Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Dr Who - a quick(ish) spin through the remainder of Season Five

Blimey oh riley. It's taken me enough time to get round to tackling this one hasn't it? (DW S5 that is, to use the abbreviated version). By now most of you will be way familiar with my busy life and how quite often I am forced to relegate blogging to the back burner. But it's better to be here sometimes than not atall; I hope you will all agree??

Anyhow, it's half term now (hoorah!!) and I for one am feeling pretty damn happy....Mums and Dads of kiddies may not be feeling quite so gleeful. I've got a few nice things lined up this week too which gives me something to look forward to!

Anyway (have you noticed that "anyhow" and "anyway" are two of the most overused words in this Cheeser's vocabulary? Time to consult that thesaurus, something I am always recommending that my students do...) I digress...(oooh that's better, isn't it?) Here goes nothing, following on from where I left off last time...

The Vampires of Venice

Not actually filmed in Venice, but Croatia, but still looked suitably Venetian. All about a race of fishy aliens disguised as humans who were planning to breed and take over the Earth - hence a watery setting was an ideal place for them to hatch their plans...

...Oh and I forget to mention the aliens were also vampires....the ones disguised as schoolgirls in nighties were bound to appeal to the fantasies of Hammer House of Horror fans/pervy old dads.

The pre-titles sequence, in which the Dr burst out of a wedding cake unexpectedly at Rory's stag party, ready to whisk the huband-to-be off on a TARDIS trip and reunite him with Amy, was funny stuff. The bemused look on Matt Smith's face was hilarious - there really is something adorable about this guy. Unfortunately, the comedy element ended up subsuming much of the rest of the story - what should have been an altogether darker tale, given the setting and theme, became something rather too farcical.

Helen McCrory, as lead vamp Signora Rosanna Calvierri, put in a decent performance; an imperious presence and a decent actress to boot. However there was also quite a lot of running around in the episode and Rory's "comic" fight Rosanna's son Francesco was pretty silly (attempting to beat him off with a broom). There was one good scene in which the Dr faced off with Rosanna and told her that he won't help because she didn't know the name of one of the human victims, classic Time Lord vs Villain confrontational stuff. The ending, in which the Doc had to ascend a bell tower to deactivate a device that threatened to sink Venice, smacked of Logopolis/The Idiot's Lantern/Evolution of the Daleks though i.e. a method that has been used way too many times before. And what happened to all the fishy aliens that were still in the water at the end of the story?

Venice has been used as a scary dramatic backdrop many times before - Don't Look Now, Comfort of Strangers etc- but the tone of this story felt much more lightweight than heavy, which left moi feeling rather short-changed.

2.5 out of 5

Amy's Choice

Much more interesting. In which the Dr, Amy and Rory become trapped in two "realities" - one in which Rory and Amy are living a happily married in Leadworth and the ginger Scots one is also up the duff with the Doc as reluctant visitor; the other in which the two companions and Time Lord are stuck in a rapidly deteriorating TARDIS control room. In both of these worlds they are constantly taunted by a "Dream Lord" - an evil cosmic trickster who seems determined to put the time travelling threesome through their paces and who keeps them guessing which of the two worlds is the "real" one. Oh and they need to make up their minds about this, cos they stand to die in both places.

The village setting worked well again as in the season's debut story, this time playing on the "eccentric villagers" angle even more - it transpires that the local OAPs are actually all aliens and they're out to get the Dr, Amy and Rory - the siege scenes e.g. in Amy's house, the children's' playground, were quite sinister and the tension was cranked up quite nicely. The worm-like things that came out of the old fogies' mouths were pretty horrid too, and the stuff of classic DW. The part when they vaporised Rory was also sad..

