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Monday, 28 August 2017

Potter Spotter

Time to update my list of Harry Potter film actors seen on stage again, something I'd planned to do last year when I was hoping to catch John Hurt in The Entertainer; sadly he had to drop out due to illness, which turned out to be fatal, and of course Alan Rickman has also sadly become unavailable to collect since I last updated this list.

I've only added four new names in the last two years, but with Shirley Henderson and Evanna Lynch within a couple of weeks of each other it seemed as good a time as any. Harry Melling has increased his lead as the Potter actor I've seen on stage most times - which just goes to show how much theatre he does, considering I collected my first two cast members (Sophie Thompson and Mark Williams in the same production of As You Like It) in the year he was born.

I'm using the Wikipedia cast list, which also includes actors whose entire performance ended up on the cutting room floor. I've linked to my reviews of the shows where possible; any title that isn't a link means it's from before I started reviewing online.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Is the future all-girl?

It always seems to take me ages to get round to blogging about the Doctor Who season finale, but at least this time I can make it coincide with the BBC's announcement that Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th Doctor.

"World Enough and Time" / "The Docto Falls" by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay. Spoilers after the cut.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

By the bi

I have a feeling I already knew that Rona Munro had written a Doctor Who episode this series but had forgotten, so I got to get excited again when I saw her name pop up in the credits for this week’s episode.

“The Eaters of Light” by Rona Munro, directed by Charles Palmer. Spoilers after the cut.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Ice, Ice (Maybe)

Now on BBC1 we're going to the poles. No, not those kinds of polls." TOO SOON, BBC CONTINUITY ANNOUNCER, TOO SOON!

"Empress of Mars" by Mark Gatiss, directed by Wayne Yip. Spoilers after the cut.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Whole Lotta History

When looking for a new Doctor Who showrunner, I wonder if the BBC considered someone who’s now written a number of episodes, created and run his own fantasy series for five years – including the need to replace the entire cast at one point, which is… kinda relevant experience for Doctor Who - and been so successful his show was bought to be remade in the US? Nah, they probably just went straight to Chibnall, didn’t they?

“The Lie of the Land” by Toby Whithouse, directed by Wayne Yip. Spoilers after the cut.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Book review: Die of Shame

The latest Mark Billingham standalone novel does, like the earlier ones, get his books' usual protagonist Tom Thorne to make a cameo appearance, but introduces a new DI, Nicola Tanner, to actually investigate this crime. This might be because it's a bit of a format-breaker, but then again one thing I like about Billingham as a crime writer is that he never really has a set format anyway. Die of Shame is centred around a counseling group for addicts - a variety of addictions, from drugs to alcohol to overeating, with an equally disparate collection of people. When one of them is murdered, Tanner is convinced the killer comes from within the group. The book isn't really built around her investigation though, it mainly focuses on the group, alternating between flashbacks to before the murder and their reactions to it afterwards.

I liked the format a lot, although the solution to the crime is based on information we get very late in the day. And it's a bit unfortunate that, having introduced a lesbian detective, Billingham then has her fail to solve the crime, the implication being that Thorne comes in at the end and handles it (the reader still gets to find out whodunnit of course, through one of the flashbacks.) I think this story crosses over with the next Thorne novel, which will probably be the better for having that background, but Die of Shame itself is one I enjoyed with some reservations.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Unloved middle child

So Steven Moffat has delivered a three-parter by stealth, something he's apparently always wanted to do because it hasn't been done before (so did I imagine that that's exactly how they introduced the Derek Jacobi / John Simm Master at the end of Series 3?)

"The Pyramid at the End of the World" by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, directed by Daniel Nettheim. Spoilers after the cut.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Doctor and the Medici

Back when we knew Doctor Who was getting relaunched in 2005 but we didn't really have any more details than that, people did speculate a bit over whether Russell T. Davies would keep it a family show as it had originally been, or if he was going to go for a "darker and edgier" reboot - the Battlestar Galactica model.

"Extremis" by Steven Moffat, directed by Daniel Nettheim. Spoilers after the cut.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Book review: Covering McKellen

I like to have a funny book saved onto my phone that I can dip into when I've got the odd minute to spare, and must admit that I didn't add Covering McKellen for the noblest of reasons. But then I imagine most people read David Weston's book for its car crash qualities, it has a reputation as being funny for the wrong reasons. Weston was Ian McKellen's understudy as King Lear on the 2007 world tour, and this is meant to be a journal of that tour and the behind the scenes gossip. Of which there is some, as, if Weston's to be believed, the whole production descended into chaos and mutual loathing, but mostly this is a cantankerous old man grumbling about not being more famous. He does tend to give behind-the-scenes stories about each specific performance so I managed to pinpoint exactly which one Vanessa and I saw ten years ago - there wasn't any particularly juicy gossip for that night except for the fact that most of the cast were sick and some of them were throwing up into buckets as soon as they got offstage.

