Saturday, 20 September 2014

Capaldi in Space

There are some great little programmes hiding out on BBC Radio 4-Extra. This week I listened to The Further Adventures of the First King of Mars, which actually came out in 2008. It was originally written by Nick Walker to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik 1's orbital mission. I'm not sure of the connection, seeing that Sputnik never went to Mars, but never mind. It was repeated over the week in five fifteen-minute installments. A canny move, seeing that is read by Peter Capaldi, and thus serves as something to keep all the Doctor Who geeks going between episodes.

We all hoped that the twelfth Doctor would be like Malcolm Tucker in space, and while there's a touch of that to the character, it's Capaldi's mission captain here who is really the holder of that mantle. OK, the swearing isn't there, but god, this is an angry, overbearing and utterly disturbed man on a mission to Mars. The first manned mission to the red planet, totally ruined by having this man in command, utterly unsuited to the role and totally out of his depth. Over five short episodes there is a crash-landing, a death and an astonishing discovery that leaves the mission in tatters and the nature of Mars changed forever, all recounted by Capaldi with increasing hysteria. All hinging on his accidental running down of a space centre chimpanzee. It's just wonderfully bizarre, and Capaldi's caustic telling makes it. This should be repeated every year; it's a brilliant piece of cynical, completely British science-fiction. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Listen. You don't need to worry about this episode removing the mystery from the Doctor. That final sequence, in which we finally, unexpectedly find ourselves in a barn on Gallifrey, under the bed of a crying boy who will one day become the Doctor. Yes, we've learned a little more about the Doctor's life. That's not the erosion of mystery, that's the addition of depth.

Listen. You don't need to know whether or not there was a monster. That's not a loose end, not a vital piece of information that is necessary for your enjoyment. That is mystery. We keep questioning after the episode has ended. Questioning what we have learned about the Doctor, and whether or not he was right to be searching for a being that is perfect at hiding. Is there something hiding under our beds, or has the long voyage through the universe simply compounded the Doctor's innate fear? We'll probably never know, and that's good.

I do not understand the fans who are gnashing their teeth because we never got a confirmation of the existence, or otherwise, of the monster. Leave the viewers questioning; it's oldest trick in the book, and one of the most effective. It's hardly any different to the rightly lauded Midnight, another episode in which the nature of the monster was left completely unexplained. (Hey, for all we know, it's the same creature.) We have more questions this time, of course, but that's what makes it all the more effective.

This is Moffat doing what he does best. Not Moffat by numbers, but Moffat doing his most Moffat-est work. It's hard to credit, at first, why the Doctor would be wondering about being who can hide so perfectly when he has already encountered the Silence, but then, he probably would have forgotten, wouldn't he? Sure, this is Moffat reusing old tricks, but using them to such profound effect that it hardly matters. There's a theme running through this season, concerning the Doctor's decisions and judgment. After all this time, is his judgment failing? Have the age old fears he's been living with all along really taken their toll? Or is there really something hiding in the shadows? Personally, I think the darkness is just getting to the Doctor, but who knows? Moffat loves his misdirection. Perhaps this will be followed up. Or perhaps it really was just some seriously creepy kid hiding under the blankets.

Listen is, for all the fannish quibbles, is the most positively received episode so far this year. It balances the teatime horror of the Doctor's ghost story with Clara and Danny's deeply awkward romance. Moffat uses his experience with sitcoms such as Coupling and Chalk to craft a painful first date. It's a less comfortable meeting of farce and fear than this episode's closest precursor, the superlative Blink. Danny and Clara simply aren't as likeable or believable as Sally and Larry. Clara is strikingly insensitive at times; perhaps hanging around with this new Doctor is rubbing off on her in bad ways. Danny is understandably sensitive about his background, but comes across as brittle. It's hard to see these two lasting.

On the other hand, the remaining sequences are perfectly done. At first, we find ourselves accidentally in Danny's childhood, unexpectedly under a different name and at a children's home. In another example of excellent child casting, Remi Gooding makes a completely convincing younger version of Samuel Anderson, and sells Rupert's uncomfortable night terrors brilliantly. Capaldi is astonishing in this scene. He manages to be both terrifying and reassuring, his stand-out speech to Rupert a highlight of the episode. “Fear is your superpower” is the message for the episode, and the truth about the Doctor's ongoing fight against the monsters. Yet this scene still has time to defuse the tension with a laugh (the Where's Wally​ exchange being funniest moment in the episode), before cranking the tension right back up with the shape under the bed.

So, with Dan the Soldier Man, the Doctor and Clara influence Danny's entire life. They then explore his future, his probably descendant Orson having been flung to the end of time in an atmospheric sequence where the Doctor steps too far. Much like his first self back on Skaro, he potentially endangers his companions for the chance to explore something alien beyond the horizon. Or perhaps it really was just the hull cooling that spooked him and he nearly asphyxiated for nothing.

