Doctor Who Christmas Specials: The RTD Era

There’s never really been time for seasonal celebrations in the Whoniverse. The classic run only aired on Christmas Day once, during the 12 week-long story The Daleks Master Plan, with a Christmas specific episode titled The Feast of Steven. The footage is currently missing, as is much of the William Hartnell era, thanks to the BBC wiping tapes to re-use at the time. They weren’t to know it would be one of the most popular shows on Earth. It’s especially frustrating for this case in particular because an episode like that never aired again during the classic run. In fact, no episode was ever broadcast on Christmas Day again…until 2005. That’s when showrunner Russell T Davies, who had recently revived the show for a new generation, aired the first of his dedicated Christmas specials The Christmas Invasion. These specials continued throughout his 5-year stint as showrunner, becoming something of a running joke for characters on the show itself and cemented the beloved day as a British Christmas Tradition.

The Christmas Invasion

There is something very human about this episode. That shouldn’t be a surprise given it focuses on human characters, with The Doctor out of commission having just regenerated, but it’s how it shows the humanity within people that makes it wonderful. With Earth under threat of alien invasion on Christmas day and ⅓ of the world’s population being held hostage on rooftops via blood control, it’s up to the human race to save themselves. But how do you handle such a crisis? Do you attempt peaceful negotiations or plan a “defensive” attack and face the potentially deadly consequences? Of course, The Doctor awakes but British Prime Minister Harriet Jones still makes her final decision and she faces the career-defining ramifications.

It also serves as a spectacular introductory episode for The Tenth Doctor. David Tennant slips into the role comfortably, bringing an element of comedy, but still brings an air of gravitas that demands attention whenever he speaks. He does so in just 15 minutes of screentime, so it’s no surprise looking back that he became one of the nation’s favourite Doctors. There are plenty of noteworthy performances throughout the rest of the episode too, particularly from Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale North and current Prime Minister). It’s clear that she’s afraid but it’s never for herself, rather for the people of her country and the rest of the world, but it’s masked by a steely resolve. Meanwhile Billie Piper as Rose Tyler brings a layer of dramatic emotional devastation over losing the Doctor that she knew whilst still having the courage to stand in his place as Earth’s spokesperson and defender. It’s an episode about having hope, even when it feels like there’s none left, and what’s more Christmassy than that?

The Runaway Bride

The Doctor’s own humanity is front and centre here. For the first time since he met Rose, he finds himself alone whilst mourning a great loss. When Donna Noble materialises in the TARDIS on her wedding day, he becomes swept up in a plot that dates back to the dawn of time even though he doesn’t have to. He only initially gets involved out of curiosity but, as the plot progresses,it becomes clear that he’s sticking around to save Donna’s life because (despite not wanting to) he cares. It’s clear from the mournful looks he gives her, and the ones that he keeps to himself, that he needs to save someone…anyone. There’s a sweet and simple moment where they’re sitting on a rooftop having just escaped a robotic santa in the TARDIS where The Doctor puts his coat around her. It’s a tiny gesture but, given his desire to be uninvolved, it’s clear how meaningful this act is.

It all builds to the moment where The Doctor faces off against the enemy, defeating her in an act of pure rage. He isn’t doing this because he’s worried about humanity or even because he’s worried about Donna, he’s doing it because he feels alone and doesn’t care what happens to him. For him, this is a moment of acceptance of his place in the universe and his final sacrifice for humanity because the pain of his losses is too much to bear. Donna stops him but she still refuses to travel time and space with him. It’s rare that someone turns him down and it clearly stuns him. He once again finds himself all alone, which breaks his hearts because life is only truly an adventure if it’s shared.

Voyage of the Damned

In times of struggle, there should be no class divide. In times of crisis, everybody is human…or alien as the case may be. Once again The Doctor finds himself stumbling alone into an evil scheme, only to find himself surrounded by a delightful cast of characters. On the space cruiseliner Titanic, whose crew features robotic angels set on murdering everyone, there is no shortage of class representation. There’s the rich businessmen who feel like they deserve their wealth, the waiting staff who have very little  and the farmers who toil away endlessly to earn theirs. It’s easier to sympathise with some of the characters more than others but it’s not difficult to hate the villain behind the whole scheme – a morally bankrupt CEO. It doesn’t matter how many people die, even if it’s everyone on Earth, so long as he gets his paycheck. Whilst this portrayal of CEO’s is comical, the underlying truth unfortunately is not. For the rich, it’s all about getting richer.

Meanwhile, the story manages to grapple with grief and loss. The cast is larger than just The Doctor and his companion but each character is fleshed out in a way that makes them easy to root for…even the stockbroker. It wouldn’t be a Christmas special without death and this one is no exception, featuring several of them, with each more devastating than the last. They are all inspired to sacrifice themselves, because that’s what they feel The Doctor would do, and his guilt is evident but grief can and should be felt at Christmas. Not everybody makes it from one Christmas to the next and that hurts but it doesn’t mean that feeling should be avoided. Celebrate Christmas for those you’ve lost with those you haven’t.

