Sunday, 18 September 2011

The God Complex or Mrs Williams figures it out

Keep your hats on people. It isn't as bad as it looks. I have it on good word straight from the convention floor, that Karen Gillan isn't leaving Doctor Who any time soon. If anything, she and Arthur Darvill are going to be in the 50th anniversary programme and probably at least till the conclusion of the Amy/River/Doctor story. That said, tonight's ep wasn't about how many eps are left for the Williams family, it was about Amy waking up once and for all to the stark truth that her life is with Rory and always has been. Poor man, he truly is the boy who waited. Maybe finally he'll get a bit of respect from his wife?

The God Complex opens in the prototypical endless corridor set with danger behind every door, a breathless young woman who wears the same clothes Amy did when first we met the adult Amy, is trying to survive what is clearly going to get her. Enter the Tardis three and the running and the screaming begins. Except that it's not all just a bit of jogging before dying a grisly death in some Godforsaken hell that's easy and cheap to film in, (though in this case, I'm sure it is and so saves the BBC a lot of money). The story settles down pretty quickly and we find out we're in a place with no way out ( hums Hotel California to himself), and that other guests have first , been made to face their worst fear, then having been sufficiently scared senseless, they fall prey to the thing that wants them to "Praise Him". As stories go, Moffat has yet again gone back to the roots of Doctor Who, The Doctor is an ancient time traveller and yet again he's knee deep in space and time kaka. No one wants to take over the world or the Universe, it's a nice closed door mystery where with luck, enough of the cast will survive to the end credits to find out what fiend is trying to kill them.

The use of doors to hide a multitude of other peoples fears is a fun excuse to trot out the usual suspects that keep us from falling asleep or getting things done. Mum always preferred the other child, you could never be good enough for your father, you're a geek and can't pull and sexy girls mock you, then you add the clowns, the monsters and the call back villains from past eps and Doctors, and you have a  real fun park of pant soiling  nasties designed put a smile on your face, long as it's not your own personal fear that is. I would of liked some slightly more adult fears like telesales people flogging The Jerusalem Post to members of the EDL,  erectile dysfunction, Graham Norton being told he's got Katie Price, Jedward, Chloe Mafia, and the entire cast of The Only Way  is Essex , the horror of being Linda Lusardi post op,  a WI lady seeing her sponge fall during a competition or an Al Queda   having some nutter in the US claim 9/11 was all a government plot and NOT his work.  Room 11, which appears to be the Doctor's room, seemed to have the worst of the lot. What could possibly scare the Doctor,. a being so old he's been to the  Big Bang Burger Bar at least 5 times and knows the floor show personally? Room 11 we find out contains what Matt Smith reacts to with " Of course, who else". What horror is supposed to fill him with dread? Jedward? Catherine Tate? the TARDIS check engine light, or maybe all those years he spent looking like Colin Baker. We'll never know, but it will be fun prying that nugget from Steven Moffat. My personal theory, borne out of later dialogue and previous times when he's had to struggle, is the deep guilt The Doctor feels for the ruined lives, death and dislocation he has caused over the millennia. As they say in Rocky Horror, time is fleeting, madness takes control. Sometimes with dire consequences. Playing God can be prety harrowing , but clearly not as harrowing as the thing would like, because The Doctor is never troubled enough to succumb. Why should he, he's nearly eternal and knows that in the end. there are few perfect choices, just bad and worse ones . No  need to beat himself up too much about it.

