TV Review: Doctor Who: Demons Of The Punjab

Another great historical episode!  It seems to be a real strength this series.

On being given an old broken watch by her grandmother Umbreen, Yasmin asks the Doctor to take her back to 1950s Lahore to find out the story behind it.  The TARDIS instead drops them in 1947 rural India during the Partition, where Yasmin finds that Umbreen is about to marry Prem, a man who’s not her grandfather.  They encounter a group of aliens, the Thijarians, whom the Doctor initially believes to be a race of assassins, but it soon transpires that the ‘demons’ have given up assassinating following the destruction of their planet and are now travelling the universe in order to provide witness to lonely deaths, seeing as they couldn’t do it for their own people.  The actual villain in the episode is Prem’s brother Manish, who has become prejudiced against Muslims and leads a group of similarly prejudiced Hindus to drive out Umbreen and her Muslim mother, resulting in Prem being killed soon after marrying Umbreen.

Characterisation-wise it’s a really strong episode for Yasmin.  Apart from a few wilful moments near the start, I really appreciated that she listened to the Doctor about not interfering in her own history (in contrast to Rose’s irritatingly stupid actions in Father’s Day back in 2005).  Ryan and Graham were really playing the support role this week, which has tended to be the case this series – I wouldn’t say that Chibnall’s Doctor Who has yet disproved the long-running viewpoint that three companions makes for too crowded a TARDIS.  At least we’re not having people getting captured or taken ill for the course of the story, like we did in the Davison years.  Graham is always gold – Bradley Walsh’s performance is just lovely, and the writers are doing really well with his dialogue – but Ryan felt like a real spare part during this episode.

Similarly to Rosa, the episode was really thought-inspiring and made no bones about a difficult period of history, although the controversial role played by the British in the Partition could have been dwelt on more.

We’re now more than halfway through the series – there are five episodes to go – and after thirteen years of getting used to the tight and complex series arcs of the RTD and Moffat eras, I’m feeling a bit strangely adrift given that there doesn’t seem to be any series-spanning story going on at all.  It’ll be very interesting to see if this continues, and if the final episode could just be – gasp! – a normal, regular episode, with no multiverse-threatening doomsday shenanigans.  That would be a hell of a departure for 21st century Doctor Who.

The trailer for next week was a bit confusing, so I don’t really know what’s going on in that story, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when it arrives.

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Episode five, and this one was my favourite in the series yet!

The Doctor and companions wake up on a hospital ship after being caught by a sonic mine while scavenging (bit of a new hobby for the Doctor).  Unfortunately, the hospital ship is rerouted through an unusual sector of space due to some asteroid activity, and so it picks up a Pting, a creature that passively kills people on spaceships due to the fact it eats all the essential parts of the ship.  The Doctor manages to get all the passengers working together and eventually gets rid of the Pting by realising that it seeks energy and letting it eat the ship’s self-destruct bomb.

Even though the episode’s set on a ship, it’s a very classic base-under-siege style story due to the fact that the characters have very limited control over the ship’s flight.  The concept of a creature that eats everything non-organic is a bit comedic by Doctor Who standards – it kind of reminded me of Nibbler in Futurama – but I did think it worked here, and I also liked that the Doctor managed to solve the problem without destroying the creature (although this does beg the question of what happens when it finally stops gorging itself on the energy from the bomb!).

I was a bit worried when we first saw Eve Cicero and her robot buddy Ronan being all secretive about something, as I thought that they were going to be the kind of annoying semi-villains you get in Doctor Who that impede the Doctor’s efforts to save everyone’s lives.  Happily, this did not turn out to be the case, and the Doctor quickly got everyone on the same team and working to their strengths, which was a nice punch-the-air moment.

More good characterisation for Ryan and Graham in this episode, as their interaction with pregnant dude Yoss was very funny.  Male pregnancy is not something we’ve seen in Doctor Who before, I don’t think, but it was done really well – it was both comedic and touching, and I loved the juxtaposition between Yoss changing his mind about keeping his baby and Ryan realising why his own dad has made so many mistakes.  We’re back to Yasmin being a bit ‘generic female companion’, but next week’s ‘go back in time and meet a family member’ story looks like a really strong episode for her, with shades of Rose in Father’s Day back in 2005.

