Uncollected Thoughts: The Amazing Maurice


Already I can’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday when I first discovered that Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents had been adapted as a film via the magic of CGI animation. And here I am, two or three days later, days full of eagerness and anticipation because I have a feeling that that this one might well be good, recovering from the frost outside in Screen 11 of The Light cinema in Stockport, ready.

This is only the third film I have seen all year, which makes this only the third film I have seen since the pandemic first struck, and the first non-superhero film I have seen in god knows how long. It’s also my first time in Screen 11, which turns out to be a mini0-cinema in a side room on the ground floor, five rows of seats only: C6 is halfway from side to side and top to bottom.

It’s the only performance of the day, one for the kids, at 11.10am, and it’s not sold out. In fact I am the last of four tickets sold. The timing takes me back, pleasantly, to December 1966, and my Grannie and Grandad taking me to see the Thunderbirds film at the old and big Odeon in Manchester. Long, long ago.

The 11.10 am kick-off is for the ‘ptogramme’, which means adverts and trailers first, all of which I watch with a stony face. The adverts go on for hours (or seven minutes if I believe my watch) and are almost exclusively for video games (do we still call them video games?), though I cannot help an ironic smile that the last advery is for Neurofen headache tablets. The trailers take even longer and there isn’t a human film among them. It’s not just a flaw in my character which means I only go to watch superhero films.

Just as the Certificate comes up, the last pair take their seats and, glory be, one is a child. Who immediately starts wingeing lodlky about having to sit in the second row when he wanted to ‘go on top’. For the first time in a long life, I was minded to go over there and mahke the calm but firm point that I hadn’t paid to be here, at this hour of the day, to listen to him moan incessantly, but he shut up of his own accord and I did not need to break character (didn’t stop his keep getting up and scrabbling for things in his bag which, for some unaccountable reason, he had placed on the seat three to his right instead of next to him).

The film. At the end, coming out, I couldn’t contain myself. The cleaner had come in to tidy up and I had to tell someone: ‘I don’t care what anyone else says,’ I told him, ‘but out of all the adaptations of Terry Pratchett I’ve seen, this is the first one I’ve seen where they got it.’ The other bloke, who can’t have been more than a decade younger than me, agreed whole-heartedly. The makers of this film got it and how. I giggled all the way through, except for the seriously serious bits, which were beautifuly serious. They got the atmosphere, the charm, the slightly manic off-centre style. The voices were uniformly excellent, the story kept up a constant pace without ever skimping on scenes and there were wonderful visual details everywhere. You had to be aware of the entire screen because if you concentrated on what was going on up front there was so much background stuff you’d miss.

And I don’t just mean Easter Eggs although there was one absolutely gorgeous one in the coda for us true Discworld aficianados.

One thing about which I was slightly dubious at the start was the film building up the part of the Mayor’s daughter, Malicia Grimm, the hyperactive girl intent on forcing life into Story with a capital S. As well as her role in the story, Malicia also appeared as the narrator, lending a touch of metafiction to the whole thing, but enabling background information to be brought out without awkwardness. It took the film across Neil Gaiman terriroty by making the story about Story, but that’s far from inappropriate, and though it felt at first a bit too much like cleverness for cleverness’s sake, it went on to work briliantly. Between Emilia Clarke’s sparky voice and Malicia’s appearance as a very skinny but incredibly cute redhead, I loved it.

Clarke was not the only prominent name voice actor. Hugh Laurie played Maurice himself, and David Tennant was Dangerous Beans, the rat mystic, whilst David Thewlis was his customary impeccable self as the villain, but the best thing was that, with the exception of Thewlis, their voices submerged into their characters. Laurie was Maurice, not Laurie, and Tennant the rat not Tennant and the film so much the better for it. Even with Thewliss, he was so right as the bad guy that your consciousness of hearing the actor never detracted from his performance.

So time just flew. I was never once conscious of wondering hos much there was to go, indeed I would have welcomed another half hour of that without any qualms, but that was being greedy. Part of the film’s strength was keeping it tight. Either way, it’s a gem, the most fun I’ve had in a cinema in years. God knows what the kids will think of it – I didn’t hear the kid laugh once though on his way out he was telling his Gran it was a great film – but Terry Pratchett fans should be flocking to it in the now semi-legendaery droves. I don’t rule out going to see it again next week…


Uncollected Thoughts: The Sandman s01 e01 – Sleep of the Just

As the time grew nearer to Netflix’s television adaptation of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg’s The Sandman, my determination to avoid spoilers grew more and more difficult. The series has been the object of furious debate across all the comics websites I still peruse, most notably in fans objection to the casting of certain roles, especially that of Lucifer. No, we did not want Tom bloody Evans playing the part, and for good reason, but his fans shrieked loudly.

