Into The Dalek.

TV Blimey, I mean yeah, ok. Yes. I mean, well … Frankly I’m flummoxed and although it’s not the first time that’s been the case with the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, it’s quite some time since I’ve watched the credits role and really not known what to make of it. Even though Into The Dalek (thought I’d get the title  in early this week) is doing everything you’d expect from an episode of the global franchise entity that is Doctor Who, at a certain point it dislodged itself from my attention and just sort of seemed to be happening without my involvement because I was spending so much time trying to work out the implications of this, that and the other for the programme.

Such things are a natural reaction when elements have been re-engineered to this degree and so many elements in so many ways. It’s rather like when you move house or change jobs. You’re discombobulated because although there are some familiar elements like everything that is you, you have to discover everything else all over again from where to get the best coffee, where to have lunch and how the photocopier works, not mention who amongst the dozens of fresh colleagues which ones you don’t think are unspeakable. My insta-reaction to tonight’s episode will be the viewer or let’s face it fan equivalent of that. So for the purposes of the next twelve paragraphs its best to stick to a single inevitable question. Was it good episode?

Despite being the first “ordinary” episode in over eighteen months and only the second featuring a new Doctor it had much to do which is presumably why it fell back on a few old standards and greatest hits as a way of showing how the new Doctor’s reaction differs to his predecessors. Moffat’s strategy here is to mesh together the central ideas of Eleventh’s first two “ordinary” episodes, an “anatomy” tour including digestive gunge scene (ala The Beast Below) and Daleks, or more specifically the Doctor turning a Dalek which seems to have become essentially benevolent evil in order to prove the point that Daleks are essentially evil (Cf, Victory of the Daleks. Frankly it’s amazing that the soldiers here aren't clerics.

My guess is there’s no great scheme to it, no, even given Moffat’s own dislike of The Beast Below, attempt to re-engineer the thing and do it properly ala John Hughes and Some Kind of Wonderful. The original version of this paragraph attempted to construct some comparison but I couldn’t make it work because, in fact, they probably didn’t even notice. Which is fine. Miniaturising people and having them climbing around the interior of a Dalek hasn’t been done, as far as I can remember and is just the sort of thing to fire children’s imaginations, the production design the stuff of the cross section from The Dalek Book amongst other sources, the biology of the mutant itself still in keeping with that established in Dalek.

It’s nine years since Rose gave a Dalek compassion and eleven since the release of Jubilee, so giving a pepperpot compassion has a newness. Interesting that it was also the Doctor’s companion’s touch then, which opened up the Dalek to new possibilities, to begin to hate its own existence. Then it committed suicide. On this occasion it rejoined its fleet in order to do who knows what. But like I said I don’t think there’s a scheme to it, unless there is to be discovered later. What is notable is how joyfully ruthless the Daleks are allowed to be again here and the complete lack of the new paradigm in any sense, doomed almost as soon as Mark Gatiss voiced his concerns about the hump on his Victory of the Daleks commentary.

Except the notable difference between both those episodes and this is that love doesn’t conquer all. Like Ford Prefect that time he attempted to convince a Vogon not to throw them out of an airlock by singing him a few bars of Beethoven’s 5th and was thrown out of the airlock anyway, the Dalek stares into the Doctor’s soul, a Doctor who thinks he’ll find just as Grandfather did in The Rings of Thingy some exciting grand narrative about hope, instead finds himself glaring contemptuously at him. Which is also pretty depressing for the viewer because at the end of The Day of the Doctor, the Time Lord seemed to have found some inner piece and a sense of purpose and a couple of episode later, albeit with a thousand years of Christmas in between, that’s all been forgotten.

The Doctor. In this month’s magazine, you know the one, the authors on the first three TDAs, 12DAs or NDAs or whatever we’re calling them notes how they were watching or reading this episode and there was a line which made them think, “Oh that’s new.” That’ll be the one about the dead soldier’s remains then. That’s dark, the darkest thing I think we’ve heard a Doctor say in relation to the death of a human, certainly since the series returned. Gone is the man who apologised to the deceased for not saving them. Not that he isn’t challenged about it. He just doesn’t seem to understand compassion himself (which foreshadows the end of the episode but nevertheless).

