Uncollected Thoughts: Thunderbirds are Go


5! 4! 3! 2! 1!

I suppose that the first thing you’re expecting me to say is, I miss the strings.

Far from it. It’s fifty years now since the imagination of Gerry Anderson (who never wanted to work with puppets in the first place) and the vision of Lew Grade (who looked at the pilot episode and upped the series to an hour long slot, allowing so much more to happen) combined to bring us one of the greatest kid’s action/adventure series of all time. Now, a serious, concerted effort has been made to bring back the series in all its glory, using modern technology, and there are more important things to be concerned with than whether or not you can see strings.

This new Thunderbirds are Go effort is directly based upon the original series. It’s full of changes. A decision has been made to dispense with Jeff Tracy, missing, perhaps dead at the hands of the Hood (who now speaks with the ‘foreign’ accent of a member of the British Upper Class). John Tracy, whom Anderson condemned to a life on the Space Station, Thunderbird 5, because he decided he was boring, has a much more active role, stepping into his father’s role as more of a co-ordinator.

The uniforms have been re-designed, updated, made more sleek. It’s reasonably effective, though the same can’t be said of the Tracy brothers themselves. Everybody’s been de-aged by a good decade at least, and I’m not the first to suggest that Alan and Gordon’s hairstyles are more suited to boyband members than serious human bings.

To some extent, the Thunderbirds themselves have been updated, though only Thunderbird 5 has been radically rethought. The others at least adhere to the basic design of the originals, although both Thunderbirds 2 and 3 have been made much less sleek, more chunky in appearance – horrendously so in the case of Thunderbird 3, which was always my favourite.

By removing the puppets, in favour of a combination of models and CGI, the makers have been able to both speed things up immeasurably, and give themselves angles for shots that simply weren’t possible for Anderson. It fits the series to its new era, but the knock on effect is that there isn’t the same sense of extended tension. The slowness of the puppets enforced a deliberate pace, a ratchetting tension that would us kids up delightedly: these Tracy boys speed through things in a way that undercuts the danger.

And the show itself was eager to throw everything at you as quickly as possible: by the first ads we’d seen everybody and everything in action, a hectic and not all that impressive approach, but then I don’t suppose you make any friends in kids TV by expecting the little bleeders to be patient.

There were some things I was seriously doubtful about, the biggest of which being the decision to make Brains Indian. His skin’s not that much darker, his accent is only faint, but the former Hiram Hickenbacker is no longer an American boy. The splendid David Graham, at 89, has been brought back to reincarnate Parker, but has not been let loose on Brains, whose voice is supplied by Kayvan Noval of Fonejacker, a programme I do not watch.

I’m also not sure about the decision to have International Rescue’s identities known to the World Government, and I’m dubious over the one out-and-out mistake, which was to set this series in 2060. Not only is that too close in time to our current world, the original Thunderbirds was set 100 years in our future, namely 2065. This new version is surely not a prequel?

I’m also a bit concerned that what we saw tonight was apparently a double episode. If the rest of the series is only going to run 25 minutes an episode, we are not going to be having anything remotely in-depth to match up to the show’s wonderful record.

There are undoubted good points about the series. Peter Dyneley’s voice has been resurrected, 38 years on from his death, to provide the iconic ” 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! Thunderbirds are Go” countdown over the intro, though I’m less enamoured of using it over the actual launch-sequences in the show. But I heartily approve of Rosamund Pike as a rather younger and actually quite dishy Lady Penelope, who has instantly made the character hers.

I don’t think I’m going to get up at 8.00am on Saturday mornings to watch further episodes, but the important thing to me is that, on this showing at least, the people behind the remakes have got both their hearts and their heads in the right place. If they can keep this level up, Thunderbirds are Go will not shame its legacy.

Though I can’t leave this topic without two complaints. The first is that ITV’s live watch online is utter shite! This is prime time from a National TV station and the sodding thing crashed no less than six times in the course of an hour, and it sure as hell isn’t the fastest to pick up a signal in the first place. I can get better service livestreaming overseas football channels.

And it is so long since I last watched a live TV programme with adverts in it that I had totally forgotten what a pain in the arse they are. Gah!

