How The City and the City renders the noir genre within liminal spaces

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The central conceit of the series, in a way, is about unfamiliarity. The City and the City presents us with two overlapping city-states, Besźel and Ul Qoma; they inhabit the same physical space, but are perceived as two distinct places, separated by a skin stretched across the world. There’s something impressive about how effortlessly The City and the City presents this mythology, a mythology with its own idiosyncratic language and vocabulary – immediately, and without reservation, giving the sense of a world that’s lived in and already intuitively understood by the characters we see.

Similarly impressive, then, is the way the series realises this concept. Crossing over the border is an act that renders the familiar unfamiliar, and it’s an effect achieved through no small part because of Tom Shankland’s evocative direction. Where Besźel is rendered in soft beige tones and yellow light, Ul Qoma is cast in vivid scarlet and cyan; even as the two cities share their geography, they each feel distinct, with their own sharply defined identities. Peering across the breach, a transgressive act, is to confront the unfamiliar – something you know rendered differently, just out of reach.

I’ve not read the book, which I suspect puts me at a little bit of a disadvantage with this piece; certainly, while I was writing it, I began to get the sense that there was a certain degree more depth to the story that I wasn’t quite touching on, and that the article probably would’ve benefitted a little from, at the very least, having been informed by a slightly deeper knowledge of the source material.

Still! That said, I really enjoyed this show, and it very much made me want to read the book – I’ve been meaning to get into China Miéville books for a while, largely at Robbie’s recommendation, so the show was an extra little bit of impetus. Or it will be anyway, I’m still yet to make a start with it.

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The Assassination of Gianni Versace is an intimate portrait of a killer, granting him the fame he always sought

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It’s not about the assassination of Gianni Versace, as many have already noted. Or, at least, it’s not just about the eponymous assassination, casting it as inciting event rather than the climax of the series. Instead, The Assassination of Gianni Versace is about the assassin, Andrew Cunanan, and the events that led him to murder the internationally renowned designer.

The series moves backwards through Cunanan’s life, tracing his story in reverse; it’s a confident piece, expertly structured in approach. Rearranging the drama to watch the story unfold chronologically wouldn’t have the same effect – it’s layered in such a way that each backwards step complements what’s gone before, honing and accentuating The Assassination of Gianni Versace as a whole. Moments described in hindsight in one episode play out in present tense in the next; expectations are subverted and tension is heightened, a sense of not just dramatic irony but deep melancholy evoked as we move through the tapestry of Cunanan’s life. Note especially a scene from the sixth episode, Descent, a conversation between Cunanan and David Madson, a former lover and eventual victim. Madson is trying to connect with him, asking about his childhood; you can see his face fall as Cunanan, seemingly, starts to lie once again, and it’s this apparent lie that drives a wedge between them. Yet as the series continues, it’s revealed that Cunanan wasn’t lying. It’s not, obviously, that this excuses or justifies anything he did – but there’s a certain sadness to it all the same, and an insight into the neuroses that drove him.

Quite proud of this article on what is, as far as I’m concerned anyway, one of the best shows of the year. Intense and compelling and deeply moving, The Assassination of Giannia Versace is very, very much worth checking out.

I was, actually, so pleased with this article I put it in my portfolio, which you can check out here. I didn’t get the title quite right, admittedly, but I’m still pretty pleased with the actual content of the piece.

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Michael James Shaw on Avengers: Infinity War, his character Corvus Glaive, and more

michael james shaw avengers infinity war corvus glaive marvel interview

Part of the trick of playing a villain is finding the love in the character’s journey, and not playing ‘evil’, you know? With Corvus, there’s a strong connection to Proxima, but also he betrayed his people to work with Thanos. I created my own little history about why he’s looking for redemption with Thanos, and searching for retribution through his work with him. I find it kinda helpful to create that backstory.

As I’m talking to you, I’m also watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel – there’s a history that may not be in the history books, but of what it means to be an alien. [It’s] outside our normal viewpoint, just to have a different level of consciousness. That opened up my imagination about what their world could possibly be like, and how they communicate on multiple levels – whether it be through actual English, or through clicking, or whatever. It just let me go wild – there were no limitations in terms of how he moved and how he expressed himself, you know?

My interview with Michael James Shaw! We spoke about Avengers, Constantine, and his upcoming show Blood and Treasure.

