Sherlock Series Three Episode Two – The Sign of Three

The middle episode of the latest Sherlock series. I entered this episode thinking, “you know what I’d really like? I’d like a more cheerful episode for a change. It’s Watson’s wedding and every episode so far (presumably because there are only three per series so showrunners, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat want to make each one into a huge event) has been huge in terms of virtually everything – high stakes, huge amounts of drama and emotion, heart-wrenching, daring, constant action and pace. It’s great. But wouldn’t it be nice, just for once to have a bit of a more light-hearted break with less of a huge dramatic case, I mean we don’t want to ruin the wedding. Of course it’s a useless wish, that will never happen.” How wrong I was. My hopes were fulfilled. This was the most cheerful and amusing episode of the show yet and it worked really well in that respect! Of course it had a complicated (and well devised) case, and a murder and such like, but it was presented in such a way that was, for the most part, gripping, entertaining and didn’t spoil the Watsons’ wedding… just their reception.

The opening (with Dark Knight-esque clown-masked bank robbers) was unfortunately irrelevant to the rest of the episode but it was nice to see a return of Donovan (Vinette Robinson) and very cute that Lestrade (Rupert Graves) cares more about Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) than his job… or perhaps Sherlock is just more valuable to his job than the big case. Sherlock’s Best Man speech is perfect, being both brilliantly funny and incredibly touching, Cumberbatch even appearing to be on the verge of tears! A really amazing blend or comedy and emotion, and one of the show’s best moments thus far. Furthermore the frequent flashbacks were slightly annoying but their humour forgives that, particularly in Sherlock’s reaction to Watson asking him to be Best Man.

Martin Freeman (John Watson) has got back up to his usual standard after the last episode, and of course Cumberbatch is excellent as always, particularly in his jealousy of Sholto, and thankfully with a slightly more realistic misunderstanding of human nature this time. Alistair Petrie (James Sholto) was also brilliant, though his introductory shot seemed unnecessarily long seeing as nobody had a clue who his character was. There were some great cameos from Alfie Enoch (Bainbridge), Oliver Lansley (David), Ed Birch (Tom, whom I predict to be a villain) and Jalaal Hartley (the photographer, who, I might brag, I predicted to be important to the case after he was introduced). Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan) is clearly a more than competent actor, but her character seriously lacks development, which is a shame as I will more than likely lack much investment in her when she dies next episode! (Don’t fret, it’s merely a prediction of mine. One that will be right.)

Unfortunately, while much of this episode is great, there was one huge fatal flaw: It also happened to include the worst, dullest scene in the show’s history. I am of course referring to the drunk Watson and Holmes (in itself rather out of character). Their pub crawl was amusing, though the dubstep arrangement of David Arnold’s signature tune was dreadful. Following that, the scene in their home was frankly a huge drag. I would have thought the opportunity to make the two leads drunk would be a great one, but it was clearly misused as the whole thing was tedious and irritating, perhaps except Freeman’s comic timing. It slightly improved on relocating to Tessa’s apartment, but really I was very relieved to see them sobered up. And it was soon made up for by Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs)’s hilarious backstory.

Finally, apart from the dreaded drunken scene, Steve Thompson’s script was otherwise brilliant. It would have been nice to see some of the wedding service but I see why it wouldn’t have suited the episode, nor the character of Sherlock. Some of Scott Hinchcliffe’s editing seemed a little sea-sickening but the episode’s format and Colm McCarthy’s direction of the chatroom scene made up for that, making the most of Alice Lowe (Tessa)’s acting talent and of course bringing the exciting return of Irene Adler (Lara Pulver)! Over all it’s a very original and lovely episode, with some lovely touches such as Sherlock’s composition for the wedding and that Watson replaces Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) as the voice of reason for Sherlock’s deductions. Perhaps without the hideous drunken scene it would have been virtually perfect, but alas, that is yet to arise! Perhaps in episode three…

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Doctor Who: Slipback

Writer: Eric Saward

Producer: Paul Spencer

 

Slipback is a Sixth Doctor Doctor Who audio play of six short parts, that sees the Docto (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) on a starship against a computer with dual personalities. And it’s pretty darn good… once you again get past Bryant’s awful attempt at an American accent!

