Re-watching “A Scandal in Belgravia” last night, I remembered a critique I initially had upon my first viewing: namely, how the episode begins by showing Sherlock’s catapult into the public eye, along with front page coverage of him in a deerstalker hat. The hat was a nice nod to Doyle’s Sherlock but the notoriety was undeniably Moffat-esque, especially coming off the heels of Doctor Who’s most recent season. I immediately thought (SPOILERS for the rest of season 2): well this season Sherlock is going to become too famous for his own good and the show will end up with him faking his own death to remove himself from the spotlight. (This could have been paranoia from the Doctor doing just that but yet in the end, same thing).
There is no arguing against the fact that Steven Moffat brought a fresh approach to storytelling to the television world, but nowadays even those “twists” seem to be telegraphed. So much so that now I tend to give him more credit than he apparently deserves. The long drawn out nature of Doctor Who Season 6 (spoilers, again) gave plenty of time for speculation; unfortunately, all of my musings skirted around the idea that the River Song/Melody Pond thing was too obvious –in this vein, I read and came up with some pretty fantastic theories. Alas, after the buildup nothing could compare to those intricately detailed theories, especially something River Song related. UGH. I could barely take her in small doses before Season 6 so the emphasis on her (Moffat’s obsession?) recently went into excess. It would be a digression to discuss those firmly against River versus those that love the character so I will move on. (I really think my memory of Season 6 will be helped if I watch it again straight through…to be continued.) I know I can’t be the only one to have seen this parallel between Doctor Who 6 and Sherlock 2. So allow me to pause and do a quick search. (Research on Google commences.) Surprisingly, this quote from Steven Moffat is the most substantial thing my search yielded:
We always knew we were going to have to do Reichenbach, and yes, indeed, I did have the Doctor faking his own death – though by slightly more elaborate means! The problem is, I’m in charge of both shows, and what I can’t ever do is not do something in one show because I did it in the other. Ninety-nine per cent of the audience haven’t a clue who I am or know that I work on both of them, so you just ignore things like that. They are two swashbuckling geniuses; they’re always going to be doing similar things.
Now, this is all well and good except it is complete BS. He is being a bit too modest about how recognizable his name is to the audience. And inevitably when one of his shows is under discussion, that person or article will also link him to both Sherlock and Doctor Who. It is hard to ignore I had just seen the same story arch take place a few months beforehand AND it really doesn’t help that the Doctor and Sherlock share so many of the same characteristics, made all the more apparent by Moffat’s treatment. Another problem? It isn’t just that they both faked their own deaths…it is also the why. The Doctor and Sherlock both reached a point where their infamy preceded them and their lifestyles became unsustainable. To be honest, I love Doctor Who and I love Sherlock: my issue is that Moffat is famous for his “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” plots, and his ability to take that wonky structure from Coupling to the likes of Doctor Who and Sherlock. His results are often brilliant but the way in which the deck becomes stacked is starting to look more and more familiar. To conclude, I guess this is a classic argument against the one head writer format of the UK. There are pros and cons to all formats but maybe a bit more input from other writers could even out all the Moffat-y bits so that his most striking ideas shine through.
Being a Whovian is quite the novel experience. And it presents a whole different set of anxieties than your typical television cliffhanger might during a hiatus. I bring this up now because the impending exits of Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (and the sooner than we know it exit of Matt Smith) has left me with a new version of Who anxiety, much more excruciating than what I have experienced in my past viewership.
I started watching the rebooted series in December 2010 and the ability to go straight through to “A Christmas Carol” allowed me to process a lot of things, really quickly. (Granted, because I am a crazy person I also insisted on watching Torchwood in the time it would have aired between DW seasons, so sometimes I did have a break from the Doctor). Because of the quick succession of watching, I had to go through the stages of grief between Doctors and companions at warp speed (mainly denial, anger, and bargaining all at once). A brief history:
Toward the end of the first series I started to despair knowing that it was Christopher Eccleston’s only season. Going into the last episodes I continually asked no one in particular “Why…whyyyyy did he have to go? What’s with this next guy and why is he so popular?” At least I had Rose as my proxy on the show, feeling the same confused emotions as the Doctor regenerated. I steeled myself and started “The Christmas Invasion.” And I can point to the exact moment that David Tennant won me over: his humor attempted to convert me throughout the episode but I begrudgingly resisted, until he busted out a quote from The Lion King; I was sold.
Sure, I felt like my heart was ripped from my body at the conclusion of series two, but at least I still had Ten. Without any other companions having the tenure of Rose (aka Martha and Donna, miscellaneous friends from the Specials) the transition of companions became less painful. I instinctively knew that David leaving would most likely kill me, and before I got to “The End of Time,” I indulged in a New Year’s Day marathon on BBC America to “check out” this Matt Smith guy.
It was like culture shock. The title sequence and the logo were different. The theme music, changed. My first impressions of Eleven? Weird. I found myself leaning over to my friend and explaining, “this is weird, he wouldn’t normally do this.” (Although justifying what a time and space traveling alien does or doesn’t do to an uninitiated friend was probably fruitless). This commentary arose from “The Lodger” where the Doctor is portrayed as being completely clueless to a lot of common human behavior. I continually said, “This doesn’t make sense! The Doctor is never this obviously…alien.” But somewhere, deep down in the recesses of my brain, I found this glossy new, extremely alien Doctor intriguing, and not as scary as I pictured a post-Tennant world. Unfortunately I can’t pinpoint when I accepted Matt Smith. He was like a slow poison that infected my heart without my realizing it. As I rewatched the seasons with my roommate, I began to anticipate getting to Eleven because I missed him; I missed the quirkiness, the sudden emotional bursts, his awkwardness. And I easily embraced Rory and Amy, or so it seems now. I think that it helped fifth season started with a new Doctor and new companions.
And this is the climate I have been in for over a solid year. But now, with the casting of Jenna-Louise Coleman, the end of the Amy-Rory regime is palpable. And agonizing. The inevitability is made all the worse by the wait, and the knowledge of when it will occur. It isn’t that I want to stop watching until enough episodes build up to where I can speed through the transition; just that this is the first time in my Doctor Who career that I have experienced the full-on wait for change. Someone on Facebook commented that the cycle is “hating the change, getting used to the change, and being sad when the change changes” and I think that is an apt description of the life of a Doctor Who fan. And if a TV show can make you feel this much trepidation and anticipation during its very long hiatus, then it is doing something right.
I have to admit: I went into War Horse with fairly low expectations. Yes, Spielberg is a favorite, but after age ten I haven’t been able to get invested in films that largely revolve around an animal. I expected to go in, suffer a bit through “oh, I surely love my horse so much” parts and enjoy some quality time with Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch. Surprisingly for me, I gleaned much more enjoyment from the film overall than I anticipated. So here is my breakdown of the film (into its piecemeal way of storytelling) and what I liked/liked less as well as the obligatory Downton Abbey comparison. (I am talking explicit plot points here, but just in case let me say in my best pirate: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD.) The past few months have been steadily increasing my knowledge of the Great War, especially with Downton and Boardwalk Empire. I say, keep it coming!
Part One: When you covet thy neighbor’s colt….
…..your father foolishly outbids his landlord and pays an extravagant price for a thoroughbred when your family really needs a strong plough horse. Granted, this portion was necessary for set-up; they only stress it in a million different ways but just in case you don’t get it, “Joey” the horse is special. He’s different, stronger and smarter than the average horse. Albie (…
the racist dragon) trains him to come with a special owl call (like he read in a book about Injuns) and Joey somehow overcomes all obstacles to plow the stony field when surprise! Rain makes the earth more pliable. Other notables: Albie’s dad is an alcoholic with a gimp leg, both legacies of his time in the Boer War. Albie has a goofy-grinned best friend Andrew and a rival, David (son of their evil landlord), who is the “only boy in the village that can drive.” Unfortunately for this wunderkind, the girl he is trying to woo with his driving skills is much more impressed with Albie’s horsepower (literally) (har har). Due to a freak storm, the precious turnips are ruined and Albie’s dad goes to plan b: sell poor Joey to an army captain before he marches off to the front. DOWNTON PARALLEL: If you live in Devon (or a place that looks like Hobbiton) you get your war news via the town Paul Revere. If you are the Earl of Grantham, you can conveniently announce the news at your garden party, in front of your closest friends, relatives, and servants. Luckily for Albie, his dad sells him to the kind blue eyes of Tom Hiddleston’s Captain Nicholls who promises to return Joey to Albie at the end of the war if possible (anvil clang).
