Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Doctor Who: The Early 1970s, The Third Doctor and Velvet Aspirations

Doctor Who and the 1970s

Third Doctor Twelfth Doctor

40 years on from the demise of his third incarnation, the Twelfth Doctor’s arrival looks like it will not so much reverse the polarity as boost the popularity of the dandy Time Lord of action. But as the new Doctor may ask, could the real question be how important the 1970s are in the future of Doctor Who?

IN THE 2013 CELEBRATIONS OF ALL THINGS WHO, IT WAS THE SECOND DOCTOR’S STOCK THAT ROSE THE MOST. As the major casualty of the BBC’s catastrophic episode pulping, we’ve been robbed of the majority of his stories. True, some of them have earned a heightened classic status through their disappearance and the hope of their discovery, but for the most part appreciation for the Second Doctor hung on memory and some key rediscoveries like The Tomb of the Cybermen.

For his recorder toots to rise higher in the mix, especially in 2013, something major would have to happen. And fortunately it did. The rediscovery of two of his lost adventures, one long-craved, and the demise of the Eleventh Doctor – the one successor who owes Patrick Troughton’s cosmic hobo the most, unexpectedly pushed him to prominence.

So, with wrangles on the ‘rediscovery’ of further lost adventures ‘possibly’ ongoing and the Eleventh Doctor left on the Fields of Trenzalore, perhaps it’s only natural that 2014 is turning into the year of the Third Doctor. Series Eight brings us one of the largest shake-ups of the new era just as 1970 brought a brave new world of colour and a format sea change when Jon Pertwee’s Time Lord fell through the TARDIS doors… Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Early 1970s, The Third Doctor and Velvet Aspirations”

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Doctor Who: Change for a Time – ‘Deep Breath’ Reviewed #DoctorWho

Doctor Who Deep Breath

Doctor Who Deep Breath

The Doctor Who Series Eight opener has the right name.  A deep breath is definitely required heading into one of the slowest burning openers of the new era.  Sinking its anchor into a reservoir of expanded cast and plot points, played out on well worn cobble streets, it’s a story that chooses safety to risk something new. 

The result is a tale obsessed with psychology, ambiguity, destiny and the mystery of a star Time Lord in the making who will take some time to unravel who he really is. Can we beat him to it… Is there enough oxygen to burn? 

AFTER A SET-PIECE OPENING IN THE HEART OF LONDON, FEATURING THE MOST REALISTIC DINOSAUR TO WALK THOSE STREETS IN THE SHOW’S HISTORY (ALONGSIDE SOME OF THE USUAL REGENERATIVE JIGGERY-POKERY), NEW TITLES AND A REWORKED THEME PERFORM THE ONE JOB IN TV MORE POINTLESS THAN A BRUCE FORSYTH RETIREMENT PARTY: TELL US THAT DOCTOR WHO HAS CHANGED!

The clock and time obsessed title sequence is new in the show canon – well, to those who haven’t seen some compelling fan efforts over the past couple of years. When bolted on to the show it’s a bit too quick, a bit too gratuitous in its temporality, but also it’s a fitting precursor to a feature length episode obsessed with age. From the lined face, the grey hairs, the hands pulling at a teasingly familiar strained visage… Deep Breath takes its extra-time to confront almost every issue of the Doctor’s newest regeneration clock-face first.

Regeneration

“Bed time, companion confusion and wardrobe sifting”

Regeneration stories always need to be bigger to accommodate the act, or the post-act, itself. The concept of whether a “regeneration show” is the build up or the aftermath can get muddled, but the first episode of a Doctor has been often proved a poor match to the death of the last. Not least because there’s generally a fair amount of bed time, companion confusion and wardrobe sifting. Continue reading “Doctor Who: Change for a Time – ‘Deep Breath’ Reviewed #DoctorWho”

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the BBC and the Unstoppable Leaks #Who-ly

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A rather sad and unexpected first post in the #Who-ly series…. On the leaked Doctor Who Series 8 scripts and THAT question… Clue: It has to be a no. Why is that Doctor..?

“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things, things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought. “ – The Moonbase

A QUICK POST WRITTEN IN ANGER WITH AN OLD ‘TOON – WISTFUL AS EVER AND THE SEVENTH TO BOOT.  CRUCIALLY, PERHAPS HE WAS THE LAST DOCTOR IN A FULL, OR EVEN MINI-ADVENTURE, WHO DIDN’T HAVE TO ENDURE THIS… THE INTERNET.

