Tag Archives: TV show review

Happy Valley

MV5BMTQzODQ3OTA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzUyNzI0MjE@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_Yes, another police procedural. But, I really liked this one. Netflix suggested it to me because I liked the Fall. I can see why (police, strong female protagonist, evil man to catch), but they’re actually really different. Gillian Anderson in the Fall is very upper class, very separate from the common officers on the street. In Happy Valley, the whole show takes place at a working class level in a fairly working class area of Yorkshire.

It aired in April on BBC One, and was put on Netflix last month in the US. It has been renewed for a second season.

The show stars Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. And oh boy does she have a life I wouldn’t want.  About 8 years ago, her daughter was raped and became pregnant. She delivered the baby, but hanged herself shortly thereafter. Catherine decided to keep and raise her grandson, against the objections of her husband and their son. Divorce and ostracism followed. The men of the family couldn’t look at the baby without seeing the rape and the suicide.

Now, Catherine still wonders if she made the right decision. Catherine and her recovering addict sister Clare (played by Downton Abbey’s Siobhan Finneran), and the two of them can barely handle the boy, Ryan, and their hectic lives.

Siobhan Finneran as Clare and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine in Happy Valley

Ryan has a bad temper, and you can’t hear that without wondering how much of his father is inside him.

Speaking of his father.  He was just released from prison. Not for rape. He was never caught for what he did to Catherine’s daughter, so you can imagine that revenge on him is just about the only thing Cahterine cares about when she hears he is released.  And, I can’t blame her, because he’s a sick and disgusting villain.

hapvalleyt_2929720b

 

On the other side of town, in a little bit better neighborhood, lives Kevin Weatherill. And if he isn’t the world’s biggest asshole, I don’t know who is.  Yes, I do, it’s Rupert Murdoch. But still. This guy is a douche.

p01xkx77He wants to send his daughter to private school, but he doesn’t have the money. So he asks his boss, Nevison, who he feels owes him something.  His boss says no, because if he did it for Kevin, he’d have to do it for everyone.

You can see Kevin’s big flaw in just this little bit of information. He has a problem, and he wants someone to solve it for him. When the boss says no, Kevin sees it as all the boss’s fault. Some people would take a second job, or cut back on vacations, but not Kevin. Kevin thinks the world owes him. He’s angry, so, naturally, he suggests to a criminal he knows that maybe the boss’s daughter could get kidnapped and he could get a cut of the money. That’s his solution.

So the criminal, Ashley, gets together his two workers, Lewis and Tommy Lee Royce. Tommy Lee Royce, by the way, is the guy who raped Catherine’s daughter. And together they organize and carry out the kidnapping.

As you can imagine, these two sides of the story meet in the end. And it’s superbly done. Dramatic, tense, disturbing, sad. Enraging.  By the end of the show, the person I was most angry with was Kevin. Even after it’s all said and done, and he’s dragged down his whole family in his ruin and disgrace, he still blames his boss. If his boss had just given him the raise, then the daughter would never have been kidnapped/raped/almost killed.  He’s a complete loon.

Here’s what’s great about this show: The women. They are tough. Smart. Capable. Most importantly, they are survivors. We see the men commit mistake after mistake, miscalculate, break down, cry. We see the women push forward and do what they think is right. Not just Catherine. Ann, the kidnapped girl, is an absolute survivor. Catherine saves her life, and Ann saves her right back. The men cannot be depended upon, and none of them prove anything other than a disappointment.

Before you cry misandry, let me remind you how many shows feature an almost entirely male cast. How many shows feature women as victims, women unable to do more than cry? Even Broadchurch, which had a female co-star and smart detective, left us with the question of how could she be so stupid as not to know about her husband. Happy Valley leaves us with no doubt that Catherine will continue her work, will take down drug dealers and murderers, rapists and kidnappers, and whomever else she needs to. It’s great to see her on television. And it’s rare. So…deal with the tables being turned for once.