This is dangerous, solidly, properly dangerous and perhaps that’s one of the elements which threw me at the end of the episode. I’ve always said that one of the reasons the television version of the Sixth Doctor doesn’t work and one of the reasons I largely have issues with the Third is that they’re not nice for pretty much of the time. Twelfth isn’t quite full on Mindwipe, but there are moments here when I just simply, flat out, didn’t like him and I wonder how that’s going to play with families. I think of the kids running around screenings and conventions in their fezzes with their sonics and wonder how they’ll react to someone purporting to be the same man letting a man die and not seeming to give too shits afterwards.

As an adult it’s thrilling. There’s nothing better than an unpredictable Doctor because it creates unpredictable stories and like I said last week, The Waters of Mars is sinister as is the Eleventh Doctor’s manipulation of Amy in The Almost People but they were exceptional moments for what were essentially benevolent figures. Twelfth it seems is forever looking at the big picture even to the point of not being able to see the wood for the trees or as was the case here the cranium for the Dalekanium (with Clara on hand to smack him around the face) (the post-nuWho equivalent of a kiss presumably) or to complete my original point that there are individuals involved that may be worth saving. He doesn’t give a shit even if you are having chops for tea.

Welcome Danny Blue. Structurally the episode’s fascinating, with a slightly tricksy editing configuration at the beginning in which the temporal and narrative order attempting to create the same sensation as the soldiers in dealing with how the Doctor appears to them, by mixing his encounter with the Dalek and, as about ten or so people have joked on Twitter chunks of Waterloo Road-style mayhem. Part of me wonders if this might not have benefited from something rather more straightforward given the introduction of what seems like is going to be an important Chesterton, I mean John Watson, I mean character but that’s the part of me which gets up at 6:50 every morning even when he’s not working because he prefers the routine so he doesn’t deserve an opinion.

The choice of colour in this new character seems significant too, not least because Clara noticed Zawe Ashton’s Journey Blue shared the commonality.  We’re also clearly supposed to find his tear significant given the close-up (cf, The End of the World) (not that I’m reading that much into it) (unless it is that war he’s referring to) (keep an eye out for pocket watches). Samuel Anderson’s an instantly likeable presence which is somewhat helped by the way he’s given some narrative agency from the off in a way that Rory had to wait whole episodes for and Mickey didn’t really enjoy for a season and a half. So far he seems to exist purely as a cantilever against the new Doctor’s cantankerousness.

His existence also has the odd effect of sapping Clara of a bunch of her own agency. After last week in which she became the viewpoint character for much of the time, here she seems reduced to being the Doctor’s taste arbiter and Danny’s potential object of affection. Indeed there are scenes played from the point of view of the brilliant Zawe's Journey. Jenna Coleman’s performance is as superb as its ever been and of course, we’re still in the business of defining the new Doctor which needs time and these things oscillate.  But it is interesting that it wasn’t about her being introduced to the new person.  Not that we didn't learn something new about her.  She's a Guardian reader.  Quite right too.

One bit of business not covered here last week is the new title sequence and music.  Well, I like it and have done since it was originally uploaded to Youtube.  The imagery is stranger than the usual time vortex, more literally demonstrating the TARDIS's passage through time whilst retaining the moment when she hangs in space.  The music's another fun interpretation too, less EPIC than Murray's mixes for earlier series, more consciously evoking the classic era by doing for the Delaware arrangement what his series one orchestration did for the TV Movie.  Notice how the font is oh so similar to the one used by the unified merchandising plan from the late 90s and appeared on cds, videos and novels.

All of the elements are there and thanks to Ben's direction it is certainly very chilling especially with some of the old school Troughton period visual surrealism as the characters passes through the eye stork and the Doctor mentally connected with the Dalek (and far more successfully so in terms of visuals than the still accurately named Nightmare in Silver). Like reticence, like Clara to the Doctor in places, is because, like I said I’m still trying to get used to things which is why these post episode reviews can be dangerous, in a way. My guess is that just like last week, when I watch it again, my appreciation will increase. So in the end, to answer my original question is it a good episode? I don’t know. But I think it tries to be and I think that’s probably the point.

