Cathica spike

New Who 12.4 Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror

Just a few quick thoughts on this week's Who:

1. This series is really interested in inventions and the history of technology, isn't it? After Barton, Ada Lovelace, the hall of Victorian inventors and the MI6 tech in Spyfall and Sylas the brilliant engineer kid in Orphan 55, now we have Tesla vs. Edison. I mean, technology is always central to Doctor Who, but in this series it is being treated not just as a given but something whose very route into existence we should be fascinated by. It'll be interesting to see where that goes.

2. Despite their shared interest in the history of technology, though, this episode and Spyfall depart radically from one another in their treatment of the historical guest stars of the week. I was already unhappy at seeing Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan having their memories of what they had seen with the Doctor wiped; I'm absolutely bloody furious now that the same logic hasn't been applied to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, who if anything saw rather more than they did. Is there not some kind of, I don't know, overall story editor whose job it is to ensure consistency in these matters???

3. Yaz looks absolutely amazing in Victoriana.

That is all.

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Strange complex

New Who 12.3 Orphan 55

I really enjoyed this episode. I mean, massively more than Spyfall parts 1 and 2, actually. They were fine and enjoyable, but this one had me really rapt with the story structure and contents.

It was a genre of story I utterly love (base under siege / bottle episode / cabin fever story), and absolutely delivered on the things I want from that kind of narrative - people rising to the occasion, discovering their courage, and revealing their core priorities. The moment when Bella suddenly and unexpectedly turned on the rest of the group was mint. (She was also absolutely red hawt, which did not hurt.)

It also had two nice clear themes - just the right amount to give the story direction and structure without overloading it. One was the eco-horror, complete with the reveal that It Was Earth All Along - and I am guessing [personal profile] miss_s_b in particular appreciated the way that the Russian subway sign which attested to that referenced Six's The Mysterious Planet. My mind went to climate change as soon as the Doctor started talking about how there is always an elite who evacuate out in 'societies that let this happen', and then got confused when people later started talking about nuclear winters, thinking it had all gone a bit old-school. But of course, as her speech about how the food chain collapses and then there is mass migration and war spelt out, it's all linked together. I also really appreciated the fact that the closing note for the episode was an explicit exhortation not to let this happen in our Earth's future. That felt in the spirit of the Pertwee era to me, and part of what I think Doctor Who jolly well should be doing.

The second big theme was family relationships. This popped up in the very first few lines of dialogue, about how the companions didn't know it was 'the mating season' for whatever they were having to clear up in the TARDIS, and then bubbled gently along throughout. It's in the episode name, Benni's belated marriage proposal, Ryan and Bella swapping their experiences of parental death, the relationship between Sylas and his father, and the evolution from humans to Dregs, and of course pays off in plot terms in this episode in the central conflict and then resolution between Bella and Kane. But it was such a Thing that I wonder whether it might not prove to extend beyond this episode alone, and be related to the Big Secret which the Master found in Gallifrey's history.

I also felt it was visually well designed. I thought the early shots of the Dregs, when they first appeared in the Spa and were threatening Ryan and Bella in particular, were very nicely done - good use of mists, silhouettes and partial glimpses to make them really scary. I also noticed at this stage that they were visually likened to another human character trying to escape them and running his hand along the wall in the same way as they did - a link which retrospectively proved to have been deliberately set up for us, once the reveal came about who they 'really' were.

Wikipedia tells me that the writer for this story was somebody called Ed Hime, who has only previously contributed one other Doctor Who story, It Takes You Away (the one with the hypno-toad in an isolated Norwegian cabin), which I also really liked. So that's a name to keep an eye out for in future - though we won't see his work again in this series, apparently.

Footnotey disclaimer - I've no idea how anyone other than the main characters' names were spelt, as there is no Wikipedia page up for this episode yet and the end credits went too fast for me. I reserve the right to amend my current guesses as and when there's better information available.

Edit - the Wikipedia page is up now, and I've corrected some names accordingly (Cain > Kane, Silas > Sylas).

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Tom Baker

New Who 12.2 Spyfall, part 2

That resolved out pretty well. I'm kind of glad the Alien Menace wasn't Cybermen after all. It's nice to have something new. I liked Yaz reprimanding Ryan for getting carried away and telling Barton's men the plan, and then it not just being a joke line but an actual step in the plot which helped him to find them again quickly. I liked that they acknowledged that a Master who looked like Sacha Dhawan would find it difficult to 'pass' as a Nazi general, and offered some kind of explanation for it, because that had been bothering me until they did. I liked the nods to City of Death (top of the Eiffel Tower) and Logopolis (reference to Jodrell Bank). And I'm up for a season driven by deep secrets in Gallifrey's past. I'm an absolute sucker for anything Gallifreyan.

