Flatline.



TV Well, thank fuck for that. There’s no getting around this, Flatline is brilliant. For the first time this series, well since Deep Breath probably, I laughed, proper real belly laughs and I cheered, oh how I cheered and in the middle of that I was scared, really, really scared. I had, in fact, all of the emotions you’re supposed to have when watching Doctor Who which at its best, in a television drama land full of darkness, nihilism and despair, especially in this genre lately, provides comfort and a something they cannot and which it’s seemed this series it had entirely forgotten about. That indefinable magic. So yes, thank fuck for that, this is the Doctor Who I love and this is the Doctor Who that I’ve been waiting weeks for.

Not that it got off to the most promising of starts with essentially the same teaser as Fear Her, a civilian turning two dimensional. Flatline has roughly the same premise as both that and Night Terrors and indeed some of the visuals of people disappearing in carpets and walls are spookily familiar. Plus we're in warehouses and tunnels which bespeak Who in the 80s, though much of both Resurrection of the Daleks and Attack of the Cybermen was shot in studio, director for both Matthew Robinson would have killed to have been able to do a complete shoot in real locations. For some reason, I thought momentary Christopher Fairbank had appeared in one of this two. Seems odd from this distance that he didn’t.

I always forget to mention the guest cast, wedging a paragraph in where I can, so let’s do that early for a change. Fairbank is in the Brian Glover role here, his community service supervisor pig headedly cynical right through to the moment he’s saved and beyond, a yes man who under appreciates those who he’s supposed to rehabilitating. Fairbanks does feel like an actor who should have been in classic Who, but its easy to forget now that at the moment when he would have been at that point he was already too famous for it, turning up on then megahit Bergerac in 1987 during his stint on similarly megahitted Auf Wiedersehen, Pet when our show was entirely unloved and unwatched (oddly with the same overnight ratings) (megahits aren’t what they used to be).

As Clara’s companion for the week, the fantastically named Jovian Wade (seriously parents, assuming it isn’t a stage name, well done) had all the hallmarks of an actor on his way up. Acres of back story here, underplayed, especially in that train scene and afterwards when the first person he wants to call is his mother. It’s in the script, but Wade's tone of voice fills in the blanks on someone whose had the kind of life changing event the Doctor usually brings that makes a person reconsider their position. I like that we don’t know especially why he’s desperate to throw his life away, other than perhaps to give Clara an inclining of what it’s like for the Doctor when a total stranger sacrifices themselves.

The central thrust of the episode is about putting Clara in the position of the Doctor and forcing her to make the big decisions. Again, this has overtones of Fear Her in which Rose is the Doctor’s saviour in finding the nearest energy source in order to re-ignite an alien spacecraft. But Tyler made no claims to the mantle or title, whereas Oswald utilises the power, the sonic, the psychic paper to effectively take over the position and mores to the point embolden her to make those decisions. As we saw in Nightmare in Silver, she’s a strong enough figure not to require this backing but the episode is reiterating the point about how the Doctor rubs off on his companions, though it’s strange just how much she seems to want his approval.

The one note of caution about this is in the party newsletter’s preview, writer Jamie Mathieson says, “people have asked if there will ever be a female Doctor. We have a chance to do that here…” Well, yes, sort of, but not really. She doesn’t stop being Clara, and although it shows that it’s entirely possible for a female protagonist within this format to have the authoritative conversations about hope with potential victims, it’s still the Doctor who ultimately saves the day because he apparently has to, because his name’s in the title. It’s the same reason Michelle Yeoh is rescued by Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies even though her spy character is entirely capable of it herself. It’s a trope, part of the structure of this kind of show.

I don’t necessarily agree with this statement (necessarily?), but I understand it. Of course, if you wanted to dive down the rabbit hole, it could be that we were watching Jenna Coleman’s audition to take on the role of the Doctor. My ludicrous theory is that Clara’s this Doctor’s Watcher and that the production team with Capaldi are trying to pull an Eccleston, that he’s also only signed for one season and in the Christmas special for reasons that I can’t even begin to imagine regenerates into Jenna Coleman, hello female Doctor with a Blackpool accent. They effectively merge. Hello, entirely capable new Doctor and also Jenna Coleman leaving the role of Clara.

Part of me wishes this would turn out to be true, because Jenna’s simply magnetic here, though notice how much of “the Doctor” she’s playing owes a debt to her current companion’s previous incarnation. Partly that’s do with stature, the sonic screwdriver looked massive in his hands too sometimes, but her line readings when pretending to the Doctor, consciously or not, don’t have much to do with Twelfth. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but nevertheless, if the Capaldi’s single year rumours are true, and I can’t understand why they would be given who he is and the part he’s playing, having Coleman rather than Garai take on the role wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world however ludicrous that all sounds.