Part Two: If you are cool enough to be the horse of either Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, you must, by necessity, become the best of horse friends
Finally, for me, the gears of the movie (and war) started turning. It proved to be very difficult for me to focus my energies when both Benedict and Tom were on the screen. (BC won usually). But luckily Tom had a few scenes sans Benedict’s Sergeant Jamie Stewart. What a good natured character was Tom’s Captain Nicholls! He sketches! Jamie leads the men into a German camp via a cavalry charge with disastrous consequences: honestly, I thought Jamie was sure to perish. Why? Not sure, but probably because his presence in the trailer led me to believe Tom Hiddleston had a larger role. WRONG. As the Germans reached their hidden machine guns, the recognition of their unavoidable slaughter crept into Tom’s baby blues. I can only express my sadness by listening to/watching Black Swan Song. Oh well, I have The Avengers to look forward to, this Comic-Con panel to keep me entertained, and my Thor Blu-ray. Benedict went off to POW land, never to be seen or heard from again. DOWNTON PARALLEL: The male population of the UK was absolutely decimated during the Great War. Just ask Sybil: “Sometimes it feels as if all of the men I’ve danced with are dead.”
Part Three: The guy from The Reader and his brother commit a No-No
In memory of the precious few minutes we got of the Benedict/Tom bromance, Joey and Topthorn (BC’s horse) remain together in the German camp. And because Joey is special you guys, he shows Topthorn it is okay to be harnessed, ensuring both of their survivals. The appearance of the boy from The Reader as Gunther (David Kross) resulted in me listening to his speech patterns; I was trying to decide if he actually knows English now rather than just memorizing some consonant sounds. Lucky for him, he is really good with the horses; so much so that he gets to stay behind and care for them. His 14-year-old brother gets his orders to go to the front, and despite his protests, Gunther grabs him from the line of marching men and they flee to a nearby windmill (aka the most obvious hiding spot within a 20 mile radius). It is a gamble that in the end is not worth the risk: we all know what the punishment for desertion is….DOWNTON PARALLEL: One cannot help but think of poor Mrs. Patmore’s nephew MIA and later revealed to have been shot for cowardice. TORCHWOOD PARALLEL: Poor Tosh’s out of time semi-boyfriend Tommy, who was doomed to death once he returned to his appropriate timeline because of his PTSD (or shell shock) which, in the eyes of officers, was cowardice on the battlefield, and resulted in execution.
Part Four: A Sickly Girl Meets Two Horses (Interlude)
This was probably my least favorite chapter in the story of Joey. I was truly enjoying the battlefield so to be torn away so abruptly into this farm setting was a little boring (especially if you are expecting an Inglourious Basterds type situation). A little girl, Emilie, living with her grand-père, falls in love with the two horses she magically finds in their windmill. All she wants to do is go riding, but she suffers from brittle bones.She wants to know about the death of her parents and he wants to talk about some pigeons. In the end, the horses are found when Emilie is allowed to ride Joey on her birthday and sent back into the field.
Part Five: Its 1918, Welcome to The Somme, Albie
Poor Joey and Topthorn are now employed with the wrenching work of moving heavy artillery up and down embankments. While we know this is something THE MIRACLE HORSE Joey is capable of, Topthorn is already struggling.
