Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

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Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.

Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

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Review: Multitudes, Tricycle Theatre

 “I haven’t taken a taxi since Rotherham”

It’s hard to imagine a time, in the near future at least, when multiculturalism in the UK won’t be a hot button issue – if nothing else, what would certain elements of the press be pitifully obsessed with instead? So naturally, John Hollingworth’s play Multitudes – his first – feels well timed, how could it not – Jihadi John and schoolgirl recruits for Islamic State dominate the front pages, the shockwaves of Charlie Hebdo are still rippling around with inflammatory polls further stirring the pot and the nefarious impact of UKIP on British politics remains impossible to escape,

Trying to make sense of these multiple strands is a job and a half for even the most seasoned of commentators and it’s not immediately apparent that Hollingworth is the man for the job as he layers all this and more into his play. But once Indhu Rubasingham’s production finds its feet in the swirl of the melting pot and one becomes accustomed to its rhythms, Multitudes’ noisy energy makes sense. Hollingworth doesn’t set out to give us answers, such as they could possibly exist, but rather gives a portrayal of of the messiness of race debates in British society. Continue reading “Review: Multitudes, Tricycle Theatre”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3

“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kettling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Spring Storm, National Theatre

“I don’t know anything about Strindberg but it don’t sound practical to me”

The other part of the Young America mini-season at the National, Spring Storm is Tennessee Williams’ second play, written whilst still at college and this is apparently the first time the play has been performed in Europe. Set in the Mississippi delta, Southern belle Heavenly has almost everything a young woman could desire, but when she’s forced to decide between dull and respectable suitor Arthur and her handsome, wild lover Dick, her actions cause a chain of consequences that tear their lives apart.

I loved the fact that the central love triangle was cast the same as in Beyond the Horizon. As the impassioned Heavenly, Liz White is superb, throwing herself about with gay abandon in search of the grand amour that will satisfy her beating heart but also aware of the need to secure her position in life to avoid spinsterhood. Her performance here could have been the younger cousin of Rachel Weisz’s Blanche DuBois, one can definitely see how Williams’ incubated that character here. As her suitors, Michael Malarkey does better as the dull and mannered but rich Arthur, playing him with a real note of sadness , carrying much baggage from childhood. As the more masculine, rugged Dick, Michael Thomson brings such a real sexuality and physicality that one can see why Heavenly is reluctant to quit him, but it would have been nice to see more to him than the dumb jock. Continue reading “Review: Spring Storm, National Theatre”

Review: Beyond the Horizon, National Theatre

“You and me ain’t like most brothers”

As part of a ‘Young America’ season, Beyond the Horizon, the first play by Eugene O’Neill is being performed in rep with Tennessee William’s second play, Spring Storm at the Cottelsoe at the National Theatre. Originally produced by the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, the two works have been transferred down with their original casts, who play roles in both works, showing the connections between these two American playwrights as they formed their artistic visions.

Set on a rural New England farm, we follow the lives of two brothers Andy and Rob Mayo. Andy has taken on his father’s mantle with a great knack for farming and an understanding of the land whilst Rob is a dreamer with no interest in farming and a hankering for discovering life and the world beyond the horizon. When a declaration of love intervenes with the plans that have been made in order for the brothers to follow their dreams, a chain of decisions is set in motion and the play then traces the consequences of these actions through the ensuing years. Continue reading “Review: Beyond the Horizon, National Theatre”