Movies: Behind the Candelabra Review (or “Another Biopic That Doesn’t Focus On The Right Areas”)

June 25, 2013

When done right, a biopic can be a fascinating style of movie.

But the subject has to be an interesting one and the plot has to be able to hold your attention.

If the story focuses on the wrong parts of the case study’s life, then it can all go wrong.

Take the two Hitchcock biopics as an example. The one on the BBC provided genuine insight into his relationships with Tippi Hedren and his wife, and also the making of The Birds. It was good.

The cinematic effort with Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, barely scratched the surface on the making of Psycho, and was more about his wife than him. That wasn’t good.

So it’s with an ounce of trepidation that I go to see the latest biopic to hit the big screen, Behind The Candelabra.

Behind The Candelabra Review: What’s It About?

It’s a biopic of Liberace, or more particularly about his secret relationship with a young man called Scott Thorson during the last 1o years of his life.behind-the-candelabra-poster03

Behind The Candelabra Review: Who’s In It?

This Stephen Soderbergh movie stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. Other actors include Rob Lowe as Liberace’s plastic surgeon, Scott Bakula as their mutual friend Bob Black and – and I didn’t actually realise it was him until I just looked up the cast on Wikipedia – Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s manager.

Behind The Candelabra Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Although this movie was denied a cinematic release in the USA because of it’s “controversial” nature (it aired on HBO instead), it gets ratings of 7.1/10 from under 6,000 votes on Imdb, a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 8.2/10


The first and most obvious thing to say is how brilliant Michael Douglas is as Liberace. Although if you watch any videos of the real man himself, you’ll think Douglas is maybe a little bit more effete in his voice, it’s still an amazing impersonation.

He’s got the look and the mannerisms down to a tee.

It’s actually a bit creepy how different to Michael Douglas he becomes.

And if you check out YouTube and find videos of stuff like Liberace’s Boogy Woogy or his 1981 Las Vegas entrance, all of this is so faithfully done in the film.

So I’ve got absolutely no problems with the way the subject is presented.

To me though, the problem is that the focus is too much upon the relationship between Liberace and Thorson.

Now obviously, before anyone points out the obvious and says that that’s what the movie is about, I understand that, but I feel it becomes a missed opportunity.

For example, they briefly touch upon a part of his life where he ended up almost killing himself through renal failure in the 60s because he inhaled the fumes given out by his newly dry-cleaned outfits. Later on, they devote a mere couple of minutes to his death and what appears to be an interesting story regarding a cover-up of his AIDS that a coroner’s office exposed.

That sort of thing – as well as his lifelong denial of homosexuality which bafflingly seemed to work – is the sort of thing I would have preferred to see ahead of numerous scenes where Douglas and Damon have arguments about their relationship. Finding out about the guy’s life is what a biopic should be about, rather than just another relationship movie.

If anything, it turned into a biopic of Thorson, and who really cares about that? Sure, it was interesting to see that Liberace demanded he have plastic surgery to make Thorson look more like him, but it wasn’t interesting watching a half-hearted attempt at a storyline on his drug abuse.

As an aside, I should say that it’s a bit silly that this movie was denied a US cinema release because the studios were afraid of the kissing and sex scenes between Douglas & Damon offending people. Then again, I read today that the BBC received 139 complaints because Holly Willoughby wore a dress with too plunging a neck line on The Voice. So everything offends someone, and I get the feeling that the homosexual nature of this movie will offend a certain cross-section of American society more than a plunging neckline would.

My advice? If you can’t cope, don’t go. But shut up about it.

Behind the Candelabra Review: Final Thoughts

So on the whole, while it was well acted (beyond the main two characters, Rob Lowe is scary as the plastic surgeon) and it looked fantastic, I felt it was a missed opportunity to make an interesting story out of Liberace’s life.

Even at 90 minutes, interesting parts were few and far between, and once you got over how scarily effective Douglas was at acting the part, there just wasn’t much left to enjoy.

Stuart’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time – Part Four (#35 – #31)

June 25, 2013

#35 – Diagnosis Murder

People seem to be embarrassed to admit they like Diagnosis Murder. diagnosis

I have no such problem.

A murder mystery drama starring Dick van Dyke as Dr Mark Sloan, and his real life son Barry as Homicide Detective Steve Sloan, it was must-see lunchtime viewing for any student in the late 90s and early 00s.

And you know, it was also very good.

Sure, the level of acting from some of the guest stars was sometimes ropey, but mostly it was fine and the plots – with their mixture of drama and comedy – were often great as well.

Who could forget the episode with Mark’s Crime Lord doppelgänger, or the one where they meet a Vampire (and not a fake one, but a real one, incredibly enough)?

As the show developed, it maybe focussed too much on involving van Dyke’s grandchildren in random parts but it was still worth a watch.

And for people who might scoff at its inclusion, I ask you one question? Do you like Castle? Because it’s the same premise really.

#34 – Californication

Though there’s an argument that this is more of a comedy than a drama, I believe its more suited for inclusion in this list than my sitcom one.Californication_logo-714335

Californication isn’t plays for laughs, but the situations the likes of Hank Moody and Charlie Runkle find themselves in are often more than a little humorous.

I had read people saying they felt the show was running out of steam, but having only recently discovered it, I think the quality has been consistent throughout, and indeed I was pleased to see the back of that awful girl from the supposedly better early seasons.

On the whole it’s an easy show to get into and one that I’d recommend.

#33 – House of Cards (US)

A different kettle of fish from the UK version, but this is a series – available exclusively on NetFlix – that I enjoyed immensely. house of cards

Kevin Spacey is excellent as Francis Underwood, although as I said in my review, as good a political drama as this is, his talking to the viewer to make us his co-conspirators doesn’t work quite as well as when Ian Richardson did it, purely because his character doesn’t seem to have a good side.

I’m interested to find out where this particular series goes in the future.

When it does finish, I imagine it might find a spot higher on the list.

#32 – Neighbours

I don’t really watch Neighbours any more, as the quality began to dip in a major way in about 2011.Neighbours_Logo

I did watch an episode the other day though, as it happened to be on TV, and was stunned to find they’d recast Brad Willis and brought him back with his family to the street where a recast Lauren Carpenter also lives with her family. That just seemed bizarre. Why not just write new characters if they can’t get the original actors?

Also, what have they done to the theme tune?!

Anyway, as much as people criticise Neighbours, the fact is that I watched it almost every day for 25 years – making it the show I’ve probably watched more than any other – before I started to lose interest.

For that reason alone, it deserves to be included here.

And maybe, just maybe, with new characters and better writing I might one day find myself back in Erinsborough.

#31 – Crime Traveller

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Crime Traveller?crmetr

Shame on you.

Made in the 1990s – the era where science fiction shows were about as popular as paedophiles on UK TV – this was a show about a policeman who could travel back in time for 24 hours to investigate crimes as they happened, thanks to a time machine invented by the father of his sidekick.

It sounds about as stupid as a show like Early Edition (and what a great show that was, by the way) but it was really good, and seems to have been mysteriously lost to the British consciousness in the same way as the brilliant sitcom, Dad.

Starring Michael French (David Wicks off Eastenders) and Chloë Annett (Kristine Kochanski in Red Dwarf), this was  must-see Saturday night TV for me.

It’s a pity that it couldn’t co-exist with Jonathan Creek, rather than be replaced by it.

And One That Doesn’t Make It…

Sons of Anarchy

I tried twice to get into Sons of Anarchy and couldn’t do it, but when I was struck down ill with food poisoning earlier this year, I really had nothing better to do than give it another shot on NetFlix.soa

And though I got through to the end of Season One, the synopsis for Season Two – another set of episodes about dealing with the Irish and sorting out weapons – just did nothing to bring me back for more.

I know lots of people love SOA, but I’m just not one of them. The dreary setting and unpleasant characters do nothing for me.

Doctor Who – Dalek Review (or “How To Book The Daleks – Part Two”)

June 24, 2013

Back in my review of the William Hartnell story, The Chase, my angle was on how the Daleks are “Booked” – i.e. how they are written and presented to the public.

I made the point about how at that stage, they weren’t supposed to be the most threatening force in the universe and so making the story almost comical in its portrayal of them was not the bad thing that so many fans believe it to be.

Since then in their nine subsequent appearances in Classic Who, I lamented the way they went from being super-villains in Daleks’ Master Plan and Power of the Daleks, to rubbish characterless drones who were mostly fodder to keep a Davros story moving along.

Yes, as much as their final Classic Who story – Remembrance of the Daleks – was a top quality tale, the Daleks were a spent force long before that point.

So bringing them back was not without its risks.

Any writer tasked with the responsibility would have to make sure their iconic status was re-established and that viewers would find them refreshing.

So could Rob Shearman do it in the effectively titled Dalek?

We shall see.

Doctor Who – Dalek Review: What’s This One About?

Heavily influenced by Jubilee – the Big Finish Audio by the same writer starring The Sixth Doctor & Evelyn Smythe – it’s about a single Dalek left over from a war who is kept prisoner and tortured.

This one escapes and wreaks havoc upon the base it has been kept in, but a bond it has formed with Rose leads to it changing.

Thoughts – How To Book The Daleks (Part 2)

Booking is important.

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it's a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it’s a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

In professional wrestling, a form of pre-determined “Sports Entertainment”, the ability to sell tickets to the arenas and the shows to a Pay Per View audience depends upon people believing that there’s something worth buying; believing that something interesting might happen.

So the main event of the card has to involve a credible threat. If nobody believes the challenger will win then they won’t bother paying to see it.

As such, wrestling promoters – if they are doing their jobs right and they so rarely are – must ensure that the challenger is perceived as someone who has a chance of beating the champion.

This thinking can be applied to the Daleks.

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking "Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?"

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking “Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?”

The Daleks – as far as the general public are concerned – are the main villains in Doctor Who. They are his most deadly enemy. Within the context of the show this is also the case.

So they have to be strong, they have to have credibility; a belief that the Doctor might not be able to defeat them.

The Daleks from Destiny onwards were killed in such great numbers and so easily that each time they came back for more there was no drama. What was the point of it?

RTD was faced with the dilemma of making them credible and threatening again, and what better way to do that than to have one single Dalek wreak so much havoc.

It’s booked as being almost invincible, while also being a clever enough foe to outsmart its opponents at every turn. A one “man” war machine.

The Dalek is also given a personality, feelings and a sense of individualism. Through the power of Rob Shearman’s writing, we almost end up feeling sorry for it, despite it having just killed so many people. To some degree, the Dalek cuts through his captors like a Stallone or Schwarzenegger style action hero and the way it developed a bond with Rose and the way the Doctor was so desperate to see it killed, it almost, almost flipped the show on its head and turned the hero into the villain and the villain into the hero.