Good Bye Amy?
But he does come to a startling conclusion later, startling only if you haven't been paying attention for the last few months. Amy, since she was a wee lass  has been admiring and building up the Doctor as an infallible thing that will never let her down, she's even constructed a fantasy where she has the Doctor all to herself in every way possible. Meanwhile, and since she was Amelia, poor Rory has been straggling along in her wake like a sad puppy. Thing is, since about just before Pandorica, Rory has  come into himself a lot more and asserted himself many times, most recently In Let's kill Hitler. Sadly Amy has till now failed to notice that she was always first in his book. I think the penny really started to fall in The Girl who waited. Amy, young Amy and older Amy  pin their hopes on the Doctor, but it's Rory who really saves her, chooses her. not the Doctor. Tonight in breaking the faith of Amy in him, he sets her free, finally allowing Amy to see the invisible man whose always been there for her. His last act of the play is most telling, never in the history of Who has a companion ever come back long term to the TARDIS after going home like that. On Corrie it's a cab or bus off the cobbles , on Who it's the TARDIS to your house on Earth. Except this time, the Doctor has even thrown in a flash car for Rory, a Chelsea house for Amy and the adventure Amy fears to make, the one where she stays at home and has a life with Rory. You have to wonder if even this mallet over the head will stick, we'll have to see. Amy is stubborn, but even a mule eventually sees sense and moves in the direction  it's asked to.  I certainly hope so, much as one loves Amy and Rory, their time will have to come an end one way or another.

Supporting cast in God Complex were strong as well. David Walliams was brilliant as the cowardly Gibbis  and I enjoyed the asian girl who seemed most on top of the game, Amara Karan playing Rita, would have been a most competent and acceptable companion for the Doctor except for the tiny complication of her death. Rita at one point even seemed a bit too much in control and had me wondering if maybe after all, the Minotaur wasn't the principle villain  but her .  As it is, she proved to be the bridge to the solution. Faith, any faith, faith in a Diety, in one's skills, one's class, one's mentor, all of them were bad, in fact edible. I think I'll risk holding onto my faiths despite the risk of meeting up with a relative of the Nimon. Faith keeps us going when all else fails, it make us do incredible things against all odds and it keeps us sane when evidence would normally indicate we should just give up trying what ever it is we're on about. In my case I'll continue to have faith in Newcastle United, the belief my cat will listen to me, and that the BBC will pay me to write for them.before I get fitted for a free bus pass. It's faith in my friends, the success of other previously hard working but unknown writers who are now overnight sensations, and the knowledge that there is no accounting for the choices of programmes that get commissioned these days that keep us sane and focused. Where was I?  Ah yes supporting cast. They filled out the story nicely and were essential to the ticking along of the story, unlike the frankly silly curse of the Black Spot with it's arghing and pointless posturing. Nothing was wasted in this outing not even the dummies in the dining room. Great throw away lines likes resistance is exhausting, reminded one that you need to laugh at the universe or it will get you. Walliams in particular did well not to draw on any of the Little Britain stuff and showed he can stretch himself past his admittedly large catalogue characters. I hope he's back for more. The monster, a relative of the Nimon was equally good, not your one dimensional beast that roars and destroys, it's a complex being that to has it's needs and wants to be released from it's eternal cycle of trapping and killing.

And it's here that we meet the Doctor of old, RTD would have skirted the issue, but not Moffat, The Doctor , not for the first time or the last in the ep, kills something for it's own good. And presto, there was the big surprise. From the opening scene you're screaming , Castrovalava, The Matrix, it can't be real, well you're right. It's a holodeck right off of Star Trek. Gene Rodenberry would of been proud of the story. The poor beast related to the Nimon is now free and the Universe a little safer for a while.

So why ruin it all and mention James Corden? I suppose armed with a script not improvised by him , he's ok, but I still needed a second to adjust. Maybe they'll have him die a horrible death at the hands of the Cybermen? Perhaps the Doctor will, in a scene that will be cheered in many homes, strand him on a planet where they eat unfunny motivational speakers in trakies. We can always dream.

