Tag Archives: Matt Smith

2013 Christmas Specials

Christmas is a pretty special time in the UK, I think.  I theorize.  I’ve never been there at Christmas time, but one glance at the decorations on Oxford or Regent Street tells you what it’s like in London.

90_05_15---Christmas-Lights--Regent-Street--London--England-_webI also haven’t participated in that age-old tradition of the Queen’s Christmas address.  But one tradition I am always happy to indulge is the tradition of the Christmas special.  During busy weeks, particularly in the holidays, TV here tends to come to a screeching halt.  Repeats for weeks on end.  The only exception is (American) football, which is on constantly from Thanksgiving to …February.  Blech.  I’ll pass on that.  But the Christmas special! Something everyone can gather around the TV and enjoy, that (usually) doesn’t involve padding or jock straps.  I can support that tradition whole-heartedly.

This Christmas was a big one for Doctor Who, with Matt Smith’s last episode and Peter Capaldi’s first.  They like to do these transitions on big episodes, don’t they?  And this one was a particularly unusual story.  We saw the Doctor bald, we saw him naked,

matt-smith-nude-the-time-of-the-doctor-band even more strangely, we saw him old.  Doctor’s aren’t supposed to age, are they?  During that stretch of episodes in America, we see the Doctor some 200 years older in one episode than when we see him next, and there isn’t the slightest change.  So exactly how much time did he spend in a town called Christmas, on a planet called Trenzalore, to get to looking like this:

Doctor-Who-11-2959359He looks and acts very Dickensian, which I find rather amusing. He’s always been very Victorian, number 11, with his waistcoats and bow ties and pocket watches.  Being rather fond of that era myself, I am sad to see that go.  I am genuinely sad to see Matt Smith go, which is a big credit to him, since I was weeping over David Tennant’s exit.

This episode was very grand and (is often the case with very grand episodes of the show) it often seemed more concentrated on being big and important, rather than making much sense.  I try to remember what exactly was going on, but I found myself thoroughly confused by a lot of the plot for this one.

The way I understood it, the Time Lords were communicating through the crack in the wall, which reappeared in Christmas.  Their message was heard by everyone, and it scared everyone.  They were asking the Doctor’s name…and if he told them, they would come through.  And this would, for some reason, cause immediate and total war?  The Church of the Mainframe protects the planet from the hordes of Daleks, Cybermen, and every other type of villain that is trying to get in.

I have so many questions from this episode. How are the Time Lords of Gallifrey able to send messages, and then (Deux Ex Machina)  time energy, through the rift when they are stored safely away in a frozen moment of time? How did a burst of time energy reset the clock on the Doctor’s regeneration count? And simultaneously give him power to kill Daleks with a light beam? Why does the regeneration process seem to happen really quickly sometimes (John Hurt’s Doctor to Chris Eccleston’s, Eccleston to Tennant) and sometimes (Tennant to Smith, Smith to Capaldi), it takes quite a while. Most importantly, what’s the point of using the Silence as priests?  Why would you want to confess and then forget you’d done so?  Much better to have a priest who forgets everything you’ve just told him.  And was the episode implying that the Silence were created to be priests?  Or that they were recruited as priests after they were more-or-less killed off on Earth?

I think this episode attempted to do too much, too big, without enough time or weight given to some of the big issues.  And the most important thing, the actual regeneration, took place so late in the episode, that we barely saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  I like him already, I feel I can’t help but to like him.  But with a new Doctor, any new Doctor, he needs to win the audience over nearly immediately.  Now we’ve seen Peter Capaldi for approximately 40 seconds, and now we have to sit and wait until …whenever they decide to air the next series… before we get to really see him as the Doctor?  I don’t like it.  I wanted more, obviously, and I think it’s important to the audience to keep out any doubts over the new Doctor.  I was pretty disappointed to not see more of him, and that’s part of what makes me unhappy and unsettled about the episode as a whole.

And then there was Downton Abbey.

