29 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Almost People

This is definitely spoilery. I would advise watching the episode before reading this.

Last week's cliffhanger reveal was that the Doctor had his own Ganger, as the Humans and Gangers prepared for conflict.
This episode starts with the newly-formed Doctor-double spouting a confusion of old Who catchphrases, including a bit with Tom Baker's voice. That was a nice, fun touch. The scene quickly turns into an insane double act as the Doctors finish each others sentences and enjoy listening to their own thoughts. They are perhaps a bit too pleased with themselves, but it is very funny.
It's clear there is a greater connection, understanding and friendship between the Doctor and his ganger. Whether this is a Time Lord thing or whether it's because he's accepting of the Flesh doubles as exact copies isn't clear. Probably a bit of both as there does seem to be some kind of psychic feedback thing going on.

The other Gangers are understandably pissed off at their lot. Ganger-Jen is quite the rabble-rouser, declaring a Flesh uprising against the human oppressors. It seems that she has a stronger connection to the original Flesh than the others, carrying memories of previous deaths, which may explain how different she is to Human-Jen. While one can understand her sentiments here (especially after seeing the discarded Flesh pile she shows Rory) her methods are violent and she is the most devious and monstery character. Ganger-Cleaves is far more pragmatic, much like the original.
The Gangers keep switching from sympathetic to antagonistic, but I think what we are seeing now is their individual positions rather than having them act as a group. How very human.

Amy's attitude to the Doctor-double is one of suspicion and uncertainty, despite the Doctor's happy acceptance of him. Admittedly there are times when the Doctor-double acts a little more erratically, however it seems that could be part of his connection to the Flesh. The only visible difference is the shoes, but the audience can't see their feet, and as is proved towards the end of the episode shoes can be changed.

Rory's compassion is used as part of Ganger-Jen's schemes. I'm not quite sure why there was yet another Flesh double of Jen, or where she came from? It's clear that Ganger-Jen is more advanced in her abilities than the others (another thing that becomes monstery), but without knowing the rules I guess I can't really judge the limitations.

The humanity of the Gangers is proven in a holo-call to Jimmy's son.
The emphasis is on the similarities of the doubles. Cleaves can't conceal a password from her Ganger because they have the same mind. Ganger-Jimmy sees his son, excited on his fifth birthday, and realises he can't kill the lad's biological father.
Then we get rounds of heroism. Ganger-Jimmy saves the humans, but can't save Human-Jimmy, so that the Ganger must permanently take the place of the original . Later, in a nice reversal, a human sacrifices himself to save his Ganger. Then more Gangers sacrifice themselves to allow the others to get away, even though I'm not sure that was strictly necessary.

So despite several deaths most characters get away in one form or another.
It is proved that even close friends cannot identify the difference between Flesh and original.
A trip in the TARDIS makes the remaining Gangers human, gives Cleaves a cure for her brain clot, and allows a cowardly lion to find his courage... oh no, wait -that was something else.

Then it all gets weird.
The Doctor keeps telling Amy to breathe, and what did the Doctor-double mean about pushing? I feel eye-patch lady's involvement here. These are instructions that are only generally given in certain circumstances. Amy is giving birth, to a baby that doesn't seem to be there.
Turns out the Doctor was actively investigating the Flesh, and perhaps had more of a hand in the creation of his double than it seemed.
The Doctor echoes Rory's words from the 'Day of the Moon', declaring that he and Rory will never stop searching for her.
The shocking conclusion sees Amy turned into pancake batter as the Doctor disrupts the signal to the Flesh.
She wakes to see a familiar hatch with a familiar face. She is pregnant and in a birthing tube, and it turns out that's where she's been all along.

Bloody hell!

This was an exciting and well-executed episode, that only benefited from the double dose of Matt Smith. The twists pretty much all made sense, and the exploration of morality didn't have the simplicity or tweeness that Doctor Who can sometimes indulge in. Plus there are finally answers! I can't wait for the next episode!

  • Who's got the Screwdriver?
It's revealed that the two Doctors swapped shoes, and therefore identity. But we don't know when. What's odd is that both of them seemed to have screwdrivers, even though they hand it back and forth as though there's only one. Surely the Flesh can't duplicate a sonic screwdriver? Or is it a continuity error?

  • Death Becomes Him
The Doctor-double sacrifices himself, although the Doctor hints that it might not be truly the end. Amy already identified the potential of having a second Doctor, could he be the one who's killed in the US? (My husband reckons not as the murdered Doctor started to regenerate. We're presuming Flesh can't do that.) She also let slip some details about the invitations to the Doctor's final moments. At the time it seems that's she's saying it to the Doctor-double, but at the end it's clear that the Doctor knows something about it where the double doesn't.

