The politics, passions, and people of A Very English Scandal

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One of the more interesting comments Russell T Davies made in the weeks before A Very English Scandal first aired was that he thought “both [Norman Scott and Jeremy Thorpe] were victims”, in a way.

It’s perhaps not immediately apparent why Davies considered Jeremy Thorpe a victim, given after all that A Very English Scandal dramatises Thorpe’s efforts to have Norman Scott killed. It’s a story of power, politics, and passion, of conspiratorial whispers in the hallowed halls of power, and Thorpe is at the very heart of that. Casting Hugh Grant was, in many way, a stroke of genius; his Thorpe isn’t just suffused with predatory menace, but, as many have noted, feels informed by his past as a charismatic romantic lead. In turn, Grant’s Thorpe is a vision of that charm, curdled into something darker – there’s an undefinable, irresistibly engaging quality about him, even knowing there’s something rotten lurking within. Declaring Norman Scott must die with as much conviction as he opposes racism in the House of Commons, or planning how to dispose of his body with the same light, casual ease as mimicking the Prime Minister, doesn’t exactly seem to support the understanding that Thorpe is anything short of a Machiavellian villain.

But, if it’s difficult to see Thorpe as a victim from the first two episodes, it’s a scene in A Very English Scandal’s closing episode that renders Davies’ point crystal clear.

I am so, so proud of this piece, I’ve got to say. Genuinely, when I’d finished it, I was absolutely beaming – I was convinced, and still am, that it was one of the best pieces of writing I’d done in quite some time.

The only thing that, admittedly, is less than stellar about it is the title. I don’t think it really conveys what it’s about, does it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it conveys much of anything, it’s a bit… empty. Better, though, than other variations, such as “the politics, power and prejudice”.

Anyway, I’d really appreciate any shares that this one gets, because like I said, I’m extremely proud of it.

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Westworld, and the possibility of change

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Revolution has been a key theme of the second season, of course, following as it does the path of Dolores’ nascent rebellion. A particular throughline has been an interrogation of the morality of revolution, and of oppressed people using violence against their oppressors; it’s telling, for example, when Dolores notes that she’d rather “live with your judgement than die with your sympathy”, rejecting the idea the hosts’ uprising should be bound by the ethics of the humans. At the same time, though, there’s an emphasis on how the revolution needs to create something new, rather than simply invert the old paradigm; Dolores’ rewriting of Teddy, another host, clearly parallels the way Ford would deny Bernard autonomy. No doubt Teddy’s final indictment of Dolores will haunt Westworld moving forward: “What’s the use of surviving if we become just as bad as them?

Certainly, it’s one of the more compelling ideas that Westworld puts forward, and you can see allusions to it throughout; indeed, it’s inherent to the very setting, with the old West having been built on violently displacing Native Americans. (Note also the significance of some of the other ‘worlds’, like the Raj, evocative of ideas of colonialism and imperialism in similar ways.) Granted, it’s not perfect – Westworld still has a predominantly white cast, making its attempts to tell a story about oppression a little dishonest, if nothing else – but the show does put forward some genuinely engaging ideas, independently of its structural games and narrative tricks.

An article on Westworld! I’ve got to say, I’ve actually been really enjoying the show – I only caught up on the first series this year, a month or two before the second series began, and found it really compelling.

Unlike a lot of people, though, I quite enjoyed this year’s series as well – particularly for the ideas of change, and of revolution, that it tried to engage with. Hence writing this piece – it took me a little while to work out the right angle for it, and while I was pleased with how it turned out in the end, it is probably split a little too much between two ideas (change in general and revolution in particular) without enough effort to draw the link between them.

In any case, though, I think the article turned out quite well, and I am very much looking forward to Westworld series 3. Roll on… 2020, I suppose.

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Stolen Earth

I came here when I was just a kid.

I love this one.

I also love the next one (arguably more, though I don’t tend to think of these two in discrete parts), but we’ll get to that in time.

I used to have all these Doctor Who action figures – no, collectibles – nah, action figures. A couple of David Tennants, quite a few of them missing hands; Rose from New Earth and Rose from Rose, a strange thing that looked like it was about to start a fight most of the time; Daleks, invariably missing their manipulator arms (alright, plungers) or guns or eyestalks, each one totally broken by the siblings and never by me. (That’s not, like, an attempt to talk around it or laughingly suggest it was me and I pretended it was them; it was them and they know it.) Judoon, Slitheen, Captain Jack from The Empty Child and Sarah Jane from her Adventures, complete with a little Graske, Martha from Smith and Jones and Mickey from Army of Ghosts, complete with half a Cyberman.