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Another Christmas special that has utterly nothing to do with Christmas?  This time it’s the London Season, where debutantes are launched into society and try to land the richest possible husband. Mary is entertaining multiple suitors as usual, we learn that Bates probably did murder whats-his-name, and the Grantham family has to engage in some clumsy skullduggery to save the Prince of Wales from embarrassment over his affair.  Most importantly, Carson is barefoot in the ocean.  Mr. Carson is the last person I imagine to ever be barefoot. The poor man, I would gladly have gone on his outings. I liked the Science Museum and all the other ‘educational’ outings he suggested.

Rose drove me less crazy during this episode by far.  She’s still silly and a bit dim, but she acted like an adult at least.  Edith and Mary, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Mary is just as spoiled and selfish as she has ever been, and Edith is tedious and dull at best.  I never like indecision, particularly in TV characters. In a story, there’s no point in indecision.  It’s a waste of the audience’s time.  Edith waffling back and forth and being rude to others about a situation she’s created for herself is…just as annoying as I’ve come to expect from her character.  I miss Sybil!

Finally, we got to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s brother, and I thought he did splendidly.  He always seems to play the same character–the grumpy but charming man who wins over far more attractive ladies.

downton-abbey-2013-christmas-special-shirley-maclaineNo exception here.  I know the ‘Americanness’ of these characters is heightened to the point where they may as well be from another galaxy, but I quite like them.  They get almost all of the minute social niceties completely wrong in every situation–futile introductions to the Prince of Wales, never understanding that they’re supposed to get their own tea or breakfast, not comprehending the practice of downstairs servants being called by the name of the person upstairs that they serve, etc., etc.  But no matter how many times they get it wrong, it doesn’t phase them.  And as an American, I think that’s pretty accurate.  While the Brits are disdainful of our loud voices and lack of manners, we are blissfully apathetic to doing these things the ‘wrong’ way.  Undoubtedly, Harold will tell all his amused friends in Newport about his conversation with the Prince, whereas any Brit who had made the same mistake would probably be mortified.  I know Downton takes place nearly 100 years ago, but I think these are social mores that still exist in each culture.  Brits still have fear of causing offense or inconvenience; Americans generally don’t know or don’t care when we’ve accidentally committed a minor faux pas.  The American in me genuinely likes Cora, her mother, and her brother, for being too independent to care about titles or propriety, and for caring far more about the actual value of a person or an action.  I hope Paul Giamatti is in more than just this one episode, because I like him and I think the Grantham family needs more people to come and ruffle their feathers.  They’ll never survive the changes coming their way if they are allowed to believe the world is going to stay the same.

Bates’ story was the only real menace in the episode.  Mary and Mrs. Hughes know that he probably killed Mr. Green, and they’re not certain if they ought to keep it a secret.  The more I think about Bates, the more I think he’s a villain.  No one can really blame him for wanting to kill Mr. Green.  But to act on it…and I have never been entirely convinced he didn’t kill his first wife.  He seems to be surrounded by characters so evil that no one could really blame him for wanting them dead, but the amount of death that seems to follow him is pretty ridiculous.  Anna seems to be doing much better, but this will tear her apart again, so he is hurting her more than almost anyone.  I don’t trust him or like him anymore, and he’s shown he’s quite capable of lying to cover up his actions.  He’s gotten rid of a lot of problems in his life by acting like a criminal.  It may be safe to say, at this point, that he just is one.  I’m ready for him to be done.

It’s a long time until Downton Abbey starts again, and I’m not certain this episode provided me with a really compelling reason to keep watching.  I enjoyed the 4th season, but there was no particular cliffhanger or massive event at the end of this episode that would make me hungry for more.  But I did like the little moment with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, because they’re both lovable and they deserve more fun.  That being said, it seems an odd place to leave your Christmas episode–on a sunny beach.

