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    Sunday, 22 June 2008

    Doctor Who: Turn Left

    What would happen to a world, even a universe, without the Doctor? Today's episode of Doctor Who, 'Turn Left' by Russel T. Davies, explores that very idea. As it turns out, the answer is "Not very well at all!"

    The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) are exploring a bazaar on the (presumably) distant planet of Shan Shen that appears to be distinctly Chinese in origin, when Donna gets sidetracked and enters a fortune teller's den on a whim. At this point the fortune teller, in league with a giant time-sucking cockroach (No, I'm not joking), takes Donna back in time to change a simple decision that ends up changing not only her fate but the fate of the universe itself (and perhaps every universe). Only Donna, with the dimension-hopping Rose's help, can set things right.

    The episode explores a question that's been asked time and again in popular culture: What If? In this regard, tonight's episode is certainly nothing novel. Main character changes a simple decision (in this case, turning right instead of left). Main character's life changes. Character's whole world changes around him/her, until they can somehow set things to rights. Yada yada, you know the drill.

    Despite being nothing new, the question is always an interesting one. My guess is that this is because we all ask ourselves the same question regularly, always wondering what might have happened had we taken a trip down the road less traveled. However, as Donna discovers in tonight's episode, the alternate route is sometimes perhaps best left untrodden.

    What makes this episode interesting is the deeper insight into Donna's character. I can't say I've been a particularly big fan of her as the Doctor's companion (I've preferred Rose and Martha, and harboured secret hopes for a Sally Sparrow spin in the TARDIS), though I must say she's definitely exceeded my expectations this season. The writers have brought a depth to the screaming idiot audiences were first introduced to in the Who Christmas Special, 'The Runaway Bride'. Her time this season has revealed a softer, more insightful side to the character that I have grown to like almost despite myself.

    Certainly, the scenes with her grandfather, Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins), and mother, Sylvia (Jacqueline King), have added an extra dimension to the humanity of the character. Cribbins is outstanding as Donna's grandfather, bringing pathos and a palpable sense of love for his "granddaughter" to every scene. King, on the other hand, makes Donna that much more sympathetic by being so unknowingly cold and unpleasant.

    Of course, the big bad news for the episode was the return of the Bad Wolf herself, Miss Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Who fans rejoice, as everyone's favourite companion returns to the show with a kick ass attitude and inside knowledge of the coming darkness. She didn't disappoint in this episode, more than meeting the anticipation her return has generated. Piper brought a more dangerous, more experienced edge to the character in this episode than we've seen previously, leaving me hungering for more.

    This was a good episode but not an amazing one (apart from the last minute - Fantastic!). The story was reasonably well-written and certainly ably executed by cast and crew. Ultimately, the unimaginative premise of the episode (What If?) left a little to be desired, I think largely because the end was a foregone conclusion - we all already knew that a universe without the Doctor to keep the darkness at bay would be a terrible place indeed!

    The trailer for next week's episode, 'The Stolen Planet', was a fanboy's dream that had me jumping out of my seat. Seeing EVERYONE from the first 3 seasons come back, including Sarah Jane AS WELL as Ianto and the divine Gwen from the Torchwood team... well, let's just say I'll be watching it a few times as I salivate for next week's episode.

    I want to be watching it now! Where's a TARDIS when I need one?!

    [Image courtesy of the Doctor Who BBC website:]

    Friday, 20 June 2008

    Apple Store Openings

    I just finished watching a news report about hordes of lunatics queuing up for hours (and in some cases sleeping outside in the middle of Winter) for the privilege of being amongst the first customers to enter Apple's new flagship store on George St in the Sydney CBD.

    I might possibly understand this behaviour if any of the following conditions had applied:
    • Many wondrous prizes of limited availability but amazing worth were promised,
    • New and interesting products went on sale at the opening, such as Apple's new Iphone,
    • Every customer received some kind of sexy thank you gift for attending (Sorry, lame promotional shirts need not apply),
    • Unicorns were present at the opening, shooting rainbows out of their diamond horns at customers.
    As far as I can tell, none of this actually happened. Particularly not the unicorns. Lame, Apple, lame.

    I'm not big on being judgey (okay, actually, I love it) but it seems like an awfully big waste of time to me. Why bother? To say you... went to a store... before some other people... and didn't buy anything? Seriously?

    Come ON, people! Do something worthwhile and interesting with your lives! Do what I do - spend several hours a day watching people hurting themselves on YouTube. Now THAT'S excitement.

    Thursday, 19 June 2008

    Midnight Redux

    Upon reflection, I have realised that there was something that didn't sit well with me in last week's Doctor Who episode, 'Midnight'. The ending.

    The episode's villain psychically takes control of the Doctor's mind. From what we know of the Doctor via previous experience and from what we can see on Tennant's very expressive face, I think the audience is meant to assume that the Doctor is fighting a battle against this being in his mind, giving everything he's got.

