TV I’m angry. I’m actually angry. I had to take a breath and make a cup of coffee before I began typing because my gesticulations were becoming so pronounced it would have become impossible to use this keyboard. I’ve even visited Gallifrey Base and therapeutically awarded it 1/10 to A Town Called Mercy in the weekly poll amid all the 8s., 9s and 10s listed in the thread below even though for reasons we’ll get to it deserves a few more points at least. I’ve been trying to remember quite when a Doctor Who story on television has made me react this way (as opposed to Torchwood which was pretty much every week). Glancing through this episode list it might be as far back as Planet of the Ood, but that was mostly the peavishness of pointlessly having been preached to. You know, it’s probably New Earth. Oh sod it.

THE DOCTOR DOES NOT USE GUNS. He doesn’t. He just doesn’t. Well ok, if we’re being picky, in newer series terms there is the wurling dervish moment at The End of Time, the bubble burst in The Time of Angels and when he holds a revolver to Cobb’s head in The Doctor’s Daughter but the first two are for benign reasons and in the latter he has just witnessed the apparent death of his instant daughter (just add genes) and pretty swiftly says, “I never would” making the moral point in the face of Cobb’s murderous nature, because at least at that point he never would. But he does not point a gun at a man because he’s not doing what he wants him to do the way he wants him to do it. It breaks the character. As I alluded to last week, he might as well strap the next nonce whose not talking to a chair and fetch a towel. Or an axe. Or whatever else is to hand.

Except as that paragraph and a few last week indicate there are always qualifications to that point. Counter arguments. Toby Whithouse’s script is a clear homage to the westerns of Sergio Leone especially Once Upon A Time In The West, where everyone is morally ambiguous even the apparently benevolent cowboys. Over forty-five minutes he’s telling the kinds of story which are the stock in trade of later westerns, in which the once good man finds his white hat becoming greyer with age having seen too many of his allies die and the Doctor’s lived through hundreds of years of that and we’re supposed to see how it takes its toll. Within the structure of the episode, we’re supposed to see him learn that there is another way with Amy as the voice of reason.

Indeed that conversation, and this whole episode, has similarities to the closing moments of Dalek, in which the Ninth Doctor, brandishing a massive laser, is ready to explodify the apparently single surviving example of his arch enemy, only for Rose to talk him round and remind him who he is, the pepperpot self-destructing rather than face up to its nature of being. Similarly, the Doctor’s process of later deciding whether indeed he should lead this other alien Doctor to his death mirrors similar ruminations in that season’s Boom Town over Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen's impending return to face certain death back home. Like Annette Badland then, Adrian Scarborough now offers a study of charismatic evil, Whithouse’s script providing him with enough dimension that we might reconsider their fate.

Plus, if we’re adding in the murder of Solomon last week, we’re clearly now supposed to see that the Doctor’s gone off the rails a bit from travelling alone, lost his moral compass. This too has happened before. The Waters of Mars is about much the same thing, even if then he is using his powers for good even if they broke the laws of time. The whole of the "first" season is about the Doctor getting over the time war, about Rose dragging him back towards the figure that we know and are supposed to love so that he can distinguish between, in The Christmas Invasion, giving the Sycorax captain no second chances but looking grimly on Harriet Jones cold bloodedly destroying the rest of his ship. In this new series, it’s the Doctor who’s looking a bit tired.

All of which is fine. Except, and I’m going to say this again in block capitals, THE DOCTOR DOES NOT USE GUNS. There’s a reason when faced with a similar stage direction when making, I think, The Face of Evil Tom suggested he should threaten them with a deadly jelly baby instead and the myriad other occasions when a rogue writer and an overworked script editor let such things slip through. It’s the silhouette. It’s about what it says to kids. Guns are cool. Look, the Doctor’s holding a gun. Look he’s pointing it at that man’s head because he’s not doing what he wants him to do the way he wants him to do it. Or put it another way, disregarding the Stockbridge moment in the comics, imagine another of the Doctors doing the same thing. Go on, imagine Pat or Jon or Tom pointing a revolver at another man.