Doctor Who : The Last Christmas – Uncollected Thoughts


I’m not showing a picture of the Doctor or his Companion

Oh dear. And it was all going so well, right up to the last moment, when…

Actually, strike that. It wasn’t going at all well. This year’s Doctor Who Xmas Day special was, and let’s be honest about it, a mish-mash of styles, trying to marry up industrial strength whimsy in the form of Nick ‘Santa Claus’ Frost, complete with two self-aware elfs and a battery-powered Rudolph, and Xmas horror in the form of Dream Crabs who weren’t even pretending not to be a direct rip-off of Alien. It can be done and if anyone could do it, you’d have bet on Moffat.

But not this year’s Moffat. Not after the disaster of a one-year-too-many series which has gone overly loud on the emotional moment basso profundo pedal time and time again, and wasted the opportunity that always exists with a new Doctor.

That Moffat had lost that fine touch was obvious from the opening scene of Santa knocking down a chimney stack, the elves bickering, the reindeer running riot and Clara standing there in the snow earing nothing but pyjamas and dressing gown (which she was to wear for the whole episode), open-mouthed. In the snow, falling like a cartoon. And not feeling the cold in the slightest.

After that, the second-hand horror hardly had a chance, and that was before we got to the Polar expedition scientist Shona. Shona – twenty-something, with a pronounced Lancashire accent and heavily into Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ which was only thirteen years older than she was – was played by Faye Marsay, and played to perfection. If this were a previously undiscovered episode of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV from 1986 or thereabouts.

The Earth’s under attack by these Dream Crabs, who cause people to live in their dreams until they die. That meant that, whenever somebody woke up, they were still asleep and dying, until the Doctor finally got everyone to realise they were dreaming and wake up, by flying away on Santa’s sled. Except for the one who spent more time guzzling on a turkey leg than anyone outside a dream state physically could: he died, but that was all right because nobody gave a damn about him, or the fact that a living Dream Crab remained behind, temporarily sated and looking for another victim. Missed that, didn’t you, Moffat?

Clara’s dream as, of course, Xmas Day with Danny. She’d already drawn the Doctor’s attention to the fact that Danny hadn’t survived, the lie on which the series ended with she and the Doctor separated, and this Xmas idyll – he’d got her all the right presents – allowed Clara for the only time ever to be what she wanted to be: relaxed, in love and content.

And Moffat struck gold in this scene: Dream-Danny was so beautifully dreamed by Clara, so exact, that the moment he heard that he was a dream and a dream that was killing Clara, he ordered her out, sacrificing himself again to ensure that she would live.

It was a beautiful highlight, which made the ending turn out so appalling. Everybody’s waking up to grossly disintegrated Dream Crabs (except for the poor, dead sod that Moffat forgot after he’d served his purpose as cannon-fodder). Except for Clara, who wants a few more minutes… So theDoctor has to turn up in her real-life bedroom, to pry the rubber mask off her face and reveal… that Clara fell into her dream sixty-two years after she last saw the Doctor.

She has no regrets. Well, not many. She travelled all over. She taught in every country in Europe. She lived a full life. There were no more men for her after Danny: well, there was one who matched up to him but, well, you know… (break out the sick-buckets, please). Jenna Coleman’s time, which has been the subject of no litte debate, is clearly up.

Except, and I am typing this bit from within the sick-bucket itself, the Doctor suddenly wakes up with a faceful of disintegrating Dream Crab again, races off to Clara, sonics the Dream Crab off her face and fuck all that misleading shit, she’s still young, and lovely and, do you know what, despite everything that’s happened, perfectly willing to reject every atom of character, personality or believable response to the trauma she suffered over Danny, cos she can still go surfing the Universe of Time and Space.

It’s unbelievably glutinous and unforgivably false to anything resembling human emotion. My response, the moment the Doctor woke up a second time (in defiance of all story logic, such as it was, that had been established) was an out-loud, “Oh, fucking hell, no.”

And that’s me and Doctor Who  done. Call me when Moffat leaves, because until then I m just not interested any more. Marry Xmas.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Uncollected Thoughts


Now (read) on…

By an interesting but not unlikely coincidence, I saw last year’s second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy the day before my team’s Office Xmas Party, at which, in order not to spoil anything for those who planned to see it, I made only one comment. Which was: “Oh, wow!”

Twelve months on and I’ve returned from the final instalment, and yes, I’m off to the Party tomorrow night where, in order not to spoil anything for those who plan to see it, I will make only one comment. This time it’s going to be: “Oh, fucking wow!”

After watching the middle instalment, I mused about what Peter Jackson might find to fill out The Battle of the Five Armies, given that The Desolation of Smaug had finished – on a cliffhanger – a bit close to the end of the original novel. There were only three things left: the destruction of Lake-town and the death of Smaug at the arrow of Bard the Bowman: the build up to and the fighting of the Battle of Five Armies (no definitive article): and Bilbo’s return to Bag End in the middle of the Sackville-Baggins’ auctioning off its contents.