There is absolutely no excuse…

Today saw the BBC apologise for the biggest lapse of ‘New Doctor Who’ era. Yes, more than that American DVD release last year, more than the premiere plot point reveals in 2011, more than any ill-thought out appearances by Graham Norton, deliberate or otherwise… This time the scripts of five episodes of the new series have been leaked to the masses. The BBC’s response was contrite regret. Mea culpa was all they could cry, kicking themselves with a giant and very public shoe.

It seems that in the sprawling growth of one of the Corporation’s big brands, it once again came a cropper of its own success, and the need of its constantly static/constantly beleaguered sole owner to wring the most from its own properties across the globe. The lapse lies with the BBC, the apology was correct, but yet again fans and television lovers alike are left with the same conundrum: Not ‘should the scripts be tracked down on the web?’ or not, but ‘how do we spend a good run in until late September avoiding spoilers?’

Because of course, there is absolutely no excuse to read the scripts.

A Poisoned Chalice

Wasn’t it worth it?

I have known BBC whistle-blowers I believe, heard of financial whistleblowers, but this is more destructive than revealing the Beeb’s idiosyncrasies. It’s all small-fry compared to the ongoing Yewtree investigation of course, and not to the detriment of that, I’ll keep matters closely defined to this intellectual property leak.

If it’s an act of love, it’s a misguided one, if it had good intentions, they laid down a path to The Satan Pit.  Of course, once they’re out there, why not, eh..?

Well… It’s been almost two years since the last nominal series debuted, this is the most anticipated Doctor, and it’s a full five episodes. With a feature length opener that’s feasibly 250 minutes of storyline to complete the spectacle. Could there be a more anticipated time? Or to twist it around, a time when the storyline should remain the greatest kept Who surprise of all time?

Of course, that’s why these scripts should be avoided at all costs, who’d want to ruin that? Steven Moffat will no doubt be apoplectic once again. Let alone the craft, graft, the hard work, the perseverance to get these episodes to screen – from him and hundreds of others – it’s the effort in maintaining those secrets. Maintaining those secrets in a show where secrets are crucial.

Remember the look on Moffat’s face last 23rd November, utterly petrified before the world simulcast. I was lucky enough to ask him a question that day, the answer playfully batted back under the towering auspices of BBC PR. And then there was the relief that the faith in fans and press everyone else had kept those secrets. And then the telling truism: ‘wasn’t it worth it?’

Surely, after the events of last November’s secret operation  it wasn’t overconfidence that led to this leak. But whatever the cause, what’s the excuse for reading those scripts that find themselves lost and cold in the public domain? Love? Starvation? Love and starvation of the show? Believe me, I along with many others believe this is a fundamental show, one that’s been a crucial part of this country’s make-up, played an active part in my existence as a person, an Englishman, a writer – it’s potentially morally affected me growing up as I’ve gone to some lengths to explain. I’m not alone. And that’s why there is no excuse.

Praise for the Beeb

She is unique.

I have railed against the BBC splitting episodes, splitting seasons, creating the illusion of continuity with specials and season breaks obscuring budget and other issues. All the while American networks, writer strikes aside have easily pushed out 13 episodes a year of genre TV, often 26. But then, this is the BBC. Very few broadcasters match them in scope and even then, with not nearly as many debilitating fronts of defence. For all the faults that come with the organisation, a civil service organisation despised by the ‘ruling’ party it is crucial to add, they are unique and a jewel not just in this country’s crown but the world’s. What the BBC represents is precious, as a Brit, and even – if incomprehensible to many – as a human in the 20th or 21st century. Of course there are bigger issues, crippling, destructive issues, for the BBC and humanity. There are many humans, and many billions more who will never know the name.

But she is unique.

And for all the effort she’d put into retaining a commodity she crafted by accident, she will never and should never give it up for want of all the baying capitalists who poke and prod.

Blame for the Geek

Anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about

Perhaps there’s something worse than the uncontrollable need to give into this temptation; the inevitable fan snidery that comes with it. There’s no science-fiction fan who shouldn’t feel that they could write and create better than the crafters of their favourite shows, novels and properties. That’s part of the deal. But go out there and do it. For all the friends I have who delve and snob between Wells, Asimov, Lem or Gibson to Trek, Who, V or goddamit even Andromeda, there will always be a tipping point where you can choose to give into this.

And often for unfortunate reasons I find. The arrogance and pseudo-intellectualism may be self-confessed. But why does it always seem to simply be so that you can pass judgement first?  While, as in this case you may have a unique chance to see the script prior to premiere, I fail to see how that’s different from looking back at the well distributed scripts of past adventures, especially of the RTD era. To reach for what I pretentiously tried to call out to day as ‘Eliotian transformation’ seems  anathema to what Doctor Who’s fundamentally about.

