Before the Flood.

TV Let’s look into the future. At a certain point what looks like a generally positive review is going to take a turn for the worse. I’m telling you now because it’s important that you should be prepared for it even though the very reason for this change in tone and how it will appear isn’t unlike its emergence in the episode. It’s a shame and I wish it wasn’t going to happen and because that’s the case I’m also giving you enough time to calculate what it might be. I appreciate that you’ll now spend the next few paragraphs wondering what I’m on about, unless you’ve already guessed because you’re thinking the same thing, in which case no matter how much you might want to change this future you can’t. The opinion has already happened. Roll credits.

In most and nearly every respect, Before the Flood is a fabulous episode which almost carries on the high quality of the first half. As is now becoming standard with the Moffat, a second half does not necessarily mean more of the same, as a base-under-siege tale gives way to Doctor Who’s more recent genre, the paradox or Moffat loop.  In a brave move, writer Toby Whithouse recalls Listen and actually has the Doctor explain to us the concept of the Bootstrap paradox for a change, though not to the extent that we don’t have to google it. When you actually do google it now, the first result is the wikipedia entry about causal loops and the second is a handy not to mention entertaining primer on the topic opportunistically posted by the Radio Times website just as the teaser ended.

Older fans will notice that the example the Doctor gives about Beethoven has actually happened on various occasions in the spin-off media but with a different genius, William Shakespeare, who literally dropped out of history in the second Eighth Doctor audio and whose legacy was saved in a similar way to how the Twelfth Doctor describes in Nev Fountain’s fifth Doctor piece, The Kingmaker. The TARDIS Databank informs me that the Doctor actually met Beethoven himself on several occasions, witnessing his birth, receiving an organ lesson and returning him from some intergalactic party in this online prose story. When we’re doing celebrity historicals again, it’d be nice to have someone musical appear.

The notion of the Doctor addressing his audience is beginning to feel perfectly natural. Back in The Feast of Season and The Face of Evil it was a bit of a punchline, but between Attack of the Graske, the aforementioned Listen and the various recordings made for exhibition tours, he’s almost become the Time Lord equivalent of Francis Urquhart (or Frank Underwood for readers in the US) and I’d certainly welcome an episode were he actually does this all the way through offering an insight into how his brain works and intellectual strategies. Not that it will ever happen because a Doctor who intimately goes around explaining himself all the time rather works against the contents of the words in the actual title of the series.

There’s so much to talk about in the teaser it threatens to overshadow the rest of the episode (can we keep the guitar version of the theme now please?) and given the late hour due to continuing insistence on broadcasting this ostensibly family show so it finishes after the watershed, let’s press on. Apart from to notice that this continues to be a series which feels more confident about itself that it can drop this sort of thing into an episode which isn’t otherwise trying to be an event as such, is simply a next instalment. The extent to which we should acknowledge Moffat or Whithouse for this idea will presumably be revealed in ensuing interviews and Pixley archives, but nonetheless, yes, the show’s had a dose of vallium and is doing veeerrry well.

To an extent, what both of these episodes end up being is a slight merging of ideas from a couple of previous scripts. The notion of a giant mythic beast taking the souls of others, including an S&M favouring Tivilion, so that they become amplifiers for a message is not unlike Whithouse's own The God Complex and we now find it fused with the paradoxical merging of two time periods from Tom McRae's The Girl Who Waited albeit with a handier, though less visually interesting than a spy glass communication tool of an iProduct. Remember back in World War Three when Mickey taking a photo of a Slitheen and sending it to the Doctor seemed like the height of technology? Now here’s the Doctor and Clara communicating via Facetime across time zones.

There’s also a heavy dose of Father’s Day in here too, of course, though ironically, O’Donnell, the one person who might have noticed, the Whovian of the group, is killed off before she can realise why she’s getting a romantic close-up. Or after. Or … anyway her verbal equivalent of the pin-board in The Black Archive is interesting for its omission of Donna and for the mention of a Minister of War, oh and that the Doctor’s reaction on hearing that name (“I expect I’ll find out soon enough.”) seems to be a reference to this piece of fan fiction in which he meets Kim Possible. O’Donnell is added to the list of potential companions about whom we ache when they expire (mostly because Morvern Christie is so damn good).

Before the Flood trundles onwards from there hitting all the right notes in correct order building on its mysteries and playing to the strengths of this sort of story in which a large percentage of tension is as much about how things happen and why though we’re not quite sure how much the Doctor knows.  Even as Bennett berates him over O’Donnell’s body, the Doctor’s poker face gives few answers other than to confirm his fear that he knew this woman would be next having communicated the names back to himself. If for much of the time the key influence on this incarnation is the Fourth Doctor, here he’s offering us full on Seventh but it’s in a calculated way.  A choice.

What’s perhaps surprising to me about that is how accepting I am of it. The notion that he might have chosen to let O’Donnell die in order to test a theory with his primary motive being to save Clara isn’t that unlike his deplorable attitude in Mummy on the Orient Express. But the episode’s central thesis is that some elements of history cannot be changed, which suggests that his sober reaction is actually an understanding that his test and her death are part of series of events and his realisation of that is what leads him towards his decisions at the end of the episode. When he says that this regeneration is a bit of a “clerical error” as well as arithmetically could it also be him acknowledging that there’s something else wrong?

If only I’d been able to make these sorts of rationalisations last year. But the Doctor of season eight was a much more ambiguous figure, whereas that ambiguity has largely been evened out, especially in terms of Clara who he seems to genuinely care for again and not just in terms of duty in a way which didn’t seem to really exist last year, when it wasn’t ever clear why they travelled together. Now they give each other a sense of purpose and they both understand that as evidence on numerous occasions in this episode. The depth of characterisation within the writing helps, especially when she berates him about his “survivor guilt” which is the just the sort of thing only someone who knows you profoundly can say when you need it.

All of which pop psychology ignores just how scary the episode is in places. The scene, which is sure to be thought of in the future as Doctor Who at its most scary, in which Moran’s ghost menaces Cass, recalls J-horror films about sensory deprivation. The cross cutting between the scrape of the axe and Cass’s audio world are masterfully directed as is the twist in which she turns her debility into an ability and saves herself. I can only echo my comments from last week with additional applause for the sections that will only be eligible to people who sign giving those of us who’re unable an incentive to learn and for introducing us to a character who can only really be represented on television and presenting her on television.

But then, after all that, despite this having a fantastic script, beautiful direction filled with classic dutch angles from Daniel O’Hara and atmospheric visuals, notably the moment when the Doctor enters the crypt of the church and into a strip of blue light intersecting the centre of the screen indicating immediately his height within the space, at almost exactly half an hour in that the episode almost falls apart. Such things happen in Doctor Who and there’s not a lot as a viewer that you can do about it other than try and look beyond it especially since you know there’s at least another fifteen minutes to go and the episode up until that point has been pretty well put together. If it has a diagnosis, it’s Androzani syndrome. Welcome to the future.

In the days leading up to the episode there’s been much hype in relation to The Fisher King. How Corey Taylor of popular beat combo Slipknot would be providing his roar and the delicious notion of having this mythic figure appear in Doctor Who with all of the connected resonances, not least in relation to the Doctor himself, a man who has the properties of the Holy Grail running through his veins. As the episode progresses we hear the figures gut wrenching tones as provided by Peter Serafinowicz in full on Darth Maul mode, finally receiving a Who credit having managed to swerve from Big Finish and a couple of years on from his Dalek relaxation tape. What kind of beast could possibly resonate that sound?

Then he lumbers in looking like a piece of Spinal Tap set dressing and almost derails the episode. Not quite at first. Unlike the Myrka, he isn’t revealed in bright light and so at least impresses us with his scale and I like to imagine whenever this happens that Mat Irvine sits at home on his couch nodding approvingly as he laments again what might have been. But slowly as this object bares down on Capaldi its clear that something gone terribly wrong with the thing and there’s a reason why he’s mostly being presented in silhouette. The voice doesn’t match the visuals and  what we have is admittedly a beautifully designed piece of sculpture without any expressive ability whatsoever beyond its sheer scale.

Serafinowicz’s performance continues to impress and yet what we’re looking at doesn’t match at all and undermines everything. Obviously across the show’s history, there’s been a lot of voice work that has managed to broaden the value of under-performing visuals. Sutekh’s costume is menacing to a degree with its black sheen and red trimmings but would be nothing without Gabriel Woolf who was so good he was hired again to do much the same in The Satan Pit. The Daleks. The Cybermen. Well, yes, ok, this has happened a lot and hasn’t always been successful, though I do have a soft spot for the Garm, especially his smile at the end of Terminus achieved by tipping his mask upwards slightly towards the camera.

But the problem with The Fisher King is that while Serafinowicz is speaking the only place his voice could be coming from is those silly pincers on the front and they're simply moving backwards and forwards and not matching his speech patterns at all in a way not seen since The Web Planet. As the Doctor’s plan comes into effect no matter how much the editors apply the Kuleshov effect in an attempt to suggest some kind of performance is coming from that boney face, and Murray’s music thunders dramatically in the background, the costume is simply too large for wearer Neil Fingleton do much physically to express the monster’s reaction and we’re left to try and imaginatively fill in the blanks with not a lot to go on.