The Doctor’s reaction is what sells it most. He’s a mixture of terrified and furious. Its mere presence brings out a side to the Doctor that we’ve not seen before, even going back into the Classic Era. He wants to hurt it, he wants to kill it, he is the one – as I say – almost acting like the villain. And it’s summed up beautifully by the Dalek saying “You would make a good Dalek” to him.

His reaction to that was superb

When the 45 minutes was over – with the Dalek not even being defeated by the Doctor – the viewers were left thinking “Well if only one Dalek can do all that, imagine what an entire army of Daleks could do!?!”

Instantly they have been re-established as the number one villain to a whole new generation, and they also look a lot better too.

As such, Dalek was a success not just as a single episode, but in setting up the finale too.

Random Observations

  • It’s amazing to think that this was shown on TV at a time when 2012 seemed futuristic. I’m not sure technology has advanced quite as fast as they thought it might.

    It's a trap! Again!

    It’s a trap! Again!

  • Here’s a throwback from Classic Doctor Who – we have the ridiculous “Two Way Television Screen” for the Doctor’s conversation with the Dalek.
  • Generally speaking, the acting is again of a high standard, with the likes of Corey Johnson (van Statten) bringing solid performances to the table.
  • Christopher Eccleston was a star here. His range of emotion didn’t seem forced like McCoy or Colin Baker, and the writing gave him something different to try as the Doctor.
  • Even Nicholas Briggs, who I don’t like much at all, was very good as the Dalek voice.
  • I also thought it looked great too, and though I said before that that would go without saying, I’m saying it.
  • The Kaled mutant looked fantastic.
  • As well as that, the Incidental Music  really made a difference to what we were seeing and heightened the drama, probably for the first time since the show returned.
  • The only negative? The bloke off Coronation Street who I find wet and irritating.
  • What I found interesting was the almost arrogant/apologetic way Adam had to admit to being a genius. I’ve never understood why people should be embarrassed to be clever, but it’s fine to shout out from the rooftops that you’re thick, and wear it as a badge of honour? It’s inverse snobbery.
  • I loved the line about how van Statten owns the internet. I wonder if anyone really does?
  • I’m not sure how Broadband (which might have seemed new and exciting in 2005 but I doubt it) could have come from Roswell though?
  • Having the Dalek be able to swivel round like a tank seems like such an obvious idea that you wonder why it was never done before. Budget constraints probably.
  • The levitation bit would have seemed more exciting if it hadn’t been done before though, but I’m sure this was just to vanquish the commonly held belief by morons who would say that they can’t climb stairs.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

  • It might have been a reasonable thing to say in the 60s, but is the comparison to a pepper pot still valid in 2005? Do people still have pepper pots shaped that way as standard?
  • Hurrah for the appearance of a Revenge of the Cybermen Cyberman head. Although it probably should have been an Invasion one if we’re being anal about it.
  • I enjoyed the scene where the Dalek crushed the bloke’s head with the sucker, finally giving that particular appendage some use.
  • If you like Dalek, then I seriously recommend you listen to the aforementioned Jubilee. It’s suitably different – and yet similar enough – to Dalek that you can easily enjoy both.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #15. High praise indeed

Doctor Who – Dalek Review: Final Thoughts

With a score of #15, this is Doctor Who fandom’s third most favourite Dalek story.

My personal opinion is that while that might be right, I’d disagree with Genesis and Remembrance being #1 and #2.

What is clear is that Dalek immediately takes the crown from the Aliens of London as being the best story since the show came back.

It does exactly what it sets out to do – it re-establishes the Daleks as the Doctor’s #1 nemesis.

And it does it with some style in a well put together 45 minutes that is a success on almost every level.

Highly recommended viewing.

Doctor Who – The Aliens of London Review (or “Flawed, But The Best Of The New Season So Far”)

June 23, 2013

We’ve seen the introduction, we’ve been to the future and we’ve gone back to the past.

So what other firsts has Modern Doctor Who got to do?

Well how about a cliffhanger?

The two-part story, The Aliens of London & World War III brings The Doctor and Rose back to modern-day Earth…well, almost.

And unlike the backstreet Autons, this appears to be a full on First Contact.

Doctor Who – The Aliens of London & World War III Review: What’s This One About?

Misjudging their return to Rose’s estate, the TARDIS lands back in London a full 12 months after they left, just in time to see a Spaceship crash-land into the Thames.

But all that is, is a diversion for the real alien invasion that’s already happened, as a family of giant green monsters plan on starting a nuclear war so they can sell off the Earth for scrap.

Thoughts – A Mixture of Good and Bad

First thing’s first; without question, this is the best Modern Who story that we’ve seen so far. While the first two were more introductory affairs and the third was perfectly acceptable, this two-part story has enough about it to comfortably be

Look at those extras - they are barely to stop smiling!

Look at those extras – they are barely to stop smiling!

the best written and entertaining of the six episodes transmitted.

But it’s far from perfect.

In amongst some great storytelling, snappy dialogue, drama and character development, there are also some glaring inconsistencies, repetitiveness, dodgy acting, a bad cliffhanger, an even worse cliffhanger resolution and childishness.

So let’s go through the bad first of all…

The Inconsistencies

Only two episodes earlier, it was established that Rose had a phone that could reach her mum anywhere in the universe from her own personal timeline. So, while she phoned her from 5 billion years in the future, she managed to get hold of Jackie a mere matters of hours after the time she left.

Trying to write this in a way that makes sense is difficult, but if you get my drift, if I leave my house at noon and five hours later phone home, the phone call will arrive at 5pm. So if I went 5 billion years into the future, if I phoned home 5 hours after I left at noon, it would be 5pm at home. Right? Cos that’s the only way to explain that scene from The End of the World.