There are no spoilers for Infinity War in the interview, or very very light spoilers if you want to go in completely blind. I’d not seen the film myself when we conducted the interview – it actually hadn’t even been released yet. There was a still a week or two to go if I remember correctly.

What was interesting about this interview, actually, was that when I conducted it Michael’s identity as the actor playing Corvus was still being kept secret – to the point that, when it was being arranged, I wasn’t actually initially told it was going to be him. At first, he was just referred to as the Corvus Glaive actor (admittedly I had a hunch it was going to be Michael, because one of the things they did tell me was that the actor had previously been in Constantine, and Michael struck me as most likely of the cast to be Corvus).

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Riverdale Season 2: Is Hal the Black Hood? And will he kill Sheriff Keller next?

We know now the Black Hood is going after the victims who previously escaped him, as well as those he perceives to be sinners. With Midge and Chic dead, that leaves a couple of obvious victims next – maybe Moose, or indeed Fred Andrews. 

But it feels more likely that he’ll target Sheriff Keller. 

He’ll find himself in the crosshairs because of his affair with Mayor McCoy, but from a narrative perspective, it makes sense: Keller is exactly the sort of prominent supporting character whose death would create emotional stakes, but not represent a massive change in the same way killing Archie’s dad would. 

Next week, then, Sheriff Keller should probably be worried about more than just his job.

Here’s my piece on this week’s Riverdale episode, which I’d love if people could share around a bit.

This particular article ponders whether Hal is the Black Hood, if Sheriff Keller is likely to be his next victim, and more. (Like, for example, why Cheryl and the River Vixens have a special funeral outfit. Actually, it’s less a question, because the reason is obvious – it is Extremely Extra, in a way that suits both Cheryl and Riverdale, so it makes perfect sense – and more of a celebration.)

And, yes, if you’re thinking that the above picture has very little to do with the above text, then… well, then you’d be correct. These things happen, you know how it is.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Sontaran Stratagem

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You’re carrying a gun. I don’t like people with guns.

It is always a little difficult to write about these episodes. In part, the problem is derived from being the first part of a two-part story; there’s a certain degree of incompletion there, since it’s not the full story, which in turn makes it harder to write about the episode as a discrete piece.

Also, though, it’s the matter of the format and structure. The first two-parter of each of the Russell T Davies series, and the second two-parter from Moffat’s first series – written, perhaps notably, by Chris Chibnall, which is probably basis enough to speculate we might see them return in some form or another – tended to be what you can charitably call “broader episodes”. Less about big ideas than big set pieces, they’re rendered in sweeping brush strokes and aimed, generally speaking, at the younger audience members. It’s very much not a bad thing, or so I’d maintain; the monster two-parter has always got a bit of a lambasting. Not just from fans, who are going to be myopic and overly critical about most things; a quick google search for a review from 2008 described this episode, and previous years’ equivalents, as a “breakneck nosedive into abject embarrassment”. So, while I’ll generally always defend them for what they are, what they are is relatively simplistic television that can be difficult to write much about.

Still, though, that’s what you might call the received wisdom (and, actually, glancing through that review it strikes me as a fairly trashy piece, so we might not want to call it wisdom). It’s certainly something Russell T Davies always disagreed with – granted, he would, but when he contested the description that these were “just for kids” he might well have had a point. Looking back, you can see some clear satirical elements to Aliens of London/World War Three, I actually think that Daleks in Manhattan throws out some interesting ideas, and hopefully I’ll figure out something for Rise of the Cybermen before I publish this.

So, with this admittedly slightly tenuous premise now established in more words than are strictly needed, let’s consider: what’s going on in The Sontaran Stratagem, other than the bright colours and the returning monsters that look a little like potatoes?

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What stood out to me as being – at the very least – interesting was the… I don’t want to call it a central conflict, because that suggests it has a bit more prominence than it actually did, so let’s say the tension between the Doctor and UNIT.

It makes a degree of sense, for the series in its post Time War state, that the Tenth Doctor is going to bristle when confronted with soldiers. In a wider sense, too, there’s an obvious tension lurking there – really, one that’s lurking in any UNIT story – because the Doctor so often finds himself working against armies in some respect or another. There’s a lot of ideas of authority and aggression tied up in there, which are often the traits you see the Doctor rebelling against; hence, then, the juxtaposition of UNIT with the Sontarans, who are the most exaggerated version of jingoism and brutality that you can get. Look at the two UNIT soldiers who come across Skor; look at the way the taller one, Private Harris, mocks and taunts Skor. It’s a vision of a very particular idea of the army – bullish and brash and filled with bravado, and ultimately also quite toxic. There’s something interesting about that, I think, given how you’d normally expect the alien fodder supporting cast to be written in such a way that they’re immediately sympathetic – it feels like an almost conscious attempt to get us to dislike him, and dislike the way he throws his weight around.

