Featured

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
Featured

Jessica Jones Series 1

If Daredevil came with a word of warning then Jessica Jones would require an advisory screen. Whilst the former is filled with violence and dark undertones, the latter is a borderline phsycological horror. It’s unlike anything Marvel Studios has ever produced, with the only project that had the ability to come close being the Disney+ show Moon Knight, which ultimately fell short. It manages all of this while being an excellent detective show too, more specifically a Noir Mystery, right down to the husky voiceover. The series sees the titular Private Investigator take on an old enemy/lover whilst reuniting with old friends and making new ones.

One of Jessica Jones‘ greatest aspects is that it doesn’t feature much set-up. Daredevil was focussed on the founding on Nelson and Murdock, the rise of Kingpin, and the establishment of the city that is Hell’s Kitchen. Jessica Jones has less scope, focussing primarily on the rivalry between Jessica and Killgrave as well as her relationships. Considering the lonliness of the character, it’s a good choice to isolate her story like this but that doesn’t mean that the wider shared universe goes unacknowledged. Nurse Claire Temple from Daredevil makes an appearance and even discusses her history with superpowered individuals, namely the Devil of Hells Kitchen himself although she never name drops him. It’s a nice little “if you know, you know” moment. There’s also the introduction of fellow superpowered individual Luke Cage, who would later go on to get his own series, but he’s not just here for set-up. He’s present in this story because he is important to the narrative and is a particular lynchpin in Jessica’s life, meaning he actively moves the plot and characters forward.

The other lynchpin of the show is Kilgrave, who is one of the greatest villian’s Marvel Studios has ever produced. He also has powers, being able to make people do literally anything he tells them, which makes him a major threat without even having to introduce him immediately. Actor David Tennant embues the character with a pompous air that would make him unlikable, even if he wasn’t using his powers for evil. Unlike Kingpin, it’s difficult to think of him as sympathetic because he revels in his cruelty. He claims his motive is love, because he’s just trying to convince Jessica to get back together with him of her own free will, but he’s still an awful person. When his softer side is finally revealed, along with his tragic backstory, there’s a moment where the audience could feel bad for him…before he reminds you that you shouldn’t. He clearly believes himself to be a victim but the show never agrees with him. His final stand-off with Jessica is a literal stand-off as opposed to the usual one v one fights that many Marvel fans are used to and ends as bluntly as Killgrave deserves. He doesn’t get his final glorious, poigniant, self-reflective moment and that is immensely satisfying.

The style of the show is interesting too. Much like Daredevil, it makes excellent use of colour. There’s plenty of purple, which is Kilgrave’s signature, while flashbacks have their colour subdued to differentiate them from the present. The camerawork is often closer to the ground, keeping focus on the characters without ever getting too close to them, with a decent amount of wide shots. This feels like how Jessica sees the world as a PI, with a focus on individuals but occassionally taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. The show is often seen from her perspective, including her PTSD attacks which are intense to sit through. Frantic camera movements and sweeping motions with an added blur effect that distorts the world around her is a very 2015 way to get the attacks across but it’s effective.

Series one of Jessica Jones is excellent on its own but paired with Daredevil it’s exquisite. Like that show, it’s filled with interesting characters and themes but it’s more trauma-heavy. It’s the most adult production that Marvel Studios has crafted since 1998s Blade but it manages to achieve that without spilling as much blood. This doesn’t mean there’s no blood though, in fact it features as much as Daredevil. This show is a beautifully intense.

Daredevil (Series 1)

When I was a girl, Marvel studios created the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some people may try to convince you that it had a grand plan from its inception but this simply isn’t true. There was certainly a rough outline, with some things more likely to happen than others, but never a concrete plan. This uncertainty is present throughout the ABC Studios series Agents of SHIELD, which eventually diverged from the core MCU timeline into it’s own entity, and in the hit Netflix series’ produced under the Marvel banner.

These shows exists in a bizarre state of limbo, with their canonicity to the larger MCU bordering between non-existent and questionable. It’s present from the very first episode of Daredevil, which was the very first of the lager pantheon of Netflix Marvel shows. Reporter Ben Urich has articles, written by him, framed on his wall about the Hulks rampage in Harlem and the pivotal Battle of New York meaning that the canon of the films do exist here. However the favour isn’t returned as none of the plot points, locations, or characters from the Netflix series’ ever appear in the big screen outings (I know…I discuss it here.) This occurred because current head of the MCU, Kevin Feige, wanted these shows to eventually appear alongside their cinematic counterparts but the people in charge at the time did not, vying for both a television empire and a theatrical one. As a result, Daredevil exists, for lack of a better phrase, as Kevin Fieges headcanon.

The show follows lawyer Matthew Murdoch who, having been blinded by chemicals as a child, uses his heightened senses and martial arts training to fight crime. Simultaneously, he is attempting to keep his newly established law practice afloat as well as friendships with fellow lawyer Foggy Nelson and client-turned-secretary Karen Page. However, as the light rises, so too does darkness to meet it. Across the first 3 episodes, a shadowy figure looms large over the neighbourhood of Hells Kitchen, controlling all the major crime syndicates. This shadow finally reveals itself toward the end of episode 3 as Wilson Fisk, in an introduction that perfectly captures why this series works so well.