Advertisements

Persuasion

PersuasionI caught the 2007 TV movie version of Persuasion on TV last week, and my love of the book came flooding back to me.  Persuasion was actually the first Austen book I ever read, at the tender age of sixteen.  Though I later learned to adore Pride and Prejudice more, Persuasion still ranks very highly on my rainy day reading list.

As with most Austen novels, the story focuses on a motherless, brotherless (and ergo in an insecure financial position) girl with a very silly family.  What sets Persuasion apart is the maturity of the story. It was Austen’s last novel, completed about one year before she died.  Anne Elliot, its main character, was the oldest of Jane’s heroines.  This isn’t a story about first love; it’s a story about a second chance.  As someone who has made tons of mistakes in her life, I can always appreciate a second chance.

Anne Elliot is 27 when the story begins, but much of the plot revolves around the action of 8 years ago.  Her prideful and vain family talked her out of an engagement when she was young. They didn’t consider the gentleman, Frederick Wentworth, worthy of her, because he was a lowly Royal Navy officer.  In this particular TV movie, he is played by Rupert Penry-Jones (Silk, White Chapel), and he looks quite good in the period costume:

rupert_440x293I think that this story has even more romantic tension than Pride and Prejudice. After she is convinced to spurn his proposal, Anne doesn’t see Wentworth for 8 years. He ventures off into his Naval career, and comes back into her life, and oh how the tables have turned. Anne’s extravagant family have run through their yearly allowance and need to rent out their expensive manor home.  It’s rented by Wentworth’s wealthy sister and her husband. Wentworth is a rich captain now, and is considered a very eligible bachelor.

Anne has spent most of the last eight years bitterly regretting her behavior and her decision.  When Wentworth comes back into her life, Anne is overcome with awkwardness and shame.  Wentworth is bitter and resentful.  The tension is hard to deal with, but the more they are thrown together, the more their feelings soften and relax.

For the couple to end up together, the hero and heroine have to do some risky things. Wentworth has to forgive Anne for hurting and humiliating him.  Anne has to win back his trust, but she also has to deliberately contradict her family’s wishes.  It’s just plain harder for Anne and Wentworth than it ever was for Lizzie and Darcy. Interestingly, I found a blog post with 5 reasons why Wentworth is more marriageable than Darcy. I don’t believe with a single one of her reasons, but Wentworth is pretty dreamy.  Darcy’s fault has always been his pride, and Wentworth doesn’t have that problem.

Of course, it’s an Austen romance, so there’s the perfect balance of will-they-won’t-they suspense for what seems like ages.  There are other girls interested in Wentworth, and another eligible match turns up for Anne. Austen strings you along and makes you worry, even though you know it will come through in the end, and that release at the end is a beautiful experience. That’s what makes her an impeccable storyteller.

Though this TV movie is not nearly as thorough (or faithful to the book) as a miniseries would be, it’s well done and Rupert Penry-Jones is very good as Wentworth.  I liked Sallie  Hawkins as Anne,

kinopoisk.ru-Persuasion-1276094but the combination of her reserved demeanor and severe bun make her look a little more matronly than really seems appropriate.  I know 27 was considered a spinster in those days, but she shouldn’t look so much like a sourpuss librarian.

Probably my favorite performance came from Anne’s father. He is an intolerable caricature of a man, constantly complaining about the physical appearance of his friends, when he’s not sniveling at the feet of his social betters.  He disapproves of the navy because the harsh winds and what they do to the faces of the sailors. He’s played impeccably by Anthony Stewart Head, aka Giles.

anthony+headI’ve had some ridiculous family members, and I’ve learned the hard lesson that sometimes they need to be ignored or disobeyed. That’s the central lesson for Anne Elliot, and it’s one that will always resonate with me. It’s a great book, but if you’re a more visual person, the movie is definitely worth a watch.

Luther, season 3

Luther-Season-3-Key-ArtThe long-anticipated third season of Luther premiered last week on BBC America.  For some reason, they decided to play one episode per night, so the entire season was done in 1 week. I hate when they do this, but for this show it is particularly difficult to deal with. I couldn’t sleep after the first episode, and I was really upset after episode 3.  To squeeze all that emotion into one week is a lot for me.  I think Luther requires some recovery time, because precidence has shown that he (and we as the audience who implicitly support him as the protagonist) is going to get walloped repeatedly. If no one he loves is murdered in an episode, it’s a good day for John Luther.  He could write a very good version of ‘It was a Good Day’ by Ice Cube.  That’s how shit his life is.  And to live in that world for four nights repeated is a lot to take.

