The Eaters of the Light.

TV A few years ago, deep in the thickets of the Matt Smith era, I often noted on here how the only way to experience a more traditional stand alone adventure was to listen to an AudioGo exclusive cd or read one of the novels. Amid the split seasons, story arcs and experiments with the format, those stories in which the Doctor and his companion(s) (depending whether Rory was dead that week) turned up at a place and protected the local population from some monster didn't really exist, at least not without some link to the whatever the central mystery of the season was.  Meanwhile writers like Una McCormick, Oli Smith, James Goss, Gary Russell and friends turned these characters around a more familiar narrative idea albeit experimenting with an epistolary format or some such.

The Capaldi era and more specifically this season has seen a return to these kinds of stories, apart from prologues and epilogues referring to whatever's up with Missy.  Smile, Thin Ice, Knock Knock, Oxygen, Empress of Mars and now Rhona Monro's The Eaters of the Light all fit within that category.  For the most part you could imagine a prose version for each of them recorded by a past season luminary like Dan Starkey or Keeley Hawes to music which sounds almost but not exactly like Murray Gold (to sit alongside the current crop from BBC Worldwide which have pretty much carried on where AudioGo left off).  None of which should be assumed to be a criticism.  The audio reading of one of those spin-off novels, Johnny Morris's Touched by an Angel is my favourite story of that era in any media including television.

It's why this season has felt most "Doctor Who" of the Capaldi era.  Indeed much of what initially happens in Monro's episode is near identical to last week.  The Doctor decides to investigate mystery.  He's quickly separated from Bill who becomes trapped after falling through a hole and they each meet different factions in this particular environment who will ultimately have to unite in order to battle a common foe.  But there's something inherently comforting about that, inherently Saturday night.  Genre is about giving the audience what they expect whilst changing the formula just enough for them to give them some originality.  Last week the Empress of the Ice Warriors emerged, this week an inter-dimensional being that wants to suck the life out of everything.  Insert contemorary political commentary here.

But the key difference is in Monro's ability to utilise the scenario and explore ideas about how young people are thrust into positions of authority and responsibility and then chide themselves for making a mistake or poor decision because of how they've been psychologically crafted by external influences.  This gives the episode a darker tone than usual in which people in their late teens find themselves making supreme sacrifices for the greater good which for all the episode's attempt to make it seems like a positive decision, about enemies working together, creating eternal music together, is nothing but nihilistic.  That's something the AudioGo standalones were often unafraid of too - their textual brevity often gave the writer leave to end with a sombre or ambiguous conclusion.

All of which is helped immeasurably by a strong set of "locals".  The Picts and Romans are both archetypes with the teenage wing of the Ninth Army opposite the cast of Brave but the performances from this young cast really sell the pathetic nature of their predicament.  Cleverly, both sides are simply extrapolations backwards of more familiar figures of recent times, with British Army squaddies underneath the Italian breastplates and millennials with swords on the other side.  Offering a veneer of strong words over an interior riddled with fear makes them perfectly relatable even if their individuality doesn't reach much beyond a few traits.  Though it is good to see the show bother to touch on Rome's more open attitude to gender and sexuality and in a surprisingly nuanced way.

Amongst the current time team, Capaldi has some of his very best scenes and speeches of the era, "Time to grow up.  Time to fight your fight."  This is a Doctor who's entirely in control of how he treats people, with sarcasm when its necessary and compassion when its essential.  Once again I ask - why couldn't we have had this man for the other two seasons, why did we have to sit through that hateful jerk who makes season eight so unwatchable?  Meanwhile Bill reveals her growing authority, stands up to the Doctor as he watches yet more humans sacrifice themselves on his behalf, due to his all too perfect ability to persuade them to do so through his sheer presence.  Mackie's performance has developed ten fold across the season and shows real facility and relish when the material demands it.

Those spin-off stories would also enjoy the opportunity to visit underserved locations while the television series was either off world, Wales or somewhere within the M25.  Here we are in 2nd century Scotland with its epic scenery and unlike Tennant in Tooth & Claw who had to pretend to have an accent that was really his, Capaldi's able to speak as broadly as he wants.  In an interview with this month's association manuscript, Rona Monro indicates that Moffat did a final pass on the script and added some extra jokes -- I wonder how many of these were the digs against his native land.  That's a brilliant interview incidentally, demonstrating how much of a fan of this show Monro is explaining a playwright of this renown would not only return to the show after all these years but do so with such an understanding of how it's constructed.