The Films I've Watched This Year #32

Film It's a long story which involves a lot of this:

Details soon.

La stratégie de la poussette
From Paris With Love
The Brothers Bloom

The Stroller Plan/Strategy (the anglaise title depends on where you are in the world) is a pretty typical example of why I've decided to watch all of this French cinema.  The tendency with national cinemas that are not your own is just to see the award winning material distributed by boutique labels or studios whereas to properly understand the structure of a national cinema you really need to see everything and that includes the pretty generic, mainstream romcoms.  In The Stroller Plan, a freelance artist attempts to win back his girlfriend who split with him because he didn't want to have children with her by pretending to be the father of a baby who's tumbled into his hands after a neighbour has an accident.  She happens to own a nursery having given up her job as a pediatrician and hilarity ensues.

Actually no it doesn't.  I laughed once, not that I can remember why .  It's a series rote comic situations that much better writers and comedians could probably make something of, a French studio reaction to Apatow by producing a movie length sub-plot from What To Expect When You're Expecting which is less vulgar than both.  The leads are all perfectly fine but they're given nothing to work with.  All of which said, it's still fascinating to see all of this playing out against historic architecture rather than the modernist steel and concrete of US films (unless they're brown stoning) and the credit sequence is really nice idea as the many floors up to their apartment each illustrate part of their initial relationship from the couple's first drunken night together after a party through to the break-up when they reach the top.

Six years after District 13, and two years after Taken ("I will find you..."), here's From Paris With Love another of Luc Besson's action productions which all pretty much have the same story of a mismatched couple destroying half of France through cars and heavy weaponry in order to do a thing.  Unlike Taken which was more akin the US-style in narrative and characterisation terms, this strings together a series of barely replated set pieces (something to do with a counter terrorism operation related to drug lords) (I think?) (it's a bit like Quantum of Solace in that it seems as though there's a whole scene's worth of exposition that's gone missing in the middle) and gives Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta characters which barely stretch beyond their wardrobes.

Mostly it's the kind of this liked by the kinds of people who like this kind of thing.  In comparison to District 13 it feels a bit restrained and dirgy like John Woo's US films, as though a director is reigning in their abilities either due to time or needs of the mainstream marketplace.  The action sequences are nowhere near as balletic and impressive as District 13 or indeed any of the Besson related material in production in the late 90s to early 00s.  Much of the time it's nearly impossible to understand the structure of some sequences, just sets filled with squibs and bullet holes.  There's also a really depressing running gag about Travolta referencing past film glories that just seeks to remind us how good he was during his revival and how far he's fallen since.

Planet of the Spiders.

Music Video evidence that Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are back together recording. Or at least they're together and afraid of spiders:

The Films I've Watched This Year #31

Film Surprisingly bijou list below considering there wasn't haven't been spending hours watching athletes and achievements (however tempting that was after seeing the Nanjing Youth Olympics opening ceremony. Instead this week was filled with going on Tuesday night with friends, watching the television version of The Girl Who Played With Fire and two documentary series, Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China and David Olusoga's The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire which as the deleted scenes which turned up during the Commonwealth Remembrance coverage indicated shows that even in relation to the so-called Great War, our general understanding of who fought who over what and who died is astonishingly simplistic.  For years I used to watch a documentary first thing in the morning.  Not sure why I stopped.  Begun again now.  Oh and Doctor Who.

Short Term 12
The Kings of Summer
Chronique d'un été
À bout portant
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Banlieue 13

You will have noticed the appearance of French in this week's list.  In the middle of the muddle of trying to decided what to watch but wanting to have some continuity to what I'm watching, I realised that since I actually do quite like watching French film and films set in France, I should watch some French film and films set in France.  So I've decided to work through all of the French cinema available on Netflix and Amazon Prime and assigned one of my Lovefilm by-post disc allocations to a massive unruly list of everything available as a kind of serendipity engine as well as adding in the material I haven't seen made by other countries but set there.  It's entirely unmetered and I've avoided reviews.  I want to be surprised and lose myself in another nation's cinema and this seems like the way to do it.

