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|Wednesday, November 12th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who, Death in Heaven
Dissing Death in Heaven
Almost there. With only a Christmas "special" still to dread, the 2014 slog that was Doctor Who's 8th revived series has, mercifully, nearly come to a close (if not to a merciful close).
An an honest critic must give Steven Moffat his due. From Danny Pink's classroom tears in his introductory episode, to a payoff for television's Least Convincing Romance Ever, to the Doctor's query, "Am I a good man?", with which the series opened, at least this year, Moffat didn't drop any of the major plot points he raised during the series. (Well. Maybe one. Time will tell.) The answers were neither clever nor convincing, but at least they were provided.
Yes, that's faint praise; and probably too generous. For along with the answers, "Death in Heaven" slaps us with un-foreshadowed plot twists out of sketch-comedy satire, blatant emotional manipulation, a debate on moral philosophy whose sophistication would shame a class of 12 year-olds, and an entirely unwelcome appearance by a Magical Negro.
But tell us what you really think! I hear you cry. Of plots and themes and lies and agonies. Spoilers and cussing as usual. I think most of you know the drill by now.
|Thursday, November 6th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who, Dark Water
Throwing out the Doctor with the Dark Water
"Dark Water," the 11th entry in a 12 episode series, trundles along with a certain amount of professional competence, but is very far from being good drama.
The episode bears almost all the flaws we have come to expect from Steven Moffat's latter oeuvre. A story with the density of rotten sea-ice that groans along at a glacial pace and tedious swaths of explanations that don't, actually, explain much at all.
The upside includes excellent performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman and, especially, from Michelle Gomez as the mysterious Missy.
Want more? Throwing out the Doctor with the dark water includes spoilers as per usual, including a couple of Big Reveals; click at your own risk if you haven't seen it yet.
|Monday, October 27th, 2014|
Review: Doctor Who, In the Forest of the Night
In the Forest of the Blight
Here we go again: interrupted for a couple of weeks by an influx of competence, Steven Moffat's Doctor Who is once more circling the black hole of creative bankruptcy. Moffat's name isn't on "In the Forest of the Night" — the official blame goes to one Frank Cottrell-Boyce — but his fingerprints are all over it.
Child in peril? Yup. Magic child in peril? Yes and yes.
Lots of expository dialogue? Oh, yes.
Completely implausible reactions to extraordinary events? You know it.
Magic Reverso-Babble TM to ensure story has no lasting consequences? Why not? We're in Moffat-land!
Truth is, there is so much wrong with "In the Forest of the Night" it's hard to know where to start — or where to stop. I made every effort to be parsimonious in my critique, to prune away the dying limbs the better to reach the rotten heart of the tale, but did I succeed?
You can judge for yourself by reading In the Forest of the Blight. Snark, spoilers and baffled vitriol behind the link, as usual.
|Friday, October 24th, 2014|
Flatline falls short
I did it again. Made the mistake of watching a recent episode of Doctor Who a second time.
I really enjoyed "Flatline" the first time around. I barked delighted laughter and might even have gasped in surprise a time or two. I found Rigsy charming and Clara on her own a small revelation.
But when I queued up the story for a second go-through, things were not so good. Not terrible, but too obvious by half and derivative without improving on the inspiration.
My full review, as always, includes spoilers along with my keen analysis (or so I like to believe) and charming nervous exhaustion. This time, there's also a poll! Click here for the full story.
|Sunday, October 19th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who, Mummy on the Orient Express
Doctor Who takes the A-Minus Train
I know, I know. This series' ninth episode aired yesterday and here I am, posting about the 8th. I have no excuses, except that of "Life got in the way."
To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and missed me) I say, "Mea culpa and that I'll try to do better with 'Flatline'." To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and hoped I'd stay away), I say only, "You can't get rid of me that easily! But if it's any consolation, my reappearance comes with a surprise: I quite liked 'Mummy on the Orient Express'!"
What a difference a good script makes.
I was all-too-ready to dislike "Mummy On the Orient Express" as much as I did last week's "Kill the Moon".
MOOE's title suggested only another tired homage to, or rip-off of, someone else's creation. But what do you know! MOOE was funny and intriguing (if poorly-directed), with a believable interpersonal drama and Peter Capaldi's best performance yet.
In just 45 minutes, Jamie Mathieson managed what Steven Moffat and his previous collaborators could not in seven episodes: to make Clara's doubts about the Doctor believable.
Was "Mummy on the Orient Express" a perfect episode? Not quite. But it was better than most and a lot better than we have become accustomed to in recent years.