Television First

“I just hope that guy never watches my show again” – Steven Moffat, 2011

True, it’s spun across the time vortex, using literature, scripts and journalism as its iron lung at points, but it’s no Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There, one-time Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams created a different copy for radio, television, book and by proxy film. Doctor Who is, and ever was an immovably televisual phenomenon. It should be watched and judged first and primarily on the small screen.  I think that’s fundamental. Quick, responsive unpretentious. Reading filming scripts just doesn’t count. And to read those scripts seems mean and self-satisfying at the very least.

Not that I’ve ever resisted turning a novel a few pages further on, but I’ve never jumped to the final page. This script leak for me is not about recapturing that band at a point before they’re mainstream. The ‘I knew them’ first and ‘I’ll know this first’ culture is the entropy of fandom as I see it. Or as Moffat rather pointedly summed up ‘slighter’ plot leaks in 2011:

“It’s heartbreaking in a way because you’re trying to tell stories, and stories depend on surprise. Stories depend on shocking people. Stories are the moments that you didn’t see coming, that are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism. So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet, I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do.”

And true, what a shame it is. For all the bile poured at the BBC for letting paying customers in America see footage of the 50th anniversary special last year, before us ‘license fee payers’, BBC One has uncharacteristically set down a near-two month campaign of promotion. This leak is no publicity stunt, for a few it is really heartbreaking.

Patience Most

“In years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?” – The Great Curator, The Day of the Doctor, 2013

For context: This year is the 40th anniversary of Tom Baker. The greatest Doctor (certified once again in Doctor Who magazine #474), now the curator infinitum. For all the years I’ve been a fan, for all the chance I’ve had, I’ve put myself in the position of never seeing two Baker stories.  Two left: one that’s gleefully ridiculed, the other an apparent bona fide classic. I’ll have to reserve judgement as that classic, though it’s sat on my shelf for a great while, will not be watched until the 40th anniversary of Robot comes around. To find out what that is, tune in this December – if you can wait. I can’t mention it, because obviously someone will feel fit to rather pointlessly spoil it.

Being a fan isn’t about gorging, even with content 30, 40 or 50 years old. It’s hard to choose a quote about moderation, there are so many. But “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl-chain of all virtues” works as good as any.

Try it, the benefit’s there.  It really is.

In paraphrasing Robert Louis Stevenson in The Sensorites, perhaps the Doctor’s Granddaughter summed it up best:

“Isn’t it a better thing to travel hopefully than arrive?”

 

Batman at 75: Ra’s al Ghul…The Dark Knight Villain to Beat

Ra's al Ghul Winner Batman

Ra's al Ghul Winner Batman

At the forefront of the campaign to bolster Batman’ darkness in the early 1970s, Ra’s al Ghul has taken a journey to the core of the Dark Knight’s story befitting the Demon’s Head himself. In fact, as Batman turns 75, could he have possibly become the indispensible Batman villain?  Spoilers guaranteed for those not up-to-date with Ra’s on screen and page…

HE’S NOT QUITE THE HOUSEHOLD NAME, BUT TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE TALENT WHO HAVE PORTRAYED THE ENIGMATIC VILLAIN ON SCREEN IN THE LAST TWO DECADES…

David Warner, Peter Woodward, Oded Fehr, Lance Reddick, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe (well, yeah), Jason Isaacs, Giancarlo Esposito, Don Leslie, Dee Bradley Baker, Steven Blum…

A mixed bag, but one stashed on the shelf of extreme quality, and he only made it out of the comics in 1992… 22 years on and it’s difficult to envisage a new iteration of Batman that doesn’t feature Ra’s al Ghul – from Christopher Nolan’s box office stomping Dark Knight trilogy to cash cow Arkham videogames. So, who is he and why has his media career mirrored his fictional rise?

Paper

Origin of the Demon

A villain every bit the Caped Crusader’s equal…

Ra’s first appeared in 1971, the creation of legendary creative team writer Denny O’Neill and artist Neal Adams and a reaction to the campery of the Batman TV series that had finished just a few years earlier.

Master criminal Fu Manchu, who had also recently completed his peak run on screen and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – arguably the highlight of Blofeld’s cinematic exploits – fed into the creation of a villain every bit the Caped Crusader’s equal. Ra’s was a globe-trotting tour-de-force, albeit one who could engage all the key levels of Gotham’s first son. Ra’s ongoing mission was one that could reawaken Batman’s deduction, increase his international exploits, gift him a physical match and necessarily darker those shades of grey.