There are still plenty of questions, but some answers are in sight.

25 May 2011

What I'm Reading

The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers
This was excellent and I really enjoyed it. It has time travel, sorcery, body-swapping, Egyptian mythology, and nineteenth century history. This is an excellently constructed time-travel fantasy, and reading it I find myself wishing there were more like it.
I found that the plot moved along at a fair pace and despite various complicated things happening it wasn't hard to follow. There were some plot twists that I guessed fairly quickly, including one of the main ones, though I suspect that it might have been due to my familiarity with time -travel stories. Even though it is mind-boggling time travel is one of those things I do tend to think about when I'm presented with it. In this case the events in the book manage to form a loop that seems free of paradox. I admire the planning and sleight-of-hand that must have taken.
I definitely recommend The Anubis Gates to any one who enjoys smart fantasy and/or well made time-travel stories.

Jack of Fables - Vol. 6, The Big Book of War
I've been reading Fables for a while although I didn't pay a lot of attention to spin-off series Jack of Fables, until The Great Fables Crossover. At that point it became clear that I had some back reading to catch up on. Now that I've got this graphic novel I'm all caught up and at some point I may read through the crossover and the preceding graphic novels again.

Midnight Never Come - Marie Brennan
Another Elizabethan fairy story. I was careful not to read this book straight after Sword of Albion, even though I've been waiting to read this one for a while. Comparisons are inevitable but these are two very different books, despite being set in the same period. Sword of Albion is very much a supernatural action/spy thriller, whereas Midnight Never Come is more political. The fairies in this are nowhere near as cold and threatening as the ones written by Mark Chadbourn. Brennan's fairies are very capable of cruelty and manipulation, but they are far more relatable than the Enemy.
The major theme of the book is the contrast between the fae court and the mortal court of Elizabeth I. The idea of a fairy court beneath London acting as a shadow or dark reflection of what happens above, is integral. The two main characters are a mortal and a fairy and we see both of their worlds in vivid detail.

22 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Rebel Flesh

Just to warn you, there will be spoilers.

The opening scene is an island monastery, in which safety-suited workers monitor a dangerous substance. One falls in and starts to disintegrate, this is treated fairly casually by all involved, including the melting guy. Moments later he reappears and complains. So far, so weird, which is what we want from Doctor Who really, isn't it?

A solar flare/storm knocks the TARDIS to the island. I'm not really sure why that happened, as the explanation -if there was one- was shouted over loud sound effects. While I can appreciate that loud FX and shouting lend a sense of urgency, I do like to hear the dialogue.

Rory is initially, and sensibly, hesitant to race into the unknown. Understandable as he seems to regularly come off practically dead from these adventures, through no fault of his own.

On the island acid is being pumped, again I'm not sure why, but that isn't particularly important. It's a factory of some kind and the workers deal with the dangerous acid by using 'gangers, doubles created from Flesh -a kind of primordial goo- and their downloaded consciousnesses. These (as we have seen) are expendable.
So far, so transhuman.

The Doctor's warnings of another solar storm are ignored by the boss, Cleaves, she's got a quota to fill. There's a power surge and everyone is knocked unconscious. They wake and reconvene, but things are no quite right. How long was everyone out? And where are the 'gangers?

The Doctor argues for reason and understanding as usual (well, they aren't Silence). Rory shows the compassion that no doubt led him to nursing. The Doctor investigates the Flesh, perhaps a little too closely considering it feels like it's scanning him back.
Predictably the situation escalates, and beings that should understand one another more than anyone else go to war.

Jennifer's 'ganger was obviously supposed to be a sympathetic character, one who showed the difficulty of being a double. Except she tries to attack Rory who has shown her nothing but kindness. Then she rallies the others to destroy the humans (even though it would make far more sense for the Cleaves-ganger to do so). Either Jennifer is a lot more bloodthirsty than she appeared, or these doubles are not as faithful to the originals as was suggested, which tips the argument towards them being monsters after all. Either the choice of sympathetic character was mishandled, or we were only meant to feel sorry for the 'gangers briefly.

"Always with the Rory!"
Very impressed by Rory this week, especially after Amy taking charge in previous weeks. Rory's initial caution is thrown to the wind when Jennifer is in danger, and he leaps heroically into action. This shows that Rory's isn't there to just worry about Amy, he genuinely cares for people. Basically he's a lovely bloke, and he doesn't deserve the Doctor's lack of concern.
Amy understandably goes after him, but she's not cautious at all, and of course he's foremost in her mind.

I liked the shot with the Doctor's smoking boots. The traditional use of that image is subverted by having him tiptoeing away in the background, a nice visual gag.