In episodes one and two, he’s chasing a truly disturbing foot-fetish murderer.  A guy who hides under beds–cue me not sleeping.  He also hides in attics under semi-opaque sheets pretending to be a mannequin. And makes cat noises so you go up in the attic to see what your cat has got into.  Then he murders you and your husband, and steals your shoes.  I have an attic and a cat! And shoes! I am still traumatized by this. During episode two, someone uses the phrase ‘extremely muscular vaginas’. Hearing this, I think my face arranged itself in a perfect wide-eyed emoticon expression.  I may have done a comical double-take.  I mean, wtf.

There’s a second case where a man, Ken Barnaby seems to have killed the internet troll who was taking pictures of the Barnaby’s dead daughter and photoshopping them onto porn shots and sending them to the Barnaby.  The world truly weeps for the loss of that guy.  Luther is reluctant to persecute Barnaby, because of his own sense of conscience, and Ripley has to force the investigation to its conclusion.  The truly fun part of this subplot is Barnaby’s attempt to get rid of his own fingerprints. Color me nauseated.

Luther is also dealing with his (as usual) precarious position at work.  He’s being investigated by the British equivalent of Internal Affairs–an un-retired and slightly-obsessed DSU Stark is determined to prove that Luther isn’t just a crooked cop, but a murderer.  Fun fact–Stark is played by David O’Hara, aka Albert Runcorn in the 7th Harry Potter movie. DCI Erin Gray, who used to work with Luther and butted heads with him constantly, is Stark’s right hand woman.  They’re trying to convince DS Ripley to turn on Luther.

ds ripleyBut…come on.  DS Ripley has shown time and time again that he is unfailingly good and unfailingly loyal. He’s the un-touched one among them, and that’s why Luther protects him and cares so much for him. Still, we know Ripley is a good guy, and we know Luther can act like a bad guy to get done what he thinks is right.  The seed of doubt is planted in Luther’s mind, and in our own.

On the rare up-side, he’s met a lovely woman named Mary, who’s surprisingly innocent and normal, and makes him smile.  And be happy?!?  This can’t last, right?

Luther IIIYou won’t be surprised to hear that Luther dispatches with the foot fetish killers, because he’s Luther and he’s the smartest one in the room.

Episodes 3 and 4 deal with a different villain. Tom Marwood is, really, a dark version of Luther himself.  He’s a vigilante killer, specifically going after criminals who have been convicted, but because of flaws in the justice system, are out on parole or free to walk around.  Marwood’s wife was raped and killed years earlier, by a man newly paroled. Marwood goes after pedophiles (or paedophiles, if you’re British) and murderers, truly heinous criminals.  Like Dexter.  Of course, Luther has always walked the line of wanting to enact his own form of justice rather than relying on bureaucracy to get the job done.  But he has to take a stand for due process, and finds himself in the awkward position of having to save the life of a convicted p(a)edophile, after a mob of violent morons comes to watch and ensure the man’s execution.

You know something bad is going to happen from the first few minutes of episode 3.  Luther invites Ripley into his house, to meet Mary.  Luther is happy, talkative, easy-going.  This is new.  And ominous.  Later, Luther tells Ripley he should have been promoted long ago, because he’s capable and good at his job.  Oh no.  No no no.

I won’t spoil anything specific, but like I say, it’s obvious from the first moments of that episode that something is going to happen. This show had never allowed Luther to be happy, and he’ll be severely punished for this moment of bliss.  That’s just the way this universe works.

I will say that the moment at the end of episode 3 is when Tom Marwood stops being a vigilante out for justice and becomes just a killer.  A killer because he likes it and he can’t stop.  He’s become everything he hates, but instead of facing it he decides to blame it all on Luther, and to go after everyone Luther cares for.