As usual, my full review is spoilery. Not so usual, it is hardly angry at all (which might help to explain why I am so late in its delivery). Also not so usual, this might be the first time I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Patches365. Which kind of makes me wonder if I'm wrong.
Click here for Clara's Choice.
|Wednesday, October 8th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who, Kill the Moon
Abort the moon!
If Steven Moffat isn't trying to abort the program he has had under his control since 2010, at the very least it's clear that he doesn't care what happens to it once it grows up and moves out of his house.
"Kill the Moon" could be watched as a personal drama about the Doctor and Clara Oswald; it might be viewed as a girls' own adventure, with trouble-maker Courtney Woods finally given her chance to shine; or seen as a feminist fable, with three women — maiden, teacher, crone — deciding the fate of all humankind. Could. Might.
Other interpretations will no doubt be constructed; there are among Doctor Who's fandom those as creative as they are forgiving.
Transcripts R Us!
For those interested in the program's thematic debate, I confess I went to the trouble of transcribing the key minutes.
I don't know whether to apologize or to brag, but it is here if you want it.
I am not part of that wing. I don't want to "fix" the program with fanfic nor weave intricately-constructed academic analyses to fill in plot-holes and justify self-contradictions of character and story. All I want are stories that don't insult my intelligence.
Is that really so much to ask?
Apparently so. "Kill the Moon" offers as the basis of its plot a "physics" whose idiocy would have appalled Newton — or even Douglas Adams. To add insult to insult, "Kill the Moon" is an unsubtle morality tale pushing a political agenda that adds a kiloton of fuel to the idea that Steven Moffat is not exactly, shall we say, a feminist-friendly thinker.
In other words, Won't somebody think of the embryo?!? Angry words and spoilers — they all live behind the cut.
|Tuesday, September 30th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who: The Caretaker
Little care from The Caretaker
The short version?
I really enjoyed "The Caretaker" when I watched it late Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
I'd been awake almost 20 hours when I hit Play, had worked 11 of those hours at the day-job and spent nearly two more riding to and from there on my bicycle.
I was tired, and I admit cracked a beer or three as I live-tweeted my first reactions.
To my regret, those tweets were an enthusiastic tailings pond spill I wish I could take back. But they do represent as "real" a reaction as my subsequent re-evaluation. And since I don't believe in censoring reality, they will stay on my Twitter timeline and live on also as a sidebar — pre-commentary, if you like — to my review.
The short version is that I thought the episode pretty awful when I watched it by sunlight. To paraphrase the blogger Patches365, it was a mean-spirited "tragedy of blunders" built on — not one — nor two, or even three — but four idiot plots. And it was an episode that tossed aside its best performer in favour of the cheapest of cheap laffs.
The long version? The long version lives on my site, of course, along with spite, spoilers and some thoughts on patterns as we reach the half-way point of what we can only hope will be Steven Moffat's farewell turn as Captain of the foundering ship Doctor Who.
Click here for Little Care — Take Two. Don't say I didn't warn you.
|Monday, September 22nd, 2014|
Television Review (of sorts): Doctor Who, Time Heist
Feels like a contractual obligation
No real rant, certainly no rave.
I had a busy weekend, back at soccer on Sunday and entertaining (and being entertained by) an old friend come to town after far too long.
Still managed to check in on the latest episode of Doctor Who, but I almost wish I hadn't. I know I'm sorry I watched the episode a second time.
But I've made a commitment and I'm not breaking it. I live-tweeted the episode on Sunday morning and have added a few thoughts now. For the record, and probably for Geoffrey Dow completists only (dare I dream such folk exist?), click here for Time Waste.
|Sunday, September 14th, 2014|
Review (of sorts): Listen
Listen (to me!)
I feel unesay.
Not because posting my inchoate, exhausted and half-drunk reactions to my first-watch of "Listen" makes me feel like an obsessive fan desperate to share his thoughts with all and sundry — although, clearly, that's what I am — but because I distrust the first reactions I so desperately want to share.
Yet here I am. Sharing my feelings instead of my thoughts, my knee's jerks rather than my practiced dance steps.
Steven Moffat has written an episode of Doctor Who that, on first viewing, I enjoyed quite a lot. I liked it. But — or should that be and so ...? — I feel uneasy. I am afraid of what judgement sober second thought may call down upon my first reactions.
So for now and for the record, those who care to read can find those first reactions here.
I liked it; what did you think? And do you think you're opinion will change when (if) you watch it again?
|Tuesday, September 9th, 2014|
Review: Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood
The Doctor and the Outlaw
I don't know about you, but I can forgive quite a lot when I'm laughing. Plot holes, character inconsistencies, even magic arrows "Of Random Plot Resolution".
