Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Meat Beat Manifesto

[I was intending to do a post at some point soon where I cleverly compared season 2 of Torchwood with a script written by a fan. Unfortunately, the script was written for season 1 of the series and couldn't really be mistaken for the latest series, so my intention to point out that the fan script was in many ways an improvement on the professional ones has died still-born. The fan script was, however, as good as all but three episodes of season 1 and significantly better than at least three of them.]

The other day, someone asked if there was a worse single episode of sf/fantasy television worse than the Blake's 7 story, The Keeper.

I pointed out that The Keeper wasn't even the worst episode of B7 (that 'honour' belongs to Animals if you ask me) and in any case there were quite a few worse bits of genre tv than anything which ever appeared on B7.

Specifically, I suggested The Witch from series two of Survivors; Gridlock from season 29 of Doctor Who; and the truly execrable Darkness of Light from the otherwise non-fantasy Wire in the Blood.

All three of those, however, pale into insignificance beside the season 2 episode of Torchwood, Meat, which has forced me to stop watching Torchwood altogether on the grounds that there will be a reckoning someday and I will have to explain the extent to which I wasted chunks of my life on undeniable shit.

On every conceivable level, watching this is horrendous and painful experience, even with the low expectations I had going in. It's the televisual equivalent of going to some crappy amusements in the rain and discovering that virtually every ride is either boarded up or covered in AIDS-riddled junkie puke, and those few that are open have been themed to feature dead babies being eaten by bloody-jawed Tiggers.

Seriously, it's so bad that actual English doesn't cover it. It is Teh worst RitN, acted & diRctD TV progrm eva. It sux.

And how does it suck? Let us count (some of) the ways.

1. The characterisation

Are the meat harvesting types the stupidest people in the world? They don't realise that a hundred foot long kebab with a massive eye which you can cut into at will and which can live in a handy factory isn't in fact a bloody big fish? It doesn't cross their minds at all to wonder where it came from? Not one person - not even the scientist guy - considered that it might, you know, be some kind of big alien?

Rhys too - presumably he never watches television except for the rugby, or reads a paper except to glance at the page 3 stunna? Otherwise he might have heard about the alien spaceship crashing into Big Ben, the army of ghost Cybermen, the Daleks at Canary Wharf, the Thames being sucked into the centre of the Earth or the spaceship Titanic. Maybe they only get Welsh news in Wales, now that they have an Assembly of their own?

And the rest of the team? The usual mishmash of inconsistency and incompetence, leavened by lashings of bad acting.

2. The Effects

Is the meat creature the most amateur effect in the new Whoniverse? I'd include a screencap but you can't do it's crappiness justice in a static image.

3. The Writing

Holy crap, Catherine Treganna wrote this? If I wasn't for the mighty reputation for accuracy that Wikipedia has gained over the years, I wouldn't believe that was possible. Her scripts for season 1 of Torchwood hit the heady heights of 'quite good' and I'd just assumed that this was either Chris 'Clogger' Chibnall script or came from the pen of arch-nepotist Joe Lidster.

The dialogue in particular has a real Chibnall/Lidster ring to it: "What have they done to you, my poor friend" directed at the giant kebab would be a stretch even in the mouth of an actual actor : in the mouth of John Barrowman it's enough to make your toes curl.

Burn Gorman does what he can with the scene in which he apologises to the meat creature for killing it, but he's not superman and there's only so much he can do to invest the line with anything more than giggle-worthy levels of bathos.

Oh, and let's not forget the amnesia pill - a plot device rapidly taking on Sonic Screwdriver levels of ubiquity in Torchwood. How does that work then? Is it a pill that knows how much of your memory it needs to wipe? How else to explain the fact that the same pill that cold wipe someone's memory of the last half hour could also seemingly wipe Rhys memories of the previous day? It's just lazy and shoddy and thoughtless, folks, that's what it is - and therefore it perfectly fits the ethos of the whole show. Any old crap will do, in any department, because the fans will watch it anyway - why bother trying to produce something with any quality?

4. The Acting

Everybody in this is rubbish, with the exceptions of Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto and to a lesser extent Kai Owen as Rhys. It's genuinely difficult to sum up just how inept both Barrowman and Naoko Mori as Tosh are...

This is Barrowman reacting with horror, pity and anguish at the suffering of the meat creature.

Or Barrowman demonstrating his 'The Horn' face for Ianto.

Or Barrowman doing happy. Who can tell?





"I'm sorry" (that they made you act with both a dull and badly done CGI monster and the meat creature)






I might go back to Torchwood (not least because there's an event at the end of the series I'd like to see), but not for a while. I need to digest this rancid Meat first...

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Lazy, Bland and Uninvolving (and that's just the review)

Last year I said that The Lazarus Experiment was an album track* because it was harmless but forgettable: the kind of thing which you can have on without paying too much attention to it. It was filler, pure and simple, like one of those one and half minute songs I used to put at the end of romantic mix tapes to use up all the space.

The Unicorn and the Wasp is also an album track, but this time one that you would never, ever put on a compilation tape to give to your girlfriend, no matter how short of material you were. Even if all you had was Tina Turner's Private Dancer and this episode of New Who, you'd just make a straight tape to tape copy of the Tina album and wing it.

[ok, I stretched that not brilliant analogy to the point of breaking and beyond, but really, I have a headache and can't be bothered doing a review of this bland paste of a script. I am officially grumpy.]

Instead I'll nick bits of other people's reactions and comments online, and make a mini-review that way.

The Unicorn and the Wasp - A Review by Myriad People

Ooh, I've wasted my life.[1]

I did find last night's episode ultimately unsatisfying[2] but I suppose what annoyed me was saying how wonderful Christie was when I prefer Allingham and Sayers from that era[3]. I was a little bit bored with The Wasp and the Unicorn - in very much the way I am when I read Agatha Christie novels[4].

It was rubbish as a murder mystery[5]. There's a list of things that have to be there, and making them fit is not exactly elegant.[6] It should have ditched any attempt at emotion[7] - this was the straw that broke the poor little camel's back.[8]

Rusty is gay.[9] That's the only moment I can see myself remembering with any specific fondness. [10]

Typing hurts. Shouldn't have had[11] vats of caviar.[12]

I've just imagined a Black Orchid style story in which the tenth Doctor meets the older Campion and they solve murders together.[13]

And some links to far better reviews than this nonsense: Simon, Ian, Rob, Marie, Daniel, Lawrence, Louise, and Jane.

* Actually Scott said it and I nicked it - it's about time he said something useful
With thanks to:
[1] Daniel O'Mahony
[2] Jonn Elledge
[3] David Ball
[4] Kelly Hale
[5] Paul Ian Harman
[6] Allan Bednar
[7] Jonn Elledge
[8] Ian Mond
[9] Mike Montfort
[10] Jonn Elledge
[11] SK
[12] Paul Ebbs
[13] Mags Halliday
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Friday, May 16, 2008

Mucho Astonishing Muto

This is genius, plain and simple. Thanks to Mark for the heads up.


MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

To the Doctor - a Daughter!

I'm sorely tempted not to bother saying anything about The Doctor's Daughter, but instead just post a handful of spoof Doctor Who spin-offs. That seems both less painful for me and perfectly appropriate given the conclusion of this truly dire story.

But if I don't vent even a little then I'll end up with some kind of televisual reflux and be throwing up little bits of bad dialogue and snippets of wooden acting into my mouth for days.