A bout portant, English title Point Blank, is a tight actioner (only 80 mins) about a trainee nurse whose wife is kidnapped by hoodlums and finds himself on the run for a crime he didn't commit.  The crime itself is a major shock so I won't spoil it because this is well worth tracking down.  As the set-up suggests director Fred Cavaye has in mind to offer Hitchcockian twists for the 24 generation and it works, partly because lead actor Gilles Lellouche has the perfect face for romantic comedy but compellingly finds himself dealing with murderous gangsters and police officers.  It's a bit like casting Adam Sandler in a Tony Scott actioner.  Expect this to gain an extra half hour when it's remade in Hollywood which it undoubtedly will be.  Starring Mark Wahlberg.

Throughout District 13, I was distracted by just how much it seemed to be a French remake of a US film featuring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel sans cars and sure enough the film has actually been remade in the US with Paul Walker, the final film he was working before the tragedy.  Having seen neither Escape from New York or Ong Bak, I can't comment in its similarity to those.  It's a very functional film in narrative terms, essentially three long set pieces but it's quite aware of this and happy to simply offer some spectacular parkour stunts amid some one dimensional social commentary, the majority of it created without the aid of CGI or wires which in retrospect makes it something of a successor to the old silent slapstick, to Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, but with more frequent cutting.

The advertising for Short Term 12 is a bit misleading.  My impression, admittedly based on the poster and Kermode's review was of an unremittingly grim investigation into the US care system full of heartbreak, pain and not much in the way of levity, one of those Ken Loach or Mike Leigh pieces which essentially reminds us that our society remains broken.  It is full of heartbreak and pain, but it's also incredibly warm, funny, has depthful characters you can really become attached to and utterly lacks the slightly (slightly?) judgmental tone which can marr my appreciation of both Loach and Leigh, presumably because writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton has worked in this very system and has an insider's appreciation that isn't just a enunciation of class.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is an enunciation of class and a great deal more.  Felicity Jones is back in period as a young woman who realises she's about to marry the wrong man but is held back from what she really desires by social convention and the needs of her family.  Based on a novel published by the Woolfs in 1932 and the only really prominent work by its author Julia Strachey, as filmed it's essentially a Poirot mystery without a body and the ensuring Belgian detective (an impression underscored by an appearance by Agatha herself, Fenella Woolgar) (it's a Unicorn and the Wasp reunion).  There are secrets and conspiracies, hearts are broken but no one dies.  There's a notable use of colour timing changing the hues of the image to denote the flashback sequences which I've not seen before too.

The Kings of Summer was released last year when I was in the midst of my hernia horror and so I decided to save it for the following Summer, planning to watch it on a nice warm day.  It rained.  But it didn't matter because I'd entire misjudged the content which is essentially Stand By Me without a body and not The Inbetweeners US (which is a function of me sometimes ignoring everything about a film bar the poster).  It rains in the film too, the dreamlike montage sequences seem to flashforward and suggest how these boys who build a house and emancipate will memorialise this summer, the details which will offer a nostalgic glow when they chained to a desk in an office or teaching kids the ages they were, themselves ready to go out and manufacture similar memories.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Teenagers React To series in which The Fine Bros introduce a piece of 80s or 90s technology or ephemera to people born in the following decade and film the results.  Some of the kids offer quite wise assessments usually in the order of knowing that when the Gameboy was first released it was cutting edge and their predecessors would have found them just as exciting as tablet computers are now. Inevitably:

Rewatching Scream this week, which is now eighteen years old, for the first time in over ten of them, through this lense, is like glimpsing an alien world.  Randy works in a video shop in a pre-dvd era and Tatum has to visit to bring a film for her and Sidney to watch.  The sheriff questions the fact that Billy Loomis has a cell phone (which must make teens now guffaw) and it takes them a day to request the records.  Plus these teenagers wouldn't phone in their threats so no scary voice.  The whole thing would be conducted over snapchat or some such and victims could simply block them.  Sidney does her homework on a DOS based programme which looks like some early version of WordPerfect.  Oh and nothing about the film would work in a world with a proliferation of CCTV cameras.  Other than that it hasn't dated at all.