Have you noticed what the new lead in is now? Celebrity Masterchef, yes a load of bad cooks who were famous for a few minutes for sometimes the most incredibly red tab reasons in the book. The first four have proved mostly useless in the kitchen, except maybe for the man off Holyoaks, he's ok. The rest would be hard pressed to make an impression at a cheap surf and turf restaurant. Which of course they were sent to. Jaunty Road and Greg Wallace could never have been allowed near a proper eatery with this crowd.. One filleted herself, another made the most appalling combinations of flavours and yet another had the pallet of 6 year old who'd never eaten anything outside of KFC and his mam's cooking. Next batch up aren't much better if we're to judge by the low light reel they use to promote next week. And in case you were wondering where it was during the week? Not in it's normal evening slot, but buried deep in  afternoon telly land.  I suppose it's where it belongs, Linda Lusardi who's had so much work on her, she needs to live on the shopping channel to pay for it all is a celebrity because of the  her "body" of work. I googled her old picks, very nice, but seeing her now is like stabbing yourself repeatedly while looking at fit naked women. It just doesn't work. The Blonde woman who sells lingerie, another person who's famous more in the way Ann Summers is than say Lilly Allen, is another hapless murderer of food. I'm not sure who the other alleged celebs are, but I do hope we get a better class of famous people soon or the show is doomed. Some proper actors , a few singers, a politician who's not been retired 20 years or maybe even the food critic at the Gruniad would be nice,  but I somehow doubt it.

If you're looking for a good dose of fun, well written telly, check out on ITV1 the new Doc Martin , just as fresh as ever and no let up in the quality of the stories and scripts. Martin (Martin Clunes) and Louisa (Caroline Catz) are back in Portwenn for another akward slice of life in Cornwall. . It's good , watch it !

Laters all , please don't forget to try Beat Surrender, follow the links on the right.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Night Terrors, a refreshing diversion from the norm.

Well It's Friday night Saturday morning and the next Doctor Who will be on in a few short hours. Much as I am excited and anxious to be sat in the armchair an hour before the devil knows I've tuned into BBC1, I am just now coming to terms with last weeks ep. Night Terrors, a story of a little boy and all that scares him.

Those of us old enough to remember the 60's, even found George's room familiar. From the toys to the wallpaper to the pyjamas. I won't say Terrors was a light hearted trip down memory lane. Nobody wants to recall a time when everything scared the living daylights out of you. Every creak, groan and shadow magnified a thousand times into witches, demons and many armed creatures with flashing teeth that lived under one's bed or in the closet, and then there were the clowns and the creepy dolls, mad Alices they were.  As a boy all of those and much more lost many a night's sleep, I was even partial to the compulsive switch clicking in a certain rhythm, specific number of times, 6 in my case.  Thank you for asking , but I turned out ok after all, the only thing left over is a deep and unrelenting mistrust of clowns. As an aside The Sylvester McCoy story "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", for obvious reasons is one of the most disturbing I've ever seen. What's that you say? Thee are no clowns but the one slumped on the floor in Night Terrors? Yes, was just saying, since it came up in the story, I don't like clowns. Cirque du Soleil besides being deeply pretentious and boring, can at time induce the heebee jeebies in me if one of the  overly artsy clowns shows up, they are like massive stalking spiders, ready to strike and eat you. I also am not fond of arachnids, but as long as they don't bother me I won't bother them.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, Night Terrors, a story that did something that a Who story hasn't done in a long time...that is NOT serve as a platform or filler to move the River/Amy arc along to it's final conclusion, which of course is the death of the Doctor in Utah. What a refreshing thing to see, a script that just told a story. So what it wasn't all original concepts, so what most of my Who mates can point out half a dozen older storied from which it liberally draws on. Truth be told, there hasn't been an original story since Homer took pen to scroll. Here was a 45 minute story that from beginning to end, kept us on the edge of our seats even when we though t we knew what was happening. Much of the credit belongs to Mark Gatiss who, bless his creepy little stories, knows how to  press the buttons that will get even the bravest person under a blanket and peeking out in fright.  It's a pity Hammer studios isn't what it used to be, Gatiss would have been a star there.  The best part of the tale is that it was River free and very nearly, Amy free. I've grown tired of the long drawn out  multi part striptease of the River Song  saga that seems to have started the same day we met wee Amelia Pond. Even Key  to Time had a clear conclusion, this thing seems to have more false stops than the last Lord of the Rings film did. Not complaining per se, just saying that I miss the off world, on world evil nasties that stand on their own and in which the companions are NOT the centre of the Universe.I look forward to the eventual return to normal service where we can depend on the Time Lords, The Tardis, and the Doctor to get into trouble without the help of some central nexus fixed point bollocks . Please The Lord Thy God Steve Moffat, can we have some good old fashioned stories with plastic monsters and doppelgänger principal players who much in the way Brian Blessed put his mark on the role of the future Mr Perri Brown. just made us wonder " what happens next" without having to check our watches on the 12 th ep since a certain story arc has started.