A historical episode next week!  That should be good.

TV Review: Doctor Who: Arachnids In The UK

I think you all know how this post is going to start.  Cue the gratuitous Sex Pistols.

The Doctor and companions finally arrive back in 2018 Sheffield, but they find the spiders in the city are acting very strangely.  With the help of spider expert Jade and Yasmin’s mum Najia, they track the source of the infestation to a new hotel owned by American Trump-a-like presidential wannabe Jack Robertson (Chris Noth, doing a fantastic turn as a villain – I only knew him as Mr Big in Sex and the City before!) and find out that an incompetent waste company has been dumping spider experimentation waste plus industrial waste in an old mine to create a toxic cocktail of GIANT SPIDERS.  The Doctor has a plan to let the spiders live out a dignified natural existence, but it’s abruptly ended by Robertson shooting the giant mother spider and spouting a lot of stuff about how this (gun-waving and warmongering?) is what’s going to get him into the White House, then storming off.  I expect we’ll see him again.

At the end of the episode, the companions make their own decision to travel with the Doctor full time.  I much prefer this to the imperious RTD-era ‘I only take the best’ smugness on the Doctor’s part.

It’s interesting that the threat in this episode was purely human-created – no alien involvement in the story at all, other than the Doctor showing up!  I think that’s the first time we’ve seen a completely non-alien episode since the series came back in 2005.

It was also a great episode for characterisation.  There was more development of the relationship between Ryan and Graham (I love the moment where Ryan gets upset about his dad implying that Graham’s not his ‘proper’ family).  Bradley Walsh gave a really touching performance to show how Graham is mourning wife Grace.  Also, we finally got some proper characterisation for Yasmin with the introduction of her family and her relationships with them!  Her parents and sister are lovely characters, especially Shobna Gulati as Najia.

Next week’s episode is set in an alien hospital and looks like a proper classic tech-going-wrong adventure!  Can’t wait.

TV Review: Doctor Who: Rosa

Well, this series is certainly keeping up with good storylines.

The Doctor has been trying to take Graham, Ryan and Yasmin home to 2018 Sheffield, but the TARDIS is not having it, and on the ninth attempt (‘Fourteenth,’ corrects Graham, who’s definitely my favourite of the new companions), it lands them in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, where the Rosa Parks bus incident is about to go down.  The Doctor notices that the TARDIS is detecting artron energy, which means they won’t be leaving any time soon, as she needs to investigate.

Again, the actual alien menace plot of this episode is fairly straightforward.  Krasko is an escaped criminal from Stormcage (the prison where River Song was incarcerated during the Matt Smith era), who has decided that everything started going wrong when people started fighting for all that pesky ‘racial equality’ stuff, and has come to 1955 to make sure that the Rosa Parks incident doesn’t happen.  Due to a Spike-from-Buffy-esque antiviolence block having been implanted in his brain, he can’t kill Rosa or anyone else, so he’s interfering with events to try and make sure that the circumstances don’t occur that led Rosa to make her bus protest in the first place, kind of like a less competent version of the Meddling Monk.  Krasko’s fairly easily beaten, because the Doctor tricks him into destroying his own tools and then Ryan later sends him back into the distant past using Krasko’s own matter disperser, but in all honesty, he’s not the real villain in this episode.

The villainy, instead, is ably provided by the real-life ugly racism of the 1950s Deep South, with plenty of people around town who treat Ryan and Yasmin like scum.  It’s well done and is, as intended, an uncomfortable watch.  There’s also moments of joy, though – Ryan’s delight at getting to meet Martin Luther King is lovely, and Rosa Parks is characterised and played with a real fire and determination.

With Krasko dispatched, the real challenge for the Doctor and companions is mitigating all his interference, and so it’s that challenge that makes up the tense final sequence of the episode.  It’s well plotted and very satisfyingly resolved.