Episode 4 is really suspenseful, with all the different plots coming to a head at once.  Alice re-emerges.  I like Alice–I don’t want her as a mate, but she’s a great character to watch–to help Luther get out of his current jam.

At the very end, in the very last scene, Luther takes off his signature grey coat and drops it into the Thames.  It occurred to me, just then, how much of the superhero model the show follows.  Batman, especially.  Luther always lives in the shadows, always surrounded by sadness, so that he can try to keep it light and bright for others.  Someone has to get into the mud to keep the rest of us clean, according to this universe.  At the end, though, he’s had enough.  He takes off his cape and he leaves it behind.  There are talks to bring Luther to the big screen, so I wonder what will bring him back into the fray.  Superheroes always try to escape their shit lives, but they have to come back to save someone/something they love.  They can’t live with the guilt of ignoring the idea that they could make a difference.

Luther is one of those shows, like Dexter, that is engrossing and disturbing and bleak. You’re in the trenches with this really morally-questionable, but charismatic, character.  You implicitly trust his decisions because he’s your protagonist, and the more you watch the less you question what he’s doing.  With Luther, we take his side because he is going up against the most terrifying monsters you can imagine.  He’s a saint, comparatively.  But when you step away and think about what he does, and how he breaks the rules and justifies his actions by always being right about whodunnit, it’s really terrifying. The ending especially made me sit back and say…wait a minute.  Our hero just wandered off to start a life with a murderous sociopath.  What does that say about him? What does it say about me?!

Even though Luther always makes me feel a bit squiffy about my own ethics, I will keep watching it because it is so compelling.  Season 3 was no exception.

Family Tree

Family TreeChristopher Guest’s quirky show, starring Chris O’Dowd, premiered in May on HBO. The season finale was this month. The show will appear on BBC Two this summer. No word yet on a second season, but I’m hopeful!

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Christopher Guest‘s work, you should be.  Do yourself a favor and see at least two of the following: A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, and The Princess Bride.  Okay, in The Princess Bride, he was only acting and not one of the creators, but you should still see it if you haven’t yet.  It’s a great movie.  I think it’s important to be familiar with Guest’s work and its inherent eccentricities. Otherwise you might spend your time wondering why one of the main characters of this show spends all of her time with a foul-mouthed monkey puppet on her hand.

monkey and christopher guestBut if you know Christopher Guest’s work, then you don’t worry about that and you just enjoy yourself.

Quirky, eccentric, peculiar, etc. How many synonyms can I go through in this review? Let’s get it out of the way now: everyone in this show is utterly strange.  Chris O’Dowd’s character, Tom Chadwick, is the only reasonably normal one in a long list.  His sister, Bea, is the aforementioned puppeteer.  His best friend Pete works at the zoo and …I haven’t a clue how to describe him. Not terribly bright, for starters.  Fond of strange hats.  Inappropriate in almost every situation.

pete-stupples-1024His father has a Moldovan second wife and a penchant for terrible ’70s British sitcoms.

He lives above a man who runs a ‘bit and bob shop’. In other news, I have a new career I’m working toward, if I can just get enough bits and bobs… In later episodes, Tom travels to America and meets an even stranger assortment of creatures. Ed Begley Jr. plays a libertarian conspiracy theorist, Carrie Aizley is his hippie wife who sells flavored enemas.

The show follows Tom, who has recently lost his job and his girlfriend, after he is given a trunk of old family heirlooms.  He proceeds to track his family line back several generations, for reasons only he seems to understand.  Nothing in his family history is particularly glamorous so far–his most notable ancestor was the back half of a pantomime horse.

The journey through the past is interesting, but really it’s just a vehicle to get Tom into the most ridiculous situations and conversations one can imagine.  There were Civil War reenactments, morjgm-b781130906z.120130621144503000g861ej272.2a visit to a Native American Reservation, farming in rural Derbyshire, and the tales of the best Jewish cowboy in silent movies.  I found myself watching with a mixture of incredulity and bemused giggles.  It’s always entertaining and surprising–very rare for TV shows, in my experience. Not everything is a ‘joke’ with a punchline and a rimshot, but the humor is more subtle and less forced.  I found Chris O’Dowd to be the funniest of the cast, but Monkey was my boyfriend’s favorite.

