Tag Archives: John Hurt

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Extravaganza

Doctor-Who-50thThere’s something really lovely about being involved in a fandom, a special sect of people that understand why a TV show/movie/book is incredibly important and amazing.  There’s something even more wonderful when that fandom is recognized and appreciated by the wider public.

Though Doctor Who has been mainstream in the UK for many years (decades, really), it’s only grown to great prominence in American culture since the newest iteration started with Christopher Eccleston in 2005.  It’s still a bit of an outsider’s club on this side of the Atlantic, but that makes it a little bit more fun, if I’m honest.  But even in the US, the knowledge that the 50th anniversary special was happening this week was everywhere.  Theaters held special simulcasts of the episode, pubs had special nights for Whovians. I’ve heard rumors that a Mini Cooper painted like a TARDIS was spotted nearby.  We got our Google Doodle, though ours came one day later than the google.co.uk version. Is there any greater measure of cultural importance and legitimacy than a Google Doodle?  I think not.

BBC America started their Doctor Who marathon early in the week, and new content was there when I started my weekend.  Though I didn’t learn much from Doctor Who Explained, I really loved An Adventure in Space and Time. This was a made-for-TV movie about the origins of the show, and about the first doctor, William Hartnell.

4482503-high_res-adventures-in-space-and-timeI’ve actually never seen any of the pre-2005 episodes of Doctor Who, so I learned a lot from this movie about the beginnings of the show.  David Bradley (Harry Potter, Broadchurch, Game of Thrones) plays William Hartnell, and I think he did a superb job.  I also think the whole movie made me very sad.  When I compare William Hartnell’s love of the character and devotion to the show, with Christopher Eccleston’s attitude toward it…I’m forced to think very badly of the latter.

The movie also starred Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced, the History Boys) as the first director of the show, and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife, Doctor Who) as Verity Lambert, my new personal hero.  She had a wardrobe of the most amazing ’60s clothes I’ve seen ever. Way better than on Mad Men. More importantly, she was a kickass feminist, dealing with a bunch of stodgy old men in sweaty tweed suits (the Old Guard).  She fought for Doctor Who, not just because it was her first producer job, but because she grew to love the subject matter and what it could be used to communicate. She forced the BBC staff (from executives, to set designers, to technical staff) to take the show seriously; we owe her a huge thanks.

Jessica-RaineThe movie itself was well-acted and had incredible sets.  A good portion of it took place at the iconic elliptical BBC building:

BBC-Television-Centre-007Probably didn’t take a lot of work to make it look like the 1960s again inside here, though they must have cleaned up since James May & co. drove a motorcycle through the interior.

After the movie, we had the Saturday simulcast to watch.  The 50th Anniversary special, complete with Doctors 10 and 11 (together at last), and John Hurt (Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), all playing different iterations of the Doctor:

Doctor-Who-2458109Seeing David Tennant in his brown suit and Converse sneakers again made me literally giddy.  I miss his Doctor so much.  And we got to see Clara, and Rose (but not really), and all of the living actors who’ve played the doctor (sort of…damn you Chris Eccleston).

I thought the special was actually really excellent.  As long as I never think too much about the timey wimey stuff, I will continue to think that.  I have the feeling that the ‘time fissures’ and the Time Lord art won’t stand up to much rational scrutiny, so I will dutifully avoid any such scrutiny. I loved seeing Matt Smith and Clara, I adored seeing David Tennant again, and I thought John Hurt was fabulous.

It also felt really appropriate that we finally get to see the moment of the Doctor’s life that has really defined the show since the 2005 reboot.  The Time War. The moment the Doctor had to decide to kill his own species, in order to save the rest of the universe.

We also got to see the much-talked-about relationship between Ten and Elizabeth I.  Starring Joanna Page (Stacey of Gavin and Stacey) as Elizabeth I.  I thought she was great, although I don’t really think Elizabeth would have had a Welsh accent.

DOCTOR-WHO-50TH-ANNIVERSAR_THE-DAY-OF-THE-DOCTOR_01

I think my only real complaint is that, despite having Billie Piper and David Tennant together again, they don’t get to interact as Rose and the Doctor.  And I was hoping for more of Peter Capaldi as 12 (or he’s really 13?) , more than just a shot of his furrowed eyebrows. I suppose their keeping his costume and his persona under wraps until the actual regeneration happens.