Characterisation-wise, I’m still waiting for more from Yasmin, but Ryan was really well used this episode, and the relationship between him and Graham is developing really nicely.  I’m also amazed by how quickly Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has become part of the furniture in my brain – she’s warm and funny and may in the long run become one of my favourites.

Looks like they finally get back to Sheffield next week, so that’ll be interesting!

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument

Episode two of the latest Doctor Who series, and it’s an absolutely standard new series episode two.  These episodes are never the most popular or well-remembered of the series, but they always have a very important job to do.

In a typical new series episode two, we usually get a companion experiencing their first trip to somewhere that’s either not their home planet, not their time of origin, or both.  This episode is no exception, with Graham, Yasmin and Ryan travelling to the planet Desolation, though unusually it’s not in the Doctor’s TARDIS, as she hasn’t recovered it yet.  Indeed, she didn’t even mean to take them along on her travels, so at this point they’re still very much ‘accidental’ companions, whom the Doctor intends to return home as soon as possible.

In the meantime, though, we’ve got an adventure to get on with.  The plot of the episode is very simple, probably moreso than any episode since the series returned in 2005, which is a huge culture shock after the complicated storylines of the Moffat era.  The Doctor and companions are rescued from the floating-in-space predicament in which they found themselves at the end of the last episode by a couple of contestants in a rally, Angstrom and Epzo, who turn out to be the two finalists competing for some prize money and a way off the planet.  A man called Ilin appears by hologram and explains that the final stage is a race to the ‘Ghost Monument’, which turns out to be the Doctor’s TARDIS, fading in and out of view.  After a boat trip and a fight with killer robots, during which the Doctor saves everyone’s lives multiple times, they reach the location of the monument (although there is no sign of the TARDIS), and after some persuasion, Ilin agrees to declare Angstrom and Epzo joint winners and transports them off the planet, leaving the Doctor and companions behind.  Although the Doctor loses hope for a moment, the TARDIS reappears, and the Doctor sets the coordinates to take the companions home.  The ‘next time’ trailer, however, indicates that this will not be successful.

(This, incidentally, gives me happy nostalgic vibes, as it’s reminiscent of the Doctor trying and failing to return classic companions like Ian, Barbara and Tegan home for multiple consecutive stories and getting them caught up in adventures instead.)

Another important job of a typical episode two is to allow us to get to know the companions better.  On this score, I feel the episode falls down a bit.  I love the character of Graham, who is well-written, but the younger companions still feel drawn in very light strokes to me.  Ryan has a couple of interesting character beats, with his continuing reluctance to get close to step-grandfather Graham in the aftermath of his grandmother’s death and his ongoing struggle with his dyspraxia, but Yasmin, at the moment, feels like a complete cypher – there’s nothing that elevates her character above ‘generic young female companion’ yet.  This is a little worrying, as it seems to confirm longstanding fan worries about three companions constituting an ‘overcrowded TARDIS’ where there’s not enough space for everyone to have satisfying character development.  However, I will reserve judgment, as I’m still hoping, like I said last week, that each companion will have their share of the focus during this series.

Next week we’re back on Earth, but in a different time period.  It looks like a ‘celebrity historical’ – which is a type of Doctor Who story we’ve not had in a while – featuring Rosa Parks, which should make for an interesting story!

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Doctor Who is my favourite TV show, and so it’s always exciting when a new series starts back on BBC One after a long break.  Doubly exciting when it’s a new Doctor, and triply exciting when it’s a new showrunner.  Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who feels like a completely fresh start, just like when Steven Moffat took over from Russell T Davies in 2010.

I loved Moffat’s fairytale take on Who, and Peter Capaldi was probably my favourite Doctor of the revived series, so I suppose I should have been apprehensive – but in all honesty, I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for long enough now (twenty-six years!) that I’ve learnt to embrace change and am always excited to see where the story will go next.