With the exception of a handful of photos showing the most prominent members of the cast in their roles, and countlress quotes by Neil Gaiman concealing his exasperation at the limited tolerance of an audience whose response to change is to stick their fingers so far into their ears and eyes that they meet without need of witches talons, I made it to the starting line pretty much intact.

Of course, I had not forgotten the very biggest spoiler of them all, which was reading issue 1 way back in 1989: issue 1 and every succeeding issue, swapping out for the first edition Graphic Novel versions as they appeared. month after month after month. There would be changes – the colour blind casting for one – and details that would be added or subtracted, creating or breaking new or old connections. But this was Neil Gaiman, and given the effort he put into bringing in Good Omens as close to the book as possible, was there really any chance that he would not do the same with this?

So it all unfolded, calm, austere, strange, not quite almost dream-like, but in a stately fashion befitting the imprisonment of Dream, of the Endless, for over a century (an updated detail: it was seventy years in the comic but the comic was thirty years ago), until his release, until his return to his ruined realm and his determination to rebuild and restore.

I’m not going to go into any detail. If you aren’t smart enough to want to watch this already, nothing I can say will cure this lack in you. The Sandman is quintuple wow, unbelievable in the best Kate Bush mode. The whole ten episodes dropped at once but there’s no way I can binge something like this. Two episodes a day, maybe, with at least six hours grace in between, maybe that much, is about all I can take. And if there doesn’t turn out to be one episode that immediately inserts itself alongside ‘Fall-out’, ‘If-Then-Else’ and ‘The Return Chapter Eight’ I shall be astounded.

P.S. The Guardian‘s review of the whole series, which I am now free to read, suggests there is going to be exactly that and I know which issue they’re talking about. If they can catch that, prepare to have your head blown off!

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


It’s been over two years since I last went to the cinema, enough time that I can’t remember what it is I watched, except that it was probably a comic book movie. Of course, two years ago I retained more enthusiasm for such phenomena than I now have. And it felt really odd to be doing something like that after such a long time, even more when I was going to a 6.30pm performance.

That choice was down to it being the only 3D perfprmance of the week. I’d watched the first Doctor Strange movie in 3D, of which it had made tremendous use, and was anticipating a similar effect: Strange’s world of magic, and the prospect of hurtling through multiple, potentially fractal worlds, is peculiarly suited to this. But they warned me that the 3D quipment was giving them problems, and they couldn’t guarantee it would work, and yes, I ended up watching in 2D. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film too much.

The film’s only been out a week and theaudience was meagre, well short of two dozen, one of whom got up and walked out after two minutes, which was a bit harsh. I’d done my usual avoidance of reviews, not that this had prevented me from learning that in addition to Strange himself, the film also co-starred the Scarlet Witch and America Chavez, the latter being a character I’ve never ever read. I’d also seen afleeting reference to the film being too mired in Marvel continuity, playing to the specialist rather than the general audience.

What this meant was that, as far as I could tell, the film followed directly on from the acclaimed WandaVision tv series, none of which I’ve seen. Still, it didn’t hamper my comprehension of the film in more than any minor degree.

But was it good? Was it fun? Was I going to be saying, Oh, wow! at any point?

Well, my first reaction was split between dismay at, in a film as overloaded with CGI as this was going to be, how utterly artificial and unconvincing the white streaks in Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair were and the more serious wish that I could be seeing him as Sherlock, without the unconvincing American accent.

As for the film overall, it seemed to start in practically the middle, though this was just a dream sequence, introducing young Ms Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and killing off Strange, though this was a version from another Universe. We then cut to ‘our’ Universe, where Sttrange is attending Christine Palmer’s wedding (Rachel McAdams), when it’s interrupted by a Lovecraftian monster chasing Ms Chavez, requiring our Strange’s assistance, also that of Sorceror Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong).

It seems that Ms Chavez has the power to travel across the Multiverse, albeit without knowing how or being able to control it. Somehow is pursuing her, trying to steal that power, killing her in the process. That someone is Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), former Avenger. As depicted in the comics and introduced in WandaVision, Wanda has been deprived of her two sons, who in this reality were actually illusory. Having corrupted herself by use of an evil magical tome called the Darkholm, Wanda is searching for a reality in which she can be with her children.

As a theme, it was obviously intended to create a degree of sympathy. Wanda’s obvious distress at being severed from her children, her actions sringing from her love and instincts as a mother, were easily understandable and in the early part of the film were intended to keep us in her wheelhouse. But not for long. As the Scarlet Witch, Wanda outranked every magic wielder going put together, and yes that included the Sorceror Supreme and the Master of the Mystic Arts. The more they resisted her quite reasonable wish to drain Ms Chavez, the bigger, more implacable and ruthless a monster she became.