Sometimes, when Doctor Who tries to do something big and important, it can be a bit of a belly flop.  I usually end up enjoying the little, one-off episodes more than the big important two-part season enders.  But this, despite hype and importance, was really fun and lovely and I was just grateful to see David Tennant again.  I think if he’d turned up with the suit and the shoes and the glasses, and read the phone book, I’d be just as thrilled.

I’m ready for the Christmas Special! To which, we now have a short teaser trailer:

Doctor Who Season 7 (part deux)

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7BLast weekend, the seventh season (series) of Doctor Who came to a fun, but terribly confusing end.

Let me first say something about Clara Oswin Oswald, the Doctor’s new companion.

Clara OswaldI love her.  I love that she is incredibly smart, I love that she is a mystery, I think she’s awesome.

On the other hand, I think they put a lot more effort into personifying her character before she actually became the companion.  They showed how smart (and brave) she was in The Asylum of the Daleks, and also proved herself funny and strong in the Snowmen.  I loved her in both of those episodes.  But she had the unfortunate habit of dying all the time.

Since she became the actual companion, I feel like the writers have done less to make her unique and exceptional. She takes a backseat a lot of the time, just going along with the Doctor like any other companion.  There are a few exceptions, but she seems more passive now that she’s with him than she did before.  Step it up, writers!

So, let’s discuss the episodes that were in this half of the season:

The aforementioned episode The Snowmen was a Christmas special that I really enjoyed.  One of several in the last 1-2 years taking place in Victorian England, so that makes me immeasurably happy.  I thought it was creepy, Christmas-y, and lots of fun.  Everything a Doctor Who Christmas special should be.

When the season started up properly again, it began with The Bells of St. John. This is our first look at modern-day Clara, an orphan who lives with a friend of the family and looks after his children. Ignoring the ridiculous scene of the Doctor riding a motorcycle up the Shard, I liked this episode.  This is also the episode where Clara is the most independent and suspicious, not yet under the thrall of the Doctor (as all companions eventually do fall under it, I can’t blame her when she does, but I still like it when people don’t automatically fall at his feet. I mean, how would you feel if a strange man showed up at your door in a monk’s outfit and wanted to come in?

In other news, I really like his new outfit:

Dr Who new costumeVery Victorian. I kept expecting him to say something about waistcoats (vests) being cool, but it never came up.  Was that just a Doctor & Amy thing?  If so, I will miss the hats.

The next episode was The Rings of Akhaten, where Clara and the Doctor wander into a scene from that short story, The Lottery.  A sacrifice to the gods to prevent massacre of the planet, etc., etc. I thought this episode was the weakest of this (half of the) season.  Partially, I was really irritated by the premise.  Fine, this god wants memories to feed on, to keep it asleep.  The Doctor has 800+ years of memories, but a 23-year-old girl’s memories are more valuable?  In some ways I can kind of comprehend that the memories of a younger person are more…intense, because we feel things intensely when we’re young and we are more numb to emotions as we age, but the Doctor still has a bulk amount of memories. There’s no way hers are more valuable than his.  His whole planet was destroyed, his whole race.  He’s seen companions taken away by death and by time. He’s changed the world.  I’m sorry, but that leaf is not that important. He is more important.

Cold War was the next episode.  Not one of my favorites. I think I’m in the minority there, because a lot of people really liked it.  I think the difference is that, having never seen the old Doctor Who episodes, I have never before encountered the Ice Warriors.  I’ve never seen anything before Christopher Eccleston, so they just have no meaning for me within the larger canon. And this episode as a whole seemed to lack some tension for me–which is a ludicrous thing to say, since it was a time and a place where any second could bring about world-ending nuclear war.

Next came Hide, which I really liked. It was very spooky, and I sort of love it when the Doctor saves a hideous monster as readily as he saves a human.  It’s like watching someone carefully transport a spider out of the house and into a nice new home.  Plus, everyone gets to live and be happy at the end. Bonus–Emma, the psychic, was played by Jessica Raine, better known (to me) as Jenny from Call the Midwife.