So I'll try to think of some good points first...
  1. I liked the scene with Donna's womanly wiles being downplayed. It made the Doctor look like a prat again by having him tell his mate she's a boiler and by having him happy to pimp his daughter to any passing soldier, but at least it brought a smile to my face.
  2. Jenny saying the Sonic Screwdriver was a weapon and the Doctor denying it adds weight to my personal theory that the screwdriver/weapon debate is important this season (though since that point has been hammered home with all the subtlety of a Pro-Life placard it's hardly a boast to claim that as a 'personal theory')
  3. The scene where Jenny's two hearts are discovered would have been quite nice had it not been for Murray 'Bleeding Obvious' Gold's score skittering all over it.
  4. That's it for the positive.
Negatives, then. Hmm, where to start...

  1. It looked awful. The Hath resembled nothing so much as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers baddies. The sets were cheap looking even by 1970s Who standards. But winner of worst non-acting and non-story moment is the shot of Martha and one of the Hath when they first go onto the planet surface - do you remember the matting shot in Caves of Androzani? The really crap one that the Restoration Team fixed for the dvd release? Yeah well, that original shot was WETA level cgi magic compared to the Knightmare standard seen here.
  2. Freema Agyeman as Martha. At first I thought it was because she's playing alongside the majestic Catherine Tate, but now I just think she's rubbish. Her 'My name is Martha Jones and who the hell are you?' speech might be the worst bit of acting on Who since Joan Sims played Katryca in The Mysterious Planet.
  3. The Doctor's journey (it 'changes everything' according to writer Stephen Greenhorn, but he created the River City so cannot be trusted with anything). Ah yes, that'll be the journey from here to just over there. Actually, maybe not as far as all the way over there. More like from here to the fridge (you have to be me, sitting in the kitchen as I am, reaching out to get a beer from the fridge to get the full impact of my withering sarcasm there).
  4. The lazy-to-the-point-of-coma science. This doesn't usually bother me - the series is based on a near immortal man travelling through time in a police box after all - but when the clone isn't a clone at all but someone abit like the donor and appears fully clothed; when the terraforming machine appears to be a special gas that brings people back to life; and when a war lasting seven days is one which has gone on for 'generations' even though at least one person is clearly many years older than that - well, a line has to be drawn somewhere. And in this case that line is so far behind Greenhorn's script that I suspect he'll need the Very Large Telescope to see it.
  5. Everything else which wasn't Catherine Tate (compare her delivery of the line about the
    'outrageous amount of running' involved in being with the Doctor with any line by Agyeman to remind yourself what genuine acting looks like.)
  6. Especially the spin-off set-up which was Moffet's gung-ho, 'I'm off to the stars' final speech (Steven Moffat's idea seemingly, the complete arse).
Actually, for all that I don't like Gridlock I wasn't surprised (IIRC) that some people liked it. But I'm gobsmacked anyone thought that either the ludicrous 'GI Joe versus The Baddies from the Power Rangers' or Georgia Moffat as the Doctor's Spin-Off was anything above lacklustre, shoddy and shit.

Oh - and some suggested spin-offs for Cardiff to consider, as promised back at the top of the page.

Doctor Who Kids: A seven year old Doctor and his team of Gallifreyan Rug Rats solve a series of mysteries involving dodgy Castellans pretending to be ghosts and projecting giant pirates onto the river to hide their smuggling activites. Cartoon, 2 x 15 minute per episode.

Dixon of Doctor Green: The TARDIS turns into a normal police box and, through a series of unlikely co-incidences including his ability to survive death, the Doctor is mistaken for PC George Dixon, a job he fills for many, many years of pretty dull crime fighting. Black and White. 30 minute episodes.

Fonzie and the Doctor Who Gang: Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days is accidentally cryogenically frozen and is revived in the year Seven Apple Condom Fourteen. Soon he's involved in wacky high-jinks and motorcycle related mayhem alongside his henchcreatures, Cassandra and the Face of Boe. Color. 22 minutes episodes plus adverts.