So in theory, what would happen if Rose phoned home from 12 month’s in Jackie’s future, but only 12 hours into her own? When would the phone call actually come in?

See what I mean? It’s bizarre. Had the phone call scene not happened, then this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it is.

But if you analyse all of RTD’s stories, it looks like maintaining consistency of continuity is a mild problem. He slips in a line here about Harriet Jones becoming a three-term Prime Minister, and yet she loses her job a few months later and then is killed soon after that. I know history can be rewritten by the laws of Doctor Who, but I’m not even sure if it’s mentioned again.


The amount of time the Slitheen get in and out of their human costumes in Episode Two is ridiculous. Within the confines of the narrative, it doesn’t make sense and just adds unnecessary time on to the story.

Don't just stand there watching the alien struggling to very slowly get out of her costume, RUN!!

Don’t just stand there watching the alien struggling to very slowly get out of her costume, RUN!!

I suspect the real reason for why it happens is that for the purposes of moving the plot along and keeping dialogue clear & understood, and I suppose to allow the actors to actually act, it was better for the likes of the acting Prime Minister and General Asquith to be speaking the lines in person rather than as CGI monsters with voice overs


The Cliffhanger – Boy Do They Lay It On Thick

Here we have the first cliffhanger of the new series, so I’m sure the plan was for it to be a big one; a memorable one.

And boy did they lay it on thick. There wasn’t just one “How will they get out of that” scenario, nor even two; but there were three sets of characters standing frozen while the Slitheen unmasked.

That was too much.

Moreover, I don’t think it was done all that well either. I mean, in terms of special effects it was fine, but in execution it was three different Slitheen very slowly removing their costume while people just stood around watching and waiting. Even the acting Prime Minister seemed to be running himself into the ground by laughing so continuously while his mate unmasked.

So it was all too much, and then to make matters worse, and in a move that I think even the production team immediately realised was totally stupid, they drained every ounce of drama it created by showing a Next Time trailer that shows that everyone gets out of it alive.

Silly RTD.

The Childishness & The Dodgy Acting

In some ways these go hand in hand.

But before I say how they do, I’ll start by saying that the reporter who came away with lines like “Today might see (this brave new world) end” was far too melodramatic for my tastes, while Andrew Marr was clearly “acting” rather than

Nobody ever listens to The Admiral

Nobody ever listens to The Admiral

presenting an appearance reflective of the situation. He could barely suppress a smile.

As to the childishness? Well in the first episode, Mickey is written too clown-like to be taken seriously, though they tone that down and make him a far better character in the second.

But really, I’m talking – as you might have guessed – about the farting stuff. Now yes, it’s explained away well enough, but it’s infantile and so the characters that do the farting come across like they are hamming it up for kids TV.

Now sure, it probably served a purpose well enough to establish Doctor Who as being something for everything, but the key there is “something”, not “everything”. As an adult, I didn’t find it amusing. Not embarrassing either, but certainly not amusing.

The Good Parts

It’s certainly easier to be more specific about your thoughts when you are picking faults in something, and I don’t want you as a reader to think I didn’t enjoy this story, because I did.

Indeed, for all the faults that I’ve highlighted above, I think it’s a very well put together story.

There is, as I say, genuine drama, especially towards the end when Jackie is confronted with the reality of the situation her daughter is in, and though marred by the stupidity of the Magic Mobile, that a Doctor Who writer finally addresses the situation of how people react to their loved ones just vanishing off the face of the Earth when they leave in the TARDIS is fantastic.

Moreover, the acting of the likes of Christopher Eccleston – who let’s not forget is now six for six in terms of good performances, immediately making him the best Doctor since Tom Baker – as well as Billie Piper, Camile Coduri, Noel Clark (in Episode Two) and Penelope Wilton is superb.

Even the female Slitheen – in amongst a selection of over the top childish scenes – shines in that confrontation with the Doctor where that little bit of doubt creeps into her mind when he says he’s going to stop her.

There’s good humour too, with lines like “How would I know (if I have vinegar)?” “It’s your kitchen”, the bit where Mickey asks if the Doctor gets the Sports Channels and the scene where Mickey stops to take a photo of the Slitheen on his phone providing genuine laughs.

And then of course we have the scale of it. Great location work, the audacity to bring the fantasy of Doctor Who into a more grounded reality by having the Space Ship crashing into Big Ben and the sheer amount of extras – it all just makes the show seem far slicker than it ever has before.

Character Development

Most of all though, it works because it continues to expand the characters. Look at any Doctor Who companion from the Classic Era as far back as the mid 70s and you just won’t find one with any sort of character that has been developed (if they even have one at all). Ian & Barbara and Jo Grant are among the only ones to really develop from the time they joined the show to when they left our screens. You take a character like Nyssa or Peri and you just see a “Doctor Who Girl”, written as an outline rather than as a real person. Nothing seems to faze them and nor does it change them.

But I feel that Rose continues to develop even in the short space of time we’ve seen her. We understand her background, we know about her family dynamic and we watch her grow more confident and assured by being around the Doctor, who

Oh shut up you melodramatic tosser

Oh shut up you melodramatic tosser

also in turn develops as well.

And I think that’s the biggest thing about RTD’s writing; though Doctor Who is a concept that could take you anywhere or do anything, the key is – or at least can be – in the relationships between the characters.

Some might not like that but I do, and I think it’s a necessary part of any TV show made in the era where people can watch the show again and again. Maybe it wasn’t too important in the time before VHS where you’d watch a show and never expect to see it again or feel the need to track the development of these characters, but now it is, and RTD does it very well.