Toby Jones put in a sly performance as the Dream Lord (though I felt he could have been even more nasty at times) and had some good lines, especially his taunting of the Dr: "If you show any more tawdry quirks you could open a tawdry quirks shop...." It turns out that the Dream Lord was actually a manifestation of the Dr's "dark side" (rather like the Valeyard?) brought about by psychic pollen falling into the time rotor causing the Dr and his companions to hallucinate (aaah I see...) I liked the moment when the Dr sees the Dream Lord reflected back at him in the TARDIS console near the end (creepy) and Amy's question to the Doc, "Were those things about you true?" remained unanswered, suggesting it may not all be over yet...

Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan continued to demonstrate their decent acting abilities - streets ahead of Freema Agyeman for instance - in what was essentially an Amy and Rory focused story...although I must say the title "Amy's Choice" is a bit of a misnomer, as in the end it isn't really her who makes the choice. I still find Amy's sarcastic and up-herself persona too much to take at times however.

Not an out-and-out classic but definitely one of the best of the season.

3.5 out of 5

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

The one in which the Silurians came back! Yay! Except by the end of the two-parter I was left with the distinct feeling that they needn't have bothered....

In terms of the eagerly-awaited resurrection of the Eocene creatures, their new look was definitely more convincing than in "Warriors of the Deep" (plus there was no Myrka)...however I actually thought they looked better with their masks on, than off! The "bug-eyed" look of the masks looked rather good and I'd assumed this was what they'd be like from the Season 5 pre-broadcast trailer...

...however when the masks were off, the Silurians had very human-looking peepers indeed. And what happened to the third "eye" that could zap people? Their voices were decidedly human-sounding too i.e. no voice modulation, no vocal effects...which, for me, detracted from their menace to quite a large degree. Okay, so Alaya/Restac, played by the rather good Neve McIntosh, had a suitably sibilant, hissing delivery, but the utterances of the other Silurian folk sounded way too normal. In fact one of them sounded like he had a Yorkshire accent!

The Silurians' subterranean base was impressive though, in large part down to the far better special / visual effects of the Noughties...

However, as a vehicle for bringing the reptilian ones back, I felt this could have been handled better. The action for the first half of the story centred around a small Welsh community and a local drilling project, supervised by Dr Nasreen Chaudhry, boring down into the earth and disturbing...guess who? The reasons for the project could have been better fleshed out and I felt kind of disappointed with the "smallscale" focus here - an "every family" group of characters - father Mo, wife Ambrose, son Eliot and grandfather - who were all affected by the arrival of the Silurians on the earth's surface. Probably trying to give the story a more intimate feel but I was hoping for a more "grand scale" invasion scenario as in The Silurians or The Sea Devils, with more of humankind affected, but this never happened. Even the drilling project itself felt very "smallscale" and I yearned for some big "Nuclear powerbase" sets with loads of computers and important-looking white-coated technicians with clipboards striding around, as in in "The Silurians". Could the budget not stretch to all of this having blown it all on the underground Silurian base? More on this in a mo...

Admittedly opening episode "The Hungry Earth" did build up the suspense very nicely - scenes of the project workers, then Amy, getting pulled down into the ground and the fleeting glimpses of Silurian Alaya running around the churchyard were some of the scariest moments in the whole of this series (the churchyard bits in particular). However once we progressed onto episode two "Cold Blood", things started to nose-dive. The "exchange of the hostages" plot line took up too much time - even though there was a nice sense of impending, inevitable doom once the grandfather accidentally shot Alaya - and the "let's discuss sharing the Earth" scenes later on with Nasreen and the old Silurian scientist were, well, discussions that precluded anything more exciting from occurring. The only real action came towards the end when the Silurian warriors, led by the vengeful sister of Alaya, Restac, chased the Doc and co down corridors but that was virtually the conclusion of the story. As a whole the two parter was obviously trying to go for the "cerebral" approach but going back to what I said before, this meant that the potential for a cracking "invasion of the earth" story was lost. It never felt like the threat progressed beyond a small bunch of characters, because, well, it didn't. However the Silurian troops are still stacked up in their millions down below, so perhaps there's potential for a sequel...