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Upcoming British TV

It’s that time of year again!  Time for Christmas specials, followed closely by new premieres in 2014!  We’ve got a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

First, there is the Christmas special for Doctor Who

Doctor Who, Christmas Special 2013 - Artwork: Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt SmithThe Time of the Doctor  (Christmas Day in the UK and US) will mark the end of Matt Smith’s run and the beginning of Peter Capaldi as our 12th incarnation of the eponymous Doctor.  As happens every time there is a regeneration, I am dreading it, but know that the new Doctor will win me over pretty quickly.  It happened with 10 and with 11, so I have faith that 12 will be just as good.  Okay, no one is actually as good as David Tennant, but they do try…

The Downton Abbey Christmas special will play on Christmas Day in the UK, but the US will have to wait a few months–we haven’t even aired season 4 yet.  Season 4 premieres on PBS January 5th. So the Christmas Special will air sometime in February or March.  Festive.  I am looking forward to it because we finally get to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s rakish, financially-irresponsible brother

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I also notice Edith missing from this picture.  I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen season 4, but I’ve got a guess where she is…

One week after Christmas is (to me) the most important premiere of the last several years.  Sherlock (series 3) premieres on Jan 1st in the UK, January 19th in the US (again on PBS).

sherlock_series_3_fan_poster_2_by_crqsf-d52873pI’m almost done with my re-watch of the first two series.  I just have the heinously painful, ugly-cry-inducing Reichenbach Fall. And then there will finally be new episodes! There’s rumor of a mini-episode premiering on Christmas Day (on BBC 1) that acts as a sort of prequel to Series 3. (Here’s hoping I can find it online).  The proper episodes run January 1st, 5th, and 12th in the UK.

A boatload of new shows and season premieres are slated for Spring 2014 here in the US.

Fleming-The Man Who Would Be Bond is a BBC America look at Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.  It stars Dominic Cooper as Fleming, and looks like a combination between The Hours and Mad Men.

460x300_flemingThat’s Lara Pulver (aka Irene Adler) as the proto-Bond girl, Ann O’Neill.  I’ll withhold judgment on this one–I’m not a big fan of Bond, but I’ll give it a try. It premieres January 29th.

Despite being (rudely) cancelled after its second series/season in the UK, Ripper Street will get a full second season airing in the US.  I’ve already heard that the ‘finale’ wasn’t very rewarding, because the showrunners didn’t know (or didn’t know early enough) about the show’s fate.  Season 2 premieres on BBC America in February (no fixed date yet, that I’ve seen).

March 30th will be a big day for PBS viewing.  Call the Midwife AND Mr. Selfridge return for their 3rd and 2nd seasons, respectively. Here’s a trailer for Mr. Selfridge:

April 13th sees season 2 of The Bletchley Circle premiere on PBS.  It premieres much earlier (January 6th) in the UK.

Shortly after, on April 19th, Orphan Black finally returns on BBC America.

There are several other shows without announced premiere dates, but we know are coming soon.

The Musketeers–a BBC America show, taking place in 17th century Paris. The (four) Musketeers are all hot young men in this incarnation of the classic story. I’ll give it a try, though I’m not really one to go for men with feathers in their hats. The BBC America website says ‘Coming in 2014’, so this one could be a while.

Similarly, they’re very vague on the dates for a few other shows.  In the Flesh is definitely going to have a second season/series, but all the info they give is ‘Spring 2014’.  I would guess March or April.

Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan is already filming season 2, with special guest star and fellow hobbit, Billy Boyd.  No release date for that one either, but I’m guessing late Spring/early Summer, based on my zero expertise.

It’s going to be a busy season of TV watching this Spring!

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.

Upcoming TV highlights

There are a whole score of new and returning shows on TV this month and next. I thought it might be a good time to discuss them.

First of all, the end of March marked the return of Doctor Who!