Jackson had created a hostage to fortune from himself in leaving Gandalf captured in Dol Guldur, which meant having to resolve his escape, and the attack by the White Council that drove the nascent Sauron from his older, less terrible fortress, which was not merely confined to offstage in the novel, but also very much to offhand. Still, that only made four elements.

And Jackson made his film out of those four elements only, and nothing else but sub-plots interweaved into one section or another.

The film starts where last year’s left off, right into the action, as if twelve months hadn’t gone by. Smaug circles the town then comes in for fire-breathing attacks, burning the wooden city in great sweeping lines, treading it under claw. Tauriel tries to get the dwarves and Bard’s kids away, the Master tries to get the gold away, and Bard saves the day by shooting the last Black Arrow unerringly into that single patch where the dragon is unscaled, killing him (Smaug promptly drops out of the sky and does even more damage to Lake-town, though he does rather propitiously land directly on the Master: I have made no secret of my lack of regard for Stephen Fry, and this is possibly a churlish thing to say, but if anyone should set-up a Kickstarter to fund a real-life enactment, they will not find me wanting.)

The problem with this section is exemplified by the fact that it is only now, getting on for however long into the film it is, that the title card for The Battle of the Five Armies comes up on-screen. A decade ago, Peter Jackson caused a rift with Christopher Lee by dropping the death of Saruman from the theatrical release of The Return of the King, on the basis that it was a leftover from The Two Towers (and when you see the extended DVD version, it is obvious that Jackson is right).

The same applies here: Smaug’s death is a holdover from the previous film. No matter how much of a catalyst it is for what follows, it belongs at the end of The Desolation of Smaug: it’s sweeping up a loose end that would have been better concluded where it naturally belonged.

There’s no such reservation about the next section, which is made out of best Jacksonian whole cloth. I’m pretty sure that Jackson’s portrayal of the Council’s attack on Dol Guldur bears no resemblance to whatever Tolkien saw happening so far away from his jolly little adventure, but it’s the most eyepoppingest and jaw-droppingest part of the whole film, as Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee get to do some strutting of their stuff against the newly-resurrected Nazgul, before Galadriel blows Sauron far far away.

And I know how antithetical this is to Tolkien’s concepts, to the Three Rings that were never touched by Sauron but which were not instruments of war, but rather of defence and preservation, but damn! this is the three ringbearers in one place and it’s unbelievably powerful, and I’m prepared to overlook what is one of the largest overturnings of Tolkienian lore for how this is handled. Not to mention that, in having it be Galadriel – who alone of all those Elves is of the Noldor and has lived in the light of the Blessed Land – who finally drives Sauron out, tumbling through the sky, Jackson lays the most subtle link to his earlier trilogy, to her Tempting at her Well, so long ago in The Fellowship of the Ring.

As for Bilbo’s return to Hobbiton, it’s handled with simplicity and, above all, brevity, which other commenters have already welcomed as a contrast to The Return of the King‘s multiple farewells.

The rest of it, about two-thirds of the film as far as I could judge, was the Battle of the Five Armies, the actually fighting of which, in all its stages, took between and hour and ninety minutes of the movie. Proof, therefore, for those who have never accepted the application of the tone of Lord of the Rings to a cheap and cheerful children’s book, of the elephantiasis of Jackson’s handling of his subject.

Well, we disagree on that, and we’re going to have to continue to disagree, because I found it spectacular in every sense of that word, utterly riveting in every moment, and stunning in its execution. If you think that the Battle for Minas Tirith was colossal, when set against this it was no more than a local skirmish. If you’d asked me what subjective time the battle lasted, I’d have struggled to put it at above a half hour.

There was the most brilliant of cameos by Billy Connolly as Dain Ironfoot, Thorin’s cousin, and leader of the Dwarf army from the Iron Hills, approaching the forthcoming battle as if it were no more than a Saturday night punch-up outside a Glasgow pub. And there was death.

In The Hobbit, three of the dwarf-band die: Fili and Kili, the two youngest, Thorin’s nephews, and Thorin himself. It’s yet another thing that Tolkien placed offstage. Not so Jackson, as we knew would come. Fili, killed as provocation for Thorin to place himself in a trap, Kili in trying to save his elf-maiden love, Tauriel, and Thorin, redeemed of his dragon-sickness, in final single-combat with the Orc, Azog the Defiler, who killed his grandfather Thrain. There was only one way to do it: to get close enough to Azog to run his sword through the Orc’s black heart, Thorin had to allow Azog to deliver a fatal blow.

