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”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse

“Masculinity is on the rise”

There’s a variety of warnings to heed before going into see Russell Labey’s Gods and Monsters at the Southwark Playhouse – a first half that is 85 minutes long, there’s strobe lighting and there’s male nudity. And with the last point in mind, forgive a puerile game of wordplay throughout the length of this review – ding dong, we’ve started. The story focuses on the final days of James Whale, director of films like Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (but not Frankenweenie) as he variously battles illness and the distracting presence of his hunky new gardener –will he survive, make a cock-up of the situation or perhaps even both?

Sequestered in the Hollywood Hills, Whale lives with his long-suffering maid Maria where he entertains a steady flow of adoring Tom, Dick and Harrys (or should that be John Thomas and Johnsons) – often young, often gay – in search of gossipy interviews about old Hollywood. But the misbehaving organ that is his disintegrating mind is letting those memories – shown here in elegant flashbacks – peter away and Whale is determined that he will get the last word. It is a quietly paced play in which the whole package doesn’t always quite fit together perfectly but there can be no doubting the absolutely tremendous performance from Ian Gelder as Whale – rarely off-stage and undeniably on the top of his game. Continue reading “Review: Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

“I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”

As if you could hide the truth about this, surely destined to be one of the shows of the year. Benedict Andrews’ thoughtful updating of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire makes it seem like the play has always lived in this era and these characters always as freshly vibrant as they are here. The work of Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster as Blanche, Stella and Stanley is extraordinarily done – the disturbing sheen of sexual violence a tangible and thoroughly believable threat throughout as Andrews pulls no punches in showing us how brutal this world is.

There’s no escaping it either as Magda Willi’s framelike design constantly revolves in front of us as we’re sat in the round. This choice works on so many levels – the dizzying descent that characterises Blanche’s downfall, the relentless passage of time, the voyeurism it provokes from the audience as we crane to see what it sometimes hidden from view (just like the passive neighbours in the New Orleans neighbourhood). It’s not always easy or comfortable but given what we’re watching, why the hell should we be?! Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic”

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”

Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough

“You understand how the world turns on successfully practised duplicity? On cunning lies?”

I think Phil Willmott and I would be very good friends. Creator of two of my favourite musicals in recent months, joyous works both, and whilst I may not have entirely approved of F**king Men, I can see where he’s coming from as it were. So I was quite upset when Phil went and ruined our friendship by choosing Chekhov as his next project, why Phil why? Still, all is not lost as it is at least Chekhov once removed.

The Notebook of Trigorin is described as a ‘free adaptation’ of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It’s quite the moment for Williams rarities in London with one of his earlier plays Spring Storm at the National Theatre and this Notebook both being performed for the first time in the capital. It mostly follows the plot of Chekhov’s original, so Masha loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who is also loved by Arkadina. Williams’ conceit is to make Trigorin the focus of the play and with more than a hint of autobiographical detail, makes him a closeted homosexual. So the tangle of relationships, with the destructive mother/son dynamic between Arkadina and Constantine at its core, becomes centred around the self-possessed Trigorin who is in the midst of all the tragedy in the play, yet remains unscathed by it. Continue reading “Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough”