{television} deep breath(ing)

Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman) & the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in a wickedly creepy, yet delightful scene.

The household are Whovians to varying degrees, but all of us felt fairly equal trepidation with the New Doctor: the Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. It isn’t that we doubt Capaldi as an actor. It’s just that we admit to liking the younger Doctors–and Series 8, Episode 1: “Deep Breath” called us out on it.

The first episode of the 12th Doctor (written by Steven Moffat) addresses the issue of a dramatic (backwards) shift in the age of the Doctor head-on. The Ben Wheatley directed episode opens with a dinosaur in old London–not subtle. When Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, his antics during regeneration could be described as goofy, the same antics played by Capaldi could easily misconstrued as senility. Tennant ran around in nightclothes, but Capaldi’s historical dress accentuate elderly over silly. Then there is Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) response to the new face and disoriented Doctor. Her response should harken back to Rose’s (Billie Piper) discomfort with the Christopher Eccleston-David Tennant transition during Series 2, but Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) calls her on confusing the Doctor as a dashing young love-interest rather than the very old Time Lord that he actually is. It is soon made apparent that the episode is using Clara as the audience’s avatar, both in guilt and self-defense. And bless it, Moffat offers a balm. (Have tissues ready).

Besides the challenging of ageism, the episode explores the question of pretenses, veils, facades.

deep-breath-capaldi-openingCapaldi’s Doctor is not adjusting to his old face with any greater ease, wondering “who frowned this face,” in a gorgeous dialog with a homeless man in an alley. “Where do the faces come from?” “Why’d I choose this face? Am I trying to tell myself something?” I love the accompanying question posed to the “regenerating” villain: “If you replace the parts often enough, are you still you? How many generations until you are not you?” (may have paraphrased).

“Deep Breath” punches the emotional core with its focus on lost and lonely creatures. The discombobulated Doctor and companion are juxtaposed to the household relationships between others who are out of time and place: Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey). A central thrust to connect character drama and the criminal-mystery is in the dilemma of destroying a complete creature for one useful part? And what of that facet where a creature is destroyed to hide what it was that was taken from it?

Madame Vastra (Neve
Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh)

It took time adjusting to Capaldi, but we were won in an episode. We were equally impressed by how Clara had finally become a fully actualized character for us in one episode. Yes, we know that she had more than a full season for characterization, but after an intriguing play at a Jack Harkness-type character, they flattened her out and she became a mere vehicle for Smith’s departure. She’s back.

“Deep Breath” offers humor and horror and a really, really smart introduction to the 12th Doctor. We are feeling vastly reassured having seen it.

Of note: It will be worth your time to revisit “The Girl in the Fireplace” (S2, ep4: Tennant/Piper), wherein we realized that this new transitioning of the Doctor isn’t the only regenerating episode to reference “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The episode also rewards long-time viewers in other ways…yes, Sean winced when 12 rejected the notion of wearing a long scarf.

cinema · foreign · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

[tv] torchwood : miracle day

today I ramble a bit about the BBC television series Torchwood: Miracle Day. Sean and I had really looked forward to this season after Children of Earth in 2010. I’ll introduce the show and then dissolve into thoughts about this year’s Miracle Day. A lot of interesting conversations could be had from Miracle Day, believe it or not, I hardly touched on a fraction of these. and this post is fairly –spoiler-free–. mind the character discussions (sigh).

If you are a fan of the Russell T. Davies 2005 revival of Doctor Who, than it is likely you are familiar with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the time-travelling immortal human (thanks Rose) who cons and flirts his way in and out of story. Davies created a spin-off called Torchwood where Harkness heads up an elite group of professionals based in Cardiff, Wales who monitor, track, and often fight alien activity on Earth.

Torchwood is nighttime television for adults. There is profanity, steamy sex scenes, and the show is prone to greater violence and gore. The stories can be really exciting and Sean and I have recommended it around, but with some caution; there seems always some caution with Torchwood.

Sean and I finally finished Torchwood : Miracle Day, the fourth season of the BBC sci-fi television series. I say season, but really Torchwood has morphed into more of a series. Miracle Day is a 10 episode series released weekly from July to September 2011. The third series Children of Earth was released nightly in the span of a week in 2010—it was marvelously intense. This year, Torchwood comes to America with Starz! Yeah, we were skeptical, too. And I think, in the end, rightly so.