In other words, "Robot of Sherwood" was cracking good fun, a story that didn't take itself too seriously while still managing (mostly) to take the Doctor & Co. seriously enough. Our suspension bridge of disbelief swayed, but it did not snap and neither did it twirl.
Robot of Sherwood gifted us an episode rich with clever dialogue (banter, even), exciting and sometimes funny action sequences, good actors having a very good time performing a low-concept story (see its title) that far exceeded expectations.
Thank you, Mark Gatiss, for bringing fun back to the Tardis — and (oh, all right!) thank you, Steven Moffat, for staying the hell out of the way and letting it happen.
If you're old enough to remember (or like me, have travelled back in time to enjoy) "The Pirate Planet", you're almost sure to enjoy "Robot of Sherwood", and nevermind the lack of a tin dog or bird. Click here for the words of one critic clapping.
|Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014|
Review: Enter the Dalek
The good, the bad and the Doctor
I feel dirty, like I awoke alone after a night of passion to realize my inamorata's clever words were lies, that her body had stained my sheets and her gentle caresses had left indelible, greasy streaks all over my body. Though I cannot deny the passions I had felt in the dark, with morning's light comes the fear that my wallet, and even my closet, may be empty.
I liked "Into the Dalek" when I watched it the first time. I really did. Even enjoyed it when I watched it a second time. Yet, when I began writing about it, started to think about what it was that had entertained me, the flaws shone ever brighter, like stars appearing one by one after the sun has slipped below the horizon.
"Into the Dalek" is the kind of episode that seduces with surface charms, then laughs at our pleasures, mocks our innocent hopes. Slick enough to entertain in the moment, the story shrivels under the the light of critical consideration.
Sorry, folks. I really thought this would be a positive review for a change. I was only when I began to write, and to really think about what I had watched, that I realized I had been fooled again. After all, The only good dalek ...
|Sunday, August 24th, 2014|
Television Review: Doctor Who: Deep Breath
Moffat's misogyny rales on
Doctor Who is blessed with a remarkable fandom.
Way back on the 12th of July, a black-and-white "screener" of the 8th series premiere, "Deep Breath" was released onto file-sharing sites, following a similar surreptitious (and — need I add? — thoroughly reprehensible!) release of the scripts of the first five episodes the week before. The Scot was out of the kilt, as it were, and anyone who wanted to could easily download a copy.
And yet, those of us who did encounter the samizdat seemed all to subscribe to a gentlefen's agreement that there would be no spoiling for those who preferred to wait for the final product in all its CGI glory. (At worst, some critics might have taken advantage of the incident to draft his (or her!) review ahead of time.)
Though I read a number of Who-related feeds, I didn't come across any unofficial spoilers, not even after the episode was aired in a number of movie theatres around the world. (I didn't look hard, but the point is, one would have had to look to be spoiled.)
Now, finally, the official broadcast is history and we're free to discuss that for which we've been waiting the better part of a year: a new season and a brand-new (if almost elderly) Doctor.
Was it worth it?
If you're able to forgive or justify its internal inconsistencies, tawdry fan-service, cheap laughs and a misogynist streak that holds on like a mysterious infection laughing at ever-stronger doses of antibiotics, well then, yes, I don't doubt for you it was.
If, on the other hand, you were hoping against hope for a story whose details and characterizations made sense and for a climax that didn't take from the show's companion every bit of agency she had, you will have been as disappointed as I was.
Read more/don't read more, it's up to you. But don't say I didn't warn you! In the world according to Steven Moffat, a woman without a man to tell her what to do is nothing ...
|Thursday, January 9th, 2014|
The Time of the Doctor, reviewed
Fanboy's triumph, viewers' tragedy
I've said it before and will certainly say it again: there is a big danger in giving control of a venerable and much-loved popular fiction franchise to a writer who grew up reading or watching the stuff.
When a true fan takes the wheel of their beloved creation, it can become a toy, a gadget used to satisfy the writer's childish fantasies, not a vehicle for delivering stories to others.
The results tend to become ever-more convoluted and self-referential, leading to a slowly-dwindling audience of those hard-core fans who enjoy the nostalgic winks, the meta nods, while the general public starts to look elsewhere for its entertainment.
As for fans like me, who wants story and character to go along with the in-jokes and arcana, the result can be torture. We feel almost as if a person, someone we love, is being abused and yet helpless to do anything about it.
And so I keep watching (for those of you who have wondered): because I care, even though my caring has been so painful, so often, these past three years.