    Showrunner and writer Russel T. Davies has made quite a point of the Doctor's own psychic abilities over the last few seasons. He has shown the Doctor using his mental abilities to unlock another person's memories ('Girl in the Fireplace') and to awaken new senses (allowing Donna to hear the Oodsong in 'Planet of the Ood'). He has even shown the Doctor using psychic power to levitate, project force fields, telekinetically disarm the Master and so on ('Last of the Time Lords'), albeit with the help of the entire human race.

    Given all of this, and always remembering that the Doctor is (within his mythology) possibly the most resourceful and determined being in the universe, it seems very strange that the episode should end NOT with the Doctor winning the psychic battle but rather, with the unnamed Hostess valiantly sacrificing herself for the good of a group of people who she didn't know and who treated her with no care or compassion whatsoever.

    Obviously, this ending was chosen simply because it provided a cheap and dirty way of pulling at our heart strings. It might have worked if not for River's sacrifice the week before, which was one hundred times more emotive, largely because it was realistic to (what we know of) that character.

    The Doctor loves life and he doesn't kill... unless he really, really needs to. How much more interesting this episode might have been if RTD had shown the Doctor reversing the psychic control at the last moment and forcing the entity out of the "truck" NOT because it had necessarily been unrelentingly evil but out of a need for self-preservation. How much more might the ending have resonated with audience if we'd been left with the image of the Doctor alive but shaken to the core by the experience, questioning his morals?

    This ending would also have heightened the dramatic irony of the episode significantly as it would have strongly juxtaposed the Doctor's earlier moralising about their rising hostility to a new life form. It also would have provided the perfect opportunity for another "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry" moment for the Doctor.

    Leonardo Di Cap(tain America)rio?

    Word on the street (God, I am so amazingly cool for using such "hip" lingo) is that Leonardo Di Caprio is being strongly considered for the titular role of Captain America, slated for release on May 6, 2011.

    In one sense I can see a similarity between Leo and Cap. That being, they both fell into some really cold water and got very, very cold. Cap survived this and went on to become the ass-kickin', uber-patriotic, super-soldier serum powered badass we have come to know and love today. Leo, on the other hand, died. Holding hands. With a girl.

    As far as I know, Cap doesn't hold hands but if he does, I'm sure it's only because he's playing an angle - he's just looking for some Nazi or super powered, or super powered Nazi scumbag to take down and he's holding hands as cover.

    Yes, I'm certain that Leonardo could do a fine job as the scrawny, pre-serum Steve Rogers (Captain America's alter ego) but there's NO WAY he can believably fill out Cap's red, white and blue spandex. So the director would be forced to pad him out ridiculously, computer generate Cap, or let paper-thin Leo run around as Cap.

    I'm all for getting great actors to play these parts, rather than just the big guy who LOOKS the part, as would have no doubt been the case if this movie had been made in the late 80s or early 90s. However, I'm sure there are some great choices out there for the part from actors who could look, as well as act, the part.

    Supernatural's Jensen Ackles, anyone? (Hmmm, I'm not gay but..... so dreamy! Yes, I have a man crush.)

    Wednesday, 18 June 2008


    'Midnight', written by Russel T. Davies, the 10th episode of Doctor Who's 2008 season, mixes up the typical 'Who' formula by pulling back on the SFX and concentrating on thrills and spills of the more psychological kind.

    The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) head to the planet Midnight for a relaxing vacation after the traumatic events of the previous (brilliant) episodes. Of course, nothing's ever straightforward in the Doctor's world. Spending holiday time in Samoa or the Hamilton Islands just isn't good enough for the restless Time Lord. Instead, he chooses Midnight, a barren, diamond-covered planet circling an Xtonic star. I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong. 'Xtonic' isn't the latest X-TREME sports drink that rehydrates you TO THE MAX! It's a type of radiation that vaporises all biological life on contact... to the X-TREME.

    Resting by the pool is Donna's idea of a good time but the Doctor is never happy without an adventure and so off he goes on a "tour bus" with a "random" (i.e. carefully chosen cross-section of society) assortment of fellow holidaymakers to see a diamond waterfall.

    Just as the small group are starting to get comfortable, the inevitable happens and ... something takes out the bus's driver before starting a game of knock-and-run that takes a turn for the worse in very short order. Somehow, the something gets inside and takes control of one of the passengers, Sky Silvestri (the excellent Leslie Sharp) and the real game begins.

    The entity in Sky starts by mimicking what the other passengers are saying (all of them). Even more eerily, it's gradually getting faster until it's speaking in time with them, leaving the Doctor to wonder what comes next. The Doctor is intrigued but the other passengers are slightly less so. So much slightly less so, in fact, that they propose a good ol' fashioned plank walkin' for the unfortunate lass.

    At this point, the episode shifts into gear and goes from average to great. One of the Doctor's greatest talents is his ability to inspire others, to lift them above their usual expectations or constraints so that they become capable of extraordinary things. However, inside the truck, with paranoia and fear on the rise, the Doctor's asset becomes his weakness as the other passenger's distrust focuses on him instead.

