What I thought of Doctor Who: Rosa

There’s a lot going on with Chris Chibnall’s revamped Doctor Who outwith of just having a new Doctor in the shape of the increasingly excellent Jodie Whittaker.Effectively what Chibnall has done is a ‘soft reboot’, a concept oh so familiar in comics and film but not television. What he’s done is basically simple; he’s stripped all the story arcs out so there’s not the annoying thing that used to happen under Stephen Moffat where stories would be diminished or reduced in order to cram in something about the arc which may well end up being forgotten about anyhow.

By doing this the show is free to do single story episodes that can concentrate on telly A story rather than three or four all at the same time. Rosa is a sign that now the series has introduced the basics (Doctor, Tardis, companions, etc) it can really get going by producing an episode which is going to inhabit fan’s Top Ten lists for years to come. The story is simple, classic Who; the Doctor and her friends go back in time to fix something and in this case its ensuring Rosa Parks makes her stand by refusing to stand for a white person on the bus. What they find is another time traveller has come back in time to alter time to stop Parks making her stand and therefore end the civil rights movement before it even got started.

The Doctor of course succeeds but not before its firmly laid out the issue of racism for viewers in as unpalatable a way possible for essentially a kids TV programme shown before the watershed with ‘negro’ and ‘paki’ being used in equal measures of disgust and shock. It makes a point that racism needs to be fought because you never know when you’re a victim of it. Even Graham (played surprisingly well by Bradley Walsh & it you don’t believe he can act just look at his face when he realises he’s the person that forces Rosa to stand. The pain and tragedy is agonising) who is the Tardis crew’s sole white male. Then there’s watching Whittaker play the Doctor getting used to being a woman and realising she can’t just command authority by being a man so she has to work harder than ever before. Also if Vinette Robinson doesn’t pick up some sore sort of award for her portrayal of Rosa parks then there’s no justice.

This feels like old Who in that it’s a historical drama (and in fact it’s the closest to a classic Who historical story the new series has done) that tries to educate while leaving it’s politics slapped in your face. Before people say, ‘ah but it shouldn’t be political’ remember this is a programme that featured alien space Nazis 18 years after the actual real Nazis were defeated in a story warning us that sort of ideology should always be fought. Doctor Who has been political since virtually the start so those complaining of an ‘agenda’ forgot the programme has an agenda to inform, educate and entertain in the very DNA of it. Chibnall has taken this strand of DNA and given it a shake to remind us of history and that today, racism has got to be fought.  Indeed the same week this episode was broadcast a black woman suffered terrible abuse on a Ryanair flight and this happened in America.

My only complaint is the song at the end which is designed to make people cry but really, the episode has you by this point so if there’s not tears of anger and admiration welling up you’re a bastard of Farage-esque proportions. It doesn’t need the song to drown out the impact of the end or the lovely little coda where the Doctor shows her friends there’s a bit of the universe which will always be Rosa Parks.

Three episodes into the new series/Doctor we’re seeing the series and concept being pushed in fantastic new ways, and next week there’s spiders. No Moffatesque mysterious menaces like the possessed smell of Tudor Crisps from 1973, but spiders. Actual fucking spiders. Yeah, that might be one to watch behind the sofa…

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The BBC and Tommy Robinson

Tommy Robinson, or to give him his actual real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is what the media call a ‘controversial figure’ as is there’s an actual controversy as to whether or not he’s a far-right bigot being used by other far right-bigots to attract more people to their cause which is an aggressive ethnic nationalism of the type we see in Russia and sweeping across parts of Eastern Europe.In saner times he’d be someone long forgotten about, but we’re not in normal times; we’re in the age where actual real fascists are given the sort of voice they could only dream of.

Now I’m not talking about censoring people;I’m talking of ensuring we don’t give platforms to people with  criminal background who has a violent past and would happily see blood on the streets. We don’t do that to Islamists so why does Yaxley-Lennon get a pass, especially at the BBC?

The other night Lennon was on the BBC’s Newsnight, giving him the sort of exposure he could only dream of. People complained and the BBC said this:

Seems reasonable? Except it isn’t. The BBC have had issues with their producers pushing a right wing agenda, and on Question Time they’ve excluded pro-EU SNP/Plaid/Green/Labour MEP’s completely over the last five years. Centre-left to left wing views have been excluded deliberately, while fascists and demagogues are given free range to spread lies and hatred often unchallenged.