Reading all of this back, the comparison with the Myrka is unbelievably harsh. This alien war lord is an extraordinary creation from a design point of view and it’s to the show’s credit that it isn’t just another piece of CGI (with the added question about whether what seems like the show’s current budget would have stretched to that). You can absolutely see the image that was attempted to be captured here and it isn’t quite enough to ruin the episode completely.  The aforementioned scenes of Cass in peril occur just after he’s introduced and it's to the episode's credit that my chortling at seeing this monstrosity quickly gave way to silent dread. Yet there he is and he will be as we rewatch this story for its other virtues, just like Androzani.

Let’s deal quickly with the other couple of niggles. Firstly, the climax. Anyone else hope or assume, the Doctor would use his foreknowledge to re-enter the time stream and somehow also save the people who became ghosts? I’m not sure how, and narratively speaking it doesn’t really make sense, but the slightly smug recall of the bootstrap paradox in this closing scene only moments after Clara asks where those ghosts would end up and their ultimate fate leaves a discordant note. In some previous episodes, Hide, The Forest of the Dead and Evolution of the Daleks, what in one moment seems hopeless is suddenly turned around due to the Doctor’s will that everybody lives and that’s what I expected here. No.

Then there’s the box and the fact that last week I managed to predict that it would indeed be the Doctor lying in it, being half right about the origins of the ghost. I was a bit disappointed to be honest, especially as this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this trick used in the franchise, now and then by Captain Jack on screen, the Pandorica of course, and by the Eighth Doctor in Martin Day’s novel The Sleep of Reason (with the notion of all of these time/space incidents existing on Earth at the same time sealed in various boxes). The whole thing’s entirely logical within the context of the story but I was still underwhelmed when he burst forth in that kind of “Aha, so I was right all along …” kind of way. I like surprises.

All of which is to generally and genuinely amplify some minor niggles. This is still a superior Doctor Who story with beautiful performances, clever writing and direction and the three of us still watching live should be well satisfied that this is the state in which our favourite show’s in at the moment. According to the BBC website, next week’s episode has a co-writing credit, Moffat and Jamie Mathieson which indicates something’s afoot presumably something surround Maisie Williams’s character. Again we ask. Who is she? Who is she? Yes, she's probably just some in story figure who we’ll see again later in the series for some reason. But wouldn’t it be fun if it does turn out to be someone else? I say again, I like surprises.

Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Film One of the best moments in the Ant-Man film is the look of wonder in Evangeline Lilly's eyes on seeing the Wasp suit. That look of wonder is one of her killer apps - she's utilised it in Lost and The Hobbit films before. After the film's less than expressive box office, I'd feared that we'd never actually see her character Hope in that suit for anything more than an extended cameo at some point. Well woo-hoo:
"Now that Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially reached its conclusion with the release of Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” we have new details on what to expect in Phase 3!

"Following our hero’s debut adventure in this summer’s “Ant-Man,” Scott Lang will return alongside Hope Van Dyne on July 6, 2018 with Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The sequel will mark the first Marvel Studios film named after its heroine."
Which isn't necessarily anything to be proud of after a decade and all of these films and she's sharing the title but it's a start. Nevertheless MARVEL clearly think they have something here because in order to incorporate the film, they're shifting the Phase 3 schedule around again:
"Additionally, Ant-Man’s second adventure will lead to a couple of other films shifting their dates, with Marvel’s “Black Panther” moving up to February 16, 2018 and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” landing on March 8, 2019.

Finally, three untitled Marvel Studios films will premiere on May 1, 2020, July 10, 2020, and November 6, 2020.
Which also confirms the existence of a Phase Four after The Infinity Gauntlet in the year when I turn forty-six.  This means that Phase Four will end when I'm fifty years old.  Jesus.

No word on director or writer yet but I'd be quite pleased to see Peyton Reed return should he want to.  The storyline seems pretty obvious -- the two of them entering the microscopic realm to find Hope's mother which sounds like it could be quite expensive.  Also it'll be about who's cast as the mother.  Perhaps we'll finally get Meryl Streep into the 'verse.

Here's the new revised release schedule.

May 6, 2016
Captain America: Civil War

November 4, 2016
Doctor Strange

May 5, 2017
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

July 28, 2017
Untitled Spider-Man film

November 3, 2017
Thor: Ragnarok

February 16, 2018
Black Panther

May 4, 2018
Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1

July 6, 2018
Ant-Man and the Wasp

March 8, 2019
Captain Marvel

May 3, 2019
Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2

July 12, 2019

Jennifer Lawrence's Marshmallows.