Random Observations

  • How come the Policeman Slitheen actually has a zip on his head when none of the other ones do? That just looks stupid.
  • I’m not entirely sure if the pig is wonderful or terrible in its design. It looks like a pig, but it also just looks fake.
  • Oh, there’s another Bad Wolf reference positioned to get our attention. “I wonder where that’s going?”, thought Stuart of 2005.
  • In 2005, were we really so relaxed about password safety that it seemed ok to have the password to a secret military establishment being “Buffalo?” Watching it now that just comes across as incredible.
  • Of course, the most unrealistic thing about the whole story is not the aliens, the space ships or pig, but rather that Mickey was able to send a picture over his phone by MMS in 2005. Any time I ever tried that I got a “Message Send Failed” alert.
  • Was hiding the dead Prime Minister in the cupboard not a risk?
  • Here’s something that doesn’t make sense; how come the Slitheen when out of their costumes have the same voices as the characters they played while in costume? And did the one who changed to take the costume of the General change his voice too I wonder?
  • Oh yeah, the “skin” left in the cupboard looked like a rubber outfit. Probably because it was.
  • And I know the BBC are good, but surely even they would struggle to immediately identify the likes of the Chairman of the North Sea Boating Club and tell Andrew Marr about it?
  • It’s the debut of the American News Anchorwoman. Let’s see how often she turns up.
  • The big rumour is that The Slitheen, being fat and obnoxious are allegedly named after Super-Fan, Ian Levine. Lolz.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #132

Doctor Who – The Aliens of London & World War Three Review: Final Thoughts

So it has its faults, that cannot be denied.

But for all those faults there’s a hell of a lot good with this story and it is – in my opinion – of a higher standard than we’ve seen in any of the other efforts this season.

So that rating of #132 is strange as far as I’m concerned.

I expect that Doctor Who fans voting on it might have been left with a lasting impression of it seeming a bit childish thanks to the farting stuff, but that’s only a small element.

To me this brings drama, scale and excitement to Doctor Who, and it’s worth praising it for.

Doctor Who – The Unquiet Dead Review (or “Now We’re Cooking With Gas, Pardon The Pun”)

June 22, 2013

So we’ve have an episode set in the present and one in the future, so can you guess the style of Episode Three?

Give yourself a coconut if you said the past, because that’s exactly where the Doctor and Rose go next, to 1869 Cardiff for The Unquiet Dead.

Doctor Who – The Unquiet Dead Review: What’s This One About?

While planning to take Rose to Naples in 1860, the Doctor accidentally ends up in Cardiff 1869 at a time where Charles Dickens is doing his “An Audience With…” tour and aliens are living in the gas lamps of an Undertaker’s house.

Not THE Undertaker’s house, even though that would have been a lot cooler.

Thoughts – Now We’re Beginning To Cook With Gas (pardon the pun)

So the first two episodes were really just to set up the premise of the show, and while this one is also used to expose Rose – and through her, the viewer – to travelling in time to Earth’s past, it also stands on its own two legs.

Yes, there’s an element of explanation of how this all works – i.e. that what they do in the past can influence the future – but mainly this is a story that works on it’s own merit.

And so begins many years of staring at the gap in Eve Myles's teeth and thinking "She could get that fixed you know"

And so begins many years of staring at the gap in Eve Myles’s teeth and thinking “She could get that fixed you know”

The Unquiet Dead also properly begins the launch of a couple of important story arcs; plots that run throughout the course of the entire season and beyond. We’ve got the first Bad Wolf reference that is intended to get the audience’s attention, and of course the first mention of the Rift which becomes an important part of Doctor Who and its spinoff show, Torchwood over the next few years.

And I think that RTD deserves a lot of credit for this, because he’s dragging the show- which used to be so disjointed between stories that you’d have companions dying at the end of one episode and then everyone happily reading the paper in an airport departure lounge at the beginning of the next – into the 21st century.

Some people don’t like it – I’m acutely aware that there are plenty of Doctor Who fans who struggled to make the adjustment from “Classic” to “Modern” – but for me, this is a far more well thought style of storytelling.

The Story Itself

As to the self-contained narrative of the Unquiet Dead? It’s good; it’s fun.

We’ve not had a “Historical” that actually involves well-known figures from history for…actually, not since the Colin Baker era and Mark of the Rani. I thought it was going to be more impressively The Highlanders, but sadly not.

Mind you, I’m not entirely sure how many children really knew nor cared who George Stephenson was so maybe my point stands. This might be the last time I get to have a dig at Pip & Jane Baker, but considering they thought everyone knew the story of Solomon, they probably thought children would get really excited about a 19th century civil & mechanical engineer. Oh we’re in better hands now…

Anyway, the point is that involving Charles Dickens – a recognisable character that viewers young and old will know enough about – it lends this story an extra sense of interest and credibility.

It's a trap!!

It’s a trap!!

Even the Doctor is excited to see him, and I love how his fawning of Dickens appeals to Charles’s vanity to the point where he’s willing to help.

Of course, there are limits to what you can do in the space of 45 minutes, so the storyline with the Gelth is done and dusted fairly quickly, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.

The resolution is also good as it doesn’t really compromise the timeline of Dickens himself, being that the events of this story occur shortly before his death.

So all in all, a decent effort.

