Sunday, June 01, 2008

Enjoy The Silence

I’ve had a really strange, really unfocused week. Maybe the Bank Holiday had something to do with it as those days always throw me. Even if that was a contributing factor, there had to be more to it than finding myself watching the opening minutes of The Sound of Music come the middle of Monday afternoon.

For some plainly irrational reason the television schedule started to annoy me. I know it’s easier now to record programmes and create your own schedule, but you still have to find the time to watch the damn things. It’s bad enough leaving shows to iPlayer and then forgetting about them until it’s too late.

Kiss of Death, on BBC Monday evening, was something I should have left to iPlayer and completely forgotten about. Six years back Boomtown went the same route of telling a story from the perspectives of different protagonists. What irritated me then as now was, as interesting as the concept is, every time the drama started to gain any momentum it rewound and we saw it all again from another character’s point of view. Just because something works for Kurosawa doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone else.

Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story came off slightly better but only because, like An Ungentlemanly Act, which recounted the invasion of the Falkland Islands, it took the facts and gave them a dose of Ealing comedy. Luckily it was the Ealing Studios of Michael Balcon that made undisputed classics like Passport to Pimlico and not the Ealing Studios of today which is run by the fucking stem cells who made St Trinian’s.

Which meant that, while entertaining, Filth was obviously distanced from the truth. Then again, a serious drama about some prude who decided to be the country’s moral guardian would have any sane audience punching the television screens until they’d shredded their fingers. Still, it had a couple of decent, if easy, jokes like Whitehouse’s husband seeing cocks and balls in her art class’ mixed-media abstracts before pointing out that, acronym-wise, calling the group Clean Up National TV wasn’t a good idea.

For all the shortcomings of last week’s television, everything was forgiven because it was the start of Springwatch. There’s something very peaceful about watching the various birds nest, eggs hatch and chicks fledge. Around that hour I spent most evenings getting reacquainted with the Fleming novels that I had picked up the week before. And then there was yesterday evening.

The little circle of drinking buddies would always make time to rag on me about Doctor Who. It became something of an entertainment for them to regularly wind me up and then let me go off on what I saw as the shortcomings of the revived show. Sitting down with them last Friday one asked what I thought about Moffat taking over from the Fat Controller. I surprised all of them by announcing that I thought it was brilliant news. Yesterday certainly confirmed it.

Last year’s Blink remains, I’m sure we’re all in agreement, a masterpiece of storytelling. It’s simply the Doctor Who episode for people who don’t like Doctor Who. One thing Lucy mentioned in the comments a couple of posts back was that she didn’t know a single kiddie who liked Blink because it was too scary for them. If Blink came on a bit too strong for those little wusses, hopefully Silence in the Library was more akin to their delicate Westcountry sensibilities. Instead of living statues it’s creatures that live in the shadows, ready to strip flesh from the bones in an instant. If that stills scare the little blighters senseless, well, there’s just no pleasing some awkward buggers.

A heady mix of thrills and scares was what I remember Doctor Who always being about. If that leaves a spot of wee on today’s sofa cushions or the need for clean pair of sheets in the morning, well that’s the price you pay. Colliding the ordinary with the extraordinary, the power of suggestion preying on fertile imaginations was always far better than pissing good money away on bad prosthetics.

However vicious, Vashta Nerada certainly had the previous episode beat. The Agatha Christie episode might have seemed like a fine idea but it just idled around dropping a whole lot of her book titles – Cards on the Table; They Do It with Mirrors; Sparkling Cyanide; Crooked House; The Honey in the Trap – into dialogue like it was some kind of party game. Didn’t the earlier story involving William Shakespeare make the same continued references to his plays?

Beyond the wordplay it seemed like any research had come from a half-hearted game of Cluedo rather than reading the Poirot and Marple novels, or even the Tommy and Tuppence stories. And I’m sorry but how utterly desperate for cock does a woman have to be to fuck a giant alien wasp? I mean, come on, that isn’t the done thing, not even in the Hindu Kush. I suppose all that could be overlooked as a bit of flummery were it not for the copy of Death in the Clouds, published in the year five billion. Sure, it was probably meant as a throwaway gag to round off the episode but the sheer incongruity of it, and the questions it threw up, suddenly stuck out like a sore thumb.

While recent episodes continue to confirm that Doctor Who is still alarmingly inconsistent in terms of storytelling and overall tone, luckily Silence in the Library (and hopefully the concluding second part) seems to be this series’ upturn. It’s certainly the polar opposite of The Doctor’s Daughter, which, while adhering to the format of the adventures I remember watching as a kid, fell flat on its face with a story that was not only rushed but complete and utter bollocks.