Instead of Covering McKellen it should be called Hating Romola Garai, because although he resents most of the younger cast members he especially loathes Garai for reasons that are never particularly apparent. Maybe she didn't respond to his unique style of casual conversation - at one point he describes interrogating her about a historical inaccuracy in a film she was in (in a scene she wasn't in) and is disgusted when she doesn't reply to his satisfaction. He's no fan of Monica Dolan either, although he's torn on some of the others - he takes against Philip Winchester on principle because he's American, but then feels he has to give him the time of day when he finds out he's a clean-living Christian who doesn't believe in sex before marriage. On the other hand he takes an instant liking to Ben Addis because he's quiet, and then gets terribly confused when he hears a rumour that he's the company's resident vagina-hunter, and can never make up his mind about him for the rest of the book.

I pretty quickly started reading this in a mental voice that was a cross between Steven Toast, and Joss Ackland yelling "diplemetic immunety!" at the end of Lethal Weapon 2, and imagined him getting louder throughout each paragraph so that by the full stop he was screaming in fury. In short,

Monday, 15 May 2017

Spapitalism

Capitalism in space.

"Oxygen" by Jamie Mathieson, directed by Charles Palmer. Spoilers after the cut.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Obsessive Compulsive Hoarders

On this week's episode of Obsessive Compulsive Hoarders we meet David, who's been hoarding dead people in the walls of his house for the last seventy years.

"Knock Knock" by Mike Bartlett, directed by Bill Anderson. Spoilers after the cut.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Thames television

Well as I said last week, Doctor Who tends to introduce a new companion (and even new Doctors, come to think of it) with a specific trio of episodes, and although a couple of companions (Martha and Donna) got their historical episode before they went into space, Bill follows the majority by getting her trip to the past in her third episode. And unlike the space episodes, "Thin Ice" has some generally decent ones to follow. Fortunately it's the third hit in a row in Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi's final series.

"Thin Ice" by Sarah Dollard, directed by Bill Anderson. Spoilers after the cut.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Car park in the sky

It's pretty much the template for a new companion on new Doctor Who: Their introductory episode takes place in present-day Earth, the second goes to the far future - generally a human colony post-Earth's destruction - and the third returns to Earth and goes back in time, introducing the companion and any new viewers to the general format.

It also seems to be as much of a template for that second, space-set episode to be a bit of a confusing mess, so "Smile" is a pleasant surprise to the point of almost being a format-breaker.

"Smile" by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, directed by Lawrence Gough. Spoilers after the cut.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Puddle vision

You'd think the start of the final Steven Moffat series of Doctor Who, heavily trailed and with a lot of publicity around the first openly gay companion, would be something to get excited about. But that would be to underestimate the ability of those BBC1 "One-ness" idents to suck any sense of enthusiasm out of whatever it is you're about to watch.

"The Pilot" by Steven Moffat, directed by Lawrence Gough. Spoilers after the cut.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Book review: Norse Mythology

I used to be a big reader but have fallen out of the habit lately; I generally read on trains and buses but I'm easily distracted there so have recently tended to just watch something with the earphones in to block noise out. But I should probably try to catch up on the books I actually want to read, and with a couple of favourite authors having new (and not that long) books out now's a good time. Neil Gaiman is of course a fan of weaving various mythologies into his fiction but the Norse myths have turned up more often than most so they're clearly favourites of his. He retells the stories in Norse Mythology, which aims to create a single narrative out of them. Compared to most mythologies there aren't many surviving stories of the Norse gods, and they mostly revolve around Odin's immediate family and especially Thor and Loki. So they do lend themselves to being told as a single story, although obviously it's still episodic. I've seen bits and pieces of these myths before (admittedly, probably mostly in Gaiman's other work) but this is the clearest version of them I've read.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Ghostly

It's been a year since the last episode of Doctor Who and I'd more or less forgotten that I did quick reviews of them on this blog (TBH I'd also more or less forgotten about this blog but there we are.) Anyway this year's Christmas Special was fun enough that it was worth blowing the dust off.