"I don't wash my hands after I go to the bathroom."

My Favourite Film of 1978.

Film Right, let's talk about Star Wars too.

But first:  1978.  Much of this list has worked from the rule of slotting films into the year of release as per the IMDb.  But for various reasons, see next week, that simply doesn't work for Star Wars and so I'm invoking the "Stories We Tell" rule and borrowing the year when the film received its national UK release, which is the first occasion I could have seen the film.  So here we are in 1978.  Sorry Grease.

Except unlike most people of a certain age, I don't rightly remember the first time I saw Star Wars.

My best guestimate is at Woolton Picturehouse in 1980 during a matinee double bill with The Empire Strikes Back. I remember clearly walking to the back of the auditorium with my Dad to buy a carton of Kiora during the closing credits. This was at about six years old, so I can't really tell you how I felt about it, indeed I was probably more excited about the concentrated fruit drink which was too fruity for the crows. I loved that advert.

For years I thought I'd imagined or dreamt all this but then I discovered a quad poster at a film fair, this quad poster, which was reassuring. There are few things more disappointing than when the memories of life's milestones a revealed to be fraudulent.

Of all the films on this list, it's also the text which I've watched the most.  More than Adventures in Babysitting, more than Ferris, more than Star Trek VI, even before George Lucas began to fiddle about with its rusty innards.  More even than my actual favourite film, When Harry Met Sally.

Every rerelease at the cinema, ever new format and I've been there to tut at the changes whilst marvelling at the restorations.  About the only version I haven't owned is the nutty non-anamorphic laserdisc transfer which appeared along with the rerelease of the "special" editions on dvd because I'd already bought first boxed set version.

I learn as I write that this is a film which was even changed significantly during the original theatrical run.  Not surprised.

What draws me back to Star Wars?  There's the nostalgia bullshit, the stuff we all know about.  There's having something to talk about with friends because no matter which other franchise people are fans of, Star Wars exists as a kind of neutral territory we can all meet on.  Star Wars is Switzerland.  Plus habit.  Habit is important too.

Like plenty of films of that era and in general, Star Wars is just sort of always there.  Ubiquitous.

Even in childhood, even before I owned a video recorder of my own, I began the format journey with some second hand copies of the original panned and scanned CBS/FOX releases.

The occasions at primary school on strike days and near summer holidays when half the school would crowd around the institutional television to watch an off-air, or as has always been the case, off-ITV, recording of the film complete with adverts which would sometimes be fast forwarded through depending on whether the teacher was paying attention.

When visiting Germany were a relative was stationed in the RAF and hiring a video from the local newsagents. Other important hires during that holiday where many of the original 60s animated MARVEL series notably The Might Thor: "Across the rainbow bridge of Asgard to where the booming heavens roar!"

At various friends houses across the years when it was impossible not to watch all three together, usually friends who like me could quote the whole thing but would still shush each other just in case we missed some new nuance of what was being said.

I saw it twice during the epic 1997 release of the special editions.  Once on the giant screen one at the Odeon London Road with friends and then again on the tiny screen five upstairs at the front of an empty auditorium before returning to screen one for Empire which was released again just a few weeks later.

Imagine that now - a twenty year old film, albeit in a new version, in general release and projected on the most important screen in most cinemas and taking massive box office.

But was I ever a fan?  Not sure and when it comes to giant multimedia franchise properties, what is a fan anyway?

Essentially if you're of that certain age in the UK, science fiction fandom is dominated by this trinity, Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who.  I'm aware than in the US, until recently, it's been more of duopoly between the first two, but in general it seems to be you were either a fan of Wars or Trek or Who.

As we've discussed I've done Trek. I'm currently Who (just about).  Before both of those it was Transformers though arguably that only really stretched to the comics and comics in general were a huge influence.  There's Shakespeare too but let's not confuse everything for now.

I worked my way through a fair amount of Star Trek's spin-off novel back catalogue and Doctor Who's story runs across pretty much every artistic medium with a narrative.

Yet despite Star Wars having its own expanded universe, apart from some book and records (specifically Planet of the Hoojibs) (you can read along with me in your book) (you will know it is time to turn the page when you hear R2-D2 beep like this...), bits of the radio adaptation and having a run of the MARVEL reprint comics bought for me from Speke Market for a few years, I wasn't attracted to anything.

Which isn't to say I didn't try.  I even bought a copy of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, Vol. 1).  Still haven't read it (which is probably just as well now).

The only exception is some of the computer games, notably the original PC version of X-Wing which I played with friends into the night at university, someone on the joystick piloting a craft, the other at the keyboard playing R2 with laser and shield strength, which was about the only way to be successful with some levels.