It was a simple enough spine for the film, allowing for an easy one-line description of the plot. I’m afraid, though, that the execution of this was very much in comic book fashion. There was very little sense of a story, in the meaning of a developing narrative whose sequences built one upon another to a conclusion dervied from logical progression. Instead, we got sequence after sequence, expending linearly, complexity thrown after complexity with a concentration upon immediate gratification, which went on and on and on, like the kind of plotting that passes for story-telling in the Twenty-First Cenntury. The film lacked both a sense of build-up and a sense of integrity. Sequences could have been removed without detriment to the plot, or others substituted in their place, without making much of a difference. It was all flash and dazzle, and between Avengers: Endgame and now I’ve come to crave a bit more from even comic book films.

The standard of acting was high, though the longer the film went on the less was required. The film delved deeper into horror than we’re used to, not unwelcomely, and the traditional Marvel flippancy was much less in evidence. The film ended with a nod to its sequel, though as Cumberbatch wants a break from acting, who knows how long that will take, by first having him develop the third eye that comes from using the Darkholm and getting a bit corrupted, whilst the mid-credits sequence introduced Charlize Theron as Clea.

The one thing that would get me to watch the film again, apart from a functioning 3D projector, would be Elizabeth Olsen. In her Scarlet Witch costume, which covered her from neck to toe, she was a magnet for my eyes. Something about her made her look hot as hell, in the same manner as Brie Larson in her Captain Marvel outfit and Cate Blanchett as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. Though she had increasingly less to do acting-wise as the fighting escalated, Wanda finally came to see herself as she’d become, understanding by just how much she had lost the sons she had sought so desperately, a sequence that Olsen nailed perfectly, leading to her literally bringing the world down on herself.

As well as the film, for the first time in a long time I was exposed to cinema ads and trailers. The ads were moronic – advertisers’ opinions of the public have really dropped, haven’t they? – and the trailers bored me, two more comic book movies and Tom Cruise’s Top Gun sequel. One of the trailers was for the next Thor film, wwhich includes the Guardians of the Galaxy. This looked like more traditional Marvel fare and I may go see that, but I will be going to see DC’s Black Adam when it finally appears: a film that introduces the Justice Society of America and particularly Dr Fate is a must.

Uncollected Thoughts: Justice League


The first thing is, getting to East Didsbury from Reddish on a Sunday afternoon. That wasn’t as bad as you might think: the 203 was late, naturally, but I had time to buy the paper and more or less get straight onto the 23A. On the other hand, this Cineworld, being newer, bigger, flasher than dear old comfortable Stockport is an arsehole. You can’t buy your tickets from a human being, it’s got to be a machine and mine is fucked up. Still, the one I am led to for a second go, by a human being, coughs up my ticket and doesn’t even ask for proof of age  over my senior person concession.

Having said that, Screen 4’s bigger than anything I’ve recently been at in Stockport, plus it has banked seats. I’m about two-thirds of the way up, in an aisle seat. The background music is Take That (one of Mark Owen’s: I am very well-trained) to be followed by Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’. No disrespect to anyone but the leap in quality is immeasurable.

I’m one of five when I sit down, which is a massive improvement on Monday but still a disappointment for a big budget film on a Sunday afternoon on it’s third day. Half an hour of trailers etc. later (yup, Karen Gillan looks just as good and, hey! a new Ardman/Nick Park: one for 2018 already), we have swelled to an unmanageable 28, the unmanageable one being the two-year-old toddler sat almost directly in front of me.

Oddly, for there is literally nothing here to spark such a recollection save the day of the week, I’m transported back to a Sunday morning a great many years ago, when my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema for a non-stop round of Warner Brothers cartoons, all Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. They were on a loop. You came in when you arrived, you left when you recognised when you came in. I had a whale of a time, as you can imagine. What on earth’s brought that back I can’t possibly imagine, but I haven’t found that memory for a very long time.

The film? Oh yes, this is supposed to be about the film, isn’t it? By my tally, this is the fifth time I’ve been to the cinema this year, and they’ve all been films based on comics. Four superheroes, two each DC and Marvel. For the life of me, I don’t know how to respond to this film, nor how to rank it even among this year’s quintet.

It really is strange how much I feel nothing about this film, and I the oldest in the cinema, certainly the only one actually on this planet when Brave & Bold 27 was published, somewhere maybe round the time my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema. I’ve waited a lifetime to see this film. But, well, no.

Actually, it started slowly, introducing the cast, one-by-one, with special reference to the newcomers: Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg. It was ponderous to say the least, and in my head i also gad the word ‘portentous’.

But after that, any kind of critical appraisal drained off, and I just sat and watched it. It did not disappoint and it did not enthrall. The performances were decent: no-one stood out as either terribly impressive or terribly awful. It was neither slow-paced nor fast-paced (although the Zack Snyder tradition of ultra-slow motion to show just how clever the CGI stunt is has not merely gotten old, it’s whiskers are completely white).

