Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)

“There’s something about Fanny I’ve often observed” 

This being my first experience with Mansfield Park, I can’t really talk about it as an adaptation (although it was impossible to avoid the opprobrium it seems to have evoked) but even as a standalone piece of drama, it can’t help but disappoint. Maggie Wadey’s writing lacks any real sense of the carefully constructed literary world of Jane Austen and Iain B MacDonald’s direction has a very loose sense of time and self, clearly straining for a connection with a contemporary audience but in doing so, losing sight of the story it is trying to tell.

Billie Piper’s Fanny, sent to live with her rich aunt (a distracted Jemma Redgrave) and uncle (a delightfully brusque Douglas Hodge) and whilst initially feeling out of place – “I was the poor relation and was made to feel it” – builds a place for herself as an indispensable member of the household. But with her tousled sun-bleached hair and entirely modern ways, she just doesn’t convince as a historical heroine. She’s not helped by a scarcely-there plot in which little of consequence seems to actually happen, it’s all just so uneventful. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)”

Review: Farewell to the Theatre, Hampstead Theatre

“Today the theatre has failed all of us, and we suffer from this failure”

This Farewell to the Theatre is a new play at the Hampstead Theatre by Richard Nelson, about Harley Granville Barker. It should not be confused with Farewell to the Theatre, a play by Harley Granville Barker which finally received a premiere at the Rose Kingston last year. They are different beasts, though both skirt around similiar issues of disillusionment and disenchantment, and the former is set at the time at which the latter was actually written.

Nelson tells the story of a group of British ex-pats in the sleepy Massachusetts town of Williamstown in 1916. The Great War is being waged in Europe but has yet to pull in the US and the concerns of this motley crew are of a much more personal nature. Barker has fallen out of love with both the theatre and his wife and finds himself in a boarding house run by an English widow, Dorothy, who is still in mourning. Her brother Henry is a lecturer at the local university but professional jealousies are hampering his progress; glamourous Beatrice is a married actress conducting an affair with a young student; George is looking for a better job; and Frank, who is a reciter of Dickens, is hiding himself away from a horrible truth. Continue reading “Review: Farewell to the Theatre, Hampstead Theatre”

Radio Review: Possession, Radio 4

“It’s as if we’re waiting to be driven by their plot”

I’ve been something of a reluctant convert to radio drama, for every production I’ve enjoyed, there’s been one that has disappointed me, but if there is another that is as good as this version of Possession, then I will be a happy boy. Over the past three weekends, I have listened to the omnibus editions of this Radio 4 adaptation of AS Byatt’s novel by Timberlake Wertenbaker and have been utterly seduced by it. It was simply gorgeous, stunningly beautiful to listen to and deeply moving. I shall be investigating whether one can buy it as it really was that good.

Wertenbaker’s adaptation sees research assistant Roland Michell and literary scholar Maud Bailey recounting their quest to discover the secrets uncovered by two letters between Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash and a woman named Christabel Lamotte which threaten to upturn literary history with their revelations. They are pursued by other more nefarious sorts who also want the correspondence and so the race is on to be the first to discover the truth. This story is enhanced by the reciting of letters between Ash and Lamotte as we follow their story of an illicit yet all-consumingly passionate affair which is revealed at the same time. Continue reading “Radio Review: Possession, Radio 4”

Review: Macbeth, Everyman Liverpool

“What’s done cannot be undone”

The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool will shortly be closing for an extensive three year renovation programme which will see the building being completely rebuilt to reinvigorate the already sterling work that the Everyman and Playhouse theatres have been doing for the last few years. The final show to be mounted here is a production of Macbeth which features the return of one of its prodigal sons in the title role, David Morrissey, a Liverpudlian by birth who trained at the Everyman Youth Theatre in the early 1980s alongside Ian Hart, Mark McGann and Cathy Tyson.

Originally cast alongside him to play Lady Macbeth was Jemma Redgrave but she had to withdraw due to personal reasons (one hopes that she is ok, that family has suffered enough hardship in recent times) just three weeks before the show was due to open, but fortunately Julia Ford (recently seen in Mogadishu) was able to join the cast and ensure this valedictory telling of ‘the Scottish play’ was able to continue. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Everyman Liverpool”