Ahh Gingerism
There, got that off my chest, and for the record, I still love Moffat's Doctor, he's giving us the Time Lords back in the fullness of time, never a bad thing,  expanded the inside of the Tardis and given Rory some respect. Best Rory bit this time was when he said "We're dead ...Again" the doctor's probably in some time slippy thing in EastEnders land . At least he (Moffat), hasn't lost his sense of humour. I particularly liked the amusing call back to stories past when he reminisced about great fairy tales like " Snow White and the 7 keys to Doomsday". The opening of the ep is at it's heart a recognition of the power of whatever it is that makes the universe tick.  A small boy prays "Please save me from the Monsters."  and lo there was a text message. Never forget that the Black and White Guardians never went away, they just faded to the backs of our minds where they always were. Call them God, call them higher beings, at least the PC brigade hasn't swept Sci fi clear of the transcendental. Without it, much of the suspension of disbelief, the fortuitous and the outright incredible would simply be impossible to include in an adventure serial type story like Doctor Who. Besides, I like the idea that there is a being who occasionally pays attention to what you want, especially when you're a scared little boy.

Aside from all else, Night Terrors dealt with the very real problems parents have in what could only be described as  Thatcher Redux. A father out of work, a mam who is never there, how does George's dad cope? Very poorly is how, and George feels he's alone with barely a father and no mother. In fact without giving the game away  for those few who haven't watched it, it is the crux of the matter. George feels unloved and unwanted, and the fact that his mam walks in to the story at the end with it all sorted , none the wiser of the trouble that passed in the last few hours, is telling. Gatiss is not alone among writers and other creative people at the Beeb to take on this feminist Holy Grail by the horns. A recent ep of Outnumbered had the daughter outright say she wished her mother  was less worried about her career and more concerned with her.. I'd say that was brave, but the only people who seem to be afraid to say things like this are the politicians who still sing from the Hymn book last updated in the 80's.. Even Shameless has been tearing the indifferent self obsessed full time working mum , the single teen mum, and the mythical super mum who loves with money and short sharp jabs of gifts,  a new one. What with all these people miles from home most of the day ( male or female) children are growing up alone ( I would have, had it not been for my Gran). This added to the me myself and I attitude of people in general through the 70's 80's and 90's, has produced two or three generations each less able to deal with anybody older than themselves, people in general,  or show respect for anything and anyone, a sort of angry, timid, socially inept, person who doesn't trust others and has a hard time bonding with others.  At the end of the day, hell all day long, a child needs guidance and protection, assuming that George will cope somehow is to abdicate ones role in order to achieve some kind of idealism formed in the haze of the 60's and 70's. Like free love, the absent mother and the father who never says no, have proved not to work.  .

The other hallmark of the ep is of course the creepy aspect of the story. Throughout, Gatiss fills the screen with every scary psyche scarring plot device he can find without laying on the mustard too much. The shrunken doll house inhabited by mad Alice dolls, a lift that eats people, the carpet right out of Freddie Kruger eating the land lord. Being turned into a Mad Alice doll, shadows, wind , the mutterings of slightly smelly slightly sad old woman who isn't even aware she's making our inner child  quake in fear. Even taking the rubbish out in a high rise estate becomes an exercise in survival worthy of Paradise Towers. I'm sorry, did I say Paradise Towers? And here you'd made such an effort to forget you ever saw it, my apologies again. 