There are some really big stars on this show, mostly from other Guest movies. In addition to Chris O’Dowd (who is becoming quite famous after being in Bridesmaids and Girls), there are Ed Begley Jr, Michael McKean, Guest himself, and Fred Willard, plus other cameos.

I can see why this wouldn’t be the best show for some people.  In my mind, they’re the kind of people that really love Two and a Half Men, and don’t find TV shows with a laugh track annoying at all.  But for anyone who enjoys a Christopher Guest experience, this show does not disappoint.  Sometimes, I think there are too many characters without enough to do in any given episode, but for the most part the large cast is balanced quite well.  The main three characters (Tom, Bea, Pete) are all very fleshed out and loveable. I really hope they give it at least one more season, as I want to see what happens next.

 

Mr. Selfridge on PBS

Mr. SelfridgePBS recently finished airing the first season of Mr. Selfridge, a period drama based on the true story of the American self-made man that created one of the first English department stores–a store that still stands today, though it is far too expensive for me to have purchased anything there. The show aired early in the year in the UK on ITV, and did well enough that they have ordered a second season, to premiere in 2014.

I was concerned about Jeremy Piven, because he seems so slimy in most of his roles, but I really loved him and I loved this show. Piven plays the eponymous lead, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The show begins with him arriving on the scene in London to scare up funding and publicity for a store that hasn’t even been built, on the ‘unfashionable end’ of Oxford Street.  Ten episodes make up the first season, most of which revolve around Harry and his home family, and Harry and his work family.  He has an endless amount of women causing problems in his life–to be fair, most of the problems are his own doing.

Harry Selfridge and his ladiesThere’s his patient and loving wife Mary clutching his arm.  She’s played by the wonderful Frances O’Conner, and endures quite a lot from a man who does love her, but is not the best at being faithful or attentive. On the left is Lady Mae, a connected noblewoman who Harry relies on to help him secure funding and fix publicity problems.  She is not the sort of woman you want to owe favors to, but she is the exact woman you do owe favors to if you want to get anything done.

On the right is Ellen Love, a showgirl with whom Harry begins an affair.  She is everything pathetic and typical about the other woman. Nothing but trouble, hopelessly naive and convinced Harry will leave his wife and children to be with her.

The work family focuses on a few main characters.  The most important of which is Agnes Towler. She ends up in a love triangle (square?  some shape…) with two men who work at the store, VictorAgnes, Henri and Victor (on the right) and Henri (on the left). Agnes is probably my favorite character in the show.  She supports herself and her brother, she’s strong and independent, and she’s quite creative.  My only slight gripe with her is that it’s never quite obvious to me why all the men are so violently in love with her.  Still, I enjoyed watching her story.

Also central to the action are Mr. Grove, the chief of staff at the department store, and Miss Mardle, the Accessories supervisor.

Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle

Though Mr. Grove is married to a very sick woman, the two are having an affair.  What we later learn is a very long-term affair.  Of course, no one at the department store can know this as it is against the rules. Mr. Grove proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel in my book, more and more with each episode.  Miss Mardle was of interest to me, partially because she is played by Amanda Abbington, who is the ‘long-term partner’ of Martin Freeman.  Damn her.  Anyway, she will be in the next season of Sherlock, so I wanted to see her act in something.  She was good. Though the character is a very demur and repressed woman, she did convey a lot of depth of emotion.

Everyone in this show seems to have a secret relationship.  Harry and Ellen Love, Agnes and Henri, Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle, Agnes and Victor, Victor and Lady Mae…think of a combination and they’ve gone there.  I was most interested in Mrs. Selfridge’s relationship with a young painter, Roderick Temple, who bore a striking resemblance to a 6’5″ version of Neville Longbottom.