Fact is the BBC has become an unreliable source of information, even part of the problem in that it’s helped nurture an especially British/English form of ethnic nationalism wrapped in the Union Jack and with an unhealthy fetishisation of the armed forces, not to mention a longing of mythic days that never happened. And the BBC are giving these people a platform in the name of fairness while ignoring the larger picture, or just what these people actually do.

So remember this next time you see a Stephen Yaxley-Lennon of one of his ilk being presented on the BBC as something more than the fascist thug he actually is.

What I thought of Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

An awful lot was riding on this episode. First female Doctor. New showrunner in the shape of Chris Chibnall who has a patchy at best record on Who, and with things like the scene below on his C.V, we were right to be worried.

On top of this there’s a vocal group online ready to lead boycotts for a series which worldwide is one of the BBC’s top three money-earners, but here in the UK the audience has declined during the Stephen Moffat years. And there’s a point; the first Moffat series is excellent but he quickly falls into a convoluted mess of plotlines and character arcs which means that if you’ve not seen Doctor Who at any point over the last half century, or have been away for a while you’d often turn on a Moffat episode and be lost from the first scene. Then there was the fact many of the scripts being commissioned were just dreadful which made it feel that actors of the calibre of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi were often wasted.

In short the programme was in a similar state to where it was in the Colin Baker to early Sylvester McCoy years where it was falling in on itself from the weight of continuity and the urge to follow it ahead of story and character. Basically Moffatt changed the programme from a mass audience one to one for fans, which works to a limit but certainly the programme had basically fell up it’s own arse.

So The Woman Who Fell to Earth is the programme rebooting itself for the age of mass audience programming with works like Broadchurch and The Bodyguard, proving that loads of people will tune in at the same time if there’s something they want to see. The revamped Doctor Who is now 13 years old and frankly, wasn’t going to keep an audience where it was going, so in come Chibnall fresh from the success of Broadchurch,  to essentially take the programme back to 2005. All you need to know going into this is there’s a character called the Doctor, who has just regenerated because they’re an alien, and they fight evil on and off Earth throughout time with their companion/s. Chibnall has also promised no old recurring baddies for this series which is good, and I hope finally lets the new series build up its own mythology.

Which brings us back to everything riding on this episode. The BBC have spent what must be millions in sending Whittaker around the world to publicise the relaunch (which the BBC never admitted it was) and it has to be said, she did her job brilliantly showing an enthusiasm and love for the show that belies the fact she wasn’t a hardcore fan when first cast. The first episode itself has a pretty old-school Who B-plot with an alien landing in Sheffield (the programme uses its Sheffield locations, and the fact we’re not used to seeing programming set outwith of London very well) killing people seemingly randomly. It frankly is only there to push along the A-plot which is who is this woman who crashed from the skies and how come she knows how to fight an alien menace? There’s also the start of three character arcs in the shape of the companions ( Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and a surprisingly good Bradley Walsh) so there’s a lot going on in a busy opener.

On the whole it works. A major death is telegraphed from the minute the character is introduced which detracts from the tension, also the alien menace looks great and not a monster out to destroy the universe but is dispatched with a finality which suggests it won’t return which is a shame.  The companions, sorry, ‘friends’ are all fine and good though I’m still worried there may be too many of them, but it’s Jodie Whitaker that the new relaunch hinges on and she carries the entire thing off so well that you forgive the odd cliche, or clunker of a line.Added to the fact there’s a real effort in upping direction (though Moffat should be praised for letting people like Ben Wheatley loose on Who) and cinematography (Sheffield has never looked so good)that things do feel exciting and fresh.

In fact by halfway through the episode you forget all the fuss about a woman Doctor and just accept that this is The Doctor, it’s a regeneration episode and I can’t wait to see where Whitaker goes from here to develop the character though you can spot influences, especially when she’s bumbling around trying to build a new sonic screwdriver there’s a touch of Troughton, Tennant and Smith there, then a touch of Tom Baker and Eccleston during the climatic scenes. There’s even a few scenes where she carries herself as Capaldi would to show shes not fully regenerated yet. Is it perfect? No though as introductory episodes it is up there is the show’s 55 year history (Spearhead From Space remains my favourite) but it had a number of jobs to perform which it did well.