The Next Doctor

Sometimes Doctor Who is just a classic Doctor fights the monster story with a lot of heart. Battling the cybermen in 1800’s London alongside a man claiming to be The Doctor is one such tale. The major draw at the time was the spectacle of it all and the tease of a Doctor we hadn’t yet met. David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was beloved by the nation (still is) so his leaving the role was a major deal. The announcement was made prior to the airing of this special so it wasn’t improbable that 11 (or even 12) could have popped up. Of course, this turned out not to be the case but that’s a shame because David Morrisey is one of the best Doctor’s we never had. He embodies the very heart of the character. He’s charming, suave, and charismatic in a way similar to classic incarnations like The Fifth Doctor. His impassioned speech to a crowd of Victorians about how The Doctor has saved humanity countless times and has never been thanked turning into a raucous applause for the man himself is a beautiful moment.

The previous two specials have left The Doctor alone and grieving but here he finally gets a moment of peace. For the first time since The Christmas Invasion, he is convinced to enjoy a Christmas dinner. Given everything he’s been through, and everything he’s about to go through, it’s a brief moment of levity that brings joy to the soul.

The End of Time

It’s apt that this is ultimately a story about fate and acceptance. This two-parter was a major event at the time as, for many people, it was their first regeneration. David Tennant had been the titular timelord for 5 years and was adored by the general public but his fate was the same as every other actor to play the role – to leave. This idea is baked into the plot, which sees him facing off against The Master on a global scale. It’s been prohpisied that he’s going to die but he isn’t ready and is barely holding back his frustration. It perfectly echoes the emotions of the audience who were’nt ready to let him go either.

However, as it must, his fate arrived all the same. The Tenth Doctor, though upset, understands and accepts that it’s his time to go. He takes an emotional walk down memory lane, seeing where all his companions are and how they’re doing, seemingly to put himself at ease. The universe is currently resting easy, as are those in it that he cares about, so there’s no stone left unturned for him. The episode only shows Ten’s companions (although The Sarah Jane Adventures later clarified it was all of them) which makes a great deal of sense because it brings everything full circle. It’s obviously sad to see him go but visiting his companions serves as a reminder of all the good times. It’s almost like a clean slate, so that The Eleventh Doctor can burst onto the scene without baggage and embark on his own adventures. What a dynamic entrance it is too filled with excitement and wonder. This wasn’t to be the final festive regeneration (in fact it’ll be a little bit of a recurring thing) but it was the first and it knew the weight it carried. It was big, bold and beautiful.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Spoilers)

How do you achieve longevity? There are a couple of solutions and they are both present in Marvel’s 30th(!) feature length film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The background surrounding production is as well known as the title Black Panther, with the sequel entering development before the unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman and being reworked with a new name taking the mantle. It introduces beloved comic character Namor to the MCU in a rivalry between his underwater tribe and the Wakandans on land, which invites comparison to the DC hero Aquaman, although these comparisons end up being unwarranted. There is such a vast difference in the portrayal of both characters and the oceans they live in that it would do each world a disservice to compare them.

Naturally, at the forefront of this film, is the legacy of Chadwick Boseman. His introduction as Prince T’Challa (later King T’Challa) AKA The Black Panther gave children of colour across the globe a hero that represented them. He took the largest franchise in the world and used it as a platform at a time when racism in the West was on the rise. He seemed destined to continue in his role as actor and activist for years to come, which made his unexpected passing all the more upsetting. There were calls to recast the role but, given this surrounding context, it wouldn’t have felt right and the plot does address that. With all the heart shaped herbs, which provide the power of The Black Panther, being burned in the previous film Shuri is determined to replicate it…to no avail. The opening scene where she attempts to recreate it’s synthetic structure to save her brother is heartbreaking, especially since he is dying of a mysterious illness that he has been hiding from those around him. The story beat works on its own but it, very deliberately, hits close to home mirroring the real life circumstances surrounding Chadwicks passing. Eventually Shuri recreates the herb, consumes it, and becomes the Black Panther but initially she is only doing so out of vengeance. Her arc sees her struggling between letting the hatred consume her and deciding what this role as “protector” actually means. For those who have faced grief, it’s a familiar battle, to let the grief overcome us or to do our best moving forward. To shy away from the darkness or to run toward it. She struggles with it until the bitter end, right up until the moment she is about to kill Namor but, of course, she chooses the lighter path because this story is about healing…or beginning to heal.

The film’s conclusion sees her sitting on a beach, burning the funeral clothes, before being joined by T’challa’s partner Nakia and Nakia’s son T’Challa. It’s a clear indication that while Chadwick (and his character) may be gone, his legacy carries on. It’s not a straight-up recast but still allows for there to be a T’Challa in this world which is the perfect middle ground. Young T’Challa won’t be taking up any mantles any time soon but some day, presumably, he will. Chadwick won’t be forgotten in that time (or in anytime thereafter) but this allows for as much healing as can be done in a moment like this before life carries on. Through this character and these films, Chadwick has achieved longevity and ensured that we will never forget him.