I very rarely cry at films, and if I do it’s nearly almost always in the privacy of my own home, but between this, and Tauriel’s grieving over Kili, and her desperate pleading not to love because she didn’t understand it could be like that, I was wiping away tears and glad I was sat alone in the dark and invisible.

So, from me, a yes. To be perfectly honest, whilst I’m not going to get carried away and say that this is the Greatest Film I’ve Ever Seen, because it’s not, I think it’s the first time that I would have been ready to go out, buy another ticket and walk back to watch the film all over again, as long as it began immediately.

There’s nothing to look forward to now for December 2015, except perhaps that by then the 12-disc DVD box-set of all the Extended Versions may be available and I can set aside a day to watch the whole thing, every extra minute, one after another.

Maybe in the future, Jackson and those of his closest collaborators who I’ve lumped into his name, will do it again. There is The Silmarillion, after all, and if there’s a problem about turning that into a Trilogy, it’s going to be in the sheer volume you’d have to leave out just to do as few as three films. Go on, Peter, just don’t leave it too long. I might not have another decade left in me, and I would dearly love to have another December Friday afternoon at the Cinema, cursing that there were another two Xmas’s before me to see the end of the film.

And I’m just trying to imagine the Dungeons of Angband, and the ever-smoking, triple tops of Thangorodrim, and the face of he who will become Sauron but who is merely a Lieutenant of Melkor, whose name is not spoken and who is named Morgoth…

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Who series 8 finale – part 2


Nothing personal. Just go away. Now. Please.

Hmmm.

To repeat what I said last week, I have struggled with this series. Not with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, but with Clara Oswald, companion and self-important entity, bowing out at the last with a declaration of how special she felt at having gone travelling with the Doctor, and a thank you for making her feel special. Here I was prepared to say that she got so far up my nose that you would have to reach through the next three incarnations to get her out, but to be truthful, by this point the once-glorious Impossible Girl had just become a black hole that sucked in any sympathy I could muster wherever she was in this story.

Which was a shame for parts of it were good, and one part was very good indeed when Moffat’s desire to touch the heartstrings worked perfectly.

The story itself was relatively simple: the Master had worked out how to bond Cybermen to the dead, an unbeatable combination, and had been zipping up and down the Doctor’s timeline applying her formula to his friends and those who had died for him. Interestingly, the whole point of this inescapable menace was to place the army that could control the Universe and all of Space and Time in the hands of the Doctor. It was both an appeal to the Dark Side that Moffat’s been teasing ever since Capaldi’s eyebrows came along, but mainly it was an attempt to get the Master’s childhood friends back, and to prove that the Master could not possibly be all that bad, because the Doctor is just like her.

To do good. For a moment we were in Bag End, in the Shire, as Frodo Baggins offers the Ring to Gandalf. All the wrongs you could right… but just as Gandalf found the strength of heart to refuse the Ring, the Doctor removed the One Bracelet that Controlled Them All, and instead flung it to Danny-the-unassimilated-Cyberman, who led the Cyberman army to destroy all the Master’s plans.

After that, it was all a matter of endings, and there were too bloody many of them, lined up like dominoes, some of them better than others. Clara insists that the Master be killed for what she’s done (though the part of me that isn’t prepared to be blinded by great goops of emotion at this point notes that Clara isn’t out for justice but revenge for her poor dead Danny, and that though Danny fought nobly back against proper Cybernising – with not even an inadequate explanation for how – it was Clara who got him killed: talk about Displacement Activity). However, in order that dear Clara shouldn’t be tainted by comitting murder, the Doctor does it himself disintegrating the Master (a truly scenery chewing performance by Michelle Gomez) into a puff of smoke.

No Regeneration there then. Until the next showrunner wants to bring the Master back, so lets hope that the next one has more of a taste for tedious but necessary explanations of how than Moffat has sadly proven to be.

Then there’s the suggestion that Danny can come back from the dead to Clara, except that he instead sends back the boy he killed when a soldier, which was in its way equally saccharine. This led into the goodbye scene between the Doctor and his Companion with both of them lying furiously to each other in a wholly unconvincing manner (except that Jenna Coleman’s booked to do the Xmas Special, for which Nick Frost is playing Father Xmas – I may plotz, which is not meant disrespectfully. Npt to Nick Frost).