Jodie Whittaker is wonderful as the Doctor from the off.  Much has been made of the novelty of her being the first female Doctor in the regular series, but all of that is soon forgotten when watching her performance, as she inhabits the character so beautifully.  It’s not treated as a big deal onscreen (although I did roll my eyes a bit when she became the first Doctor to choose her costume through a long drawn-out ‘trying-on-clothes-in-a-shop-dressing-room’ process, with the companions standing in as the long-suffering husband), so hopefully it won’t be treated as a big deal by the viewers either.

I also really liked that the episode was set in Sheffield, and so that’s where the companions and their communities are based.  There have been complaints since 2005 that the series has been ridiculously London-centric – most of Moffat’s primary companions did mitigate this issue to some extent, with a Scot based near Gloucester and a Lancashirewoman based in London, but this is the first time that it properly feels like Doctor Who is finally set somewhere else.  Now if we could someday soon have a primary companion who’s not from the present day, I’d be a very happy girl!

Speaking of the companions, I’m also very intrigued by the fact that we’re going back to a ‘Team TARDIS’ setup, with three companions travelling with the Doctor.  This number of companions worked brilliantly in the ’60s, but was handled poorly in the ’80s, with one companion normally having to be sidelined for a story (often by being knocked unconscious by psychic alien means or a similarly poor excuse).  It’ll be interesting to see how it’s done this series – I did feel that I’ve not properly got to know Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill) yet, though Bradley Walsh is brilliant and touching from the off as Graham.  What I’m hoping for is that each companion will have particular episodes to shine during the series.

I also loved the character of Grace (Sharon D Clarke) – I’ve gone into this series spoiler-free, as I’ve not had time this year to keep up with Doctor Who news, and so was expecting her to become a supporting ‘companion’s family member’ character.  As such, I was shocked when she was killed off towards the end of the episode.  As two of the companions are now grieving a family member, I would expect this to have a significant impact on their character arcs (or at least more of an impact than when Tegan immediately forgot about the Master murdering her Auntie Vanessa back in 1981!), and I also wonder if this is an indication that Chibnall won’t be afraid to kill off regular characters.  Some very interesting stuff to think about as we go through the series.

The story itself was fairly fun fluff, as is usually the case with series openers.  I’m not sure if we’ll see the Stenza race again, but the character of Tzim-Sha made for a good dark villain, and it’s good to see Chibnall making his mark on the Whoniverse with new monsters already.

On the whole, I loved the episode, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series!

TV Review: Boys On Film: A Night With Duran Duran

I’ve mentioned before how much I love BBC Four.  Between the old episodes of Top of the Pops and the music documentaries, there’s always something worth watching, which is the main reason my digibox is always getting too full.  They’re always doing new shows about old music, basically, so it’s one of my favourite channels.

As such, I was really excited when I heard they were going to be doing a special evening of shows about Duran Duran, who are my current biggest musical obsession.  It’s the band’s fortieth anniversary this year, and so the BBC Four programmes are part of the celebration.

Geth was due to be at a work do on Friday evening (although in the event, he ended up coming home early and watching the Duran stuff with me, as he’d already had a heavy night on the Thursday!) so I made sure I had a few cans of cider in the fridge and settled in for the evening.

The first programme was Duran Duran: There’s Something You Should Know, which was a new documentary with a lot of interesting features – particular highlights for me included Nick Rhodes talking to designer Antony Price about the suits used for the Rio video, Simon Le Bon meeting up with his old choirmaster, and all of the band members cramming themselves into a tiny Citroen just like they used to do in their early days.  There were also some really good interview segments with more recent collaborators like Mark Ronson.  The documentary was organised into sections based around seven of Duran’s albums – but as they’ve released fourteen, this did mean that there were large parts of their history that just didn’t get mentioned.  It’s a shame, but in an hour-long documentary you can’t do justice to everything.

The second programme, Duran Duran: A Night In, was the highlight of the night for me – it was basically just an hour of the band members reminiscing about TV programming from their childhoods in the ’60s and ’70s.  About five minutes into the programme:

Geth: You’re never deleting this, are you?  It’s clips of all your favourite TV shows and films, narrated by Duran Duran.  It’s basically your ideal programme.