But not as ludicrous as the scene in which the Doctor’s hand pulls the tiny TARDIS out of way of the oncoming train, which by quite some margin is one of the funniest scenes in the show’s history. I haven’t laughed this hard since Brian’s box watching in The Power of Three. Perhaps it’s a small objects thing. Incredible shrinking TARDISes and Time Lords are always funny from the closing moments of The Time Meddler to the miniature Master in Planet of Fire. Whereas in Logopolis we could only imagine what it must be like, now we have the ability to have the Doctor’s eye peering out of the doorway and his hand passing things out of Clara’s satchel.

The episode is also deeply scary. As in Listen and Time Heist, Douglas Mackinnon makes full use of the notion of what we can’t see, of the shadows, of the antagonist existing just out of shot. But in shot, the visuals are stunning, these extra-dimensional beings becoming walking Enya videos, figures that are almost human. In my Mummy review, I didn’t give enough credit to the terrific Mummy, but that was about giving us a new spin on something we already knew well. Flatline presents something we really haven’t seen before and in a way which I’m not sure would be suitable for kids, particularly since we know they’re reconstituted human remains in a different form.  Which is a Mummy too I suppose.  Oh you know what I mean.

Really great action sequences too, especially in that flat with the bubble chair. Originally designed by Eero Aarnio in 1968, you can buy a pretty good approximation from Bubble Chairs Direct it seems should you have my monthly salary available to shell out on something that is entirely impractical in any meaningful sense. The sequence itself is classic Who, contrasting the excitement of being a companion with the comparative mundanities of relationship with a bearded acrobat who also happens to teach. Notice how throughout her conversation with Pink, she gives a decent representation of the Doctor’s rule one, which she then rechristens herself to be something else later on.

None of which was as heart-pumping as the climax, the TARDIS returning to full size and deposited the Doctor in front of the monsters. Yes, the Doctor. Because he’s finally said so. For the first time since Listen, at least for me, Flatline bridges the chasm between Peter Capaldi’s performance and the character whose been on our screens for fifty years. There he is, warning the monsters about what he’s about to do, sonic outstretched, our plane of existence defended, shouting his name. I cheered, oh how I cheered. “There he is!” I gesticulated at the screen, “There he is!” You can see it in Capaldi’s eyes too I think, that feeling that the cloak finally fits, that he’s earned the right to have that stance, in front of these fiends, and say those words.

Not just in that moment, throughout. The Doctor vs Clara dynamic which we all loved in the restaurant scene in Deep Breath and throughout Listen returned. Suddenly when he’s talking about the places he’s been, the things he’s seen, we believe it. He dances, I mean, he dances, that giddy dance which is sure to overtake the Picard "full of win" gif in Buzzfeed listacles in moments of pure happiness. Plus, in the closing moments, he’s clearly very shaken by the loss of life and Clara’s apparent lack of mournfulness, as though he’s noticed his own callousness has rubbed off on her.

Recently I’ve taken the advice of one of those Buzzfeed listacles, which I can’t actually find to link to now, that one is often well served by moments in the day without purposeful stimulus and so I’ve simply been sitting and thinking on the short bus journey to work. It’s during one of those journeys I began to rationalise the Doctor’s behaviour this series thusly: now that he’s at the beginning of what seems like a whole new regenerative cycle, he’s tragically, psychologically reset in some regards so that everything he’s learned about living within humanity has gone so that he’s essentially back in early Hartnell mode when brandishing a rock seemed like a good idea. What we’ve been watching is him getting back into the swing of things.

Not that I think this has necessarily been a great idea, especially since it’s not really been explained in the series and it’s only really something I thought about while looking out of the window onto Princes Avenue. His continued nickname for Danny, PE, remains problematic for all the reasons GKW describes in his review of The Caretaker in DWM and makes an unwelcome return here as does “pudding brains” and the trend of treating most humans interpersonally as though they’re Countess Scarlioni. Nevertheless Flatline sees him at his most Doctorish yet and, thanks to the needs of his lighter shooting schedule spending enough time in the TARDIS that it’s finally beginning to feel like his space.



Frankly, about the only thing that would have improved this episode would have been Muyta, Keisha and Siobhan turning up in person to sing their identically titled song or at least have it playing on the soundtrack. Even the Missy tease is properly intriguing for a change. Did she choose Clara? When she says, my Clara, what could that possibly mean? She was the woman in the shop?  It can’t be parental. Tied back somehow into her being the impossible girl? Sleeper assassin? Well, and indeed then. The fact that I’m bothering to speculate says something too. Three episodes to go, two Moffats but first a Frank Cottrell Boyce. The trees in the trailer are fascinating. Are we about to see a nightmare in East London?