Eyepatch lady returns, but no words this time.
My only theory here is that Amy is (or will be) under some kind of observation. This observation I suspect will be psychically or temporally weird, possibly involving/affecting dreaming or memory. There's something clinical about eyepatch lady, but whether it ties into the mystery pregnancy* I'm not sure. Though really we've not been given enough info to figure out what's going on here.

The Doctor's 'ganger appears, not much of a surprise as it was heavily foreshadowed. Is he 11.5, or possibly Doctor Goo? (Sorry that was pretty bad.)
This development does lend credence to the two Doctors theory that's been kicking around since last series. I must say I don't trust the Doctor Who team not to be teasing us again. Perhaps the sheer number of unanswered questions is making me suspicious.

I enjoyed this episode, despite a few niggles, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

* The Doctor seems to be getting kinda obsessive over this pregnancy scan. It seems like a weird fixation to have. But perhaps unanswered questions get to him as much as they get to the viewers.

19 May 2011

Avenue Q

Yesterday I saw Avenue Q.
I didn't even know it existed until a couple of weeks ago when I found out about it online. Then a few days later I discovered it was showing near by. This was clearly the universe getting me to buy theatre tickets.

It's a musical set in downtown New York and features a cast of humans and hand puppets (of the Muppet-like variety). It's about a group of people (monsters, humans and badly behaved bears) who live on the eponymous avenue and face various challenges and personal complications that are part of life as an adult.
The style is very Sesame Street, the content is very adult - it includes swearing and puppet sex.

It was very funny! And pretty weird.
There were songs like 'If You Were Gay', 'Everyone's A Little Bit Racist' and 'Schadenfruede'.

The story itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the way it's done is great. The puppeteers are right there on the stage, sometimes voicing two different characters in a scene, but they are utterly ignored by the cast. Obviously this required a certain amount of disbelief suspension, but it wasn't difficult as it's the characters (rather than their operators/voice actors) that are the focus of attention. The organisation was impressive, I honestly thought there were more puppeteers than there actually were.

I recommend this if you are someone who is not put off by swearing, sex or Gary Coleman (well, not actually him, obviously).

15 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Doctor's Wife

The episode starts with a scared woman being held in place by relatives in order to have her soul sucked out and replaced. It seems slightly comical but is actually kinda dark, and so kicks off Neil Gaiman's much anticipated Doctor Who episode.

The Doctor gets mail, an unexpected distress call from an old friend, a good Time Lord.
The lightness of tone used in relation to Time Lords shows that this Doctor isn't shell-shocked or suffering from guilt as much as his 9th and 10th incarnations. We discover that Amy has already had some of the time war back story, meaning that we don't have to go through the explanation again. All good. Now the Doctor can refer to himself as the last Time Lord without looking all sadface.
"Basically, run" is used again by the Doctor, but this time his anger is on behalf of his own people rather than humanity.

The TARDIS leaves the universe and arrives on a soap bubble (another simple analogy that doesn't actually explain the timey-wimey, spacey-wacey stuff, but gives you an image to work with). There are 4 inhabitants, patchwork people Auntie and Uncle, an Ood called Nephew, and a crazy, bitey lady called Idris (not Niece). She looks like a typical Helena Bonham Carter character, quirky and slightly gothic. The soap bubble itself is a creepy entity called House who traps Time Lords and eats their TARDISes. (Is that the plural for TARDIS? I just don't know?)

Suranne Jones is excellent as the TARDIS shoved into human form. Finally a character who's even madder and more chronologically mixed up than the Doctor. She regularly says things that will be relevant later, meaning that the writing, and editing, are necessarily very internally consistent.
The title was clearly meant to tease us, because the Doctor Who team are dreadful teases. Although it makes sense because if there's any entity that is like the Doctor's wife, it's the TARDIS. Yes what we have here is the strange, but very deep and touching relationship between a man and his box. It turns out the TARDIS stole the Doctor as much as the other way round, and she's his equal even more than River is.

Amy and Rory are trapped in the empty shell of the TARDIS and tortured by House who has decided that, rather than eating this one, he'll use it to go back into the universe in search of more food. Again Amy and Rory work well together and continue to feel like a proper couple. That the memory of her wedding day is Amy's definition of Delight is just lovely.
The rare view of the TARDIS's corridors is disappointingly uniform, though I can understand it from a set building point of view. I really liked that we got to see the previous TARDIS control room, which is of course unfamiliar to Amy and Rory. It's a little visual joke that all new Who fans will appreciate.

This was a fun and smart episode that I really enjoyed, the hype was worth it.

