Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Tag: tv (page 1 of 25)

DOCTOR WHO S11 E02: ‘The Ghost Monument’ (Some Thoughts, with Added Spoilers)

We have a new episode of Who – and I don’t have time to do a proper review, so instead this is going to be a bunch of semi-quick-fire thoughts (which still ended up longer than I expected because, well, it’s me talking about Doctor Who). I don’t have enough time to do proper reviews right now, but I do want to put my thoughts down somewhere, and this way I can be honest about the bits I didn’t like without sounding like a grouch raining on everyone’s parade. At least, in theory. Onwards – and fear the spoilers…

– A new title sequence! It’s very pretty, (and feels very reminiscent of the Troughton title sequence) but also a little lacking in the kind of propulsive forward motion I’ve gotten used to in recent Who title sequences. And just a teeny bit lava lamp, as well.

– This is possibly the most visually gorgeous and cinematic Who episode ever broadcast. The way they’ve upped the production values and the cinematography is very hard to deny. The whole episode felt very big, and very evocative (in the manner of the way I always imagined Hartnell-era stories when reading the Target novelisations), and they used the South African locations really well.

– Another Chris Chibnall episode that qualifies as ‘Not Bad’! A step up in terms of memorability and energy from the season opener – it’s also genuinely exciting in parts, but still more of a frequently derivative collection of ideas than a genuine story, and doesn’t really add up to anything more than a slightly half-hearted ‘we are stronger together’ theme.

– Art Malik as a mysterious overlord/criminal-type person. I wonder if we’ll be seeing him again? (I’m almost 100% sure we will be).

– Both Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley do a lot with not much here, bringing stock characters to life and pulling off some effective moments.

– A well-executed spaceship crash sequence, even if Ryan and Graham have obviously watched Prometheus too many times and don’t understand the ‘run to the side to avoid the crashing ship’ principle.

– Setting up the TARDIS as the macguffin that ends the race is a nice touch.

– I’m almost annoyed that nobody even attempted to make an Infinite Improbability Drive gag in the opening five minutes, considering how VERY convenient it was that two separate ships arrived to rescue them.

– Is it just me, or does Ryan’s dyspraxia seem to turn on and off as the plot demands it? And was I the only one who thought the ruined building they arrive at looked suspiciously like an abandoned Tesco?

– So, the Stenza are obviously being set up as this season’s big bad, to which my reaction was “Those guys? Seriously?” I mean, I already suspected that ‘Tim Shaw’ would be making a return appearence (even if I’m really not sure why), but it still doesn’t make them any less generic or forgettable. But then, this is Chris Chibnall, the man who thought a pig-faced demon and Captain Jack’s deeply underwhelming kid brother were effective end-bosses in Torchwood, so I guess you get what you pay for.

– I am unexpectedly finding myself more invested in the companions than the Doctor, which is kind of a strange experience.

– KILLER CLOTH FROM OUTER SPACE!

– Heavens, we have a ‘mysterious overarching plot arc’ in the form of the ‘Timeless Child’, helpfully told us by the randomly talkative Killer Cloth. First thought – are they pulling the ‘member of the Doctor’s family (potentially a daughter/son, considering someone had to have Susan) is still alive’ gambit?

– Again, it would have been nice to have just a slightly clearer idea of how the Doctor created that electromagnetic pulse, rather than it looking like she reached into a robot and pressed the convenient ‘Activate EMP’ button.

– What exactly was the point of ending the race at the ‘Ghost Monument’ if Ilinn isn’t timing it so that the TARDIS is actually making one of its semi-regular stops? Yes, it adds a brief bit of tension that the TARDIS isn’t there (and an oddly out-of-character bit of rapid defeatism from the Doctor), but it also feels an odd choice when the whole race is built around getting to a place that might not even be there.

– We have a new TARDIS! Very reminiscent of the 2005-era TARDIS, but with more hexagons and quartz (and money). The whole ’TARDIS dispensing Custard Creams’ thing was slightly blunted by not realising what it was, and only working it out when I looked at Twitter. (And what the hell is that teeny spinning TARDIS all about?)

