Tuesday, 16 October 2018

If the first episode of any TV series has to hook viewers in, the second has to keep them, to reassure us of the quality and tone we’re in for a whole series of. Which means, going by The Ghost Monument, we’re in for a whole series of sci-fi that’s impressive on the surface but ultimately a bit shit (and isn’t that the opposite of what Doctor Who’s meant to be, I hear you snark).

Ghost Monument does have a lot going for it, not least a cracking premise; sometimes you watch an episode of Who and realise you’ve seen fifty variations on the same plot before, but ‘rally across space’ feels fresh, especially when combined with the cool setting of a planet littered with abandoned weapon designs. It’s also a perfect fit for the show's refreshed, cinematic look, with the South African landscapes and some energetic camerawork (director Mark Tonderai is a camera operator himself, as evidenced by the fluid tracking shots around the crashing spaceships, so good they're practically showing off), really adding a visual panache befitting of the standards Netflix, HBO and co. have led us to hold for a 'quality' TV show in 2018.

If only that was enough to make up for the numerous things about this episode that don’t work. Worryingly, it mostly comes down to the script from new showrunner Chris Chibnall. At least when Steven Moffat was crap, it was in ways you could get angry about. Crap Chibnall is just disappointing. For starters, that setting becomes less cool when you realise that all the weapons are either, like the episode itself, good ideas executed badly, or just complete crap. The flesh-eating water – goes nowhere, a set-up without a pay-off. The robots – men in suits, after we had a man in suit villain last week; described as snipers but worse shots than stormtroopers; oddly static and defeated by an inexplicably convenient EMP. The bits of rag – original at least, but the climax falls flat because they just fly around not attacking anyone.

And then there’s clunkers like the heavy signposting of the cigar, the even heavier arc drop of whatever this ‘Timeless Child’ bollocks is, and the lack of point to the rally – surely a sport needs more than one spectator? It’s thin, first draft writing.

Jodie Whittaker does continue to be fun to watch as she grows her incarnation of the Doctor. I’ve realised since writing last week’s review that she seems to be stronger in the more compassionate, lower key moments, such as the conversation after the funeral, and in the matey, slightly daft humour (again evident in this episode – “It is all that!”) but not quite as confident when it comes to dramatic monologuing at aliens. The true art of playing Doctor Who is being able to defeat some bits of cloth by chucking a fag at them, and somehow making it as exciting as the Death Star trench run; Peter Capaldi or Matt Smith might have been able to pull this off, but I’m not convinced Whittaker’s there yet. Perhaps the writing will develop to match her strengths as her time in the role goes on.

Ryan and Graham get some nice development (though again this is tarred by odd writing – the thing about him struggling with ladders might work if we actually saw him on either of the ladders rather than just talking about them). Yaz still hasn’t done much.

Looking back on this review, it reads as if I really disliked The Ghost Monument. But I didn’t. I enjoyed it. There’s nothing majorly wrong with this episode, it’s a finely entertaining piece of TV, but there are lots of little things wrong with it, which is frustrating, as it could be so much better. Here’s to eight more weeks of "at least it's not Twice Upon A Time".

(I am optimistic for next week’s though, as Malorie Blackman could be a superb guest writer.)

Oh, and the new TARDIS set. Hmm. Going back to a layout similar to Eccleston and Tennant’s feels like a regression from the more three-dimensional sets Smith and Capaldi had to play with, the colours are a bit much and the big coral rock things are ugly. I like the custard cream dispenser, though.

  1. The Woman Who Fell to Earth
  2. The Ghost Monument

Monday, 8 October 2018

Every new Doctor Who has a moment where they fully become the iconic hero, casting aside any doubts about their casting. For Matt Smith, it was striding across a hospital rooftop, literally emerging from an image of his past selves, to confront the Atraxi. David Tennant’s involved a satsuma and a swordfight. And with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, it was the moment she looked a vicious alien warrior in the face and declared “Tim Shaw is a big blue shit.”

“Yes”, I thought, “this is the Doctor. This incarnation has no time for any nonsense, whether it’s Predator wannabes running rampant through Yorkshire or silly rules about what words you’re allowed to say on family television.” And then I realised she had in fact said ‘cheat’.