It doesn't work, unless there's an instance I'm forgetting. That’s why UNIT existed in the 60s & 70s. A whole military unit injected into the series to put the Doctor’s benevolence in sharp relief even if that barely extended to admonishing the Brig for his methods when he’s quite clearly saved the Doctor a regeneration. It’s why Jon spent five years practicing Venusian aikido. It’s what makes the Doctor different. It’s what makes this show special and it especially doesn’t help tonight that Amy’s reaction is to point a gun at the Doctor. This is what happens in other shows. It’s what happens in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or Torchwood. To an extent it’s why Torchwood exists too, because amongst other things Russell T Davies also decided straight gunplay has no place in a family show. That it’s better than that. Which it is. Usually.

Toby, Steven and everyone else who signed off on this probably assume that it’s earned when the Doctor draws his sonic screwdriver later, that they’re showing kids that guns are bad and the Doctor is different, that there is another way. But putting a gun in his hand in the first place, no matter what horrors he’s witnessed in the pod, however many people he’s watched his foes kill previously, this being the proverbial straw, saps the magic from the show. The effect is similar to watching The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin walked away. They’re the same actors, their characters have the same names but they’re not the Leo, Toby or CJ we know, they’re doing it wrong. In other words, the Doctor and Amy brandishing guns in this way is Who’s equivalent of Josh shouting at a building.

Bizarrely, Whithouse himself knows that it’s wrong. He says so in this SFX interview. Journalist Richard Edwards asks him, “The Doctor ends up in a Sheriff-type role in the episode. Sheriffs usually carry a gun, but the Doctor doesn’t like firearms. Is that something you address?” Toby answers. “That was the sequence that took the longest time to get right. The sequence where the Doctor is kind of forced to use a gun, giving the right sort of emotional journey to that took a lot of finessing, and that was the scene that, from draft to draft, would change the most regularly because the Doctor is a confirmed pacifist and so putting him in that situation is a wonderful opportunity in that it forces you to confront it, and provides you with enormous tension and drama which, as a writer, is what you want.”

Surely the fact that it took so long to get right (even if arguably in the end it isn’t) is because he was right to be fighting his natural impulses. Doctor Who’s a wonderful franchise, which offers all kinds of possibilities and one of the reasons it’s a wonderful franchise is because of the (admittedly anti-egalitarian pacifism) of its central character. Indeed he could have even written around it and had another of the townspeople doing much the same action and having the Doctor in Amy’s position of talking them down, albeit with less metal in his hand. Indeed much that same scene is included later, which feels oddly hollow. At least he didn’t have Rory, A NURSE, do it even if he had him agree with the methodology to HIS WIFE.

To an extent Whithouse and Moffat (who proposed the idea) have fallen foul of Doctor Who’s strange curse that for all its apparent flexibility it doesn’t mix with some genres unless the writer’s being especially careful. Voyage of the Damned is a potential example in relation to disaster films which abhore the single protagonist. As The Gunfighters demonstrates, westerns are a problem, because of all the GUNS. Back to the Future Part III got away with it because wasn’t established the time travellers have these kinds of standards. At some point in a western the hero has to brandish a gun, it’s a semantic fundamental of the genre along with the hats, but as Joss Whedon realised after making his Firefly pilot, you can’t have cherishable approach to the life of antagonists in a western, syntactically the genre won’t let you.

With all of that in mind, is it possible to find any positives? What elevates A Town Called Mercy from a 1/10 to a 2/10 or even a 3? There’s no escaping the poetry of the visuals. Director Saul Metzstein aided by his camera operator Joe Russell and the various assistant directors really go to town in evoking Leone, Ford and Huston, with Time Lord on horseback against the impossibly desolate landscape aided immeasurably by filming in the very places some of those old films were also photographed. Or the beauty of the music, the temp track no doubt filled with specks of both Firefly and Morricone, the melody in places directly referencing Once Upon A Time In The West. Like the more successful genre fusion, The Unicorn and the Wasp, if there’s one section of the ensuing soundtrack which’ll be entirely recognisable without a track listing it’ll be this.