The Doctor and OswinAnd there’s a new outfit, a new TARDIS, and a new companion.  If you watched season 7, you already know Oswin.  Can I say already that I love her?  I love her.  She is super smart, she is a conundrum, and she is simultaneously friendly, playful, and not afraid to stand up to the Doctor.  Add to the wonderfulness of her character, she is a real enigma.  The Doctor doesn’t understand her, and he finds anything he doesn’t understand really mesmerizing.  It’s a totally different dynamic than the big brother relationship he had with Amy and Rory.  And I really like his new coat.  I feel like maybe I’m getting my expectations up too high.  Last season was a little disappointing for me, and I don’t want to get too excited and then be disappointed again. But…it’s probably too late.  I’ve seen the first episode and I really liked it, and I love their dynamic, and I’m really excited for what’s coming next.  Dr. Who is on BBC America on Saturday nights at 8 Eastern.

Orphan Black bannerPremiering that same night was the new series,  Orphan Black. Although this is on BBC America, it doesn’t actually seem to be a British show. It is set in Canada, I believe, though it is never explicitly stated.  The ‘main’ character, Sarah, is British, as is her best friend Paul.  Only the actors aren’t actually British, but whatever.  The show seems interesting; I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.  It begins with Sarah (a woman with questionable morals and a shady background) seeing a woman, Beth, who looks exactly like her, jump in front of a train.  She takes over Beth’s seemingly swanky life (wasn’t this the plot to that Sarah Michelle Gellar show, Ringer?), mostly based on the fact that the woman had money and nice clothes.  Remind me to never take over my dead clone’s life based on her clothing quality, because it just doesn’t turn out well.  She has to get to know Beth’s boyfriend (including possibly the most graphic sex scene I’ve ever seen on a non-premium channel), deal with a police inquest over a shooting in the line of duty (oh, Beth was a cop?) and a mysterious safety deposit box full of birth certificates.  Sarah proves herself to be pretty stupid in this first episode.  Her goal is to get her daughter back from whomever is caring for her, and to start a new life.  Her first plan is to steal heroin from her ex and sell it for $20k.  Her next plan is to have her best friend identify Beth’s mangled body as Sarah, and steal all of Beth’s savings.  It never occurs to her that her daughter might find out that Sarah has been declared dead, but of course that is what happens.  She seems to really lack the ability to think about consequences, but we know very little about her back story, except that she is an orphan.

This show is iffy.  Could turn out well, could be implausible and ridiculous.  I’m going to give it a few more episodes before I make a verdict.  It’s on after Doctor Who, Saturdays on BBC America at 9 Eastern.

Mr. SelfridgeThe last weekend in March was a big one for me! Also premiering, on PBS this time, was Mr. Selfridge, a proper British period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the eponymous store on Oxford Street.  I had no idea he was American, but apparently he emigrated from Chicago to open the world’s best department store in London.  It just finished airing in England, so kudos to PBS for getting it over here in less than 6 months.  They’re getting better!

Jeremy Piven plays a non-douchebag, which I didn’t approve of at first.  Have they seen Entourage?  I haven’t, I’ll admit, but his suits were too shiny for me to see him as a non-douche.  Right? Look at this picture and then argue with me:

Ari Gold

So, I’ll reiterate that I wasn’t sure about all this, but Jeremy Piven is really good!  It helps that the character is bombastic and grandiose. He needs to act that way because, as we learn in the very first episode, he is in deep trouble with money.  He needs a lot of money, press, and publicity to make his store a hit, so he has to be more confident than he is.

The show follows Mr. Selfridge, obviously, but it is also a Downton-esque ensemble cast of high- and low-class characters. There are: his wife, who meets a (very) handsome artist at the National Gallery; the shopgirl Agnes Towler who works in the accessories department and her struggles with her brother, her father, and her suitor; other employees in the store both friendly and not; Miss Love, the actress and potential mistress for Mr. Selfridge; ruthless investors in the store; and I’m sure there will be more in later episodes.

