Friday, 28 April 2017

On 28.4.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

I've written the Paternoster Gang story, titled THE INSCRUTABLE ILLUSIONIST, in the latest issue of Doctor Who Adventures. Because I'm a massive cinema history nerd, it features the Lumiere brothers and explains what really happened in those screenings of The Arrival of a Train...

The story is illustrated by Russ Leach, and the issue also features a new comic strip by Andrew Cartmel.

Get down to the shops now and pick up Doctor Who Adventures #23!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tony Scott is generally associated with his mainstream actioners, from Top Gun to Unstoppable, but his first feature was a much more arthouse affair: The Hunger, an erotic vampire movie which bombed back in 1983 but has since built up a cult following.

It stars Catherine Deneuve as ancient vampire Miriam Blaylock and David Bowie as her husband John. When John begins to age rapidly, Miriam grows attracted to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a scientist studying the causes of ageing, not to find answers but to take her on as a new lover.

This love triangle may be pleasingly unconventional, but it is pretty much all there is going on. Much like Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s often a ponderous movie, with Scott’s staccato cutting between scenes only superficially livening up the pace and failing to mask the scarcity of plot. There are a few sequences when the story begins to grab the attention – John realising he’s beginning to age; Sarah furious at Miriam for poisoning her blood, in what could be interpreted as an AIDS allegory; an energetic final confrontation – but these are bookended by the more plodding sequences.

That said, even the less interesting parts of the story can be a delight to watch, with a gothic class to Stephen Goldblatt’s dark and blue-tinged cinematography, plus three incredible central performances. The Hunger hasn’t aged as poorly as some other films of the period have – it’s just as captivating and as frustrating as ever.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

After The Pilot started off Doctor Who’s current run by shaking off the complex plots and blockbuster stylings of the Steven Moffat era in favour of something more akin to Russell T Davies’ work, Series 10 is continuing that noughties Who feel by taking new companion Bill first to the future, then to the past. This week, we had the trip forward in time, in the form of Smile, by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, a writer who’s only contributed to Who once before, with 2014’s frankly dreadful In the Forest of the Night. Well, Doctor Who’s all about second chances, right?

Smile sees the Doctor take Bill to one of humanity’s first colonies, a gleaming utopia (or so it seems) far out in space. Putting aside any questions about the future timeline of humanity in the Whoniverse (I gave up on trying to make sense of that long ago), the first thing Bill, and indeed the audience, notices is just how gorgeous this place is; the crew’s trip to Valencia to film this was certainly worth the money. Then they notice the Emojibots, cute little things with a habit of turning nasty. Turns out the robots who built the city have misinterpreted their programming, and anyone not happy enough gets offed. 

As Bill and the Doctor explore this colony, the first half hour is... not slow exactly, but relaxed. This actually works to Smile’s advantage – it’s good to spend some time with this new team and get used to their dynamic, while the delight with which Capaldi and Mackie approach their roles is infectious. Bill’s inquisitiveness is helping her stand out as good companion material, though she doesn’t actually do much to move the plot forward. And plus points for the Doctor quoting Bowie.

The story is reminiscent of Seventh Doctor serial The Happiness Patrol, which used a world where happiness is illegal to spin a Thatcherism satire. There’s no such satire here, with Cottrell-Boyce’s tone being, like In the Forest of the Night, more akin to a sci-fi fairytale, which allows for the very Moffat-y gimmick of having to force a smile to trick the Emojibots and for the overly happy ending. This fairytale tone carries over into some of the production design, sometimes a little too much; that room with the corpse on display, and a book of Earth's history next to it for whatever reason, feels oddly twee and out of place. 

The robots themselves are fun, probably particularly so for the kids this series needs to win over, but I can’t help but feel it would be much creepier if the Emojibots themselves could kill people rather than being merely henchmen of a different kind of robot – a messy construction which takes away from the irony of such a cute robot actually being a threat.