Having considered this for a good ten minutes before sitting down at my laptop to type this into the Blogger box the only reason I can come up with is that I didn't see the point and that I didn't see the point because unlike Star Trek and Doctor Who, Star Wars tells its story pretty well across the three films.  Once you reach the celebration at the close of whatever version of Jedi you happen to be watching, the story's done.

Now, George didn't think so, hopefully JJ's found a way out of that narrative quagmire, but ultimately, I must have subconsciously decided that however much I like these characters unlike those other television properties which were chemically designed from the off to generate stories, by hitching himself to Joseph Campbell and Valdimir Propp in telling us the story of farm boy makes good, George essentially limited his options.

Leland Chee, keeper of the holocron (such as it is now) would obviously disagree with me.

And as the superb The Clone Wars demonstrated, it is possible to engineer something within the same universe to fit a television narrative structure and I loved every minute of that.  Even began to like Jar Jar a little bit especially in those episodes in which they clearly dared themselves to produce entertaining television that just featured that damned Gungan and the droids.

The anthology films are also intriguing but they're generally going to be telling known stories.  Rogue One is the Star Wars equivalent of The Dambusters, telling a familiar story albeit in a fictional universe.

But the further adventures of Luke, Han and Leia and the team?  Not so much, especially since the films end on such a positive note.

Does that stop me from being able to call myself a Star Wars fan?  Or is this like so many other things now, a matter of self-identification not to mention cultural monogaminity as I've always assumed.  As a Doctor Who fan I'm not really allowed to call myself a fan of any of these other franchises or something like that?

This is probably getting a bit silly.

Perhaps it's enough for me simply to say that Star Wars is my favourite film of 1977.  Or 1978.  From a certain point of view...

Less Furious Road.

Film The Guardian's interview with George Miller has an interesting titbit about the preview process of the best action film of the year (sorry Joss):
"The studio released the film with an R rating in America, very rare for productions that cost as much as this one – somewhere in the vicinity of US$150m. From a financial point of view it is considered a given that releasing an R-rated movie, rather than editing it down to a more widely palatable PG, significantly impacts performance at the domestic box office. Potentially by tens of millions of dollars.

Says Miller: two versions of Fury Road were completed and screened to test audiences. “I’m happy to go on the record as saying we tested both versions and it was very clear that the bland version scored a lot less across all demographics than the version you see,” he says.

“To the great credit of the studio they realised if we decreased its intensity and took away a lot of its key imagery it would basically take the life out of the film. It was the studio that said if we compromise the film too much to get a PG, we won’t have a film at all. I thought that was very brave."
It would be an interesting academic exercise to see the PG version of the film, what exactly was lost (although I expect we can probably guess).  There have been plenty of examples of films having been compromised for ratings purposes, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire notably in the UK which had plenty of blood shots removed for theatrical release.  Sometimes you just have to let films be films.

Now, See Hear, Doctor.

TV When writing about Doctor Who's Under The Lake yesterday, I suggested it might be a good idea for the BBC to make a signed edition available as quickly as possible on the iPlayer. It's not on there yet, but yesterday there was a signed screening of the episode with Q&A as part of the See Hear festival and this making of piece from the programme itself about Sophie Stone's part in the episode has been posted online.

It's predictably fascinating, especially in relation to how the signing sections were prepared with Stone, Zaqi Ismail and a signing coach working through the next group of scenes to be filmed the evening before and negotiations about which pieces of signing would be used. Stone and Ismail essentially have their own dialects of signing due to communicating with relatives leading their own signs for various words.

Here is a less complex Extradental version:

Which includes how they had to make up signs for words which don't have official equivalents yet.


Film I think I'm just going to keep posting these quotes because something has to change. Whilst it's true that Raimi's Spider-Man was filmed and released over fifteen years ago, the second paragraph explains why this is still relevant.

  Kristen Dunst being interview by Elizabeth Day in The Observer:
"We start talking about whether the pressure to look a certain way is stronger for women than it is for men. Does she think the film industry is sexist? “God. These conversations are always so, like…” She pauses and I see her actively decide to say what she really feels. “I mean, yeah,” she concludes. She recalls that, when she was filming Spider-Man at the age of 18, the older men on set – including director Raimi – would call her “Girly-girl”.

“I didn’t like that at all. I mean, I think they meant it as endearing, but at my age I took it as dismissive.” At the time she was too intimidated to speak up for herself. But recently she found herself working with the same first assistant director on another film. “I told him how much that upset me,” she says. “And he treated me completely differently on this movie and we got along really well. He’s a great guy.”