fantastic creation. The best part about the character, or the bit that stands out to me at least, is the fact that that he’s very single minded in his attempts to help the patients - House doesn’t give a damn if he upsets people or offends them or even hurts them, because he knows without a doubt that it will, in the end, help.

So I was, it must be said, quite pleased to see Jamie Matheson, who wrote the episode, naming House as an influence. 

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Doctor Who Review: Kill the Moon

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Whatever future humanity might have depends upon the choice that is made right here and right now.  Now, you’ve got the tools to kill it; you made them. Kill it or let it live, I can’t make this decision for you.

When I watched The Rings of Akhaten, I was quite… frustrated, I think, by the way it ended, and the way cultures were treated within it. I didn’t like how, at the end, the Grandfather was destroyed, taking with it the sun for an entire system of planets, and destabilising an entire religion. I know it wasn’t the main concern of the episode, but it made me uncomfortable nonetheless - the consequences of the Doctor and Clara’s actions were pretty damn clear, and the fact that they weren’t taking responsibility, nor the narrative presenting them as having a need to, irked me, to say the least. 

So since that point, I’ve wanted a story where the Doctor takes responsibility for his actions, or, à la the Prime Directive, said he wasn’t going to interfere in something that resolutely wasn’t his business. 

I thought I was going to get one, actually. I’ve lived for over 2000 years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and it’s about time I did something to fix that. As a line, that sort of indicates the kind of thing I’m talking about, doesn’t it? A more reflective, responsibility and consequence driven approach. 

And, hey, for a moment or two the story actually tries to be like that. The Doctor says it’s not his choice! Not his moon, not his choice.

Wonderful. The sort of theme I’ve been waiting for the past year, the brilliant team that is the Twelfth Doctor Clara, and it has spiders on the Moon. How could I not love it?

Well, you want the full list of reasons, I suppose.

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Violence, ‘Realism’ and Hope in the Superhero Movie

So I was watching this video recently, about the reasons why you should look forward to an Aquaman movie (this is really the only reason you need) and one of the things that was mentioned is the fact that he doesn’t have a ‘no kill code’ like Superman and Batman.

Now, in theory, I can understand that. It’d be a pretty interesting contrast against the other characters, and might fit in quite well with the idea of the character as a king with responsibilities.

But… I’m not convinced that something like that is a selling point, because it’s that contrast which would make things interesting - and that, of course, doesn’t really exist.

Man of Steel was the most gratuitously violent and destructive movie I’ve seen… well, ever, actually. I can’t call to mind any movie that’s even close to resembling that level of destruction, where it deliberately harks back to 9/11 and plays upon that imagery (which is messed up on whole other levels, but I’m not going to get into that, because I’m really not qualified to.)

To then go on to say that another DC hero is sometimes willing to take a life is really quite disingenuous… but it does beg the question, why is that actually a selling point?

Generally, I prefer superhero films to be a fun, enjoyable affair. I mean, I’m not against the occasional movie shaking things up a bit for dramatic purposes, because that can be a pretty compelling story, but on the whole, superheros are meant to be a symbol of hope. People with great powers and abilities, who use those talents to help other people, and improve their lives? What else is that apart from a story of hope?

What’s strange though is that the split is pretty much entirely DC and Marvel. I suppose what this comes from is The Dark Knight trilogy - the only DC superhero film to have been really successful was more in that vein of gritty realism, whereas when they tried something outside that mould, they ended up with… well, Green Lantern. (I actually quite enjoyed Green Lantern, it’s a lot of fun. Similarly, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy because, whilst they were serious, they never took the turn towards being crushingly bleak.)

Marvel, on the other hand… well, Guardians of the Galaxy opens with their hero dancing to this song. I don’t think there’s really any better way for me to explain the difference! (I loved Guardians of the Galaxy for this very reason, in case it wasn’t obvious)

The point though is that The Dark Knight made money and that Green Lantern didn’t so much was not due to their tone, but a whole host of other reasons. To suggest that people prefer that kind of tone based on that alone is rather a mistake - which is obvious enough from the Marvel movies. (Chris Pratt says some interesting things about the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy at the beginning of this video)

With the state of the world as it is, I don’t want these symbols of hope to take that veneer into cynicism and darkness. Misery and pain is not intrinsically more ‘adult’, and if it is, that isn’t something to aspire to.

Make us believe that a man can fly… and enjoy flying.

Doctor Who Review: The Caretaker

You’ve explained me to him. You haven’t explained him to me.