Things to watch out for:

  •  The TARDIS vanishes
This actually happened last week as well, but I forgot to write about it here. The TARDIS shouldn't just disappear on it's own, because last time that happened it was a pretty major and also very mysterious event. Last week there was no explanation for it, which may have been clumsy writing, at least this time its the main plot point. The fact that a TARDIS can effectively be possessed could be very relevant.

  • Did it for the crack
Did anyone notice that the universe looked kinda like a long, crooked, evil smile? Hmm, where can we have seen that before? We also discover that the destruction of a TARDIS creates a hole in the universe (hence the soap bubble), something familiar there too I'm sure.

  • "The only water in the forest is the river."
Should I be spelling that last word with a capital letter? The first episodes we meet River in are "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead" and I seem to remember a forest in "Flesh and Stone" too. Is this a theme, or am I just overthinking things?

  • They keep killing Rory
OK so it's only an illusion of his long-dead skeleton, but seriously something lethal seems to happen to Rory every week. I just feel bad for the poor guy, it's like he's Mr. Expendable.

14 May 2011

What I'm Reading

So the disappeared post confusingly reappeared the next day, causing me to suspect it is in fact a phantom post. I have tried to exorcise it and I think I've been successful. I certainly don't want a haunted blog.

Sword of Albion - Mark Chadbourn
This is a swashbuckling, supernatural Elizabethan spy story. Will Swyfte is England's greatest spy. He and his fellows work for Walsingham, supposedly fighting the Spanish, but in fact set against the shadowy Enemy. A malevolent force that has been terrorising the country for centuries.
The story is full of danger and intrigue, there's plenty of excitement and decent twists and turns along the way. Initially I thought it was a straightforward historical adventure with a sinisiter supernatural element - which I'm all for, historical fantasy is a favourite subgenre of mine. Towards the end I felt as though the story was going deeper, exploring the morality of what initially seemed to be a black and white conflict, and also examining how even monsters can be useful allies.
As well as the usual period touchstones (Dee the magician, the Spanish Armada, Christopher Marlowe, and of course Elizabeth herself) the story travels outside England to neighbouring Scotland and antagonistic Spain. I was pleased to see that we meet James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) before Elizabeth I ever appears - but I'm a sucker for Stuart history.
The alternative title is 'The Silver Skull', which makes sense as that's the central mcguffin. Then again if you are going to use 'Sword of Albion' - the rarely-used name for Walsingham's spies- you would use it for the British version.

Everything Beautiful - Simmone Howell
This teenage book is set in Australia (something that seems to confuse me as they use both US and UK slang) and is told from the point of view of Riley Rose. Riley is an overweight teenager who has been sent to the Spirit Ranch, a Christian holiday camp for kids. Riley has every intention of leaving before the week is over, and treats the place with suspicion and disdain. At the camp she meets Dylan, a paraplegic who feels similarly out of place. Together they raise a little hell and steal a dune buggy.
I like the character of Riley, she knows she's fat and doesn't take any crap about it. There's not even any suggestion of her losing weight, which I think is excellent. I can't be doing with people being all weight-obsessed, it's great to see a young woman with a healthy body image. She's smart-mouthed and prickly and you can understand why. She's initially an outsider, because she acts like one, but soon discovers that the Spirit Ranch is not just full of the socially awkward and the holier-than-thou.

I'm currently reading The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, very much enjoying it.

13 May 2011

Let's call this Plan B

Blogger was having issues, so this will be the second time I've written this post in as many days. I hope you will charitably assume that the original one was full of insight and sparkling wit that I could easily have forgotten overnight.

It has occurred to me that, from the evidence provided in this blog, it looks as though I don't do that much reading. This would be an erroneous though understandable assumption. I actually read all the time.
I spend most of my lunch breaks reading, I usually read for a while before going to sleep, and if I could read on the bus without feeling ill I definitely would.
I think the problem is that I try to review books separately, giving each it's own post. Doing it that way means that I've usually moved on to the next book while trying to write a review, so whatever I'm writing about isn't at the forefront of mind.

I'm going to start writing short but regular book posts. These will have a list of what I am/have been reading and need only contain a couple of sentences on each book. Then if I do feel very expansive about a particular book I can do an individual post as well.

I'm planning to post the first by tomorrow at the latest.

10 May 2011

Doctor Who - Curse of the Black Spot

Pirates ahoy!
Thar be spoilers ahead.

After the complex shenanigans of previous weeks, we had a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas. A becalmed pirate ship with a creepy siren, picking the men off one by one. It seems that beeswax in the ears won't do the job this time.
It's OK though, because the TARDIS has appeared in the hold. The Doctor will soon get to the bottom of the mysterious glowing, green lady who enchants and disintegrates anyone with a cut or graze. Is she hungry for human blood? And how does she manage to appear inside sealed rooms?