So what do we learn from Night Terrors? Hug the person you love once in a while, you may think they know you want them around, but they need telling and there's never anything on telly even if you get the super duper Sky box with all the channels.

While I got you, I also watched BBC's  Digging for Britain. It's no Time Team and they kept making sweeping statements that academic work, archaeology and recent finds in the last ten years have put pay to. Rome invaded Britain? Not really, they were invited in and were culturally present for at least 50 years beforehand through trade and culture. The Romans then left in 410 AD. Well yes and no, first of all as stated in the programme, many stayed, but many had no where else to go as they were natives and had just been Romanized. The post Roman Dark age? What dark age? Trade flourished, the basic pillars of the classic education were established in a English University long before the 9th century, the Church continued for centuries and didn't need to be re-established by later day missionaries. The interregnum between the end of the Roman Empire in the UK and the return of Rome through the Church saw in fact a continuous mixed Romano Christian Celtic culture that traded with the rest of the known world. Hardly the mud pit of ignorant toothless peasants scratching a life from dead rocky soil. If you enjoy digs and need a hit between new Time Team eps, Digging for Britain is just enough to catch up on the goings on in the world of metal detecting, and official digs in the UK. Watch by all means, but ignore anything coming out of the mouth of presenter Dr Alice Roberts who seems content to spout out of date history dogma that was set down as recently as 1920. You want an archaeologist that knows what she's talking about, there's always Dr. Helen Geake off Time Team.

That's all for now, see you all after the next Doctor Who, more angry robots and creepy dolls mixed with imminent jeopardy for Rory and Amy.  Can't wait.  

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Just one more cup of tea, then I'll start

Sometimes it's just really hard to get going, so far I've made several cups of  tea, had a bath, watched the news, eaten two bowls of corn flakes and googled online eps of The Nanny.   In fairness I am recovering from the month of August during which both my wife and I hardly had a break from making home made noodles for local Muslims during Ramadan. It takes a lot  of time and energy to make 4 or 5 kilos overnight, leaving you knackered and craving your bed till at least noon or 2 in the afternoon. Multiply this 15 to 20 times over 30 days and you begin to realize just how drained the batteries are.

The last time I felt sufficiently moved to rise out of the noodle induced stupor, I wrote a scathing indictment of all that is wrong with Miracle Day, the latest and possibly worst, longest and most pointless Torchwood offering. Since then I've come close to commenting on Libyan affairs twice, reviewing Doctor Who, wondering aloud if Sci Fi as we knew it even 10 years ago has changed beyond all recognition.  I even had considered writing about the current series of The Great British Bake off.

But I never got any closer than several pots of tea, cleaning my desk twice, preparing several epic meals, going for walks and throwing dirty laundry into baskets. At one point I had even tidied the rubbish bins and reorganized the pantry.  So why the block I wondered, what was keeping me from writing again. Well I could discount the tired to some extent, as in fact I had at least since the last week of August, gone back to watching quality and sometimes less edifying telly. We had a Shameless marathon that took us from the first time Frank Gallagher graced our screens to the rise of the Maguires as the defenders of Chatsworth. Estate. As I said before, I even watched Miracle Day for a bit till it made me want to poke my eyes out of boredom and frustration. In between all of that, were great films on BBC and C4, Outnumbered came back and of course The Rob Brydon Show till just this week brought a gleam of hope to the usually dreary world of chat shows. And if that wasn't enough, we haven't missed a Doctor Who, Top Gear or the footie, such as it was.

"8-2 Brute?" Julius Caesar
I say such as it was, but Man U spanking Arsenal comprehensively 8-2 is the sort of  match you don't soon forget, regardless who you support. To quote a mate of mine ( Keith Telly Topping ok). He'd rather see Northern scum beat Southern scum if it comes down to choosing. but I still had to feel just a bit sorry for the Gunners. The worst result in 116 years, having the rot so plainly show, I suspect even Alex Ferguson thought that there had to be a point where honour was satisfied and the ref could have blown the whistle. I reckon somewhere 10 minutes after the restart would have been the point when the coup de grace would have been appreciated by the North London daycare side that Wenger fielded. Even now I'm looking forward to the England Wales qualifier later today, having missed the disgusting behaviour during the Bulgaria match. In case you're wondering  how I could have passed up such an interesting fixture? I could tell you it sounded boring and that I had better things to do, but the truth is I fell asleep on the setee and missed the entire day.