Plus there’s no denying the acting strength at play too amongst the small speaking cast. After his work in Farscape and Stargate, Ben Bowder’s sheriff offers a remarkably unshowy performance hidden beneath his moustache, albeit with a certain Fillionesque guile in the action sequences. Karen and Arthur are fine too, even if they’re not given much to do narratively overall, another of the script’s weaknesses. Arthur in particular is poorly served, mainly left to run around and react a lot in a way which hasn’t really been the case since the first series.  Matt also does some excellent work with the script and shadows he’s given to wander through paradoxically illuminating the Doctor’s emotional journey as he returns to his personal fundamentals, into the light and is reminded of what makes him the Doctor, that THE DOCTOR DOES NOT USE GUNS.

Sorry, we’ll get back to that in the moment I promise.   Otherwise, another weakness of the piece is the dullness of the cyborg. The core of the character seems to be The Man With No Name, or more specifically the aged, life worn version from Unforgiven. But in the days before he was nattering with an empty chair, even when Clint Eastwood’s granite like face seemed to have emerged from the outcrops within the landscape he had an infinite amount of charisma, he was no simple Terminator. Whithouse's decided that his Kahler-Mas needs to be a near emotionless killing machine, which again doesn’t feel very Doctor Who, despite the moments when he considers his disenfranchisement from society.  Though that’s perhaps preferable to last week’s comedy robots who, as has since been pointed out to me in the meantime by a friend, are supposed be funny even though they're the tools of Solomon’s genocide of the Silurians.

Wow, nearly two thousand words in two hours. Imagine if I ploughed this industry into something that matters. But perhaps this does matter. It’s about what we’re teaching our kids and what we as kids originally grokked about the series. On the one hand, I remember watching westerns as a child then playing cowboys and Indians in the back yard, plastic guns everywhere. Later it was Star Trek and phasers. Later still it was Transformers and transforming. But eventually it was back to Doctor Who because, amongst other things, of the ingenuity of the main character. Originally, all that was required for the Doctor to become a better person was Ian giving him a suspicious look when he brandished a rock to knock the brains out of a caveman because he's impeding their return to the TARDIS.

After that he's was a benevolent alien we could all love, ruminating on his rights, but now, according to this production team, that’s a lesson he has to learn again, again, and again, that he needs to reminded that he’s better than the Daleks, the Cyberman and the Master by whichever mono-heartbeater happens to be in the vicinity. That makes him a little bit dangerous perhaps, more alien, but I could never get along with the Sixth and Seventh Doctor much on television for similar reasons and it’ll be disappointing if that’s the route Moffat et al are going now, especially if like the latter it’s never really explained how he got from going out of his way to give some kids their best Christmas ever to what we witnessed these past few weeks. This can’t be “just because” can it? There has to be a reason for all this.  What have we missed when we weren't looking? He hasn’t blown up Gallifrey again has he?

"To Hades with the warlock who wears trousers of den-um!"

Links  Very excited for the opening of the Liverpool Biennial.  Usually on these two opening days I'd be trotting around the various venues either because I've had a press invite or a private view card or as was the case last year both.  But this year, for various reasons, I've decided that rather than giving in to my usual tendency of trying to pack everything in to two days and as is often the case when some of the work isn't quite finished, that I'd let myself enjoy it over whole two months, perhaps even in the numerical order of the guide pamphlet, beginning with the Cunard Building.  I expect also, there will be blogging.

Topless Robot uncovers the ten worst episodes of the Generation One Transformers cartoon.  Has the effect of making me want to see them all.  Especially the obligatory Camelot episode:
"Not once do the Autobots consider the repercussions of driving around the medieval countryside side in their vehicle forms, nor is Spike, at any point, chased by angry villagers and burned at the stake for being a purported warlock ("To Hades with the warlock who wears trousers of den-um!"). And to top off their indifference to the intended course of history, both the Autobots and Decepticons participate in a huge battle that was sparked by a dispute over cows, because the kids at home might not understand more sensical inciting incidents like regicide or misinterpreted religious mandate."

Design Nerds Flash Cards:
A is for Apple. M isn't for Microsoft.