I'm sad to say that "The Time of the Doctor" was not what I was hoping to get for Christmas. Far from it. So be warned: My review is long, spoilerific, and laced with venom and vitriol (though also, I fancy, sweetened with a strong dose of pure Canadian maple syrup. And pictures. And arguably one paranoid fantasy).
|Thursday, December 5th, 2013|
Review: The Day of the Doctor
Flawed redemption still a happy anniversary
It was 1978 or 1979. I was in grade 8 and quite liked my home-room teacher. Mr. Pritchard also liked me, the bright, nerdly kid who had made the school's "newspaper" his own, contributing articles, editorials, cartoons — and (yes) even reviews.
One afternoon after class, as I watched over the Gestetner machine chunking out its blue mimeo pages and Mr. Pritchard watched over me, I mentioned I was looking forward to Saturday, when another episode of Doctor Who, this British television program I'd recently discovered, was going to be broadcast, right before the hockey game.
Mr. Pritchard looked up and laughed, his moustache bristling his delight. "Really!" he said, "Is that still on the air? I used to watch it when I was your age!" He was probably about 30 then, meaning I had barely been born when he was my age!
Learning of that long continuity delighted me as much as — and maybe more than — it did Mr. Pritchard. And now that 15 years of the program's history has become 50, and my personal continuity with it is twice what my teacher's was, the fact that Doctor Who is still on the air delights me even more.
All of which makes me doubly-pleased that the program's 50th anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor", exceeded my (admittedly, low) expectations by a wide margin. While not without some significant flaws, Steven Moffat's long-awaited 2013 series finale (of sorts; the upcoming Christmas special will probably mark the real series end, as well as the transition to the next) was a well-crafted entertainment, that balanced humour, drama and nostalgia and, even, pathos, without getting bogged down by the Enormous Anniversariness of it all.
Though some nonsensical elements demonstrated yet again Moffat's tendency to confuse plot with story and maguffin with plot, structurally, "The Day of the Doctor" was a happy anniversary present for this jaded and weary viewer.
Certainly it was the most entertaining multi-Doctor special to come down the pike since, well, forever. I really did laugh and I really did cry, on both first and second viewings — and it's been quite a while since a Moffat-scripted episode of Doctor Who hit me like that.
As usual, my full review is liberal with spoilers. And yes, I spend quite a lot of time exploring those "significant flaws". If you don't want your pleasure challenged, I recommend staying away; if you want in read on click here for The Day of the Doctor: The Bad, the Good, and the Meta</a>.
|Thursday, August 29th, 2013|
Kick-Ass 2: Not a steel-toed boot in sight
I loved Kick-Ass
(and reviewed it a while ago here
) not despite, but because of it's over-the-top brutality, its profanity and especially because of its sense of humour. Well, and also because it was extremely well-done, a lunatic action movie with heart and brains, both.
I loved the original enough to drag myself out to a theatre, despite the fact neither the original movie's director and writer Matthew Vaughn, or co-writer Jane Goldman were anywhere to be seen.
Sadly, the sequel is a pale shadow of its predecessor, not horrible, but certainly not very good either.
My full review lives on my site.
|Thursday, May 16th, 2013|
Review: Doctor Who, Nightmare in Silver
Nightmare In Tedium
Neil Gaiman channels Stephen Thompson
(Which is never a good thing)
On more than one occasion, the writer Harlan Ellsion insisted his name be removed from a movie or television program and replaced with that of Cordwainer Bird in place of his own. He did it when he believed his script had been butchered: changed to the point where the on-screen result would in some way make him look bad. It was his way of "flipping the bird" at those who had ruined his work and, more, of protecting his own reputation as a screen-writer.
If Neil Gaiman doesn't have a pseudonym for similar circumstances, he should get one — and apply it retroactively to his sophomore entry as a screen-writer for Doctor Who.
"Nightmare in Silver" isn't the worst episode of this year's often-dreadful half-series (far from it) but it isn't very good, either.
It is almost inconceivable that the the writer of "The Doctor's Wife" (not to mention of the Sandman graphic novels) could have handed in a script as dramatically disjointed, as illogical and as frankly boring, as that which showed up on our television screens this past weekend. And surely, it wasn't Neil Gaiman who closed the episode with the appalling spectacle of the Doctor almost literally drooling as he ponders the sight of Clara in a skirt just "a little bit too tight".
A nightmare in silver? More like pewter, or even tin. Spoilers and snark, as usual.
|Sunday, May 12th, 2013|
Review: The Crimson Horror
Patterns of abuse
(I know, this is coming awfully late; I've got "Nightmare in Silver" queued up now. Hopefully, that will result in both a more timely and a more positive response. But for now ...)
I know a lot of you enjoyed "The Crimson Horror" and, in comparison to the previous week's travesty, you had every right to.