If you’ve not seen Torchwood you can begin* with Miracle Day because the allusions to previous story/characters are light. Everything you really need to know, including some of Harkness’ history with The Doctor, is explained. Torchwood: Miracle Day is a pilot for American audiences essentially. Most of Miracle Day is set in the Los Angeles, with the introduction of several key American players before introducing the name Torchwood and bringing those who remain of that clandestine agency back.

Miracle Day asks: What would happen if no one could die? One day no one could and this first day of no one dying is dubbed Miracle Day around the globe. As the show thoroughly illustrates, no matter what the (would-be-)fatalities circumstance, they cannot die. However, they can feel the pain of their wounds, or illness, etc. How do you medically and culturally treat the living dead? The global population sky rockets. Legislation must be reviewed, amended, and enacted quickly. And Life must be redefined, quite literally.

Miracle Day’s scope is enormous.** They explore multiple scenarios and track immediate and global implications as they progress. The cast is extensive, though many move in and out of story in a single episode or over the course of two or three. The primary cast involve a convicted homicidal pedophile, an ambitious public relations woman, a CIA agent, a CIA information analyst (or 3), a medical doctor, and of course, Torchwood (x2+1). And not only must Miracle Day ask what would happen, but how did it happen and who or what is responsible?

The scope of Miracle Day would be managed by strong characterization (both development and consistency), by encapsulating each episode  and a few key character storylines with theme, and by taking leaps along the timeline to maintain credibility and interest. Still, the series feels too big, as if it feared the sci-fi fanatics who would send essays on how the writers forgot this causality, this effect, this probability. And while their question and its implications are fascinating, as well as their challenge to weave them into a compelling story, it was exhausting. When you find yourself asking, ‘How many more episodes to go?’ you know there is a problem. Not everyone will have this issue, but even Sean, reader of epic tomes within epic series, had to express real determination in order to finish Miracle Day. We took a break. Sure, our discussions after an episode (or during) were great, but the sequences of intense action (at least one per episode), the dramatic interludes, the 10 minute sex scenes, the long explanatory conversations; there was a lot to juggle and keep in balance. Torchwood: Miracle Day was necessarily ambitious. It is a police/government procedural, medical drama, family drama, romance, soft porn, action/adventure, detective mystery. Except the mystery kind of gets bogged down, and it is the mystery that would compel me the most.

Miracle Day as well as the people of Earth must first come to terms with what is happening with Miracle Day. The first 5-6 episodes are steeped in this. The latter episodes are what occur after everything comes to a head, especially in the lives of the main characters. The shifting of gears is very evident. It is now that something has to be done. They really must figure out what caused Miracle Day and how to stop it. We were really hoping it was something good. Doctor Who and Torchwood have proven imaginations that convince, if not enchant, despite their fantastical nature. With the build of anticipation, so did our expectation. And really, if we had to suffer [insert annoyance here] than it better be good!

[annoyances yet mentioned] : Mekhi Phifer may be a good actor to many (and who didn’t like him in “O” (2001)), but I didn’t care for him here. I became less and less enamored with him and CIA Agent Rex Matheson as the series progressed. He felt cliché, flat, and he never recovered from it. If you need a way out of a seemingly impossible plot corner, he will perpetrate it. It is amazing really what he can and cannot anticipate. But a bigger part of the problem is how he is set up next to Captain Harkness and he lacks John Barrowman’s charm, guts, and conceivable brilliance. Agent is Harkness’ counterpart, and he isn’t convincing enough in the role.

Now, if you need to get into an impossible plot corner in order to create conflict/adrenaline, CIA Analyst Esther Drummond will do it. She is gifted in a few areas, but is the initiated, the inept. She is not a field agent, and is also guaranteed to completely ignore anything Torchwood veterans Jack Harkness or Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) tell her not to do. She is well-acted by Alexa Havins; it is the necessary character who is annoying. And her one opportunity to show believable growth was undermined by how late it comes, and by final scenes where she is still manages frustrate plans.

While on the subject of cast/character: I was in awe of Bill Pullman as the clever and conniving pedophile, somehow I didn’t dread watching that scary monster in an episode, because While You Were Sleeping Pullman as a monster was fascinating. He was a brilliant casting choice.

I really enjoy John Barrowman as Jack Harkness. I like him best on Doctor Who, and I had major anxiety issues in Miracle Day, because a major plot point is———. Torchwood just isn’t Torchwood without Barrowman/Harkness, especially if they were to hand off the reins and a spin-off to Rex Matheson/Mekhi Phifer. Barrowman is looking older, despite his fit physique (with which everyone becomes quite familiar). After Children of Earth and with the turns Doctor Who takes…after every episode this series I worried over Harkness’ fate. It was he and Gwen Cooper who were one of the main reason’s we had to get to the end of Miracle Day  and some answer as to how they would fare.