Random Observations

  • I read that Dr Who Book writer Lawrence Miles came out with a suggestion that it’s anti-Immigration, but people who try to find that level of subtext just so they can have a bitch and a moan really piss me off.
  • Even though it’s probably done to explain the concept of Time Travel to idiots, how could Rose possibly think that because she’s from 2005, she can’t die in the past? I mean where does that even begin to make sense? Sure, I can understand why she might say “I know that there weren’t aliens travelling around in dead bodies back in the 1860s”, as that’s a valid point to make, but her other one? Deary me.
  • I like how the show right now blends comedy and serious drama. And it’s good comedy too, not the crap that we saw back in Season 22. Little lines that are actually amusing rather than embarrassing. Christopher Eccleston does a great job of this as he’s able to turn on a sixpence between being deadly serious and delightfully quirky. He really is doing a terrific job in the role.
  • But then, I think everyone is doing a great job at this stage. There are no poor performances in the acting department whatsoever.

    They should have listened to Admiral Ackbar

    They should have listened to Admiral Ackbar

  • In my “Classic” Who reviews, I would often compliment a story set in Earth’s past for it’s authentic look. Here, I think it should almost go unsaid. The standards of production are fantastic and the use of location and studio filming is almost never a let-down.
  • I like that the Doctor feels a sense of disgust at the prospect of being killed in a cell in a Cardiff basement, considering all the things he’s seen in life. I also note that as far as new viewers would be concerned, it’s not in any way hinted at that he could regenerate, just as Clive never mentioned any of the Doctor’s past selves in his research. That’s good forward thinking writing, so it maximises the impact for when it first happens.
  • Clever line alert: Dickens declaring “What in Shakespeare” as opposed to “What the Dickens”.
  • Unlike most Classic Who, effort is now being made to establish the bond between Doctor and Companion. I dare say the relationship between the Doctor and Rose is now the strongest one since the almost paternal one between the Third Doctor and Jo Grant (which makes the rumours that they were at it off set in the 70s highly unpalatable).
  • I love that the Doctor has a real sense of excitement at the prospect of something bad happening.
  • But why was he wanting to go to Naples in 1860 anyway?
  • I’m not sure how a frail old woman could break a bloke’s neck with one hand while holding on to his throat, even if she did get extra power from being possessed.
  • And the one aspect that made me think “Oh come on”, was at the end where Dickens walks off into a happy Cardiff street on a Christmas Night, rather than walking off while crowds of people stand watching a house burning down in awe and despair.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #54

Doctor Who – The Unquiet Dead Review: Final Thoughts

So all in all a solid 45 minutes.

I dare say that ranking it as high as #54 might be exaggerating its standard a little bit but it’s still worthy of praise.

Good stuff.

Doctor Who – The End of the World Review (or “Settling The New Show In”)

June 21, 2013

Moving swiftly on from Rose and the new Doctor and his companion take their first trip away from modern London.

And what better place to go to sell the concept of time travel than to The End of the World

Doctor Who – The End of the World Review: What’s This One About?

Take a wild guess?

Well, to be fair, it could be many things based on the same premise.

Here, the Doctor takes Rose five billion years into the future and to a VIP Party on a Space Station observation deck to witness the final destruction of Earth (hey, and just think, at the very same time the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo are on the Ark)

Anyway, there’s treachery afoot, as one of the guests plans on ruining the party by breaking down the Station’s defences and either creating a hostage situation, or killing everyone else on board for money.

Thoughts – What I Thought At The Time

I remember in the lead-up to the new series, a lot of focus went on the End of the World. The marketing for the show, which obviously wanted to  accentuate the colourful aliens and out-of-this-world destinations put the likes of the Face of Boe,

Gagging for it

Gagging for it

The Moxx of Balhoon and the Tree People into the spotlight.

That was all fine, but it meant that I was expecting more from the characters when they did take their bows.

On the whole, I thought it was good, and I was pleased to see that – although in some respects being played up for a younger audience – they maintained a sense of grimness and terror with the deaths of the likes of Jabe, Raffallo and the Steward.

Thoughts Now – Another Settling Story

What’s interesting about The End of the World is that it now feels very much of its time.

It’s not just because of the strange use of the Britney Spears song, Toxic, which seemed a bad idea even then, but also because of the use of an actress like Zoe Wanamaker who was all over TV at the time but is barely seen today.

That’s not necessarily a problem, but compared to Rose, it feels more dated for sure.

Really though, the End of the World is another episode designed to settle the viewers in to the concept of the show.

Whereas the opening episode was more to cover the back story of Rose and to give us a glimpse of the Doctor through her eyes, this episode lets us know about the Doctor, what his TARDIS can do and how he operates.

It’s good that RTD has explained stuff like the way everyone seems to speak English early, to avoid…not so much the viewers but the smart-arse critics from complaining about it.

His introduction of the Psychic Paper is also a masterstroke. It only recently occurred to me that it was brought in to remove the old Episode One thread of the Doctor having the prove who he is, so it’s a clever addition to his repertoire.

By the end of this story, we also learn that he’s alone in the universe; the last of his species. That came as a shock for regular viewers no doubt, but thankfully it’s spared us from any tedious stories set on Gallifrey and – deeper than that I suppose – pissed all over this stupid 13 Lives nonsense. (Writer’s Note 2014: Well I got that wrong, didn’t I?)

The Visuals

The biggest thing to take from The End of the World is how seriously the BBC are taking Doctor Who now.

This man has incredibly broad shoulders

This man has incredibly broad shoulders

The show which – at the time and perhaps unfairly – had the reputation for being “The One With The Wobbly Sets” looks like some serious money has been spent on for once.