Similarly, there are several parts of the episode’s plot that just feel sloppy, most notably the process of the Doctor’s investigation. It’s not clear how he works out that you can get past the Emojibots by pretending to smile. Nor is it clear why he jumps straight to the last resort of blowing the whole city up rather than investigating what’s turning the Vardies bad – particularly weird as he’d just been waxing lyrical about why Bill shouldn’t offend these robots. 

And then, near the end of the episode, he has not one, but two scenes that are presented as big moments of revelation – complete with climactic score and “of course” monologuing – where he doesn’t actually learn much that’s new. “Grief... as a plague!” Erm... I thought we’d all already worked that out. The last one is particularly messy: why does the Vardies reacting to threat mean they’re alive, didn’t we already know they’re alive, and why does realising they’re alive give the Doctor the idea to turn them off and on again? And why hadn’t he had that idea earlier, especially given he’d been going on for most of the episode about a parable which ends with the main character pressing a reset button? Nothing seems to connect, and that seriously hampers the drama of the episode.

Nevertheless, Smile isn’t bad. It’s a gorgeous-looking episode with some fun robots, which helps build up the partnership of the Doctor and Bill, as is important at this stage in the series. And it’s a big step up from Cottrell-Boyce’s first attempt. But, with a bit of logical thought, it could have been much better. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward much more to Sarah Dollard’s historical episode; with part two of Bill’s three-part tour of basic Doctor Who settings done, that’s up next.

And I did love that teaser at the end, with the elephant. I enjoy the little links between episodes. The development of the series arc at the beginning of Smile was fun, too, with Nardole showing up to remind us about this oath thing. Anyone got any good theories as to what the Doctor’s protecting?

  1. The Pilot
  2. Smile

On 23.4.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is in stores now!

To celebrate the release of Alien: Covenant, Starburst #436 covers all things Alien-related, from a lookback over the films to a feature about cats in space. Yes, Starburst has succumbed to the cat obsession.

Also in the mag, you'll find my reviews of Solaris and Doom Coalition 4, as well as the usual Doctor Who news column.

Go here to buy it online!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Many have commented that it’s typical Steven Moffat bravado to name the first episode of his final series The Pilot, but this is reflective of a very distinct quality of Doctor Who, in that it refreshes its main cast almost every series (and has a new setting, side characters and even genre every episode) and so is never far from a good jumping-on point for new viewers. But this most recent series opener, partly due to Moffat never having intended to stay on for Series 10 and so having already wrapped up his big story arcs, tried harder than the past two continuity-heavy ones did to give the show a fresh start – which was, given increasing audience apathy, much needed.

So instead of a blockbuster romp through time and space, we had a largely stripped-down contemporary Earth story, one in several ways more reminiscent of the way Moffat’s predecessor Russell T Davies would open a series than the ways Moffat has tended to. And what Davies did best with such openers was to establish a focus on the everyday life of the companion...

And so, Bill Potts. In deliberate contrast to the ‘Impossible Girl’ Clara Oswald, this episode went out of its way to dump information about her ‘ordinariness’ – she serves chips! She’s in foster care! She can be a bit awkward around crushes! The pacing with which Moffat writes these scenes means it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to know Bill’s extended family – foster mother Moira and love interest Heather – as much as we did Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith, but this is the closest his style is ever gonna get to Rose. Besides this, two significant talking points stood out to me with Bill...

Firstly, she’s gay! This has dominated a lot of press discussion about the character, but that’s no bad thing – LGBT representation in TV is a big deal, and every time a show says that being gay is fine, a child somewhere begins to believe it. And I thought the episode handled this very well; having her sexuality be part of that depiction of Bill as ‘ordinary’ helped reinforce the message – diversity is ordinary. Bill’s romance with another girl being a key part of the plot made her sexuality much more substantial than that one time Clara made a flippant remark about shagging Jane Austen (Bill may not technically be the first LGBT companion, then, but she’s the first to mention it more than once), though, importantly, it wasn’t so much a part of the plot that Bill became entirely defined by her sexuality. A very well balanced approach. 