    Generally, I'm not the biggest fan of Davies' WHO episodes. I greatly admire his overall vision and enthusiasm for Doctor Who but sometimes his great and grand ideas fall into the realm of the slightly camp or even the utterly ridiculous - last year's Christmas Special, 'Voyage of the Damned' being the perfect example. Robot angels, self-sacrificing fat people, a bad guy who looked suspiciously like a fork lift with a human head? Ummm, no thanks!

    However, this episode was very nicely written. The Doctor is almost always in control - cool, calm and collected, no matter the manner of menace. So to be able to convincingly show him in a situation that he can't contain, that is spinning out of control at an exponential rate, was both interesting and thrilling. To see the Doctor actually showing fear was another step entirely. As an avid WHO-lover since my childhood, it was actually quite alarming seeing the Doctor scared because if he's scared, you know it's got to be terrifying! Kudos to RTD for being able to build such a simple concept into something so dark and intriguing. I've read that he knocked this script out in a weekend... if that's the case, as an aspiring screenwriter, I'm in awe.

    I can't finish without mentioning the acting in this episode. The majority of the supporting cast were fine, if not outstanding, in their broad brush stroke roles. Leslie Sharp (as Sky Silvestri) did a truly magnificent job as the unnamed villain of the episode. At one point the Doctor says to Sky, "You need my help? Oh, I'd love to believe that... but your eyes..." Her eyes say it all. Darkness and malevolence in abundance. David Tennant was the stand out for me, though. In the final stages of the episode, when his character is effectively speechless, the level of emotion and expressiveness in his face and eyes was unbelievable. May he travel time and space as the Doctor forever!

    All in all, a very simple idea that was well executed and proved to be an unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable change of pace for a show that occasionally (as much as I hate to say it) forgets that the Doctor is the thinking wo/man's hero and that's why we love him!

    Molto bene!

    What the f**k is (The) Happening?

    Tonight's Tight Arse Tuesday viewing was M. Night Shyamalan's latest homage to Hitchcock, "The Happening". I won't bore you (or myself) with plot or full cast details as I'm sure you can probably find out for yourself, or you already know. If not, Wikipedia (The Oracle) has the answers.

    'The Happening' left me thinking. Unfortunately, it did not leave me thinking about things like, "Oh my god, what are we doing to our planet?" or "Truly, we must treat our friends, the trees, more respectfully." or even, "Wow, in our great hubris we have destroyed nature, it's only fair that it return the favour." This is a shame for two reasons: 1) Because I believe these are the things Mr. Shyamalan probably wanted me to take from the movie; and, 2) They are undoubtedly important lessons to learn.

    What the movie actually left me thinking was, "What the hell happened to M. Night?" His first movie, 'The Sixth Sense' stands as one of my favourite movies of all time. It is scary, thought-provoking, interesting and consistently tense. As someone who dreams of being a full-time screenwriter sometime in the future, this is a screenplay I could only dream of writing. The idea and the execution of it were immaculate.

    By contrast, 'The Happening' is none of those things. Well, okay, that's probably slightly harsh. It does have some atmospheric scenes (the first 3 minutes are genuinely disturbing), as well as one or two other moments of glory (Mark Whalberg's story about the girl in the pharmacy) but overall, the movie is terrible.

    One of the first rules of good movie writing, so I am reliably told is "Show, don't tell." Shyamalan appears to have forgotten this rule when writing 'The Happening'. His characters say, "I'm frightened" when they are frightened. They say, "I want to be with you" when they want to be with you. Well, not you personally but you get the point. One of the supporting characters even says at one stage, "He's very resourceful, isn't he?" to the female love interest (Zooey Deschanel, phoning it in) about Marky Mark. At this point, thankfully, M. Night shows us that yes indeed, Marky Mark IS resourceful.

    The end result is a potentially interesting concept with a smattering of suspenseful scenes that is let down by the execution in almost all departments. Simplistic writing, lazy directing and very average acting all combine to leave a very poor taste in my mouth. Obviously I can't speak for everyone who might go and see this movie but certainly the two friends who were unfortunate enough to share the journey with me, T and D, shared my feelings.

    M. Night, what's changed? What happened to you? If his latest movie is any indication, he has no idea either...

    Tuesday, 17 June 2008

    This Blog is...

    • definitely going to consist predominantly of my own opinions on a variety of subjects. They won't be educated opinions. You won't have asked me to express them. I will offer them based purely on my idea of my own self-importance.
    • probably not going to interest anyone but myself.
    • possibly not going to get updated very often.
    • unlikely to be informative or insightful in any capacity. If it happens to occasionally turn out to be either of these things, I assure you now it will be through no intention of my own.
    So, as it turns out, it seems like this blog fits nicely within the parameters of most blogs and therefore, has earned its right to exist on the internet.

    Welcome! Allons-y!