It has been fun watching Eve Myles develop her character on Torchwood and her performance this series was fantastic! She was appropriately bad-ass. She moved convincingly through her multi-faceted role as Gwen Cooper: risk-taking Torchwood agent, fierce mother, devoted daughter, wife, and friend. And I also like how Torchwood has grown Kai Owen as Rhys Williams in character and role. If were unsure of this character/actor before, Miracle Day elevates him to an adoring degree.

Torchwood  as a television series has always been unpredictable. They aren’t afraid to kill of major characters, they confront difficult subject matters, and they have their crazy alien creatures. They are inventive and flexible. They took a gamble on the one-week stretch of episodes in 2010 to great success. Creating stories/mini-series’ that keep spinning off of the spin-off in 2011 is cleverness. In a way, Miracle Day reads like fan fiction, even as it reads Pilot. What is going to happen next?

Well, the ending of Miracle Day alludes to probable futures. And did the ending satisfy? I think so, at least up until the very last few minutes–and a major allusion part. But I won’t spoil it. Some will be happy enough though, so note that the opinion is mine, and Sean’s, and likely a few die-hard BBC Torchwood fans.


* You could begin w/ MD but I wouldn’t recommend it.

**The television show FlashForward (2010,w/ Joseph Fiennes) came to mind.

Torchwood: BBC, IMDb, Wiki, (Miracle Day Wiki). please check these sources (among others) for more information, especially those behind the creation of this series, and the listing of this extensive cast (there are many familiar faces and good performances).

a trailer, which is pretty exciting.


Don’t Blink

With the return of another season of the British television series Doctor Who, this season promises to return with some of its creepiest ever. But was Saturday night’s episode “Night Terrors” all that scary in the end? Still, it was pretty good though, and wouldn’t a street full of trick-or-treater’s with those scary doll heads be awesome?!

Saturday evening sparked a conversation on what we (Sean, Natalya, and I) thought were some of the scariest, creepiest creatures and episodes on these latest series of Doctor Who.

Sean’s Top 3:

The Weeping Angels, most especially in “Blink

The Family, in “Family of Blood

The Silence, in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon

Natalya’s Top 3:

The Weeping Angels

The Silence

The Wire, in “Idiot’s Lantern” …I’m Hunnngrrryyyy!!


L’s Top 3:

The Weeping Angels

The Virus in “The Waters of Mars

The Vashta Nerada and the “Silence in the Library

Because it is difficult to narrow these down, especially of the top of our head, other mentions:

Tooth & Claw“–werewolf fun for the whole family.

The Empty Child“–children in gas masks looking for their mommy=instant creep factor.

The Ood, any and every time those eyes turn red.

The ‘Smilers’ in “The Beast Below“.

Are you a Whovian? What creatures or episodes have you found to be especially creepy?

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · wondermous

skulduggery pleasant

“Before I introduce you to a life of crime, I get to introduce you to the Elder Mages.”

“Crime sounds more fun.”

“As indeed it is, though I would never condone crime in any of its forms. Except when I do it, naturally.”

“Naturally. so why are we delaying the fun? What do these Elder Mages want?”

“They’ve heard that I’ve been dragging a perfectly nice young lady into all manner of trouble, and they want to admonish me for it.”

“Tell them it’s none of their business.”

“Well, while I do admire your moxie–”

“What’s moxie?”

“–I’m afraid that won’t work too well with these fellows. One thing you have to remember about the Elder Mages is that they’re–”

“Really old sorcerers?”

“Well, yes.”

“Worked that out all by myself.”

“You must be so proud.”

“Why do you have to report to them? Do you work for them?”

“In a way. the Elders pass the laws, and they have people who enforce the laws, but there are only a few of us who actually investigate the breaking of those laws–murders, robberies, a couple of kidnappings, the usual. And while I may be freelance, most of my work, and my money, comes from the Elders.”

“So if they want to wag their fingers at you…”

“I have to stand there and be wagged at.”

“So why do they want me to be there? Aren’t I the innocent young girl being led astray?”

“See, I dont’ really want them to view you as the innocent young girl. I want them to view you as the rebellious, insubordinate, troublesome rapscallion who has made herself my partner. Then maybe they’ll take pity on me.” (138-9)

Skulduggery Pleasantby Derek Landy

HarperCollins, 2008.