But look also at Martha and Luke Rattigan. Martha is now pretty much explicitly a soldier, and for all she talks about reforming the system from within, there’s a certain ugliness attached to it. (How else are you meant to read the line about “searching for illegal aliens”, before she starts questioning an Eastern European worker?) Similarly, there’s that great moment where Luke starts to join in with the Sontaran chant, imitating them and aspiring to be like them; it’s there that, suddenly, it makes sense why you emphasise the Sontarans as a clone race – because they’re all about conformity. That’s the big issue with the army, and in a sense you can see this almost as foreshadowing the problems we later see the Twelfth Doctor have with soldiers too.

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Having said that, though, that opens up another angle of consideration. One of the big points of conflict between the Twelfth Doctor and Danny Pink was that, for all the Doctor’s disdain of soldiers, he treats them like he’s an officer. And you can see that here, because as soon as the Tenth Doctor is on site, he’s giving orders too – he fits right into the command structure, much as he insists he doesn’t. They draw attention to it, albeit as a joke, but it’s interesting to see how a lot of the ideas that are on display here crop up again during the show. I doubt that Steven Moffat was referring back to The Sontaran Stratagem consciously during the planning of Series 8, but it’s neat to see how the same character traits are preserved across the length of the series. Or, maybe not preserved exactly, but recur.

What’s also still interestingly relevant is Luke Rattigan (with two Ts), who feels very much the picture of some of the worst of society today – the entitled teenager, driven to violence because he feels isolated and lashes out. Even where the episode has dated, being built around satnav as it is, it’s still deeply topical in some ways. In a way, it’s kinda making me regret the way I approach these reviews; they’re all quite stream of consciousness, probably more accurately described as just a collation of thoughts than a proper review, written immediately following a single watch. I think if I were to approach this more studiously, there’s actually a lot to say about The Sontaran Stratagem – certainly, far more than I expected going in.

But, equally, yes. It’s weak in a lot of ways. For one thing, the incidental music really stood out quite poorly here; it’s often way too oversignified, hindering the episode rather than augmenting it. One particular moment that stands out is when the Doctor remarks that no one has told Luke Rattigan no in a very long time – David Tennant plays that line brilliantly, but the music blunts it entirely.

In the end, though, I liked it a lot – a lot more than I thought I would – and I’m looking forward to next week quite a bit.

7/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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Composer Mac Quayle on American Crime Story, working with Ryan Murphy, and more

Mac Quayle Interview American Crime Story Ryan Murphy Alex Moreland

More established composers mention this to up and coming composers, saying it’s really important that you develop your own voice, it’s really important to have a singular voice. I heard it a lot and so I think maybe it’s a little bit of a daunting target to hit.

And so it’s not something I’ve really set out to [do, thinking that] I need to develop this voice. Rather I just do the work that I’ve been asked to do and I try to be as creative as possible and try to do something unique if I can, and I’m making decisions while doing that that are inferred from my own experiences and my own tastes and life and all of that, and so hopefully the final product then does have this, some sort of stamp on it that you might able to identify as my voice.

I spoke with Mac Quayle a while back about American Crime StoryThe Assassination of Gianni Versace, as well as – across a wider discussion of his history of collaborations with Ryan Murphy – American Horror Story, Feud, and Scream Queens.

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Naomi Battrick, Niamh Walsh, Abiola Ogunbiyi, Abubakar Salim and Ben Starr on Jamestown series 2, historical drama, and more

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Anything about anything is a product of the time of when it was made. We all know that. You go and study history; history is not the study of what happened, history is the study of how it was recorded. It always has been, so this isn’t possible to get away from.

This show, when it was made, at this time, [was made] because there was a climate in which we were looking for shows like this, and it was telling a story that hasn’t been told before but would have happened, but told in the point of view of a society that was looking to see history in a different light. Ten years ago, this show would have been told completely differently, and it would have been told differently decades before that. I think this is a product of its time, so this is reflective of universal values that we can all look at.