But, anyway, I collected them over the years, and played with them, obviously.  Always ridiculous, over the top narratives, with exterminations and resurrections and epic, galaxy-spanning stakes, and, of course, every companion ever. (Well, no, not every companion ever, because I never had a Donna figure.)

You can, I imagine, see where this is going. The Stolen Earth is Doctor Who as it always existed in my imagination, writ large across the screen. It’s sprawling and excessive and fun, Doctor Who taking joy in simply being Doctor Who. There was no way I wasn’t going to love it. Watching it at nine years old (probably) it was, genuinely, event television in a way I’d never really experienced before. Watching it ten years later, there’s still such a rush of giddy joy to it all. Across these reviews I’ve written about how I sometimes worry my opinions are based too firmly on how I first watched it, but with this one, I’m not worried about that. I know it, and I don’t care – this was the most amazing episode of Doctor Whoever then, and in more ways than one it still is now.

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There’s still, I think, a kind of… conversations about Doctor Who are still basically lead by the same types of people, and arguably in some cases the same people full stop. It’s people who grew up in the 70s, talking about Weetabix and Target novels and Tom Baker pants, and then being terribly ashamed of it all in the 80s and 90s (and in some cases still, bizarrely, carry the imagined weight of that around with them).

Less common – and to me, more interesting – is accounts of people talking about growing up under the revived series. Probably the obvious reason for that, I suppose, is that they’re mostly just not old enough yet; we’re still kinda at the point where it’s people who were teenagers when Rose aired are talking about it, as opposed to the 7 and 8-year olds. Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll start to see the stories of Cyber-strawberry frubes and Totally Doctor Who and David Tennant pants, which I would just like the record to state that I always found kinda weird and never had. Anyway, though, we’re definitely getting there. It’s something I’d like to have a go at myself one day, I suppose.

If, and when, people start getting around to it, I suspect The Stolen Earth will loom large in those accounts. It feels difficult, now, to quantify quite how big it was at the time. I remember that it was one of the last episode titles to be revealed; at that point I was following production news and stuff, albeit mainly through the Doctor Who Adventures magazine, and listing the title of episode 12 as CONFIDENTIAL (or TOP SECRET or what have you) – alongside, I think, what became The Sontaran Stratagem – really set me off. The anticipation! (Mind you, I was always pretty confused by the theory that Harriet Jones was the Supreme Dalek, though I’m pretty sure I found out about that after the fact.)

And, I mean, I’ve already said how much I loved this episode at the time. That picture of all the companions assembled together, ‘The Children of Time’, that was my computer background for years. It was then, and in many ways still is, such a wonderfully intense episode of Doctor Who, and one that’s really quite deeply bound up with the ways I watched Doctor Who at the time, the way I experienced Doctor Who, and, sure, the way I lived it.

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It still stands up today, I reckon.

The oft-repeated refrain when I write about the first part of any two-parter is, you know, that that’s quite difficult for all these reasons, which I recount mainly to fill up my own arbitrarily set wordcount, and as a bit of a caveat for the fact that I’ve not really said anything. Admittedly, a lot of this review is me talking around the fact, discussing what The Stolen Earth is and represents as opposed to anything that actually happened in it. On the flip side, though, it is mostly set-up and OMG moments and the cliffhanger of modern-Who, still yet to be topped, so maybe that’s not so bad.

Still, though. There’s a lot of great moments. The obvious bits, like any moment where Bernard Cribbins is on screen, have been rightfully discussed, but what stood out to me about this episode most of all was Elisabeth Sladen. It feels odd to say it, but she’s a much, much better actress than I ever realised –  not that I ever thought she wasn’t, or anything, but it really struck me that every emotional beat of the Dalek invasion works because of her. It’s her fear of the Daleks, at Davros, and for Luke, that makes it work – it’s genuinely the most impactful performance of the episode.

It’s quite the episode, The Stolen Earth. Quite the episode.

These days those action figures are all neatly displayed on my shelves – lovingly displayed, in fact. (I’d have to concede they’re actually maybe not that neat, and they pick up dust like mad.) I feel like maybe I should try and construct some metaphor out of that, that the things you love as a child start to hold a different place in your life as you grow up or whatever, but nah, that’s nonsense. Or it’s nonsense here, anyway.

I just wanted to tell you about them. I really love those things

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Flowers, a quiet comedy with the feel of a melancholy fairytale, is strikingly brilliant

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The second series of Flowers, a piece which is very much in conversation with its predecessor, continues to evoke the feel of a fairytale – approaching it, however, from a different aesthetic. As writer and director Will Sharpe (who also plays Shun, the Flowers’ live-in illustrator) noted, Flowers draws on “a pagan and mystical heritage”, and that’s something the second series really emphasises. Broader in scope than series 1, moving its focus from Maurice to his daughter Amy, Flowers series 2 builds itself around the aesthetic of the aforementioned “pagan and mystical heritage”. There’s a new, warmer colour palette, in keeping with the summer setting; it’s evocative of the world of faerie, positioning mental health issues within that liminal space.

As a result, there’s a different energy to Flowers’ second series – it’s now less a haunting reverie and more of a wild rush. Indeed, something that’s worth remarking on about Flowers, and is perhaps less often spoken about, is the editing; much of Flowers comes down to the experience of watching it, the feeling of that wild rush, and that’s created in no small part by Selina Macarthur’s editing. The show masters tone such that it is, in some respects, less a television series and more of an experience –  the texture and the feel of the show is, arguably, one of the most impactful things about it.

This one, admittedly, I think I messed up.

So, I was running late with this piece, for various boring reasons we’ll call “personal problems” (in that they pertain to problems with me as a person) which put me under some time constraints when it came to actually writing it. You can perhaps tell, I think, because the second half of the article (typically the close focus/second idea aspect, insofar as I ever stick to the relatively loose structure I try and use) is a broader, more general “things that are good about the show” section, which is usually though not always a sign that I’ve struggled to get the piece to work. Possibly I shouldn’t have revealed the trick. Whoops.

Anyway, a day or two later, with some more though, I realised what I would have liked to write for the second half of the article, because it (hopefully) would have actually advanced all those ideas about fairytales and pagan mysticism I put forward in the first half. Essentially, the character Shun is kind of at a remove from the rest of the characters, right? On a couple of levels, really; there’s just the fact that the character is at a bit of a loose end sometimes, not a member of the family, whatever, but there’s also the metatextual level – Shun is played by Will Sharpe, who created it and writes it and directs it. He’s more of an observer for a lot of it, and we also know he’s the creator.

Also notable, though: Shun is the only one who ever interacts with these magical realism elements. He has that moment with his family (is that significant because of like, forests and the dead in both English and Japanese culture?) at the end of s1, and – eliding spoilers – s2 has an ending similarly shaped around Shun. Well, similar in that he’s important. Anyway, what does that say about the show?

Not a clue, but I felt like I’d stumbled onto something really important but didn’t have the time to actually let it develop into anything. That felt like a particular shame, because I really loved Flowers, and it’s always a bit of a point of personal disappointment when it feels like I’ve not done a show justice with my writing. Ah well. One to revisit one day, maybe.

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5 Years On

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So!

Today marks five years since I first started this blog, on the 22nd June 2013. I would’ve done something a little more elaborate to celebrate it, but… well, I kinda forgot. I’m also in the middle of setting up a new website (I was hoping to launch it today, but no luck) so it ended up just falling at the wrong time. I’m not entirely sure what I would’ve done by way of commemoration – I think an ‘interview’ of sorts with Rose might’ve been fun, since I credit her with a lot of the genesis of this whole thing, so maybe look out for that this time next year.

But it’d feel a little remiss to let this occasion go by without remarking on it at all, so I’ve decided to do just that. (I tried to write this straight into tumblr but, true to form, the site ate it. So I’m back to MS Word again.)

It is, I think, not understating things at all to say that starting this tumblr has changed my life entirely. For the better, too, which you probably can’t always say about this nonsense website! I joked about it a little in yesterday’s silly Turn Left thing, but this blog and the effect it had has become inextricable from the person I am today. The writing I did on here grew and grew to the point that it’s now my job, and I’m paid actual literal money for it, money that can be exchanged for goods and services like sandwiches and books and Doctor Who action figures, though admittedly fewer of those than I would’ve bought had the money started rolling in a few years earlier. (That might be for the best.) I’ve made genuine, massive life choices because of that, decisions that can be traced back to the choice to start this blog.

Hmm. Possibly I’ve made some mistakes in life, actually.

More than that, though, I reckon I’m probably a better person by virtue of the time spent here. More considerate, more empathetic, more aware of the world around me. Which isn’t to say I was, like, a horrible person before I logged on to tumblr dot com, or that I’m the best person I could be now, but it definitely had an impact. And I’m glad of that impact – better five years on here than five years on 4chan, right?

As I’ve been setting up my new website, I’ve realised quite how much I’ve actually produced over the past five years. There has been, to put it simply, A Lot – and I’m immensely proud of it all, even the stuff that’s kinda shit.

What’s also worth stressing, though, is that to write All That, I’ve relied on and been granted and benefitted from a lot of support from a lot of people. Obviously, I am pretty great in and of myself, and I don’t want to diminish my own talents in any way – because they are, you know, extensive – but all of you are pretty great too.

Hence the most important part of this post, if you’ll allow me a moment of unironic sincerity: thank you, all of you. Thank you to everyone who read anything, or shared anything, or bookmarked something to read and definitely planned to get back to it later even though the time got away from them. Thank you to my real life friends, and thank you to my internet friends. Thank you to people like IPFreely; despite his best wishes to the contrary, I still haven’t died of cancer. Thank you to Verity, who hired me, twice, for which I’m eternally grateful. Thank you to Taiey and cearothyme and everyone I’ve interacted with on tumblr, despite my being absolutely abysmal at replying. (so, um, sorry, too.) Thank you to Rose and Alexis and Ifunanya and Jessica and each of the three Toms, and thank you to Josh and Louise and Stuart, and, of course, thank you Ellie.

And, I suppose, thank you to whoever I forgot when I made the questionable choice to name people specifically.

Anyway, yeah, that’s that. Back to your regularly scheduled nonsense now, with the next update probably being The Stolen Earth on Thursday. And then I figure I should probably tell the three of you reading this about the new site at some point, whenever it ends up being ready.

Right. Here’s to the next five years. Christ, can you imagine me still doing this in 2023? We’d be halfway through “Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor”… and I can’t wait.

See you there?

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Turn Left

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What are you? What will you be?

[THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT FROM A VIDEO UPLOADED TO YOUTUBE ON 21ST JUNE 2018, ENTITLED “Turn Left???”]

So anyway, there I am, channel-hopping, and there’s this show on I’ve never seen before. Looks vaguely interesting – it has Catherine Tate in it, and she’s quite funny, so sure, why not. Let’s give it a watch. I’m not really doing anything else, after all, and I’m dimly aware of this show – I think some of my friends used to quite like it about a decade ago or so?

Something called doctor who.

And then I figured, hey, here’s an idea: why don’t I make a video about it? I know my videos aren’t normally about television, since I don’t watch a lot of it, but this was on my mind I guess, so I figured why not? Plus this show is kinda popular, or it used to be – my friends all stopped watching it when they cast that Benedict guy, but I know everyone was pretty excited last year when they cast Johnson from Peep Show, so maybe it’ll be popular again next year  – and I figure maybe a few enwhothiasts might wanna like this video or share it around or something.

Admittedly I didn’t entirely understand the beginning of it – I suppose they must have been on some alien planet, or something? Or was it, like, China in the future? I don’t really know what that was about, because I’ve never really seen the show, but I thought it was kinda neat that they included that instead of just having another sci-fi kinda thing. I suppose it must have meant that this show had a lot of scenes with sort of representation of other cultures, and particularly Asian cultures, so this was just another in a long line? It’d probably be a bit dodgy if it was the only one I guess, I don’t know.

… What was I saying? Oh, yeah, yeah. So one of the things I did know about this show was that they time travel a lot, which is pretty neat – if you click on this thingy here you can see a video I did about a year ago, which was all about the top five different places I’d love to time travel to if it were possible – but I was kind of a little bit confused when it happened with the beetle thingy? I always thought it was in one of those phone box things from the 1960s, like a great big blue one that’s bigger on the inside.

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But, anyway, yeah. I got the impression this was all, like, referring back to past episodes of the show, which is probably pretty exciting if you’re an enwhothiast. The idea of changing your past, or someone else changing your past which I guess is actually what happens here, is pretty interesting to me. Like, I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t do my vlogs, you know? I’ve been doing my little videos for nearly five years now – actually five years exactly tomorrow! – but what if, like, I’d done a blog, with writing and words and stuff instead? I remember my friend Rose suggested I make one ages ago, but I never did. Or I guess on a bigger level, there’s questions of, like, what if Hillary Clinton hadn’t beaten Jeb Bush in the election last year, or Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister?

Sorry I just got distracted! What was I saying?

Oh, yeah, I know. Anyway. Catherine Tate is properly amazing in this episode – it’s genuinely such a great performance, the way she moves from being a more sort of comic character at the beginning, a bit like her character in her own show, but then gradually becoming a much more tragic figure. A lot of that is because of that kind of rise of fascism and stuff, that sweeping force that’s going on in the background and affecting all their lives.

I think – though obviously, not really being involved in any enwhothiast communities or anything, I don’t know for sure – that probably one of the most talked about scenes of this episode is that one where it’s Mr Colasanto being taken away by the army, and Donna gradually realises that he’s being taken to a concentration camp. Like, it’s definitely a really powerful scene – Bernard Cribbins sells it so well, it’s a great performance – but perhaps what’s more notable is the way that, in the next scene, Donna is still going to the army to try and find a job.

It’s a moment of quiet defeat, that, and it feels like it’s perhaps the episode’s most incisive observation about the nature of fascism. You can argue, perhaps fairly, that one of the big flaws of the episode is that the thing that finally motivates Donna to step up isn’t one of the small human moments, but the existential mythic threat of the stars going out, but I’d argue it actually ties back to that moment where Donna goes to the military for jobs, a comment on the same sort of apathy.

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Soo, yeah. I hope you liked this video! Please don’t forget to like and subscribe and leave a comment below – I could do some more Doctor Who videos if you enjoyed this one! Maybe a series? Like, I could start them next year for the anniversaries, eleven years since the episode was done or something like that.

Wait, what’s that noise…?

[TRANSCRIPT ENDS.]

So, Turn Left.

It’s an episode that’s all about an alternate reality – a world where a significant event didn’t happen, and the repercussions that has, the tornado caused by the beating of a butterfly’s wing. A reality without the Doctor, or a reality without watching Doctor Who; a reality where fascism is on the rise and internment camps are built, and a reality where fascism is still on the rise and internment camps are still being built, except also I have a blog instead of being a vlogger.

I don’t know, mostly I thought this was a funny little gimmick. It’s perhaps not as insightful as it might have been – hey, when are they ever? – but it struck me as a broadly funny idea. Probably one that would have been better if some actual time and thought had gone into it – if I’d had the idea early enough, I totally would have done an actual vlog, or at least made sure the “character” of vlogger Alex in the above transcript was a little more consistent throughout.

Still! Turn Left. A pretty brilliant episode. Possibly, admittedly, a little too dark in places – the death of Sarah Jane, Luke, Clyde and Maria was quite upsetting – but it works throughout. A fantastic script from Russell T Davies (it’ll be interesting to see him return to some of these ideas with Years and Years in 2019) and, as the other Alex mentioned, a wonderful performance from Catherine Tate. Arguably her finest hour, in fact.

Can’t wait for next week!

9/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Midnight

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Because I’m clever.

So, something of an on-and-off theme of these reviews has been an attempt to re-evaluate past episodes of Doctor Who. Not necessarily because I think they need re-evaluation, or even because I think my re-evaluation would be especially important; there are, after all, a couple of other people who have written a few things about Doctor Who, to say the least. No, it’s much more of a personal re-evaluation, based on the contrast between the opinions I’ve held since first watching them, and the opinion I’d form as someone who is now ostensibly a TV critic. (Which still feels weird to say.)

But the other part of that is the question as to whether or not I can bring any level of critical insight to these episodes, or if they’re too bound up with the nostalgia and sentiment of my first viewing to be able to actually engage with them on that level. It’s something that’s come up a few times over the course of these reviews, and it is something I worry about; I do suspect that my reviews of Tennant era Who are fundamentally weaker than, say, the writing I’ve done about the Capaldi era in no small part because of the way I first watched them.

Which makes this episode something of an interesting limit point to that perspective. I’ve spoken a few times about how I basically always enjoyed every single episode of Doctor Who when I watched them a decade ago; they were, to me, pretty much perfect. (Which, again, has been part of the question with some of these reviews: do I only like it because I’m still viewing it with rose tinted glasses?)

Midnight, though, is the first episode of Doctor Who I didn’t actually like. I do quite keenly remember that, actually, and my reaction after it ended – that sort of sense of “is that it?”, and a general sense of dissatisfaction with it all. Specifically, if I remember correctly, it didn’t feel like the episode had gone for a full forty-five minutes – there was a sense that all we’d seen was the preamble and set-up, and the episode as a whole had been lacking in incident. There were no monsters!

Hence, anyway, the question I had in mind with this one – since it’s a very popular episode, and on an intellectual level I sort of ‘knew’ this would be one I ‘should’ like – was whether or not I’d like it, or still be stuck with the same mindset as before.

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Obviously, yeah, I did like it.

Which does sort of make sense. One of the things about Midnight, which I don’t think anyone would dispute, is that it’s definitely one of the more mature and experimental episodes of the series; it’s aimed more at the older segment of the audience, arguably, rather than the eight-year-olds. (Indeed, if I remember correctly, I think it’s something Russell T Davies was worried about  Which isn’t really a bad thing, and even then it’s not actually that simple – I imagine there were quite a lot of eight-year-olds who loved it because it was creepy and atmospheric. I think really I’m just trying to defend my relatively unrefined taste a decade ago. Whoops.

Anyway, yes, it was very good. It’s a great script from Russell T Davies, though it does feel rather atypical amongst his Who work; it’s not a unique observation to note, in fact, that it’s actually a rather direct inversion of Voyage of the Damned, looking at the worst of people in a difficult situation. I don’t think I’d be inclined to call it Davies’ best script – not because it isn’t good, but because it feels so different from his work in general, that much of what I like about Davies scripts is absent. In that sense, I suppose, I’d definitely be inclined to call it a great script by Davies, if not necessarily a great Davies script (even though that is splitting hairs in more than a few slightly unnecessary ways, and probably missing some nuance in terms of Davies’ wider career).

It’s worth singling out, of course, David Tennant and Lesley Sharp. In a lot of ways, this is an episode that feels well-tailored to Tennant and his Doctor; not just in terms of his use of language and speech, but his arrogance and assumed authority. (This is something that’s true of most, if not all, Doctors to a certain extent, but it feels like it’s especially the case with Tennant, or at least that Midnight approaches this in a way that’s specifically relevant to Tennant.) Lesley Sharp, too, shines throughout – I was going to say she does an impressive job, but really, that’s selling her short. The episode lives or dies on the basis of her performance; a big part of why it’s as good as it is is because she is as good as she is. It’s genuinely, really impressive stuff.

Both of the above points, though, are things that basically everyone has said about Midnight. Often less remarked upon, though, is Alice TroughtonMidnight is a really well-directed piece; it’s atmospheric, yes, but decidedly non-showy about it. There’s a subtlety to the direction, and a confidence to it too; it helps hold the episode together, giving the performances and the sound direction and so on space to breathe and be impactful.

So, yeah, Midnight is pretty great.

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What did strike me as being interesting about Midnight, actually, is that there’s a very post-2016 reading to it all.

A character I found myself paying a lot of attention to was Professor Hobbes. Something he does a lot is try and position himself as an authority, insisting over and over again that what he knows is correct, despite the facts that are right in front of him. He’s a parallel to the Doctor, both in terms of his profession and the meta quirk of his casting, but where the Doctor is trying to learn new things and so on, Hobbes is trying to shut them down, insistent he already knows everything. Note also how he keeps shutting down Dee Dee whenever she offers a new idea, or speaks on something she does actually know about.

Also significant, I felt, was Biff Kane, the father character. If you look at his dialogue, he keeps referring back to a certain type of masculinity; he really resents the implication (or, what he assumes is the implication) that he’s a “coward”, and when he’s trying to get the Professor to help him throw the Doctor out of the bus he asks him “what kind of a man are you?”, which says a lot about what he values, and that strain of toxic masculinity. Look also at his wife Val, and that line about “immigrants”.

Essentially, though, when Russell T Davies wrote an episode about the ugliness of people, and the damage of the kind of mob mentality, it starts to feel very reminiscent of the things that prompted Brexit – that rejection of experts, that strain of xenophobia, so on and so forth. This is still a bit of a half-formed idea; I’d like to, and actually do intend to once I’ve finished these weekly posts, return to the idea and write a more considered article on “Doctor WhoMidnight, and Brexit”, actually taking the time to analyse it and consider it rather than offering a few off-the-cuff thoughts.

Ultimately, though, Midnight is in fact very good, and people were always right to love it. It’s a massively, massively impressive piece of television, and even though I didn’t get it at the time, a decade later this is exactly the sort of thing I want to see from Doctor Who.

9/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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How The Good Fight found clarity in chaos, and answers in absurdity

the good fight season 2 review essay diane lockhart christine baranski clarity chaos absurdity trump

The Good Fight’s title sequence is instructive. Set to a frantic score by David Buckley, it marries ordered elegance with violent disruption; a vase of flowers, phones, a gavel and so on all explode, their pieces scattered. A vibrant red claret from a shattering wine glass fills the screen, and dust and ash float across a dark background.

What it is, in effect, is a means to set the stage. It establishes chaos as the status quo. And then it begs the question: what next?

Where last year The Good Fight heralded a need to fight, it now turns to a different question: how can you fight? Again, the title sequence is instructive, having been fine tuned since last year; the television screens, added to the explosive line-up this season, juxtapose the absurdity of Putin’s overly macho image with the chilling horror of Charlottesville marchers. It’s a world where the awful and the absurd are so often the same; it’s a world ripped from the headlines, after all. As Diane Lockhart (The Good Fight’s inimitable lead, Christine Baranski) notes, “I used to laugh at the absurdity of the news. Now I’m all laughed out”.

I love love love The Good FightIt’s one of my favourite shows of the past two years; ahead of writing this article I spent a whole day rewatching episodes of season 2 and, while I normally hate binge-watching television, it was genuinely the most fun I’d had in ages.

The ending of this piece is perhaps a little weak; I think there’s a thread of connective tissue that I didn’t quite get right, which hampers that conclusion a little. A few days later I worked out how to fix it, though… and then promptly forget it, which is irritating.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Forest of the Dead

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Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor – but I do think that all the skies in all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever accepts it.

The attentive amongst you will probably have realised that I didn’t post this last week, since I am in fact posting it today. That’s because I uploaded Silence in the Library a week too early, it turns out; there was a week delay after The Unicorn and the Wasp that I wasn’t aware of, I assume for Eurovision or a sport or something. I’m a little annoyed, because it’s the first time I’ve got a date wrong across the whole project, but not massively so, because it was ahead of time rather than too late, and if any story works as an echo of the future it’s that one.

[In another instance of the future infringing on the past, kinda, I fixed the dates on the wordpress site.]

Anyway, though. Forest of the Dead. Let’s start at the end, as this story has been inclined to do.

River’s death is, of course, a deeply affecting moment. A lot of that comes down to the fact that David Tennant and Alex Kingston give great performances; this, much moreso than The Doctor’s Daughter, is the episode of series 4 that gives Tennant the opportunity to push the character in new directions and find more of a limit point for his performance. Certainly, there’s no character quite like River in terms of how they interact with Tennant’s Doctor, and if you think that The Doctor’s Daughter should have been more along these lines, it’s not a comparison the earlier episodes come off well in. Obviously!

Equally, though, it’s not just about Tennant; I spoke last week about just how good Alex Kingston is, but it’s worth pausing again to focus on just how good she is here. Here especially, actually, because this is arguably the most important scene the character has, given it pretty much defines our understanding of River as a character full stop. If her death in this episode hadn’t had weight – both as a poignant moment on its own terms, but also the weight to sell a shared history we’re not yet aware of – then it likely wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well as it did. But, as we know, it did work, and acted as the emotional cornerstone of the next five years.

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Parts of the ending of the episode could come into a little bit of criticism, admittedly; there’s a sense that setting River up with a life within the Library, while very nice for a while, probably isn’t something she’d actually be especially interested in for long. (How close was she with the rest of the crew? I got the impression she’d only started working with them recently on a freelance basis, so they’re probably not friends she’d want to spend forever with. And that’s a very specific sort of domesticity that you don’t really imagine River wanting – flip the script and imagine the Doctor was saved in the computer, leading that life, and it’d have fairly different connotations.) That said, I’m less than inclined to make much of it, particularly since we return to it in The Name of the Doctor and find out that River has plenty of stuff going on to keep her occupied.

In terms of the broader resolution of the episode, too, there’s something of an argument to be made that it’s a little… not incoherent, but certainly less coherent than Moffat’s usually fairly tightly-plotted episodes have been historically. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, or anything quite so significant, but rather that there’s this little sense that, as the plot shifts and picks up momentum very quickly, it was motivated by a desire to start wrapping things up first and foremost; it’s the bit where Cal starts to reject her surroundings, and the planet goes into self-destruct mode. Indeed, it’s the self-destruct mode part especially that feels like it’s a little out of nowhere – shouldn’t the increased peril at the end come from the Vashta Nerada? They end up a little forgotten anyway.

To be honest though, it’s not actually all that important. Mostly because the episode is still entertaining enough to pull it off; while watching it, that sense that there’s only fifteen or so minutes left and it’s time to pick up the pace is very much secondary to what’s happening on screen, and that’s the more important thing.

Also, though, there’s the fact that the Vashta Nerada and the Library aren’t reallythe heart of it, they’re just the set dressing – it’s the final scene, where the Doctor runs to save River, that matters most. (Indeed, that was going to be the title at one stage, The Doctor Runs.) It’s the most triumphant scene of the episode, as you’d expect, and it’s really the apotheosis of Moffat’s understanding of the Doctor; never giving in, never giving up, and always saving people.

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One of the other interesting things that struck me about this episode – just in the sense of an idle thought I’d like to pick at more in future if ever I do a proper analysis of this episode (unlikely but not impossible; there’s only one episodic project left I’d like to do with Doctor Who at this point, but, you know, spoilers) or something I’d like to read an essay on if someone’s already written it – and that’s the fact that, for all the significance of the library, large swathes of Forest of the Dead play out by television logic more than anything else.

What I’ve got in mind specifically is Donna’s life in the dream world – the place functions by taking the television style literally, making the narrative leaps of jump cuts into something discomforting and offputting. It’s a really neat trick, and quite effective here; Euros Lyn does a great job making this technique work. In the broader framework of the two-part story, it feels like it calls back to the opening of Silence in the Library, where Cal was essentially watching Doctor Who; this is a literalisation of that, putting Donna within a television world. Arguably – given there’s some interesting ideas about escapism going on in the background in terms of Cal’s character – you can look at this as a union of the two ways Steven Moffat would’ve experienced Doctor Who: books, and television.

I don’t know. I mean, like I said, it’s an uninterrogated observation, just something that occurred to me while I was watching it. In terms of the broader analysis, there’s probably much more interesting stuff that can be said of it – how it fits with Russell T Davies’ engagement with television as a medium, how it fits with Moffat’s interest in glitchy technology, how it fits with Moffat’s engagement with the idea of storytelling (which is the more overt and obvious idea running through the episode).

Ultimately, anyway, it’s a really good episode. Very entertaining and engaging to watch, lots of memorable scenes and imaginative concepts, and an episode that stands on its own terms even outside of the significance it gained in later years.

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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The Resident is a medical show that hates the medicine industry, and there’s something weirdly captivating about that

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In almost every episode, there’s one clear villain. It’s not illness or disease, or even really medical malpractice exactly – it’s the profit-seeking motive. People die because hospital administrators emphasise finances over patients, or because they don’t have the right insurance, or because they end up on the wrong side of a cost-benefit analysis. In one episode, Conrad performs an expensive, expressly forbidden medical procedure to save someone’s life; in the next, people die because the hospital is understaffed as a result of trying to balance the books after that operation. There’s a real vein of cynicism and disdain for what The Resident describes as the “questionable ethics” of its setting – in short, The Resident is a medical programme that pretty openly hates the medical industry.

It’s not that it’s entirely unique in addressing the failings of the American medical system – but, rather than it being the Act 4 obstacle in occasional episodes, the damage wrought by the profit-seeking motive is an inalienable fact of The Resident’s status quo. That’s what sets it apart, and why I’m still watching; if nothing else, I’m curious about where exactly it’s going to go. There’s a sense that the show is grappling with a problem it’ll never solve, albeit for obvious reasons; I can’t imagine any of the characters ever leaving to become universal healthcare lobbyists, or The Resident ever breaking with reality by depicting the sweeping reforms needed to resolve its central obsession.

So, this is an article that had a little bit of an interesting journey to it.

As I outline at the start of this piece, my plan initially was to liken The Resident to House, given the show itself seemed to beg such a comparison. Essentially, I was going to write a sister article to my earlier piece on how The Good Doctor moves on from House – discussing all the ays in which The Resident doesn’t, and how it struggles to do anything interesting with the ‘abrasive medical antihero’ format even as it tried to deconstruct it.

However! The people working on The Resident clearly realised there were some flaws with the pilot, and shifted focus to move the show in a different direction, meaning The Resident became something a little weirder: a medical show that openly hates the American medicine industry. It still wasn’t very good, and had a lot of weird stuff going on (the finale, because I ended up watching it for that long, had a very eek line about how doctors are the same as cops) but it was, as I said, weirdly captivating.

What you might also notice about this piece is that it’s in first person, which isn’t something I typically do with this type of article. (I do do it with reviews, though this isn’t the time to explain my internal review vs article distinction.) Mostly I just wanted to try somethign a little new. I’m not convinced it… not that it didn’t work, but I suppose more that it didn’t really make a difference. Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, because I don’t quite remember what the idfference I wanted it to make was, if indeed there was any.

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