The presence of T’Challa Junior also highlights the intended longevity of the MCU itself. Whilst it seems inevitable that he’ll become Black Panther someday, it’s likely that this won’t occur for perhaps another decade. He’s not the only new character either with the introduction of Riri Williams AKA Iron Heart and the aforementioned Namor. Riri is a delightful enough character who seems destined to entertain people in her own series next year before cropping up as “New Iron Man” for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Namor is rather interesting with his disdain for land-dwellers and long life span (having been around for several centuries) which is deserving of more exploration. Namor receives a rare treat as an MCU villain in that he gets to live, which is for the best considering dead characters can’t really be explored further. Then there are the returning characters, whose own stories are just beginning. Everett Ross returns to light up every scene he’s in with a charm that British Men seem to have patented with Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (or The Countessa) by his side. She makes her return after appearing in Black Widow and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, where she is clearly putting together a Discount Avengers (or The Thunderbolts as they’re otherwise known), making her in essence the new Nick Fury. The MCU has ramped up its production rate since Phase One but considering Fury has been present since the start and is still kicking around, this should give some idea of how long The Countessa should be cropping up for.

The discussion surrounding “superhero fatigue” is a complex one but when the MCU alone is taken into account, it’s not difficult to see why it’s brought up. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is film number 30 but, with TV Shows included, it’s project number 39. The newly released Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is release number 40 and it aired only a couple of weeks after Wakanda Forever’s initial release. Here’s the thing about the MCU…it’s good. Even at its worst (bar a couple special cases) the projects are still adequate at worst. Even Wakanda Forever, which suffers from usual issues like obvious greenscreens and unnecessary characters, is still good. The issue isn’t and has never been the quality, it’s the rate and the risk that there will be an inevitable drop in that quality to maintain release schedules. There’s been a large conversation surrounding Phase 4, which started with Spider-Man: Far From Home (yes it did, I don’t care what Kevin Feige said) and ended with Wakanda Forever. “It feels directionless” is the big critique and it’s partially true but that’s mostly because it lacks context. Every piece in this phase that feels out of place will make sense in time as The Multiverse Saga draws to a close. It’s a promise to the audience that there’s a reason to stick around. People have already clocked off and that’s fine because the critics will still be here, keeping track for you.

We remember it so you don’t have to.

Women X Festival 2022

Attending film festivals has been a dream since I was aware they existed. However, it’s always been a distant dream because I can’t travel for them…well without at least spending a bunch of money I don’t have. This past year, thanks to the rise of online film festival attendance as the world was told not to travel, I’ve been able to live out that dream. From September 2nd to the 4th, I was lucky enough to experience a glimpse of the Women X Film Festival founded by Caris Rianne. As a Trans Woman, being a small part of this festival meant the world to me and I hope to attend in person someday. For now, here are some short(ish) thoughts on the amazing projects that I watched.

Head Over Feet: A Series of Shorts

First Kiss With A Girl is a short voiceover with related imagery about a girls first kiss with another girl. It’s really cute, shot in a 6:9 ratio, with the theme of the part at which this case occurred being present but not obvious until it’s stated.

Kiss Chase sees a young girl of colour struggling with a crush on another girl, while a boy develops a crush on her. It’s a classic “nerd to beauty” story done well, made more uncomfortable by the age of those involved, which I’m sure is the point. There’s really no knowing what children get up to and the thought that several of the more intense scenes in here do occur is terrifying.

Silent Pride features a private spat between two best friends at a party. The most notable aspect is that one of the girls is hearing impaired, although that’s never the sole purpose of the story. It is used for a cute little moment of connection though.

Virtual Love sees a female couple playing dom and sub for viewers on a camgirl website until an argument breaks out. It makes excellent use of the website itself, often showing the chat window which is itself a lynchpin of the plot. Despite being in skimpy clothing, the camera never leers, which shouldn’t be noteworthy but it is.

Pitching features a woman lost in her tent on a trail, leaving a desperate voicemail for her former girlfriend. The frame composition is fascinating, having been split into 9 squares, each telling a different story from the relationship. At 17 minutes, it’s one of the longer shorts but the lone voicemail is heartbreakingly engaging throughout.

The Cost of Living focuses on a woman in control of her life finally giving up control for the seductive personification of death. It’s the artsiest film in this series and it’s totally engaging. Seems to have the highest production budget so far but this story would be wonderful regardless.

Pragma sees a woman partaking in a rigorous Partnering Programme but struggling to trust the system. It also has a higher production budget and a longer runtime but it’s also consistently funny. A really interesting take on the two core kinds of relationship (short-term and long-term).

Besties: A Series of Shorts

Scuzz features the surprising friendship of a female rocker and the young teen boy who stole her guitar. It’s super sweet and it demonstrates the kinder side of Scotlands gig scene which could use more prevalence.

Venetian Men is the tale of two 15-year-old best friends’ trip to Venice. It has an excellent blend of photos and footage taken on the trip with interprative dance scenes featuring actress stand-ins. The voiceover is soothing too, telling of an often underappreciated time in young women;s lives.

@scroll_alice features a conversation between two people about the benefits of Instagram. With the stop-motion animation depicting conversation topics and use of AI voices, it comes across as a little horrifying despite the dialogue claiming otherwise. It feels like it lacks humanity but at the same time it tells such a human story. Brilliant.

Run With Her is a short documentation of an Irish teens friendship with her running partner and best friend. This short was also featured in last years EIFF so this is a second watch for me but it’s no less lovely. I hope everything is working out for them.