The other two endings were good though. A long time ago, last November to be exact, Gallifrey was restored and the Doctor (Matt Smith) promised to find it, setting up an exciting plot strand full of potential, which has been completely ignored all series. Now the Master has found it, and it’s back where it’s always been. Just before being disintegrated, she whispered its co-ordinates to the Doctor, except that she lied and she’s dead and it wasn’t there. Maybe this will get some people off their arses and pursue that story.

But the one that sealed it for me, though it was in its own way just as full of synthetically created emotion as everything else, was Kate Stewart. The Brigadier’s daughter popped up to appoint the Doctor President of Earth and commander of the globe’s armies, a somewhat unnecessary foreshadowing of the Master’s plan, but she also popped out, sucked from a crashing plane and spiralling off to die.

Except that she’s found safe and alive in the graveyard, under the safe guard of a Cyberman who spared the Doctor the actual execution of the Master. One Cyberman, among those created from the Doctor’s associates, who saved the woman who grew up to step into his shoes. Though Nicholas Courtney cannot give us a bow, his shade can occupy a Cyberman’s uniform and stop time for a moment for those of us who go back that far.

So the series is over. I switched off quickly to avoid trailers for the Xmas Special. It surely can’t be as bad as this was, please.

Uncollected Thoughts: Dr Who series 8 finale – part 1


The Impossible (to believe in) Girl

It began so well.

I like Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I liked the opening episode of the series. But I’ve liked each succeeding episode of this series a little less, each week, to the point where, even though I can objectively say that the first half of this year’s finale was excellent, I felt little or nothing during it. No surprise at the revelation that the Cybermen were back, given that that had leaked so much that someone as determined as I am to avoid spoilers was aware of it. Not even surprised that Missy is the Master, picking up on the tease flung out by Neil Gaiman in series 6 about how Timelords can change gender.

Nor moved by the central motivating issue that set this story into motion: Danny’s dead. Dead, knocked down and killed by a car whilst crossing the road, because he was concentrating on what Clara had just told him: that she loved him, and she really meant it.

That raised a hurdle that the show couldn’t clear. No, not a hurdle, but a barrier. Because Clara put it in absolute terms, terms of such devotion and commitment as we all dream of hearing being spoken to us and I didn’t believe a word of it. In fact I didn’t believe a syllable of it. They were words written by someone who has felt that true, unbelievable emotion but I have not seen a single thing this series that but an atom of belief into me that Clara felt like that towards the man she has consistently cheated and lied to, with whom she has shared no even plastic romantic moment, has never confided anything with openness and honesty.

Shot through as many feet as are needed to cripple a centipede, the episode’s driving force didn’t stand an earthly.

In fact, it is Clara and how she has behaved throughout this series that has slowly drained away my enthusiasm. Each week, she has been consistently and increasingly stupid, self-willed, self-important and blazingly ignorant of what the fuck she has gotten herself mixed up with now, until the point when the Doctor takes over and shows up how idiotic she’s been behaving and she doesn’t learn a single thing. I’ve slagged off Moffat before for an underlying misoginy in both Sherlock and Doctor Who at different times, but this has been ridiculous.

And all the while people have been leaping around with joy at these stories and praising Jenna Coleman to high heaven, and I’ve been wondering what for. After all, she had decided that she had found her One, the last man, person, thing, she would ever say ‘I love you’ to, but she had to very specificly tell him this on the phone and not in person, for no easily discernible reason than that it was a supposedly clever way to get him killed.

After that, I was on no sympathy with anything in the episode, which was a shame because, a few seriously unwise stabs at jokes by Chris Addison aside, it was probably excellent, written and played well by all. That final scene, where Danny first tries to convince Clara that he is the real Danny, then tries to keep her from coming after him, into death herself, reached a stunningly good conclusion when Clara exploded and threatened to cut off the connection if he told her he loved her one more time, and Danny, after a pause that felt like a lifetime, brokenly whispered it in a voice, and with a deliberation that convinced even me that he did, truly, feel that deeply for her. But I was a long way from being able to feel that scene as it deserved: had I not been so removed conviction, I am certain there would have been tears.

Next week, the series is all over, and so is Jenna Coleman. I shall miss her chirpy face and the pageboy bob, and the opaque tights when she’s wearing the short skirts, but to be honest, I’ve had enough of her. Moffat’s Doctor has been the only one of the New Who I’ve enjoyed, but in this series we’ve gone back full circle to what I didn’t like about the first series of the revival. I’d rather have Jenna Coleman than Billie Piper any day, but I do not want to watch a Doctor Who that’s all about the bloody assistant and her journey.