The size of the space station, the use of CGI, the makeup and the design of most of the aliens (with the exception of the station’s workers who are just normal people painted blue) look superb and though the CGI might date the further we go into the future, it’ll surely still look impressive.

In particular I thought the makeup on Jabe was top-notch. You really could believe she was a sort of human tree, in an understated way.

Random Observations

  • Being in many ways a new series, RTD has the opportunity to do things with the characters and scripts that haven’t been done since the Hartnell days. Had the writers of Doctor Who spent ages with every new companion dealing with their reactions to being taken out of their own time or struggling with the weight of it all, it would get boring. But Rose is the Ian & Barbara of the 2000s, and so it’s justifiable to spend time examining her reaction to suddenly being away from home.
  • And though it’s utterly ridiculous and brings up plenty of potential issues, the idea of the Doctor tweaking her mobile to allow her to phone her mum at the pace of her own personal
    Just an example of how much more expensive the show looks now compared to the Classic Era.

    Just an example of how much more expensive the show looks now compared to the Classic Era.

    timeline is a nice touch.

  • What potential issues? We’ll get to that in The Aliens of London.
  • Ok, I’ll bite; I don’t just how the Doctor can just walk through those giant fans going at that speed without dying.
  • And in that scene, we see the first example in the new series of the Doctor letting someone die for him.
  • But what is does well is it actually adds a bit of drama to the death of Jabe. Old Who – especially under Eric Saward – treated death as a dramaless and unimportant act. Death should always have a sense of heavy heartedness about it.
  • Oh, Bad Wolf alert, although it means nothing to the viewer yet.
  • Rose comes across a bit like a ned here. “Ned” is Scottish for “Chav” which is English for “Trailer Park Trash”. She’s more than a little bit rude and aggressive on occasion, especially to Cassandra.
  • Ah Cassandra, one of the most startling and utterly stupid characters of the new series. How she manages to exist is one thing, but – and here’s a potential plothole for New Earth – she’s supposed to have been a boy at birth? Ok then.
  • There’s one brief moment, where all the kids and/or midgets painted blue wander around while twee music plays where you think “Oh, this is all a bit kids-TV”. Thankfully it only lasts a moment.
  • Having Cassandra’s motives be for money is a nice little touch to keep the characters grounded in a sort of 21st century reality.
  • Rose is going to end up with back problems with posture like she has displayed in the two stories so far.
  • DWK Mighty 200 Ranking: #94

Doctor Who – The End of the World Review: Final Thoughts

So this is another episode that seems more about settling in than really going  for it in terms of plot.

Again, I like it, but I don’t think it’s anything special. Certainly not as good as Rose.

It’s a necessary part of reviving the show, so it deserves credit for that, even if a rating of #94 is a little high.

Doctor Who – Rose Review (or “Now THAT Is How To Do A Reboot”)

June 21, 2013

And so it begins.

Now that I have finished my viewing of “Classic” Doctor Who, I move on to “Modern” Who.

The time between 1989 and 2005  was the Wilderness Years for Doctor Who fans; it was a time when it certainly wasn’t cool to be a fan of the show.

All eyes were focused on BBC Chief Alan Yentob and the hope that he would bring it back.

Sure, there was Dimensions in Time (of which we shall say no more), the occasional repeat season or spoof, and of course the Paul McGann TV Movie, but none of this did anything to get the show back on our screens on a permanent basis.

Every so often, rumours of a revival would force its way into the tabloids, but with names like Ken Dodd being suggested as possible candidates for the lead, you could tell these weren’t to be taken seriously.

No, Doctor Who was a toxic brand, and it didn’t look likely to be back any time soon.

But then, suddenly, it was to make a comeback. And with “Serious” names with real weight behind them, like Russell T. Davies and Christopher Eccleston it looked like it was in with a chance.

I’m not going to lie, it was with a bit of trepidation that I saw the casting of former teenage singer Billie Piper as the companion, and indeed the prospect of a move to 45 minute single episodes seemed a bit of a change, but that was more a feeling of dislike for the unlike than any objective reason.

And so on the 26th March 2005 (or in many people’s cases, two weeks earlier when a copy found its way onto the Internet) Doctor Who was back with the first episode, Rose.

It was a risk, and it needed to be brought back in a way to attract a new generation of viewers. The brand needed an upheaval.

So how did it do?

Doctor Who – Rose Review: What’s This One About

Rose is a normal, working class girl living in a London flat with her mum. One day, at the end of her shift in the department store where she works, she stumbles upon living plastic dummies, only to be saved by a mysterious man called The Doctor.

As their paths cross a couple more times she realises this man is not human, but an alien; an alien who travels inside a mysterious blue box that is bigger on the inside than the outside.

And if she doesn’t help him stop another alien, the world could be in jeopardy.

Thoughts – Now THAT Is How To Do A Reboot

Have a read of my review of Doctor Who – The TV Movie and examine all the things they got wrong in that one.

The Doctor takes Rose - and an entire new generation of fans - by the hand

The Doctor takes Rose – and an entire new generation of fans – by the hand

It failed on almost every level. New fans were left confused – it was like walking into the cinema three-quarters of the way through a film – while existing fans were left irritated by the amount of exposition and the changes to the Doctor’s character.

If Russell T. Davies (from here-on in referred to as RTD) had gone about Rose the same way, starting with Paul McGann dying 20 minutes in to the debut episode and assuming everyone knew what the premise of the show was already, the reboot would have been a disaster.

But he knew better than that – he learned from the TV Movie – and he amended it accordingly.

