TV Peter Fucking Capaldi. With a title like The Zygon Inversion, Peter Harness’s The Zygon Inversion seemed like an unlikely moment for the current incumbent to give what’s arguably his greatest piece of acting for the series, given the preceding episode’s action and adventure whizziness and the trailers and preview clips which suggested this would be companion orientated instalment. Yet here we all are, and I can tell it’s we all because I’ve looked at Twitter making its hyperbolic statements about how this might well the best performance an actor in the central role has given and even that he’s the best Doctor ever.
Clearly I’m going to indicate that we shouldn’t be too hasty and that almost every actor who's wandered through the TARDIS has been labelled as such at some point and that not enough people have heard the McGann audios to really properly judge, but I will say that it this is one of those moment we fans live for and crave, why we’ll sit through the rot which might otherwise be released under this title across the various media, why we’ll even watch whole seasons worth of episodes which rub us up the wrong way full of episodes we dislike intensely. This. The synergy between an actor at the top of his game and a script feeding him poetry.
Typically, you’d spend a review working up towards talking about this sort of climax but let’s just bask for a moment. This near closing scene is ten minutes long, beginning just over half an hour into the episode so as predicted by many last week, as with most two-parters in the revival, after a zippy opening instalment, everything slows, the shot length increases and the implications of the given set up are played out, the writer’s thoughts and fingers stroking the textures of his idea. It’s the same pattern we saw in World War Three and The Forest of the Dead and Flesh and Stone.
After making some fairly direct comparisons with the current situation in the middle east last week, this episode and the Doctor’s speech in particular, fittingly given the weekend, broadens out to encompass a wider discussion of the implications of war. In its simplest terms, even in ideological circumstances, its tit for tat and requires the two sides to decide that actually they’d be better off not killing each other for a change no matter the original apparent causes and whatnot. This isn’t mutually assured destruction. This is deciding not to have weapons in the first place because you don’t need to use them. Jeremy Corbyn would be pleased with the central message of the episode.
Hopelessly optimistic, to be sure and expects the more irrational side to lay down their arms, usually in conflicts were both parties believe the other to be the irrational one. Plus even if the two of you decide not blow each other up, there’ll always tend to be an opportunistic third party who thinks you’re both mad and you’ll be exploded anyway. In this way, the Doctor’s essentially Fenchurch in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, “the girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth (who) suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place.” Then boom.
In other words, this philosophical Milgram experiment might work against a warmongering Zygon but probably won’t against empire-builders which is presumably why the Doctor hasn’t ever attempted this tactic with the Daleks and decided Hitler was best left locked in a closet. But like I said, bless the writers and notice its Harness and Steven Moffat who have their names on this script, for at least putting the words in the Doctor’s mouth and then showing us the potential results if they were enacted. If nothing else it might halt the escalation of the war of the buttons in schools or which channel to watch on a Saturday night.
Peter Fucking Capaldi. Part of the job of an actor is to show the results of a past which they themselves didn’t experience but in Doctor Who the challenge is somewhat greater because the audience has often watched another actor experience them. In here, we can see the faces of all three of the chaps who stood around the moment in the eyes of Capaldi and once again in this series, in a way which simply wasn’t the case last year, we can entirely believe that the man emotionally gesticulating here is the same one who didn’t press that particular big red button but then believed he did and then experienced the guilt of destroying his own race.
But when Capaldi’s handed the Bafta for the series, let’s not forget there are other people in this scene. Jemma Redgrave feels sidelined but really she’s held back in order to give the moment when Kate closes the box resonance and herald the closing beats of the piece. When she apologises, Redgrave says it in full knowledge of its import; her character’s father never apologised for anything or cared all that much about disappointing the Doctor. If the story has a legacy for her character, it’s in once more delineating her from her heritage, to show that she’s not simply fulfilling a narrative function carried over from earlier series.
Mainly it’s Jenna Coleman who’s being ignored a bit when she has the difficult job of not only presenting someone who’s a subtly evil version of the character she already plays but also in a way which doesn’t gesture towards panto (in a way available to Annette Badland in Boomtown) but which still hints at the alien figure underneath. Next time you watch, notice how the realisation of what Bonnie is capable of and then what she’s actually capable of wash over her face as elements of the real Clara’s personality become more expressively recognisable at just the moment when the Doctor indicates that’s how he knows he’s getting through.
Some on the aforementioned social network have questioned why, despite all of this, the Doctor is perfectly fine for twenty million Zygons to be living secretly on Earth and for the government to be covering up the fact. But isn’t this his plan for the Silurians from Cold Blood in action? Hasn’t his approach always been that his quite happy for aliens and Terrans to co-exist peacefully only really forming the oncoming storm when one side, usually the former, decides they want the place for themselves? Back in The Unquiet Dead, before he discovered their true nature, he was quite happy for the Gelth to inhabit the deceased even against Rose’s objections.
