Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Doctor Who Series 9: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Skaro and the End of the Acid Reign

Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice
Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's Apprentice

“Guys! Guys! I think I’ve landed a walk on part…”

The first of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, starting with a trip to a mysterious planet in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.

HOW WILL HISTORY RECORD THE MOFFAT ERA? THAT’S NOT A QUESTION FOR NOW OF COURSE, AND ONE UNLIKELY TO BE ANSWERED FOR A LONG TIME. WHEN THE SONIC GLASSES HAVE GATHERED DUST, WHEN THE TWELFTH DOCTOR’S MYSTERIOUS, HAWKISH, STRANGELY FAMILIAR FACE IS LONG GONE. Steven Moffat has written for more Doctors than anyone else, and you can’t even say with any confidence that he’s on his final one as showrunner… Having crossed confidentially onto his second Doctor and nearing the end of his second major companion, it’s not clear Who will go down as Moffat’s ‘definitive’ Doctor. And that joyfully creative mess sets out a simple stall…

Thanks for all the fish

Douglas Adams was surely Graham Williams’ ideal ally…

Moffat’s remarked on his regard for one time script editor Douglas Adams, not just for his small but extraordinary body of personal work (who doesn’t?), but for the legendary writer’s rather more divisive tenure on Doctor Who. In the mid-1970s, Adams had made a living out from writing comedy for radio, even forming a writing partnership with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and being only one of two people outside the troupe to gain a writing credit on a sketch for the Flying Circus. Not fully on board with the likes of deadlines and delivery, it’s still surprising that he took the script editing seat for Season 17 in 1979 alongside producer Graham Williams. It didn’t help that the laws of the universe ensured that his little radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was commissioned for broadcast at the same time. Still, for the producer unlucky to follow Philip Hinchcliffe, tasked with fencing the show off from the heavy criticism that met his predecessor while retaining the viewing figures, Adams was surely an ideal ally.

The result is one of Who’s real mixed bags. Sadly, having already contributed a mind-bogglingly budget-straining script to the show the year before, Adams generally takes the credit for the highs of that time, while the lows are rather unfairly brushed under Graham Williams’ production seat. Adam’s The Pirate Planet from Season 16 is seen as a doughty attempt push ambition onto a screen that can barely contain it, The City of Death (co-written by a strained Williams and Adams from David Fisher’s idea under the David Agnew pseudonym) is a beautiful mess of sharp scripting, superb casting, foreign location and hard science fiction that managed to claim the classic show’s highest ratings. Shada had the foresight to never complete its production and shot swiftly for mythical status.

The rest of season 17 retains a fair few detractors, although there remains a few ardent fans for that loose and difficult time before the strident science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead swept in, while Tom Baker took an arbitrary approach to whether the material bored him of filled him with sizzling physical comedy. If you like your Who served as comedy this is the place to find it.

Don’t Blink

To paraphrase 10cc, it’s just a phase Who’s going through.

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Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 2007 – 2032 (and beyond…)

Terminator twisting time lines

Terminator twisting time lines

The final part of a Terminator retrospective that mixes its twisting timeline with some of the horror roots behind each instalment. Jokerside’s looked back at 1964 to 2004, but now the twist gets harder, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles to Terminator Genisys. Spoilers abound…

THE CHANCES OF THE TERMINATOR FRANCHISE REGAINING THE CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF ITS EARLY DAYS ARE AS REMOTE AS SKYNET AGREEING A TRUCE WITH HUMANITY’S LAST UNDERGROUND CITY OF ZION. Still, The Terminator remains intriguing; relatively distinct from and self-assured compared to young pretenders like The Matrix. After years in the ether, the Terminator film rights are due to revert to T-Master James Cameron in 2019. But amid terrible marketing, reviews and release, the latest attempt to reboot, a film superior to its immediate two predecessors in many ways, has somehow managed to gross over $400 million at the international box office. Impressive work, showing that there’s still fuel left in the endoskeleton. Arnie wasn’t lying about T-800s lasting 120 years.

Against expectation, The Sarah Connor Chronicles appeared late last decade and wowed a small but influential audience. As it’s the most consistent and longest running Terminator story it makes the cut here, in a franchise that happily rides roughshod over previous instalments. And following the seminal first two parts, and the major time split caused by Judgment Day’s arrival in the third film, that’s where this glance at the horror of The Terminator series begins…

Terminator Time lines Clock

2007 – 2008 (via 1999) – Key series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Released 2008 – 2009)

Where we are: Sarah and John Connor emerge on a freeway in San Francisco, swapping 1999 for 2008 with their guardian Terminator Cameron (not as beardy as the franchise creator who gifted her name). Judgement Day has been deferred, but as much as the Connors have bought some time with their disappearance, resistance and Skynet forces are growing in a past increasingly forming a temporal civil war. Sarah and John set about stopping the armageddon once and for all, leaping twists and turns as they go.