Whereas Russell T Davies’ incessant “magpie tendancies” constantly infuriate me, Moffat never lets any allusions either hinder, or lazily stand in for the central narrative. With nods to Kurd Lasswitz’s The Universal Library and Borges’ The Library of Babel, the conceit of a library that takes up a whole planet, entrusted with a copy of every book ever published, was just inspired. Of course the real tip of the hat was to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife.

It may simply be that Moffat looks for the most obvious route and then chooses a different direction. A warning delivered in a calm, monotone voice is a far more skin-crawling proposition than having a character bellow it at the top of their lungs while they flap around. Then there’s River Song, Moffat’s very own Clare Abshire.

As an adult watching, this is the kind of character that I want to see – someone alive with emotion rather than simply being a useless cartoon going through the motions. Sure I want to know how the characters are going to extricate themselves from the perilous situation and discover the mystery of CAL, but ultimately I’m more interested in the relationship between Song and her “pretty boy”.

The scene where she compares diary entries prior to the ringing telephone was a remarkable piece of writing and acting. The casting of Alex Kingston deftly illustrates that hiring a good actor over headline-grabbing, anaemic stunt casting is always the better of the two. Interesting too that the old, worn diary’s cover resembles the TARDIS in look.

Anyway, let’s leave it there before I geek out far too much. For everyone who thinks I loathe Doctor Who, I suspect this’ll show that it’s actually pish-poor drama that I’m not cock-a-hoop about. Of course, after next week the remaining four episodes are written by the outgoing Fat Controller, so I’m not sure how jubilant I’m going to be about the rest of the series.

The trailer looks like the show is gearing up for the usual over the top, end of year, end of the pier, fan-wank pantomime. Is that supposed to be Davros? Jesus fucking Christ! Interesting that in Moffat’s episodes the dangers have been new and different, rather than plucked out of the back catalogue of bullshit villains.

Obviously it’s still going to take time to completely convert me. In the meantime, damn, I can’t wait for new Saturday to come around.


At 12:13 am, Blogger Ian said...

Moffat's episodes have always been the best of each series so enjoy next week's episode, as I will, but don't expect the final four to be any better than the average episode of Toshwood. We'll have to wait more than a year for Moffat's influence to be felt, and even that assumes that he isn't spreading himself a bit thin, what with his work for Spielberg and Jackson on Tin-Tin et al.

I'm cautiously optimistic he'll turn the series into one which you can be proud saying you're watching (as opposed to the current state of affairs with RTD in charge) but am a little nervous about the fact that this current story was first mooted for the first of the new series and each year since has been "let go" in favour of other ideas. "Blink" was excellent but was, again, an old idea (from a story Moffat wrote for an old Doctor Who annual I believe) rather than something thought up in the last 12 months.

That being said this week's episode was fantastically written with so many dangling and intriguing ends it's hard to see how the resolution can be anything but disappointing (hope it doesn't turn into another "Jekyll"). But for the cliff-hanger alone (genius - with a "how the hell are they going to get out of that?" ending that's been missing for far too long) Moffat deserves kudos for helping get the show back on track.

At 12:43 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

"Little wusses"???? "Westcountry sensibilities"???

That better not be my kids you're ragging on, bee-atch.

Though I had to check for Veshta Nerada in most of the house on bloody Saturday.

At 12:00 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

The episode of Who that featured an aristocratic lady having sex with a giant wasp was indeed another instant classic.

At 5:22 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Ian, yeah how many of the Tintin movies are their going to be? Probably a trilogy, then a long pause, then Tintin and the Seven Crystal Balls, which will be shit...

I'm with you on the cautious optimism, which, after all, is better than expecting another year of utter dog toffee.

Lucy, you wrote:

Tell you something though - I don't know a single kid who enjoyed BLINK. They were scared to death of it.

So, judging from your response here, the only kids you know are your own. Wow, that's wide-reaching research there! ;-)

J&C, oh it's brilliant isn't it?! An aristo fucking a giant wasp. What a great thing to pitch. The difficult part would be keeping a straight face.

At 6:52 pm, Blogger Wyndham said...

I thought Filth was entertaining but desperately uneven in tone and, in the end, a little bit too Carry On to do its subject - and poor old Carlton-Greene - a service.

And am I the only one who thought the Who Family of Blood episodes have been the best so far?



At 11:27 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

“So, what happens, right, is that there’s this posh bird, right? And then there’s this, like, big wasp alien thing, yeah? Cool, huh? Anyway, they totally do it, and it’s great.

Can I have the job?”

(extracted from: Pitches that make you reach for a claw-hammer - Hodder & Stoatbag, 2008)


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