I also loved Journey to the Center of the Tardis, where we finally get to see some of the other rooms inside the ship. I would live in the library, except for small breaks to visit the swimming pool. If I wasn’t being pursued by some sort of lava monster. What I really didn’t like about the episode is the Doctor yelling at Clara to try to discover who she is. I also wasn’t fond on those moments being ‘reset’ and Clara losing the memories of what she saw in the library.  I would pay so much money to get a look at that book…

The Crimson Horror was my favorite episode of this series.  Back in Victorian England!  The Doctor even gives us an adorable Yorkshire accent! On the other hand, that leech thing was the most foul slimy monstrosity I’ve seen in a long time. Yuck Yuck Yuck. I liked seeing the vulnerability of the Doctor, and loved Rachael Stirling (from The Bletchley Circle) as Ada, acting alongside her real-life mother as the heinous Mrs. Gillyflower.  There was something very Dickensian about Sweetville–the obsession with Christian morality, the gated community somewhat like a work house, the darkness in general. The only part of this episode I disliked was the end. Clara returns to her real timeline and the two kids she lives with have discovered pictures of her in different times.  Okay, so these kids just happened to both come across pictures of her in various places and times, during the short period she’s been traveling?  I find this pretty ludicrous, considering we’ve seen fans of the Doctor before who have a really hard time finding photos of him. Plus, I knew it meant the kids would be more important in future, and I really prefer not to have other people travel with the Doctor. I think it should be one companion only–Rory was the only exception, and these kids are not Rory. And I don’t like kids in general, so there’s that.

As I expected, the next episode had the kids going along with The Doctor and Clara, to the best amusement park in all of space and time…now disused and looking like something out of a Scooby Doo episode. Nightmare in Silver sees the return of the heavily upgraded Cybermen, to a point of being nearly unbeatable foes.  This episode had some problems–I wasn’t wild about the Doctor vs CyberDoctor scenes, and the kids were annoying for the first 10 minutes and then nearly inanimate for the rest. The salvation of this episode was Warwick Davis. I love Warwick Davis.  He was great in this, and I could have lived with a lot more screen time for him.  And a lot less for the kids.

Lastly, we have the finale. The Name of the Doctor. It was not as climactic (for me) as some of the finales have been, such as Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways.  Still, it had some epic ideas behind it. We see where the Doctor’s grave is, we see River again (!), and we find out why Clara is ‘the impossible girl’.  It makes sense, too, if you don’t think into it very deeply.  Just wade your feet in the logic, then move on. Closer scrutiny will leave you cross-eyed.

I particularly loved the scenes where Clara encounters past incarnations of the Doctor, even though I am woefully ignorant about who is who. I can pick out Tom Baker, and that’s about it. Still, it was cool and Clara got to wear great costumes.

The big deal with this episode is the end.  John Hurt shows up and he embodies the Doctor when he is not the Doctor?  Huh?  Reading rumors online, I’m lead to believe John Hurt will represent the Doctor during the interregnum, between the end of Doctor #8’s short run in the ’90s and the beginning of the current incarnation of the show, with Christopher Eccleston.  The period of the Great Time War, when Gallifrey was destroyed and the time lords with it.  John Hurt will personify the Doctor when he had to do horrible un-Doctor-like things to win the war.  I guess? That’s all rumor, so we’ll see…in November.

Overall, this half of the season was much better than the previous (in my opinion).  I had fun watching almost every episode, and there were good moments in each of them.  I think Clara is a much-needed breath of fresh air. I hope they keep giving her opportunities to be very clever and very strong, rather than letting her just follow the Doctor’s lead.

I cannot wait until the fall and we get all the 50th Anniversary celebrations and guest stars.  It’s going to be a long 6 months.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’m normally not much into cold war era stuff; between the bleakness of the whole Soviet situation and the incredibly bad fashion choices, I’m just not interested.  I am not someone who thinks the idea of espionage is cool or glamorous.  Okay, I enjoyed the first Bourne movie, but that’s about it. I loathe James Bond. I find any of the spy movies that treats it as fun or fabulous or anything other than dreadful to be totally moronic.  And I only liked the first Bourne movie, since the girl snuffs it about 10 minutes into the second.