That creative dynamic duo not only succeeded in creating an effective and distinctive character, but one who quickly headed to the top tier of threat in the DC Comic Universe. In the pantheon of super villains he was soon established as a global threat who could not only hit Batman on multiple levels but also the Justice League of America.

In many ways, despite the lack of innate supernatural powers, he provides similar opposition to the Justice League of America as immortal mutant Apocalypse does to the X-Men, soon to be seen as the X-Men ‘s greatest cinematic threat yet. The 1996 Amalgam project even fused them into Ra’s Al-Pocalypse.

And in 1971 it all started with a girl…

The Demon’s Daughter

..>When he’s not dead or stark raving mad or both.

Batman’s girl that is. Ra’s first appearance, Batman 232’s Daughter of the Demon was a complicated trap to test the Dark Knight as a suitable suitor for his daughter Talia. Well, it was more a test to see if the man Talia was infatuated with was worthy. He was, earning Ra’s ongoing respect on the way. It’s no coincidence that this original plot was seized on at the start of the arc that ended Batman’s pre-New 52 run (RIP). Through strenuous canon-or-not debate, Talia and Wayne’s relationship resulted in a son, Damian, who in a few short years has become a well regarded part of the DC universe. On the al Ghul side, Talia wasn’t the subject of a forced or false marriage; the attraction was mutual, and so any machinations on Ra’s part were replaced with the fact that he had a point and was essentially open to logical reason.

And he often is, when he’s not dead or stark raving mad or both.

Eternal Mystery

Ripped straight from the pages of Dorian Gray…

That would be the supernatural coming in to play. There is the inherent mystery of the ill defined Arabia he hails from of course, and the inbuilt Bond villain / Fu Manchu army that comes as the head of the League of Assassins. Christopher Nolan would take this as an additional, or main, motivation for the Mantle of the Bat in his Dark Knight trilogy. But then there’s the immortality. He may be over 600 years old, but it’s actually a cheat. Ra’s rejuvenation comes from Lazarus Pits, chemical wells laid out on the ley lines of the Earth that grant the Demon’s Head life extension, at the cost of temporary insanity. A short spell of enhanced strength encourages the idea that these Pits are rabidly crazy ways to extend one’s life. There is also the hint that over use could lead to the gradual mental instability. Ra’s long life is ripped straight from the pages of Dorian Gray.

That gifts Ra’s not only a supernatural stint by default, tied into his motivation, but also a reason for his sporadic appearances. The New 52 played soft boot with the DC universe, changing the use of Lazarus Pits but retaining story points such as Ra’s apparent death in the 2004 storyline Death and the Maidens.

Eco-Terrorist

Tied into the fabric of Gaea, rightly or wrongly…

Ra’s is therefore mortal, and possibly couldn’t be ‘more of Earth’. From the off, his motivation has been humanity’s cradle itself; the achievement of balance that often necessitates the eradication of the majority of humanity. Unlike fellow ‘immortal’ Vandal Savage he does not seek mastership particularly, simply that balance. Often Ra’s methods are biological. Plagues and viruses in particular. When the concisely named DC Universe Animated Original Movies Doom replaced Ra’s with Vandal Savage as villain of their adaptation of the monumental Tower of Babel storyline it just didn’t feel as wholesome.

Of course, Batman himself meant that genome and lineage was tied into the Ra’s story from the start, and that has an overall impact. He’s tied into the fabric of Gaea, rightly or wrongly, and that can only reflect well and to the credit of Batman, the man suitable to be his heir. Just as the League of Assassins can be seen as a splinter of The Demon movement, the lineage of al Ghul or his children is utterly unknown. Recent years have seen the introduction of Talia’s older sister Nyssa Raatko and their White Ghost brother. Ra’s adds inflation to every storyline he’s brought near. World danger elevates any story and what is Gotham but a microcosm for the world?

Mirroring

His is not the equalling yang of Joker…

Perhaps most compelling is how Ra’s reflects the key facets of the man he honourably calls ‘The Detective’. He’s no slavish copy or inverted Man-Bat. Ra’s had soon deduced the Dark Knight’s true identity, although the secret could hardly be in better hands. While Batman’s alter-ego is to a degree open for exploitation, Ra’s own is lost in mystery and his relationship with The Detective based on a level of respect.

He respects Batman’s skill through the eyes of centuries of accumulated knowledge, which is no bad reference. And of course, he wouldn’t lead the League he does without considerable fighting prowess. His is not the equalling yang of Joker, the jealousy of Riddler nor the benchmarking of Bane. He’s a father-in law-in waiting and both have a grudging respect for the other’s methods and abilities.

