Tag: Matt Smith (Page 2 of 4)

Doctor Who 5.11 – The Lodger

Each season of the new “Doctor Who” has one or two “experimental” episodes – stories that just don’t feel like anything that’s come before. Thus far, most – if not all – of these stories have been successes. “Boom Town,” “Love & Monsters,” “Blink,” “Turn Left,” and “Midnight” have arguably been highlights in each of their seasons. It’s noteworthy that all but one of those was written by Russell T. Davies (and of course the one that wasn’t, “Blink,” was written by Steven Moffat). Davies seemed to be giving himself chances to think outside the [police?] box, and do something radical and different with the series on each occasion. I’m still not sure whether “Amy’s Choice” (which, like this one, was also directed by Catherine Moreshead) should be lumped into this group, but surely “The Lodger” is oddball enough to add to the list. So how does it stack up?

Well, it’s worth pondering why the story was made in the first place. For starters, it was very likely a chance to save some money. Aside from the episode’s climax, most of this tale is just people involved in seemingly everyday situations. But I think maybe there was more to it than just saving cash. Aside from “Boom Town,” the aforementioned stories were all designed to give the lead actors breaks. Given that this was the inaugural season of a new era for the show, it probably would have been a risky move to write the Doctor and Amy out for the bulk of a story, so instead what “The Lodger” does is remove Karen Gillan for most of the episode, while allowing Matt Smith the chance to chill out and just banter with James Corden (“Gavin & Stacey”) for an hour. Oh, and he also gets to play football, but since Smith has a history with the game, that probably wasn’t too taxing for him – the guy looks like he had a blast in that scene. Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Matt Smith once upon a time had dreams of being footballer, but a back injury led to him taking up acting instead.

Unlike Davies however, Moffat handed the oddball story over to Gareth Roberts, who has a long and winding history with “Doctor Who.” He’s one of “those” writers who’s been tied to it in one form or another for seemingly forever. I’m not familiar with the prose work he’s done over the years, so I can only really judge him on the scripts he’s written for the series, most of which haven’t been any great shakes. I quite liked “The Shakespeare Code” back when it was broadcast, but time hasn’t been too kind to my opinion of it. The following year he did “The Unicorn and The Wasp,” which I hated then, and hate only slightly less now. A recent viewing of it on BBC America led me to take it less seriously than I did a couple years ago, and hence, I was able to laugh at it a little more. The ending and the idea behind it is still pants though.

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Doctor Who 5.10 – Vincent and the Doctor

If somebody asked me to make a short list of my favorite writers and/or directors working today, Richard Curtis isn’t the first person who’d leap to mind. He might not even be the fifth. Despite that, I count myself as a big, big fan of his stuff, going all the way back to “Blackadder,” and right up to his most recent work, “Pirate Radio,” a movie which didn’t do well at the box office and got some fairly tepid reviews upon release. Like Curtis’s “Love Actually” before it, I suspect “Pirate Radio” (or “The Boat That Rocked,” for those of you in the U.K.) will go on to become a favorite of many, many people, because it’s an utterly charming, daffy piece of cinema that doesn’t want to do much more than entertain the hell out of you for a couple hours. And that it does. When it was announced that Curtis would be writing an episode for this season of “Doctor Who,” naturally I was interested in the prospect, but if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t expect all that much from it, and even less so once it came out that it would be about Vincent van Gogh.

For starters, Curtis has no track record writing science-fiction or fantasy (at least not the type one thinks of when bandying about such terms), and while it seemed gratifying to have such a high profile writer onboard, nothing in his works indicated that, with only 45 minutes to play, he’d likely create anything more than an amusing romp. Perhaps it was less Curtis himself, and more the new series having a pretty bad track record when it comes to tackling historical figures, regardless of who’s writing them. In fact, they typically seem to end up…amusing romps. Probably the best was the first one, “The Unquiet Dead,” which featured Charles Dickens, and from there they’ve kind of incrementally gone downhill. I didn’t think the formula could get much worse than “The Unicorn and the Wasp” with Agatha Christie, but along came “Victory of the Daleks” with Winston Churchill to prove me wrong. So imagine my surprise upon discovering that Curtis trashed my expectations by creating a deep, lovely, tortured thing of beauty that reduced me to tears. I have really got to start trusting this guy. His name is a stamp of quality no matter what “they” say.

(Editor’s note: I’ll second that, having interviewed Mr. Curtis in connection with the release of “Pirate Radio.” You can check out the conversation by clicking here.)

“Vincent and the Doctor” is the new standard by which these types of stories will, or at least should be measured. I have never quite understood the point of the Doctor meeting up with famous figures from the past only so that we can laugh at them and their quaint, backwards ways, all while cramming in little in-jokes that play off of what we know about these people from today’s perspective. Curtis presents us with a fictitious riff on van Gogh that lays waste to the previous approach. His story demands that we feel for van Gogh and his problems, which in turn gives the episode a gravitas that’s lacking in stuff like “The Shakespeare Code,” in which young Will was little more than a smarmy Casanova. Curtis comes from a place that has a huge amount of respect for this artist, as well as understanding that van Gogh’s troubled history was a big part of what made him the artist he was. Curtis also wisely avoids tackling the infamous ear-cutting incident, which is something a lesser writer would’ve worked into the story by having the alien lob it off or some such nonsense.

From the very first sequence, the reality of van Gogh (Tony Curran) painting “Wheatfield with Crows” is mixed with the fantastical element of the unknown in the field, disturbing the birds, and thus giving a reason for the crows in the painting in the first place. Quickly the action moves to the present at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and before you can say Bill Nighy, there he is, as Dr. Black. At first it seems a somewhat wasted cameo, but lucky for us Nighy returns before the episode is over. The Doctor has taken Amy to see the van Gogh exhibit at the museum. It seems he’s taken her numerous places since their last adventure, and he’s got a guilty conscience about the loss of Rory, who of course Amy no longer even remembers. The painting “The Church at Auvers” catches the Doctor’s eye, as there’s something in one of the church windows that he recognizes as “evil.” And so it’s off to 1890 to get to the bottom of it all.

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Doctor Who: 5.8 – The Hungry Earth / 5.9 – Cold Blood

Last week I posted a quick update saying that I would wait until this week to write about both of these episodes, but that “The Hungry Earth” was a “very good setup.” Having had a week to reflect on that, I’m not so sure that’s the case, and yet I still think “The Hungry Earth” is a very or at least reasonably good episode, but perhaps not an effective setup for “Cold Blood,” unless you enjoy bait and switch. The tone and feel of “The Hungry Earth” is vastly different than “Cold Blood” (how about from here on out I refer to the episodes as THE and CB respectively?), and a fairly inconsequential amount of the information the episode delivers has much of anything to do with the second half. Probably the single most important bit that carries over from one episode to the next is the Doctor, Amy, and Rory seeing future versions of Amy and Rory off in the distance at the very start, but we’ll get to that in due course.

THE plays like one part spooky horror story and one part scientific fiasco. It’s a clear homage not so much to the classic series Silurians tales, but other stories from the Jon Pertwee era like “Inferno” and “The Daemons.” Heck, even the earth swallowing people up takes me back to Peter Davison’s “Frontios.” One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this season is the conscious decision to go for more rural settings, as opposed to the urban backdrops which so dominated the Davies era. It’s given the season a much different texture, and one that’s a welcome change, and you can’t get much more rural than the countryside, an old church and graveyard, and a tiny cast. In so many ways both THE and CB are perhaps the closest to classic “Doctor Who” the new series has yet produced, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing, because trying to hammer an old formula into a new box is an often dicey proposition, and I quite honestly am not sure if it works all that well here. The best episodes of the new series have been the ones that did something with “Doctor Who” that we’ve never seen before, and if the new series has proven anything, it’s that it’s best to keep moving forward.