Hugh Bonneville plays Captain Avery, gold-hungry pirate. A less lordly leader than his Downton role, but it all looked like good fun. We are told that Avery has committed atrocities, but don't see them as he is to be a sympathetic character

The episode is a monster mystery where the behaviour of the seemingly dangerous creature is deciphered in order to save the day. The Siren marks not just those who've lost blood, but those who are ill. She appears not just from the water, but from any reflective surface. The clues keep coming.
As soon as the captain's stowaway son is dematerialised you're pretty certain the Siren isn't actually killing people dead, because I doubt Who is going to become dark enough that an innocent child is all out murdered in front of us. Could it possibly be like series 1 episode 'Bad Wolf' where the apparent murders are actually relocations?
When the Siren is used to save Rory from drowning (how many times are they going to kill the poor guy? Seriously it's getting beyond a joke now) it becomes pretty certain that she is not the murderous creature she appears.

Why does the Siren transport people to an alien ship, what is her purpose?
Once they arrive in the sickbay there are definite echoes of 'The Doctor Dances'. The supposed malevolent force is in fact helpful, alien health tech that simply doesn't understand humans. What appeared to be hunger for blood was in fact a screening process, and apparent protectiveness of food was only protection of patients.
Luckily we get a new Who medical mystery where hugging is not the solution - it worked in 'The Doctor Dances' but was just awful in 'New Earth'.

It's nice to see Amy stepping up and taking action again, saving the menfolk from pirates. Her protectiveness of Rory is excellent, especially after his statement of commitment last week - I don't feel like I need to be concerned about their relationship anymore.
I also like that having a married couple on the TARDIS doesn't make things all soppy, because that's no how marriage tends to work. Amy's reaction when the Siren won't let her touch her husband felt wonderfully real.

Generally this was a fun adventure episode that worked well. The structure and solution felt familiar, but that's not really a weakness. However there were still links to the ongoing continuity.

Things to Watch Out For:
  • Scary eyepatch lady is back! 
So far only Amy sees her, and tends not to remember. I cannot figure out what this is about. I can only assume -or perhaps hope- that she is tied into something that links up with the unresolved threads of last series.

  • Amy's questionable uterus.
Pregnant or not pregnant, there's a question. Eventually there will have to be a resolution, so I'm not sure I need reminders every episode. Also I'm not sure it's really on for the Doctor to scan his friends without their knowledge, it's not as though he's an MD (as far as I know).

  • Once and future death
Rory and Amy keep a pretty important secret from the Doctor, so I suppose that kinda balances out the covert pregnancy scans. Of course the whole spoilery death is likely to be as questionable as the pregnancy, unless Matt Smith's employment contract includes indentured servitude.

Pet Peeve*
I can understand not showing how to properly slit wrists or hotwire cars in TV and film. They aren't skills you want people to pick up easily.
I can also understand using a visual shorthand for long, boring processes. We don't want to see how many tests the CSIs run before they get the result. A quick lab work montage will do -although I can understand forensics professionals disliking this.

But why is useful and vital First Aid info constantly covered up like it's a terrible secret?
The fact that Rory suggests Amy could perform CPR because she's seen it on TV makes me suspicious of his nursing skills. Amy then performs a very TV version of CPR, and Rory is apparently revived by magical luck. It's not as though portraying a more accurate version of CPR would have marred the drama or ruined the timing. It just required slightly different positioning of the actors' head and hands

Amy was probably pumping air into Rory's stomach, because his head wasn't elevated so there's no reason his airway would be open. Put your chin on your chest and take a deep breath, then do it with your head tilted right back. That difference is very important when you can't breathe for yourself.
Alternatively the air was rushing straight out of Rory's fully open nostrils. If doing mouth-to-mouth you have to pinch the nostrils closed, or the air will take the path of least resistance and never get to the lungs.

* I don't know if people still use that term, but it fits here.

8 May 2011


I saw Thor yesterday evening.
This means that I did not watch Doctor Who, which is obviously very bad of me as the ratings are supposedly spiraling ever downwards. Of course I haven't actually had a TV panel box in over a year, so I'm well aware that what I watch doesn't actually count towards viewing figures anymore.
Unless I use Catch Up or On Demand or iPlayer, so I guess missing it on regular TV works out fine after all.