This movie though, is not a regular spy movie. It does not treat espionage as glamorous, it does not trade in heart-throbs drinking martinis.  It is a lot closer to what I imagine MI-6 or even the CIA would have been like in the sixties and seventies. Which is not to say that I really enjoyed spending time in the world of the film.  But it does allow me to take the movie seriously, which I usually can’t do with anything relating to spies.

This was a movie I had to see from the first moment I heard about it, despite my reluctance to see spy films.  There would never be a movie with this cast that I wouldn’t go see.  It stars Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt (aka Mr. Ollivander), Benedict Cumberbatch, and also has Tom Hardy and Toby Jones (most recently he appeared in Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries. He was the little bloke with the mean Irish wife.)

So you know the acting is going to be good. The film is about a semi-retired intelligence officer (Oldman) who has to conduct a secret investigation to find the mole within MI-6.  It’s a classic, trust-no-one, sort of movie where you spend half your time wondering if you are being tricked and Oldman is the mole.

The film is very interesting in its pace and its slow unraveling of realization and of facts.  It takes a long time to figure out what’s going on, and it can take some patience to remain focused throughout.  In that way, it sort of mirrors a real investigation–there are moments of insight and action, and moments of tedium and lack of progress.  Also, the filmmakers have chosen to portray a ’60s-’70s Britain that is just as dull visually as you can expect it to have been in real life.  This is not the bright colors and ludicrous outfits of Mad Men.  This is bleak old furniture from the ’50s, the sort of government-sponsored buildings that all look like elementary schools or hospitals, and the tedious environment of gray file cabinets and early electronics yellowed with cigarette smoke.  The very un-visually appealing nature of the movie is sort of visually appealing in its own way.  It adds verisimilitude, I guess. Or maybe I’m projecting my own values onto it.  I think that espionage, that living a life of lies and ambiguity would be necessarily bleak and awful, so I see the bleakness of the film as reflecting that truth.

At any rate, it’s a quiet, subtle film and in that way the exact opposite of Bond’s bright colors, invisible cars, jumping out of planes, etc.  There are no combat scenes.  The violence is realistic and horrifying.  We mostly see the aftermath.

The overwhelming impression (I got) of the film is one where this is not a life you would particularly want.  There are a few characters who come out of the action unscathed, but the majority of them are seriously fucked over by their time doing intelligence work. And, not to provide any concrete spoilers, a few died by the end.

It wasn’t a film I particularly enjoyed being inside of, as I said.  But I think the subject it covered was covered really well, accurately, believably. It didn’t glorify or glamorize any of the dirty business of espionage, but it also gave me a sort of thrill to be able to figure things out along the way.  Because of the way it’s structured, you can discover little clues and figure things out from bits of information dropped in your lap casually 40 minutes earlier.  Like a scavenger hunt. There was some sort of accompanying pleasure to do with picking up the pieces. But, overall, it wasn’t a pleasant film to watch.

The acting was brilliant, though quite understated and no one was given enough time or lines to really and truly shine. The only characters with a lot of screen time were Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Gary Oldman’s.  Gary was playing a truly seasoned spy, and as such I think he downplayed his emotions quite a bit.  His character doesn’t reveal much of anything, doesn’t react to much of anything.  The sense I got from him was just of one big brain processing all possible information coming his way. Always thinking. Benedict’s character is younger (obviously) and less experienced, so I think it’s right that his character is a bit more ruffled by everything that’s going on.  He does a really great job, though I must say he is a terribly ugly crier!  Everyone else was only on film for moments here and there, so it was hard to really see them.  I wonder if maybe they were in the movie longer than I think they were, and this just isn’t the sort of movie that lends itself to much emotion.  Not to be stereotypical, but there are basically no women in it. Either way, there wasn’t much there.  The only exception was Mark Strong, which wasn’t a name I recognized.  He did a brilliant job with his part, though there was a part with a bird that I really disliked.

All in all, I think it’s worth watching, but don’t expect an action movie, don’t watch it if you’re tired, or if you like to think of the spy life as something out of Alias.  It’s the sort of movie you have to be in the mood for.