TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

Album Review: John Barrowman – A Fabulous Christmas

John Barrowman release his festive album A Fabulous Christmas and like Christmas dinner, there’s bits I love (everything apart from the sprouts) and bits I really don’t (the sprouts)

“Well I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow”

A relatively late entry into the festive album market (Idina Menzel released back in October!), John Barrowman’s A Fabulous Christmas burst onto the scene last week, complete with a neck injury that jeopardised the opening nights of its accompanying tour. Intensive rehabilitation seems to have got him back on the road but how is the album? Can Barrowman convince me that spoken adlibs are ever a good thing on record…?

As it often the case with Barrowman as a performer, for me at least, there are moments of pure loveliness and others when it is all just a bit too much. When he turns down the power in his voice and allows its character to shine through, you understand why he is such a popular singer. The tender restraint of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, the gently swinging fun of ‘Happy Holidays’ with The Puppini Sisters, the hushed beauty of the medley of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ and ‘Away in a Manger’, these are seasonal classics in the making. Continue reading “Album Review: John Barrowman – A Fabulous Christmas”

Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre

This weekend only, John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky deliver conversation and concert realness at the Leicester Square Theatre in London

“Passionate as hell 
But always in control”

I hadn’t originally intended to go and see John Barrowman in this intimate concert setting but my Aunty Jean is a big fan and so decided to make a day trip out of it, and I got to go along for the ride. This micro-run of three performances fell under the aegis of Seth Rudetsky’s intermittent Broadway @ Leicester Square Theatre series, mixing performance with conversation to create a unique and relaxed vibe.

Barrowman’s force of personality means the anecdotes flow out of him with barely any prompting from the wonderfully acerbic Rudetsky but with such a storied career, he’s certainly earned the right to tell them. Continue reading “Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

CD Review: The Fix (1997 Original London Cast)

“The economy, crime, taxes!”
I’ve seen The Fix twice now – once at the old Union and once at the new and to be honest, it’s not a show I particularly love. With a rock/pop score by Dana P Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey, its political shenanigans schtick has now been overtaken by the real-life ridiculousness in the political spheres on both sides of the ocean and in any case, aimed for a kind of melodrama that never really worked for me as far back as the comparative calm of 2012.
A big issue for me is the score and its magpie nature, beginning with the power-pop chorus of ‘One, Two, Three’ with its forceful guitars and then dipping in and out of the worlds of vaudeville, lounge jazz, straight-up balladry, even folk songs. Sprawling in such a manner means we never really get a sense of the kind of world that the show is trying to conjure – only in Philip Quast’s charismatic ‘First Came Mercy’ with its Kander + Ebb sharpness does The Fix express its identity.

It’s interesting to hear John Barrowman here at an early stage in his career, clearly expressing a rock edge to his voice which has now long been smoothed out in the name of showmanship and Kathryn Evans is a Machiavellian delight as his manipulative mother Violet. Krysten Cummings as the jazz singer mistress also sounds lovely but incongruous, in a cast recording that doesn’t really do it for this listener.

Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)

“The questions raised at every turn show there’s always more to learn”

This production of Stiles + Drewe’s Just So, their musical adaptation and conflation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was a well-received one at Chichester Festival Theatre, coming almost a decade after the show was originally written. Their historically family-friendly back catalogue has served them well over the years – and is bearing significant fruit now in their Trio of Trios, and some elements of this well-cast recording are just lovely.

The heartfelt simplicity of ‘Does The Moment Ever Come?’ is perfectly suited to Richard Dempsey’s sweetly earnest Elephant Child, Julie Atherton might never have sounded better (or more wonderfully northern) on the nervously apprehensive ‘Wait A Bit’ and John Barrowman’s Eldest Magician has the charisma to make his life lessons a little more holistic than hectoring. His singing on ‘Just So’ and ‘If’ wisely warm-hearted. Continue reading “Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)”

Album Review: Godspell (1993 Studio Cast)

“See ya later I’m going to the front of the thee-AY-ter”

Full disclosure, I’ve been listening to this version of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell for more years than I care to remember and before anyone really knew what luminaries many of these performers would become – Clive Rowe, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman…though perhaps we’ll skip past Darren Day. Using the composer’s original arrangements and conducted by himself, it is perhaps a tad traditional for the taste of some but for me, it hit the marks from top to bottom. 

Henshall going full-on Mae West in a vampy ‘Turn Back O Man’, Elisabeth Sastre and Jacqueline Dankworth complementing each other well in a beautifully harmonised ‘By My Side’, Day and Glyn Kerslake’s amusing romp through ‘All For The Best’, it’s all highly slick and professional. The air of reverence is strong throughout, mark Paul Manuel leading ‘All Good Gifts’ or Dankworth’s ‘Day By Day’ for example, classically done almost note for note from the sheet music. Continue reading “Album Review: Godspell (1993 Studio Cast)”

DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth

“It’s the children…”

Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.

Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature. Continue reading “DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth”