Ten Things About Who: The Unquiet Dead

And a very Merry Christmas to you! Yes, it’s technically midsummer outside, which naturally means the threat of rain hangs overhead. But in the world of Ten Things About Who, we’re simultaneously back in April 2005 and Christmas 1869.

God bless us, every one!

1. The stiffs are getting lively

And so we get the first real emergence of the pre-credits sequence as it has become used. A peril, often Doctor-less, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here, Mr Sneed’s “Oh no” when faced with a revived brings with it a weary familiarity that tells us that while we are in a story from the past, this is not your average historical story.

League of Gentlemen fans will, of course, have known of Mark Gatiss’ delight in lacing elements of historical horror with humour. It’s a vein he’s returned to, of course – most recently with The Crimson Horror. It’s when he steps away from this template (Cold War, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which is horrific but in a very different way) that things go awry for me.

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Ten Things About… The End of the World

Okay, so maybe a weekly schedule for these was a little over-optimistic. Two weeks after I revisited Rose, we’re now on to the TARDIS’s first visit to the future in its 2005 series.

1. Previously…

In the classic series, we were used to seeing episodes 2 onwards of a multi-episode series to repeating the end of the previous episode. But the opening of this episode is really the first to do the American-style montage of clips from throughout the episode of Rose. It’s not directly relevant to this episode, other than to just remind people new to the world of the Doctor what Rose had previously been through.

Thankfully, it’s rarely been needed since. And even here, it’s only included because the original scripts ended up under-running. Which is all the more remarkable, because it feels that these first episodes crack on at a pace that was missing in sadly far too many episodes of series 7.

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Coming soon: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

If there’s one film I’m looking forward to this June – and that ignores both Behind the Candelabra and Man of Steel – it’s Joss Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Filmed over a couple of weeks as the director took a break between production and post-production of Avengers Assemble, it was shot in and around Whedon’s home, and stars actors who have featured in several of his previous projects (for a selection of interviews with them, see this Buzzfeed article).

I’ve never been quite as enamoured with Alexis Denisof (Benedick) as Whedon seems to be, but Amy Acker’s Beatrice should be good fun. And the thought of Nathan Fillion as Dogberry…

For more details about the film, including the cinemas it’s booked to play in, visit the official site at muchadofilm.co.uk. It opens on June 14.

Coming soon: Counter-Measures series 2

Back in July last year, I reviewed Big Finish’s new Counter-Measures series.

Counter-Measures is another addition to Big Finish’s celebration of great characters and great acting

Details of the writers of  forthcoming second series – again, to be available as a CD box set and download – have now been released. I’m pleased to see Matt Fitton, author of what I felt to be the strongest story of the first series, return – but even happier that Mark Wright and Cavan Scott (my editors for the sole contribution I’ve made to the Big Finish universe) are also contributing a story.

The full roster of stories in the second season is:

  • Manhunt by Matt Fitton
  • The Fifth Citadel by James Goss
  • Peshka by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Sins of the Fathers by John Dorney

Pre-orders (£25 for download, £30 for CD) are now being taken at bigfinish.com.

Pulling Faces (script version)

I’ve just finished reading the script of Helen Goldwyn’s Pulling Faces. This play, about a TV presenter in her mid-fifties facing up to pressure to go under the knife, has previously been recorded as a full-cast audio play in Big Finish’s Drama Showcase range starring Louise Jameson, which I reviewed upon its release.

But the piece had genesis as a one-woman play, performed by Jameson, who also edits this edition – and who recently excelled in Gutted at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. And what a sight that must have been: seeing the words in black and white make you realise how little had to change for the audio version, and yet also how much must have been lost. I’ve never seen Jameson perform this piece on stage, but you can’t help but admire the tenacity. Several scenes feature fast-paced back-and-forth dialogue that is hard to get right with two actors onstage, let alone one playing both sides of the conversation.

At some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll see a new stage production of this play, whose themes will I’m sure remain sadly relevant for far too long. Where that’s a full cast piece, a one-woman performance or maybe even as a hybrid, with a central performance as Joanne assisted by a couple of supporting actors playing the other roles. However it gets back on stage, it’ll be exposure for a cracking short play. Until then, reading it is a great substitute. Even better, at the moment it only costs 99p for the Kindle ebook version…

The next Doctor, and how to predict who it’ll be

Everyone seems to be trying to guess who the next actor to play the lead role in Doctor Who will be once Matt Smith regenerates in the 2013 Christmas Special.

Back when David Tennant announced his departure five years ago when the TV Today blog was still running, we ran a few features looking at some potential names:

I’ve seen three of the names above suggested this time round, too. Cumberbatch’s star has exploded since 2008, so we can safely assume that he’ll be out of the running. And similarly with the other three, while they are all interesting performers who would get the “other”-ness of the Doctor, I suspect their respective career trajectories would rule them out. (I do love the PhotoShop job I managed to do of Ayoade, though.)