I could have done without Ada and Noor Inayat Khan having their memories wiped at the end, though. That is a big squick for me in all fantastical fiction, and I know I've complained about it reviews of both Doctor Who (e.g. what happened to Donna) and other stories (e.g. Fantastic Beasts) before. It feels like such a huge personal violation to take someone's memories away, and it made it even worse that Ada was actively protesting against it. It doesn't even seem consistently applied, either. The Doctor has left hundreds of historical figures with their memories intact before, and I don't see that the fairly brief and confusing things they had seen would be that much of a historical problem anyway - especially since no-one was ever likely to believe them when they talked about it.

Anyway, basically OK, and I hope we'll be seeing more of Sacha's Master as the series goes on.

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New Who 12.1 Spyfall, part 1

I voluntarily missed this on New Year's Day, as I wanted to concentrate properly on Dracula first, so left it until today to catch up on it. I didn't seek out reviews for obvious reasons, but inevitably I saw a bit of passing chat on Facebook and Twitter, so knew the true identity of Sacha Dhawan's character before I began. A pity, as it must have been nice to experience that as a proper twist.

I enjoyed the episode anyway, though. Doctor Who does James Bond should be a pretty solid formula, because they both trade on the same balance of heroics, silliness and occasional solemnity, and this story fully embraced the possibilities. Seeing the 'fam' getting presented with cases full of hi-tech spy gadgetry, playing at the casino games and doing a car-motorbike chase across the fields was great fun, and casting Stephen Fry as Control was genius. (I meant, that C has to be a reference to his A Bit of Fry & Laurie character, doesn't it? His utter oblivion about the fates of UNIT and Torchwood would suggest so.) Fab to have Lenny Henry on board too - both people who feel like they should have appeared in Doctor Who long ago.

I think it's a good thing for the series that we have a steady TARDIS team in place now. Because there are four of them, I felt it took quite a while to really get to know them all last season, but now I feel like I have a good handle on them all and can enjoy all their little character-moments. I was also glad I'd taken the opportunity to visit Swansea's Brangwyn Hall last summer when I was there on my final external examiner visit to their School of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology, since it was very recognisably the location used for MI6 HQ. I was about to link to the post where I'd put all the pictures... but then I realised I never actually put them here, just on Facebook. Here's a couple uploaded now instead:

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The mysterious beings from another reality look kinda Cyberman-shaped to me, perhaps not readable by the sonic screwdriver or using any intelligible language known to the TARDIS because at the moment they are projections made out of pure data? But of course we'll find out tomorrow evening!

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Dracula Scars stabby death

Initial thoughts on Dracula episode 3

Hahhh, yeah... I was up for a modern setting. It's worth remembering that Stoker's novel departed from the early Gothic tradition in using what for him was a modern setting complete with all the latest technology (wax cylinders, telegrams, Kodaks, etc). And of course my love for Dracula: AD 1972 knows no bounds Collapse )

In the end, seen in toto, I think this is where this version of Dracula sits for me:
1. The whole Hammer opus (including The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula)
2. Stoker's original novel
3. The Northern Ballet version
4. The Mystery and Imagination version
5. This version

And you know, that's not bad going given how many versions there are. Not bad going at all.

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Dracula Scars wine

Initial thoughts on Dracula episode 1

I've been back working today, so couldn't do this earlier, but wanted to scribble down some initial thoughts on the first episode of the BBC's new Dracula while I can. This is the only time I'll be able to see it without the hindsight of the episodes which follow, after all. I'll put it all behind a cut, because I know it won't be available to viewers outside the UK for another couple of days.

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Dracula Risen hearse smile

Anticipating Dracula

Fairly obviously, I am in a state of high excitement about the new adaptation of Dracula which starts this evening on BBC1. But also a little nervous, because it's Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and their co-productions often seem stylish and attractive at first glance but then collapse into insubstantial disappointment on closer inspection.

The trailers look promising:

Dracula is clearly going to be both extremely sexy and extremely evil, which is exactly what I'm after from him. It evidently won't be following the novel very precisely, but Dracula as a story has enjoyed such success since its publication in large part because its adaptations never have done. In this case it looks like one change will be additional female characters with purpose and agency, which is good. (Maybe even a person of colour ditto, but it's hard to be wholly sure from the trailer.) And it's clearly going to be visually stunning - the sumptuous, gory logic of the Hammer aesthetic turned up to eleven and with the benefit of overseas location shooting and good CGI.

My main niggling worry at the moment is about the use of quips. There's one in the trailer I've embedded above - Dracula with his cane self-consciously swaggering (even though he seems to be sitting down) and saying "I'm undead; I'm not unreasonable." This Conversation article by Catherine Spooner (a Gothic literature specialist) who saw a preview screening of the first episode suggests there will be quite a few more. She gives some examples, and notes: "There are more zingers to come as Bang quips his way across Europe like an infernal James Bond."

This could work. If set off effectively against Dracula's malign motivations and brutality, it could throw them into sharp relief and make them more effective, in a similar way (though with a different palette) to the contrast between Christopher Lee's suave, gentlemanly welcome when Jonathan Harker arrives at his castle in Hammer's Dracula and his snarling hurricane of bestial rage later on. It might even reflect thought-provokingly on our own current climate of political discourse, in which superficial cleverness and deliberately-cultivated buffoonery seem to function as effective masks for power-hungriness and a disdain for the suffering of others. Then again, it might turn out to just be superficial cleverness in itself, there to distract us from other weaknesses in the script and only diluting the impact of Dracula as a character. I don't yet know, and I'm going to try to keep an open mind about it.

Certainly, and again as Catherine Spooner notes in her Conversation article, comic relief has a long-standing place in Gothic horror, and in Dracula stories in particular. Stoker put in plenty of it, particularly in his characterisations of people of lower social status than his main characters. This description, sent to Seward by a colleague he has left in charge of his asylum while he is away, of his encounter with two men who had been attacked by Renfield while delivering boxes of earth to Dracula's house at Carfax, always makes me laugh:
The two carriers were at first loud in their threats of actions for damages, and promised to rain all the penalties of the law on us. Their threats were, however, mingled with some sort of indirect apology for the defeat of the two of them by a feeble madman. They said that if it had not been for the way their strength had been spent in carrying and raising the heavy boxes to the cart they would have made short work of him. They gave as another reason for their defeat the extraordinary state of drouth to which they had been reduced by the dusty nature of their occupation and the reprehensible distance from the scene of their labours of any place of public entertainment. I quite understood their drift, and after a stiff glass of strong grog, or rather more of the same, and with each a sovereign in hand, they made light of the attack, and swore that they would encounter a worse madman any day for the pleasure of meeting so `bloomin' good a bloke' as your correspondent.
Hammer, too, in whose footsteps Moffat and Gatiss are clearly following at least as much as Stoker's, also have a grand tradition of comic relief characters. Their Dracula gives us the easily-bribed Frontier Official who gets his toll barrier broken twice during the final climactic chase back to the castle, and Miles Malleson's wonderful absent-minded undertaker with a black sense of humour.


Miles Malleson.jpg

That's quite a long way from having Dracula himself cracking the jokes, though. Stoker has Dracula mock and gloat at the human characters, but not indulge in knowing word-play. Hammer gave him the occasional ironic line, as in Satanic Rites when he brushes off Van Helsing's enquiries about the deadly strain of plague bacteria which he has commissioned by explaining that he has political goals, and that "To lend weight to one's arguments amid the rush and whirl of humanity it is sometimes necessary to be... persuasive." Not quips, though. Still, Catherine Spooner is right that Bela Lugosi's most famous line - "I never drink... wine" - shows that Dracula can indulge in devilish self-conscious humour without undoing his menace. Let's hope that will remain true this evening.

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Dracula Risen hearse smile

Gothmas 2019: Dracula by the Northern Ballet

[personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I booked our tickets for the Northern Ballet's Dracula some six months before the actual performance, because we had both enjoyed it so much when they last did it in 2014 (LJ / DW).

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Now that I have seen this version of Dracula for a second time, it's confirmed the provisional opinion I had of it beforehand - that it is the second best adaptation of Dracula I've ever seen, with only Hammer's cycle of Dracula films above it. As regular readers will realise, I have seen a lot of Dracula adaptations, and Hammer's will always remain the ultimate interpretations to me - so that's the highest praise I can possibly give. This time, the performance we saw was filmed and transmitted live to various cinemas around the country, and I am really hope that also means it might be made available on DVD at some point, as I would love so much to be able to watch it again. And, since the casts changed from performance to performance during its run, I will record here that ours was as follows:

Dracula: Javier Torres
Old Dracula: Riku Ito
Mina: Abigail Prudames
Lucy: Antoinette Brooks-Daw
Jonathan: Lorenzo Trossello
Renfield: Kevin Poeung
Dr Van Helsing: Ashley Dixon
Dr Seward: Joseph Taylor
Arthur: Matthew Koon
The Brides: Rachael Gillespie, Sarah Chun and Minju Kang

Well done and thank you so much to all of them!

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