The opening is intriguing and comedic and the pace is kept well at least at first, though perhaps the story would benefit from fewer and longer episodes. Bryant’s acting is questionable but Baker’s is positive and Jane Carr (Computer) by far steals the show with spectacular presentation of both personalities, comedy and drama. The concept is a good one, though suspiciously similar to that of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, great in general but they have so much in common that one does begin to wonder… It does also strike me that every episode of every Who audio drama seems to end in much the same way, with a threat and/or a scream, but as this is only the second original Who audioplay ever released, I suppose one can’t complain in this case. The final episode sees a very bizarre and somewhat anti-climatic, but unusual and somehow satisfying ending and on the whole, for a format that’s only just getting on its feet, it’s really not too shabby.

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January 5, 2014 · 11:00 PM

Exploration Earth Episode Three – The Time Machine

Writer: Bernard Venables

Producer: David Little

Exploration Earth was an education BBC radio programme designed to teach students about geography. The third episode, The Time Machine took the form of a brief Doctor Who adventure, where the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) involuntarily travel in the T.A.R.D.I.S back in time to various stages of planet Earth’s early development. Obviously it’s a unique and slightly odd Who story, being so short and designed for basic education, but on the whole it is reasonably well-made, considering that it is the first ever original Who audio drama.

Unsurprisingly the script is poor and contrived but that can be forgiven. Less forgivable are the bizarre, random excerpts of music and/or sound effects (Dick Mills) and the silly, simple and unexplained concept of a ‘telepathic battle’ between the Doctor and the Megron (John Westbrook), inserted basically for the sake of giving the piece a villain, which of course presents the issue of how to get rid of him again. Nonetheless the general concept of chaos gradually forming order makes a basic but very successful storyline for an educational episode. Perhaps more surprising still is the quality of the acting! None of the three actors seem to put in any less effort for the small restricted target audience and they come off very well in audio – yet it was Baker’s last audio appearance as the Doctor for decades! If indeed it is still (or ever has been) on sale as an individual episode, it is not exactly worth paying for (unless of course it is for the educational purpose for which it was made), but for what it is I was pleasantly surprised.

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January 4, 2014 · 10:56 PM

Once at the Phoenix Theatre, London (3rd January 2014)

 

This musical truly is unique. Firstly ‘musical’ seems the wrong term. But so does ‘play with songs’. It’s difficult to define but it is really beautiful. Half an hour before the official curtain up time, what is for some the highlight of the performance takes place. Anyone in the audience can go onstage, where they are soon joined by the whole cast, which comes on and has a bit of a ‘folk jamming session’ with their various instruments (guitars, banjos, pianos, accordions, drums, cellos, violins, ukuleles etc). It’s a great way of giving each cast member something to sing even if they don’t have anything written into the show itself, avoiding the existence of any ‘unsung heroes’ within the cast (though if there is one, it would have to be Jamie Cameron). The show itself is a tale of two amateur but brilliant musicians in separate failing relationships, who meet and fall in  love. It was originally a film, but one should not allow their opinion of the film to influence their expectations of the show – they’re very different spectacles. Admittedly the show loses some of the film’s subtlety, but in every other respect it is scores ahead. It is surprisingly comedic but also beautifully melancholy, blending some amount of appropriate theatrical cliche with some completely unique aspects. The cast, when not involved in a scene, seat themselves around the periphery of the stage, playing their respective instruments to back some of the songs and accompany the smooth Berkovian transitions. The musical talent really is extensive.

But this is not the only high point. The walls of the performance space are covered in individual framed mirrors, so that each musician cum actor can see each other, and so the audience can watch both the pianist’s face and her playing, all remarkably without any lights reflecting into the audience’s eyes. Lighting (Natasha Katz) is also well utilised and Enda Walsh’s script is excellent and well paced with John Tiffany’s direction. Finally the individual performances are believable and engaging (something the film is perhaps not so great at). Declan Bennett (Guy) has a beautifully smooth voice and a gorgeous Irish accent, and in the particular performance I saw managed to cope and cover very well when he got so into one song that one string broke from his guitar! But the pinnacle of talent in this performance is of course Zrinka Cvitesic (Girl), who encaptured both the comedy and the emotion perfectly along with a spectacular speaking and singing voice. Her performance alone completely made this viewing for me, and all in all I highly recommend this show. Just don’t expect a happy-clappy ending.

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Sherlock Series Three Episode One – The Empty Hearse

 

I shan’t lie to you. I had been concerned, and still am concerned, about the long term future of Sherlock. I’ll probably get shot down but I simply don’t think it can keep up its winning streak as the pinnacle of brilliant British television, especially after the Christmas mini-episode, Many Happy Returns. In my opinion Series Two was not up to the standard of Series One, and yesterday’s episode was not quite at the standard of Series Two. The digression is marginal each time but I believe by the fifth or sixth series, should show-runners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss choose to continue it for that long, it will not be the spectacular series we’ve seen thus far. Nonetheless, the first episode of the new series, The Empty Hearse was better than I expected. The acting was great, the score was brilliant, the cinematography was sharp and smooth, and the writing was splendid. Not only is it Gatiss’ finest script in any series, but it’s honestly the first one that I’ve really liked! Who knew he’d be so good with comedic aspects? While one gets the impression that Derren Brown might become an irritating running joke between Sherlock and Doctor Who much like Twitter, his insertion was amusing to break the assumption that Anderson (Jonathan Aris)’s explanation of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s survival was true (though in all honesty I much prefer Anderson’s version of events (minus the kiss and Derren Brown) to Sherlock’s later account. It also disappointed me that the public’s view on Sherlock as a fraud didn’t last very long at all in viewers’ terms. Similarly it seemed bizarre that despite his celebrity status in London, nobody recognised him undisguised in the restaurant, pre-reunion (which, while I’m complaining, I thought was a little too Doctor-esque, with his complete misunderstanding of human nature – I’m getting more and more concerned about Moffat blending the two shows into one).  But on to the good points…

Jeremy Lovering’s direction combined beautifully with Steve Lawes’ cinematography, and of course the acting (arguably and uncommonly the most consistently good aspect of the series) was more than up to scratch, particularly from Cumberbatch, Aris, Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson) and Rupert Graves (Lestrade). Gatiss’ portrayal of Mycroft Holmes was also of a higher standard than previously, the whole cast supported well by Louise Brealey (Molly Hooper), Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan) and a gorgeously funny cameo from Andrew Scott (James Moriarty). I did think that Martin Freeman (John Watson) wasn’t exactly up to his usual standard, but I’ll pass by that quickly in case of being massacred. Particular highlights include the Holmes brothers’ child-like competition, the Kiss That Wasn’t between Moriarty and Sherlock, and the scene in the restaurant with Cumberbatch’s spectacularly false French accent, along with the sequence switching between Watson’s patients – particularly the DVD-seller that harks excellently back to the original story by Arthur Conan Doyle on which this episode was based, The Adventure of the Empty House - and Sherlock’s investigations with Molly. And of course the line, “I like trains.”

I love the parody of television cliches, such as never calling the police and there not being an off switch on a bomb, as well as Anderson’s representation of the Sherlock fandom as a whole, and the brilliant Les Miserables moment at the end. Overall it was a little confusing and muddled, with some minor pace issues in places, and it did unfortunately fail to induce any emotional investment within me at all during the ‘sad’ moments. This is however, although something the show normally does well, possibly the most difficult thing for a show to do (particularly for me, I am known by some as an emotionless Cyberman). And it must be said that it built the tension excellently. My faith in Sherlock has been extended, though not permanently, and this episode didn’t exactly hold the perfection of the first series, but it was still great and I shall stand by Moffat yet.

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Stillleben (2012, Austria/2013, UK)

I haven’t seen many foreign films. And after this one, I doubt people would be surprised if I didn’t want to see any more! Not to say it’s bad, but thematically and stylistically it’s incredibly different from anything British or indeed American, that I have seen. Stillleben (German for ‘Still Life’) is a new very artistic film about pedophilia by Austrian director Sebastian Meise. It depicts the story of a young man (Bernhard, played by Christoph Luser) observing his sister (Lydia, played by Daniela Golpashin)’s discovery that their father (Fritz Hoertenhuber) has had a long standing attraction to her, and controversially discusses the issue of whether pedophilia (as opposed to pedosexuality) is a crime, if it is never physically acted on. An intriguing point that disconcertingly harks back to the first defenders of homosexuality, saying it ought not to be considered a sin if no sexual act is had and it is purely a desire. But, on to the film…

The title is an interesting one, referring both to the stasis in which the main family stands (the father never once says a word), and the photographs of Lydia as a child, discovered by her and Bernhard, over which the father chooses to masturbate. It is also however a reference to the pace and style of the film. It is a deliberately slow piece, beginning with a single shot of the father’s workshop for probably over a minute, and multiple other extended silences and simple still shots. The audience is also put largely as a ‘still’ voyeur to the action, with the camera often completely stationary and the action happening around it, sometimes passing partially out of view, so we only see a restricted view of one person’s objective perspective. This was original but the distance created between viewer and ‘action’ was actually nicer than I anticipated and the very slow pace worked surprisingly well, though really the film could have done with a more developed storyline, it was all overly simple, and that would be my main criticism.