This is an interview I’m extremely proud of, for a couple of different reasons. The first is that I think it’s simply just genuinely very good – we touched on a lot of interesting ideas, and I think their passion for the show really leaps off the page. Certainly, it was palpable in the room – which brings us neatly to the second reason why I’m extremely proud of this interview.

My two Jamestown interviews were actually the first interviews I’d ever done in person, which was, as you can probably imagine, a very different experience from the phoners I’d done before. I was deeply terrified, and more than a little bit out of my depth I suspect. It probably showed. But! I really appreciated quite how friendly the Jamestown cast were (and all the PR people who arranged it, come to think of it), which really put me at ease. Lovely people (Niamh Walsh and Ben Starr loved my cool yellow shoes), and it really meant a lot – and still means a lot – that they were as lovely as they were. Aw.

And, of course, if you liked this piece, you might be interested in the article I wrote about Jamestown series 2, which I spoke to Ben Starr about in the interview. Sort of. It was basically his idea to write it.

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Sophie Rundle, Stuart Martin, Steven Waddington and Luke Roskell on Jamestown series 2, power dynamics, and more

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There’s the political stage, but the domestic front as well, and everyone trying to survive isn’t it? I think when you go to create a new world and you have a new microcosm of society it becomes very clear what people’s greatest desires are – and you see very quickly the people that want power, and want authority, and want prestige. And some people just want a peaceful simple life, and I think that’s what this is: a study of human nature, and what different people are craving, and what lengths they’ll go to, to get and protect what they want.

Here’s the first of my two Jamestown interviews, both of which are very special to me – they’re the first interviews I did in public! This set specifically, actually, is the first of the two I did, so the other was a little easier in that regard.

I was very lucky, and very appreciative, that those first in-person interviews were with people who were as lovely as Sophie, Stuart, Steven and Luke (sure, we can be on a first name basis, why not) – you always hear those stories of, like, diva actors who’d kick up some fuss or another, but these guys couldn’t be further from that. Wonderfully nice and accommodating while I was doing my best to hide how utterly terrified I was.

I’d love to interview them again, actually – maybe for Jamestown series 3, come to think of it. Not because I think, like, I’d do a better job of it and want to take a second try (I probably would do better, though I do also think this is a really, really good interview), but because they were really good interviewees, and I think it’d be neat to talk to them again.

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Riverdale Season 2: Everything we need to know after the musical episode, AKA Riverdale’s best episode ever

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There’s something about Riverdale’s exaggerated aesthetic and over-the-top sensibilities that make it almost uniquely suited to a musical. You could easily imagine it becoming an annual tradition, with the series covering a whole host of different musicals. It’s pretty much exactly the apotheosis of Riverdale’s already idiosyncratic style, and it’d be brilliant to see the show have another try at it.

Indeed, this week’s episode was already probably the best episode of the show so far on its own terms anyway. It married the distinct tone and feel of the quirky teen drama with the musical genre in a pretty much perfect way – and, as ever, opened up a lot of questions about the future of the show. From Archie’s relationship with his dad to Cheryl’s conflict with her mother, and of course the blood-curdling return of the Black Hood, this episode gave us a lot to consider.

It is in no way an exaggeration, to my mind, to say that the musical episode was the best episode of Riverdale ever, and I’d love to see them do another one. Genuinely, I really properly loved it; after a run of episodes that I found quite frustrating, this was such a breath of fresh air that really made me want to engage with the show again.

What’d be a good one to do next year, do we think? My knowledge of musicals is, sadly, sorely lacking. Les Mis, maybe? That’s sort of it. Phantom of the Opera, actually, seems like it could fit pretty well within Riverdale‘s Extremely Extra aesthetic.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Planet of the Ood

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It’s not so different from your time.

In a sense, Planet of the Ood was always going to be necessary. Following their introduction in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, the Ood demanded a follow up; indeed, one was initially planned for Series 3, in the episode that became 42.

The reason it was necessary is simple, if not necessarily obvious. It’s not the fact that the Ood have a distinct and memorable design, though they do; it’s also not a case of budgetary limitations and the need to reuse props, though I imagine that did play a part. Rather, it’s because the fundamental concept of the Ood demands consideration and deconstruction as soon as it’s raised, and that’s not something they found the time for in their original story.