With Clara influencing the TARDIS through the disturbingly biological-looking telepathic interface is a clever touch, and with the Doctor explicitly removing the safeguards we are allowed to visit areas we normally wouldn't. The Doctor specifically states that they shouldn't go so far into the future, but he never gets to make same comment on the past. Like the Doctor influenced Danny's development, Clara influences the Doctor's. Too far? Perhaps. Doctor Who fans are notoriously precious about their favourite character, but making Clara the most defining element throughout the Doctor's life might be stepping a little far. Yet this is perhaps Clara's strength as a character. Being so generic a companion might give her the potential to become something archetypal. Regardless of where he is taking the character, Moffat has crafted the most beautiful scene between Clara and the young Doctor. She even drops in one of the Doctor's most famous lines, from his very first story. It's a wonderful moment. It's a surprising insight into his childhood. I never envisioned him in any kind of agrarian background, or that he would have to choose between the Time Lord Academy and the Gallifreyan army.

As a cheap episode with barely more than the core cast, Listen relies on the strength of its script, direction and performance. It has the guts to scare children, and to defend itself for this approach. It even makes us question the nature of the Doctor himself. What are the fans so scared of?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tenuous @ Best: Rats Leading the Sinking Ship

Some more nonsense from my brother:

Tenuous @ Best: Rats Leading the Sinking Ship: I had been watching a favourite movie film of my childhood, Disney's Basil the Great Mouse Detective. It was a nostalgic indulgence and...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Comics Round-Up September

There's a lot coming out right now, so I've had to drop a few titles. Might pick them back up somewhen along the line. It's still all very Marvel for me, right now. I won't be picking up anymore comics till payday, so that'll be under October's reviews.

The Mighty World of Marvel #3 (Marvel/Panini)

I think I've been seduced by these bumper UK reprints. This is chock-full of Marvel superheroes, with no fewer than eighteen listed on the inside front cover. It's such a busy magazine that I shall review each segment separately.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 This is the first part of the "Angela" storyline, whereby, as a consequence of Neil Gaiman's defection to Marvel and the end of a years long legal battle with Todd McFarlane, a character from Spawn is uncomfortably inserted into Marvel continuity. To be honest, I can't say I am impressed by Angela based on her first appearance here. She looks like a skinny chick in extremely inefficient armour that barely covers her tits and who has serious anger issues. Still, as she has now been retconned as Thor's half-sister and is set to join the Avengers, she's worth keeping an eye on. The rest of the strip is great though. Brian Michael Bendis has a great knack with snarky characters, so it's a treat to see his take on Tony Stark and Rocket Raccoon hanging out. Plus, this is just after Stark and Gamora have been shagging, so everything is super-uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Drax is being seriously unpleasant to the Badoon, Mantis is being mysterious and cheeky, and Quill makes the baffingly ill-thoughout decision to ask Thanos for help regarding the fracturing of reality.

Daredevil #26-27 I haven't read any Daredevil for ages. This includes two stories, both by Waid and Samnee. "Punching Cancer" is a touching little story in which Foggy Nelson learns to deal with his cancer by talking to some kids about his experience with superheroes and drawing up some comics with them. Really lovely. On the other end of the emotional scale, "Devil's Due" is a brutal story which pits Matt Murdock against the now horribly crippled Bullseye. It ends with a truly nasty example of poetic justice, and god, it's grim. I wouldn't like to read stories like this every week, but wow, this is bold stuff. At first, Javier Rodriguez's art seemed too cartoony for the subject matter, but on reflection it works, in a nineties Batman kind of way.

Avengers Arena #3 "Earth Girls Aren't Easy" is a slight story, but one that sets up some great characters for later exploration. It's the tried,. and tired, idea of taking a bunch of heroes and villains and pitting them against each other on Murderworld, only this time, they're mostly untested youngsters. Cammi Benally is a great character; not a mutant, not a cyborg, she's an ordinary human girl with no superpowers who happens to have been abducted by aliens and is fricking awesome and hard as nails. Even X-23 doesn't match her for sheer tough girl charisma. Should be fun to see where this is going.

Wolverine and Deadpool #3 (Marvel/Panini)

In the title for "Marvel's Toughest Heroes," things have finally moved on from the Savage Land for the fun, rather cute intermission that is "Ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!" It's date night for the X-Men, and it's all as inconsequential as that sounds, but it's a welcome breather. I'll be honest, I'm lost now when it comes to all the politics and soap opera in the X-Men titles, so this all took a little getting up to speed. The next installment goes... back to the Savage Land. Still, this is more fun, with Wolverine heading a bunch of misfit X-students on a survival course. Plus points for including a cheat sheet of all the characters, minus points for all those poor dinosaurs who get cut up while minding their own business. Oh, and Wolverine's brother Dog Logan is back. Deadpool, meanwhile, is still fighting dead presidents, even though that story seemed to come to a nice conclusion last month. There are some great moments, but the joke is wearing thin now.

Saga #22 (Image)

I'm running out of things to say about Saga. Even when it's on an off issue, it's well ahead of most titles. and on a good issue like this one... Let's just say the shit hits the fan here. Things have been gearing up for a clash between Marko and Alana, and the fallout from that should be immense. Plus, we get to meet King Robot! Also, Saga is probably the only regular title with a letters page worth reading these days.