Thor combines magic and myth with (film) science. It's technically full of aliens and advanced tech, but it's all mythical and mystical. This is fine by me, I enjoy science fantasy. That's sci-fi with mythology, mysticalness and a sensawunda that feels fantastical. I read mostly fantasy, I watch a fair bit of sci-fi, if done well science fantasy can be the best of both.
Thor does it pretty well, largely due to the visual effects, which are nicely done. The first shots of Asgard, zooming through the lovely buildings to the central palace, are like a ramped up Rivendell. It's all more showy than Elrond's elf colony, but it's got that sense of a supernatural utopia full of beauty and luxury.
The Bifrost is also very well done. Rather than being literally a rainbow bridge people can walk across, it's shown as a magical/technological device that shoots people to other worlds, like a stargate with a less comfortable landing. The rainbow part is represented by the walkway, which constantly shimmers different colours. Even though it looks very plastic, like a bridge built of glowy perspex blocks, I still found it was an impressive sight.

Being a superhero film Thor combines science fantasy with a fair bit of action. There are plenty of fights against different enemies in different settings, so it still feels superhero-y even though the hero is different to the humans-with-extras that Marvel has sent to the screen so far.
The obligatory origin story is also an unusual one, being necessarily tied to existing mythology. I was impressed that there was no hiding/simplifying of difficult or odd-sounding words, like mjolnir and yggdrasil. Possibly I had set my expectations a little low here, as it turned out it was quite useful as I think I've been mispronouncing them in my head for a while. Relevant parts of the mythology (as convenient for comics/films) are explained, but the film is thankfully not exposition heavy.

There were some good funny moments. Mostly fish outta water laughs as Asgardian manners and princely superiority meet the modern world. It reminded me of the post-Ragnarok Thor comic book, where Asgard manifests in the desert near an American midwestern town, and the residents of both tentatively get to know their new neighbours.

The characters seemed mostly well done, even if they fall very neatly into superhero film roles, and I didn't expect any different. Personally I think Thor is better with a beard, he looks more rugged and manly than the clean-shaven comic book version who looks like he stepped onto the age from a L'Oreal ad. The portrayal of the thunder god as a spoiled, bullish prince is well done. Thor's change in character, to a person truly worthy of his powers, does not come in one moment or due to one act, it is a more subtle shifting of attitude and perception as Thor spends time among humans.

Loki is a bit of a puzzle. At first he seems reasonable and practical, but we all know there's more going on there. It's seems odd to me that the Earthly legends of the Asgardians have Loki's number, yet no one on Asgard seems aware of it. Where Thor is arrogant Loki is conniving, but his goals and plans seem muddled. There's sibling rivalry and Daddy issues aplenty in the royal family, which probably says something about Odin too. Loki's grab for power seems somewhat half-hearted, based on feelings of inadequacy and dislike of father-figures. He keeps his father and brother out of the way, but isn't ruthless enough to kill them himself, and his feelings towards Asgard and Jotunheim seem confused.

Natalie Portman is convincing as Jane Foster, astrophysicist. She's not just a pretty face in a lab coat (as female scientists can be in film and TV), in fact she never wears a lab coat. She's a woman who lives in a trailer in small town in the desert and spends her time with a sarcastic and uninterested research assistant, just to prove her theories. Her equipment, much of it self-made, and her notes are basically her entire life. We might not see Jane science things up much, but her passion is clear. Less clear are her feelings for Thor, the romance between them is very understated and I think neither Jane or Thor are quite aware of it until the end.

At the end of the film it became clear that myself and the people I was watching with were the geeky ones (even without one of our group having it written on his T-shirt). Everyone else in the screen filed out during the incredibly long credits but we faithfully waited to see yet another teaser for the eventual Avengers film.* Admittely I didn't recognise the dommy mcguffin, and had to get my Marvel expert to explain it.

One of the warriors 3 (or 4, does the female one count or not?) looks very much like Oliver Queen. Just give him a bigger moustache, a green outfit and some arrows.
The compound the feds built around the Hammer crater looks like a human-sized hamster run. I'm not sure what the purpose of it was, possibly it just kept the agents busy when they wanted some cheese.

Overall it was an enjoyable film with all the fun and fighting we've come to expect from Marvel films.

* Some of us needed the loo and could have done with shorter credits, but still we waited. I was quite amused to see the name Jor-El Morales roll across the screen. I don't know what he specifically does, but he's working in the right industry -even if not the right universe.

1 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

For me the new series of Doctor Who began at Eastercon, watching on a big screen in a room with 600 people.
Watching with fellow fans is a fun experience. Just like going to the cinema, the experience is heightened by the reactions of others. This is especially true when those others are as appreciative (or probably more appreciative) as you are. Admittedly there was a guy with a rather large head sitting two rows ahead of me, but even that was not a major problem.

I should say that this post will be fairly spoilerrific, so if you haven't seen either of these episodes and you don't want to know what happens then stop reading now.

The Impossible Astronaut

Oh look, it's an impossible space-thingy title. Perhaps this was a clue that it's a two-parter, like David Tenant's Impossible Planet/Satan Pit. Of course I didn't realise I was watching a first part until the credits rolled. Surely that wasn't 45 minutes, it barely felt like half an hour! It is true that time flies when you're having fun.