The Coffee Cake and Me blog visits the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival:
"There were stands from all kinds of eateries in the Liverpool area such as Bem Brazil and Jamie’s, mixed in with stands with wine, local produce and spirits, all with reasonable prices. Just shows the difference having your food served up on a paper plate makes! Samples of wine, chocolate, bread and oils, cheese and old school cordials were sampled with no arm twisting involved! The chocolates tasted as good as they looked. The detail on them was beautiful making them too nice to eat… but that’s what they’re there for!"

The BBC' Archive is having an audio (copyright infringement) amnesty in an attempt to coax people to return old clandestine recordings:
"Do you remember all those warnings about home taping? Did you ignore them and furtively record some of your favourite radio shows anyway? Do you have an attic or a garage or even an old cardboard box under the spare bed full of tapes or cassettes of Pick of the Pops, Saturday Club, Easy Beat, Top Gear or Housewives’ Choice? Well the good news is you got away with it!"

I wasn’t at Hillsborough.

Life I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I was still something of a football fan so was watching on television. Even though I was in my early teens, my memory of the day is sketchy. I remember watching the disaster unfold in the famous footage which has reappeared on news reports in the intervening years including those related to today’s release of documents. I remember listening to the local radio stations which were the main source of news as the day went on, their schedules dumped in favour of poignant music and public service statements. I remember crying through the memorial service at the cathedral which was also broadcast live.

It wasn’t until I reached university that I realised the inaccurate perception of the disaster held amongst some people outside of Liverpool. It was in my first year, in halls, 1994. A group of us were in the room of a friend from the Birmingham area at around the time of that year’s fifth anniversary in April. I think I’d noticed that he’d bought The Sun and commented on Liverpool’s decade long boycott of the paper, how some newsagents refused to stock it or at least put it on display because of that notorious headline and the lies ironically hidden beneath. There were few chairs in the room, I remember. I was sitting on the floor, him on a computer chair.

“The Sun’s report was accurate,” he said to just the wrong person to say it to on just the wrong day. “I know it was because I know people who were there and they saw it happen.” I was too shocked to be angry, but a couple of decades later I can still remember the feeling of not knowing quite what to say. It’s worth noting this wasn’t some friendship breaking conversation. I knew he was an ignorant person from other things he’d said previously, things he’d done. But he was part of the group and so he was a friend. Sometimes “friend” can have many meanings. Nevertheless, I was surprised that he could be of this opinion.

Of course I tried to give the opposing argument, of course I did. Under questioning, I think it was the case the people he knew who were there turned out to be friends of friends of friends, not a direct conversation so indeed he had no proof in what he said. But he was vociferous in that way he could be, parroting out the allegations from The Sun’s original story to the point that it could only be that the source of his belief was the paper’s report passed along from ear to ear until it became “The Truth” in the minds of the people hearing and speaking about it. I understood then just how widely this version of “The Truth” was believed.

Watching the Prime Minister’s statement on the report and subsequent apology in parliament about an hour ago, I wondered if my friend was also watching. As David Cameron offered the shocking synopsis of the report’s findings and how little truth there was in The Sun’s story I wondered if my friend and all of the people like him would finally face up to the fact that everything they thought was wrong. I wondered if they understood the hurt those beliefs caused and that in perpetuating them, they increased the hurt of the families and the people of Liverpool. I’m also pleased that the actual truth can now be understood.

The Tragedy of Mariam (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Ramona Wray.

Elizabeth Cary was born in the mid-1590s at Burford Priory in Oxfordshire. She was educated at home, mostly in ancient languages including Hebrew. She was married in 1602 to the soldier John Davies and amid giving birth to ten children and following her husband’s promotion to Ireland, she became highly regarded in the community launching an apprenticeship scheme for poor and orphaned children. She would later return to England but after a short spell of imprisonment due to her conversion to Catholicism, and estrangement from her Protestant husband, poverty overwhelmed her and she died, penniless in 1639.

Ironically given the relative obscurity of her work outside academic circles then and now, our understanding of her life has been enhanced beyond most of her contemporaries because a decade after her birth her daughter Lucy penned a biography. If only one of Shakespeare’s children had been as interested. This work is also a reason why we know that during her already full life, she also became an accomplished scholar, with a strong published history which included historical texts, poetry and drama, including The Tragedy of Mariam, now published by Arden’s Early Modern Drama.