Ms Marvel #7 (Marvel)

An intermediate sort of issue, linking the Wolverine/Inventor story to further ongoing events, and beginning to explore Kamala's status as an Inhuman. The greater mythology stuff is less interesting than the details, though, Giving Kamala the teleporting dog Lockjaw as a sidekick is a stroke of genius, perfectly fitting the joyfully silly nature of the strip. At the same time, the story is able to look at more serious issues, such as Kamala's struggle to balance her superhero life with school (shades of Peter Parker there) and commenting on how it's always children who suffer the most when adults go to war. Fun, dotty, but occasionally profound stuff.

Captain Marvel #7 (Marvel)

Still a good, easy superhero read, if a bit lightweight and brief. Captain Marvel is running alongside Guardians of the Galaxy now, the two of them crossing between each other. This might mean dropping this title since I'm behind Guardians with the above reprints. The Danvers/Rocket interplay is good fun, but it's Danvers's relationship with her unwanted sidekick Tic is stronger. So, a fun series, but one I could stand to let go right now.

Rocket Raccoon #3 (Marvel)

Blam blam blam blam! "I'm gonna kill you in the face!" Yep, this is deep stuff. I've finally realised what the artwork reminds me of - those Where's Wally? activity books that came out with the TV series. I don't think there's a link, but maybe Skottie Young had some involvement with them. Who knows? Blam blam blam! Raccoons.

Ghostbusters #19 (IDW)

Oh, I really don't want this series to end. One more issue left, I understand, so this is building to a climactic conclusion. Dapper Dan seems to be at his happiest when he's drawing his favourite monsters from the animated series, so he has a field day with issue, which takes place largely inside Ray's mind. Both Gozer and Tiamat have taken up residence within him to battle it out. While they both take forms fans will expect - Gozer picks Stay Puft and Tiamat appears as she did in the cartoon - various other creatures from the animated days get used as avatars. It's a lovely touch in a well-told issue, leading to Winston's grand stand. So, while I don't want it to end, I am dying for that last issue.

2000 AD Prog 1898 (Rebellion)

I pick up 2000 AD occasionally. It is something of a British institution, after all. It's generally all a bit too grungy and macho for my taste, but sometimes a cover feature catches my eye. The Roman horror of "Aquila Carnifex" is very good, well written by Gordon Rennie and with suitably nasty artwork from Leigh Gallagher. And Dylan Teague's colours - just lovely. Moore and Reppion's "Black Shuck" is also very good, making it a worthwhile grab. The anthology nature of 2000 AD means as many hits as misses, of course, "Jaegir: Circe" is fine, if grim as hell, Judge Dredd does his usual stuff, and "Brass Sun" is just completely meh,

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 (Titan)

I forced myself to pick between Titan's two Doctor Who titles this month, so the tenth Doctor has been dropped and Eleven wins out. Especially important to let one go, as a twelfth Doctor title is on October 1st. Anyway, I think I made the right choice here. This is really great stuff. While "The Friendly Place" is somewhat similar to "Welcome to Tickle Town" from DWM a few months back (a risk when multiple companies have rights to the same characters), it's a hell of a lot better. Alice is proving to be a fine companion, the Doctor is characterised with just the right balance of optimism, world-weariness and whimsy, and the short, one-part stories are adding up to something bigger already. Simon Fraser's art is a bit scrappy, but that really suits this title. If you missed any of the covers from the first issues of either series, by the way, this includes a covers gallery. If you didn't miss any, how the hell did you afford them all and what did you do with them? There must be more covers than pages. It's ridiculous.

Fire and Stone: Prometheus #1 (Dark Horse)

This is another huge crossover event, but the Prometheus title alone is only four issues long (until the next story starts in February). Might look at getting the trade if it collects the Aliens, Predator and AvP strips together. Anyway, this is a pretty good start. Taking place twenty-five years after the movie, it introduces a new crew following up on the lost Prometheus mission, When they arrive on LV-223 (or possibly LV-426, there's some confusion), they discover a huge ecosystem, teeming with life. The alien ants are pretty cool. There a re a lot of characters introduced, and my simple mind is already muddling them up, but I am confident Paul Tobin can tell a more coherent story than the twerps who wrote the film.

Edge of the Spider-Verse: Spider-Man Noir (Marvel)

Right, so I dropped Amazing for Noir this month. There's just too much Spider-Man right now. While the link up to the Spider-Verse storyline at the end  is a bit clunky - I guess that's hard to avoid - the actual story here is a bit of a cracker. Spider-Man always benefited best from the Noir treatement, and this works as well as those original strips. Mysterio is an obvious choice for the setting, and this version, a stage magician, actually makes a formidable foe for Noir Spidey. The mystical elements of the Spider-Man Noir origin story tie it all to the Spider-Verse reasonably well. I really like Richard Isanove's art. Just gorgeous.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Life During Wartime

That marvellous colouriser, Stuart Humphreyes aka Babelcolour, has created the latest in his series of Doctor Who tributes. This latest one is an absolute belter, celebrating the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt in The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor. Babel's done amazing work with very little material, using some shots from other films to add some glimpses of this Doctor's younger days, before the grey hair and the beard. Amazing stuff, and with a beautiful choice of music.