The Films I've Watched This Year #39



Film This week I watched some films, which I'll talk about in a moment. On other nights, as well as Doctor Who (which you hear enough about already), Freaks and Geeks (which I'll talk about when I've completed its eighteen episodes) and Australia's The Code, BBC Four's latest transcontinental import this time from Australia which began last Saturday and most people don't seem to have watched due to the scheduling carnage on the other side and not just in Mummy on the Orient Express.  Nothing about it is original.  Some of it's a bit Homeland.  Some of it's a bit State of Play.  Some of it's a bit The Thick of It.  Some of it's Broadchurch in the outback.  There's also lashings of Attachments of all things (or the blogging scenes in Netflix's House of Cards if you want to be kinder).  But it's also entirely gripping, has some fabulous performances and has a bonus of being over in six episodes so you know it's not going to meander on like some US and UK shows with their multiple episodes of filler and red herrings.  There's one scene in the second episode in which what seem like they're going to be huge mysteries that will sustain the thing are explained in about two sentences indicating immediately that there's more exciting enigmas ahead.

Transcendence
The Zero Theorum
The Double

A week's worth of films about lonely men which is just the sort of thing you don't need when you're unmarried and pushing forty (two weeks to go) (yes, Halloween) (I've heard that one) (and that one too).  Transcendence wasn't well received on release (19% RT) which as ever seems to have been born from high expectation, a marketing campaign which suggested it was something it isn't and the kind of pack mentality which also killed the likes of John Carter which was also equally fine if not quite spectacular.  Inception this isn't.  What Wally Pfister's produced instead is a homage to the genre films of the late-70s/early-eighties, The China Syndrome, Electric Dreams, War Games, and um, Capricorn One, but focusing on contemporary concerns about the potential sentience of the web and were it might logically lead.  Coma especially is suggested in the large white rooms that the entity ultimately inhabits.  If there are problems, it's a lack of focus in relation to the protagonist, which should be Rebecca Hall's character, but because there are so many other great actors and Pfister feels the need to service them, her agency is depleted at just the wrong moments.  Except those other actor's characters feel underutilized too only really turning up for expository purposes.  Odd.

The Zero Theorum is a pretty good argument against home working and is just how I imagine it must be for people who work on the Amazon Mechanical Turk.  A bit of a greatest hits package from Terry Gilliam, an 80s retro Brazil with Parnassus's fantasy sequences.  It's obtuse rather than entertaining and it's dispiriting to see him falling back on some of his old tropes when he is given creative freedom for a change (albeit on a modest budget).  For all that, it's good to Christoph Waltz in a complex, sympathetic lead role and the production design is as atmospheric and remarkable as any Gilliam film.  I was also reminded how few of Gilliam's films have strong female characters that aren't objects of desire.  Only two female characters have speaking parts here and only one, M√©lanie Thierry's MPDG any great stretch of screen time.  I've never really considered him a blokey director, but apart from The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys, in the both of which he was "for hire" rather than working on personal projects as such, females above the age of tween tend to be damsels.  On the upside, the QR Codes on the street advertising actually work if you pause the blu-ray and scan them, offering extra textual messages and jokes.  If only all films had that attention to detail.

Soup Safari #2: Mediterranean Chicken at Marks and Spencers.







Lunch. £3.00. 50p extra for bread. Marks & Spencer, 35 Church Street, Liverpool L1 1DF. (0151) 7088383.

Fan Service.

TV Apologies for this mid-week interlude but Steven Moffat's been speaking to some conference somewhere and until those of us who have to visit a shop to buy the party newsletter tomorrow see what's in his monthly column, this is the first we've heard from him since this series began. For once he speaks the truth:
“You don’t give them what you think they want. That would be mad! The only useful index you’ve got is what you would like,” said Moffat, speaking during a panel session at the MIPCOM conference in Cannes.

“It’s really a strange way to write a story, and an arrogant way to write a story: to give them what they want. You don’t even know what birthday present to give the person close to you! How would you know what everybody wants?” he said."
On the one hand he's quite correct. Many is the show (Lost) which has changed its narrative to fit the requirements of internet discussion board before going a bit wonky. But unfortunately for Moffat, and I'm sorry, I'm really sorry if you're one of the ones who is enjoying this can't find anyone who doesn't agree with you but I think I've met about one person whose perfectly happy with this series and doesn't find it a total shame. So yes, Moffat isn't giving us what we want. But on this occasion it isn't a good thing.