Given that at this point we’d had the 1960s Batman series and Hammer Horror’s Dracula…yeah, pretty much.  Other TV shows and films covered included Barbarella (the film that gave Duran Duran their name) and ’70s Top of the Pops performances from Marc Bolan and Roxy Music.  I love all of these things anyway, but Geth was right – the commentary from the Durans made it a highly enjoyable watch, and unlike most things that I insist on keeping on the digibox, I’m sure I will be rewatching this one many times.

The third programme, Duran Duran: Unstaged, was a recording of a concert played in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, with visuals by David Lynch over the top.  Geth found the flashing imagery a bit much after a couple of days’ heavy drinking, and headed up to bed, leaving me alone to watch what was quite a good show – it was a good mix of old and new tracks, and the band had a lot of guests playing with them like Mark Ronson (again) and Beth Ditto.  I sort of didn’t notice the Lynch visuals after a while because I was too absorbed in the music, so this is definitely one I need to watch again.

There was also a repeat of a Duran Duran TOTP2 special, but as it wasn’t on till three in the morning (the other shows were being repeated first), I went to bed and caught up with it the next morning.  I’d already seen a lot of the performances, but it’s the amusing commentary from Mark Radcliffe and the fact-filled captions that make TOTP2 worth watching.

All in all, great programming as ever from BBC Four, and a real treat for Duran Duran fans.  Hopefully a new album and tour won’t be too many years away!

TV Review: Now! That’s What I Call The ’80s music channel

So, on Saturday while Geth was away in Lancashire, I did my weekly setting of TV recordings.  I do this every week because, other than music channels, I never watch TV live – Geth and I are both just too busy to commit to (and remember) the timeslot when things we might want to watch are on, and even if we did remember, it would inevitably be the case that when the timeslot actually arrived, one of us would be NOT AT ALL in the mood for watching that particular show, and would want to do something else.  Probably me.

This is one of the few areas in life where I am not a 20th century throwback, although, to be fair, it was definitely easier to remember TV timeslots when there were only four channels and no internet to distract you.

As such, I do a weekly setting of recordings, which looks something like this:

    1. Scan this week’s issue of the Radio Times for running TV (road races, triathlons and athletics) among the sports coverage.
    2. Use the digibox to set recordings for all of the above (unless it’s something that I know is going to be available on BBC iPlayer for a good month and the box is running out of space).
    3. Use the digibox guide to go through the entire schedule for BBC Four for the week.  BBC Four shows a lot of compilations of music performances by 20th century musicians, documentaries about 20th century musicians, and old episodes of Top of the Pops.
    4. Set recordings for all of the above.
    5. Worry about the box getting full and make a concerted resolution to catch up with lots of TV this week.
    6. Realise that what will actually happen is that, five nights out of seven, Geth will want to watch YouTube channels about boardgames and Star Wars on the XBOX 360, and I will want to read random blogs online.
    7. Go through the digibox history and try and find some old stuff to delete in order to make room.
    8. Delete some old athletics from a year ago, and some Christmas films we recorded a year and a half ago.
    9. Make mental note to add the Christmas films to my Amazon wishlist.  (Spoiler: this will not happen.)
    10. Use the digibox guide to go through the entire schedule for Vintage TV for the week.  Vintage TV shows a lot of interestingly-themed playlists of 20th century music, modern-day concerts by musicians who were big in the 20th century, My Vintage shows with musicians talking about their favourite songs, and My Mixtape shows with non-musician celebrities talking about their favourite songs.
    11. Set recordings for anything that looks interesting.  Resist setting recordings for every single ’80s playlist.  (I did actually use to record these, and it meant we NEVER had any space on the box and I was spending my whole life with Vintage TV recordings on in the background.)

So yeah.  That’s what I was doing on Saturday night.  Before I did that, though, I had to scroll through the guide in order to change the channel from Radio 4 to Vintage TV.  Geth listens to Radio 4 every morning to catch the news headlines (he used to watch the BBC News channel before they started doing that godawful Victoria Derbyshire programme in the mornings), and so he always leaves the digibox on the Radio 4 channel.  I, on the other hand, can’t stand listening to the news in the current awful climate in which we live, so while I’m doing my setting of recordings I like to have Vintage TV on in the background.