I think it’s time for Moffat to move on. I’d like to see another mind at work. If nothing else, it would give me a decent excuse to drop out because my enthusiasm is dying on its feet.

Uncollected Thoughts: Gotham


There’s getting to be a lot of comic-book based shows on TV all of a sudden, and it’s interesting to see that Channel Five have taken up the two newest, taking a gamble on both The Flash and Gotham. I’ve already given my opinion on the former, which has yet to start in the UK, but Gotham‘s already made a heady start, pulling down an audience that exceeded Channel Four and BBC2.

Of course, the one word reason for Gotham‘s pulling power is, ironically, the one word that will never ever be spoken on the series (not unless they do something incredibly stupid, that is), and that word is *Batman*. Because the point of Gotham is that it’s not about Batman. It’s about the city that creates him, about the years that lead to his first appearance, about the slow disintegration of the city to where it needs Batman, and about the Police and villains as they slowly grow or deteriorate into the people who populate Batman’s world.

Which makes Gotham pretty much a Police-procedural, albeit it with a difference. And instead of Bruce Wayne being at the heart of it, the centre is – and had better remain if this is going to work at all – Commissioner Gordon. Or, as he currently is, newly-promoted, new-to-Gotham Detective James Gordon.

Before watching the pilot episode, I did read one or two responses, one of which pretty much nailed to the wall the total absence of Batman as the over-riding weakness in the concept. Certainly, a lot of the comments I’ve read on the actual episode do ring with the disappointment of it not being about the Caped Crusader, even though that’s the whole point.

However, watching it for myself, I’m certainly ready to give it a few weeks’ extra chances, my main reason being Ben McKenzie’s determined and direct performance as Jim Gordon, which I enjoyed. The episode – which begins with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the orphaning of their twelve year old son Bruce – throws a hell of a lot in, too much to be honest, mostly aimed at giving the naive and honest Gordon an idea of where Gotham stands and what he and the audience has to expect.

Basically: the Waynes get murdered and Gordon, and his senior partner and potentially corrupt guide to hell, Harvey Bullock, catch the case. When it goes nowhere, Bullock enlists the aid of rising gangboss Fish Mooney who sets up a patsy. This set-up is leaked to Major Crimes Detectives Montoya and Allen by Fish’s underling, Oswald Cobblepot. When Gordon learns of this, he insists on challenging Fish, who has him and Bullock set-up for a grisly death that is only halted by Carmine Falcone, the crimeboss of Gotham. Falcone wants Gordon in the ‘programme’: he can live provided he executes Cobblepot. Gordon is smart enough to make it look like he does so whilst letting Cobblepot live.

So far, so(deliberately) unspectacular, but promising. The tone is set, the challenge laid down, Gordon’s path shown to be incredibly difficult to walk. The fun, we hope, will be in watching him walk it.

Where the episode was OTT was in its rush to throw in as many future supervillains as it could, at least a decade before Bruce Wayne can possibly become that person we’re not going to mention but can’t stop thinking about. Oswald Cobblepot is already being called the Penguin by Fish and her thugs. And coronor Edward Nygma, with his fetish for riddles, is too blatant. A young street/rooftop woman thief doesn’t even have to speak for us to know her as the future Catwoman, and the nervous stand-up comedian is apparently just the first of mny hints as to who might become the Joker.

That’s where I feel Gotham is betraying a serious weakness. As long as they don’t go too overboard with the city-crying-out-for-someone-to-save-it stuff, making the absence of Batman into too much of a theme, this can work. But if Batman truly can’t arrive for, say, another decade, then it seems very short-sighted to be setting up major villains with their key characteristics so fast.

How Gotham intends to deal with time, I don’t yet know. As we’ve already got a 12 year old actor playing the 12 year old Bruce Wayne, I assume each season will represent a year. That’s why Walt had to be written out of Lost: because show-time was so incredibly slow in comparison to child-actor-growing-up-and-I-do-mean-up! time. To accommodate David Mazouz,something of that sort will be required.

It’ll also be interesting to see the core audience react to Gotham packing in Batman supporting characters whilst not being strictly faithful to their roles in the comics. Especially Alfred.

Basicaly, though, I enjoyed it and thought it has potential. If I change my mind, I’m sure I’ll let you know.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash


DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.