– I suspect Jodie Whitaker’s going to be staying in the Christopher Eccleston category of ‘actors who are really good and who I just don’t buy as the Doctor’. The Doctor needs to be someone who owns every scene they’re in, and she’s good, but she’s not convincing me, and I’ve yet to get a moment that makes me think “Yes, that’s the Doctor,” or that has the sense of easy naturalistic weirdness that says “Doctor” to me. I think there are going to be plenty of echoes of the 2005 season here, as everybody else is going to be loving the hell out of it, while I’m suspecting that it’s just not quite for me. I’m enjoying it, but with LOTS of provisos, and I suspect it may stay that way (especially since Chibnall is either writing or co-writing BOTH the next two episodes).

– Big surprise – I think Bradley Walsh is turning into my favourite aspect of the new season, especially since his casting ranked up with Catherine Tate for levels of ‘Wait, they’re casting who?’ Graham’s turning out to be a really enjoyable, satisfying character and is the stand-out among the current crew – it’s still feeling like three companions is just too many (I mean, we’ve barely had a chance to get to know Yaz), but Walsh is pulling off some nicely nuanced acting, even if I also suspect that Graham’s difficult relationship with Ryan is destined to get sorted out by Graham pulling a tragic but heroic sacrifice in the season finale (I hope that’s not the case, but I’d also be willing to bet money on it happening.).

– Another observation – this version of Who so far is distinctly less goofy or weird than either RTD’s or Moffatt’s approach. It’ll be interesting to see whether the show is still capable of letting its freak flag fly and going for radically different tones (which is both the blessing and the curse of Who, depending on how those tones are executed), or if we’re in the realm of nuts-and-bolts SF for the foreseeable future.

– And next week, it’s celebrity historical time with Rosa Parks. I guess we’ll see how that turns out…

Legion S1 (Some Thoughts…)

I meant to blog about TV in 2017 for the last month or so. There were two shows in 2017 that stuck with me more than anything, and trying to get my thoughts on the challenging weirdness of Twin Peaks: The Return into shape proved to be a tricky task. There was also Legion, which I adored, but blogging about it didn’t happen for various reasons, and seemed destined to be one of those ‘blog posts I never get around to’.

And then, this weekend, I spotted that there’s a quote from my SFX review of Legion on the back cover of the UK release of the Blu-Ray:

This boggled the heck out of me – getting cover quotes is always great, getting a cover quote on something I loved as much as Legion is a rare treat – so I had to write something.

There’s a hell of a lot to write about – the Wes Anderson-influenced production design, the trippy cinematography, the retro Sixties styles, the way it joyfully ignores any continuity with other X-Men related media and is all the better for it, the strong performances, the jaw-dropping use of music, the fact that episode seven contains an extended sequence that’s one of the most astonishing things I’ve seen on television in years, the kooky joy of Flight of the Concords’ Jemaine Clement as the 1960s-obsessed psychonaut Oliver Bird…

But the thing I love most about Legion is what it reminds me of.

We have a lot of superhero shows right now, and some of them are definitely ‘for adults’ – but up until now, that’s principally meant the Marvel Netflix shows, which are a very particular (and uneven) kind of mature that’s worn out its sense of novelty and welcome surprisingly quickly. None of them have really managed to capture what grabbed me about American comics when I first started reading them – they’re all going for relatively formulaic structures but with more monologues, more intensity and more ultraviolence. There’s no sense of them trying to do anything different, except in how adult they can be – a habit that, outside of S1 of Jessica Jones, hasn’t come across very well.

Legion, however, feels different in almost every conceivable way. There’s an infectious sense of invention and creativity to the show, an adventurous desire to push the envelope – and what it reminds me of are the truly weird, artistic and adventurous comics that came along in the wake of graphic novel landmarks like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Yes, you had lots of dark and gritty tales of vigilante justice, superhero stories but with added intensity and violence and upset – but you also had genuinely weird and adventurous stories that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else. Comics like Doom Patrol, Animal Man, The Sandman, Enigma, Hellblazer – boundary-pushing, unpredictable comics that were giving a sandbox to interesting writers who really wanted to see what comics could do, and wanted to do expand the limits of the everyday mainstream comic.