A few other observations...Meera Syall, decent actress / comedian / writer though she is, was really kind of wasted as Nasreen. It was neither here nor there that she was a scientist as she just seemed to be playing....herself. Not much authority to the character and it was hard to credit that she'd just let the Dr and Amy walk into the drilling complex like that!

Matt Smith continued to impress though; nice little exchange with the boy Eliot (incidentally another instance of decent child acting, after the rather good little girl who played young Amy earlier on):

Eliot (asking the Dr about escaping the destruction of Gallifrey): Did you get away?
Dr: Yeah.
Eliot: Do you miss it?
Dr (pause): So much.

The final scenes, in which a dying Restac shoots Rory and he then dissolves, claimed by the crack in time, suddenly upped the ante and resulted in a nice "I wasn't expecting that atall" cliffhanger.

Moreover, Karen Gillan was very convincing in conveying Amy's grief at Rory's "death" and demonstrated some of her best acting in the show thus far - I almost forgot how smug she can sometimes be. Shame the rest of the story wasn't really up to par though. It made me want to dig out my DVD of "The Silurians" and watch it all over again, which in fact I have already started doing as I write this. Jon Pertwee, Liz Shaw, the Brig and UNIT did it so much better. As did Geoffey Palmer and commuters dying all over the place in London, in suitably apocalyptic style. Now that's what an invasion can really do to you.

3 out of 5

Vincent and the Doctor

Another of those perennial "The Dr meets famous historical figure" story of which we get at least one per this case centred around the Doc and Amy's encounter with the painter Vincent Van Gogh. With Rory now "dead" and off the scene, this was essentially a three-hander - with the Doc, Amy and the mad Dutch painter occupying centre stage. And a charming episode this was (if somewhat meandering and thin on the ground in terms of plot).

Firstly Tony Curran did a very passable job of portraying the ginger genius painter - although I wasn't sure why they let him have a Scottish accent? Was he incapable of "doing Dutch"? Vincent's so-called "madness" was also dealt with by means of a clever metaphor - Van Gogh was able to see the Krafayis monster, a pack predator alien abandoned on Earth, whereas no-one else could (to the Doc, Amy and everyone else it was invisible). Vincent's unique "second sight" thus allowed him to assist the Dr and Amy in their defeat of the monster. Neat device there.

As said, there wasn't much else to the story in terms of plot - this was essentially a much more character-driven tale. But you know what? There's no harm in having a diversion from the norm every once in a while.

I loved the recreation of Van Gogh's paintings and their incorporation into the narrative - e.g. the cafe scene - so clever!

Best scene of all (and in fact one of my favourite in the entire season) occurred towards the end of the episode, when the Doc takes Van Gogh to the Louvre in modern day Paris to prove exactly how much of an impact the Dutch artists has made on world culture. The Doc asks the gallery guide (a lovely cameo from the ever-droll Bill Nighy) to espouse the virtues of Van Gogh, whilst the man himself watchs and listens, undetected and moved to tears at the revelations he hears...Vincent then goes up to Bill N and hugs him, thanking him...he and the Doc walk off...and Bill N does a great double take...was that couldn't be...This scene was so lovely and virtually reduced me to tears too. It also epitomised - I'm trying to put this into words and finding it really hard - one of the essential ideas of Dr Who: that time travel can be used as a force for good; a way of looking into the future with positive consequences; of showing an individual that their memory and legacy can endure, long after their physical death. And it was just so lovely that we saw the Dr allowing someone such a privilege.

I never rated episode writer Richard Curtis very highly before (I'm not a fan of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" - everything that is quintessentially cliched and stereotyped about representations of English culture) but he proved his worth here as a penner of DW episodes and I for one wouldn't mind a second outing from him.

3.75 out of 5 (okay I'm cheating on the ratings but it's as near as damnit...)