MEANWHILE at the Battle of the Somme we see a familiar face: Albie! As one could have guessed, no able-bodied boy from Devon could escape conscription when his age allowed (but he was probably eagerly awaiting the day he could begin the Joey search, if Captain Nicholl’s sad little sketchbook and death notice did not dissuade him too much). Andrew is alongside Albie as well as Mr. I Can Drive David. The boys raid No Man’s Land, except Andrew is in charge of giving any cowards a bayonet to the stomach. Albie saves David halfway across the stretch of war-torn land (making me search my brain for what this reminded me of: The Pacific? Of course not…ahhh yes, the Doctor Who episode where the mean popular kid becomes friends with the little scrawny Love Actually boy when they are in the Great War–and his vision from the Doctor’s fob watch allows him to save them both on the battlefield). DOWNTON PARALLEL #1: In the second season, they sure do beat us over the head about how war changes everything, war is the great equalizer, etc: Matthew: “War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.” And similarly, the fact that David got to drive around a pretty girl and their dad’s hate each other matter a lot less to Albie in the middle of combat. Andrew cannot bayonet his friends when they scramble back into the trenches and instead he leaps onto the field to join Albie. This made me wonder: would he have been accused of cowardice himself, for refusing to kill the cowards? Time wouldn’t tell because dear old goofy Andrew succumbed to mustard gas in the enemy trenches. DOWNTON PARALLEL #2: I did half expect to see Matthew and William preparing to go out on a raid.
BACK TO JOEY. Topthorn is completely spent; he lays down and will not get back up. With fighting breaking out, Joey is able to escape, only to leap around the trenches and get stuck in No Man’s Land, caught in barbed wire. This leads to one of my favorite scenes of the film: the cooperation between the British and German soldiers who cut Joey free. That both sides would break for Christmas celebrations or football matches and other such tales is one of the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching aspects of the Great War. The British soldier wins the right to take Joey back to his camp, thus setting up….
Part Six: A boy and his horse reunited
As storytelling allows, Joey and Albie end up in the same vicinity. TWIST! Their reunion is made all the more difficult by Albie’s temporary blindness due to the mustard gas. However, the fateful owl call he taught Joey as well as his perfect description of his features spare Joey yet again. There was only one obstacle left: Joey was going back to his beginnings—the farmer’s auction. While all the soldiers chip in to help Albie, the grandfather of the little girl appears and pays an astronomical price for Joey, recognizing that the miracle horse was being sold. He has his reasons for wanting him: his granddaughter is dead, and he wants the one piece of her that the war didn’t take. (And thus the whole little interlude in the middle of the movie wasn’t a complete departure from the plot). Albie mans up and says goodbye but Joey is reluctant; the old man pulls out Albie’s father’s regimental pennant from his pocket (that traveled from Albie to Joey to the old man) and he finally realizes the horse belongs with Albie. Albie returns home with Joey to his parents and I sit in wonder at how a movie can end so happily. The father isn’t even dead? Wow, and one of my friends thought for sure Joey would be heading to “The Glue Factory” by the end.
Let’s just hope that Albie doesn’t end up like his father or poor Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire, forever haunted by his experiences.
Damn, those did not disappoint.
I felt physically ill during most of Downton Abbey (it stresses me so) but the payoff was so, so sweet. The scene right before the end was a bit too over the top for me (Lavinia, please go gentle into that good night) but its inclusion closed the book on her and paved the way to glorious happiness.
I want to include every screencap of this moment possible but the above is so perfect. Look how happy Matthew is (finally, away with dreary doom and gloom Matthew!). But the Daily Mail has some other great pictures from the special here. Matthew proposing (properly on one knee)! And Matthew punching Sir Richard! And other things happened.
Side note: More Britons watched Downton Abbey and Doctor Who than the Queen’s speech yesterday. Down with the last vestiges of monarchy via televised drama?
On to Doctor Who: very funny, many memorable quotables. The Doctor makes me laugh out loud more than many sitcoms I watch; I think it is largely due to how Matt Smith delivers his lines. Of course, Steven Moffat warned us we would cry (thus making me more prone not to get sentimental) but he was half-right. I got very teary at the end because Moffat tricked me. I thought he wanted me to get sentimental for the wife saving the husband, when it wasn’t very shocking to me. NO. He had to throw in my kryptonite: the Doctor’s feelings. I immediately got emotional at the idea he was actually going to visit the Ponds. That was already enough. THEN he had to get all humany-wumany with the happy tears. That was such a great payoff too. Especially from earlier in the episode where the Doctor claimed he was not capable of such things (I retorted, oh yes you are Doctor). And boom! Told ya.