The other thing that stood out to me was Bill’s relationship with the Doctor. The student/tutor relationship is one that Doctor Who hasn’t explored before, and it works well here; not only is it very suited to Capaldi’s take on the Time Lord, but it allows Bill to be smart. Not in an arrogant or esoteric way – she is, after all, not one of those fancy-pants students but just the girl who serves chips – but in the aspirational, humanistic, somewhat outside-the-box way which Doctor Who rewards. 

This wasn’t how she was represented in the trailers, which emphasised that “it’s a kitchen!” line stripped of its context and so made her seem dim, though this apparent dimness did still show up in questions like “What’s sky made of?”, which is a somewhat childish question for someone who earlier in the episode got 97% on an astrophysics exam. 

Two possible explanations to that: 

1) The show’s pitching ‘being smart and inquisitive is cool’ in a way which will entertain kids, and so this seeming disparity is in fact to be commended.

2) Bill is a shameless plagiarist...

Either way, one thing’s for sure: Pearl Mackie’s fabulous. I tend not to go into as much detail with acting as much as writing, as I actually know a bit about writing, but she really, definitely is. As is Peter Capaldi, but that’s obvious by now. 

While Capaldi’s always been at the top of his game, his Doctor has had something of an inconsistent characterisation, with one season as the Malcolm Tucker Doctor and then one as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor. Both of those were fun takes on the character, but could easily lean into gimmickry (cough, driving a tank into a castle while playing guitar, cough). Here, however, he felt settled; the sternness was still there, as was the grooviness, but these qualities found a balance. It helped that he had every Doctor’s most important trait, his kindness – going back in time to take photos of Bill’s mother is something I can’t imagine the more self-centred Doctor of two series ago doing – with those other, distinctly Capaldi qualities on top. Even the Doctor’s costuming felt settled; Series 8’s suit needed something extra, Series 9 went too far with the ‘Doctor Hoody’ look, and now we’ve arrived at the perfect mix.

Just in time for him to leave at the end of the series. Oh, well.

Onto the actual plot: there’s a weird puddle that chases Bill around. There’s nothing resembling a scientific explanation, which is a shame, and it’s far from the most threatening of villains (even after I’d spent most of the week dealing with my flat’s plumbing going to shit, I failed to be scared by it). It fits into the Steven Moffat trope of not being ‘evil’ but just causing trouble by mistake, which allows for a nice message but plays into the lack of threat. That doesn’t matter a great deal here, though, for what this episode has to do is get Bill and the Doctor together, and it does that very well.

Later in the episode, the puddle chases the TARDIS crew across the galaxy, and the episode changes from its grounded RTD-esque tone to a much more typically Moffat tour of the Doctor Who universe. The Australia gag is genuinely funny. The Daleks, however... a little crowbarred in, aren’t they? Running into a warzone and hoping the puddle gets killed by Daleks has got to be one of the Doctor’s worst plans ever, but spectacle wins over logic again.

(Oh, and Nardole’s still in it. Reasonably funny, not present enough to annoy me, hope there’s a point to him later in the series.)

The Pilot, then, is in no way going to go down as a Doctor Who classic, but it does exactly what it needs to do: revitalises the show in a way that feels at once exciting and, like its Doctor, settled – confident in what its doing. It also introduces us to, from what we’ve seen so far, the most rounded and instantly likeable companion of the Steven Moffat era. Most importantly, it make us want to know what happens next.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Eating and watching films are two of my main interests in life, so when I was asked to contribute an essay about the two of them to a new magazine, I had a snack and watched a movie, and then agreed to do it.

In shops now, Beneficial Shock! aims to look at cinema with a different theme each issue, and this first course (pun entirely intended) is about food on film. It's also an incredibly well designed mag, with bespoke illustrations accompanying every feature. My piece is about surreal use of food in films based on Roald Dahl books. The artists involved, and the editor Gabriel Solomons, have all done excellent work, and I hope my words don't let them down...

Find out if they do by picking up an issue now. More info can be found on the mag's Twitter page.