The Lodger

Mmmm. I thought this was going to be the "Doctor-lite" story of the seaon but it seems that's all been scrapped under the new reign of Steven Moffat. In fact it was more of an "Amy-lite" tale, with the sarcy Scots one stuck in the TARDIS for the majority of the story. Meanwhile separated from his beloved time machine by some freak cosmic disturbance, the Dr is stranded on Earth and tracks down the source of the trouble to the second floor of a house. In order to get closer to the problem, he is forced to infiltrate the house and pose as the lodger of Craig Owens, the tenant occuping the downstairs flat...

A reasonable enough idea for a story, but it was all a bit lame for my liking. This was a very "human-interest" story, with a lot of the focus taking place on Craig, played by current fave actor James Corden, and his blossoming relationship with co-worker Sophie. Corden is a decent enough actor I guess and with his down to earth manner I can see why people find him endearing. However all of this domestic, lovey-dovey stuff reminded me more of a Russell T Davies story and I was half expecting the Tyler family to pop up at some stage.

We also got "comedy Dr" with the Time Lord (gasp!) walking around half naked in a towel, which got me all in a tizzy some time back....

...and joining Craig and his laddie mates for some footballing shenanigans (a chance for Matt Smith to demonstrate his real life football skills - he nearly became a professional player, but due to a back injury had to forget that one and opt for an acting career instead - all I can say is, good thing, although Mr Smith may not agree...) All mildly amusing and diverting but not exactly rivetting drama. Oh, am I become boring in my old age...?

The denouement - that there was an alien spaceship occupying the top floor (which wasn't really a top floor after all) and that the deaths of the human passersby were caused by the aliens in their desire to escape - wasn't very ground-breaking and also felt kind of rushed. The "solution" - Craig admits his love for Sophie, that he doesn't want to leave and then touches the controls - was corny.

James Corden was generally fine as Craig as was Daisy Haggard as Sophie but I couldn't help all thinking of this rom-com stuff was better suited to some 9.30pm show on BBC2. A very average story for me.

2.5 out of 5

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

And so we reach yet another season finale. Once more, the concluding two-parter had been hyped up to the max weeks before actual transmission, not least through the recurrent "cracks in time" motif we'd been hammered with in every episode thus far this season. I can honestly say I'd be quite happy to see a concluding story which didn't bear any relation to its preceding ones - for me, (the only ones which I really liked were Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways in Season One and Army of Ghosts/Doomsday in Season Two).

The first episode set up things intriguingly: River Song summons the Dr to Stonehenge, Roman Britain, 102 AD, where the fabled Pandorica is found, hidden in a vault beneath the stone circle... transpires that the giant device (which rather reminded me of one of the Borg's ships from Star Trek/that cube thing from the Hellraiser movies all those years back) is opening from inside and transmitting a message across time and space using the rocks of Stonehenge, a signal drawing "everything that ever hated the Doctor" to Earth that night.

And lo and behold, just about every baddy from the Doc's past suddenly materialises - Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans etc - orbitting the stone circle. I loved the revelation that the whole Roman world was an imaginary construct/trap devised by the Dr's enemies - ideas that they had taken ideas from books Amy had read as a child, representing Pandora's box and Roman soldiers...

And yikes - Rory suddenly reappears, reincarnated as a Roman soldier, with no knowledge of how he ended up there...until it turns out that he, along with the other soldiers, is a now an Auton (an interesting idea which never got sufficiently explained) and he then shoots Amy!

The cliffhanger - another revelation that the Pandorica has actually been built to imprison the Dr and does not in fact contain "all the evils of the universe" made for a good twist and set things up promisingly for the next episode...

...which is where things all got incredibly complicated for me, with some convuluted techno-speak and plot developments. I found it a bit of a let-down really. The exploding TARDIS in which River was trapped was triggering the end of the Universe. I can't actually be bothered to go into masses of detail here (as you might have realised, my "quick spin" has turned into anything but and one grows tired - you probably are by now!!). Except to say:

- Nice to say the little girl actress back as young Amy.
- The idea of Centurion Rory guarding the Pandorica through the centuries, thus creating a mythology, was a good un - but how did he make sure that he was always there? Oh, he was an Auton and they never die, do they?
- All that "Amy's dead except she's not" stuff got too bewildering.