Farewell She Goes sees two Gregorian women grappling with how to bury a bird at sea whilst a deeper issue lies just below the surface. It never explicitly states that one of thee women wants an abortion but it’s made clear through the dialogue, line delivery and notes about abortions history at the films conclusion. Sad but necessary.

Sequin features a little girl at a bus stop encountering a drag queen who looks just like her Barbie doll. It’s adorable and a perfect demonstration of how accepting children are. It manages that without anyone ever uttering a word, which is a real skill.

7 Bannanas features a woman dealing with the deathvof a friend sh’ed been neglecting to message. It feels real, grappling well with the genuine emotions of grief and guilt. Serves as a poignant reminder to keep in touch with people more.

Homegrown: A series of shorts

GSNE is a small doc centres around the foundation of Girls Skate North East, a group specifically for female skaters in the North East of the UK. It’s about camaraderie and support and being female in a seemingly male dominated space. Very inspiring.

After the break is a monologue about living life away from the tv screens and the music. It’s interesting to listen to with simple but elegant visuals.

The Air in Cyberspace features the beginnings of self organising cyborg existence. Not live-action so it caught me off guard, but the CGI visuals and visuals are very impressive.

The Girl Next Door sees a girl trying to vlog her life whilst her psychotic adopted sister lurks in the background. Shooting it purely from the cameras POV is a great way to tell the story and the performances are wonderful.

A Call to the Void follows 24 hours in a depressed young mans life and is quite the experience. A self-motivational tape plays over the entire short providing this juxtaposition between what the world expects and the reality of life.

Halloween Watchlist 2022

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

One of the earliest, and finest, family-friendly horror films. A loving homage to the genre with plenty of laughs, scares, and references to both the character’s history as well as the history of horror. Full review in the upcoming edition of UnDividing Lines.

Cloverfield (2008)

A certified classic that solidified the “found footage” style of horror movies. With regular, flawed characters and a shining example of having a horrifying creature without having to show much of it. Full review HERE.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

A stunning follow-up that proves not only can a sequel be as good as the original, but it can be better. Perfect use of a minimal environment with a twist that continues to chill, even if you already know what it is. Full review HERE.

ET The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

A beloved family classic for a reason. It has marvelous characters, great emotion and excellent visuals…all of which were stronger upon a cinematic viewing. Beautifully re-mastered and masterfully scored.

Jaws – in 3D! (1975/2022)

The original blockbuster remains one of the best. It’s a slow burn, with very few shots of the shark and a minimalistic but beautiful score. Also stunningly remastered for the big screen.

Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

The first new release on this list is a delight. Funny, full of violence and with an on-point take on class structure this is worth catching up on if you missed it.

Werewolf by Night (2022)

An MCU installment that’s only an hour long, and it’s about time. This spooky tale feels unlike any other part of the franchise, proving Michael Giacchino isn’t just great with music, but can master any craft he puts his mind to.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared [Series](2022)

Based on the YouTube series of the same name and created by the same team, this show is a trip. Life lessons shrouded in humour and dark imagery, it’s exactly the kind of show young people deserve.

Gravity Falls [Series](2012)

One of the greatest shows ever created and worthy of a full, loving analysis someday. Funny, heartfelt and occasionally featuring genuine scares, the story of the Pines family is worth every second.

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

An odd creature for sure. Developed in the same way as it’s predecessors but lacking the same oomph, it’s worth watching for a couple performances and the score. Full review HERE.

The Babysitter (2017)

A new seasonal classic from Netflix, this is an absolute delight to watch. Horror-comedies feel underrated and with films like this, that shouldn’t be the case.

The Simpsons Halloween Specials I-XII (1990-2001) / The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XIII-XXI (2002-2020) / The Simpsons Thanksgiving of Horror (2019) [Series]

A staple of the holiday that continues to entertain with new installments every single year. The “original” run of 7 episodes were solely focused on horror and remain undisputed classics, but even as the series began to lean more heavily on current pop culture references it never began to disappoint. There are a couple of dud segments but no entire episode worth skipping over. The Thanksgiving edition is especially wonderful.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)

More proof that a sequel can be as good as the original. It manages to retread old ground without ever feeling like a direct copy, has plenty more laughs and features the sweetheart of the moment Jenny Ortega.

ParaNorman (2012)

Coraline may have thrust Laika Studios into the limelight, but ParaNorman ensured that they stayed there. This loving homage to the horror genre may be a little basic but it has everything it requires to entertain people of all ages. Full review HERE.

The Lost Boys (1987)

The Joel Schumacher classic remains a seasonal favourite for a reason. Only a director like Joel in a decade like the 1980s could have brought forth something this bizarre, camp and filled with brilliant special effects. Worth hunting down if it continues to escape your watchlist.

Ghostbusters (1984)

One of the best films ever made. Sure, it’s cheesy and the special effects aren’t exactly on par with something like The Terminator, but it has so much character. Every cast member is bringing their A-Game, the effects are still impressive, and it’s tied together beautifully with that ethereal score. Full review HERE.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

A guilty pleasure for many fans, including myself. It feels at times like a rehash of the original and is definitely more geared towards children, but it has just as much fun packed into it. Full review HERE.