One of the things I always love about Doctor Who is the juxtaposition of the mundane and the ordinary. I know, so original! I imagine that just about every person commenting on Doctor Who ever has brought that up. In fact, I am fairly certain that I learnt the word “juxtaposition” from a Doctor Who documentary.

But, of course, the reason why people always mention this is because it’s true. It’s one of the things Doctor Who does best! And it’s never more apparent than in episodes set in schools. Personally, I always find it stranger to see the characters in a school rather than just in contemporary Earth, but I suppose that’s because I spend quite a lot of time in school still. Perhaps one day the Doctor in an office block will be the most disconcerting thing ever.

I digress, however. Review time.

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At present, I’m re-reading the Skulduggery Pleasant series of books, by Derek Landy. It’s partly in preparation for the final book, but also procrastination as well; the book is downstairs, on my shelf, ready to be read. I’m putting it off, basically.

I read the first novel back in… uh, 2006 or 2007. It was shortly after the first book came out. (There was an advert in a Doctor Who Adventures magazine actually, and that prompted me to read it, which is quite funny to me.)

I loved the book, and still do to this day. I was vaguely worried about re-reading it now, almost ten years later, I’d be looking over it with a far more critical eye, and take issue with all sorts of little things that would ruin my enjoyment of it.

But. thankfully, that proved not to be the case. They were still just as witty, and smart, and downright brilliant as I remembered. Compelling characters, genius plots, and a wonderful style of prose.

Right now, I’m about 200 pages into Death Bringer, which is the sixth book. One of my favourites, in fact, if ever I had to pick out particular ones. There’s another two books to go after this, and then…. The Dying of the Light.

I’ve been delaying it as much as I can. I’m reading all of the short stories between books (The Lost Art of World Domination is a gift, frankly) and I’m going to read Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven when I get around to it. But there’s only so long I can put it off for. 

Skulduggery Pleasant is coming to an end. Drawing to a close. There’s a finite amount of time left. Soon it won’t be an ongoing story, but something that’s been… historized, as it were. 

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

These books have been a pretty massive part of my life for years. About eight, in fact. I’ve written letters to Derek Landy, got responses, met him (wonderful fellow), entered competitions to create a character, spent hours of my life playing games on the official website, reading blog posts about it… In fact, some of my closest friends to this day I developed connections with through those books. Skulduggery Pleasant is something thatto say the leastoccupies a rather special place in my heart.

And now, very soon, it’s going to end.

That is frankly bizarre. The only interest I’ve sustained for that long is, I’d say, Doctor Who, but I don’t have to worry about Doctor Who coming to an end in the same way. 

Something that has been a big part of my life is going to be over. No more. Not ongoing. Done. Finished. It’ll be an ex-story. 

Ironically, I can’t really figure out how to vocalise what that would feel like, how to articulate or express the way this would effect me. That sounds melodramatic, and it sort of is really. But screw it, I don’t care. This is a chapter of my life closing, and it is really weird. It’s strange to think that I have the end to that chapter sat downstairs, on a shelf, ready to be opened…

… ready to end.

But not yet. Not just yet.

After all, as the poem goes, rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Conflict in a Story

Okay okay okay so. In English today, we were talking about Much Ado about Nothing, and how Don John’s role is, basically, as a plot device to create conflict in the story.

And anyway my English teacher starts to talk about how conflict is essential to a story. Generally I’d be inclined to agree with her, because I do think conflict is quite important, but then she said “In fact, I defy anyone to come up with a TV show, a movie, a book, a short story, any piece of fiction, that does not have a conflict to it.”

That’s where I sort of paused a bit. Any story? There has to be something, right? I mean, yeah, there’s always certain rules to a story, there’s always some things which must be true… but there are exceptions to every rule, no? All boundaries can be pushed, I think.

Her definition was quite broad, in fact. It wasn’t just an obvious conflict, anything that stops characters from getting what they want, but also internal psychological conflicts, and other similar things. Most things would be encompassed by her definition - I believe another example she gave was in detective stories, the search for clues and victim, that’s a conflict. Admittedly an obvious one, but still.

At the minute, the best I can come up with is short short stories, as in the ones that exist purely as set up for a final twist. The kind of thing I have in mind is like "The last man on Earth sat alone. There was a knock on the door.”,which was Hemingway I think, or "The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

I was leaning towards things like that because of the length of them - they don’t really have the time to set up any conflict. But it could be argued that there is, to an extent - in the first one, there’s the “what’s there?” question, and the mystery is a form of conflict. Same goes for the second really. But then, is the definition of conflict getting too broad?