“Come with me if you want to live”: Several times, courtesy of the delightful and mysterious new Terminator model – the T-900 series Cameron.

Skynet mechanism: Military. Via AI, chess machines and temporal sabotage. Or is it?

Horror: Psychological / And Then There Were None

“The future’s ours and it begins now.”

Splitting the timeline, and deliberately ignoring the events of Terminator 3 (the clue’s in the title), the two short seasons of The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be Terminator’s finest hour(s).

“Great, it looks like a robot serial killer lives here”

Where to start. Praising The Sarah Connor Chronicles could take volumes, and perhaps it will take over Jokerside one day… But let’s get it over with succinctly here. For all the trauma of the material, fan expectation and behind the scenes machination, possibly no other series has carved an original and captivating narrative from a simple pitch, while retaining the essence and maintaining the sanctity of two seminal blockbuster films. No, not even Timecop. But, there are inherent problems with taking that one line pitch from the first film and fixing it to an ongoing narrative.

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Doctor Who: The Trial of Morbius!

Doctor Who and the Trial of Morbius!

Doctor Who and the Trial of Morbius!

A special post to celebrate the single calendar month until Doctor Who’s return! As the Doctor’s new adventures will once again visit the Sisterhood of Karn – first seen in a Tom Baker classic and last seen propelling the Eighth Doctor into the Time War – it’s the ideal time to look at the random rogue whose history is entwined with theirs. That insufferable and eternally unlucky Time Lord dictator Morbius. He remains shrouded in mystery despite occasional return visits to him over the years – visits that have varied markedly in quality. So, time to cast the verdict on the temporal despot – From The Brain of Morbius to novel Warmonger to Big Finish’s Vengeance of Morbius.

Let the Trial of Morbius commence!

SERIES NINE OF NEW DOCTOR WHO IS NEARLY UPON US, AND THE TRAILERS HAVE BEEN UNLEASHED TO SWIRL EXCITEMENT LIKE THE FIERY SKIES OF KARN. Ah yes, Karn. Beyond the maybe-Tharils, multi-generational Daleks, guitar solos and hmm, trips to Skaro showcased by the trailer, a few things escaped the web of secrecy early. And one was the intriguing return of that neglected planet and its famous Sisterhood!

Early Submissions: A trip to Karn

“It’s so rare that anyone arrives here on Karn…”

The Sisterhood of Karn, the mystic, matriarchal coven that fastidiously and sometimes fatally guards the Sacred Flame first appeared in the classic Fourth Doctor Frankenstein riff, The Brain of Morbius. What a name and what a story – one that features as Exhibit A. Two decades later, Virgin’s New Adventures, the series that did many things for Who not least allow many of today’s show-shapers have their first stab at the Time Lord, took a closer look at the Sisterhood. Within the first few books Marc Platt had uncovered their history, something he would return to at the end of the range in the Gallifrey illuminating Lungbarrow. Before Karn, they were the former matriarchal over lords of the Doctor’s home planet only to be driven from the planet by Rassilon. There would later come oblique glances to this Gallifreyan old religion over at Big Finish, particularly in the 50th release Zagreus. Overall, it’s proved a satisfying backstory, one that’s enhanced their position in The Brain of Morbius, building on the predominantly patriarchal Time Lords of science, the Sisterhood’s rum deal on the nearby backwater planet of Karn and the peculiar, yet light, symbiotic and untrusting deals between the two telepathic civilisations.

40 years after their television debut, the Sisterhood turned up to provide the catalyst for the unexpected. Not only did they facilitate a directional regeneration for the Eighth Doctor, but finally brought the errant Time Lord into the Time War. It was an act that, from hindsight, would define new Who and particularly the 50th anniversary. Expect big Time Lord revelations whenever they appear, but this court hasn’t been convened for the Sisters of the Flame. It’s to address the treatment of their sometime neighbour, the Time Lord dictator who wouldn’t leave them alone, and who their fate is often entangled with. One of Gallifrey’s most evil sons. Morbius. And with a name like that…

Character Reference: Morbius

“You see nothing was ever beyond my genius.”