If there's a particularly weak element it's the adversary, another in a long line of monsters which seem designed to be difficult to merchandise.  Lovecraftian CG creatures are fine and god knows the last thing we need is something like the Mandrills or the Fisher King blundering around.  Plus I used to complain about the armies of identical aliens who populated the Russell T Davies years. But it's another week without a new iconic monster that the Doctor Who Figurine Collection could slap on their cover in between a Monoid and a Machine Gun Dalek.  True, we glimpse something inside the portal but they're barely on screen long enough to make an impression.  What is Neill Gorton doing these days?  Four episodes of Class, a Red Dwarf and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Nothing on Who since Last Christmas (the episode not the chronological days).  Well.

Let's talk briefly about the Missy business.  What if she's being sincere?  With the John Simm Master making an appearance next week you could foresee a situation in which the Doctor and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain fight to influence her intellectually and emotionally with the latter fearing that she might become his equivalent of the Valeyard or The Eight incarnation of The Eleven, the good one.  The close up at the conclusion of this instalment seemed to be waiting for snidely eyebrow raise but none was forthcoming.  Since Scream of the Shalka, there's seemed to be some merit in having the Doctor's arch enemy as his companion and now we might actually get to see again what that looks like.  There even seemed to be an uncomfortable beat of romance somewhere in here.

Another fine episode then in a series which began lightly and has gained weight.  Not all of the AudioGos were brilliant sometimes hampered either by weak writing or a disappointing reading.  No one seemed to get Amy's accent right, not least Alexander "Xander" Armstrong who didn't even bother when it was his turn, preferring to read all of the dialogue and descriptions in the same way.  But in the final embers of Capaldi's era, there's a genuine sense of the show finding its feet, its purpose and thank goodness.  Even if I still can't see the point of Nardole, who was especially objectionable here, but I was able to tune out for the most part as you can see from this otherwise positive review.  Hopefully during the finale we'll discover what he was actually here for.  It had better be good.

"All the world's waiting for you, and the power you possess."

Life Let's catch up again.  Like most of you, I sat through the utterly thrilling evening that was the latest General Election through the elation of thinking that a Tory Government might not be certain to realising, oh shit, they're going to make a go for it and taking some homophobic misogynists with them.  Labour were within a 2.5 swing of becoming the biggest party and it's entirely possible to infer that some of the constituency losses were because of the date chosen for the election and students not being registered at home in time.  As soon as same day registration and provisional ballots are introduced in the UK, the better.  I said recently that the universe is not without a sense of humour and even though I don't believe in god much, I believe that.  Thursday night was a prime example.  Some applause too for the BBC fielding one of the most diverse presenting teams in history, with I think more women than men which just added an extra poignancy to the evening.

That Wonder Woman is one of the greatest comic book films of all time goes without saying and a triumph considering the astonishingly poor material surrounding it in the DCCU (or whatever Warners are calling this).  Bus Dodge only really became a decent film once Diana smirked with pleasure at the fight (a moment improvised by Gal Gadot who then had to explain why to her director) and her solo entry is that attitude writ large across two and a half hours.  The surprise for me is how funny it is but without stepping on MARVEL's goofier toes seeking a slightly drier, subtextual approach reliant on wordplay (the boat conversation a notable example).  Plus it subverts the male gaze by taking it out of the equation.  I can't think of a single occasion in which they cut to Steve Trevor to see his reaction to her beauty in a typical way.  For the most part she's viewed with a contagious awe.  Amazing.  Amazing.

That was Monday.  Tuesday was spent in the company of the BFI's new BD release of the restored print of Abel Gance's Napoleon, a stunning achievement both from its director and the film historian Kevin Brownlow, who gathered together material across fifty years attempting to recreate the original vision.  Throughout it's entirely possible to forget that it was made over ninety years ago.  Gance produces shots and cuts with relatively primitive technology which are tricky even now on digital materials.  What surprised me too is the range of different types of storytelling from what's effectively a teen film through war sequences and a romance.  Even on the 22 inch screen which sometimes rendered the image incoherent, it's impossible not to become swept up in the grandeur as hundreds of extras fill the screen giving the impression that Gance was actually there shooting a documentary.

This weekend I was given a Bodum ePEBO Electric Vacuum Coffee Maker, which is something I didn't even know existed beforehand is the without shadow the best coffee machine I've ever owned.  Looking like something straight out of Morbius's laboratory, it speed heats the water in the bottom jug which them shifts up a spout into a vacuum-filled fish bowl were the coffee rests, continues boiling and brewing then returns the bottom, repeating the cycle one or twice until its done.  Even the decaff I'm forced to drink tastes rich and full bodied.  The process works equally well with various leaf and fruit teas after I've emptied the contents of their bags into the bowl producing a perfect cup each time without the bitterness which sometimes comes from leaving a bag in a mug stewing for too long.  Since this is something which is usually outside my price bracket, it's been a lovely treat.  Pity I'm so scared of breakages.