"The Return of Doctor Mysterio" by Steven Moffat, directed by Ed Bazalgette. Spoilers after the cut.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Book review: The Severed Streets

The Severed Streets is Paul Cornell's second Shadow Police novel, his urban fantasy series about a small team of London police who've been gifted/cursed with a form of second sight that only works within the boundaries of London (or, it turns out, selected other cities around the world.) This installment has a backdrop of political unrest and riots, as a supernatural figure that seems to be emulating Jack the Ripper starts to wreak havoc, but twisting the Ripper's MO to actually only kill men. It's strong but very dark, which may be one reason it took me a while to get through - the political metaphor is clear and this is a very angry book that takes a lot of frustration out on its characters. Its bleak nature made it hard to pick up sometimes, especially when reading it at a time when the situation is even worse than the one a couple of years ago that Cornell is railing against.

The other very contentious issue with this particular book is a little in-joke that goes way too far. In a novel where a number of characters have very obvious real-life counterparts, it's a good gag to have a knowing reference to a famous fantasy author being part of London's supernatural subculture, and then turn round at the end of the paragraph and state outright that it's Neil Gaiman. To then have that cameo expand and just keep on getting bigger until Gaiman ends up having massive plot significance just feels really indulgent.

So it's a shame the one touch of levity is a smug one that takes you out of the story, but it's an interesting enough world that I probably won't be giving up on it just yet, although I hope the next book in the series features a bit more actual escapism in its fantasy.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Book review: Carte Blanche

It's been a long time since I read any of the newer official James Bond novels, written by a variety of novelists commissioned by the Ian Fleming estate; not since Sebastian Faulks' effort, of which I don't really remember the actual novel much, but do remember his afterword in which he says he's basically too good to be writing James Bond books, but it's all right 'cause he likes doing pastiche and just farted this one out on his coffee break (IIRC it showed.) That's probably what's put me off the other official novels, but as with most things it was some of them coming up cheap on kindle that made me give them another go. And Jeffery "two ways to spell Jeffrey weren't enough for me" Deaver does at least seem to have been flattered to be asked rather than mildly offended.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Book review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes vol.3

As I like to do every year or two, I've gone back to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in my collection of the complete works; Volume 3 includes one collection of short stories and the final full-length novel: The Return of Sherlock Holmes starts with "The Adventure of the Empty House," which as the title of the collection suggests sees Holmes return from the "dead" in a typically low-key way, and explain how he faked his own death so he could get rid of Moriarty's crime ring while they thought he was safely out of the way. I do generally enjoy the short stories more than the novels, and this is quite a good little collection of them, with a couple of grisly cases and one or two I'm not sure I've actually read before. I did like moments in these like a client asking Holmes and Watson if he can have a glass of milk and a biscuit to calm his nerves, or the couple of times where Holmes to all intents and purposes tells Watson not to be so racist.

Holmes' supposed death must have got Conan Doyle's audience really interested in the shady Professor Moriarty as well, because he crops up a lot more after his own death than he ever did before it, so despite having revived Holmes a lot of stories go back to before the Reichenbach Falls: The final novel The Valley of Fear feels like an instance of Moriarty being crowbarred into an unrelated story, which is enjoyable enough but does go back to the clunky storytelling device of A Study in Scarlet - Holmes solving the mystery in the first half of the novel with information the reader doesn't have, then a second half flashing back to events in America that led up to the crime. It's pulled off better here than in the debut novel - the flashback itself is more cleverly constructed - but it still feels like a bit of a cheat of a narrative device.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Book review: Witches of Lychford

Paul Cornell's author bio mentions the many different media he's written (and won awards) for, including TV and a couple of the most popular episodes of the revived Doctor Who (but nothing for some years now.) It does make me wonder if Witches of Lychford wasn't originally envisaged as a book, because by its end it does feel like you've just watched the pilot for a supernatural TV show. It's not just the fact that it mostly establishes a setting and characters for further stories - and there is already another book in the series - but also the fact that it's so short. It basically has time to introduce its central mismatched trio - a witch, a vicar and an atheist-turned-occultist - and its location of Lychford, a village that's a weak spot between supernatural dimensions. The three women get to form an uneasy alliance and fight off their first challenge, the proposal of a supermarket whose building would destroy the occult protections against invasion from other realms. It's certainly mainly setup for "more adventures to come..." and it's, unsurprisingly, well-written with well-drawn characters, so I will look out for those further adventures, but much as I like a quick read I hope we get the chance for something a bit more intricate than a novella next time.