There were a lot of interesting dynamics between classes, like any British drama worth its name.  Add to that, the genuinely interesting concept of the first true department store.  Most shops prior to this time period, especially in England, did not have displays as we do now.  There were counters, and you would go up and ask to see a specific type of glove or hat, etc.  Or, if you were wealthy, you would have a dressmaker, milliner, etc., come to your house for a fitting in your own home.  The art and hobby of shopping wasn’t the same.  Ready-to-wear clothing wasn’t the same, either.  So seeing this revolution happen in the show is intriguing.  I found the first episode really entertaining and cannot wait for the next episode.  Hopefully the quality stays the same throughout.  My only complaint is that in the intro on PBS, Laura Linney was talking about the show and described it using the following words about Mr. Selfridge: “He was the first person to know what women really want.  They want to go shopping.”

Oh, Laura Linney.  Why?  Why would you say that? Who wrote that?  Blech.

The Spies of WarsawAttention all Doctor Who fans! David Tennant is returning to our TV screens!  For a limited time only!  This is a two-part mini-series on BBC America, about a WWII era spy.  It begins in 1937, in Poland, France, and Germany.  David Tennant stars as Col. Mercier, a French ‘military attaché stationed in Poland. He alone sees the war coming, where his comrades don’t want to admit what is happening in Europe.  I don’t know much about the plot yet, but the NY Times called describes it almost as a whodunnit, more like a Christie novel than Casablanca, which it seems to want to be.  There is a love triangle, but the upcoming War is the real story of the mini-series.  Also according to the Times, despite the weaknesses in Spies of Warsaw, “there is nothing more satisfying than a prewar espionage story that shows, up close and told-you-so, how most of Europe slept through Hitler’s rise.”

It’s playing on BBC America on April 3rd and 10th, but I’m quite certain they will replay it several times over the next month or two.

Although I didn’t watch it, I should mention that the second season of Call the Midwife also premiered at the end of March. It airs every Sunday night on PBS, and is also available on their website.

Also coming soon on PBS is something I’m really excited to see: The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThis aired last year in the UK.  Set in 1952, it follows four women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park (the main center for decryption/codebreaking in the UK during WWII).  If that wasn’t bad ass enough, it’s also a murder mystery. Police are overlooking a pattern in the killings, but these code-breaking badass ladies in their cardigans are smart enough to see it. It’s only a 3 part mini-series, but it sounds awesome. I love to see women in period pieces that have more to do than just swoon and get married.  The Bletchley Circle premieres on PBS on April 21st.

Looks like it’s going to be a great spring for us anglophiles!

The British Christmas special

There is a Christmas tradition as popular in the UK as mince pies: the Christmas special. Popular TV shows generally have a stand-alone special episode airing in the week of Christmas (or on Christmas day itself).  Unlike most TV series here, these Christmas episodes are not within a specific season but stand alone (usually at the end of a season or a few months after the end).  I may be wrong, but this might be partially because the TV seasons/series in the UK do not run Fall-Spring, like they do here.

Some of the most famous Christmas specials in the recent past were shows like the Vicar of Dibley, Only Fools and Horses (these specials continued to air at Christmas years after the series itself was cancelled), as well as shows more known on this side of the pond, like The Office and Doctor Who. From what I have read, the Christmas special episodes of the two big soap operas, Eastenders and Coronation Street, are always the most depressing episodes of the year. And these are soap operas for whom melodrama is an understatement. According to tvtropes.org, people gather around to watch the emotional and physical carnage.  Fun.

This year, I saw two Christmas specials that made their way across the pond in one form or another: Downton Abbey and Doctor Who. Before I get into those specific episodes, I’d like to talk about my favorite Christmas specials in British TV history.