So I hear some of you wondering out loud how it is I wasn't able to rise even once since my Torchie review despite being thrown a bone when forced to watch 5 minutes of the latest candidate for worst UK game show ever ( Thanks again  Mr Topping) ... EPIC WIN. This exercise in annoying made Don't scare the hare, ....ermmm look less shit than it actually is. I watched a butcher identify meat with his feet. Seems all games and game shows at the BBC now need to rhyme. Surely this would of been just the thing that the doctor ordered to break the writing duck, but no, I wasn't moved, not even after seeing the host call on the pop up co-compare in a white suit make insipid jokes and be so embarrassing that small children would think they were at a particularly bad panto.

I can only assume that my biggest stumbling block was the fear that once started, I'd have to dive back in to another season of Srictly reviews and pretend to care what happens to talentless charvs and hapless chef wana be's who's big talent is stacking chips in the shape of a log cabin. Is that really all there is??? I sincerely hope not. While I can always turn to Dave, Yesterday  or even ( GASP) ITV 4 for old Sweeneys, I despair of the state of British telly when the best on offer is Top Gear, Doctor Who, Sherlock and a few decent crime dramas and maybe the occasional comedy. This Summer was supposed to be full of great filler  to while away the long hot  mystery months when there is no football. Instead we got a few half hearted efforts from BBC4 that placated the more intellectual among us, but below the medulla oblongatta, where Ideal, The IT crowd or Big Brother for Posh people ( Apprentice), live, there was a gaping hole of repeats and uninspired "hilarious" programmes from the same minds that gave us the truly awful Big Top.

I will freely admit to being addicted to the Libyan revolution and the news stations that one has to watch to be up to date with it. Big winner here is Al Jazeera English. A  brilliant station that has kept me abreast of important things like cricket, football and  English looters while also and importantly, providing me with obsessively detailed reports on battles, diplomatic moves and now the reconstruction of the new Libya. I'm sure the BBC has had much the same thing, but Al Jazeera was all too often too hard to turn off long enough to find out. Kudos to Sky News for having the first live pictures out of the newly liberated Tripoli and Martyr Square. It takes a special kind of crazy to get that kind of job done.

Sign the petition NOW if you haven't yet
Or it could have been the sudden appearance on Face Book of the petition to stop the powers that be from dumbing down BBC 4 in a move explained as an "economy" motivated policy. Why would anybody want to dumb down BBC4? Since when is it a criticism to say a programme or a station is TOO smart? What prize idiot at the BBC or the Government considered for even a second the possibility of  cutting funding to the flagship station in the BBC crown? As bread winner, BBC 4 does more work on a quarter of the budget that the brain dead BBC 3 gets. BBC4 provides 80 % of all English language programming to educational stations across the globe. Then even more translate the shows and spend even more at the BBC. And if that wasn't enough , these servants of Jeremy *unt want to stop broadcasting quality  foreign language material like The Killing, Wallander and Spirale. .

What ever happened to Leon Trotsky?
Is it any wonder I hadn't had the spirit, the energy or the desire to dive back in? A few extra quid in the account from writing would help, but this too will come one day, till then, one must endeavour to continue to endeavour. OK, this it it, I'll write those reviews right after I've read the news paper, had another cup of tea and fed the cat.

As per usual, this and all other entries written under the influence of the most excellent Beat Surrender, still channelling The Stranglers, The Pistols The Pogues and Ian Drury on BBC Radio Newcastle. Catch Nick Roberts online by clicking on BBC Radio Newcastle  Saturday listen again section, look for Beat Surrender.