You could argue as well that there’s implicit conflicts one could interpret in the text, like saying that coffin purchaser struggled with grief, but that’s not really a hard and fast rule - you’d be rather hard pressed to provide definitive evidence that the last man struggled with loneliness.

What that lead me onto though, and this is getting a bit meta, but… is there always an inherent conflict in story, but outside of the narrative? One that comes from the reader? 

It was following on from the detective story thing actually. Is the reader wondering how the story ends, and trying to find out, a form of conflict? Yes, no, maybe? If they’re to reread the story, is the conflict still there, or gone, because they know how it ends?

Am I overthinking this? Almost certainly. Food for thought though, perhaps. But, really, is there a conflictless story? If you can think of a better example that The Last Man, which is frankly quite tenuous, do let me know. 

Doctor Who Review: Time Heist

The Bank of Karabraxos is protected by the deadliest security system ever devised. Today you are going to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.

The lead up to this one was interesting actually. 

I mean, to be honest, I wasn’t actually expecting much? The concept was great, but Stephen Thompson has been a bit rocky sometimes in the past. Still, I was quite looking forward to it.

But then Listen was such a massive let down, for reasons explained here, and I really kind of went… “oh, hang on a minute. Let’s not get too hopeful.” I didn’t want to have too much riding on this, just in case it wasn’t so great.

Essentially, I was a bit wary, and trying to keep my expectations tempered. Which is always weird actually - the show should be reliably great, week in, week out, no doubts.

And I tell you what - if the show was consistently at the quality of Time Heist each week, I think the show could consistently meet high expectations.

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Time Heist review probably won’t materialise until tomorrow, or even Tuesday. The real world has quite suddenly thrown up several particular pressing matters which, unfortunately, need to be addressed ahead of Doctor Who.

Agents of SHIELD Season 2 - Preview Clip

There was a trailer, and that’s what I was referring to the other day, but it wasn’t actually all that interesting. A few short clips set to Highway to Hell, and that was all. I’ll link to it anyway though, in case that seems like something you have to see. 

Anyway this has turned up though, and it’s far more interesting, so I’ll talk about that instead. Woohoo.

Two things worth commenting on, methinks. First is the Agent Koenig thing actually, and the fact it’s actually going to be a plot point. I’m always vaguely reticent about that sort of thing becoming a big deal, because I rarely expect a satisfactory pay off. I was content with… Agent Koenig 2, or whatever his name was, just being a quick joke at the end of the series. It made me laugh, at any rate. This seems, perhaps, like they might be overcomplicating it simply for the sake of doing so. Mind you, I was similarly worried when Coulson’s resurrection became a thing at the start (I was content with Tahiti being magical really), and I think it’s fair to say that, by the end, the subplot about Coulson was one of the best parts of the series. I’m looking forward to where it’s going too - hopefully the investigation Coulson is setting Skye on here is because he’s aware of what he’s doing himself…

The second is mostly implicit actually. Towards the end of the clip, the implication is that Skye is going to go and talk to Ward, who is, I suppose, kept locked up in a little room all the time, where he gets to take part in fun activities such as growing a beard, and probably drawing tally marks on the wall, both of which being The Best Ways to Show Passage of Time Ever™. 

The question of what will happen to Ward is actually quite interesting to me. It seems likely they’ll have some sort of redemption thing going on, but I’m more interested in how it’s approached. I’ve spoken before about how I thought Hydra wasn’t handled so well (or rather, could have been better) in the final part of the series, and I really hope that’s addressed. I get the feeling it will be; the inherent hypocrisy that Coulson, Skye and the others are okay when Ward kills people they tell him to but not others is quite an interesting one to explore. His actions never changed, only his politics. That’s potentially quite a good theme, especially in contrast with Coulson’s “Agents of Nothing” bit (one of the best moments of the series) and the idea that the team are going to be shadowy vigilantes.

So, yeah. Looking forward to this. Still no Channel Four UK airdate though. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - Trailer

Look, look, trailer. (He says, as though everyone hasn’t seen it already.)

It’s an interesting one, this trailer. When I first watched it, I was not, admittedly, all that wowed by it. The footage they’ve got seems pretty disparate, and it’s comprised mainly of people standing around being dramatic. Equally though, I have absolutely no idea how you’d make a trailer from this film. As I understand it, the way the film is split is that, basically, all the political intrigue and expository stuff is going to be in this film, with the more dramatic, actual revolution, being in the second film. Which is fine, obviously; that stuff was always my favourite part of the books, and I think it could make for a really excellent film.

