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!

Catching up

It’s been a great week and a half seeing family, and I’m thrilled with all the new shelves we now have in the house courtesy of my dad (more pictures to come tomorrow!) but it’s meant I’ve not had much time to catch up on all my usual things like reading and TV and music, so I’ve spent most of today doing that kind of thing, which has been nice.

Back to running tomorrow morning, some more house stuff, and a bit more catching up.  It’s shaping up to be another productive week!

Packing update

Well, it feels like slow progress, but we are gradually getting the packing done for the move.  The library is 95% done, the dining room about 50%, the bedroom maybe 20%.  Actually, that doesn’t sound like much at all, thinking about it, and now I’m panicking slightly again.  I’m hoping by the end of the weekend we’ll have broken the back of it.  I’m also hoping the new tattoo I will have from Friday onwards won’t hinder me too much with the packing work.  I didn’t really think about that when I booked the appointment in October.

I’m sort of regretting packing the DVDs first, because I keep coming across other stuff while packing that reminds me of a certain Doctor Who episode, and then I’m all like ‘ooh!  Let me just grab that DVD to check that scene…oh.’  It’s probably for the best.  I don’t need any more sources of procrastination right now.

Vintage TV

I’ve always been obsessed with music TV channels, ever since my family first got cable in the mid-’90s and my school friends and I all discovered the wonders of “The Box” channel, where, because it was advertised as “music television you control”, you could waste your parents’ phone bill on requests for videos that were inevitably ignored by whoever was controlling the channel.  I believe the channel still exists, but I don’t know if you can still request videos by dialling up on your landline.  It’s probably all done through social media nowadays.  I bet the requests still get ignored though.

I watched a lot of different music channels as a student and later a semi-employed graduate, because when we lived in Scotland, Geth and I were still able to get Virgin TV with all its delicious, delicious choice.  Since we moved down to England, however, we’ve never been able to get Virgin TV in our area, so for years the only music channels available to me were 4Music and Viva, the former of which I tend to avoid due to too much reality content and the latter of which I only really watch for the chart once a week.  (Except at Christmas, when I traditionally watch music TV all day long.  I’m easily pleased at that time of year.)

About three years ago, however, either Freeview or our BT package decided to grant us access to Vintage TV, first as a streaming channel and then as a normal channel where you could actually set recordings and everything.  I can’t tell you how much I love this channel.  I have it on in the background whenever I’m not watching anything else, and I actually record the ’80s playlists (it typically shows stuff from the ’60s to the ’90s) so that I can watch them later with the adverts fast forwarded.  Geth wants to look into switching from BT to plain Freeview when we move into the new place, so I’ve made sure he knows Vintage TV is non-negotiable (my mother-in-law doesn’t have it on her Freeview package, but I think it depends on location).

For a throwback like me, it’s pretty much the perfect music channel.  They even have interview shows and live performances with all their most featured 20th century artists so you can see how well they’ve aged find out what they’re up to nowadays.  Just a shame it doesn’t have Top 100/50/20 etc. countdowns like the more modern-focused music channels do, but you can’t have everything!