Billed as the first early modern play written by a woman, this dramatises the sixteen year relationship between notorious Herod and his wife Mariam “telescoped” into twenty-four hours retaining the classical unity of drama and synthesising as the cover synopsis describes a decade and half's worth of “family intrigues, missing monarchs and extra-marital liaisions” as well as “madness and martyrdom”. One of a number of plays in the that period working from religious subjects, this is widescreen epic four hundred years before Cecil B De Mille picked up a camera played amongst a cast of few within a private setting.

In contrast to the other texts in the series, Cary’s play is an example of closet drama written either to be read or performed within a private setting perhaps by amateurs (though there's no evidence of Mariam having been acted in her lifetime). As Wray’s blistering introduction indicates, that’s diminished its reputation and stifled academic consideration of the work; she mentions originally having greeted the play at college through a nearly unreadable version photocopied from microform. As I’ve said before, that’s why Arden’s work is so important, and that of New Mermaids too: producing readable copies of otherwise obscure plays, revealing a variety of drama from the period beyond the usual suspects.

But more recent editions have led to reappraisals and as Wray's discussion elucidates, Cary’s writing is as rich as any of her contemporaries with diverse literary allusions and a solid thematic apparatus investigating as sections of the introduction indicate, Jerusalem as a modern city, the tyranny of empires in this case Rome, the role of women in that society exemplified by Mariam treatment at the hands of her husband with her ensuing martyrdom and how beauty and sexuality are codified through her relationship with her sister Salome not to mention the parallels the story has with Cary's own biography.

As is customary, there’s a thorough discussion of the contemporary text, in this case a single Quarto publication in 1613, so there’s little need for the investigation into textual difference seen in other Arden, barring printing errors and sections omitted when the play entered the public realm. There’s also surprisingly a short production history which charts the efforts of colleges and the odd semi-professional theatre company to mount productions of Mariam the general consensus being that its entirely possible to produce an exciting, thoughtful evening with some ingenuity. As Wray suggests, it’s about time a professional theatre company took the work on board and revealed it to the wider public.

The Tragedy of Mariam (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Ramona Wray. Methuen Drama. 2012. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 9781904271598. Review copy supplied.

rewatching all of the television series on which Joss Whedon has had overall creative control

TV  Earlier in the year, perhaps Easter time, perhaps before, I embarked on rewatching all of the television series on which Joss Whedon has had overall creative control (Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse) in preparation for finally seeing The Avengers (Assemble) on its blu-ray release. Watching the original unaired Buffy presentation with the wrong Willow and Stephen Tobolowsky as Principal Flutie, it’s not completely clear that Whedon would go on to produce some of the best loved television series of all time. But slowly after a few episodes, the series built its own unique identity, addiction set and here Whedon is over a decade later as the director of the biggest film of all time and I am attempting to review all of them in three paragraphs each.

My expected appreciation curve for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer was that after a barnstorming first three seasons, the show would become a rather patchier affair in which individual piece of classic television usually written and directed by Whedon himself (Hush, The Body, Once More With Feeling) provided a scaffold for less compelling overall story arcs and baddies, with the Nerd Trio in Season Six, and Season Six actually the nadir. Some of which is true, but watched in concentrated form, its notable how even the worst episodes (Beer Bad, Doublemeat Palace) still contain some cracking dialogue and characterisation or a subplot which manages to utilise the horror genre as a metaphore for the human condition.

Indeed, notably it’s at its weakest when pandering to the fans. The interminable love triangle between the slayer and her two vampires, as well as prefiguring Twilight is often about as interesting, especially in the latter stages when Buffy and Spike are throwing each other against the supporting walls of houses. Whedon’s work excels only when he’s cruel, replacing Angel with a figure who’s the exact opposite but arguably more likeable and killing Tara, breaking up one of the great television romances. Even Dawn, the previously non-existent sister for Buffy manages to sidestep the Scrappy-Doo potential by not making her a Potential, just a normal kid that Buffy must learn to protect eventually by letting go.