The story was neither a coherent progression nor a series of disjointed fragments, though it leaned in both directions. It was neither too short nor too long, but that doesn’t mean to imply it was the right length, just that it felt you could have taken scenes out and put other scenes in and the film would have neither suffered nor improved by it.

It was just what it was, a film without any personality whatsoever. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t bored by it, I… got nothing from it, not even the sense of something rotten and malodorous to the core that pervaded Batman vs Superman. It was just bland. And it was still better than Batman vs Superman.

There were a number of things in the film that I could comment upon viz-a-viz their relationship to the original source, but I can’t be bothered, except in one case. The villain, Steppenwolf, was taken from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series’ (there was even a one-off mention of Darkseid, one of the most awesome characters ever created: guys, when you get to the one that brings him in, you gotta be aiming and reaching a galaxy higher than you’ve been doing to date). The film revolved around one of Kirby’s most potent symbols, Mother Box. But it perverted it, reversing its purpose 180 degrees. Don’t do that again.

And so it was. The film ended up not even being ‘Meh!’ or being a waste of time. Stick to TV, DC, when it comes to films, you have no idea.

Uncollected Thoughts: Thor: Ragnarok

Practically all of my cinema-going, for at least the last two decades, has been to Cineworld, at Grand Central, Stockport, and I’ve got a few memories of trips there, in company and alone. Because I don’t rush out for premieres, and I go to the odd showings, Sundays, or mid-to-late afternoons, I’ve fond myself sitting in small audiences, rarely more than a dozen, of late in single figures. I’ve sat alone in the half-dark, wondering if I might end up being the only one there, until a couple of people wander in, sitting somewhere behind me.

It’s ironic therefore that I’ve finally done it, finally been the one person to pay to go to see a film, when this was the last time I shall ever visit this cinema: it closes on Thursday. A new cinema, in a new complex, even nearer to the centre of Stockport, opens the Thursday after. If I want to see Justice League whilst I’m enjoying a week off, I shall have to go all the way out to Didsbury.

Thor: Ragnarok‘s supposed to be very good, very funny, so it was a pity I was sat alone, in the exact middle of Screen 9, because the occasion and the solitude got to me, and overtook the showing, and the many jokes fell flat without the reinforcement of people laughing around me.

Instead, it felt like watching it in my bedroom, on a massively oversized laptop screen, though for once I didn’t have to put up with my back being knacked because I could shuffle about whenever I wanted without worrying about spoiling the view for others behind me.

To be honest, I didn’t find the film all that funny anyway. Snappy wisecracks in and among the action are Marvel’s speciality, and it’s been given a good dose here, so much that Ragnarok has been reviewed as a superhero sitcom. But whilst some of the jokes – the ones I found funny – arose natural from character and circumstance, too much of the humour was of the knowing kind, finding fun in the story and its tropes, in the way that told you that someone couldn’t take thevstory seriously enough.

And I am old enough to have watched the Sixties Batman TV show in the Sixties, as a result of which I have very sensitive antennae for when we get anywhere near that territory, and I bear too many scars to be properly comfortable over land like that.

I’m not going to try to describe the story because there simply wasn’t one, just a grab-bag of confrontations, fights, clashes and in the case of the Grandmaster, as clear a case of camp as you could ever not wish for: Jeff Goldblum was channeling Lorenzo Semple Jr throughout. All this was was 130 minutes with little underlying progression, which eventually stopped after they ran out of bigger things to CGI.

Mind you, I did enjoy it , whilst it lasted, and this time didn’t look at my watch for a good ninety minutes. I even recognised all the bits they took from Walt Simonson’s magnificent Eighties run, still by far the best work ever done on Thor, in my opinion, and something I was there for, month in, month out.

But if I was to go watch it again, it will be for one reason only, Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death, and main villain, because, my oath, she was Hot! in every second she was onscreen. I don’t usually respond that viscerally to any actress, but this time I was metaphorically baying at the moon.

Which was an ironic parallel to the pre-film trailer for the remake of Jumanji, which was loud, ridiculous, hyperactive, stupid and so not the film to take me to unless you are planning to snog my mouth off for the whole length of the film, or else it’s the edited version that only has the scenes Karen Gillan is in.

Speaking of trailers, after years of spoiler-avoiding, I also saw the one for Justice League, about which I can only say, Ohhhh shhhiiiitttttt!!!!!!

But this is my response to Thor: Ragnarok, which clearly didn’t get high marks from me, but like I said, I was blindsided by the occasion and the solitude (and having had very little sleep last night) so I wasn’t the best audience for it. Even though I was the only audience for it.

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.


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.