Mr. Selfridge Roderick Temple

Matthew Lewis

Who knew Neville Longbottom would grow up to look like that?  Anyway, his resemblance to Neville made me predisposed to like him.  Plus, artist points.  But he proves himself to be a scoundrel as well–I’m detecting a theme. None of these men are to be trusted!

Obviously all of these love stories have elements of the soap opera tropes about them.  I think what sets this show apart is the setting, the time and place and industry in which it is set.

It lends itself very naturally to comparisons with Downton Abbey–there are love stories, infidelities, a multitude of class interactions, and they are occupying the same piece of history–but they are very different shows.  DA is, at its heart, a soap opera. Everyone is either entirely good or entirely despicable (the only exception I can think of to this is O’Brien, but her brief foray into being a good person ended after a few episodes, so it barely counts).  The tension revolves around whether a couple will end up together, and which person Julian Fellowes will kill off.  The other big source of tension is the never-ending struggle to maintain the status quo.  The big house, the landed gentry, the old Tory way of life in the country.

Mr. Selfridge could not be more different. The fact that they exist at the same time, are set in the same time and in the same country is something I had to keep reminding myself.  Mr. Selfridge is actually set earlier than DA, which is even more strange. The show features a main character that wants to embrace everything new and modern.  In the 1910s, that means automobiles, explorers, ready-to-wear clothing, cosmetics for respectable women (gasp!), and a new-found love of shopping. The first episode shows Harry Selfridge going into a typical London shop.  Everything was kept under the counter, and you had to ask to look at individual items.  Selfridge wanted his customers to be able to see and touch the products, so that they might be enticed to buy something other than what they needed. He really understood what the experience of shopping could be.  Part of me wishes society hadn’t taken this turn to the ridiculously commercial and superficial, but it would have happened with our without Harry Selfridge.  I digress, but my point is that it is fascinating from a historical perspective to see these changes toward a modern society and away from the 19th century.

I think that facet, ultimately, is what made me enjoy this show (perhaps, though I am afraid to say it) more than Downton Abbey.  I really looked forward to watching it every week, and am looking forward to a second season.

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.

The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThe Bletchley Circle aired on PBS during April & May, though it aired in the UK in 2012.  Just a few weeks ago, iTV announced that they would be making a second series of the show.

Like Sherlock, this series (season) consists of only 3 episodes, 1 hour each.  Really, it’s more of a miniseries, and I was entirely prepared to describe it that way until I learned about a second season.  Miniseries don’t have further seasons, so I guess it is a drama series.

The show follows 4 women in 1950s London.  All four worked at Bletchley Park, the center of code breaking intelligence for the Brits during WWII.  Due to the Official Secrets Act, everyone had to hide their involvement in wartime divisions, etc., until something like the 1970s.  So these characters lead normal, horribly dull lives. No one knows that they’re code-breaking savants and were very important to wartime efforts.  They don’t get any recognition, even from family and friends.

It’s no wonder that Susan GraySusan Gray, the main character, is desperately in need of something to do. She has a dull husband and 2 kids, and is chained to the stove like any good ’50s housewife. After hearing reports on the news about a string of unsolved homicides, she can’t help but see some patterns in the details.  At first, she tries to go directly to the police, but she can’t work out all of the specifics of the crime without enlisting her 3 friends–whom she hasn’t seen since the war ended–to help her read the patterns. Gray would, if born today, end up an engineer, a statistician, a math professor. She’s exacting, efficient, a little too meticulous, a little boring.  She’s played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognized from her roles in Bleak House (Esther Summerson) and North & South (Bessy Higgins).  I think AMM does a great job of portraying someone totally trapped by gender norms, who allows her life to be decided by feelings of what she should be doing.

In her determination to solve the puzzle and find the murderer, she enlists her three wartime compatriots:

Bletchley Circle MillieMillie, the free-spirited, world traveling, modern woman. She lives on her own, she’s tough, she takes care of herself.  You can tell how modern and independent she is because she is the only one who wears pants.  She is my favorite, obviously.