If something weakens the show latterly it is the shift away from the core group and it’s only when the Buffy returns to the school and the Scoobys it finds its centre of gravity again. What I wasn’t prepared for was choosing Anya as my favourite character thanks to Emma Caulfield’s fearlessly layered performance. If there’s a tragedy in the ensuing comics, it’s that Anya’s not still in there, saying the things no one dares to. Watching again I was reminded too that the demon in one of the show’s worst episodes, Hell’s Bells, in which Xander witlessly leaves Anya at the alter has my name, or at least in his original human form.  If only it had been Conversations with Dead People or some such.

If I say that Angel’s my least favourite of Whedon’s series, it’s because creatively it’s the least certain (which is quite something considering the first five episodes of Dollhouse). The premise is excellent, the atoning vampire helping the helpless, but as the series continues, perhaps for budgetary reasons, the show finds its story playing out across just a few sets and the sense of a metropolis in which the supernatural intermingles is replaced with the kind of narrative navel gazing which can become quite old pretty quickly. Which it does, until the middle seasons in which most of the characters are unlikeable and there’s an apocalypse too many played out across the foyer of a hotel which becomes greyer as time goes on.

Borrowing this viewing order from the web I worked through Angel and Buffy enmeshed together and it is noteworthy how often a story element from one series is so seamlessly passed to another, either through mystical amulets or characters like Faith, unrelated story arcs running in parallel yet able to resonate, like the flashbackpalooze of Fool for Love and Darla with its moments in which the same events are viewed from the viewpoints of characters from different series. Only by watching both together are we able to see the dramatic character development in Cordelia and Wesley, even if arguably in the former case its pissed up a wall by the old stand-by of demonic possession and wilful blindness of the other characters.  How could they not know it wasn't her?

Remarkably Angel the series is at its best when it’s at its dopiest, when Angel the character’s dancing, Wesley’s drunk or Fred’s being kick-ass. But also when it’s willing to take risks with those characters like a testing ground for the moral ambiguity which would be the lifeblood of Dollhouse. When Angel locks a group of lawyers in a basement knowing it will mean certain death at the fangs of his historical cohorts it’s all the more shocking because it’s the so-called lighter version of the character and not his utterly evil Angelus form. Like Buffy it’s also in the closing stages that the show becomes watchable again, when it largely ditches the story arcs and returns to a largely stand alone format.

It’s also remarkable that while making both of these series Whedon was also able to produce what’s arguably his greatest achievement, the fourteen episodes of Firefly. Buffy’s Buffy of course, but of all Whedon’s shows, its his space western which from the opening episodes has the most likeable characters, simultaneously unbelievable yet plausible reality and dynamite storytelling. Like all of his series, it’s also rich with language, but unlike the others actively challenges the listener’s ears requiring multiple viewings for us to completely understand every conversation (and being versed in Chinese) and is refreshingly lacking in pop culture references, beyond visual and narrative influences.  Cancellation came too soon.  I would gladly have sacrificed Angel's later seasons for more of this.  Except Smile Time.

Except, like My So-Called Life and others, its brevity makes it all the more precious not least because unlike other series it was never left to go off the boil or repeat itself. There are few clunkers with only Shindig ever spoken of as being sub-par even though it’s a master class for Nathan Fillion’s comic timing and Jewel Staite’s general adorableness. The final episode, Objects in Space is the highlight with its poetic imagery and dialogue and a star-making (or should have been) performance from Summer Glau. If the show hadn’t had the benefit of its film spin-off Serenity to somewhat close out its storyline, the final shot of River’s jack becoming a planet would have still been perfect.

If we hadn’t been gifted the film what would the latter seasons be like? I always imagine Christina Hendricks’s con artist joining the crew just before she would have taken the Mad Men gig and presumably the story of Summer would have been a constant undercurrent. We would have discovered who Shepherd Book really was and what Inara had in her syringe. Zoe and Wash would have had kids or divorced. Simon and Kaylee would have married and Mal would remain stoic through out. In my darkest moments I even imagine a season five shocker of Serenity being destroyed leaving the crew alone on a planet, the rest of the season a battle to gain a new ship, Serenity II. But the show could never be that dark somehow.