Beetlejuice (1988)

A highlight of the season every single year. It’s a special effect, comedy, and acting masterclass all rolled into one package. Relentlessly quotable with a great score, it sticks in the mind all year round. The soundtrack for the Broadway musical gets plenty of playtime too. Full review HERE.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Only the second viewing for this apparent classic and it’s not difficult to fall in love with. It’s corny in a way that only 1990s Disney Channel movies can be but is held together by some extremely over-the-top performances and a heck of a musical number. Another highly quotable delight.

The Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)

The Muppets have always rolled with the times and this special is no exception. With a slew of current celebrity cameos and a delightful performance from Will Arnett, it’s honestly just nice to hang out in the Henson realm for a bit. And there’s no better choice for this bizarre season than the oddest of Muppets – Gonzo.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

I’ve often heard this described as THE definitive version of Dracula but that might just be in reference to the vampiric maestro himself. This adaptation is gorgeous to look at but is often too surreal for its own good when it isn’t being dull. It’s a lot of flair with very little punch.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Director Henry Sellick’s timeless fantasy continues to delight. It’s all about the visuals and the score, both of which are on point. Though the story and characters are basic, they have a certain amount of charm that makes seeing them once or twice a year totally worth it.

Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

If the original was corny in a 1990s way, then it makes sense that the sequel would be corny in a 2020s way. Once that’s accepted, it can often be just as wonderful, even if there are perhaps more musical numbers than there need to be. The childhood counterpart for the Sanderson sisters do a particularly wonderful job.

Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2010)

An underrated classic, which has been on my watchlist for many years now. A hilarious subversion of horrors “killer hillbillies” trope, with a couple of endearing performances from the main pair of bumbling doofuses. It doesn’t skimp on the gore either, leaving it in the same vein as something like Scream.

ParaNorman

Animation is for children. At least, this is what some adults will try to have you believe. Current Disney CEO Bob Chapek is one such adult, which may partially explain why the world is in the midst of a live-action-remake-renaissance. The fine folks over at PIXAR Animation Studios have never held such a belief, knowing that children can handle most of what life can throw at them and that’s there no use hiding them from reality. The same is true of Laika Studios, whose 2009 classic Coraline delighted and terrified audiences of all ages. It was the very first film they’d produced for themselves, having assisted on other projects like The Corpse Bride, but it wouldn’t be their final forray into the world of horror. 3 years later came ParaNorman, which is often overshadowed by it’s predecessor but is no less creative.

The story follows 11 year old Norman, who has the unique ability to see and speak to ghosts, as he attempts to stop a 300 year old witches curse from destroying his town. The curse, which until recently had been held at bay by a crazed hermit, brings back to life the seven jurors who sentenced the witch to death as well as the spirit of the witch herself. Along the way, he is assisted by his older sister Courtney, school bully Alvin, best friend Neil and Neils older brother Mitch. It’s a simpler plot than Coraline but the characters and their dynamics are just as interesting. There’s the classic sibling rivalry betwween Norman and Courtney which also exists between Neil and Mitch, whilst Alvin finds himself clinging to the group out of fear. Courtney’s infatuation with Mitch is especially fun to witness, particularly on a rewatch with the knowledge that Mitch is gay.

The plot never makes a big deal out of that fact. It isn’t a running thread throughout themovie and, when revealed, isn’t given an aura that demands praise. It’s just part of who he is and comes up naturally, which is how it should be. Gay people are more than just their sexuality, which is something that Laika continues to understand. Their following three films would include gay characters, both in the background and the foreground, but there was never a massive deal made about them. Disney has been expecially bad for using gay characters as a marketing gimmick but the fail to grasp that this community isn’t demanding attention. The goal is simply to be included because that’s how it is in reality. The LGBT community only seems loud because it fights so hard to exist without prosecution, which is only getting more difficult by the year. Characters like Mitch normalise a community that has been seen as “other” for decades and help children to realise that, not only are there gay people, but that it’s ok to be gay yourself. It breeds a more open and loving ideollogy in children who see it and provides hope for a netter tomorrow for the community. Mitch was the first gay character in a “children’s” movie and he remains one of the best examples of how such a character can be handeled.

The most interesting development in ParaNorman occurs as act three begins. The seven undead jurors are not the steotypical undead, but are instead victims of the witches curse who wish to be set free. The overall message here is to not jusge a book by its cover but this only works because the idea of a “zombie” is so ingrained in popular culture…which is fascinating. It’s an idea embeded so deep withing society that this tweist works regardless of the age of the viewer and it only works better as time goes on. The zombie genre has seen a surge in popularity over the last decade propelled, in part, by the success of shows like The Walking Dead (a show which ironically will not die). However it also means that subverting the expectation of brain-hungry zomnies is not as unique as it once was, having been used in films like Warm Bodies and Life After Beth. ParaNorman was one of the originators and, considering how well they pulled it off, it’s no wonder it stuck around.