That misunderstanding aside, I hope anyone who had any doubts about Whittaker’s casting feels they’re assuaged. Right off the bat, both actor and writer seem confident in the character, comfortably balancing her sci-fi exposition with a refusal to take it too seriously (the ‘Tim Shaw’ joke fits into a long tradition of Doctor Who lampooning the pomposity of its own genre), and balancing the Doctor’s control of the room with her compassion for everyone in it; this is a Doctor who apologises for leading her new ‘friends’ into having to see Rahul's corpse and who sticks around for Grace's funeral – perhaps a deliberate attempt to skew away from the common (and sometimes fair) criticism of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor as too distanced.

Introducing the Doctor was just a quarter of this episode’s main job, as it also had three companions friends to show off. In what seems so far one of the bigger differences between Chibnall’s approach and that of former showrunner Steven Moffat, the episode seemed equally interested in all its characters, with the opening act setting up backstory and embedding them in a world and problems that feel tangible and believable. Ryan and Graham certainly have an interesting dynamic and lots of potential to develop across the series; Yas felt sidelined after the opening act, but hopefully will get fleshed out in the episodes to come.

In fact, Chibnall's tone seems more grounded and human overall than Moffat's. Tzim-Sha has a backstory and a culture too – something very rarely given to villains in the Moffat era. Side characters like garage owner Rahul and unfairly targeted Carl have properly worked out motivation. Even the setting of Sheffield is lent a truthfulness by its specificity; Series 10’s Earth-set episodes were allegedly set in Bristol, but put so little effort into showing us this, that a lot of viewers probably didn’t even realise it wasn't the 'default' of London, whereas here we have wide shots composed to show off the landscapes, a sonic screwdriver made of Sheffield steel, and enough Yorkshire accents to have American viewers reaching for the subtitle button.

I’ve barely touched upon the plot, which is probably fair, as the episode deliberately went for a low-key and generic approach in order to focus on its characters. It's certainly refreshing to be away from the often smugly complicated plotting of the Moffat years (while I wan't the strongest critic of this, I've heard a lot of people say it's what made them stop watching), though it perhaps goes a bit too low-key and generic. Tim Shaw and his ball of electrified string are hardly going to go down as one of Doctor Who’s best villains, and some odd plot beats take the energy from the whole thing: having the Doctor theorise about two alien races at war, only for it to be revealed that they’re on the same side, is lowering the stakes when they should be being raised; and all the business about Ryan having touched the portal to let the alien through neither adds anything to the character drama nor makes any logical sense from the Stenza’s perspective, so it would actually benefit the episode for this to be cut completely. The finale on the cranes has half of a superb set piece – the Doctor’s confrontation with the villain looks and feels spectacular – and half of a muddled one – the companions' roles in it don’t play to their individual strengths and could be swapped around without any change.

So overall, I don’t think The Woman Who Fell to Earth is a brilliant episode – yes, even despite the title referencing a Bowie movie. I’m not even sure it’s as good as The Pilot, the much pacier first episode of the previous series. But it does introduce a great new team, who I’m really excited to go on more adventures with, and a very promising tone for the series to come.

The one part of the episode that I did dislike was that ‘Coming Soon’ montage after the credits, the most bizarre bit of TV marketing I’ve seen. Doctor Who episodes are sold, particularly to kids, on the adventure and the aliens; a series of close-ups of human characters is completely missing what makes the show unique. And while Alan Cumming and Julie Hesmondhalgh might bring a few extra viewers, I haven’t even heard of half those names. I just can’t understand the thinking behind it.

Friday, 23 February 2018

On 23.2.18 by KieronMoore in ,    4 comments

Sorry everything's been quiet on the blog front recently, lads. Most of my spare time has been taken over by one project in particular - I'm producing Spectrum, an anthology of LGBTQ-themed short films, all set over one night in Manchester's gay village.

And it's good to be back in the filmmaking saddle. I've not really taken charge of a project like this since Union back in 2013/14. Though I worked in TV and film on and off for the few years after graduating, in between freelance writing gigs, I never fully enjoyed the lifestyle, jumping from job to job and not being passionate about any of them. Plus, I couldn't enjoy my spare time, as jobs could come up at the last minute, even over the weekend, and I'd need to take them in order to pay the bills. So in the middle of last year, I made a change, getting a stable part-time job, one which I enjoy and which keeps my bank balance happy. Plus, I'd now be able to properly enjoy weekends, I thought.