Legion captures that feel better than anything I’ve seen in our current deluge of superhero media. It’s the closest I’ve seen to the mind-expanding thrill of opening an early issue of The Invisibles, or Alan Moore’s epic run on Swamp Thing, or Neil Gaiman’s ambitious work on The Sandman. I can forgive Legion its flaws – like the weird pacing, the way certain characters get forgotten about, the way it peaks too early in episode 7, or the relative lack of conclusion in the eighth and final episode – for the way it uses superpowers as a way to look at mental illness, alongside the way we interact with the world, other people, and our memories. There’s a scene in episode 3, where two characters simply sit down and talk about their abilities in a calm and open way, that’s one of the most engaging things I’ve ever seen in a superhero show, and Legion delivers unexpected moments and stylistic curve-balls like that throughout its run. Season 2 is apparently due to arrive sometime in April – I have no idea where it’s going to go next, but I can’t wait to find out…

Star Trek: Discovery (Some Thoughts…)

The storytelling is sometimes messy. The tone is often heavy-handed. The production woes show through at times (especially in episode two). The uniforms are far from sensational. The Klingons look weird. Michelle Yeoh is still nowhere near as strong a performer when she’s not working in her native language. The visual aesthetic is a bit too dark at times. Someone should have realised that the Klingon language is no fun to listen to for extended periods.

But it still feels like Star Trek.

There’s been some very strong reactions to Star Trek: Discovery – both positive and negative – and one of the most common negatives I’ve heard is ’this isn’t Star Trek’. Which is weird, because what it reminds me of most three episodes in – especially in part 3, the strongest episode yet and one of the best bits of Trek I’ve seen in ages – is the old ‘Classic Crew’ movies, especially Star Treks II and VI, which really played up the naval and ’submarine war’ aspects of life on the Enterprise. It’s no surprise, considering the director of Treks II and VI, Nicholas Meyer, is a consulting producer, and it’s a pleasure for me, because that’s my favourite flavour of Trek.

I’m not really a ‘fan’ of Trek. I enjoy the hell out of it when it works, but I’ve never followed it religiously. The Original Series never exerted the pull on me that Doctor Who did when I was a child, The Next Generation had a two season run (end of S3 through to beginning of S5) when I watched it regularly, but then I drifted away, and I never clicked with DS9, Voyager or Enterprise. The 2009 reboot gave me a brief sugar rush of excitement that wore off pretty quickly, especially when I rewatched it and realised how shoddy some of the storytelling in the movie is, and I did think for a while that Trek had been lost to the world of shallow wham-bang blockbusters.

And now we have Star Trek: Discovery, which is far from perfect, but is genuinely trying to revive the old-school nature of Trek – that it’s humanistic morality tales in a pulp sci-fi wrapping – and the results are more often successful than not. I think some fans are struggling with the fact that (a) the emphasis so far is on war, and (b) that we’ve gone back to before the original series again, and (c) IS IT CANON? To which I’d say, (a) this is a character-centric 15 episode series with what’s meant to be a self-contained, clear arc, where the central protagonist is obviously on a difficult journey of healing and redemption, (b) going back to war with the Klingons helps because that’s one of the archetypal Star Trek set-ups that almost everybody knows, and (c) this is pretty much another soft reboot, at least from an aesthetic perspective (for example – Star Fleet now have Star Wars-style holograms now, to avoid endless scenes of people talking on screens). They’re trying to meld the approach of the Classic Crew movies with the visual flash of the Abramsverse, and the results are pretty good. Of course diehard fans are going to complain – hells teeth, I’m a Doctor Who fan, and in that fandom, diehards complain about ANYTHING.

