What I thought of Doctor Who: Resolution

I’ve not minded the first series of Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker. She has massive potential, and the soft reboot is a still a great idea as is changing things up with the music and a larger budget spent on episodes. The problems still lie in scripts and in the New Year’s Day special the problems started right away.

The story starts with a bunch of Vikings beating an impossible alien menace in the 9th century, and in victory cutting the creature into three parts to hide across the world with one of those parts ending up in Sheffield in 2019 as its uncovered as part of an archaeological dig. Brilliant start, great setup and we’re in for an hour of action and adventure as the new Doctor comes face to face with the Daleks for the first time.

And we get that. The pace and speed of the opening ten minutes or so are breathtaking then we get the introduction of Ryan’s dad and suddenly a B plot is introduced which manages to suck the life out of the episode stone dead. Literally all the momentum is drawn out as the story stops for a long scene where Ryan and his dad have a long conversation. Sure, the storyline picks up again but it’s fell to pieces by this point as we have no idea what the tone of the episode is meant to be? Is it family drama? Is it an action/adventure ride for a bank holiday? Is is a satire? The writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall decides on all of the above while trying to ram it into an hour of screentime which means things go missing including the plot-thread about the other two parts of the Dalek and what’s happening with them, and more importantly, the Doctor.

Now I like Jodie Whittaker a lot. She’s got huge potential and she can act. Just look at her at the start of the clip below. Its terrifying subtle stuff.

Resolution has the problem in it doesn’t know what to be. It doesn’t settle on a tone, and instead slaps around like a drunk on a speeding bus on Christmas Eve battering its way from scene to scene because Chibnall hasn’t decided what he actually wants the episode to be. Because of this the Doctor gets lost which means we get her coming into a scene, saying a few lines and then being drowned out by the large supporting cast and because Chibnall seems scared to actually explore the potential of a female Doctor mixed with often piss poor direction, Whittaker is massively wasted.

Doctor Who can be anything it wants each episode. The show has infinite potential and a minimal respect for continuity, and unless you’ve got the skill of a writer like Douglas Adams or Robert Holmes trying to mix and match as you’re going on ends up in a mess like Resolution. Yet it doesn’t need to be like this. Take Legends of Tomorrow, another time-travel based show which struggled with tone in its first season. It didn’t know what it was. Was it fun and games based superheroics that threw everything at the wall or was it grimdark stuff for the Edgelords? In the second year they decided to throw out the grimdark stuff and have fun. Sure, it sometimes gets serious but most of the time it adopts a tone where you can have scenes like this.

If something flits tone too sharpish, or worse, takes you out the story then it becomes harder to reinvest the time back into something, and if it keeps doing this then why bother?

But it can be fixed. Less companions. Better scripts. Pick a direction and stick with it but most importantly, let Jodie Whittaker develop because a series into her era I have no idea what her character is. I did with Capaldi, Smith, Tennant, Eccleston, McCoy, etc and hell, I even got the jist of Paul McGann’s Doctor who had an hour or so of screentime. Whittaker isn’t being allowed to explore the role except in tiny glimpses where something glorious is hinted at.

So the next season hasn’t started filming yet. I hope the production team listen to criticisms (not the ”ITS POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD” type as I’m glad the show is becoming political again after Moffat’s era)  and come back in the autumn with am improved show that allows Whittaker to show what she’s capable of.

 

Advertisements

What I thought of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

A day ago Netflix announced a new Black Mirror film called Bandersnatch with zero previous publicity. A Bandersnatch comes from the works of Lewis Carroll and that knowledge should provide a clue as to what this new bit of Black Mirror is all about, and if you’ve played a ‘choose your own adventure’ type game back in the day either with a book or work like The Hobbit for the ZX Spectrum.

See this is a story set in the mid 80’s and as a period piece is almost perfect. I especially liked the old shit-brown livery of the W.H Smith branch Stefan (the main character) goes into at one point, as well as a perfect reconstruction of the stock it had in it. Stefan is a programmer working on adapting a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, Bandersnatch, into a computer game.So far this is prime Charlie Brooker, and the scenes in the game company office seem ripped from his days as a games journalist.