Wilsons presence, despite only being off-screen initially, is overbearing. His determination to complete his goal is without question and his willingness to kill whoever stands in his way is more than apparent. Yet, his first on-screen appearance is a gentle one. He stands in an art gallery, musing over a canvas painted in several shades of slightly-off white. When asked by the art curator how it makes him feel he responds by saying that it makes him feel alone. This is a stark contrast to the typical “villain” one might expect. He’s driven by emotion and doesn’t truly yearn for violence…he’s just doing what needs to be done. He’s a grounded character that exists in a moral gray area and this is what this show does so well. There isn’t a single character here who’s presented as purely good or evil, everyone is willing to do something a little sketchy if they aren’t already doing so.

It’s often seen in the friendship between Matt, Foggy and Karen which fractures as the series goes on. It doesn’t happen because they want it to, instead it happens because they each come to harbor a major secret. Even when there is some reconciliation towards the series’ end, it’s clear that the dynamics are forever changed. This isn’t the typical “Act 3 Break-Up”, it has lasting implications. Even their interactions with secondary and tertiary characters change the course of the plot. Aforementioned reporter Ben Urich teams up with Karen as they work to take down Fisk through journalism, with the repercussions being some of the most heartbreaking moments of the show. Meanwhile, Father Paul Lantom’s discussions with Matt provide an interesting look at the moral gray areas which are central to the core of the plot. He also isn’t a holier-than-thou preacher, he’s a down to Earth realist who happens to have devoted himself to God and does what he can to keep Matt on the right path. It’s a really good portrayal of Christianity and preaching God’s word.

Capping it off is the brutal action which is present from the very first episode. With a 16+ rating in the UK (TV-MA in the US), Daredevil makes the most of the violence which is allowed. The prime example is episode 2s famous Hallway Fight which lasts around 5 minutes. It’s shot as a continuous take which makes it feel more grueling and only switches angles when it’s truly necessary to keep that feeling going. By the end of it, Matt is bruised, bloody and tired which is a far cry from the heavy hitters of the MCU like The Hulk or Captain America. Daredevil isn’t a superhero, he’s just a hero who happens to do super things. Then there’s the copious blood, which is more often seem from Fisks victims…particularly an unfortunate Russian who has his head caved in with a car door. It displays yet another core aspect of the show which is how far people are willing to go for their causes. How far do things go before murder is a viable option?

This first season of Daredevil is the blueprint on which the following Netflix Marvel shows were founded. It has a different tone to the theatrical releases, opting to be more grounded and dark, although there are plenty of laughs too. Ultimately, this is why it will be remembered, regardless of whether or not they ever become canon.

Stranger Things 4: Part 2 (Spoilers)

Nowadays, it’s become the public consensus that no TV show has a good finale. People will often point to the likes of Lost, Smallville, and Supernatural but when finales are seen like this it detracts attention away from the ones who get it right. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Breaking Bad and Friends are just a few examples of endings that are as good as it gets. Stranger Things 4: Part 2 comes very close to being in the latter camp, especially considering it’s just under 4 hours long. Any other finale may meander during this time, taking time away from the primary plot and inserting it elsewhere into background characters, but that’s not the case here. There are secondary characters and tertiary characters but they’ve never been in the background. New favourites like Eddie, Yuri, and Argyle get a large amount of focus, as does the returning season 3 favourite Murray, but they’re as important to the story as the main cast. There isn’t a wasted character here and they are all incredibly likable. Even the villains are characters that are fun to hate.

There’s a lot of tension too, which is a difficult task to accomplish over a long period of time. Technically, episode 8 would be the penultimate one with episode 9 serving as the actual finale but it doesn’t feel constructed that way. Both episodes are considerably longer than the ordinary length, with episode 8 coming in at 1 hour 25 minutes and episode 2 clocking in and a full 2 and a half hours. They were also released on the same day, with the first 7 episodes having been released 5 weeks earlier so it feels like the intention is to treat “part 2” as a separate, conclusive, entity. A lot of it is in the characters. The acting in season 1 was good but the majority of the cast were children and they’ve matured into adult actors now. Millie Bobby Brown will likely receive the majority of praise but she deserves it with her emotional, often scary role as Eleven. The rest of the cast are stellar too, selling the stakes and their love for each other perfectly.

It’s a brilliant finale to look at and listen to. Time is split fairly equally between the real world and the Upside Down, which is as dark and dusty as it’s ever been. It’s never too dark that the action is unwatchable and it’s gorgeous when the red lightning is covering everything. There’s a reason that this specific dimension has become so visually iconic, after all. The soundtrack deserves an equal amount of praise. The original score, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, really embodies the often foreboding and occasionally emotional tone. Meanwhile, the songs chosen for the “soundtrack” portion of the finale fit wonderfully. There’s the obvious example of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, which has re-entered the charts after 37 years and become THE song of the series. It would have been nice to perhaps see one of her lesser appreciated hits like Babushka but there are plenty of other songs to obsess over. Musical Youth’s Pass The Dutchie is a delight and there’s a spectacular needle drop for Metallica’s Master of Puppets.