The acting is of a very high standard, particularly Hoertenhuber’s, despite his muteness. The whole thing also looks great, not only stylistically but purely in terms of location, with the beautiful scenery of Austria juxtaposing sharply with the grim atmosphere of the whole piece, which admittedly is void of light moments. On the whole it was a very honest, believable and thought-provoking piece, made in what I see as a very original way (though perhaps all Austrian films are that slow??). The idea of pedophilia within a family is rarely considered so it was brave of Meise to tackle it and he did so in an inspiring and mature way – mature in that it is nice to see a film discussing sexual themes without feeling the need to include nudity! While it’s like nothing else and I can see why a large number of people may dislike it, it is an intriguing piece and did make me want to look more into Austrian film to see if it’s always as serious, artistic and controversial…

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The Silurian Gift by Mike Tucker

Yes, it’s a book written for eight year olds. Who cares, it’s Doctor Who, it deserves recognition.
And actually, to my surprise, it really is. The story tells of the Doctor going to a refinery for some magnificent new fuel in the Antarctic, only to discover awakening homo reptilia of more than one variety! Bearing in mind it’s written for children, it’s really not that bad. The varying perspectives are well written with smooth, subtle but uncomplicated transitions, and keep the pace going well.

The opening is appropriately gripping and the Eleventh Doctor is well mimicked. I was surprised by some language I would have thought over-complicated for the target audience – do eight year olds really understand the world’s need for new fuels and even know what a refinery is? It is also written very cinematically and would transfer well to television – better than the Big Finish audio dramas to which I have recently been listening. The character of Lizzie makes a good companion and it is well presented to have two separate groups of antagonists, perhaps what keeps the action from dropping so well. Finally I was enthralled by the appearance of both Sea Devils and Myrka! One does not expect exclusively classic Who aliens to appear in modern children’s fiction, and yet relatively obscure ones did, and very well too, with the Silurian’s speech syntax being particularly fitting. I was overall impressed with this and my estimations of Doctor Who children’s books has increased greatly.

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Filed under Book, Novel

I Appear to Have Won an Award!

The Versatile Blogger Award “recognises the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered and the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page” that gets awarded to bloggers throughout the world of WordPress who are nominated (by other bloggers) as people who fit these criteria. I have, most generously, been nominated by the brilliant Critical Dan4th. Many thanks to both him and those that take their time to read my unorganised and uninformed opinions on things.

As a winner of the award I am asked to nominate fifteen other blogs for the award, and I strongly urge you to take a look at each of them. They are:

http://theverybesttop10.com

http://carrieslager.wordpress.com

http://daveexaminesmovies.com

http://thebookwurrm.wordpress.com

http://charlottehoatherblog.com

http://timsfilmreviews.com

http://mrrumsey.wordpress.com

http://gcaggiano.wordpress.com

http://drowninmelancholy.wordpress.com

http://thecinemamonster.com

http://vinnieh.wordpress.com

http://cinematicfilmblog.com

http://fastfilmreviews.com

http://sfoxwriting.com

and finally, though it is not on wordpress and so not really eligible for the award, I just think you would do well to check it out – http://lifeastoldbymypen.weebly.com

Admittedly it happens to be my sister’s blog, but I am not simply recommending it for that reason, it includes some genuinely brilliant pieces of creative writing of all sorts, that has really not had sufficient acknowledgment from the public as yet, so do check that out!

In addition:

http://criticaldan4th.wordpress.com – my nominator, who writes excellent analyses on various literature

http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com – Information regarding the Award

Finally, I am obliged to come up with seven facts about myself for your entertainment, so without further ado…

1) I have a great passion for the theatre. Roughly 85% of my free time is spent rehearsing for various productions

2) I envy film buffs and intellectuals. Part of the reason this blog was set up, I want to get ‘up to scratch on the world’s media of entertainment.

3) I am a huge Doctor Who fan. In case you hadn’t guessed from the last week’s posts. I have a vague unreachable ambition to experience every Who story – audio drama, television episode, novel, comic strip and video game – in existence. Of course it will never happen but it’s fun to build up the collection!

4) I have a fear of Giant Jenga. Due to a traumatic experience as a child, it genuinely terrifies me.