But… it’s difficult to get right. I wasn’t a fan of the first film, and I still haven’t seen all of the second. The first film, I think, had a fair few failings (though probably not as many as I initially thought, I was rather harsh on first viewing) but what I’ve seen of the second was a massive improvement. However, certain elements didn’t make it into Catching Fire which would have set up the rebellion and revolution aspects here, so I’m interested to see how that plays out.

High hopes then, but tempered expectations. It hasn’t always worked out before.

(Mind you, that four note motif they play at the end of each trailer? Bloody love it. It’s so haunting and sinister.)

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Anonymous asked: How in your opinion could you improve the episode 'Listen' then?

That is an excellent question. An extremely good one, in fact. I am going to take a few days to think about it, and write out what I think afterwards. I mean, I want to give you a proper answer, so I think I should sit and rewatch the episode a few times, you know?

I mean, off the top of my head, what bothered me the most was the reliance on the old tropes. So I’d probably remove the timey wimey stuff - it could still be framed around Clara’s date with Danny, mainly because I like to see those insights into her life and I just had an idea that would make it work rather well in the context of the episode. Rupert and Orson I’d leave in, in basic terms, but I’d remove their connection to Danny. I mean, any old technobabble flimflam could be used to explain why they were visited, so they don’t actually need to be connected to Danny. 

The scene with the blanket monster would need to be redressed slightly. Largely it could be left the same, but I think it needs a bit of work to make it better fit with the idea that sometimes an irrational fear is just an irrational fear. (Which is the interpretation I’d go with. A level of ambiguity would be nice, but in a subtler, finer way than it was conveyed in the episode.)

To be honest, the only thing that would need a lot of thought put into it is, I think, the sequence with the Doctor at the end. I’m not 100% what I’d change to that. 

Right, so, anon, promise for you. I will try my best to devote a proper, long, well thought out post on this topic for you. I’d be unwilling to put a deadline to it, because I’m sort of bogged down with schoolwork at the minute… if it’s not up by the start of October, send me another message to hurry me along.

What did you think of Listen? Would you say I was correct in my summation of the episode, or totally off the mark?

Just a vague admin-y post here.

Over the next few days, I am going to post things about the new Hunger Games trailer, and I understand there’s also a new Agents of SHIELD trailer floating about. Both of those shall be written about. Expect them to be posted… tomorrow and thursday, perhaps. (I need to figure out a proper schedule for updates actually, it’s all a little sporadic at the minute.)

Also, announcement! I recently set up a twitter feed for the blog. That’s exactly what it sounds like. Tweets for each post I make, and probably initial reactions to things. Within 140 characters or less. Though I would imagine you all know the rules of twitter. Anyway, here’s the link: @tweetsfromalexm. Go, henceforth, and follow. 

Doctor Who Review: Listen

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Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding?

I went through quite a few different openings for this one. Various different ways to frame it, you know? I considered talking about the time of year, and other Doctor Who episodes that have been around this date in the past. I thought about mentioning people’s expectations, how this one seemed to be quite a good one in the lead up. 

But, honestly, I didn’t quite see the point here. Actually, in all seriousness, I struggled a little bit writing this review. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, because it didn’t really feel worth spending the time on it.

It’s not that it was bad, although I certainly didn’t enjoy it. It was just… meh, I guess? I mean, there were bad things, and good things, and all it ever really added up to was… meh.

I get the feeling I’m going to be distinctly in the minority here. Which is, you know, fair enough. That even makes it more fun, actually, this giving of criticism. As much as I love it when people agree with me, the debates prompted by a difference of opinion are great. A group of people on the internet, who’d rarely talk in the real world, all brought together to critically discuss and analyse Doctor Who? Brilliant. (No, I’m not invited to many parties, why do you ask?)

It’s entirely possible that I just didn’t get this story. That happens; sometimes it’s nothing more than a difference of opinion, where one person can’t quite get the same feelings or responses from an episode. It just… doesn’t work for them.

Listen absolutely falls into that category for me. There were plenty of smart aspects to it, and there was a lot to appreciate… but I don’t think I could ever really manage more than to appreciate it. Certainly, I don’t think I’m ever going to enthusiastically love it.

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Alex's Thoughts

My blog, where I talk about my thoughts. I think about the important things in life - namely, television, books, films and other such media. Expect to find reviews, analyses, and frequent whining about correct use of apostrophes.

To see posts on certain subjects, such as writing, Doctor Who, or the world at large, take a look at the index.

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