Nevertheless, what you enjoyed was still pretty lousy television and I guarantee that, unless you make a real study of it, you won't remember a damned thing about it a year from now.
Don't believe me?
Read "Carry On Up the Tardis!" to find out why it was the idea of "The Crimson Horror" you liked, and not the show itself.
As usual, both plot- and fun-spoilers abound, so enter at your own risk.
|Saturday, May 4th, 2013|
Review: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The contempt of the show-runner
An insult. A slap in the face. Or should I say, another insult, another slap in the face?
What more is there to say? The whole of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who has been a long series of insults dressed up as Big Ideas, punctuated by apologies from the likes of Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman.
But how long can we point to "Vincent and the Doctor" or "The Doctor's Wife" and tell ourselves that Steven Moffat actually cares about the cultural institution in his charge?
The truth is, we have become so used to terrible television that when the merely mediocre happens along, people like me nearly start preaching the second coming.
It's time we face the truth: Steven Moffat holds us, his audience, in utter contempt. Take as Exhibit 37, the latest mess of a program broadcast under the name of Doctor Who.
"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" begins with an implausible and arbitrary set-up and is propelled by a plot that works only through the unlikely stupidity of its guest characters, the even more unlikely (and dumb) decisions of its regulars and a resolution that re-uses — yet again! — one of Moffat's now tired and tiresome time-travel tropes — and which then cheats on its own rules. The BBC brain-trust ought to be ashamed to have allowed it to air.
My full review is behind this link, but be warned: I am not happy and sometimes I say so in language unfit for ears of the young and tender, or for eyes of work-mates reading over one's shoulder. Also, there are spoilers, as per normal.
Finally, if you want to suggest that I hate this show so much I shouldn't be reviewing it, you may be right. But I committed myself to seeing Series 7 through to the end, and so I will. But after that? If Steven Moffat is still in charge, I rather suspect I'll be done with the show for the duration. Those of you as sick of my opinions as I am sick of Steven Moffat's stories probably have more reason for hope than I do.
|Monday, April 22nd, 2013|
Doctor Who: Hide, reviewed
Of ghosts, of monsters, of hockey teams
A fan's faith, reborn
April 22, 2013, OTTAWA — I grew up during the 1970s and was a fan of the Montreal Canadiens (a professional (ice) hockey team, the only sport that really matters in Canada). The 1970s was a good decade to cheer for the "Habs"; les glorieux won the Stanley Cup in 10 of the first 14 years of my life.
Since then, they have drunk from that sacred Cup but twice, a bitter drought for those loyal followers who yet wave the bleu, blanc et rouge and who, each autumn, dream again the following spring will see a return to glory at last.
Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, "Hide", felt almost like I had (yes) been transported back in time and in space, to the Montreal Forum on the evening of May 21, 1979, to witness my team's 4th Stanley Cup victory in a row.
All right, I exaggerate. One episode does not a championship make. And maybe the metaphor doesn't entirely make sense. But neither, often, does logic in Doctor Who. So (as an American might say), sue me.
The conceit feels right to me — and besides, when was the last time someone discussed hockey and Doctor Who in the same place?
Point is, for this fan, the last few years following the Doctor has felt a lot like watching the Montreal Canadiens lose hockey games. The uniforms look more or less the same, and there's still a lot of travel involved, but victories are few and far between.
"Hide" was one of those victories. And a victory so convincing, this fan suddenly feels those naive hopes of a championship springing like wheat from an arid field. Click here to find out why. Far fewer spoilers than usual.
|Saturday, April 20th, 2013|
Review: The Cold War
"The Cold War" weds mediocrity with subtle brilliance
Jenna-Louise Coleman becoming a revelation
April 19, 2013, OTTAWA — Late again, I know. Life and an episode of back-aches has kept me busy.
And more, I found it hard to find my focus on this episode. An entertaining tale on the surface, dig just a little bit and you find in the Mark Gatiss-penned "The Cold War" only another stop on Steven Moffat's Travelling Medicine Show of Intellectual Horrors.
An idiot plot, in other words.
But there was an upside, beyond the mere fact this episode made for the second in a row that managed at least to be an entertaining distraction on first viewing. That is, that Jenna-Louise Coleman is starting to look like the best regular actor to grace this series since maybe as far back as Christopher Eccleson's turn as the Ninth Doctor, and certainly since Catherine Tate played Donna Noble.
I know, I know, it's early days, and so I stand to be corrected, but so far Coleman is doing remarkable things with often ludicrous material. "Click here to read more, and to watch a video aide. Spoilers, as always. Links to my Series 7 reviews can be found at Edifice Rex Online.