As a Batman villain however, he requires a level of gothic grotesque. There’s no mistake he verges across his Arabic roots and British Empire, often portrayed by European actors. He’s a shadowy variant of Dickens as much as Wilde.

Relevance

With every passing day since his conception he becomes more relevant

His motivation is one made for the modern age. No matter any other consideration, Ra’s could not have been conceived as a villain of the Dark Knight in the late 1930s, but with every passing day since his conception he becomes more familiar and more integrated to the Dark Knight’s agenda. And the veracity of that has been proved on film more than anywhere else.

Batpull

Celluloid

A Theme for the Dark Knight

A major preoccupation for the trilogy

Following Batman and Robin, Ra’s was an eminently sensible villain for the Bat-franchise to pick-up. Untouched by previous films, breaking the TV series expectations of camp and classic villains, but also bringing a strong back story with good fan following but ripe for reinvention. Christopher Nolan fused him with Ducard, the French fighter who had trained young Bruce Wayne a decoy that totally threw me just as Ken Watanabe decoy fooled Bruce Wayne. It all worked rather well in a film I thought an otherwise underwhelming start.

It was a further surprise when it became apparent that Ra’s provided the thematic link of the Dark Knight trilogy. The surprise was lessened however, given Bane’s links to the al Ghul family in the comics and Marion Cotillard’s casting – just too perfect not to be Talia. The Dark Knight Rises had the pit, but there was no venom for Bane, no resurrection for Ra’s – except in the mind, a major preoccupation for the trilogy.

Fight Training

Chief educator of Queensbury Rules

An interesting offshoot was the need to retcon and revise Batman’s training. Post-New 52 there’s a clear tendency to build up Alfred’s role as Bruce Wayne’s chief educator of Queensbury Rules. Perhaps a natural conclusion as original fighting role model Wildcat and other Justice Society Members become increasingly less plausible 70 years on from World War II. In comics, this recently became apparent in Geoff John’s Earth One where Alfred Pennyworth is appointed head of security by Thomas Wayne. On the small screen, it will be pursued by Sean Pertwee’s role as Batman’s batman in Gotham, this time a former SAS officer.

It would also come to bear in Batman’s latest animated exploits, along with a certain mystical super villain…

Ras wcu

Beware the Bat

Ra’s makes a significant contribution…

A sad legacy of Beware the Batman is that it appears to have been shelved in Batman’s anniversary year.

The first solely CGI animated series, Beware the Batman was designed as a more serious reaction to the marvellously joyful and successful Silver Age campery of Brave and the Bold. After many continuous years of Batman stories, a more serious soap storyline in Gotham necessitated a shift. Robin was out, but in was a Katana ready to reference her traditional Outsiders role alongside Metamorpho.

The CGI created crisp, dramatic, fight scenes but there’s always something a little flat to my taste as you can read here. Care was made to make villains as grotesque and over the top as possible, yet never quite hits the high it should despite the interesting run of lesser known villains. In Catwoman’s place is stolen by Magpie, filling in for the Joker’s anarchy is, well, Anarky. Recent additions are Grant Morrison’s Professor Pyg and Toad, bringing a demented Wind in the Willows to town.

Fittingly for a show that was itself a reaction, Ra’s also makes a significant contribution. Again, the supernatural is deflected. There is no talk of Lazarus Pits, but Ra’s is transported in cryogenic suspension. The MacGuffin of the Soultaker sword is the chief nod to the mysticism surrounding him and proves to be his, probably not ultimate, downfall. His chief underling is Lady Shiva, in the comics another trainer of young Bruce Wayne. Here it is an aging Alfred who trained Batman, a former Mi6 agent who interestingly had previous with Ra’s. It’s strange to hear The Demon’s Head refer to the butler as Agent Pennyworth as much as the flashbacks to Alfred in combat action.

Post Dark Knight, something different is expected and Beware the Batman doesn’t falter. Ra’s huge Gotham-centred plot picks up some comic exploits, especially Knightfall, and when foiled it leaves a vacuum that inadvertently leads to Harvey Dent’s arrival and decent to Two Face.

The battle concluded, it now looks unlikely that we’ll see the war continue on that show. But with the cinematic reboot underway, it’s unlikely we’ll have to wait long for the League and The Demon’s Head to reappear. Although it’s unclear how the cinematic and rapidly expanding televisual adaptations of DC will fit together, Nyssa al Ghul (Raatko) has recently made an appearance in The CW’s Arrow described as the ‘child of Ra’s al Ghul’.

It’s a considerable nod to Ra’s al Ghul that it’s difficult to envisage a new iteration of Batman that will be able to resist him.

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