Unlike Dollhouse which is all about the darkness. Lacking the linguistic ingenuity of Firefly but even more network interference, this is perhaps creatively Whedon’s most troubled show but certainly his thematically and intellectually most rewarding. Hobbled from the off by Fox’s prudity in relation to what the Dollhouse was made for, it is still able by the close of its second season to tell an exciting and narratively self contained story which somehow manages to even make its notoriously shaky first five episodes a benefit. From a show without a protagonist it became a show with multiple protagonists and all of them played by Eliza Dushku, even if arguably all of them are also Faith with “wicked kung fu moves”.

Ironically its in these latter stages that the show finds what would have been a network pleasing premise at the beginning which would also have had just as many interesting things to say on the nature of identity. Imagine instead if the show had begun with Echo accidentally absorbing all of those personalities and skills able to switch between them as the mission requires. Those first five episodes might have played out in much the same way but with added benefit of a central character w could immediately cheer for especially if she was hiding her condition from Adelle and the rest of the Dollhouse. A bit Alias perhaps but that’s no bad thing and certainly more coherent than the unaired pilot included on the dvd.

But the bravery of the series is that ultimately none of its characters are really heroes. With the exception of some of the dolls, all of them have a morally ambiguous core, even Echo as she usurps her body's former occupant, and it’s a rare occasion when an entire series is filled with characters we love to hate, something not even Galactica achieved. It’s like a Shakespearean problem play, twenty-six episodes of tragicomedy ultimately topped off with a hopeful apocalypse. That Topher, the best character, is arguably the architect of that apocalypse demonstrates the risks the show was taking in its birth on network television. That it was still given the opportunity to complete its story is a testament not just to Joss’s fans but also their buying power when faced with the completed box set.

So having watched nearly fifteen years worth of television in just over six months I can absolutely see why Whedon inspires in us such devotion. His ability to create characters within ensembles all of which could be capable of starring in their own shows and sometimes do, consistently wanting to challenge the audience and self critical enough to know when he’s not succeeded, but also with such an utter love for his own material, rarely showing a that’ll do attitude to what’s being produced in his name. When his shows almost fall apart in someone else’s hand, its often because he’s creating perfection elsewhere. Lord knows what’ll happen now that he’s in control of the Marvel universe. Now, I’ll be in my bunk.

Paralympics closing ceremony

“Murder? Old fashioned gender politics? Rubbish comedy robots?”

TV Right then, here we go, episode two. Second episode. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship? Dinosaurs on a Spaceship! One of the problems with writing these reviews on the morning after the night before is that I’ve had enough of a chance to think about what I’ve seen and also don’t want to be spending my entire Sunday morning writing about it, but also knowing the longer I leave this, the harder it's going to be. That’s compounded by the fact that I didn’t really have anything to fill the opening paragraph despite having the rest of the structure of what I’m about the say sorted out in my head. Luckily for me, Eva Wiseman’s provided the perfect out in her Observer column which is about how now everything is supposed to be "amazing". But as she says “when everything's amazing, the problem is that very little actually thrills” and that’s sort of how I feel about Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

In Doctor Who Magazine’s preview, there’s a pull quote from the writer, Chris Chibnall. He says, “’Dinosaurs on a spaceship’ is not going to sustain 45 minutes on its own. You’ve then got to think, ‘Right, who are the characters?” Which probably sums up what is wrong with ’Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, because there’s plenty to sustain 45 minutes in that title but in striving to be amazing, he’s also included Egyptian royalty, a refugee from Jumanji, Captain Jack’s even more ambiguous grumpy Uncle, Rory’s Dad and missiles on top of what actually could have been the more interesting low-key story of how the Silurians, like Humans centuries later, sent ark ships into the stars carrying themselves and contemporary wildlife.  Chibnall's perhaps been remember his youthful appearance on Open Air ("It was very cliched, running up and down corridors and silly monsters") and aggressively tried not to do that.  To a fault.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t loads to like. The relationship between Rory and his father is one of the highlights and Mark Williams’s reaction to the Doctor, Matt at his most aggressively Troughtonian, perfectly judged, the scene in the engine room a highlight. Chibnall was a staff writer on period patriarchal series Born and Bred and his adeptness in understanding how sons become their fathers despite their best of intentions shines through. The dinosaurs too are a marvel. The Mill also create the creature effects for Primevil and although for copyright reasons they had to begin from scratch, they've miraculously conjured these extinct marvels. Twenty years on from Jurassic Park and we’re finally in a position to create convincing versions of them for television. If only they’d provided them for the Werner Herzog narrated Discovery documentary Dinotasia, an effort hobbled by reptiles which never quite fit the landscape.