Much of the rest of the episode is about getting the Doctor in that room in order to give this speech although this pan-national redo of The Android Invasion with Zygons offered some delights along the way notably as the Time Lord and Osgood fled the remains of the crash, even if neither of them stop to wonder about the fate of the other people on the plane (presumably the Doctor was able to save her because she was the only other person in proximity). The sinister police officers continues the Pertweean reverberations from last week though it’ll presumably be the downing of the plane itself being shown right no which’ll attract the ire of the BBC’s foes even though there’s not a lot that could have been done to edit the piece ala Robots of Sherwood.
Osgood’s alive! Of course she is. For all that happens in the McGann audios in relation to Zygons keeping their shape after their original dies, it was never entirely convincing that the human version died at Missy’s hand. But it’s good that even when the Doctor isn’t there, the show won’t confirm or deny which is the “real” one. As far as they’re concerned they’re both real. Expect a jaw dropping moment in the future when the Bonnie version pops back into her Zygon shape signalling that the human version has gone. Perhaps it’ll be Missy who does the deed, wanting to finish the job she thought she’d already finished.
It's also important to notice that this is only the character's third proper television appearance and yet she feels just as much a part of the series as the Paternoster Gang or River or Bernice or any of the Doctor's other friends. Ingrid Oliver's performance has also changed across the three episodes from somewhat giddy, but strong, fan girl in The Day of the Doctor to the slightly reserved expert who appears here. On a textual level, I've no idea what the TARDIS business was about but it feels like it's supposed to have significance in the way that random bits of dialogue often do. Perhaps its just a throw away, perhaps it has greater import. Speaking of which ...
What of Clara? Four episodes to go and she’s still around. What did the Doctor mean when he says it was the longest month of his life? As I pondered the other week, has the Doctor already seen her death somehow, in The Magician’s Apprentice even and the version he’s currently travelling with is from earlier in her timeline? At some point will he drop her off, much as he did with River Song, knowing full well it’ll be for the last time as the younger version of himself, the one he already remembers, takes her into his TARDIS and to her certain death? Will there be other pieces of dialogue from earlier in the season with some extraordinary double meaning?
Either way, Harness and Moffat have almost managed to make up for the whole Kill The Moon debarkle, the latter giving every indication that he saw how he’d nudged the character in an unpleasant direction and remembered what it is why like about him. More and more, season eight feels like an aberration, a storytelling experiment gone wrong on a similar scale to the Divergent Universe arc in the McGann audios and the whole of the Sixth Doctor television tenure, which is something I think I may have said before but in the wake of The Zygon Inversion feels like it needs repeating. If only more people were still watching it on broadcast.
Politics After retweeting something which she's since deleted, a contextless tweet that said, "Not quite how I'd put it, but some interesting facts" to which I retorted:
44. Followed by the leader of a political party on Twitter.
This is how I view most things. https://t.co/wJc0F9rRTT— Stuart Ian Burns (@feelinglistless) November 7, 2015
TV The BBC Store has finally launched there's plenty to visually engorge on if you have the funds. I'm personally inclined to wait until it's available on the TV version of the iPlayer app unless something really remarkable crops up that I'm desperate to see.
One of the criticisms, as has always been the case even when Doctor Who was being released on VHS, is why people should have to pay to see something they've already paid for through the license fee. The rule is that what we're actually paying for is the initial broadcast of the programme. Any ancillary version sometimes requires further payments to participants either when it's repeated or in future merchandising or cross-media releases.
In his Guardian article about the Store, Mark Lawson offers an alternative and equally valid philosophical explanation:
"To me, this argument seems akin to a home-owner refusing to pay the water rates on the basis that the liquid has almost certainly been through the house before. Can contributing a fraction of your licence fee to the cost of a programme at the time of its first transmission really be thought to have bought a right to view the show in perpetuity? And, even if that case could be made, what about products in which we were never personally a shareholder? My first purchases from Store – Potter’s Double Dare (1971) and an episode of the sitcom The Likely Lads (1963) – come from a time when I didn’t pay a licence fee. Can I really contend that, when my dad handed over the cash at the post office for his licence fee, he was securing unlimited viewing rights for his heirs?"It's never cross my mind that I wouldn't have to pay to see something again. Anything repeated on television is essentially a freebie.
Posted on Thursday, November 05, 2015
Medicine Araveeti Ramayogaiah was an Indian paediatrician who years before the internet was passing the word about preventative medicine, especially in relation to disease, to poor areas by sending out postcards to the vulnerable and sick who couldn't afford private health care:
For almost 25 years, Ramayogaiah wrote and sent postcards to India’s poor, especially women, telling them about ways to prevent—rather than cure—diseases. The good doctor died in Hyderabad in September this year at the age of 65.
The inexpensive postcard was Ramayogaiah’s solution to private hospitals, which are typically inaccessible and unaffordable for many of India’s poor.
In all, he wrote around 36,000 postcards to patients, acquaintances and strangers—explaining basic habits like boiling water and washing hands, and how to prevent commonplace ailments like diarrhea.