The only issue with the finale is that it isn’t the conclusion of the entire show. It feels like it should have been, considering the amount of hype surrounding its release and finality of the majority of the story. However (and HERE are the spoilers) it feels like the writers didn’t put in the climactic battle between the team and Vecna. With half an hour to go, Max’s life on the line, and a rift opening in the centre of town, Vecna is successfully injured before the plot cuts to 2 days later. I presume that Max has been kept alive (and very broken) to be used as a vessel by Vecna in series 5 but if this isn’t eventually the case, it undermines her attempted sacrifice. Instead, they opt to kill off Eddie Munson which feels unnecessary. Sometimes people don’t need to die to complete their arc and introducing a brand new character to kill off in the space of a series is played out. Marvel has already done it this week so surely the quota has been met.

If the decision to not have the climactic battle was down to production time, it’s still a little infuriating but it’s understandable. You can only do so much with the time that’s allotted to you. But if it was a conscious decision to prolong the run span of the show, it stings a little bit, especially when there’s still no information as to what form the final series will take. It seems like the story could be wrapped up in another 4 hours and perhaps that is what will happen but it’s likely a couple of years away. Of course, the entire point of having a cliffhanger like this is to bring the audience back the following series but runtime is becoming a real concern. There was a noticeably split reaction to Series 4s runtime, to the extent that some people were unsure if they would tune in and this isn’t just a Stranger Things issue (the MCU is facing a similar problem).

This didn’t stop it from amassing 7.2 billion minutes of viewing time for the week of May 30 – June 5 though, which is the most of any streaming series since the advent of weekly streaming rankings.

Ultimately, it’s a mostly solid end to a solid series. Hopefully, series 5 is as good…when it finally arrives.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Who (Series 1)

In 1989, after 7 Doctors and 26 series in as many years, British Science Fiction’s most popular show was cancelled. The story would live on in books, comics, and audio plays, but it seemed that its television era had come to an end. Then in 1996, the BBC partnered with the Fox Network to bring us Doctor Who: The TV Movie. Starring Paul McGann, this was to act as the launch of a brand new series, which ultimately never came to fruition. Finally on the 26th of March 2005 under the direction of Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner, Doctor Who returned to our screens. The fans have affectionately dubbed the series’ that followed as “New Who” and it began with Christopher Eccleston’s only series as The Doctor.

I feel like Series 1 is often overlooked in preference of the 3 series’ that followed, but I think it’s one of, if not the best. Everything that followed would be built on the foundation of this series. It’s here that we first get to know Rose Tyler, an ordinary working girl, and watch her connect with The Doctor, a mysterious time travelling alien. She is a personification of his humanity and she isn’t willing to let him forget that. This 9th incarnation of The Doctor verges on being dangerous, not only to others, but also himself. He is fresh off the heels of watching (and causing) the death of his entire race- the Time Lords. For the first time in his very long life, he is completely alone in the universe and that prospect terrifies him. Ecclestone provides a masterful performance, balancing outbursts of passionate rage with moments of child-like glee. Roses boyfriend(ish) is also having to learn to fend for himself after Rose, who he relies on, abandons him. Then of course there’s the wonderful, wisecracking Jackie Tyler who might just be the best representation of a mum I’ve ever seen.

I could not talk about Series 1 without talking about how representative it is of the LGBT community. Russel T. Davies brought his experiences as a gay man in Manchester to his show Queer As Folk and he certainly doesn’t leave it behind. As a child, it went completely over my head, but watching again now the implications about peoples sexuality, especially in the series’ second half, are really hard to miss. That is except for Captain Jack Harkness portrayed by British gay icon John Barrowman. He will flirt with anyone and everyone, but takes a noticeable interest in The Doctor. Their witty back and forths are so loving that you wouldn’t be surprised if they were a couple. Their kiss in The Parting of the Ways is the first time I remember seeing men kiss each other on screen, but it’s treated as if it’s completely normal. Of course it is completely normal, but at the time I didn’t know that and this moment in particular would come to be one of the most important to me. Growing up, I’d always admired Captain Jack because he was cool, and a little bit of a rogue, and he was suave. Looking back now, it’s quite clear to me that Captain Jack Harkness was an integral part of my coming out story, I just didn’t know it yet.

The other key element in making this series so beautiful is the score composed by Murray Gold. He gave us a theme for each individual character and would continue to use them throughout his time on the show. He can instil a sense of whimsy, joy, or fear whenever it is required. His music has become synonymous with the show to the point that they continue to use his Dalek score and it still sends shivers down my spine. I’ve often said that a bad start in your story is difficult to recover from, but Series 1 of Doctor Who isn’t that. Its a beautiful start to a show that continues to be close to my heart.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer