How The Night Manager gave us the Best TV Villain of 2016

hugh laurie the night manager villain john le carre susanne bier david farr amc bbc one tom hiddleston richard roper johnathon pine

The Night Manager gave us one of 2016′s best TV villains so far – Hugh Laurie’s Richard Roper, international arms dealer, and supposedly “the worst man in the world”.

Across the first episode, we don’t actually see much of Roper; primarily, we hear of him by reputation, and reputation alone. The murder of Sophie Alekan is attributed to his machinations, and it tears apart the entire world of our protagonist, Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine; his business associates in Cairo are shown to be thugs and brutes, indulging in their own frequent bouts of violence. We can see the dedication with which Olivia Coleman’s Angela Burr pursues him, throwing all her resources at ensuring his capture, and describing him as “the worst man in the world”.

So when Roper eventually does appear, we expect to hate him. We almost want to hate him. But we can’t, not really. Laurie’s performance is charismatic in the extreme; from his first introduction – “Hello, I’m Dicky Roper” – there’s a sheer, infectious charm about his character. Laurie does a very good job of winning over the audience immediately; primed though we are to hate him, all of that is done away in an instance.

I actually mostly disliked The Night Manager – Tom Hiddleston struck me as uncharacteristically flat, mainly because the only character he was given was a fairly tired fridging/revenge plot – but one thing I loved was Hugh Laurie’s performance as the villain of the piece.

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Doctor Who: A tribute to Christopher Eccleston’s “fantastic” Ninth Doctor

christopher eccleston doctor who ninth doctor rose russell t davies promo picture gallifrey face

Today, the 26th March 2016, marks eleven years since Doctor Who returned to our screens – almost as long a time as it had been away. It’s strange to think, really, just how long it’s been since Christopher Eccleston first graced our screens as the Doctor, bringing Doctor Who back with a bang.

The Ninth Doctor is, for me, a bit of an oddity. He was the first Doctor I ever saw, true, but I only caught the very end of his tenure; Bad Wolf was my first episode, and then a week later the Doctor regenerated. So, I’ve not exactly got a big emotional connection to him – but I do have a huge respect and affinity for the character.

Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of NuWho! Weird to think, that. I’ve reached a point now where Doctor Who has been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t.

To celebrate, then, I’ve written this tribute to the Ninth Doctor, who really was… fantastic.

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On the Subject of the BBC

bbc building license fee justification argument for in favour of good idea bitesize radio defence

I live in Britain – London, specifically. And, I should point out, I am not a particularly patriotic person. My political views are left-leaning, but largely lack definition. I say this as preamble and context leading to the main statement of this piece, which you’ve probably guessed already:

The BBC is one of the most important institutions in the UK, alongside the NHS, and the licence fee should not be cut.

At the minute, the license fee for a colour television is £145.50 per year. That’s about £12.13 per month, and works out at just under forty pence per day. (You can see a full breakdown of the costs here.)

The question is, what do you get for forty pence a day?

Well, for a start, there’s TV.  Over 30 different drama programmes – Jonathan Creek, Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Sherlock, Last Tango in Halifax, and so on and so forth. You’ve got all sorts of soaps, like Holby City, Casualty, and of course Eastenders. There’s sitcoms like Citizen Khan, Not Going Out, and Mrs Brown’s Boys. As well as that, there’s also children’s programming. Things like TeletubbiesTracy Beaker, Blue Peter, Deadly 60, In the Night Garden, Newsround. On top of that, you have documentaries – there’s nature documentaries, some of which are with David Attenborough. All sorts of historical documentaries, with special ones produced to commemorate different anniversaries. As well as that, you’ve got all sorts of sports programmes, like Match of the Day, and talent programmes, like The Voice or Strictly Come Dancing, and talk shows, like The Graham Norton Show.

Then, after that, you’ve got radio programmes. There’s 59 different BBC radio stations. These radio stations are not just limited to news, or music – you get comedy, drama, panel games, sketch shows, documentaries, plays. Look, here is a list of the output from just one of the 59 BBC radio stations.

But that’s not all!

Because, you see, the BBC licence fee also pays for online content. Now, the obvious ones that you’d think of are the BBC News website, or maybe the BBC Sport website. There’s also BBC Weather, and BBC iPlayer – where you can see, yet again, the sheer variety and range and breadth of content being produced by the BBC.

Those are the obvious ones, mind you. But it barely scratches the surface.

You’ve got the BBC Bitesize website, a resource for students from Key Stage 1 (5 – 8 years old) all the way up to A-Levels. I guarantee that every single student in the UK, and a huge percentage of teachers, have used and benefitted from that website.

There’s a food website. A travel website. An arts website. An earth website. A history website. An ethics website. A website full of advice for teensAnd there is still more on top of that!

The BBC offers 24 hours news coverage on a variety of far reaching topics, on several different platforms – TV, Radio, online, apps, etc etc etc. It is, more or less, the most impartial and most reputable news service in the country.

That is what you get for 40p a day. Forty pence a day for all of that.

Obviously – and I do want to stress this – the BBC is not perfect. It does need to be criticised, and it does need to be carefully and objectively considered, rather than viewed with rose tinted glasses.

Thing is, though? The best argument for the license fee is the amount of content we get from it.

The license fee is a bargain, not a burden.

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Some More Thoughts on a Female Doctor

doctor who female doctor who silhouette thirteenth doctor jodie whittaker argument for against chibnall moffat

Introducing a female Doctor isn’t really a new idea – I want to say that the earliest time it was brought up was at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure, but it’s entirely possible that it happened before then too. At one point in the 1980s, Sydney Newman (one of the creators of Doctor Who) made a serious pitch to the BBC, in which he advocated for a female Doctor: he wanted to move on from the “presently largely socially valueless, escapist schlock”, and create something that would “engage the concerns, fears and curiosity” of the audience, by having the Doctor “metamorphosed into a woman.” (He also said Patrick Troughton should come back for a couple of years first, but that’s beside the point.)

So, it’s been something that has been given serious thought at some stage. Moffat has, in the past year, said that eventually someone will cast a female Doctor, because the time will be right, and they’ll think of an actress who is worth pursuing in particular – but that it’d very much be a case of casting a person, rather than a gender.

What I’m saying is essentially what Sydney Newman said – the BBC should specifically look for a female Doctor. From conception to casting, the thirteenth Doctor should always and completely be explicitly female.

Doctor Who is always at its best when it’s doing something new. The key appeal of the program is the breadth of the narrative; when Doctor Who fully realises the concept of “anywhere in time and space, anything that ever happened or ever will”, that is when it really sings. Innovation has always been the biggest achievement of the show.

And a female Doctor is the next logical step. It’s the next thing that the BBC can do to open up new possibilities, bring new potential and create new stories.

It comes back to a Steven Moffat quote, actually – “when your new idea has become your old idea, it’s time to get a new idea.” The male Doctor has become an old idea. At this stage, it’s time for there to be a new idea – a female Doctor. (Or, at least, it’s an old idea, but it’s one that’s never been realised, so…)

Think, for a moment, about all the different actresses who could play the Doctor. Olivia Coleman. Lara Pulver. Tilda Swinton. Angel Coulby. Katie McGrath. Sophie Okonedo. Natalie Dormer – my own personal choice.

I would say there are very few fans who, if you asked them, couldn’t think of an actress who’d do an amazing job as the Doctor. One who’d be just as good as Matt Smith, David Tennant, or Peter Capaldi. One who’d be just as good as Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Laurie, or Alexander Siddig.

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Surely the fact that so many of these fantastic actresses could play the part, and that plenty are willing to do so, is a compelling reason to actually cast one of them? The idea of casting a person rather than a gender is a perfectly fine one – but the fact is that, at the minute, the thinking process is inevitably skewed male. They are, if you like, thinking inside the box. Peter Capaldi was the only person who was auditioned for the role, because they thought he was perfect for it; the thinking leans towards a man. (Not a slight towards Peter Capaldi, of course, he’s excellent.)

Now, okay, I say it’d be new, and at this point, you’re perhaps asking why, or it what way. (Apart from the obvious, that is)

The female Doctor presents a variety of different stories and approaches that you wouldn’t have got with a male Doctor, because it changes the dynamic, and it changes the way in which other characters are going to relate to the Doctor. It’s a new place to take the character – after 50 years now, with a fairly broad character arc, this change offers new choices about where to take the character next.

And that’s key – it is a set of choices. There is no one specific way to do this. Maybe you’d want to tell a story about how someone feels when adjusting to a new gender – the transition between regenerations, and the impact of it, isn’t always focused on for very long, and perhaps this is an opportunity to do so. Or maybe you’d not make such a big deal out of it; concepts of gender could be very different for the Doctor, and it could be as simple as dialogue “This isn’t that different. After all, I’m not sure I ever was a man, exactly.” (I adapted that from an EDA, so there’s a precedent, at least)

I was reading a Doctor Who book once – I forget what it was, probably a guidebook of some sort – and it was talking about the younger Doctors, Davison and Smith, and how they experienced something of a culture shock after their regeneration; because they appeared much younger outwardly, people wouldn’t initially give them much respect, and it’d be harder for them to command authority initially. Obviously by the end of the episode, when they’ve saved everyone’s lives, it’s a little different, but I liked the idea that the Doctor has to adjust to the fact that people’s perceptions of them are different, so they perhaps can’t get they want quite as easily anymore.

Personally, I think that could potentially be an interesting idea to explore with a female Doctor. It could be hard to get right, I suppose, but I think it’s necessary to explore the fact that she would, at some stage, be on the receiving end of sexism. It fits quite well with Doctor Who though – if one of the big themes of the show has always been standing up to oppressors and to bullies and to people who are in the wrong, then misogyny and the patriarchy are logical things to address.

doctor who female doctor romana 2 lalla ward scarf hat tom baker fourth doctor douglas adams shada jodie whittaker thirteenth doctor chris chibnall

But, you know, that’s just something I’d find interesting. There’s any number of interesting approaches you could make, and I think it’s something that would really improve and revitalise the show. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’d actually increase viewing things by a fair amount, if done right.

The first episode of any new Doctor always attracts a larger audience, because you get more of the casual viewers and general public who are curious to see how it goes. This would apply even more so with a female Doctor, I imagine, because the curiosity would be even greater. I don’t even think you’d alienate that many people, to be honest – everyone is going to be curious enough to watch at least the first episode. Even the massive nerds who threaten to quit the show won’t, because they want the chance to bitch about it online.

If that first episode was successful enough, I think there’s a chance to capture the attention of a lot of people who are more casual viewers, and get them to watch the show again each week. It’d require careful thought – you’d want something more in the vein of The Eleventh Hour rather than The Christmas Invasion. Perhaps it’d be worth showing the first two episodes as a double bill? Debateable really.

In any case, I think we can all say with complete certainty that there will be a female Doctor one day soon. Personally, my hope is that when Peter Capaldi eventually hands over the keys to the TARDIS, the incumbent Time Lord will be played by Natalie Dormer.

Related:

On the subject of a female Doctor Who

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Sherlock vs Elementary

elementary vs sherlock benedict cumberbatch johnny lee miller lucy liu martin freeman johnlock steven moffat mark gatiss robert doherty comparison better

Elementary is better than Sherlock.

It’s kinda weird to be saying that, especially considering what pretty much everyone thought when it was announced.

Sherlock had had a very successful first season, everyone was amazed at how brilliant it was, and everyone was applauding Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman – pretty much everyone who was connected to the production really. “Why, it’s so original and innovative to have Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day!” the people would say.

And then along comes the announcement that an American network is going to be making their own version. Sherlock Holmes in modern-day New York. With a female Watson. “Probably so they can sleep together” the people would say. The whole thing does sound a lot like gimmicky plagiarism really, doesn’t it?  At least at first.

So when I saw Elementary was on, I decided to watch it, mostly out of curiosity. To see how bad it would be, really.

And I was amazed at what I saw. At the minute, I’m about halfway through the first season – I think I’ve reached episode 14 by now? I am totally and completely convinced that Elementary is better than Sherlock. 

A big part of it is probably due to the format of it – half a season of Elementary is equivalent to all of the Sherlock we have at the minute, meaning Elementary has quantity on its side. But it’s also been quite intricately plotted – over just 12 episodes, the Holmes and Watson from Elementary have developed more than their Sherlock counterparts had in the same amount of time. And I have no doubt the Elementary characters are going to develop even more.

I’d also argue that Johnny Lee Miller’s interpretation of Holmes is much more faithful to the Doyle books than Benedict Cumberbatch’s ever has been – whilst that’s not to say that Cumberbatch doesn’t always do brilliantly, Miller is more of a Sherlock Holmes than he is. (That’s probably worth another post someday)

I also think that Elementary has actually been able to perform better than Sherlock because of the different approach to the source material which it took. Rather than adapting famous Holmes stories, Elementary has taken the characters – pretty much as they were, albeit with a few changes to their backstory, and, indeed, gender – and placed them into new settings. This gives it all of that innovation and originality than people lauded Sherlock for, and expected Elementary to lack. (It’s also probably worth noting that Sherlock has only really adapted three of the original stories, meaning that what Elementary does isn’t all that different)

So, that’s why I prefer Elementary over Sherlock. I’ll probably write another post about how the Holmes (and maybe Watson) from Elementary are more faithful to the original stories… sometime next week. And maybe even individual episode reviews, I don’t know.

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