But my primary objecionts are summed up in a tweet I sent to a friend last night “Murder? Old fashioned gender politics? Rubbish comedy robots?” which is in order of significance but let’s swap them around for the purposes of this slating. When it was announced/leaked that Mitchell and Webb would be providing the voices for the episode I was surprised and pleased, but pretty much from the point their characters lumbered into view it became apparent they were probably a step too far. Their bulky design is fine, but their dialogue generally amounts to place holders without clearly thought through personalities beyond “camp” as though Chibnall is channelling the Karey Kirkpatrick end of the writing credits for The Hitchhiker’s Guide film, not helped by their pre/post recorded dialogue never quite fitting within the timing of their scenes.

Admittedly my objections to the gender politics in the episode is shakier. On the one hand, it’s a pleasant change to see Amy working independently from either the Doctor or Rory, specifically filling the former’s shoes in a slight return to the curious version of the girl who waited in The Beast Below who ignored the keep out signs, Karen very specifically imitating Matt’s hand gestures and the script having fun with her dealing with flirtatious companions. Yet the non-dimensional nymphomanical Queen Nefertiti seems like a waste of a historical celebrity, only really existing to indulge in that flirting and to become symbol of trade and although she’s allowed to get one over on Solomon by kicking out his crutch, there’s something a bit antithetical about her giving up her position as Queen of Egypt to become a big game hunter’s tent buddy, albeit brandishing a large gun.

And then, oh and then, the final derail. Long term readers will remember when I lost my temper over Paul Leonard’s Eighth Doctor novel Revolution Man in which the Doctor brandishes a gun in anger and shoots a guy in the head. As I said then “this just weakens the character and more than that is lazy writing -- the reason we/I love Doctor Who and the character of the Doctor is that he uses his mind to get out of these things, he’s not Jack Bauer, he doesn’t shoot and ask questions later, because let’s face it, what’s the point in that”. In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the gun is the missiles from Earth but my reaction last night was much the same. Right up until the moments they hit, I expected the Doctor to jump back in and save Solomon but then, boom, and I was left with a strange sense of disappointment, in the character, in the writer and in the series as a whole, like a scornful parent.

All of which is pretty irrational.  I can see you poised at your keyboard to tell me I'm wrong.  Solomon, from his rapey threats against Nefi to chucking the Silurians out of an airlock proves himself to be a very nasty man and it’s not the first time the Doctor’s gruesomely dispensed with an enemy, and since everyone in the Whoniverse is technically an alien to the Doctor, it stands to reason he wouldn’t and shouldn’t regard humans as any more or less important than, for example, the Saturnynian mates in Vampire of Venice. Yet he still had compassion for Rosanna as she plunged to her death and was in a position to save Solomon here and chose not too and more than that seemed to take pleasure in his death. This is not the vengeful Doctor we know even if he’s the kind of figure who’d design horrific prisons for the family of blood. It’s not the Doctor who in A Christmas Carol changed history in order to give a man some compassion.

But that’s the point, the point of comparison must be in play here. Something’s happened to the Doctor between seasons, between visits with the Ponds, which has made him like this, more Gallifreyan, more alien, more darkly capable of cruelty. As Donna has said, he needs someone to stop him, and as Amy’s about to say in the next episode judging by the trailers, he’s been travelling alone too long. As well as ways of seeing the world, his companions are also there to hold his hand so that he doesn’t hover it over a Bunsen burner. Perhaps as is often the case, I’ll be re-evaluating the ending in the context of the rest of the series, but in the context of last night it was a kick in the teeth and more than that soured what on second viewing is indeed a remarkably beautiful ending, Rory’s father on the edge of the void munching a packed lunch as he takes in the immensity of the Earth and all the places he’ll later visit.