The focal point is Rose; she’s the audience identification figure just as Ian & Barbara were in 1963.

Through her, we meet and learn about the Doctor. Through her we see the TARDIS for the first time. Through her we begin to understand what this show it about as realise the adventure that lies ahead.

To anyone who had not seen the show before, everything that needed to be explained in the opening episode was explained.

And for anyone who had seen the show before, it was presented so we could appreciate not only what RTD was doing to get the show going again, but could also join in at our own level, appreciating the humour of situations like how the Doctor still believed a Police Telephone Box was a “disguise” as well as the villains being the Autons and the little things like their hand/gun sound effect being the same.

So it worked perfectly.

As a story beyond the concept of an introduction, it’s a little bit shallow, with the Nestene invasion amounting to two set pieces and a final confrontation, but that was fine.

All in all, I’d say it was a success.

The Pacing

Now obviously it goes without saying that times had changed between 1989 and 2005, and that the show was obviously going to look better and have special effects that would be far more impressive.

I was attacked by a wheelie bin in similar circumstances once

I was attacked by a wheelie bin in similar circumstances once

That was a given.

What wasn’t a given was how the pace of the show was going to change; would it be better or worse?

Looking back to two-part stories like The Sontaran Experiment, Black Orchid, The King’s Demons and The Awakening, these were rather empty affairs because they were told at the same pace as a four-part effort, except with half the plot.

Meanwhile Season 22 was a disaster on almost every level and was paced so slowly that a tortoise would have looked back and laughed.

With the episodes being mostly one-off 45 minuters, the pace had to be snappy. The style of drama seen in those days was gone, and had to be replaced with a new modern format.

And again, the new show succeeds at the first time of asking. Everything moves along briskly with an element of dynamism rarely seen in 80s Doctor Who and that would have seemed weird in the 60s and 70s.

Basically, they got it right for 2005.

The Cast

The cast too appear to be a hit.

Christopher Eccleston comes across well as the Doctor; friendly and quirky but with a sense of the unusual about him.

Hmmm, Rose should have noticed there was something funny going on

Hmmm, Rose should have noticed there was something funny going on

It’s clear we’re dealing with a better actor than we’ve seen at the helm for some time.

His opening scene, where he takes Rose by the hand is like he’s taking this brand new audience with him. Superb.

And Billie Piper defied the odds by putting in a sterling performance herself. I’m sure any doubts people had about her because of her pop star past were removed here. She’s really good – the best companion since the 70s at least and the first to truly share top billing in the show since William Russell and Jacqueline Hill.

Beyond them, Noel Clark and Camille Coduri are also good, though they have yet to establish themselves as part of the new “Doctor Who Family”, while guest star Mark Benton plays a significant part in establishing the Doctor’s character to a new audience.

So again, I’m impressed.

Random Observations

  • One thing that’s quite clearly stupid about Rose (the story and I suppose the character) is the way she ignores the newly plastic Mickey in the car. I mean, fair enough she’s not going to assume it’s an Auton version of him, but she must
    And for the first time in Modern Who we have...."Mon then!!"

    And for the first time in Modern Who we have….”Mon then!!”

    have thought “What the hell have you done to yourself while I’ve been in Clive’s house”.

  • Similarly, although amusing, it’s silly to have the wheelie bin burp after consuming him, especially considering he didn’t die.
  • Speaking of wheelie bins, I remember a few months later on a windy day I was walking along to the football, and the wind pulled a wheelie bin out into the pavement, turned it 90 degrees to point towards me and then hurtled it along the street. Imagine if that had happened to a child the day after watching Rose?
  • Poor old Clive; what a grizzly end that was for him.
  • One thing about RTD is that he’s capable of writing good, snappy dialogue; the sort of things real people would actually say in real life. Mostly this emanates from Jackie Tyler, though the Doctor has a few zingers himself. Certainly we’re a long way past the “Faster than the second hand of a watch” scene from the Curse of Fenric.
  • Having Rose be the one to save the day first time around was a good move, especially considering she’s just the ordinary girl. What that does is allow both boys and girls to find something to like; something to take from Doctor Who.
  • People who over-analyze things (says the guy who’s written more than 300,000 words on the show since 2011) will take from the scene where Eccleston looks in the mirror and comments on his appearance as this being immediately after his regeneration. I don’t really think it is, but that’s just my opinion.
  • Writer’s note 2014: And Day of the Doctor backs me up on that.
  • What’s interesting about my reviews of Modern Who is that I have no guidebooks to reference against. For the classic series I had plenty, so I could check facts and statistics. So this is a bit of a journey into the unknown for me.
  • The new TARDIS set…hmmm. Well obviously the old one wouldn’t have translated well, but the Doctor has downgraded since the TV Movie
  • Murray Gold is the man in charge of the Incidental Music, and though Sylvester McCoy criticised it for being understated at the time, I think it’s fine here. Over the course of the next few seasons, we’ll see the best and worst of Gold, I assure you.
  • I must admit, I was gutted that they didn’t use the Peter Howell theme tune when I first saw it.
  • DWM Mighty 2o0 Ranking: #63 – I think that’s fair.

Doctor Who – Rose Review: Final Thoughts

So the show is back and it’s off to a good start.

But let’s be clear; this works because it introduces the show so well rather than it being an amazing story on its own merits.

It’s unlikely Rose will be anyone’s favourite Doctor Who story, but neither do I think people could dislike it for any particular reason.

The cast seems more than competent and the production and writing of the show looks like it’s in good hands.

Let’s hope that continues.