But the third episode hints that despite some clumsy teething troubles in part 1 and 2 – especially some murky world building around the Klingons, who now seem to have a weird Egyptian Death Cult thing going on (and also seem to be big fans of the over-opulent production design on The Chronicles of Riddick) – Star Trek: Discovery may be on to something, especially in the way it’s pushing its main character into some really difficult and challenging directions. Episode 3 also makes it clear why episodes 1 and 2 were kind of a self-contained ’set-up’ story, because all the heavy lifting done there really pays off. Sonequa Martin-Green is doing impressive work in the lead role, Doug Jones is wonderful as Saru, and this is the kind of story we haven’t seen before in Star Trek. There’s a long way to go – whether episode 3 points to how good the show could be or just turns out to be a quality blip remains to be seen.

For now, though, while I’ve never been a ‘true’ Star Trek fan, I’m enjoying Discovery, and I’m glad that there still seems to be room in today’s TV environment for a return to Trek’s intellectual and humanistic (if occasionally clunky) space adventuring.

Fifty Years of Who: Random Thoughts on Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor Matt Smith David Tennant John Hurt

One of the downsides of being so busy is that I haven’t been able to blog about Who’s 50th Anniversary at all. And now that I’ve got the time, it’s over a week later, and it all feels in the past now. So here’s just a chance to put down, in quick style, my thoughts:

In short, I’m happy. My love of Who has been through a very rough patch recently – this year’s clump of episodes was the weakest since the show’s return (I don’t even want to consider the trifecta of disappointment that was Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver), and Moffat’s approach to the series has a whole selection of problems that I feel may be a bit more entrenched and a larger issue than some of RTD’s flaws. However, The Day of the Doctor turned out to be overall great fun – it suffered from many of Moffat’s excesses, Clara is still a 2-D character mostly consisting of perkiness, and the plot frequently felt like it was in danger of falling to bits, and yet it never quite did. It managed to do something genuinely emotional with the multi-Doctor story rather than the understandable coolness of “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to get all the Doctors in a room together?”, and also managed to move the story on in a way that’s probably what the show needs right now. For better or worse, Who is able to keep going because it keeps changing. Sometimes that change is good, sometimes it isn’t, but The Day of the Doctor was a rambunctious bit of fun that mostly captured the best aspects of New Who, while summing up what makes Doctor Who truly unique.

There were also unexpected surprises – like the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, with the unprecedented sight of Paul McGann returning to the role of the Eight Doctor on TV, and finally getting a regeneration scene (along with an awesome level of continuity references). There was also The Five-ish Doctors (Reboot), a wonderful half-hour slice of in-joke and comedy featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and which played like a cross between Galaxy Quest and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A little rough around the edges at times, but hilariously funny and weirdly touching at the same time.

However, for me, it didn’t matter that much how The Day of the Doctor turned out, because my 50th Anniversary needs had already been satisfied by the beautiful dramatisation of Who’s early years, An Adventure in Time and Space. I was misty-eyed within minutes (just the sight of David Bradley’s Hartnell staring with despair at the nearby Police Box was enough for me), and the whole thing was executed with a wonderful amount of style. There were occasional weaknesses early on – especially Brian Cox’s take on Sydney Newman, which felt a little *too* much like the classic cigar-chomping American – and some elements of the story just had to be folded together, or enhanced for dramatic purposes (the recording of the pilot episode was extremely rough, but it wasn’t that much of a disaster). But I can barely voice how wonderfully weird it is to see a story that I’ve known about for most of my life, which I first read about in articles in Doctor Who Weekly and books like Doctor Who: A Celebration, turned into an actual drama, and I was amazed at the way they managed to make it both a testament to the risk-taking that made Who possible, and a portrait of the tragic side of Who’s biggest strength – its capacity for change. From the farewell between Hartnell and Verity Lambert, pitched as a traditional Doctor/Companion farewell scene, to David Bradley being simply phenomenal as Hartnell finally comes to terms with what he’s losing, it was a stunning bit of drama, and the best tribute to the strange wonder of Who that they could possibly have managed.

And if you need me, I’ll be over in the corner, still trying not to think about how the 50th anniversary of Who means that the 20th Anniversary – which I can still remember – was thirty damn years ago… (*weeps for lost youth*)

Doctor Who Adventure In Space And Time David Bradley William Hartnell

Attitude Adjustment (Thoughts on Piracy and Downloading)

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