Bletchley Circle LucyLucy is the youngest and most naive.  She is very useful, though, because she has an eidetic memory.  Unfortunately, she also has an abusive, douchebag husband.  Lucy is maybe the most reluctant of the four. The violence they encounter during this investigation is probably worse than anything she’s ever imagined.  After all, they didn’t even have CSI back then–not even the original CSI.  They weren’t used to seeing dead bodies dissected and splashed about.  She explains that it’s also worse for her because her memory allows her to see bad things over and over again in perfect and horrible recollection.  That would not be my superpower of choice.

Lastly, there’s Jean.

Bletchley Circle JeanShe is the bossy older one, and she’s a librarian.  She looks and seems everything dowdy and unattractive at first.  There’s a quiet, assiduous power about her, though.  She is integral to the group because she has contacts in other libraries and with other intelligence workers that they use to dig up info on their killer. Jean is more reserved and less emotional, but she’s competent and hard-working.  She’s a Hufflepuff, in essence.

The ladies use their code-cracking skills to see other patterns in the killings–the girls were all on a journey, which they eventually narrow down to one specific train from St. Pancras.  He must be on the train too, then.

They discover over the three episodes that the man is a necrophiliac (they don’t use this word, but it’s made clear that each of the victims is raped after she’s killed).  They realize he has struck before, in other areas of England, and always pins the crime on someone else.  Shortly afterward, he does the same thing with his victims in London, but the girls (especially Susan) are adamant that the police have the wrong man.

It all comes back to the war. They discover the real killer is a man who was trapped underground during the blitz–trapped underground with a dead woman.  God only knows what he did with her body while he was down there, but it’s clear he’s trying to relive that with his victims.

As with any good mystery (as opposed to a police procedural), the authorities refuse to listen/believe what is truly going on.  The girls are on their own.  Susan, in particular, ventures too far in her search for the killer.  All the girls end up in peril, but Susan is alone with the man twice. He follows her home, threatens her family. I won’t say more about what happens next.

Primarily, I think this was a show about women.  In some ways it reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. You have these horrible murders, all perpetrated against young women by a man.  You have strong female character(s) determined to stop them.

Of course, they’re radically different in setting and style, but the theme of misogyny and violence toward women is a commonality.  The Bletchley Circle shows the lives of very smart, capable women.  In their best circumstances, they are under-utilized and bored as housewives/waitresses/librarians.  More often, they are ridiculed by other men, criticized or hit by their husbands.  Even Susan’s husband, who is the most empathetic man in the show, doesn’t understand why Susan can’t just stay home with the children like a good wife would do.  Everywhere they look, they’re told to conform to what society believes they should be and do.

At the same time, these four women work together remarkably well, care about each other, and are deeply committed to solving this crime.  To saving other girls from this horrendous fate.  Not to sound totally ridiculous, but it is about women protecting women.

The people who worked on this show did a great job recreating a particularly bleak time in English modern history.  While America was having a huge economic boom in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Brits were still whipping out their ration books and dealing with economic crises left and right.  It was a really austere place and time, even when you don’t consider the losses of the war (people, but also entire buildings and neighborhoods destroyed in the blitz).  The show captures the dull lives, the last lingering period of tradition before the upheaval of the ’60s.  The director even said they avoided sunlight when filming. They wanted to capture the lack of saturation, the lack of bright color that seemed to pervade the national consciousness during that time.

This wasn’t the greatest show in the world.  There were parts of the plot that were thrown in and then cast aside without much explanation.  The resolution didn’t make things precisely clear.  The bad guy ends up dead, but it’s not clear to the audience that the women have enough evidence to prove he was the one who killed those other girls.  I found myself wondering if they would be believed when they told their side of the story.  And what happened to the man falsely accused of the crime? Last we heard, he was scheduled to hang for it.  Now what? I suppose I’m supposed to have good faith and just assume it all worked out, but the justice system isn’t like that and I worried that despite the killer being dead, the nightmare was far from over.

On the other hand, I think it was a unique and interesting story.  I like period dramas as a rule, I like women protagonists as a rule.  If this had stretched for 10 episodes, I might not be as fond of it, but I’m definitely up for another 3-4 episode season (series).