At first glance, we were told that the Ood were a race of natural slaves, a servant race who need to be given something to do – ‘employing’ the Ood, as it were, was a kindness more than anything else. It’s not difficult to see the parallels between that and historic justifications of slavery; when those parallels exist, and as overtly as they are in the case of the Ood, it’s important to take them and respond to them. If ignored, it’s an uncomfortable lapse at best, and a damning flaw at worst – look at the House Elves in Harry Potter, for one thing. (Of course, there’s a lot of things like this in Harry Potter if you look back on it in hindsight.)

So, yes, Planet of the Ood – an episode dedicating to questioning and deconstructing the assumptions made during the Ood’s first introduction – was necessary. Arguably especially necessary in something like Doctor Who, in fact, given that a big part of the series is about, at least nominally, helping people, questioning authority, and standing up to injustice. That’s a poor encapsulation, admittedly, but it’s the basic idea – certainly in an episode where humans have been enslaved by funny looking aliens, you’d expect the plot to be about freeing the humans. So, yes, of course it’s necessary to do an episode about helping the Ood.

That having been said, though, the most interesting part of Planet of the Ood is how it’s very pointedly not about ‘helping the Ood’.

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It looks like it is, certainly. There’s definitely a sense of active involvement; it follows the same broad shape of most Doctor Who episodes, and between the chase scenes, action set pieces and eventual confrontation with the villain, it feels like the Doctor comes in and saves the day.

Instead, Planet of the Ood actually avoids that – sure, the structure obscures things, but for the most part the Doctor and Donna are actually just observers, just watching a revolution from the outside. In doing so, Planet of the Ood very neatly refutes the white saviour concept that can, in fact, be read into a lot of episodes of Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn’t wade in and save the day, because there’s actually not a need for him to; it’s not his place to. But there’s another smart thing going on here too, advancing that idea further. The episode doesn’t just position the Doctor and Donna as observers, but up to a point, they’re arguably complicit. Certainly, there’s a very pointed critique of how the Doctor acted in The Impossible Planet, and the way he just accepted the suggestion the Ood are naturally docile, naturally servants. He might be an observer, but he’s not outside the system.

In turn, it’s worth looking at Donna, and her role in the story. If there was still any expectation that Donna would be a silly, comedic companion, this would surely have disproved it entirely; this episode has some of Catherine Tate’s best work in the role. What’s particularly notable is that for all the past few years of Doctor Who have been about opening companions eyes – Rose’s speech about “a different way to live springs to mind – this is the first time the show has really delved into that. Listening to the song of the Ood is much more of a different way to live than simply walking in a time long since past or breathing in the alien air. It’s a far more nuanced and considered portrayal of how TARDIS travel can change perspective than we’ve seen so far, and it’s something I hope we’ll see again in future.

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Admittedly, it’s not perfect – there’s one particular flaw that springs to mind.

The ending feels a little easy, almost as though it’s missing part of the point of the wider episode. By that I don’t mean the moment where the Doctor turns off the psychic dampener affecting the Ood brain – though one does sort of wish Sigma had been allowed to have that moment – but rather the line about how all the Ood will be returning home soon. It’s less than convincing, a line that seems to aim more for a neat conclusion that trying to ring true particularly; if you look back in real life, it’s never really that simple. Even after slavery was made illegal, it still continued for the next few decades – and that’s even before you get into the whole “who do you think made your clothes” sort of thing. It’s difficult to believe that everyone would simply go “well, better send the Ood home now” – arguably, it feels like a blindspot that would prompt another story in the same sense that The Impossible Planet’s claim the Ood were a natural slave race prompted this one. Indeed, you can easily imagine a Jodie Whittaker story set on a mining base a year or two after this story, with a corporation taking advantage of illegal Ood labour they’re simply not mentioning.

But that’s one flaw in a story that has a lot to like going on within it. Russell T Davies described this story as being quite grim, and he’s not wrong exactly, but equally – Planet of the Ood is a pretty effective model of ‘mature’ Doctor Who. It’s still got a certain humour and levity to it, but there’s a very thoughtful, very conscious through line to the story; this is the sort of story to aspire to, rather than big battle scenes and threatening aliens.

Ultimately, then, it’s a very strong episode – the best of Series 4 so far, and I suspect were I ever to try and rank them, I’d consider it amongst the best of the Tennant era full stop.

9/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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