The series opener was fun, I enjoyed it. Admittedly a week later I find I am having a little trouble remembering exactly what happened and -perhaps more importantly- why.
I know that one of the complaints levelled against RTD was that the episodes and plot arcs weren't clever enough, that there was a limited amount of build-up (presumably ignoring the phrase-of-week tatics employed with Bad Wolf and Doctor/Donna). Here Moffat unequivocably shows us that foreshadowing does not scare him. Except that thinking about the wider implications of this episode scares me slightly.

The first scene was all good, silly fun, with an angry Charles II storming down a corridor after the Doctor. Brilliant stuff! Although I was slightly disappointed that this meant the scenes in the BBC trailers were not part of a full episode set in Stuart England. I like Stuart England, Stuart England is cool.

Rory, Amy and River are summoned to America for a picnic. America is good, it's got lots of big, impressive scenery. However this picnic is interrupted, not by ants, but by an astronaut who kills the Doctor. This is alarming, but hopefully not too terrifying/scarring for the kids, because clearly all is not as it seems.
The Doctor's oblivious reappearance in a diner reveals that the murder takes place 200 years into the Doctor's own future - do you see how scary this amount of foreshadowing is! The amount of planning this requires (or seems to) is mind-boggling! It also suggest Time Lords don't age that fast, which makes sense as William Hartnell's Doctor must have been a good few hundred years old.

The death of the Doctor sets up an interesting dynamic among the TARDIS crew as River (who knows how these things work) must stop Rory and an emotional Amy from telling the Doctor what they witnessed. For once the Doctor is not the one with all the information, he doesn't have the biggest secrets, and -although he would understand it- there is a sense of collusion among the human characters.

Following what few clues they have the TARDIS sets off for 1969 and tracks down Canton Everett Delaware, the fourth witness of the Doctor's death, and the only one who seemed to have the slightest clue what's going on. A younger Canton (old/young Canton are played by father and son) is in the Oval Office, discussing mysterious phone calls received by President Nixon from a little girl scared by a spaceman.
The appearance of the Doctor in the midst of this serious, all-American thriller scene is hilarious. As is his request for Jammy Dodgers and a fez.

Amy's encounter with the mysterious alien in the White house loos is well done. The look and manner of the Silence is suitably scary, like greys but gribbly. I suspect that if I hadn't been in a room with 600 other people I might have been creeped out, but there's safety in numbers so the fear wasn't really present. The Silence are ingenious creatures, literally out of mind when out of sight, it's a superb defence mechanism.

The mysterious phone calls lead to Florida and a familiar-looking control room full of various kinds of alien tech. The team have further encounters with the Silence and discover the long-time nature of their presence, though only the audience is aware of the implications of the centuries-old tunnels.

Amy's pregnancy revelation is not only ridiculously timed, it was also clumsily introduced and smoke-screened.
Women on TV (especially recently married ones) are never ill for no reason, they are always pregnant. I suspect that this is in a BBC handbook somewhere! I've seen it so often that I feel like groaning whenever it happens. I suppose the fact that there was a married couple on the TARDIS meant that the kid issue would come up eventually, but I thought it might take a little longer. There are reasons for getting married that have nothing to do with procreation, or is that just me?

The ending, with Amy shooting the spaceman she believes caused/will cause the Doctor's death, is exciting. Amy has not always been a brilliant character, but in this episode she stands out as much as River when it comes to taking action.
When the visor goes up and she realises she has shot a little girl her look of horror is understandable. It's one hell of a cliffhanger.

Day of the Moon

3 months later. 
We're thrown back into the action as Amy, Rory and River are hunted down by agent Canton. The scenes jump back and forth, it's fast-paced and exciting. Amy runs down a dusty, desert highway surrounded by massive, almost-martian, rock formations. It sure beats running down corridors in Cardiff.
Does this deadly hunt have anything to do with the five-bar gate tallies that cover their arms and faces? Even the ever-elegant River ruins her formal look with black arm-markings.
Meanwhile a beardy Doctor is held captive in one of those big military installations that Americans presumably build for holding aliens. A box is being built around the imprisoned Doctor, does this seem familiar to anyone else? Wherever there's a box it seems like he's inside it.

Canton brings in body bags containing Rory and Amy, luckily they're alive and the whole thing has been a ruse to create a space where the Silence cannot observe them. An invisible TARDIS is hidden inside, and the group use it to catch River, who has done her usual trick of throwing herself off something, secure in the expectation that she will be caught. Will we be seeing more of this?

