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Almost there. With only a Christmas "special" still to dread, the 2014 slog that was Doctor Who's 8th revived series has, mercifully, nearly come to a close (if not to a merciful close).
An an honest critic must give Steven Moffat his due. From Danny Pink's classroom tears in his introductory episode, to a payoff for television's Least Convincing Romance Ever, to the Doctor's query, "Am I a good man?", with which the series opened, at least this year, Moffat didn't drop any of the major plot points he raised during the series. (Well. Maybe one. Time will tell.) The answers were neither clever nor convincing, but at least they were provided.
Yes, that's faint praise; and probably too generous. For along with the answers, "Death in Heaven" slaps us with un-foreshadowed plot twists out of sketch-comedy satire, blatant emotional manipulation, a debate on moral philosophy whose sophistication would shame a class of 12 year-olds, and an entirely unwelcome appearance by a Magical Negro.
But tell us what you really think! I hear you cry. Of plots and themes and lies and agonies. Spoilers and cussing as usual. I think most of you know the drill by now.
"Dark Water," the 11th entry in a 12 episode series, trundles along with a certain amount of professional competence, but is very far from being good drama.
The episode bears almost all the flaws we have come to expect from Steven Moffat's latter oeuvre. A story with the density of rotten sea-ice that groans along at a glacial pace and tedious swaths of explanations that don't, actually, explain much at all.
The upside includes excellent performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman and, especially, from Michelle Gomez as the mysterious Missy.
Want more? Throwing out the Doctor with the dark water includes spoilers as per usual, including a couple of Big Reveals; click at your own risk if you haven't seen it yet.
Here we go again: interrupted for a couple of weeks by an influx of competence, Steven Moffat's Doctor Who is once more circling the black hole of creative bankruptcy. Moffat's name isn't on "In the Forest of the Night" — the official blame goes to one Frank Cottrell-Boyce — but his fingerprints are all over it.
Child in peril? Yup. Magic child in peril? Yes and yes.
Lots of expository dialogue? Oh, yes.
Completely implausible reactions to extraordinary events? You know it.
Magic Reverso-Babble TM to ensure story has no lasting consequences? Why not? We're in Moffat-land!
Truth is, there is so much wrong with "In the Forest of the Night" it's hard to know where to start — or where to stop. I made every effort to be parsimonious in my critique, to prune away the dying limbs the better to reach the rotten heart of the tale, but did I succeed?
You can judge for yourself by reading In the Forest of the Blight. Snark, spoilers and baffled vitriol behind the link, as usual.
I did it again. Made the mistake of watching a recent episode of Doctor Who a second time.
I really enjoyed "Flatline" the first time around. I barked delighted laughter and might even have gasped in surprise a time or two. I found Rigsy charming and Clara on her own a small revelation.
But when I queued up the story for a second go-through, things were not so good. Not terrible, but too obvious by half and derivative without improving on the inspiration.
My full review, as always, includes spoilers along with my keen analysis (or so I like to believe) and charming nervous exhaustion. This time, there's also a poll! Click here for the full story.
I know, I know. This series' ninth episode aired yesterday and here I am, posting about the 8th. I have no excuses, except that of "Life got in the way."
To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and missed me) I say, "Mea culpa and that I'll try to do better with 'Flatline'." To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and hoped I'd stay away), I say only, "You can't get rid of me that easily! But if it's any consolation, my reappearance comes with a surprise: I quite liked 'Mummy on the Orient Express'!"
What a difference a good script makes.
I was all-too-ready to dislike "Mummy On the Orient Express" as much as I did last week's "Kill the Moon".
MOOE's title suggested only another tired homage to, or rip-off of, someone else's creation. But what do you know! MOOE was funny and intriguing (if poorly-directed), with a believable interpersonal drama and Peter Capaldi's best performance yet.
In just 45 minutes, Jamie Mathieson managed what Steven Moffat and his previous collaborators could not in seven episodes: to make Clara's doubts about the Doctor believable.
Was "Mummy on the Orient Express" a perfect episode? Not quite. But it was better than most and a lot better than we have become accustomed to in recent years.
As usual, my full review is spoilery. Not so usual, it is hardly angry at all (which might help to explain why I am so late in its delivery). Also not so usual, this might be the first time I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Patches365. Which kind of makes me wonder if I'm wrong.
If Steven Moffat isn't trying to abort the program he has had under his control since 2010, at the very least it's clear that he doesn't care what happens to it once it grows up and moves out of his house.