- Setting up such an effective cliffhanger with all the Doc's enemies finally getting one over on the Time Lord boded well for the next episode - then when we get there and the Doc manages to escape the Pandorica, they've all been frozen to death!! Threat quickly and too conveniently disposed of, except for a stray, fossilised Dalek that kept getting reactivated and was frankly, annoying...
- This leads to my next point - having got rid of the Dr's adversaries so quickly, there was no "real enemy" for the Time Lord in this story. Just a load of techno-gubbins about the TARDIS being at the heart of the Big Bang and the Dr having to pilot the TARDIS back into the explosion to create a second explosion...? I confess I got lost here.
- The Dr coming back "from the void/death" at Amy's wedding just because Amy was able to wish it - phew! How convenient!

- The "soapy" focus on Amy and Rory's relationship - again. In some respects their getting spliced felt more important than the so-called universal threat of the Big Bang itself. It's ironic, cos I thought we were moving away from the soap opera theatrics of RTD when Steven M took over as lead writer - but we haven't exactly....

- River Song. Alex Kingston really is very good and the presence of her character was one of the saving graces of the story. We were given more tantalising clues about her real identity at the end - who is she? Apparently we find out more next season.

Anyway, my overall rating would be:
3 out of 5 - just.

And that's it for my reviews of Season 5. As I said, so much for the quick spin...but hey guys and gals, I got there eventually!

Now I've looked at the series as a whole, I can honestly say that S5 unfortunately left me feeling quite short-changed. The best stories for me were The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below and The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone; most of the rest I rated 3 stars or below and some didn't even make that. There's no doubt that Steven Moffat has a different style of writing to Russell TD, but I'm not entirely sold on his style - in spite of the fact that he penned some of the best stories in previous seasons e.g. The Empty Child/The Dr Dances etc. One aspect of Moffat's new reign that has surprised me has been the sacrificing of "hardcore" sci-fi ideas at the expense of the human interest/relationships stuff. As said, I thought we were moving away from this...I've got to say I've lost a bit of my enthusiasm for the prog and am actually not feeling all that excited about the forthcoming Season 6. (One interesting development about the up and coming next series, in case you didn't know, it's that it's going to be split down the middle on broadcast: the first half of the series will start around March/April 2011 and continue until episode 7 is aired - apparently there's a big mid-season cliffhanger at that point - episode 8 and the remainder of the run will then recommence in the Autumn. At least that way we won't have to wait so long inbetween series, I guess...)

One large positive which I won't deny has been the arrival of Matt Smith - a decent actor and he's brought many of the right qualities to the role of the Doctor - quirkiness, eccentricity, intelligence, humour, whackiness and more besides. I really am quite fond of him and prefer him to David Tennant.

I feel bad that I have spent a lot of this post whinging, but as I think I've mentioned before, as a pretty big DW fan I am even more critical of the show than some...ho hum! I just can't help the way I feel....But I'm not at the point where I'm giving up on my favourite show quite yet...! Anyway thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

What's your poison?

The other night, a friend introduced me to the delights of birthday cake vodka. Mmmmm mmmm!!!! Sweet and delicious, it slipped down all too easily...

Oddly enough I couldn't find much about it on the net, although I did find this recipe. I sampled it in Revolution bar btw...

My other favourite tipples are:

- Caipirinha - my hubbie's influence, it's cool, refreshing and delicious, a perfect Summer drink. The more crushed the ice, the better.

- Pina Colada - creamy and lush, I consumed many on these on the beach in Brazil last December. The kind I had there was made with condensed milk, which might sound disgusting but in fact made it taste even more heavenly. And Rupert Holmes got it right. So much so that I insist you give this a listen/view now!! (Slightly odd video, it has to be said...)

What else? There's...