The Office UK Christmas Special

The Christmas Special for The Office UK also functioned as the series finale (a habit of Ricky Gervais’ apparently), so it was extra meaningful. It was a two part special (or two specials, according to some) that aired on December 26th and 27th in the UK in…whatever year it was.  Things are quite different in the special than they  were in the series, with Dawn and whats-his-name off in Florida, David Brent trying to make a career in Comedy, and Gareth the manager of the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg.  Of course the Tim and Dawn relationship is the big story of the specials, and it makes me happy and sappy every time I watch it, partially because of my intense love for Martin Freeman.  But another key moment is one that advances the slow story of David Brent becoming a human being.  He meets a nice woman who he likes, and who likes him.  That alone is lovely, but the best part (perhaps of this entire TV show) is when he stands up for her to Chris Finch (worst person ever).  Every time I see that I have renewed faith in his ability to evolve as a character.  The US Office presented a much more sympathetic boss, but David Brent walks a fine line between being irritating and being empathetic, which I think is more accurate and realistic.

Extras Christmas Special

Again, Ricky Gervais chose to end his series with a Christmas special.  This one has Andy Millman choosing between commercial success and artistic integrity.  In the end, he firmly says no to commercial success for its own sake, though I’m not sure he’s any closer to artistic integrity.  Again, he evolves as a person and that is rewarding, though not in the same way as occurred in the Office finale.  The best part of this special is undoubtedly the last five minutes, when he finally stops being an utter ass.

Christmas Tardis

There has been a Doctor Who Christmas special every year since David Tennant took over in 2005.  In fact, the Christmas special was the first appearance of the tenth Doctor.  Unfortunately, they haven’t all been gems. David Tennant spends most of 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion” asleep (literally), and we are stuck with Rose, Jackie, and Mickey the Idiot. In “the Runaway Bride”, Donna Noble makes her first appearance as a very argumentative pseudo-companion and the whole episode isn’t very Christmas-y, though there is a return of the Santa Claus robots that plagued London the previous year. A high point of 2007’s “Voyage of the Damned” is the Doctor discovering that everyone in London leaves each Christmas, because there has been an invasion for the last two years.  Little moments where the show pokes fun at itself really make it worth watching.  Each Christmas special has some really spectacular visuals, but often times they are not the best episodes taken on their own.  I’m not a fan of “The Next Doctor” and “The End of Time” left me heartbroken and angry.  “A Christmas Carol” had Michael Gambon, but that was the best thing about it.

And this year? This year was called “The Snowmen” and I have to say I think it was the best Christmas special they’ve had. The visuals were great, though I am very partial to Victorian England so that may have had something to do with it. Also, though, most of our current Christmas traditions emerged in Victorian times, so it’s a very Christmasy looking episode.  We see the return of Oswin, confusingly, and we see some very creepy snowmen.

Doctor Who Snowmen

My personal favorite part was the Doctor pretending to be Sherlock Holmes.  Hilarious.  After a lackluster first part of the seventh season, this episode gave me a lot of hope for when the show returns in the Spring.

Christmas at Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey has now had two Christmas specials, and I can’t say I cared for either of them.  The first one, did at least take place at Christmas, however!  And the ending was much happier.  It took place in 1919/1920, and there were sad points (Bates being convicted of murdering his wife) but there were happy moments (Matthew and Lady Mary finally getting together). It had some emotional resonance because of that fact.  This year’s Christmas special was …infuriating.  Warning to all who have not (in a totally legal way) seen season three and its special–spoilers!

This year’s Christmas special took place just a few months after the last episode of season three, though it did not take place at Christmas time. The Grantham family goes north to Scotland to visit the super annoying Lady Rose, and now we know that she will be in the show regularly from now on–much to my chagrin. The men stalk deer (in deerstalkers…). Edith continues to settle for unavailable and unworthy men, in an effort to have someone at all. I don’t really like her.  A strumpet of a housemaid starts making eyes at Tom Branson,  A rotund grocer tries to marry Mrs. Patmore because he is deeply in love with her sandwiches. Thomas is beaten nearly to death by ruffians after a highly contentious game of Tug of War (really?).  But there’s just one thing that really makes news in this special.