Other reviews worth reading: Rob, Simon, Louise, Daniel, Kelly and Tim
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Monday, May 05, 2008

Sex, Lies and the Potato Men

Does it count as actual praise to say that the 'Sontaran Strategy/Poison Sky' two parter was the best of the kid-friendly double episodes which traditionally fill this spot in a season of New Who? Is it praise of any type to say 'that was better than Rise of the Cybermen'? Should it simply be taken as read that anything - even a script written in his own faeces by a lobotomised Welshmen using his palm as a pen - is better than Evolution of the Daleks? No farting aliens and Scooby Doo chases? Automatically more interesting than any story featuring the Slitheen.

So I'm not really showering this latest Helen 'Daleks in Manhatten' Raynor script with garlands and bouquets by comparing it to its predecessors. It is a better stab at a pre-teen Who adventure than the three previous attempts in that it's not actually dreadful, but it's not really good either. The plot has just as many holes as usual, the resolution is nonsensical, Martha's clone is a tired idea handled badly, the kid genius is both poorly written and acted, his team of super clever kids seem tacked onto the plot just to fill in a couple of minutes of running time (as do some of the scenes of Donna in the Sontaran spaceship), the Sontaran weakness in the face of bullets suggests their armour is a bit crap, and Freema the Plank gets screen time which should rightfully be the mighty Ms Tate's.

But even with all of that there's a lot less wrong here than in the three preceeding early two part stories. More importantly though the script actually contains layers and a degree of subtlety that you would never previously have given Raynor credit for*.

On the surface level, the entire story can be summed up in a dozen words - Sontarans poison earth, get shot, Martha cloned, kid sacrifices himself, earth saved - and it's tempting to accept that that's all there is going on. After all, Raynor's script in an identical slot last year was the absolute low-point of New Who and would rank in the bottom half dozen Who stories ever.

But if you give the writer the benefit of the doubt, you can view the entire story as the point at which the show began moving towards the Doctor finally getting some payback for his overweening arrogance and hubris.

I can never remember a period in Doctor Who, even in Colin Baker's first year, in which the Doctor was so obviously a bit of an arsehole. Certainly I can think of no single story in which he was guilty of so much misplaced arrogance, inappropriate intellectual superiority, possible physical cowardice and sheer stupidity as here.

Most obviously, the Doctor spent all of the first episode and the first half of the second lambasting Colonel Mace and his troops, and battering on interminably about the fact that there was no way UNIT could fight the Sontarans. When Mace decides to ignore the Doctor, he successfully overcomes the Sontaran force, including killing the Sontar second in command personally. It's difficult to read this sequence of events as anything other than the writer rejecting the Doctor's arrogant assumption of superiority.

The other glaring, though less clearcut, example of the Doctor failing to live up to expectations comes right at the end of The Poison Sky. The Doctor is on the Sontaran battleship with a Prime Plot McGuffin Bomb in his hands and is threatening to blow up both the Sontarans and himself if they don't agree to his demands. The Sontarans (predictably) refuse and tell him to blow them all up, see if they care.

And the Doctor doesn't do it.

You can see Tennant bursting a blood vessel as he acts his little socks off trying to suggest that the Doctor's hesitation is because he doesn't want to kill the Sontarans, but to me at least it's obvious the Doctor's bluffing. The fact that Tennant fails to convince with his reading reinforces the belief that the writer intended the Doctor to seem too scared to kill himself and that's exactly what comes across on screen.

The clock ticks down and the Doctor appeals, more and more desperately, for Staal to surrender until - with only a couple of seconds left and the Doctor showing no sign of pressing the button - the badly acted genius kid redeems himself by beaming in in place of the Doctor and immediately pushing the button.

Redeemed kid dead but planet saved and everyone happy.

It's a Who cliche, but the fact that the Doctor seemed so hesitant to make the sacrifice himself is new and something which it might be interesting to follow up on. Perhaps as last of the Time Lords, and having watched the Master die, the Doctor feels a new and added pressure to survive: as the only one of his species in the Universe, he has a duty to go on?