"Kill the Moon" could be watched as a personal drama about the Doctor and Clara Oswald; it might be viewed as a girls' own adventure, with trouble-maker Courtney Woods finally given her chance to shine; or seen as a feminist fable, with three women — maiden, teacher, crone — deciding the fate of all humankind. Could. Might.
Other interpretations will no doubt be constructed; there are among Doctor Who's fandom those as creative as they are forgiving.
Transcripts R Us!
For those interested in the program's thematic debate, I confess I went to the trouble of transcribing the key minutes.
I don't know whether to apologize or to brag, but it is here if you want it.
I am not part of that wing. I don't want to "fix" the program with fanfic nor weave intricately-constructed academic analyses to fill in plot-holes and justify self-contradictions of character and story. All I want are stories that don't insult my intelligence.
Is that really so much to ask?
Apparently so. "Kill the Moon" offers as the basis of its plot a "physics" whose idiocy would have appalled Newton — or even Douglas Adams. To add insult to insult, "Kill the Moon" is an unsubtle morality tale pushing a political agenda that adds a kiloton of fuel to the idea that Steven Moffat is not exactly, shall we say, a feminist-friendly thinker.
The short version?
I really enjoyed "The Caretaker" when I watched it late Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
I'd been awake almost 20 hours when I hit Play, had worked 11 of those hours at the day-job and spent nearly two more riding to and from there on my bicycle.
I was tired, and I admit cracked a beer or three as I live-tweeted my first reactions.
To my regret, those tweets were an enthusiastic tailings pond spill I wish I could take back. But they do represent as "real" a reaction as my subsequent re-evaluation. And since I don't believe in censoring reality, they will stay on my Twitter timeline and live on also as a sidebar — pre-commentary, if you like — to my review.
The short version is that I thought the episode pretty awful when I watched it by sunlight. To paraphrase the blogger Patches365, it was a mean-spirited "tragedy of blunders" built on — not one — nor two, or even three — but four idiot plots. And it was an episode that tossed aside its best performer in favour of the cheapest of cheap laffs.
The long version? The long version lives on my site, of course, along with spite, spoilers and some thoughts on patterns as we reach the half-way point of what we can only hope will be Steven Moffat's farewell turn as Captain of the foundering ship Doctor Who.
Click here for Little Care — Take Two. Don't say I didn't warn you.
No real rant, certainly no rave.
I had a busy weekend, back at soccer on Sunday and entertaining (and being entertained by) an old friend come to town after far too long.
Still managed to check in on the latest episode of Doctor Who, but I almost wish I hadn't. I know I'm sorry I watched the episode a second time.
But I've made a commitment and I'm not breaking it. I live-tweeted the episode on Sunday morning and have added a few thoughts now. For the record, and probably for Geoffrey Dow completists only (dare I dream such folk exist?), click here for Time Waste.
The first time I watched "Listen", home after an 11-hour shift that followed an early rise, I wrote, "I definitely enjoyed it, definitely want to watch it again." I also wrote, "It sounds silly when I type it out, but [the story] gave me the shivers ..."
Well, hell. I did watch it again and now it seemed silly when I watched as well. There were no shivers to be found.
What was there was a mixed bag of an episode, combining Steven Moffat's still-effective skills at atmospheric scenes, with a show-runner's determined but mis-guided need to further place his singular stamp upon Doctor Who's cannon of mythology and back-story, and proof (as if any more were needed) that as a writer, he gives not a single damn for story-logic.
You don't have to read my review if you don't want your fun spoiled, you know. You really don't. Spoilers (in both senses of the term) ahoy!
I feel unesay.
Not because posting my inchoate, exhausted and half-drunk reactions to my first-watch of "Listen" makes me feel like an obsessive fan desperate to share his thoughts with all and sundry — although, clearly, that's what I am — but because I distrust the first reactions I so desperately want to share.
Yet here I am. Sharing my feelings instead of my thoughts, my knee's jerks rather than my practiced dance steps.
Steven Moffat has written an episode of Doctor Who that, on first viewing, I enjoyed quite a lot. I liked it. But — or should that be and so ...? — I feel uneasy. I am afraid of what judgement sober second thought may call down upon my first reactions.
So for now and for the record, those who care to read can find those first reactions here.
I liked it; what did you think? And do you think you're opinion will change when (if) you watch it again?
I don't know about you, but I can forgive quite a lot when I'm laughing. Plot holes, character inconsistencies, even magic arrows "Of Random Plot Resolution".