As I scrolled between Radio 4 (channel 704) and Vintage TV (channel 82), my eye was caught by what appeared to be a brand new channel on channel 88.

A brand new music channel.

A brand new music channel, dedicated to the ’80s.

A brand new music channel, dedicated to the ’80s, run by the people behind the Now! That’s What I Call Music compilations.

Welcome to Now! That’s What I Call ’80s, a music channel that they kindly invented just for me.

Well, that’s not quite true.  According to Wikipedia, this channel has actually been running since 2013 as Now! That’s What I Call Music (they changed it to a dedicated ’80s channel in 2016, and added a ’90s version in 2017), but it’s never been part of the BT/Freeview channel lineup until now, so I’ve never come across it.

Obviously, I’ve spent the last few days with it constantly on in the background.

It’s been nice to have another retro music channel to enjoy.  Vintage TV is great, but it only has so many videos available, so it gets a bit samey after a while.  Now! That’s What I Call ’80s plays lots of videos that I’ve never seen on Vintage TV, and the kind of playlists it does are the kind of thing I’ve always dreamt of seeing on a music channel – Official UK Top 40 of the ’80s, for example, which is heaven for a chart geek like me.  Most of the shows are narrated by Radio 1 DJs from the ’80s and ’90s – Mark Goodier, Simon Bates, Bruno Brookes – and there was one presented by a couple of the actors from Grange Hill, which is the kind of modern-music-channel fun nonsense that I miss on the more grown-up Vintage TV.

In short, I love it, and I’m so glad to have an extra music channel to watch.

I’ve got a feeling that an extra stage has also been added to my weekly setting of recordings.  Similarly to Vintage TV, the trick will be restraining myself from recording EVERYTHING.

TV Review: Britain’s Fat Fight with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

In early 2017, I started seeing adverts for Newcastle Can shared by all my diet and fitness groups and in other places – Slimming World, parkrun, dance class, at my physio, in the doctor’s waiting room, on posters around town, etc.  I’ve been logging my weight loss on their website (I’ll log my final weight on there when I hit my Slimming World target – only half a pound to go!), and it’s been nice to contribute to the city effort!

As such, I was looking forward to the accompanying TV series with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and I wasn’t disappointed – it was really great to see so much of Newcastle on the show, and it finally explained why there had been all these orange footprints around Central metro station a few months back.

As for the main discussion about obesity, it was interesting to hear the thoughts of different groups of people about ways of solving the problem, but I didn’t really feel there was anything said that I didn’t already know – although maybe that’s just because I’ve done so much reading on the subject over the last sixteen months since joining Slimming World.  The conversation with the government felt pretty unfinished as well, so I’m going to keep following the website and see if there’s ever any update on that (the cynic in me doubts it, but we’ll see!).

All in all a good watch, and I think it’s important to make more people aware of the issue through TV shows like this.

Pre-race evenings in

One thing I’m really looking forward to about race season starting again is pre-race evenings in (the first one being tonight, given that the Sunderland 10k is tomorrow!).  Because we have to run optimally the next day, we can’t do anything fun or weekend-y like drinking alcohol or staying up late or leaving the house, so instead we watch ‘running TV’ (i.e. road running, athletics and triathlon events I’ve recorded off the TV) and running films (Run Fatboy Run is Geth’s favourite, Chariots Of Fire is mine).  Then we get a nice early night.  Rock ‘n’ roll!

Then the following evening, after the race, we do it all again, except this time with booze and takeaway.  I think I’m looking forward to that more, to be honest.

Tonight’s viewing will be the Great Birmingham 10k that I recorded off the TV last Sunday, followed by Chariots of Fire (we’ve watched Run Fatboy Run the last few times, so it’s time for a change).  I should probably see about procuring some different running films, though, as we’ve got a lot of races coming up this year!