It’s also a remarkable homage to the B Movies of old. The opening scene is an in-universe B Movie which perfectly sends up the hoaky acting, simple sets and bright colours. This homage continues throughout the film itself. Laika’s signature stop-motion animation comes across on screen as more jagged and slow in movement, providing a slightly uneasy feel akin to the low frame rates of early cinema. There’s also a lighter tone than something like Coraline, although it still has its dark moments. The eventual reveal of the witches identity is as heartbreaking in terms of narrative as it is in terms of historical accuracy. There is also a direct link between the witch, the hermit and Norman which is never stated outright but is evident enough from context clues. It feels that a link like that would be directly adressed in a film today, but again ParaNorman refuses to talk down to its audience.

Despite the admiration the creative team clearly have for the horror genre and the admiration audiences should hold for their creative process, ParaNorman remains second fiddle to Coraline.This is likely down to its simplicity and lack of emotional weight in comparrison, but that doesn’t make it a lesser film. ParaNorman has enough charm, humour and stly to stick around in the public conciousness…even garnering a 4K remaster for its tenth anniversary. There is plenty of room for both and they make a spectacular double bill, with Coraline serving as the major scare and ParaNorman acting as a semi-palette cleanser. Both feature a suitably spooky aesthetic and are sure to entertain.

ParaNorman is fun for the whole family.

And, incidentally, a Happy Halloween to you at home!

The Power of the Doctor (SPOILERS)

Doctor Who is a ridiculous show. It is inheritly silly that a humanoid alien with two hearts, who ocassionaly regenerates their body, travels time and space in a little blue box. The stories told have been dramatic, serious and even heartbreaking at times but it’s still absurd. That’s part of why it’s such an easy show to fall in love with. The fanbase (or “Whovians” as we’re known) are one of the most passionate of any franchise and our excitement often peaks whenever The Doctor regenerates. There’s a palpable air of explosive tension as the episode approaches, which remains after the episode has aired and The Power of the Doctor is no exception. It features an added layer of hype because it coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the BBC’s founding, so it should be as Doctor Who as the show has ever been.

The feature-length episode sees the Thirteenth Doctor combatting The Master, whose plan involves Daleks,Cybermen and Raputin, although it’s so complex that it requires a PHD to understand. She is assisted by current companion Yasmin as well as former companions Ace and Tegan but the list doesn’t stop there. As an episode designed to celebrate the show and the network it airs on, there was no doubt that there would be cameos and references galore, but they really pulled out all the stops. The first batch of cameos occur shortly after The Master has succeeded in one of his plans many stages – forcing The Doctor to regenerate into him. Seeing actor Sacha Dahwan in the Thirteenth Doctors clothes having stolen her body (and by extention her regeneration cycle) would be thrilling enough but it allows Thirteen’s conciousness to interact with her former lives. (Think Aang in The Last Airbender conversing with former avatars). It allows for a lovely scene where David Badley as The First Doctor praises Thirteen for all she’s done, which should warm even the darkest of hearts. The First Doctor then morphs into his sixth, fifth and seventh forms which were to be expected given the good health of all the actors involved and their continued love for the show. The major cameo here is the presence of Paul McGann asThe Eighth Doctor, which is delightful. His TV movie has held a less than stellar reputation with the fanbase but over the years, people have softened and it feels as if Paul is finally getting the love he always deserved.

The second batch of cameos are equally wonderful. At the conclusion of the episode, Thirteen’s companions Graham, Yasmin and Dan form a former companion support group. In the room are the expected ones – Ace, and Tegan – as well as the semi-expected Jo Grant. However the cherries on top of this nostalgia cake are the appearance of Mel, who acompanied the sixth and seventh Doctors as well Ian Chesterton who was (along with Barbara) the very first companion. Actor William Russell may be 97 years old but he doesn’t look it and it so marvellous to have him involved. The same would have been true of Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor) had he been well enough to be involved. The cameos were not the only way that the show was celebrated as there were plenty of references for people who knew where to find them. Whilst The Master is The Doctor, he puts together an outfit featuring Ten’s shirt with tie, Seven’s sweater, Thirteen’s coat, Two’s cordorouy trousers, Four’s scarf and Five’s stick of celery. It looks a lot cooler than it sounds. Further, on top of even that, is the presence of The Doctors AI hologram which adopts the physical form most familiar to their companion. It leads to a lovely scene of Tegan with Five and Ace with Seven, which are made all the more wonderful with a couple of iconic lines and a mention of former companion Adric.

This may all sound like gushing about how cool this is for fans but that’s because it kind of is. Proper analysis requires a slightly further dive.

This is still a Christopher Chibnall written episode, which means that his fingerprints are still visible. As lovely as all of those character moments are, the majority of the script is fairly basic. It’s most notable during the opening segment where Thirteen, Yasmin and Dan board a moving space train. It’s especially true of Dan (whose actor John Bishop isn’t a very good actor) but none of Chibnall’s characters have much…character. They are there to tell The Doctor how cool she is and to fawn over her but nothing more. At least Dan didn’t stick around for long and Graham had a semi-arc with Ryan but Yasmin has really gotten the blunt end of the stick. She doesn’t just fawn over The Doctor, she’s in love with her (which is alreaady a tired trope). This wasn’t the intial plan because Yasmin was initially interested in Ryan but that was changed when a section of the online lesbian community began to hope that they would end up together. It’s only truly been present in the Thirteenth series and in these last three episodes. The prior episode Legend of the Sea Devils featured it very explicitly but that episode was filmed last which means that those scenes were written knowing that there was no romantic ending for the two. “Thasmin” (a portmanteau of The Doctor and Yasmin) was a half-assed concept, executed purely to please a subsection of fans with the liklihood being that it would never pay off…which is queerbaiting…which is a really awful thing to do.