Posted on Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Film Here we are, the year of my birth. Any film beyond here I have to have seen retrospectively, though that's of course true of everything from Pete's Dragon onwards. Apparently I've seen more films than most but I expect there'll still be some moments when I'll be trying to make a value choice between some storming classics, narrowed slightly by never having seen some of those classics yet. I've only seen half of The Godfather Part II for example, thanks to having worked through half of the tv mini-series created by Francis Ford Coppola in which he re-edited all of the footage from the trilogy into chronological order. Having not seen any of it before, the chronological messing about became too jarring so I put it to one side assuming I'd be back after seeing the films in their original version and still haven't gone back yet.
But there's potentially an irrational feeling of loss when watching non-contemporary films, a synthetic quality perhaps, because time has stripped them of their contemporary context. Watching a film like Chinatown years after production, especially if you didn't personally experience the moment in which it was made, means that you can't really understand what it would have been like to have seen the film as it was released. Would it have made a difference? In ten years when people catch Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, will they even remember that there was a European refugee crisis? Are the two even related? Nixon resigned on the day Chinatown was released in the UK. Was that really at the back of people's minds as they attended the cinema that weekend and did it really change how they viewed the film?
Told you it was irrational and I don't think it works that way. If there's an overall thesis so far in this series, it's that the wider world very rarely intrudes on the experience of watching films and that it's usually who we are as people and that context which effects on our viewing of the film. The BBC Genome reminds me that my first viewing of Chinatown was a timer recorded VHS of the 2nd April 1994 broadcast which was the first in Cinemascope (still something of a novelty for television twenty years ago). It was an Easter Weekend so I would have been home from undergraduate uni so in a position to set the video. Within a few days the Rwandan genocide began. Kurt Cobain died and co-incidentally so did Nixon by the end of the month. Only Nixon could go to to Chinatown.
Perhaps I should be more cynical when watching film documentaries, notably dvd extras self-publicising the film they're supporting, which talk about how they "came out of the time" and were part of some great vanguard or zeitgeist. But it's easy to get caught up in photo and archive film montages of, in the 70s, flares and disco and Vietnam. Some films clearly "came out of the time" but did Chinatown and to what extent did contemporary audiences notice? Robert Towne based his screenplay on an incident which happened in the early 1900s. There's also a thematic cynicism in relation to authority but does this mean Nixon? Probably not. Glancing through many interviews with Towne he barely talks about the film in those terms.
In other words, films are best taken on their own terms unless the historical context is obvious and I should get over myself. I've been lucky enough to have lived through a third of the time that cinema has existed and only seen a limited number of films in context anyway. In any case, we watch every film retrospectively to some degree anyway. Studios choose release days based on a range of factors and some films (Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret) don't find themselves in front of an audience for years. Even "live" television broadcasts have delays in fractions of seconds. If anything, watching a film retrospectively teaches us a lot about the time in which it was produced, even a period piece like Chinatown. But let me save that discussion for another time. Eighty odd films to go until the dawn of cinema.
Lunch. £3.75 (85p for crust bread). Piazza Cafe, Metropolitan Cathedral Steps, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 5TQ. Phone:0151 707 3536. Website.
TV Back in mists of time which look somewhat like the 90s, author Paul Magrs produced one of my favourite scenes in all of Doctor Who in his novel The Scarlett Empress.
For reasons suitably too complex to explain here, the Doctor is trapped by a flock of birds who will only be satiated if he tells them stories and so influenced by cultural historian Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Fairy Tale, he offers them a set of typical items which appear in the kinds of adventures he has which they can then use to make up their own.
I may have mentioned this before.
Yesterday, Paul expanded the idea on his blog and has produced one of the best piece of writing about Doctor Who I've ever seen, laying out, in some detail, the processes one must go through in order to produce a decent Doctor Who adventure with all of the necessary elements.
To an extent it's a structure for making good drama in general, but it nicely captures just how mad and eccentric and beautiful Doctor Who can be at its very best and worst and how you really can do practically anything with it but that it's also still possible to make a complete hash of the thing also if you don't know what you're doing:
"The Doctor is captured by the enemy, doesn’t even try to escape, generally larks about until they show him their doomsday device which, depending up the relative sophistication of the story, can be either a machine that looks like a teasmade or a long, impossible explanation of the whole season’s accumulated storylines. The Doctor will stare in outrage and slight bafflement either way."See what I mean? It's brilliant. The NOTE ON VILLAINS is especially superb.
Film As part of the BFI's new Player+ role out, they've asked Kermode to choose films from their catalogue and record introductions (here he is front a trailer for the service). This sounds like it's going to be a weekly occurrence and if they continue to make them accessible to anyone, an excellent recommendation engine even for people who don't have a subscription. Mark's talked before about providing similar intros to horror films on Channel 4, but this is sure to drag the net wider and with the shooting in front of a white background, this is very much in the spirit of Moviedrome. See also the short lived film club from his own vlog. The concept of BFI Player+ is fine although there are no television apps yet and I'd be more interested in being able to access the contents of the BFI Mediatecque home.