If you follow the gossip about DA at all, you know already that Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew, is leaving the show.  I had heard that he would be in a few episodes the following season, just to end his run, but apparently not.  Mary is very pregnant in the special, and as soon as I saw that, I had an inkling.  A few loving and tender moments between Mary and Matthew throughout the special clinched it. By the time Mary was giving birth, I knew it would be a boy, because they need an heir, and I knew it was curtains for the Tramp Matthew.  Also, whenever anyone in any movie goes out for a ride/drive and are extremely happy, they’re going to be killed in a car accident.  For proof of this precedent, see City of Angels, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.  It was just really predictable.  And not Christmasy.  And not fun.  And I feel that Julian Fellowes has just killed off too many people in this show.  The death of the heir on the Titanic starts the first episode, but on camera we have the deaths of William, Mr. Pamuk, Sybil, Lavinia, all of the minor characters who die on and off screen, and now Matthew.  It’s a lot for three seasons. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on for seven seasons, featured a town rife with earthquakes, vampires, demons, gods, and every other nasty thing…and though there were a ton of red shirt deaths, only a few major characters were killed.  Just saying.  I found this Christmas episode irritating and disappointing.

I find that Christmas specials sometimes put together everything trite and overwrought that the creators can envision for the series.  It’s very rare that they get it right, and manage to convey a Christmas theme and an important part of the life of their characters.  What I do like about a Christmas special is that it adds some pomp and circumstance to the holiday.  In America, the Christmas episode of a show is just part of the season, and usually airs about three weeks prior to the holiday.  In the UK, these specials can happen when the show isn’t even on the air anymore–Christmas is important enough to mark out on its own. I don’t even like Christmas, but I like a Christmas special.  I wish we had them here. Though, I prefer when Ricky Gervais is in charge of them, not Julian Fellowes.

Doctor Who Series 7 (part 1)

The (half) series finale of Doctor Who aired in the US last night.  I am finding it difficult to gather my thoughts about this one, partially because I swear to god the damn thing just came back on. FIVE episodes? I don’t think it can possibly count as a season (or even half a season) if all the episodes took place during the same month.  I do not like this half season now and half season in January thing.  It didn’t used to be like this. There were usually episodes in April, May, and then there would be a break for the summer, and then it would come back in fall. Right?  I’m confused by this schedule. Also, normally there are 6 or 7 episodes before the long break. Five barely feels like enough.  But, okay, I can’t do anything about their scheduling decisions. I assume things didn’t air in Spring-Summer because of the Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympics.  It doesn’t make me happy about waiting until Christmas for more, but moving on!
I have to say I really wasn’t that impressed with this season, which makes me sad.  I love Doctor Who, but for whatever reasons these episodes didn’t have the same quality as the previous seasons.  Excuse me while I ramble, Virginia Woolf-style, about this meh season.

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Asylum of the Daleks– This one was a pretty bad start to the year. Why would the Daleks have an asylum for their crazies? They have never had a problem with destroying weaker members of their species in the past.  Also, I saw the twist coming quite early on.  Well, maybe not early, but well before it was actually revealed.  And the Rory and Amy problems are getting old. They love each other, but …even though Amy shows again and again that she loves Rory, I still find it hard to believe. Maybe it’s because her chemistry with the Doctor is much more potent than hers with Rory. Which is crazy, because I think Rory is adorable, especially this season when he doesn’t have a ridiculous pony tail or whatever.  But when Amy looks at the Doctor, you can see light in her eyes, and it’s just not there when she looks at Rory. Maybe it’s just because the only time we see them together it’s when one or both of them are near death. They are always fighting or not together, and then the Doctor fixes all their marriage problems within one 48 minute episode. Pfft.

Also, the Doctor is really violent in this episode! I know they keep pushing the fact that he shouldn’t travel alone, but jeez!