Or having apparently discovered the joy of sex in the past couple of years, he's realised that there's more to life than getting blown to smithereens for a load of ungrateful humans?

Other minor bits of Doctorly stupidity? Sending Donna to hide in the TARDIS for no reason other than plot convenience. Tortuously explaining the mobile phone to Donna whilst talking to Staal, when he intended to ring it later. The Doctor not noticing the hardly subliminal appearance of Rose on a UNIT monitor. Knowing about Martha's clone and happily leaving the real Martha in danger for no terribly convincing reason (nice to know that the Doctor doesn't consider clones to be real people either and so kills them without a second thought or any attempt to find a better solution).

All in all, the Tenth Doctor is becoming less and less appealing. With that in mind, his comeuppance is overdue and if this two parter is the beginning of his end then I'm not going to complain.

* No doubt someone will claim Saint Rusty wrote those bits.
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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Intermission: The Pottery Wheel*

In lieu of a review of this week's Doctor Who (I'm going to do it as a complete two-parter next week), some mini-music reviews, mainly consisting of comparisons to other bands and disparaging remarks about how the originals were much better.

The Age of the Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets

A first solo(ish) project from Alex of the Arctic Monkeys, in collaboration with a guy from some band called The Rascals, this album is designed from the outset to distance itself from the Monkeys. What this means is that the killer riffs and clever lyrics of the first Monkeys' album is replaced by an almost lounge sound, full of acoustic guitar, piano and languid vocals. At first I was inclined to file it alongside Richard Hawley, then I shoved it up a grade or two to the realms of the mighty Scott Walker which, after a few more listens, is obviously insane.

Then, quite separately, both Mags and Scott pointed out the obvious - it's Marc Almond in his strings period, all lush backing and sub torch song vocals. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's an unexpected direction for the boy Alex to take and one where he's in danger of failing to live up to similar sounds from those who've come before.

Just a Little Lovin' - Shelby Lynne

A popular female country singer doing an album of Dusty Springfield covers. If ever an album had 'sure fire success' success stamped all over it, surely this was it? And in the hands of a Lucinda Williams it would have been - full of big, powerful vocals sung over countrified backing, with the pop sound of the Dusty originals replaced by steel guitars and a bit of funky banjo. Instead of that, however, we get Shelby Lynne turning some of the most energetic and vital melodies of the last fifty years into hushed, sepulchral ballads. All the passion and power has been removed along with every scrap of fun from Dusty's versions, and all that's left is spare, bare songs devoid of all purpose and impact and destined to be forever relegated to background music.

Disappointing.

Songs in A&E - Spiritualized

You like Spacemen 3?

You prefer the tracks which are actually songs as opposed to Sonic Boom recording the sound of water dripping in a metal basin and then taping down the B3 key on his Hammond organ, before looping the dripping water interminably?

You even have the first couple of Spiritualized albums and listen to them a lot?

Good, because that's fine, fine music.

Stick with that and forget Spiritualized still exist, though: unless you're a bigger fan of 13 period Blur than you ever were of Spacemen 3, you won't be interested in this album. Because that's exactly what it sounds like, even down to the whiny, effects distorted vocals. It's a decent enough record, but not what I expected from Spiritualized - give the single a listen before you buy, I'd recommend.

Replica Sun Machine - The Shortwave Set

Unassuming and pleasant pop sound which completely fails to grasp the attention in any meaningful way. This is exactly the kind of cd which will disappear as soon as you put it alongside the rest of your cds, and which you will never be listen to or think about ever again.

Safe Inside the Day - Baby Dee

Saving the best until last. Hard to describe but 'Tom Waits meets Ethel Merman' is the best attempt I've heard. 'Hymns, dirges and Shirley Temple songs', as Baby Dee puts it. Go out and buy this album now - the title track in particular is a contender for song of the year.

* Worst blog post title ever?

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