In other words, "Robot of Sherwood" was cracking good fun, a story that didn't take itself too seriously while still managing (mostly) to take the Doctor & Co. seriously enough. Our suspension bridge of disbelief swayed, but it did not snap and neither did it twirl.
Robot of Sherwood gifted us an episode rich with clever dialogue (banter, even), exciting and sometimes funny action sequences, good actors having a very good time performing a low-concept story (see its title) that far exceeded expectations.
Thank you, Mark Gatiss, for bringing fun back to the Tardis — and (oh, all right!) thank you, Steven Moffat, for staying the hell out of the way and letting it happen.
If you're old enough to remember (or like me, have travelled back in time to enjoy) "The Pirate Planet", you're almost sure to enjoy "Robot of Sherwood", and nevermind the lack of a tin dog or bird. Click here for the words of one critic clapping.
I feel dirty, like I awoke alone after a night of passion to realize my inamorata's clever words were lies, that her body had stained my sheets and her gentle caresses had left indelible, greasy streaks all over my body. Though I cannot deny the passions I had felt in the dark, with morning's light comes the fear that my wallet, and even my closet, may be empty.
I liked "Into the Dalek" when I watched it the first time. I really did. Even enjoyed it when I watched it a second time. Yet, when I began writing about it, started to think about what it was that had entertained me, the flaws shone ever brighter, like stars appearing one by one after the sun has slipped below the horizon.
"Into the Dalek" is the kind of episode that seduces with surface charms, then laughs at our pleasures, mocks our innocent hopes. Slick enough to entertain in the moment, the story shrivels under the the light of critical consideration.
Sorry, folks. I really thought this would be a positive review for a change. I was only when I began to write, and to really think about what I had watched, that I realized I had been fooled again. After all, The only good dalek ...
Doctor Who is blessed with a remarkable fandom.
Way back on the 12th of July, a black-and-white "screener" of the 8th series premiere, "Deep Breath" was released onto file-sharing sites, following a similar surreptitious (and — need I add? — thoroughly reprehensible!) release of the scripts of the first five episodes the week before. The Scot was out of the kilt, as it were, and anyone who wanted to could easily download a copy.
And yet, those of us who did encounter the samizdat seemed all to subscribe to a gentlefen's agreement that there would be no spoiling for those who preferred to wait for the final product in all its CGI glory. (At worst, some critics might have taken advantage of the incident to draft his (or her!) review ahead of time.)
Though I read a number of Who-related feeds, I didn't come across any unofficial spoilers, not even after the episode was aired in a number of movie theatres around the world. (I didn't look hard, but the point is, one would have had to look to be spoiled.)
Now, finally, the official broadcast is history and we're free to discuss that for which we've been waiting the better part of a year: a new season and a brand-new (if almost elderly) Doctor.
Was it worth it?
If you're able to forgive or justify its internal inconsistencies, tawdry fan-service, cheap laughs and a misogynist streak that holds on like a mysterious infection laughing at ever-stronger doses of antibiotics, well then, yes, I don't doubt for you it was.
If, on the other hand, you were hoping against hope for a story whose details and characterizations made sense and for a climax that didn't take from the show's companion every bit of agency she had, you will have been as disappointed as I was.
Read more/don't read more, it's up to you. But don't say I didn't warn you! In the world according to Steven Moffat, a woman without a man to tell her what to do is nothing ...
I've said it before and will certainly say it again: there is a big danger in giving control of a venerable and much-loved popular fiction franchise to a writer who grew up reading or watching the stuff.
When a true fan takes the wheel of their beloved creation, it can become a toy, a gadget used to satisfy the writer's childish fantasies, not a vehicle for delivering stories to others.
The results tend to become ever-more convoluted and self-referential, leading to a slowly-dwindling audience of those hard-core fans who enjoy the nostalgic winks, the meta nods, while the general public starts to look elsewhere for its entertainment.
As for fans like me, who wants story and character to go along with the in-jokes and arcana, the result can be torture. We feel almost as if a person, someone we love, is being abused and yet helpless to do anything about it.
And so I keep watching (for those of you who have wondered): because I care, even though my caring has been so painful, so often, these past three years.
I'm sad to say that "The Time of the Doctor" was not what I was hoping to get for Christmas. Far from it. So be warned: My review is long, spoilerific, and laced with venom and vitriol (though also, I fancy, sweetened with a strong dose of pure Canadian maple syrup. And pictures. And arguably one paranoid fantasy).