That lasted about a month, at which point I decided to make a film. Bye bye, spare time.

Reading (in the ever-great Starburst... while I was meant to be proofing it) about an anthology horror film composed of interconnected short stories, I had the idea: this, but instead of horror, it's queer stuff.  Because, though there've been a few good gay films recently, there aren't enough bisexual films out there, or lesbian films, or transgender films, so why not gather creatives from this community and help them represent themselves, all in one entertaining package?

I knew that the first person I had to bring on board was my friend, and former university classmate, Abigail, and I was so glad when she agreed to take on this ambitious project with me. In the three months since, we've assembled a brilliant team, got a bunch of scripts in really good shape, and started seriously planning how to make the thing. It's a big job, and already we've had our fair share of stress, but it's that creative kind of stress I've missed from my student filmmaking days.

Plus, we've shot a one-minute short already, as a teaser for the project. Here it is!

We have plenty more films in the pipeline; Spectrum will be half an hour in total, and we're aiming for a 2019 film festival release. I'm excited to share these stories with as wide an audience as we can find. Abigail and I really do care about getting that range of underrepresented queer voices on screen, and doing justice to our diverse team of writers and the community we hope to fairly represent. 

However, we of course need to get funding in place to shoot the rest of the stories. In order to make some of that money, we've launched a crowdfunding campaign.

However much we raise, we will make Spectrum this year. I'm determined about that. I've gone too far to stop. But the more money we have, the better we'll be able to make it.

If you feel like donating, that would be amazing. There's a range of great perks that I hope make it worth your while, not least the fact that any donation of £5 or more gets you a chance to see the finished anthology - that was a decision I was adamant on, as I don't like campaigns where half of the funders don't even get to see the film they're helping make. Give a bit more and you can have some bespoke shot glasses, or a ticket to an exclusive screening.

If you can't donate, please consider sharing the link below and helping spread the word.

Right. I have some casting applications to sort through so should stop waffling.


Friday, 5 January 2018

A round-up of a few reviews I've done recently over at Starburst...

Doctor Who Audios

Thursday, 21 December 2017

There are enough spoiler-free reviews on the internet already. Here's my very spoiler-ridden list of things I thought during and after watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