Paperback (w/ “Extras”), 416 pages.

ages 10 & up.

Have you hugged a book lately? Everytime I had to set down Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant I had to give it a brief hug first, I was so happy to be reading it. Yes, this could be attributed to the fact that the daughter was out of town and I was missing a hugging of someone intelligent and humorous and just flat-out brilliant and the book had to do. Although there was Sean and he is all those things… I suppose the book earned the hug on it’s own merit. Actually, I don’t suppose, I know it did. Skulduggery Pleasant is a fun, smart read.

Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton and a detective, and he was a good friend of 12 year-old-Stephanie Edgely’s late uncle Gordon. Stephanie Edgely is an only child residing in a small town in Ireland who wishes life were not so boring. Her problems are replaced by  the mystery of a murdered uncle, the Scepter of the Ancients, and of Skulduggery Pleasant himself. I mean, who is this living skeleton who can talk without lips and see without eyeballs? And is he the only one capable of magic?

Skulduggery’s world isn’t merely the fiction upon which Uncle Gordon’s successful novels were based. Its characters are as brilliantly realized as anyone could hope for; and the dialog is better than one should expect. As I was caught up in the banter between Skulduggery and Stephanie, I couldn’t help but think about Rose (Billie Piper) and Doctor Who (David Tennant). The comparison’s didn’t quit with the quick- and sharp-witted exchanges. Stephanie has a similar penchant for getting into a scrape and getting herself back out of it; and she has a fierce loyalty for those she comes to love. As for Skulduggery and The Doctor, it is the incredible energy and the enormous ego. Needless to say, fans of Doctor Who must read Skulduggery Pleasant.

“Stephanie and Skulduggery’s witty repartee is most enjoyable, and the pacing is fast, with constant action and fight scenes during which the author neither sugarcoats the violence nor revels in it unnecessarily.” Voya

The villains are quite scary and the peril is pretty intense. Yet it is as Voya notes in their review, “the author neither sugarcoats the violence nor revels in it unnecessarily.” People are murdered by heinous creatures, one is made into a monster in one the most disturbing parts of the book–and you see what evil’s consequences are, the threat compels the reader to cheer on the heroes and wonder at the outcome. Again, I am thinking of a Doctor Who episode; but I can’t disregard the originality of Derek Landy’s inventions. If I think Doctor Who or Terry Pratchett, it is that Skulduggery keeps good company. For Eoin Colfer fans, you’ll likely find this book a recommendation as well. Dark and evil things are scary, the wit has the reader laughing out loud, and the heart within each character (that has a heart) that is irresistible. I am glad Skulduggery Pleasant is a series. I want to read more.


In the “Extras” section at the back of the edition I read, there is a short story of a Skulduggery adventure called The Lost Art of World Domination. You can find it on-line here.

the Skulduggery Pleasant website.

"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend

sherlock, downton abbey, and luther

The following are three British television series Sean and I have recently discovered; made easy as they were available via Netflix streaming. I list them in order of viewing, Luther being newly arrived to Netflix.

I would also recommend Doctor Who and Torchwood as well. Torchwood is currently running a pretty intense season. And we can’t wait for the summer break to be over for more Doctor Who.

Sherlock (2010) :  the British television series as created by Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson are no longer confined to historical London, they’ve been translated into present-day context. Holmes is as savvy with technology as everything else. And Dr. Watson is a veteran of a different war, this one in Afghanistan. Dealing with internal and external wounds from the war Watson (Martin Freeman) needs work and a flat-mate, and something to occupy his mind. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) rather carelessly offers to split a place and it isn’t long before he pulls Watson into his sleuthing–because really, who else can put up with him? And Watson is actually very intelligent, though much more quietly so.  Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is present, of course, and Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs). Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) appears thinner, and a sly comment is made toward his success in dieting. And Moriarty seems to be behind most of the mayhem, and in a wonderfully imagined way.

The mysteries are good, but it is in the filming and the acting that viewers are compelled to follow the series. I was pleasantly distracted by the transitions between scenes, each movement a well-constructed match in which to fade, or would blend be the better word, bleed?  The lighting, the tilt-shift, the angles, the cross-cutting. Brilliant editing work. The addition of text is a really nice touch and not over done. The text popping up like bubbles at the press conference is a source of humor and the text as mind-reader is a useful tool in reading what Holmes is reading when examining a dead body. The soundtrack is good–can’t let that go unsaid.