Morbius is bad, really bad. We know that as he was the first of their own kind that the Time Lords sentenced to death. We also saw the bust of his most imperious face, which couldn’t be cast more like a warlord of ancient Earth civilisation. But then, one nation’s warlord is another’s glorious leader. Unless it’s a society dulled through millennia of stagnation and entropy. He inspired followers when alive, and acolytes in his death. He was a phenomenal tactician, charismatic leader and a virtually unstoppable force – a force that could only be halted by an immense alliance and fatal measures. Even the Time Lord prison Shada couldn’t contain this bad guy. Yes, on Gallifrey we’ve seen skulduggery and political machination ever since Robert Holmes’ The Deadly Assassin. But when Morbius appeared a season before that he was already a different type of Time Lord, albeit one we could only view through the slightly more God-like Time Lords the audience had so far seen in the show. Morbius is unlike most of the Doctor’s bi-hearted, time-traversing antagonists. Neither a figure form Gallifrey’s distant past like Omega nor one of the Doctor’s teachers as we’d later find with Borusa, nor one of his classmates at the Academy in the mould of the Monk, master or Rani. Morbius was a contemporary war criminal. A rise and quashing that quite plausibly happened after the Doctor’s flight from his home planet. The Doctor and Morbius didn’t know each other and the Doctor hadn’t been involved in that particular Time Lord crisis. Or so we thought…

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Penny Dreadful and Hannibal: Fall of the Witches, Rise of the Dragon

Hannibal meets Penny Dreadful

Hannibal meets Penny Dreadful

“Dire combustion and confused events new hatch’d to the woeful time”

A tale of two gruesome halves. A celebration in the brutal wake of Penny Dreadful’s second series conclusion and farewell to Hannibal’s Hannibal as he prepares his last stand against the advent of the Red Dragon. For those up to date with the horrors of both series – these *spoilers* don’t come in the night.

Read on or jump to: Hannibal

Pennies – Penny Dreadful leaves the mortal plain

Penny Dreadful: The Second Season

“I think that you are the most human man I have ever known”

PENNY DREADFUL CONCLUDED EARLIER THIS MONTH WITH A FINALE OF TWO PARTS. TYPICALLY, THE SECOND HALF WAS DEVOTED TO THE INTRICATE RE-POSITIONING OF ITS PLAYERS ON A CHESS BOARD PRIMED FOR ITS LUXURIOUSLY CONFIRMED THIRD SEASON. And that that says more about the show than a first half given over to resolving the second season arc, a battle in the blurred war of dark and light that continues to run like stitching through its take on gothic literature.

The threat of coincidence hangs over all narrative, nowhere more apparently than in episodic television. As America’s television grows to rival its film industry, enticing stars with higher budgets and heightened writing, arcs and themes have developed to match. Many shows have managed to rise above their Hollywood comparators in terms of tight plotting and scripting, although some of the biggest cheat with multiple sketch-based storylines (one set in and around Westeros in particular). Elsewhere critically acclaimed ‘thematic’ series make their job easier by limiting storylines and cast to a single season. But with Penny Dreadful, confronting coincidence while chucking its characters together is very much the point.

A stronger field

The depth of the villain was stretched and strengthened…

As Penny Dreadful’s second season unravelled we saw polarisation. Compelling powers pushed and pulled the characters to various extremes, always seen through a finely tuned and psychological needle’s eye.

Writer John Logan’s dialogue and scope improved beyond even the first series. After seemingly setting up (the unnamed) Dracula as the main villain, the second season instead wrenched us into the world of witches – another and effective lieutenant of he who must not be named. Over the course of the season, the result was a rich deepening of the character’s opposition; a villain stretched and strengthened while crucially retaining its mystery. It was a neat trick to the point that a killer twist might not even be confirmed. And on the way there was time for dolls and wax works to take the place of the Grand Guignol. And crucially, lest all humour depart us, a wonderful full-time position in the script for Simon Russell Beale’s Ferdinand Lyle.

One year on

“Modernity personified” in the age of the industrial

Last year’s mid-point look at Season One came from the early gothic slant of Frankenstein. In particular, the stunning adaptation of the good doctor’s story that made up the third episode, which starts with:

“…The brutal lessons of life and death that the young Frankenstein was forced to learn. We see him walking through daffodils and quoting not just Wordsworth, but the poet’s Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. We see the origins of the Doctor of course, and how death set him on an inevitable route. The creature narrates what we’ve seen so far, the Doctor who favoured Wordsworth and the Romantics’ view of the world who creates something that is “modernity personified” in the age of the industrial. It’s no wonder that Frankenstein fundamentally cannot stand his creation, and is incapable of making any effort to make up for his abandonment. It shouldn’t fit quite so well with the other son we’ve seen, not quite, but it does. That’s perhaps due to the quality of the creature’s argument. Tellingly, Frankenstein doesn’t speak for minutes as his firstborn addresses him. When told by his son that they are the Janus mask, “inseparable” his first words, “how could you do that?’ The response that it is a mercy for the tragic Proteus – “you put me through nothing but pain”.

Continue reading “Penny Dreadful and Hannibal: Fall of the Witches, Rise of the Dragon”

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