Rather than settle on a specific name, I want to stick my neck out and come up with a few traits that I suspect the new TARDIS resident will have.

  • A limited TV profile. The actor may have one or two fairly recent, moderately prominent TV roles under his belt, just as Tennant had Blackpool and Casanova, and Matt Smith had Party Animals. But he won’t be one of the actors that you see everywhere. TV budgets, and the need to sign your life away for the best part of five years, dictate that the role will be taken by an actor who is not yet well-known or powerful enough to command a crippling fee.
  • A substantial theatre acting CV. Both Tennant and Smith had extensive acting credits prior to taking on the mantle of the Doctor – predominantly on stage rather than on screen. Expect the new Doctor to have one or two long West End runs under their belt, maybe some RSC or National Theatre work. Expect also that certain tabloid newspapers and TV magazines will brand them an “unknown”, as if nobody knows who actors are unless they’ve been in EastEnders or Coronation Street.
  • An older actor. Steven Moffat was originally looking to cast the Doctor as older when looking for Tennant’s replacement, but Smith convinced him otherwise. In fact, Smith’s onscreen portrayal often feels much older than the actor himself. I’d be surprised if another actor of similar age could pull that off – so expect the lead actor’s age to head upwards again.
  • Male. There are some fantastic actresses out there, many of whom could more than cope with playing one of the most iconic characters on television. And I would love to see a Saturday tea time drama that revolved around a strong, charismatic female lead. I have to be realistic, though, and suggest that the twelfth actor to play this role will be as male as his predecessors.

I have a list in my head of people who I think would be good for the role. Most of them only fit three out of the four points above. But that’s why I’m not a casting director.

Review: Saturday Drama – The Letter of Last Resort

Originally staged at the Tricycle Theatre, David Greig’s play The Letter of Last Resort examines the inherent absurdity at the heart of the principle of nuclear deterrence. Possessing nuclear weapons, the argument goes, prevents other nuclear powers from ever firing theirs. A successful deterrent will never be used – but that will only happen if people believe you are willing to use it.

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Review: Momentous Musicals – Live Cast Recording

Some of the big name musical theatre stars who release albums of showtunes tend to release studio albums – your Balls, your Barrowmans, your Paiges. They generally sound wonderful, but with the luxury of being able to re-record you’d expect them to. And yet, one of the great thrills of hearing a great musical theatre performance is being able to appreciate them sung live, to thrill at that almost imperceptible change of tone as a performer’s chest swells in response to a receptive audience. And, yes, the occasional moment where they come in a fraction too early or late, or their voice breaks a little. It’s the slight little things, the lack of clinicality, that gives a live performance the edge over a purely studio-bound recording for me.

One drawback with live albums is that the sound quality is often lower as a result, but that’s far from the case with Momentous Musicals. This CD was originally recorded at an evening showcasing the best in musical theatre songs at the New Wimbledon Theatre in 2012 (further dates in July 2013 are planned) – and while Gareth Gates is the only musical theatre performer’s face on the cover of the CD, this is an ensemble of West End performers doing what they do best: along with Gates, the CD features performances from Rachael Wooding, Daniel Boys, Jonathan Ansell and Emma Williams.

Starting with Dreamgirls’ One Night Only – surely the most well-known musical theatre song never to have received a West End outing – the disc rattles through standards old and new, from musicals as diverse as West Side Story and Company to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Legally Blonde.

The balance between uptempo numbers and the big power ballads is just about right, and the orchestrations by musical director George Dyer bring out the best of both the original compositions and the performers on the night. Emma Williams’ Mein Herr is a particular delight, while Company’s Being Alive – possibly my favourite Sondheim number ever – feels safe in the hands and vocal cords of Daniel Boys. Rachael Wooding stands out, though, putting her heart and soul into every one of the several songs she is tasked with performing.

As a record of an evening in the company of great singers – or even as consolation for not being able to be there in person – it’s hard to beat. As incentive to book tickets for the next tour, it’s pretty good too.

Ten Things About Who: Rose

Now that ‘series 7’ of Doctor Who is out of the way, I’ve found that I miss writing ten points about an episode. So I’ve decided to carry on – rewinding all the way to 2005’s Rose, and continuing from there. Doctor Who Magazine has chronologically looked back with its Time Team features – but their conceit is that they’re watching as if for the first time, and without reference to any stores broadcast after the one they’re watching.

My posts will most definitely be written from a 2013 perspective, introducing thoughts about how the series has changed – or not – since its return; other shows the series has influenced, or been influenced by, offscreen and on; and any old randomness that comes into my head. Please do chip in in the comments below each post if you have your own thoughts about the episode in question.

Don’t expect the frequency to always be weekly, although I will try and keep up the pace. If you want to know when each one has been published, you can follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my public posts on Facebook.

And so sit back, press Play, and rejoice in the fact that on DVD, the department store basement won’t resound with the echo of Graham Norton doing a sound check for Strictly Dance Fever.

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