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Doctor Who 5.7 – Amy’s Choice

Here we are, more or less mid-season, and as someone who’s recapping this block of episodes week in and out, as well as someone who’s been deconstructing this series for years now, I’m frankly a bit flummoxed by Steven Moffat’s inaugural year. It’s starting to feel as if the season is only going to make total sense once it’s over and done with. Some time ago, long before the season began, Moffat was saying that he wanted the season to be referred to as Season One, rather than Season Five, and that’s starting to make a whole lot more sense. Aside from the occasional references to the past, everything about this year feels as if some kind of reset button has been hit, and yet it remains difficult to watch without bringing the baggage of the last five years into the equation, even though I’m fairly certain Moffat would prefer that we didn’t. I mean, it’s hard to picture a character like Mickey Smith, for instance, fitting into any part of this narrative in any kind of believable manner, and yet you almost want somebody like him to turn up in a scene just to remind you that you’re still watching the same show.

I continue to want to compare this material to stuff from seasons’ past, and yet this nagging feeling keeps telling me that’s just an unfair thing to do. I wonder if Moffat’s even got some kind of grand master plan that extends beyond this block of 13 episodes? None of this means I’m not enjoying the season, just that it’s a much different kind of enjoyment than what I’ve become accustomed to during the Davies years, which began feeling predictable about three years in. Say what you will about this season, but, at least at this stage, it is most certainly not predictable. In some ways watching this season is as disorienting as the predicament in which our heroes find themselves in this week’s episode. As viewers, we’re experiencing a new reality of the series, while we keep thinking back on what we came to know prior to this season’s start. Which is the real “Doctor Who?” The Davies or the Moffat era? Both, or maybe neither? I’ll likely elaborate on all of this further during the final recap of the season.

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Doctor Who 5.6 – The Vampires of Venice

I was sold on “The Vampires of Venice” (not “Vampires in Venice,” which is what I mistakenly called it at the close of last week’s recap) by its beginning – well, its second beginning, since there are two. In the first, we are in Venice of 1580 and Guido (Lucian Msamati) has brought his daughter Isabella (Alisha Bailey) before Signora Rosanna Calvierri (Helen McCrory). He wants for her to be a part of Calvierri’s school, so that she can have a better life. Since we’ve all seen plenty of “Doctor Who” at this point, we know this isn’t going to end well for Isabella, and since we’ve seen the previews we also know that Calvierri, as well as her son, Francesco (Alex Price), are vampires (or are they?). So there’s precious little that’s surprising or of interest about Beginning #1, although the sequence ends with a lovely little smash cut from Isabella screaming to Rory (Arthur Darvill) screaming at his stag party, which is Beginning #2, and the point at which I was won over. The two beginnings are also the jumping off points for what end up being the episode’s A and B plots, but more on that later.

Ah, the stag party! Drunken friends, cardboard cakes and the clichéd sound of “The Stripper” wafting through the proceedings. The Doctor may rescue the human race from all manner of grotesque alien creatures and life threatening situations, but this is the first time he’s rescued a human from this occasion that’s grotesque in an entirely different manner. From the moment Matt Smith pops out of the cake, he’s bloody brilliant, simply because he chooses to play it straight, in what’s a thoroughly absurd setup. Many actors would’ve mugged and tried to add to the already ridiculous situation, but Smith (or perhaps freshman “Who” director Jonny Campbell?) allows the scenario to happen around him, and in the process the joke becomes about five times funnier than it has any right to be. I’ve been trying to figure out for weeks now how to explain precisely what it is about this actor in this iconic role that I find so very appealing, and this scene offers up the best example yet of why this guy is the perfect Doctor for his time. Smith’s very much the anti-Tennant, which isn’t to bag on Tennant, but the series really needed this kind of change coming off Tennant’s tenure, and it’s a decision that’s shaping up to be the best one Steven Moffat made for his inaugural season.

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