Also since I'm on this, "You don’t even know what birthday present to give the person close to you!"  Actually, this is entirely possible if you know them well enough to know the kinds of things they like.  Failing that there's always the Amazon Wishlist.  I'm 40 at the end of this month.  Also, when it came to The Day of the Doctor, he gave us all exactly what we wanted.  So actually he's wrong about something.

Meanwhile here's a clip from Flatline which is simultaneously hilariously goofy in a good way and yet doesn't quite work because Capaldi and Coleman's performances don't match:



Theory. The reason Clara spent half of the last episode in the train carriage and the Doctor spends what looks like the majority of this one in the console room is how they're coping with the old double banking problem. See also Amy in the TARDIS in The Lodger while the Doctor's missing for a chunk of Amy's Choice.

The Links Effect.



Airbnb, the home-renting website, has been great for me, but I have misgivings:
"There were a few hiccups as we got used to being landlords abroad. The eight-hour time difference made emergencies a 24-hour potential distraction. Getting keys to our tenants required gentle exploitation of friends who worked or lived locally. The cleaner I employed to shine the place up between guests couldn’t get through a snowstorm to put the pieces together after a pair who had departed leaving a mess, so my host ratings went south for a little while. But overall, it was a good experience that allowed us a lifestyle we’d not have had if the site didn’t exist; it took away most of the donkey work and the fees they charged were much more reasonable than a letting agent on the high street."

Operations Ome Ce, Stonegarden: Racketeering investigation 'disrupts' Barrio Azteca gang:
"When El Paso police, state troopers and federal agents carried out a series of raids last month, it was the culmination of a three-year investigation targeting the Barrio Azteca gang, which has been hit with repeated blows using a federal racketeering law created to break the Mafia."

DC Digital Announces Wonder Woman '77:
"The Wonder Woman TV show ran for three seasons from 1976 to 1979, with a movie-length pilot in 1975, but the ’77 of the title is more than just an echo of the Batman ’66 name. The first season of Wonder Woman was set during World War II; the second season, which began airing in 1977, moved the action to the 1970s, and it’s the 70s-era Wonder Woman that DC Digital intends to revive for this series."

Whatever happened to ‘lost’ work ‘Love’s Labour’s Won’? The Royal Shakespeare Company might have the answer:
"We’ll never know – Love’s Labour’s Won is, well, lost. Although mentioned in a list of Shakespeare plays in a book by Francis Meres in 1598, it was not printed in the First Folio collection of his works, and no copy survives. But one theory is that, rather than a missing work, Love’s Labour’s Won is an alternative title for a play we do have (just as Twelfth Night is subtitled “What You Will”). The most likely contender? Much Ado About Nothing: it works, date-wise – it’s thought to have been written in 1597/8, and yet it is notably missing from Meres’ list."

Off Prompter: Joe Biden explained:
"The most common is the Biden crime of passion. In March, during a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, he was talking about health-care reform with reporters outside Butterfield’s Pancake House, when he spotted a young woman on a bench and bounded over to enlist her as a prop, pitching her on the need to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act: “Do it for your parents! Give them peace of mind!” he implored. After he had moved on, she explained to reporters that she couldn’t sign up because she was a tourist visiting from Canada. (“I just didn’t know if I should say.”) Some of this is just salty. On April 29th, in a White House event on protecting students from sexual assault, Biden said that, where he came from, when “a man raised his hand to a woman, you had the job to kick the living crap out of him if he did it. Excuse my language.”"

Writers join fight to save Liverpool’s libraries:
"Author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, born and based in Liverpool, put his name to the campaign, slamming central government for the cuts. “Imperial Britain was built on the playing fields of Eton. Innovative, creative, generous Britain – the Britain of Tim Berners-Lee and of the Beatles, of Alan Turing and JK Rowling – was forged in her public libraries. Now Eton is closing the libraries,” he said."

The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum:
“When you go to the library,” said James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, ‘I read 100 books today!'” Yet that’s essentially how many people experience a museum. “They see as much of art as you see spines on books,” said Professor Pawelski, who studies connections between positive psychology and the humanities. “You can’t really see a painting as you’re walking by it.”

Off-Centaur. Jonathan Miller on John Updike's The Centaur.
"This is a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features."

Radio Station Lays Off All 47 of Its Journalists, Will Play Beyoncé All Day Everyday Instead:
"Houston's one and only 24-hour news station is closing up shop and replacing all its journalists with the perfect homage to the very best thing Houston has ever produced, yes, Beyonce."

Details of the exceptions to copyright that allow limited use of copyright works without the permission of the copyright owner:
"The personal copying exception permits you to make copies of media (CDs, ebooks etc) you have bought, for private purposes such as format shifting or backup without infringing copyright. For example the exception would allow you to copy content that you have bought on a CD onto your MP3 player, provided it is for your own private use."