I am a huge fan of the one single tear out of one eye as well. If I had more examples of this, I would totally make a Tumblr or something. Alas, my other perfect example is Andrew McCarthy. I feel he has used this in multiple flicks but never as prominently as in Pretty in Pink:
And finally, thinking back to the popularity of the Christmas special in Britain as opposed to the complete lack of programming in the US, I realized it isn’t just that…we don’t or no longer have a tradition of the Christmas special at all. We have the Christmas “episode” which just happens when a 22 episode season coincides with the holidays. We also have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day (among others) to celebrate season to season.
I have to give props for SyFy’s attempt to re-energize the idea. And even with their specials, there are differences. SyFy’s Christmas episodes aired December 6th, when the Christmas season was at its start. And, these episodes are stand alone. No plot was furthered on Eureka, Warehouse 13, or Haven. So it is sort of disjointed to see characters happy and relatively unscathed from the explosive events of their respective finales. I don’t know about Eureka but Warehouse 13 and Haven ended on significant cliffhangers. In comparison, the British specials moved A LOT of plot, especially in respect to Downton Abbey. But even Doctor Who set the Doctor back up with Amy and Rory before the episode was out.
In conclusion, even though some American shows are moving back toward special holiday hours, they are still afraid of viewers missing out. Strange, but typical.
So excited for the Doctor Who and Downton Abbey Christmas Specials tonight!
And also, I suppose, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Yep, don’t mind having another reason to be excited for Christmas.
After stressing all afternoon, Chris Hardwick decides to tweet: ” Wholigans: Don’t stress about David Yates’ Doctor Who comments. I spoke to the BBC myself and nothing has been decided about anything yet.”
My twitter feed blew up today after Variety initially reported that David Yates is planning on bringing Doctor Who to the big screen in three years time…as a stand alone, alternate Doctor, if you will. WHAT?! I honestly can’t even wrap my head around how this movie will work. Presumably they want to re-work the story to somehow have broader appeal to Americans. Which to me seems completely odd because Doctor Who’s popularity here in the States has been on a continued rise. And also, I can’t help but remember the Eighth Doctor’s television movie that was supposed to relaunch Doctor Who for an American audience: didn’t that incorporate things meant to Americanize the series? The Doctor was literally, more human and the action took place in a familiar US city. And even then it continued the mythology, especially with the inclusion of the Seventh Doctor regenerating and The Master! (While also taking it a bit too far with its own mythology…half-human Doctor…because we couldn’t bear for him to be full “alien”). It got me to thinking (at work no less, when I feverishly started writing down notes for this blog underneath my notes for you know…Libya) about this trend toward reboots, “reimaginings,” and just plain remakes of things that have maintained popularity in their own right. And even then Doctor Who is different from the rest in that it is still on television! Unlike the time in between the Seventh and Ninth (where the Doctor Who television movie clearly had an “in”), how can this movie be promoted alongside an existing television series? “Oh no, it is about the same thing essentially, but the show exists in one universe and the movie another.” Which is all well and good for most reboots, but in the world of Doctor Who, the movie could be in another universe and the show another, and yet they could meet. (Sounds like something the daleks would want to royally screw up…wait will daleks exist?!). When I think about how SyFy acquired the rights to air Doctor Who but then subsequently dumped it due to lack of interest, I wonder what in the world makes these people think they can find a massive audience in the US unless they make something that can no longer be recognized as Doctor Who?
When I think about remakes, I think about all the movies coming out recently that decide they want to crush my dreams by making a mediocre re-enactment of a movie that may or may not have been good to begin with. This trend is not new and it only tends to hurt when it is something I cherished: Footloose, Fright Night, Halloween, Friday the 13th (actually think of the list that Hayden Panettiere rattles off in Scream 4 to get an idea of all the horror remakes). And lest I forget anything, there is a list on Wikipedia. Of course. I do enjoy some remakes over the originals and sometimes am more familiar with the remake. If anything, the field that the remake has been abusing most is the horror genre, going after movies that are cult classics as well as ones that were better left forgotten. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Fright Night (and the script’s ability to translate to today as well as veer off in its own direction) and yes, I couldn’t bring myself to see the new Footloose because the hurt was just too deep.