5) I once spent an entire day wandering around a village in Dorset painted blue and dressed as a smurf.

6) I am one third of a vocal trio known as Rule of Three that performs songs of various genres in and around Essex.

7) I have a small desire to be Hugh Laurie. And that is that.

Thank you, Dan4th, and thank you all you readers!

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Doctor Who – 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men

I liked this audioplay. I liked it because of the very unique subject it explores. The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) takes Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) to see the Beatles perform in 1963 but for some reason history is different, the Beatles are barely known and in their place is a not very convincingly scouse band called the Common Men. Among other things this is great because it looks at the general concept of fandom and ‘fangirling’ both humorously but darkly, suggesting that there is only a very fine line between the over-the-top obsession of fans with phenomena such as the Beatles, and mindless idolatry – an intriguing issue put forward by writer Eddie Robson.

The opening to this story, while slightly bewildering, is great – Peter Davison is great (though he does admittedly sound much older than he did ‘in his prime’) and the one off cast of Mitch Benn (Mark Carville), Andrew Knott (James O’Meara) and David Dobson (Korky Goldsmith) carry it along well, once one gets over the dire Liverpudlian accents. The other key characters here are Rita (Alison Thea-Skot) and Sadie (Alison Thea-Skot). Now the eagle-eyed among you will notice that these two roles are in fact played by the same person. This was a piece of information that shocked me after I listened to the whole play, because I had already decided that I was not a big fan of Rita’s acting, but did quite like Sadie’s. Just goes to show I know nothing and reviewing is clearly not for me. But we’ll look past that.

The story is paced well but the switching between he different scenes and time settings from the second episode onwards did make it somewhat confusing. When Lenny Kruger (Ryan Sampson) is introduced, you just know that his voice will get annoying, but despite this his part is very well portrayed and I particularly loved that Mark remained scouse even when transformed into his true alien form.

Over all the whole thing is a very interesting idea, presented and structured well, clearly split into set phases, though it did frustrate me that there seemed to be a character threatening to kill at least one protagonist at the end of each episode; they were very similar cliff-hangers that weren’t very enticing after the first. Nevertheless it’s a nice addition to the 50th anniversary releases.

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Filed under Audio, Audioplay

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

Maybe it’s a bad thing but in all honesty this was my personal highlight of all the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations. Partly because of the brilliant humour and Peter Davison’s excellent writing. And partly because of everyone it included. I mean it really had everyone imaginable and more! All the hosts of ex-companion actresses brought in just to say the word, “Steven”, the use of Janet Fielding (arguably portrayer of the best classic Who companion) to virtually cross over into being Davison’s wife (Elizabeth Morton), and Paul McGann’s willingness to participate in one little scene!

Admittedly it is a shame that Olivia Colman even fails to act well as herself, but that aside, this was brilliant. Sean Pertwee presented simply as ‘just another BBC actor’ despite his connections with the show, Sylvester McCoy’s The Hobbit tshirt and constant references to the franchise, Steven Moffat manipulating tiny figurines of his characters in a beautifully childlike way – I was almost convinced he would make the figurines of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors kiss – and who knew he could act so well?!

Peter Davison is brilliant, his insertion of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here gags and suggestion that the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who being set in the jungle, the bitter idolisation of McGann, his ‘filming commitments’ and his TV-film role as the Eighth Doctor.

The scathing use of the Tom Baker (Jon Culshaw) clip from The Five Doctors (and originally Shada), the incredibly inclusion of Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen of all people, the role of John Barrowman, his horrific secret and his incessant showtunes karoke session.

The insertion of David Tennant and the birth of his son by Georgia Tennant (also producer, just to put the icing on the cake), the use of merchandise costume-imitation tshirts rather than the full genuine costumes, and the Sontaran (Dan Starkey) in a dressing gown.

The references to “the old wobble”, “Sylvester who?” and the “making of documentary”, the Baker family (Colin, Lucy, Lily & Rosie) in the most part reluctantly watching Vengeance on Varos, and the excellent turning down of Russell T Davies and his hilarious plans, despite everything.

As you can tell, I loved The Five(ish) Doctors. It was an absolutely ingenious idea, it was an adorable piece of filming, that was brilliantly done so that I was really left hoping that as much of it as possible was retelling of true events. The only question that remains of course is, Was that really Davison, Baker and McCoy under the sheets in The Day of the Doctor?? Frankly no, but I know I shall forever pretend it was.

Thank you, Peter Davison, for saving the 50th and really making it what it should be.

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