- Amaretto - totally gorge, j'adore most almond-tasting things and this little liqueur tastes good on a lot of other things like ice cream (I also love Amaretti biscuits and gateau!! Anyone want to send me some??)

Mmm, are any of you detecting a slightly kitsch-camp drinks theme here? Look, you trying to suggest I may not be into real men's drink?!?! Wanna make something of it?? Shocking as it might seem, I'm also quite partial to...

- good old-fashioned Beer. I was a relatively late convert. In my student days I starting drinking it for the street cred, but now I'm partial to a nice chilled lager...Grolsch be one of my favourites. Stella is good for getting hammered but kind of gives you a headache the next day...

So then. Slightly obvious topic but after my vodka experience I wanted to share the boozy lurve. What are your favourite tipples, ladies and gents? This Cheeser wants to hear about it, including all those guilty drinking pleasures of yours....*

Now, I do happen to know that the lovely Amanda has a tipple every Tuesday so she's probably got too many to choose from...

* And you know what? I LOVE my kitsch/camp drinks...and anyone who's got a problem with that, well...I'll strap you to a chair, blindfold you, force open your gob and then subject you to 37 screaming orgasms...**

** No, you idiots!! I'm talking about the cocktail (another one to add to my list then...)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Santa Monica and Venice Beach

I'd decided, before we even reached LA, that Santa Monica would be a good place to pitch down whilst doing the whole tourist thang. Santa Monica is basically the Southern, coastal part of LA. Santa Monica Boulevard runs from the beach all the way into LA itself. The prospect of staying in the heart of LA had given me visions of smog, too much traffic, urban ugliness...and to some extent I was right, so Santa M was a much better choice and as you'll see from the pics, a pretty gorgeous place! There was one drawback though - the price of accomodation - given the niceness of the area. But we were only there a couple of nights and I thought "it's a holiday, why not...?"

I'd had this freewheeling plan that we'd just take each day as it came and sort out the places to stay when we got there - kind of made sense, as I wasn't sure exactly what day we'd be in LA etc. The downside was that it was hard to find decently priced places! When we arrived in Santa M the first place we stepped into was the hotel above (Marriott are universal aren't they). The receptionist was very warm and friendly but the immaculateness of the place should have told us how much we'd be paying...$300 per night!! Erm, slightly out of our price range, holiday or not. So we drove around some more until we found...

This appropriately coloured motel. Actually very nice (much classier than the shabby place in Santa Barbara) and in a very good location. Still not cheap but cheaper! A lesson to be learnt here then: sort out the accomodation beforehand if one can!

Once we'd dropped off our stuff we headed straight for the beach, passing all of these abodes on the way...

Aren't they gorgeous? I bet it costs an arm and a leg to live there though (these places were literally yards from the beach).

Hitting the beach! Look at those palm trees!

Someone attempting to be butch...

The famous pier in the distance there. It's been used in lots of movies, TV shows, etc...

We then went to visit the pier and encountered...Princess Leia and Darth Vadar!! Must have been on their honeymoon or something. No hang on...they're father and daughter aren't they? Okay then, Daddy Darth is obviously taking lovely Leia for a stroll along the pier...don't think he'll get a very good tan dressed like that though...

Naturally I couldn't resist getting into a lightsaber duel...

And the Princess and Simon Skywalker triumphed over the Dark Lord of the Sith!

A genuine Californian cab! It actually looks like it's gonna fall through those wooden slats...

Aaaaah! It could be Brighton, but it's not...

And then, me and Gu braved the Big Wheel! These shots are actually the view from our Big Wheel "carriage"...

After spending some time on Santa M pier we then headed for Venice Beach - once home to lots of beat poets and hippies and the like - now more commercial but still with lots of performers and arty shops/stalls - kind of reminded me of a beach version of Camden. Some of the opening scenes in the Leonardo De Capprio version of "Romeo and Juliet" were shot there there too - some shots might look familiar...

The "V" sign is cool, eh?