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Dinosaurs on a Spaceship– I had really high hopes for this episodes. Dinosaurs are cute, two people from Harry Potter are in it. What more could I ask for? Well, I could ask them not to kill off my favorite dinosaur.  Also, it just was…meh. Maybe I should re-title this review “Meh”.  I loved Mr. Weasley (Mark Williams) as Rory’s dad, and found that to be totally believable.  On the other hand, I’m never going to like a big game hunter, and think he should have been punched in the face for killing defenseless animals as a career. That’s just me, though.  And probably the animals are on my side, but I digress.  I just found that, once again, it didn’t have as much of an emotional impact as I thought.  Am I growing cold-hearted and cruel in my old age or something?  I’m starting to think maybe it was the music.  You know how music can trigger emotions in you? I’m wondering if the music was different in this season and it kept me from having the connection.  Also the pacing was a bit too quick, which meant that by the time it occurred to me to start caring about someone or something, they were usually dead or the episode was over.  Doctor Who is always a fast-paced show, though, so it seems odd that this would just bother me now.  I really don’t know what it is.

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A Town Called Mercy– This one is more or less a blur. I like the Doctor with his Stetson back on, but that’s about it.  I think this was the weakest of the episodes, perhaps because I didn’t really care for anyone in it. We didn’t even learn the names of anyone, except for the sheriff and the evil doctor.  I also remember the Doctor has guns. What’s with the violence this season?

Similarly, I hardly remember anything about The Power of Three, except for the corny final line about cubed…oh wait, now I remember.  I think this story had a ton of potential. It’s always amusing when the Doctor has to stay in one place for very long. To be patient.  Because he is, essentially, a 10-year-old boy inside. And they did show that, but once again it wasn’t as funny as I felt like it should have been. I sort of would have enjoyed some bits about the Doctor not cleaning up his dirty dishes or something. Something to make it seem like he was really living there, and they were almost a family.  Plus the plot seemed mostly unexplained.  Okay, the cubes are observing us and infiltrating our homes, etc.  Why did some of them play music, or take blood, or trigger emotions? It either doesn’t make sense or wasn’t explained well enough for me to get it. Maybe true Whovians know the back story of the villain for this episode, and perhaps that makes it easier.  On the other hand, in the past the show would at least ensure the plot made sense for those who hadn’t been watching Doctor Who for 40 years.

And The Angels Take Manhattan? *sigh*  I am scared to death of the weeping angels, I will freely admit that. They scare me more than every other DW villain combined. Every episode with them has been awesome.  And this was the last episode with Rory and Amy, this was really important.  I’d like to say I liked it.  I do think it was the best episode of the season.  But…it should have been better.  Rory and Amy (especially Amy) have been so important.  As important as Rose, I think.  And they have been on the show for quite a while now. I wanted to see them go out in epic fashion, and I wanted to see them happy.  What will happen to Mr. Weasley now, waiting for them to come home?

And the Doctor this episode was sort of awful.  He had a tantrum, he acted like a child. He was no help with River, and Amy and Rory had to save themselves. The Doctor couldn’t do anything. He just wasn’t on his game. He wasn’t himself.  He acted like a petulant child. Normally he acts like an excited child, but this was just…not fun. Not helpful.  Rory and Amy and even River were able to be adults. The Doctor wasn’t, and that bothered me. He seemed really fallible, and not in a way that you want.

I think I would have been okay if I had just seen Rory and Amy together, maybe in some 30’s clothes with jobs or a puppy or something.  A life together.  Instead, it seemed a lot like Back to the Future III. You get a last letter/farewell, you can see the gravestone that says they lived long lives together, but that’s it. You want to go back and see for yourselves. It feels rushed and incomplete. Which is how it would feel for the Doctor, of course, so maybe it’s a conscious decision, but as an audience you want some sense of closure.

Also, one thing is driving me fucking crazy: How did River get the book back to Amy to publish if it’s impossible to get in to that time vortex again? And if she could get in with her vortex manipulator, why couldn’t she just get them back out? Or at least she and the Doctor could go back to see them periodically?

Am I alone in this? I don’t think I am, but you never know.  Here’s hoping the next half of the season is much better!