There are several contrived aspects that could be focussed on, but if it’s a mostly futile exercise. The AI isn’t ACTUALLY The Doctor which means that Ace and Tegan didn’t truly get closure with The Doctor herself, but it’s closure for them and allows for a couple of nifty scenes. The forced regeneration is never fully explained, but it propels the stakes as high as they’ve ever been and (again) allows for some very neat scenes. The Doctor should probably regenerate quicker than she actually does, but it gives her a final scene with Yasmin which some people will have liked. The biggest contrivance that can be truly critiqued is The Masters Dalek Plan (an in-episode gag, which got a smile). The episode never fully explains it because this Doctor refuses to talk to anyone about anything that matters. She claims that Yasmin is her best friend but this refusal to tell her anything is so cruel it’s a wonder she hasn’t already left. Even as she’s about to regenerate, The Doctor pushes her away for seemingly no reason.

This is the end of an era and in a lot of ways it feels like it. There are grand stakes and countless homages for the fans but it should also work as a series finale…which it doesn’t. One of Chibnall’s biggest issues as a writer is that he can come up with an interesting idea but often won’t fully see it through. There are a couple of dangling plot threads that are unlikely to go explained (a belief that Chibnall himself backed up in a recent interview). The concept of The Timeless Child works in theory, adding a new layer of mystery to an already mysterious character, but it has no resolution. The Fugitive Doctor (allegedly a pre-First Doctor incarnation) is a brilliant idea with an unfortunate placement in The Doctors history which allowed for actress Jo Martin to give a few stand-out performances…but that’s half the issue. She is relegated to a few minor cameos and her backstory is never properly explored on-screen. It is explained in a comic book storyline but that makes it feel like it wasn’t important enough to actually get Jo Martin back on a soundstage for. Then there’s this manic iteration of The Master, whose placement in the timeline is also never explained. Chibnall is all excellent concepts with poor execution and that isn’t missing here, it’s just being overshadowed by the pre-existing characters.

The regeneration itself is stunning. Credit has to be given for allowing Thirteen to regenerate outside which hasn’t been done since the fourth regeneration. It allows for a beautiful setting and a now iconic shot. Even more iconic are her final words which are short, sweet and very Thirteen. One could complain about the camera close-ups (another Chibnall staple) but honestly, it’s so near to perfect that it doesn’t matter. The introduction of the Fourteenth Doctor, however, is perfect. Portrayed by David Tennant, with a call back to the first Tennant Doctor (Number 10), it’s as funny as it is shocking. It can only be speculated why the body chose this face and why the clothes also regenerated but the current hypothesis relies on “forced degeneration gonna do something weird” although I personally would also throw in this being part of the new regeneration cycle. The Eleventh Doctor did warn that it may be a bit unstable.

The Power of the Doctor may have it’s issues but it’s still a delight to watch. As a regeneration episode and celebration of the shows history, it’s excellent and as a moment in that history it is unprecedented. There are thirteen months between now and the airing of the 60th anniversary specials, which are sure to be rife with fan speculation and social media teases. Whilst writing this, the new logo and momenteous pairing of the BBC and Disney+ were announced. It’s difficult not to be excited as a fan. As an underappreciated Doctor once said:

Change, my dear, and not a moment to soon.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Cloverfield Paradox

When is a movie actually two movies? When it’s The Cloverfield Paradox. The third part of the (current) Cloverfield trilogy had an even bigger challenge than its predecessor, needing to live up the legacy of two great movies instead of just one. Instead of going down the “spiritual successor” path, it opted to be a semi-sequel to both, placing all 3 films in a semi-shared universe which is a lot less complicated than it sounds. However, this isn’t where the issue lies, instead it comes with the focus of the plot which comes in two parts. Primarily it follows Ava Hamilton and her crew aboard the Cloverfield Space Station who are testing the Shepard Particle Accelerator to find a source of infinite energy for the Earth which is rapidly running out. Things go horribly wrong when they find themselves catapulted across dimensions to an alternate Earth, which is where the semi-sequel aspect comes in. It causes a rip in dimensions causing what is known as the “Cloverfield Paradox” which opens portals to other dimensions allowing unknown horrors to seep through. Essentially, it gives birth to the Cloverfield Multiverse. It’s an interesting enough story on its own but the secondary plot sees Ava’s husband Michael attempting to survive the carnage back home with a small child in tow.