  • Back in 2015, I really enjoyed The Force Awakens at the time I was watching it, but over time, it dropped in my estimations, largely due to the realisation that it does share a few too many plot points with A New Hope. It's a hit of Star Wars nostalgia, which is perhaps what the brand needed, but fails to add much truly new to that nostalgia. Its main strength, which still holds up, is in the characters of Rey, Finn and Poe, and what Episode VIII needed to do was push those characters, and the series, in new directions. The Last Jedi certainly does that. I feel that, like The Force Awakens, my opinion on it will change over time, but already, it’s going the opposite way to that film - reflecting on it is revealing depths and strengths that can’t be appreciated in a first-watch hit. Ultimately, The Last Jedi is likely to be looked back on as the better film.
  • That said, there are things I’m uncertain on. The storyline of the Resistance fleet being chased across space by the First Order allows for some nice tension, in a manner reminiscent of the brilliant Battlestar Galactica episode 33, but highlights how the two sequel films so far are really unclear about what state the galaxy as a whole is meant to be in. How can the Resistance fleet be so small and unsupported when just a couple of weeks ago in story time, they were linked to a galaxy-wide Republic? What does life on the average planet look like right now? If the FO do hold control, how’d they do that so quick? The small scale of this war jars compared to the presentation of a vast, multicultural galaxy as seen in the rest of the saga, particularly the prequels.
  • But I can forgive flaws in this greater story because it's a narrative that is - unlike the prequels - built on top of strong character arcs. The moment when The Last Jedi completely swept me away was the three-way confrontation in Snoke’s throne room. There are so many good moments in that scene: the genuine uncertainty as to which way Kylo’s going to turn; the punch-the-air moment when he kills Snoke; the ballsiness of killing off the main villain halfway through a trilogy; the gorgeous cinematography of the shot where Rey and Kylo fight the guards back-to-back; wondering who the villain will be now Kylo’s apparently turned good; the heartbreaking realisation that he hasn’t. From that point on, the film really began to surprise and enthrall me.
  • And then there’s the reveal about Rey’s parents, which I'm so glad turned out the way it did. All these silly fanboy theories about her being a Skywalker, Palpatine’s genetic creation, the reincarnation of Boss Nass, etc. are just so inward-looking and naff. Making the story about her overcoming that disappointment and realising that the daughter of junk traders, a true underdog, can be the hero of the galaxy is so much more poignant than any of that. And Adam Driver delivers it in such a beautifully nasty way.
  • Kylo, by the way, is such a good character. Too many blockbusters these days put all the work into their heroes and leave the villains with no characterisation other than a cape and a desire to kill everything. It’s so good to have a villain with psychological depth and tangible motivation, who grows in parallel with the heroes.
  • Going back to that point about underdogs, the final scene is magnificent. It really got to me. (So, who do we reckon Broom Kid’s parents are?)
  • I notice that the people who were angry about Rey being too perfect are now angry about Luke Skywalker not being perfect. And sure, it’s never easy to find out your heroes aren’t, and that we have to hold everyone to account for their mistakes. That brave twist is the heart of the thematic depth which The Last Jedi has and which The Force Awakens does not, and is perhaps the element of The Last Jedi which will, in the long term, see it remembered as one of the greater Star Wars movies.
  • I heard from a couple of people before I saw the film that they felt it has too many jokes. Having seen the film, I cannot begin to understand that criticism. No, it doesn’t. The humour never overshadows the serious dramatic scenes, and when it is there, it’s funny.
  • My favourite laugh out loud moments were the ironing droid and Chewie eating Porg BBQ. The Porgs are reasonably funny, and not in it enough to become annoying.
  • The script is careful to give all of the minor players something both characteristic and useful to do. Like how, near the beginning, Chewie helps Rey get to Luke physically by bashing the door down, while R2 also helps out by playing to Luke's emotions with the Leia hologram. No character is wasted.
  • Except maybe Phasma, who doesn't do much at all.
  • The shot from the Battle of Crait where Poe slides across the salt and smoothly lands in the trench is my new favourite image of Oscar Isaac. And I have a lot of images of Oscar Isaac in my head.
  • I’m not sure about Luke declaring near the end that Rey is a Jedi. Surely the point of all this was that she can move on and create something better than the Jedi?
  • Luke’s death reminded me of the War Doctor’s from Doctor Who. They’ve won the enormous battle and all come out unscathed! Oh, he’s dead now.
  • A point I also made with Rogue One - I want more alien characters with speaking parts. The galaxy feels very human-centric. 
  • The much more important counter-point to that is, as with Rogue One, the human cast is wonderfully diverse.
  • I’m nervous about Episode IX. Partly due to the director’s chair returning to JJ Abrams, who made a good film with The Force Awakens, but one that played it safe, when IX needs to continue the boundary-pushing of this film. And partly because I have no idea how they’ll deal with the Carrie Fisher problem, given that Last Jedi’s ending sets Leia up as a big part of the story to come.
  • Of all the characters who could have had a topless scene, why did it have to be Kylo?

Saturday, 21 October 2017

On 21.10.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    2 comments

I've become a bit lax with posting out links to reviews I've written for Starburst recently, so here's a bunch of 'em, along with some slapdash attempts at micro-reviews to get you in the mood:

Doctor Who Audios
Other Stuff
On 21.10.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

The latest issue of STARBURST Magazine has hit the shops, like Batman might hit an unarmed old woman in one of these dark Zack Snyder takes on your favourite comic book 'heroes'. That's relevant, because it's a Justice League-themed issue.

What you're really gonna buy it for, though, is the feature in which I wank over how great the Coen brothers are for four whole pages. It's a good one. If you like that kind of thing.

Also: my Doctor Who news column, my review of Accent UK's excellent new comic The Lizard, and a letter complaining about my ignorance of 1980s computer culture. You get it all in STARBURST.

Buy it in stores or online!