Benedict Cumberpatch and Martin Freeman

Cumberbatch proves more than capable as the arrogant “sociopath” (as he is now labelled). He pulls off the simultaneity of oblivious and all-seeing beautifully. I found Freeman the much more compelling actor, in part, I think, because I hadn’t seen him play the straight man. Watson has his own demons, his own worries and yet, even as he is bewildered by Holmes, he is intrigued by what Holmes does, he can’t help but be involved. Freeman is so sober and quiet and emotive in a way that charms and steadies the course of the series. Watson has ever been the means by which the story of Holmes is told, but in Sherlock he has a story of his own as well. Watson and Holmes relationship makes the series, it develops in a comedic and dramatic way that wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the caliber of acting offered.

I really, really hope to see this series return. Yes, I know Freeman is busy with The Hobbit, which I have to say, I am even more eager to see, having witnessed how marvelous a range Mr. Freeman is capable of.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Downton Abbey (2010) : British television series created and principally written by actor and writer Julian Fellowes. (wiki)

When the Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley’s “heir presumptive” goes down with the Titanic, life at Downton Abbey suffers unrest. A new heir will be named, an unfamiliar distant cousin. Robert Crawley’s eldest daughter Mary was to have married the previous heir and now her future is in free-fall. You see, her mother’s fortune (as a New York heiress) had become legally tied to the estate and title. All of her money would now go to a perfect stranger, leaving only respectable dowries for the three daughters–an unfair turn to Countess Crawley–and her mother-in-law, the Dowager. The servants are cast into uncertainty as well, and the arrival of a new valet for the Earl adds even more conflict. In this historical drama, events unfold on the grand scale, the suffragist movements, the threat of war, the decline of the aristocracy. The smaller scale dramas seem to play microcosmic role, while still entertaining their own intrigues.

Reasons to watch Downton Abbey:

Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: can anyone else portray absurd and dead-serious in the same breath this successfully? Oh, and the other actors aren’t too shabby either. I especially enjoyed Brendan Coyle’s performance as the valet John Bates. Truly, this is a well-cast show. Even as you hate the more villainous characters, you can’t help but appreciate how well played they are.

Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery (as Lady Mary) .

The costumes and sets. The clothing is easily one of my favorite reasons to watch this series.

It is easy to become invested in one or more of the characters. And it is lovely how the servants and not intertwine both in encounters that inform one another’s trajectories, but also thematically. The narrative would also cleverly keep the viewer on their toes. It was nice having the whole first season in one piece so as to not have to wait for next week! I am already on edge to watch this coming season.

Downton Abbey has become a phenomenal success for several reasons. I think it a wonderfully accessible historical drama with a something for everyone, not just its expected fans. I am sure you could find a reason to seek this series out, and I think you should.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Luther (2010) : a British television series created by Neil Cross.

John Luther returns to his job as a Detective Chief Inspector for London Metropolitan Police Service’s Serious and Serial Crime Unit after being investigated for his part in a serial killer’s demise. Did he allow the killer to plummet to his death? Yes. Did Luther have a psychotic break? He certainly appears to still be reeling. His marriage disintegrates, the crimes are taxing, and he makes a very dangerous acquaintance.

Creator Neil Cross has said that Luther is influenced by both Sherlock Holmes and Columbo: the nature of Luther’s intellect and its application to solving crimes is comparable to Holmes’, whereas the show’s use of the “inverted detective format” (wherein the audience is aware of the identity of the criminals but not of how they will be caught, as opposed to the conventional format of the audience discovering the criminal as the characters do) was inspired by Columbo. (found on wiki)

Idris Elba as John Luther.

Luther is very good at solving cases; the only reason you can see his boss wanting him back and continuing to put up with him. And really, who doesn’t find Idris Elba attractive, even in the outright tormented figure that is John Luther? To say that Elba is riveting in this role is to sell him short. He carries off the strain of Luther’s existence in a confounding way. And Cross’ detective is as confounding as his story-line. It feels manipulative that you cannot anticipate the characters or the story-line (whether episodic or on the whole); and then you adjust as the drama enacted is really the reflective to Luther’s psychological planes. He isn’t predictive, which creates real suspense, and has the viewer returning with interest compounded. Luther creates a truly exhilarating experience. And then there are the cliff-hangers at the end of every show; with an incredible season finale to leave you hankering for the next season; which is a 4 episode summer run. Yep, we set to hunting it down immediately. If you like crime-police shows, are a fan of House, MD or Lie to Me, or Sherlock Holmes or Columbo…and if you would like to see what Idris Elba can do as the lead.

IMDb link. Wiki page.