The thing is the version of Bandersnatch I watched will be different to the version you watch as it too is a ‘choose your own adventure’ story but the difference here is that Stefan as well as Colin, his idol in the games world, are aware they live in a story but have no control over their own destinies. but in thinking you as a viewer have power, you suddenly realise you’re being manipulated by the programme makers in making certain choices. Essentially this is a giant work of meta-fiction influenced by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock and especially Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man. Issue five’s The Coyote Gospel especially with it sort of being referenced into the film itself.

Does it work? On the whole yes but at times it does fall into itself as it shows off how clever it’s being, with one ending (there’s five main endings and loads of other lead-ins) that references Netflix itself and the technical prowess needed to make such a film, which to be honest, is just distracting wankery.  The story is what’s important and although well acted and directed (the vastly underrated David Slade directs) it suffers from being stilted at times, plus if you opt out of the end the first time, you lose the sense of being trapped in a never-ending hell.

As an experiment and episode of Black Mirror, it works fine. The performances are good, the script is fine and the direction is excellent and while all the meta-textual stuff is good, there’s always this feeling with Brooker that he’s sharing an in-joke but that this time the viewer is the object of that joke which is of course, the entire point. We’re the victims of modern technology and we’re not in control of it.

Everything wrong with the UK in one handy image

It’s Boxing Day today which means for me, a day slobbed out trying to whittle down my Netflix list, but one image from Christmas Day is standing out because nothing says ‘poverty is a bad thing’ than a multi millionaire born into inherited wealth, power and privilege sitting in front of a golden piano.

For those saying ‘ah well, it wasn’t her choice to be born into that life‘, no it wasn’t but it is her choice to remain in it taking all the advantages and associated privileges coming from it.

We’ve suffered a decade of austerity and cuts since 2008 which was turbo-charged in 2010 with the advent of the coalition government between the Tories and Lib Dems. In 2018 we face the oncoming storm of Brexit which will ensure austerity is the norm forever for large parts of the UK, and there’s The Queen saying ‘poverty is bad, m’kay‘ in a room which could fund a hospital near you.

If there’s ever going to be a better picture as to why Britain and all it’s outdated, unequal ‘traditions’ needs to end it’ll always be this picture. Have a great Boxing Day folks…

What I thought of Elsewords

The CW’s DC selection of DC series are often a bit dull and tedious (part of the problem with having 20-odd episodes a year) but on the whole, Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and now, Black Lightning, are pretty fun and the now annual crossover has been great.

This year sees the crossover scale back a bit from last year’s in terms of characters as it focuses mainly on Flash and Green Arrow, with Supergirl providing support with her cousin Superman. The scale though, is cosmic as the producers decide to up the stakes, not to mention trust the audience that it grasps concepts like alternate worlds and books that can rewrite reality which is what’s going on here as Oliver Queen and Barry Allen change places so Queen is the Flash and Allen is the Green Arrow. This is because a cosmic being called The Monitor has given a Dr. John Dee the Book of Destiny in order to rewrite reality so he can test heroes for a ‘crisis’ that’s coming.

Got it?

Truth is that if you’ve not been watching the programmes over the years you’ll be lost, and if you’ve no idea of DC Comics and its history you’ll be even more lost. For those of us familiar with both, Elsewords is playful fun, even if it also acts (sometimes tediously) as soft pilot episodes for Superman and Batwoman getting their own shows.but the entire story serves as prologue for the Arrowverse doing their own version of Crisis on Infinite Earths next autumn.

Crisis is generally considered to be not only the best of superhero comics vast crossovers (mainly as it had an actual purpose and not just to make money) but it gave DC the chance to clean house, which it didn’t quite do as DC have spent the decades since trying to tidy up after Crisis, but here the tease is for all (or the ones they can afford/get) of DC’s television and film adaptations. We’ve already seen the return of the 1990 version of The Flash, so what’s to stop anyone else turning up next year barring money and death?