Reboots and Reimaginings
What comes to mind first in this category is J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie series. This is the closest comparison I have in my mind to how a movie can exist separately from a television series with established events. This is a personal example but not being a Star Trek fan, the reboot had all kinds of success with me. And I think that is because what I was experiencing was equally as fresh to the fan from back in the day; the franchise needed that. However, it wasn’t conflicting with any current running version of Star Trek and it still worked with established characters! Kirk and Spock et. al. may be on a different timeline from the originals but we recognize the parts of them that we are meant to. And the new franchise gets to play around with established characters in different ways without infuriating the longtime fans (in theory).
What about Battlestar Galactica? Moore’s reboot deviated drastically from the original series (which had been off the air quite some time and I obviously had no exposure to it) and by most accounts is vastly superior. And now Bryan Singer is set to helm a movie version that may or may not follow the same reboot formula as Star Trek. While I am not quite sure how I feel about this, and I think I will largely decide on my feelings once I get an inkling of how this film will play out, BSG has been off the air since 2009. And I don’t think stories depicted on Caprica will in anyway affect this film; so in a way I am ready for this reboot. I miss BSG, and maybe a movie version will help others discover Ron Moore’s series.
This topic also reminds me of the last reboot news that angered me to my very core: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, minus Joss Whedon. Buffy, the show, was leaps and bounds beyond what we got with the original movie version. Joss took the bare minimum of what the movie had to offer (and even incorporated it into Buffy’s lore) and turned it into a generation-defining hit. The Buffyverse and the larger, more active Whedonverse is still active today. In my opinion, it is too soon for a full-fledged reboot. Joss is an inseparable facet to what made Buffy so great; I would much rather see a Buffy reboot many more years down the line.
Both Ron Moore and Joss Whedon took passable universes and made them into pop culture icons. Arguably, Russell T. Davies did the exact same thing with Doctor Who. I started Doctor Who with Davies and easily got sucked into the series without any knowledge of Doctors 1-8. Most of the things I didn’t understand (Time Wars and the Doctor being the last Time Lord) were things I chalked up as mysteries I would one day solve NOT KNOWING that this was part of Davies’ rebooted mythology. As I delved into the earlier Doctors and saw Time Lords running amok and no mention of any sort of Time War, I started to get the genius that was the rebooted Doctor Who. Somehow Davies knew exactly how to tweak the long running series into something for the contemporary world, and created a compelling storyline when, lets face it, the show was a fairly typical sci-fi show at its beginnings.
What will the big screen Doctor look like? Younger or older? Quirky or more human? What of the Time Lords and Gallifrey? Any reboot would have to significantly establish its own history or else leave us in the dark like the show tends to do. Would Americans even accept a time travelling alien whose spaceship is a blue police box? And here I mean the majority of Americans who are not exposed to Doctor Who and who will also be completely clueless as to why he is in a police box. Will the reboot choose some other sort of cloaking device for the TARDIS to get stuck on? I shudder to think. A big budget movie could allow for the TARDIS to actually morph into its surroundings, thus eliminating the police box and one of the most recognizable features of Doctor Who. Argh. Are there any other implications of rebooting something that is already running other than we want to make money? Doesn’t seem like it.
All of this to say, this is the strangest, most unexpected reboot that I think I have ever heard of. And the fact that I can see no way of them feasibly creating their own version makes me queasy. When we look at Matt Smith (and as the show constantly reminds us) we are seeing the sum of 11 Time Lords worth of knowledge in one person, who is also the same as those men. We know how his companions have helped shape him and what motivates his actions. The learning curve for that is substantial. I can’t imagine looking at a stranger, called the Doctor, and having no indication of who this man is or who he has been in the past (other than whatever backstory this movie can throw at me). That may be exciting for some people but for me, losing that air of familiarity that is present throughout its near 50 year run is a depressing thought.
Abed’s obsession with Inspector Spacetime has its origins in Cougar Town being moved to mid-season. Britta briefly gets him hooked on Cougarton Abbey before finally introducing him to the Inspector.
Then Trobed showed up in the Halloween episode dressed as the Inspector and Constable Reggie. Because they admit they weren’t actually in costume, we can assume they had just come from doing this in their apartment:
The Inspector’s signature bowler hat is sweeping the fashion world as well.
Abed and Troy have now decked out their apartment with Inspector posters.
A plethora of Inspector Spacetime websites and Doctor parallels now exist. I particularly like posts on tumblr.