We are finally given some explanation of what's been happening. The Doctor and his companions are aware of the Silence and how they operate, though we don't know how or why they know this. The tally marks are a way of tracking Silence encounters, and the Doctor gives each of his allies a nano neural transmitter/recorder which allows them to document encounters and leave themselves messages. All very smart and sensible.
Thus equipped the team split up to hunt for clues. The Doctor goes to tinker around with Apollo 11, which does not amuse NASA. Amy and Canton go to an orphanage to find out where the spacesuited girl came from.

We get no information about what happened after Amy shot the little girl. I can understand the instinct to keep things moving and not get bogged down with exposition, but the cliffhanger from the previous episode is never actually resolved. While there's plenty of Silence-based gaps in memory, it does seem a bit of a cop-out to completely ignore a cliffhanger.

The orphanage is really creepy. The warden has clearly been damaged by many memory drains, and is operating on Silence instructions without the slightest clue. He is a puppet man and you can't help but feel sorry for him.
Exploring upstairs, tally marks seem to materialise on Amy's arms and face. This is eerily reminiscent of  the black writing that appeared on characters' skin in 'The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit'.
Amy finds the little girl's room in a bizarre and unexplained bit of dream-logic, that I'm not entirely convinced I didn't just imagine. (Did anyone else see that woman at the hatch that wasn't there later?)*
Amy is shocked to find a picture of herself with a baby among photos of the little girl. Her earlier revelation that she was mistaken when she thought she was pregnant seems like yet another smoke screen. Then the spacesuit girl arrives, so presumably Amy failed to shoot her. There are creepy echoes of 'The Empty Child'. You know the girl isn't going to say "Are you my mummy?" but that's certainly where my mind went.

Amy is captured by the Silence, and Canton learns that bullets injure them. Rory and River fetch President Nixon to get the Doctor released from NASA custody. Later Nixon appears from the black box the Doctor is supposed to be trapped in. Nixon-ex-machina is born.

The little girl escapes from her space suit and presumably flees. The suit turns out to be a mobile prison, enhanced by all sorts of alien tech. Clearly the girl is important somehow. There follows some days of planning and researching and setting stuff up, while an increasingly upset Rory listens to his wife's fearful voice over neural transmitter.

Eventually the Doctor sets things up so that the Silence end up ordering humanity to kill them every time the moon landing is broadcast. This cleverly uses the nature of the Silence against them. However it does rely entirely on the injured Silence captive saying something stupid before the moon landing happens. What if it had just sat there, y'know in silence, what would they have done then? For episodes that seem so well-planned and clever this does seem like a big dollop of dumb luck.

Amy is saved. River shoots a lot of Silence in a totally kick-arse way. Everyone gets away in the TARDIS. The little girl is apparently forgotten, even though she is yet another scared child that the Doctor said he would help.
The epilogue is clearly there to tease us. It was cool, but basically a massive tease.

This two-parter episode was very coupley - perhaps not surprising given Stephen Moffat is the man who wrote Coupling. I found that I felt bad for Rory and River, the other halves.

Rory -wearing rather wonderful serious, 60s specs- declares his commitment to Amy and his determination to not rest until she is safe. Then he is led to believe that in her last moments she is thinking of the Doctor, not him. I think I said "Poor Rory" about three times.
The Doctor brings up Rory's 2000 year wait for Amy when he was a plastic centurion. Rory remembers this, sort of. I have no idea how this works. I can't remember quite what happened with plastic/non-plastic Rory at the end of the last series. If anyone wants to explain it to me in the comments that would be helpful, there may be follow up questions.
The revelation that Amy was in fact talking about her husband is welcome, if a little contrived.

It's River I felt really bad for. At the end she gives the Doctor a passionate kiss, which understandably confuses him. He says that they've never done that before.
He shouldn't have told her, because now she knows that was their last kiss. It's confirmation that she's close to the day when he sees her and does not know her, the day she has been fearing throughout their relationship. And while it's all very well for us and Doctor, who have plenty of River Song encounters to come, she now knows she's coming to the end of their time together.
What we have just seen is, from her point of view, the death of their romance - and that's heartbreaking.

A lot of threads are set up in these episodes, many are left loose. Presumably they relate to the threads still left from the last series. It's fun and enjoyable, and the plot arc is all very clever (or it had better be, because a lot of expectation has been built up here), but is it too much?
Don't get me wrong. I'm really enjoying Who at the moment, and I enjoy a good plot arc. However I have the horrible feeling that I'm going  to have to do research online to remember what's going on.

* Edited to Add:
I didn't imagine it! I rewatched part of the episode on BBC3 after posting. Also the Telegraph reviewer mentioned the eye-patch woman too. I think it was just that that bit seemed so random, even in comparison to everything else.