Overall Elsewords is fun, and done by people who clearly don’t just like the characters but the comics too. If only the people making DC’s films did the same.

What I thought of Doctor Who series 11

Jodie Whittaker’s first season is over and overall this new direction (which it isn’t, more on that later) is overall pretty good. Stripping away the lairs in often incomprehensible plotlines that would often lead nowhere has freed up the programme to just tell stories again, and for the first three episodes it did that as well as the series has ever done. After that things became patchy.

Rosa is in my mind a fantastic bit of Doctor Who that lives up to the original idea of retelling history for younger viewers, while something like Kerblam! is a reminder of the worst days of the Colin Baker/Sylvester McCoy years. All the other episodes come between them with about half being above average to excellent and the rest ranging from the aforementioned rubbish of Kerblam! to the sheer averageness of It Takes You Away.

Part of the problem is Chris Chibnall. In replacing Stephen Moffat he’s simplified things and taken the show back to it’s roots so that’s why so many of this season’s episodes feel like condensed classic serials; The Doctor and crew land in a strange place/time. Encounter something odd. Investigate it. Find out the problem/culprit/monster. Solve it in a neat bow, and barring a brief coda that’s your episode.  Now that’s great most of the time but all the time? Back to basics doesn’t have to mean making the stories basic, which considering the possibilities of a female Doctor has barely been explored.  In fact there’s little character development going on with the Doctor’s likeable set of companions with one exception. Tosin Cole and Mandip Gil both do good work with what thin gruel they often got, but the massive shock is discovering Bradley Walsh can’t just act, but has become the emotional and moral heart of the programme.

What about The Doctor? Well, Whittaker is excellent often adding things into episodes which do seem scripted as she plays the Doctor not as the broken, lost thing trying to be good that Peter Capaldi did, or the boyish hero of Matt Smith, but more like Peter Davison’s often uncertain Fifth Doctor, but there’s this gap in the centre of her performance created by scripts too scared to deal with the change of gender head on. I hope Whittaker isn’t let down by scripts as Capaldi and Smith were, and I hope after this seasons reboot she’s allowed to tackle something stronger than she’s had to deal with at times this season.

Overall though the series is vastly improved. The new musical score from Segun Aginola is superb as it ditches the pompous orchestral score for something weirder, while the new production values are excellent to see even though they’d ran out of money by the last episode so relied on a quarry in Wales to see them to the end. The basics are there as are the viewers but it needs beefing up and although the attempts to create new villains is only really successful with the Stenza, the New Year’s Day episode promises the return of the Doctor’s oldest villains…

So, as a series it’s back on track. If however we’re only getting this small amount of episodes a year I’l hope next year sees a, increase in overall quality to take Whittaker’s Doctor to a new level because with the right scripts she could very well be one of the best there’s been.

55 years of Doctor Who

Doctor Who has been with us 55 years now and it’s in a place where its under attack from critics for having the first woman playing the Doctor in the shape of Jodie Whittaker, or it being to ”SJW”, and all the usual pish from bitter, sad incels but it is still the same programme it’s always been. It’s the Doctor having adventures in time and space with his/her companions.

Right now the programme is readjusting to the post Moffat era of overblown,needlessly complex storylines to the new Chris Chibnall era where each episode is a story unto itself. Effectively the programme has gone back to basics and although some of the scripts are frankly, shite, there’s some wonderful ideas being put of screen as the programme again (as the programme has done many a time over the last 55 years) finding its feet as it finds a new audience.

Doctor Who is a programme which has a loose formula and when it deviates too far, or becomes tired, it’ll revert to it before it finds its feet again and moves on. This is where we are now. Everyone seems to be waiting to see how things go before kicking (hopefully) up a gear to develop plots and ideas which won’t turn off Countryfile viewers while keeping fans, young and old, happy.

But as the programme aims towards pensionable age it persists onwards so happy birthday and here’s to another 55 years where people will be arguing whether a  radioactive mutant should play the Doctor or not.

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…