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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


April 18, 2013

Review: Da Vinci's Demons 1x1 (Starz/FOX)

Posted on April 18, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Da Vinci's Demons

In the US: Fridays, 9pm, Starz
In the UK: Fridays, 10pm, Fox. Starts 19th April

You might have thought the horror that was Torchwood: Miracle Day had ended. There's no more Torchwood, thanks to the series being so poorly received, even the majority of die-hard Torchwood fans couldn't bear any more episodes. Yet like that giant hole in the middle of the Earth, sucking the joy from life in that show's finale, so its legacy carries on.

That legacy is an alliance between BBC Worldwide and Starz aimed at creating yet more dramas as good as Torchwood: Miracle Day - yes, that good - and Da Vinci's Demons is its first bastard offspring. On paper, it might have seemed a good idea, with David Goyer, the co-writer of Batman Begins, crafting a historical fantasy series about the early life of Leonardo Da Vinci. The well known Renaissance polymath, he's popped up in enough shows over the years that he probably deserved a show of his own.

But in practice, it's not. Starz has tried to do historical shows before. It's had huge, deserved success with Spartacus; Magic City may just be nasty but it's a loving recreation of the 1950s Miami at the very least. Unfortunately, rather than aping either of those two shows, it's decided to go the Camelot route and produced a genre-busting show that marries Camelot's sex, nudity, poor action and complete bypass of virtually all history; the BBC's child-friendly but atrocious Merlin, Robin Hood and Bonekickers; the setting and political intrigue of The Borgias; the ridiculous conspiracy theories of The Da Vinci Code; and elements of movies ranging from Batman Begins to Hudson Hawk. Yes, the probably gay Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci is actually a leather-jacket wearing shagger of women, prone to the occasional sword-fight with the local guards, who somehow gets mixed up with the magical secret society that is the Sons of Mithras, all while flying people around in his inventions.

And it's all filmed in Wales with an almost entirely British cast. Be proud. We made this.

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April 15, 2013

Review: Doctor Who - 7x9 - Cold War

Posted on April 15, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Doctor Who - Cold War

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 13th April 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7c, 13th April 2013, BBC America

Mark Gatiss is a fanboy. This will probably come as a surprise to you only if you've never heard of Mark Gatiss before. Otherwise, this should be known to you.

A member of the League of Gentlemen (a troop of horror-story loving fanboys), Gatiss first appeared in the realm of Doctor Who writing some of Virgin's range of New Adventures books that emerged following the cancellation of the original series. Then, after writing and starring in some of the Liz Shaw spin-off P.R.O.B.E. stories, and some of the Big Finish Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel audio ranges (he's an S&S fanboy, too), he came to write some Doctor Who TV episodes: The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot's Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Night Terrors. He's also written fiction that pastiches 19th century fiction, hosted and contributed to documentaries on some of his favourite fanboy subjects (Nigel Kneale, Hammer horror), adapted and starred in HG Wells' The First Men In the Moon and being a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, too, it should come as no surprise by now for you to hear that he's one of the show runners and writers for Sherlock.

A fanboy, then. Clear?

The biggest problem facing fanboys in general and Mark Gatiss in particular is originality. It's all right when you have something to adapt and something to riff on, but actually coming up with good new ideas is actually terribly hard for the fanboy. It's no surprise therefore that whenever Gatiss writes anything, it's usually slight variations on an existing, familiar story, with knowing references to other things thrown in and some sort of Important Obvious Metaphor thrown in for good luck.

By now, it shouldn't surprise you when I tell you it was Gatiss who suggested to bestest Sherlock pal and Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat that they should do a story feature the Ice Warriors, just about the only popular old Who monster that the new series hadn't featured. Nor should it surprise you that our Stevie was a bit dismissive of the idea, thinking they were a bit rubbish looking.

But Gatiss has brought them back, with an Important Obvious Metaphor about the Cold War (hence, the title) thrown in for good luck. It's a little bit The Ice Warriors, a little bit Dalek… okay, a lot Dalek, with a big chunk of Alien and just a soupçon of Hunt For Red October on a low budget thrown in. And while it never hit the 'totally excellent' mark, by sticking with what he's best at, Gatiss turned in what's probably his best Doctor Who yet.

Here's a trailer.

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April 11, 2013

Nostalgia Corner: Who Pays The Ferryman? (1977)

Posted on April 11, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Who Pays The Ferryman?

Greek tragedy was the very first formal theatrical genre to be invented. Created in the 5th century BC to honour the Greek god Dionysos during his annual festival in Athens, it developed over the next century or so thanks to numerous playwrights, including Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, to give us some of the greatest ever works of Western theatre and literature.

But since those times, as a genre, it's pretty much fallen by the wayside. For all that David Simon and his fellow writers on The Wire may claim to have written to the rules of Greek tragedy rather than the more common Shakespearean model, they rarely touched on the classic formula devised by Aristotle for tragedy: the hubris, catharsis then nemesis of the protagonist, an ordinary man, who through some tragic flaw or mistake is eventually undone by the gods.

Greek tragedy itself didn't always stick to the formula (e.g. Euripides' Helene, Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound), so you have to hand it to former Daily Mirror journalist turned TV writer Michael J Bird to not only create one of the very few modern pieces of drama to stick to that formula, but to also set it and film it in Greece with a largely Greek cast.

1977's BBC2 serial Who Pays The Ferryman? sees former soldier turned boat builder Alan Haldane (Jack Hedley from Colditz) return to Crete after more than 30 years' absence. A legendary fighter with the Crete resistance during the War, he'd been a hero to the people and had fallen in love with Melina, one of the women he'd met there. Hoping to meet with her again after all this time, he tragically discovers that she has died. Compounding his misery, he is now getting a cold shoulder from the people who'd formerly seen him as a hero and been his friends.

Why? Well, unbeknownst to him, she'd fallen pregnant with his child. She wrote to him and, given the Cretan attitudes of the time and receiving no reply, she ended up marrying another man who would raise the daughter as his own. Haldane, who never received the letters and who now discovers his own letters to her were never received, decides to meet the now grown-up daughter he never knew he had and become her benefactor. And along the way, he meets a woman Annika (played by the very famous Greek actress Betty Arvaniti), who seems very familiar …

Why no one received the letters from their respective lovers and the lengths some people will go to to destroy Haldane are some of the central dilemmas of a very Greek story about vendetta, family and even the gods themselves that does not, of course, have a very happy ending. Here's the title sequence, followed by the opening of the second episode. It features the incredibly popular and catchy theme song by Cretan composer Yannis Markopoulos.

Oh, and here's Marina Sirtis - Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation - in her second ever TV appearance. This is all she gets to do, mind.

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