We now have a new Doctor. There are complaints about how the ‘agenda’ is spoiling it from mainly sad wankers, then there’s Americans complaining about the Sheffield accents which is so sad it’s funny but the response so far has been good, though the tough work really starts now. Will Whitaker keep people coming back or, like Smith and Capaldi, will she be let down by scripts? There’s still the Tardis to re-indtroduce too

We’ll see but for now there’s an almost blank slate to play with and Doctor Who feels fresh and exciting. For that a well done to all involved is deserved. Bring on next week!

The needed return of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

I’ve mentioned before that the web-series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, is a work of genius from Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling. In fact I’d say it was the best piece of satire produced in the UK this decade and just miles ahead of most things produced on traditional television. Six short episodes and it’s done leaving behind hours and hours and hours of videos on YouTube trying hard to explain the series with varying levels of success.

Well, last week a trailer for a new series landed on YouTube and it is a thing of wonder.

There’s little to nothing known about the new episodes beyond a pretty sparse statement, however a trailer suggests new episodes are coming sooner than later. In the meantime go check out the existing six episodes and lap up the twisted glory of the series.

The Fortean Review of the Year 1994

25 years ago The X Files was first broadcast and all those weird things like conspiracies, UFO’s, cryptoids and the weirdness of the Fortean world. What was, at best, something hidden in the alternative, the offbeat , became mainstream and normalised to the point where the mainstream realised there’s a lot of potential with it. Arguably this is one of the things that’s led to everyone accepting conspiracy theories as the X FIles also came as the internet was growing into the Worldwide Web, which fuelled the rise of people like Alex Jones.

But in 1994 this dystopia we live in now was a bit of SF if you’d suggested it 24 years ago. It was a different, more rational time, even with Forteana. In December of that year, the BBC broadcast one of their regular theme nights, which in this case was called Weird Night, and it is a fantastic bit of TV. The highlight of the night for me was the Fortean Review of the Year which at the time listed the various oddities of the year, but looking back at it now acts not just as a log of Fortean weirdness, but archive of what those pre-internet days looked like.

It’s worth a look just for the fainting goats. Enjoy.

 

Channel 4 at Glastonbury 1995

I’ve previously spoken about Channel 4’s first attempt to broadcast the Glastonbury Festival in 1994, but in the whole history of the festival its 1995’s coverage that’s really important. That year sold it to the sort of person who’d never have thought of going to a festival, and arguably that year’s coverage some the entire concept of  going to any festival.

1995 was a long, hot, sticky, fun summer. There was a lot of hope in the air as the Tories were a dead government walking, and John Major actually resigned to fight a leadership election against John Redwood who led the group wanting to pull the UK out the EU. There was a real chance of an election where the Tories would lose so when the news hit the festival people were buzzing. Added to this was the fact Britpop was firmly established so every British band who’d heard a Kinks track once was getting signed up by record companies in the hope of finding the next Blur or Oasis. Sadly we ended up with crap like Dodgy. Ah well.

That summer was a perfect storm. A government in its death throes, the promise of better things, a perfect summer and if you were aged between 16-30 the future looked fucking amazing.  So there was a siren call to that year’s festival as young people from all over descended on the Friday to jump the fence, and as for me, I’ve told my story about this year before.

But the one thing I never saw was Channel 4’s coverage. A mate who was going to video it for me fucked up programming his VCR so I got snippets at best. Well, the best things about living 23 years after this festival is that all the footage is online and it is a taster of a brilliant time when anything was actually possible and the future was so, so bright. And now in 2018 we’re dealing with Brexit, the rise of fascism and everything we’ve fought for since the end of WW2 being torn down. It is a tad depressing, but these videos will take you back to a better time, or show you a snippet of what thing were like at an important point in history.

A wee note, part 4 is missing because of what looks like a dubious copyright claim. Bastards.

A World Cup lull

After just over a fortnight of the World Cup and unrelenting blood-pounding, arse-ripping, shorts-tightening football, there is a lull and it is weird. I can’t even troll England fans. There is a empty void.

I’m remembering there’s things like Channel4 News, or Netflix, or the PS4, or books or indeed, anything that isn’t football. It feels so terribly wrong…