This decision makes sense in theory. It should allow for more concern for Ava and what awaits her should she get home, but it doesn’t pack the impact it needs to. This is partially because not enough time is dedicated to the secondary plot and the little time that is spent with it doesn’t delve as deep into the monstrous destruction as it needs to. It’s also partially because the primary plot isn’t entirely focused on Ava’s return home. It’s the ultimate goal of her and her crew but they spend most of their time focused on surviving increasingly weird and horrific events aboard the station. The Cloverfield Paradox is trying to be a horror space sci-fi and a re-tread of the original Cloverfield, but it spends an unproportionate amount of time on both meaning that neither feel complete. This is likely due to it not originally being a Cloverfield script. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the project started life as a spec script but unlike that film, The Cloverfield Paradox feels like it’s cramming that IP’s elements in. The former merged it with the script to add a layer of suspense but barely focused on it whilst the latter made it its own point of focus. This plot element didn’t need to be cut but it needed to at least be refined. Perhaps have the Cloverfield Paradox affecting the alternate Earth before jumping back to their own hoping to escape. The reveal in the film’s final moments is tense but mainly due to actor Roger Davies’ performance as Michael instead of the moment feeling earned.

The primary plot aboard the space station is interesting on paper too, yet somehow lacks punch in its delivery. The dynamic between the crew isn’t as solid as a film like Alien, even when it tries to be, because these are standard characters with very little development. They should be the priority and the plot should revolve around how this disaster tests their relationships, which are already tense having lived in a confined space for two years. Instead, the plot treats them as side characters with much of the time on the station being spent with Ava. Eight members is a lot to juggle even when there isn’t an entire secondary story. Alien capped its crew at seven and spent more time with them in the opening act before the attack so that the eventual murders would be impactful. It feels like The Cloverfield Paradox was trying to replicate that but never focusses on the correct aspects.

The word “focus” has been used a lot in this review and, whilst repetition should be avoided where possible, it feels fitting because this film lacks focus. It can’t pick a plot, character or twist to maintain for overly long which simply isn’t an issue had by its predecessors. Those films work, in part, because the aim to tell one sole narrative with a small cast of characters. Cloverfield had 6 friends travelling through a deteriorating New York City to save another friend whilst 10 Cloverfield Lane spent its time with 3 characters in one location with two trying to escape to a world they aren’t even sure is there. The Cloverfield Paradox pits 8 characters against a space station that could collapse at any moment and anomalies that may do worse than kill them while also depicting life on Earth through 2 more characters. There is plenty here that could work if it was given a bigger role but as is, it’s a mediocre display of all these aspects with another stunning Bear Macreary score.

Perhaps the real monster is the Hollywood demand for sequels regardless of quality.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

10 Cloverfield Lane

When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. The hit follow-up to the iconic Cloverfield had a lot to live up to in terms of legacy but it opted for a different path than most sequels. Instead of being a direct continuation of the story, it serves as a “spiritual successor” which maintains the atmosphere of the IP and very little else. This is largely due to the film beginning development as an independent script from writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken before J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot swooped in and adapted it to fit the world of Cloverfield.

This means that the plot was the primary focus of the script rather than conforming to public perception of legacy or trying to continue a story that needs no continuation. The film sees recently brokenhearted Michelle trapped in a bunker with conspiracy theorist Howard and town handyman Emmet during a supposed global attack. It’s a tale full of twists, with each more crushing to our characters than the last. At the center of it is Howard, whose motivations are always in question whether he seems kind, quirky or malicious. He switches between playing the roles of protagonist and antagonist which keeps the audience on their toes. This would be true regardless of what horrors may or may not await in the outside world.

The ambiguity of what is happening outside adds a further layer of tension. Howard’s theories are never specific enough to be believable but that could just be because he doesn’t know for certain what has happened. This ambiguity would be enough but 10 Cloverfield Lane takes it one step further by seemingly confirming each theory as the story progresses. Is it attacks from Russia, invasion by aliens or is there simply nothing wrong at all? The major twist in the plot may seem to be whether Michelle can escape Howard (and that is a twist) but it’s primarily what may await her if she gets free. This reveal even pulls a bait-and-switch at the very last moment to keep the audience on edge for as long as possible. Knowing the outcome doesn’t harm the ending of the film either, it simply changes why this aspect is so tense. Instead of worrying what may happen to Michelle outside, we become concerned by the lengths she is willing to go through to escape Howard and meet her fate.

Despite not being a found footage flick, there is still a high level of realism present, largely due to the production methods. Instead of filming scenes out of sequence due to location and actor availability, the film was shot entirely in order minus a few pickup shots. They also used MDF Boards (painted to look like concrete) to construct a physical bunker which, aside from allowing them to film however they wanted, allows for a natural flow from room to room. There’s no trying to figure out schematics (a la Seinfeld’s apartment) because this is a physical space with a physical layout. It was also designed to look like it had been built in stages over the course of many years which is a minor enough detail that most probably won’t pick up on it but still adds a layer of authenticity. It’s all wrapped together in the bow that is Bear McCreary’s unsettling score. It allows for an added level of emotion manipulation that the original Cloverfield was never able to provide, and it is never overused. When the scene requires silence, it has it but when the tension needs lifting there’s the score. This is only one of McCreary’s many projects, but he would, most noticeably to me, go on to provide the score for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

There are those who will claim that the sequel is never as good as the original but films like 10 Cloverfield Lane prove that they are wrong. It’s not just on par with its predecessor, it surpasses it on every level. It has fewer elements in location and cast means that there is a much smaller room for error…so none are made. It’s worth getting trapped with.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer