What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

So I had a last minute ‘Cumberemergency’ on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn’t have the time to write ‘What have you been watching?’ Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom.

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven’t managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it’s really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I’m writing before both of them have aired. I’ll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies – those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let’s talk about the ‘Cumberemergency’, since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre’s latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it’s performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet‘s one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene.

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren’t in the others. The result is that I always forget what’s in the play and spend the whole time thinking “I don’t remember this. Is this in the original?”

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who’s a bit annoyed his mum’s remarrying so soon after his dad died – except his dad’s ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn’t get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the ‘what a piece of work is man’ monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds’s Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre’s immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don’t feel anything, because the actors aren’t there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it’s not cinematic enough, despite the director’s best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play’s split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It’s not the production’s fault, it’s simply a problem of the medium.

So don’t do NT Live if you can. The play’s the thing, after all.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

800 Words (Australia: Seven)
A mystery needs to be solved, and rather than giving it a wide berth, the most unpopular new arrival in town decides to dig up the bodies. Oh dear. Generally, quite a weak episode, and an attempt to sex things up in the middle was a bit misguided. It also fails to address the rudderless nature of the show, meaning I think I might be turning this one off, soon.
Reviews: First episode

Blindspot (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
1×5 – Split The Law
After last week’s best episode, we have this season’s worst episode since the pilot, with ‘terrorists’ trying to create a dirty bomb using previously unknown science (don’t worry guys – as long as your radiation ‘level’ doesn’t hit 300, you’ll be fine. 299, you’ll be fine, but 301 you are so dead) while the CIA and FBI play slapping matches without even trying to be slightly plausible. Jane’s presence in the whole event is tenuous to say the least, too. Still, there have been worse things on TV.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (US: The CW)
1×2 – Josh’s Girlfriend is Really Cool
More or less the same problems as the pilot, with lots of cleverness (particularly the new meta title sequence), some funny songs, some good scenes but none of it hanging together at all well. I think I’m going to be turning this one off soon, too.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode

CSI (US: CBS; UK: Channel Five)
The Final episode (whatever that was – season 15 or something)
Not the best final episode of anything, despite the show’s initial intelligence, back when I started watching it. Indeed, despite there presumably being people who have loyally stuck through numerous cast changes to the end of the series, this was very much an episode targeted at people like me, with the return of Grissom, Jim Brass, Lady Heather and Catherine, the current regulars more or less having cameos in their own show. The arrival of a very famous creepy actor meant there wasn’t much mystery to be solved, either, and not much forensics worth mentioning, unless you count bee tracking. And for those of you who thought the Grissom/Sara power-relationship might get inverted in the final episode – Sara having dropped everything to come to Vegas in the very first episode of the show – here she got to drop everything to follow Grissom again, purely so they could literally sail off into the sunset. Disappointing at pretty much every level, except the chance to see the old characters again.
Where can I watch it?

Grandfathered (US: Fox)
1×4 – Deadbeat
Despite my third-episode misgivings, I stuck around for the fourth episode, which turned out to be the best one since the pilot, with lots of the smarts, romance and charm of the first episode. Stamos’ character is still a dick, but simply through inexperience at parenting and different perspectives, rather than stupidity or maliciousness. The final half almost made me cry, although I manfully held back the tears, even when the show won massive bonus points by playing The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You’. If the next episode’s as good, I’ll be promoting it to recommended.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The Player (US: NBC)
1×5 – House Rules
Another show giving us its best episode since the pilot, The Player managed to find some of its old fun again, mainly through finally doing the right thing – bringing in Will Yun Lee (Witchblade, Bionic Woman, Elektra) to give Wesley Snipes someone to fight with, and it was a thing of beauty.

I might go off and watch Blade now.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
4×3 – Restoration
Arrow‘s continuing journey into proper comic book territory continues, with people being brought back to life and magic all around, coupled with lots of humour thanks to Felicity and the future Mr Terrific (already inventing T-spheres). Of course, it’s all leading to both Legends of Tomorrow but more immediately, the arrival of John Constantine. Now there’s something to look forward to.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Doctor Who (UK: BBC; US: BBC America)
9×5 – The Girl Who Dies/9×6 – The Woman Who Lived
An impressive performance by Maisie Williams and an intriguing central idea – following an immortal through time to see how her singular nature affects her – but a limply comedic first episode (complete with inaccurately helmeted vikings) coupled with a better, occasionally moving, but still ultimately empty second episode wasn’t enough to make me squee.
Where can I watch it?

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
2×3 – Family of Rogues
Another show prepping for Legends of Tomorrow, with the new Firestorm on the way and Mr Cold (or is he Captain Cold?) turning gradually less bad. However, overall, an episode more enjoyable for the arrival of Michael Ironside than anything else. Also home to some science that made Blindspot look like the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodethird episode

Limitless (US: CBS)
1×5 – Personality Crisis
This episode mirrored episode three, which united series lead Jake McDorman with his former Manhattan Love Story lover Analeigh Tipton, by uniting series lead Jennifer Carpenter with her former Dexter lover Desmond Harrington. However, Limitless is the first promotion of the new shows to the recommend list, something it’s achieved not just by these surprisingly touching movies but by effortlessly converting itself to a comedy with a heart, brains and some action, rather than yet another CBS procedural.
Where can I watch it?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
DCI Tom glowered a lot again and solved the case. More notable, however, for the reunion of Mali Harries with the rather good Ryland Teifi (35 Diwrnod).
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episodefirst series

You’re The Worst (US: FXX)
2×7 – There Is Not Currently A Problem
Things just got serious, in what was an intriguing bottle episode. Not that many laughs, but for once, the show didn’t need them.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

  • JustStark

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw Doctor Who introduced with the 'By Catherine Tregenna' caption. On the one hand, she wrote the best episodes to ever have the title Torchwood attached to them, hands down. On the other, the current format of Doctor Who seems to actively fight against good writing.

    In the end, well, there was a really good episode in there struggling to get out, but the format succeeded in getting the better of Ms Tregenna. See the thing is I thoguht the point of drama was to, well, dramatise. To make the abstract concrete so that it can punch you in the gut. So if, for example, you wanted to write about the ethics of irreconcilable duties, you invent an individual family, and set things up so that they end up having to kill each other, setting the duty of family against the duty of vengeance.

    It's about having the surface action mirror the deeper subtext and I kind of thought that it was Drama School, Day One: If You Have To Spell Out What Your Play's About, You're Doing It Wrong.

    So if you wanted to tell a story about how from the perspective of an immortal human life is fleeting, you are supposed (I thought) to find a way to dramatise that, to make it real and concrete and individual. But that isn't how this series of Doctor Who works. In this series of Doctor Who, we don't get drama: we instead get two immortals, discussing and arguing with each other about how fleeting human lives are. All subtext is simply stripped away: the depth evaporates like mist, the surface is all there is.

    To be fair to Tregenna, she does try; as I say, there was a good episode there. The old servant, the rogue about to hang, these were clearly things that had somehow passed though from the version of the episode where action was allowed to tell the story and express the themes. But apparently that isn't allowed in Doctor Who any more so that wasn't the episode we got.

    A pity.

    Now what else? Well, I'm afraid I did laugh at The Muppets. Turns out the thing I find funniest about the Muppets is the absolute brazenness with which they tell really obvious, really old jokes. And this new series has that. So I'll stick with it for as long as I'm paying for a channel that can show it.

    Also watched because I happen to be paying, American Horror Story Hotel starring Lady Gaga (is Gaga a marquessate, earldom, viscountcy or baronetcy? It's clearly not a duchy because of the styling. I suppose the one thing we know is it's big enough to have its own radio station). Lots of stuff happened but I'm not sure it added up to much.

    And series one of Broadchurch because I'd heard good things about it; not sure why though. It stuck boringly close to that annoying The Killing model where a number of suspects come up in linear fashion, suspicion falling on each one after the previous one is cleared (I'm sure this is not how real murder investigations work — the real police are capable of following more than one lead at once, right?) until it finally turns out to have been someone hanging around in the background who nobody had any reason to suspect. It probably thoguht it was saying something about the role of the media in modern murder investigations, but quite what never really came into focus. Filing under, 'Never believe popular opinion' and staying away from any future series.

    Homeland episode three! The return of Crazy Carrie! We've missed her, she always makes things better with her talking fast and her randomly shooting people. Really not sure what's going on with Saul, though. Did a scene get cut?

    The Americans continues to deal well with the fallout from last episode. But have we just forgotten about the 'affair with the little girl' plot? By the time it pops up again (as I'm assuming it will for the last episode or two) no one will remember what had happened.

    Episode two of series two of The Returned continued to be mor of the same. more mystery, not much revelation. I continue watching more in hope than expectation.

    Is it just me or is there suddenly more television nowadays than can reasonably be watched? I have stuff on my hard rive I have no idea when I'm going to get around to watching, like The Last Kingdom. Maybe this is what happens when you subscribe to a pay-TV channel. I shall have to reassess that decision when The Americans finishes, though I've started watching The Muppets now and I'm curious about Blindspot… this is how they get their claws into you so that they can be hacked and lose your credit card details,isn't it?

  • JustStark

    So don't do NT Live if you can. The play's the thing, after all.

    Well yes but sometimes people schedule, I can only assume through deliberate obstreperousness, a limited run of the long-awaited newest play from the best living playwright in the world in the Lyttelton and the whole run sells out before they offer tickets to the non-member plebs. And the broadcasts become one's only chance…

    (Myself, I found it quite disconcerting to see theatre acting in camera mid-shots and close-ups. Everything just looks too big. Really brings it home how projecting to an auditorium, and playing subtlety to the camera, are very different.)

  • benjitek

    Gave up on The Player, 10 minutes into the last episode it became yet another crime-story-of-the-week-factory for me. The undercurrent of the missing wife isn't enough of a story arc to hold my attention. Maybe a future Netflix/Hulu watchlist item when there's nothing else to watch…

  • Mark Carroll

    Well, I'm doing a little better this week. Our latest “Doctor Who” story … that they were Vikings honestly seemed somewhat incidental (things generally seemed ahistorical) and the Mire really didn't seem to live up to the being so fearsome and technologically advanced. The stuff with the alien in the second part seemed slightly silly too. It's not too bad, really; for me we're still stumbling along the middle of the road. The actors did just fine, as usual.

    I confess, while not actually rising to the level of being worth watching, “Once Upon a Time” has been better this series, mostly through the dark-Emma better-Regina thing, which helps to make her ever so slightly more interesting and gives her better outfits. The actual plots remain such dreadful bobbins.

    “The Walking Dead” has actually been a bit better this season too. I'd not say it's great, or even quite worth watching — the current central mystery about this 'wolves' group I honestly find tedious — but it feels just enough different to not be retreading the same ground, and goodness I find it less tedious than the LA spin-off. Basically, if you liked last season, I expect you'll like this one.

    Yet another surprise improvement this season has been “The Blacklist”. Dembe seems to have been surprisingly dumb in a couple of ways lately, but overall the episodes have been quite engaging, not too unintentionally silly or same-y, and with things actually happening. I wonder if in the end they're aiming for a normalization of how things were before, we'll see.

    Glad to hear I needn't bother with “CSI”. Early on, the show was a distinct cut above the average procedural. We've still actually been resorting to “The 4400”; we're now into season three, which maybe isn't quite as good, but still isn't too bad. It's a pity that with Isabelle we end up with the awful trope of fairly-central little girl who suddenly grows up implausibly fast and has awesome powers, that never seems to actually help a show.

    I caught the recent repeat of “This World – Don't Panic – The Truth About Population” and it was really rather well done: great lecture, good use of animated graphs. The summary is that the number of children in the world is stabilizing and agriculture in places like Africa has room yet to be made more efficient.

    I also saw “De Nieuwe Wildernis”, a rather good documentary about a Dutch wildlife reserve. It's no surprise that the young horse freezes to death but, hey, another one is born. I assume they're essentially interchangeable. There were also birds and stuff.

    I still watch Jools Holland. The season started off quite well. There's been a couple of misses in recent episodes, I think, though in the latest one Johnny Rotten still seems to be doing pretty well.

    “The Affair” has been engaging too. It hasn't actually drawn me quite as much as last season — it's now less an exploration of the inevitable affair, and more an actual plot following the consequences which I care about less — but it's well-made and well-acted, it largely still holds my interest, and still gives enough of what I liked in the first season, the emotional dynamic and Alison's backstory, to keep me happy. Whenever someone gets too annoying they soon have enough self-awareness to back off from that. It can seem pretty real.

    We finally saw “Gravity”. It would have been rather better in a cinema, admittedly. It was good. Things kept happening. Parts felt distinctly implausible, and even my son wasn't sucked in, and one viewing suffices, but I think it achieved what it set out to, and promised in the trailers, and it was nice to see our stuff in space.

  • GYAD

    THE PLAYER – Good stunts, lousy dialogue.

    THE LAST KINGDOM – Needs to slow down on the plot and actually bother with characterisation, adventure, romance etc.

    RIVER – Utter drivel and a waste of a fine actor.

  • JustStark

    Utter drivel and a waste of a fine actor

    Glad I didn't waste time on it (a friend also told me apparently it is about a policeman who talks to his dead daughter who appears as a possibly-ghost, possibly-hallucination that only he can see! What an idea, I mean, it's amazing no one's ever done anything along those lines before.)

    I might have missed it, was there ever a verdict on From Darkness? It's sitting taking up my hard disk and there's loads of other stuff at the moment; do I (a) watch it, (b) delete it, or (c) leave it there for a year or eighteen months until there's nothing else on?

  • GYAD

    Even worse, rather than call them ghosts like ordinary folk, the writer has to get pretentious and call them “manifests”.

    It's a ludicrously cartoonish portrayal of mental illness masquerading as a really boring and unbelievable cop drama.

    I didn't get beyond episode one of FROM DARKNESS but, unless you're running low on decent TV, I'd just get rid of it. It's another not very good rip-off of Scandi noir.

  • JustStark

    that they were Vikings honestly seemed somewhat incidental (things
    generally seemed ahistorical) and the Mire really didn't seem to live up
    to the being so fearsome and technologically advanced

    It reminds me of one of those short stories you used to get in the Doctor Who annuals in the '70s and '80s with the garish covers and the art which looked nothing like the actors, where the Doctor would land in a thinly-drawn location where a bunch of people or aliens were being menaced by a vague, motiveless force; he would then notice something about the invading force / environment (eg, eels) that would allow him to pull off a 'clever' trick to defeat the threat and leave again, and the whole thing would be over and done in three pages and completely meaningless.

    It was one of those, plus a coda to set up the next episode (and presumably, future episodes as it looks like Game of Thrones girl is going to recur, like shingles).

  • There's too much (good) TV to be able to feasibly watch in the US alone. I don't watch UK TV at all now, just to fit the rest of the world in, and I have to live by the Barrometer's third-episode verdicts or I else I'll be trying 'just one more'

    I was hoping for more from Cath Tregenna but I think having lots of chatty scenes was probably all the budget could afford.

  • I honestly don't know whether it's better than nothing. I'd almost rather not have seen it at all than seen the 'movie version'. It's like watching the remake of The Thing without having seen John Carpenter's The Thing but knowing that exists and was probably much, much better, but you'll never see it and if you did, it would be ruined now.

    Theatre ticket prices are insane, though, at the moment. I was dying to see Photograph 51 but seats were starting at over £100, premium at about £200+, which is ridiculous.

  • The previous ep was the weakest so unsurprising you (and others) gave up. It's a shame, because it really just needed a better time slot. It's certainly no worse than The Blacklist was when that started, but that got a good time slot (same as Blindspot's?) so had a chance to flourish.

    It's not the best show ever, but it's one of the best action shows of the moment.

  • Unfortunately, there's literally no point in watching Gravity unless it's in a cinema at a 3D showing. In 3D, it's astonishing.

    Don't tell me I have to start watching The Blacklist again.

  • If people were watching The Player, it wouldn't be for the dialogue.

  • benjitek

    I think they needed to make the missing wife more front & center, show her to us in whatever situation she was currently in. Possibly in the bed of one of the 'gamblers', or involved with the 'casino' at some level. As is, she's just lipstick-on-a-pig.

  • I'm assuming she's with Johnson. But that'll presumably be next week's reveal.

    “As is, she's just lipstick-on-a-pig.”

    Still watching The Muppets?

  • benjitek

    No Muppets for me 😉 I'm sure it's fine, just zero interest.

  • Mark Carroll

    You don't have to, it's better but not exactly unmissable!

  • GYAD

    Yeah, it's just that without anything good inbetween the action scenes, the temptation is just to fast-forward from one to the other. At least STRIKE BACK had some amusing bants amidst the explosions.

  • The lack of fun is the show's Achilles Heel. It has it occasionally, but not frequently enough for its own good, and usually only when Wesley's around.

    Just started the second half of the final season of Strike Back and I just noticed/remembered Will Yun Lee's in the guest cast. I wonder if there'll be any martial arts fights…

  • Phew!

  • JustStark

    There's too much (good) TV to be able to feasibly watch in the US alone

    I'm not sure I believe that. At least, averaged over a year — it's just everything seems to be all at once, now. But I remember back in, say, February or March, there being nothing on worth watching. That's one reason I don't like the move to catch-up: I want to be able to record things now when it's busy for watching in six or nine months' time, and catch-up services don't let me do that.

    I was hoping for more from Cath Tregenna but I think having lots of chatty scenes was probably all the budget could afford

    But even chatty scenes can have drama! I mean, a stage play is all 'chatty scenes' but good stage plays are also dramatic, they don't just have characters sitting around openly discussing the ideas.

    (That's why, say, Arcadia is better than The Hard Problem: Arcadia the ideas emerge from the drama of the characters, they don't just sit down and talk about maths (well, except for scene four, and I can tell you that's an acting challenge, hm, more on that later) whereas in The Hard Problem they actually do just talk about philosophy, rather than dramatising it.)

    Basically: lack of budget is not excuse for lack of drama. Stage plays manage to have drama with no SFX. Doctor Who should be able to.

    (So: how does scene four of Arcadia relate to current Doctor Who? Well, it's the one where Val basically just delivers exposition in the form of long wodges of monologue and Hannah inexplicably neither tells him to shut up nor hits him. and it's really hard to act: basically it's just a matter of trying to convince the audience that what you're saying is interesting. And I wonder if this is what Capaldi is finding with current Doctor Who, and why his Doctor has turned out to be such a disappointment after his other work: he can't actually act, he has to seel that this undramatic stuff is interesting, and so we get what he's been doing, which is basically mugging everything up, with no through-line or gradation, just trying in each moment to try to convince the audience that what they are seeing is not dull as dishwater, subtextless, undramatic pap. It's a horrible thing to saddle any actor with especially one like Capaldi who could, given the material, really do something good and subtle).

  • JustStark

    I would have regretted not seeing The Hard Problem, but it is true that I don't generally go to these cinema screenings. As and for ruining it, well, I definitely wouldn't go to the cinema screening if there was any chance I might get to see the real production; and any new production / revival will be (should be anyway) its own thing, so unconnected with the one I watched on the screen.

    Did not realise that those were the prices for Photograph 51 (from what I know of the real story it's based on it wasn't, actually, that dramatic, and mainly features Watson & Crick taking a year longer than they should have done to work it out because they were too busy discussing what she was wearing than actually listening to her telling them exactly what they needed to know). That's a lot. I'm again impressed by my theatre buddy's cheap-day-ticket-sourcing skills, which is how I managed to see Orestea without the bank being completely broken.

  • For me, there's only a few weeks of the year when there's actually much space in the schedules to catch up on anything. Even August looks a bit silly these days.

    But that's not the case if you're stuck with just Freeview, say. Good stuff is all over the place, now, rather than just on the Beeb and ITV on a good day. Hence this blog.

    As for what is drama, sometimes it just is people sitting around talking about ideas. Just to pluck at random, The Erinyes is people sitting around in a courtroom discussing ideas for most of the play.

    In the case of Dr Who, budget (and logistics) can mean a lot of things. How long did they have Maisie Williams for, for example, and how much did that overlap with Capaldi's schedule? If they had to squeeze certain scenes into a limited shooting schedule, then chatty, non-dramatic scenes is what you get.

    But I'm not especially defending the ep, since it was only okay at best.

  • It's been a while since I read James Watson's book, from what I recall, he and Crick rarely met with Franklin, essentially relying on Maurice Wilkins for her photographs.

    That's certainly the case in Life Story: http://www.the-medium-is-not-e

  • GYAD


    Sadly there isn't much in the way of martial arts in the final season of STRIKE BACK.

    Btw, you might enjoy REDEEMER, a Chilean (!) martial arts film that came out this year.

  • JustStark

    Apparently James Watson's book is far more dismissive of her than real life; that's where the whole 'she was unfairly treated' thing started.

    From what I gather, Watson & Crick didn't meet Franklin much socially; however they did attend a talk in which she presented her photographs, but spent the time 'talking about her outfit' (I don't know whether that is a euphemism) and so didn't realise the significance of what they were seeing. Later on Wilkins brought the photographs to their attention and they had the confirmation of their theories that they were looking for; but they could have had it much earlier if they'd actually bothered paying attention to what she was saying rather than being distracted by her appearance. If Watson's book does not mention this, I suggest that is not entirely surprising…

  • JustStark

    As for what is drama, sometimes it just is people sitting around talking about ideas

    You can certainly have drama which involves people sitting around talking about ideas, but people sitting around talking about ideas is not inherently dramatic.

    A Socratic dialogue, for example, is people sitting around (well, wandering around the courtyards) talking about ideas, but it's not dramatic.

    To be dramatic it needs to actually dramatise the ideas: to turn it from a discussion of ideas into some conflict over a decision.

    What Doctor Who nowadays seems to have settled into is a mode where Socratic dialogues alternate with comedy skits and scenes of manufactured emotion, but at no point does any actual drama emerge.

  • Not necessarily. Look at season one of True Detective. Big chunks of it are just Matthew Mahogany and Woody Harrelson driving around in cars, arguing about whether there's meaning to the universe, whether there's a God, what's the point of doing good and so on. They're not dramatised, they're barely dramatic and there's no conflict over the decision, but they do explore the characters and are intellectually interesting. They're also, basically, everyone's favourite bits from the first season and their absence was one of the reasons people disliked the more action-packed, dramatic second season.

  • It's not in the TV version, but that does ring a bell, now you say it. However, I'd also be surprised if they were so distracted by her outfit that they didn't notice the photographs at all – IIRC, there was an A-form photograph and a B-form photograph but while the A-form photo didn't make the structure of DNA at all clear, it was the hydrated B-form that Franklin was talented enough to be able to produce and photograph that was the instant reveal that a double helix structure was present. If she'd presented her B-form photographs at the lecture, they would have spotted that, but I suspect if she were only exhibiting her unhelpful A-form photographs, they'd have certainly have found other things to do during the presentation.

    The internal structure, the fact the chains run in opposite directions, etc, weren't revealed (instantly) by the photographs, though*, and that's where Crick and Watson can certainly lay claim to some insight.

    * Franklin's report, however, contained more detailed technical information that was enough for Crick to realise the chains went in opposite directions, as it was something he'd been working on for his PhD, again IIRC, again largely from Life Story

  • JustStark

    For me, there's only a few weeks of the year when there's actually much space in the schedules to catch up on anything

    Yes but well, um, you do watch things like Arrow and The Flash

    (Which I understand you have to and I much appreciate, but I can see why that doesn't leave you much time!)

  • JustStark

    But the reason why those discussions are interesting is that they are placed in a context where we know that they are going to end up hating each other and under investigation for murder. So we're hanging on their every word because we're searching for some clue as to what turned them into the people we see in the framing sequences, and then later we're trying to work out what decisions those people might be capable of making.

    If you just had people discussing meaning and God, that wouldn't be inherently dramatic. It's dramatic because it's in a context where we know that these character have made and will make momentous decisions.

    Whereas current Doctor Who lacks that context which makes the discussions dramatic, and therefore falls flat.

  • JustStark

    The page http://www.ncbe.reading.ac.uk/… suggests that the lecture (apparently on the 21st of November, 1951, scientific-date-fans!) contained 'pictures of varying quality of both the 'wet' B form and the 'dry' A form of DNA fibres' according to Franklin's notes, but that 'the only other account, Watson's, is short of details' (and notes that 'Watson does not take notes at the meeting' but does not give a reason why…)

  • But that's basically still characterisation, not plot. They provide insight into the characters but they don't actually lead to anything at all – no actions transpire as a result of their conversations. They serve no function beyond giving us an understanding of the characters.

    So to be fair to The Woman Who Lived, it does much the same. It's also not just chatty scenes and there is context – the show how Arya Stark has become hardened to others through her immortality and lack of companionship, which then leads to her helping the aliens; it's the Doctor's chattery that helps her recover her humanity.

    Again, it's not great but it's not the drama-free zone as you define it IMHO.

  • That says that Crick wasn't at Franklin's lecture, so he wouldn't have seen the good photograph of the B-form. It was he who understood x-ray crystallography, not Watson. I can also imagine Watson spending his entire time thinking about Franklin's outfit – he's always on the lookout for girls in the book. (I do remember it from Lifestory now – he does spend most of the lecture doodling and eyeing up Franklin)

  • Mark Carroll

    Raymond Reddington continues to be silly fun to watch though.

  • JustStark

    Yes, I misremembered who was at the lecture. Anyway point was that the main disservice done to Franklin at the time (as opposed to later, when Watson went to town on diminishing her contribution in his book) was Watson not bothering to listen to her lecture and so missing the importance of what she was showing, which was entirely his fault.

  • JustStark

    But that's basically still characterisation, not plot

    I think that's a false distinction: plot is what illuminates characters (if stuff happens which doesn't illuminate characters, eg, fights or car chases, that's not plot, it's business, or, depending on the budget, spectacle).

    But basically, what is the difference between drama, and a Socratic dialogue? Why does Arcadia work as drama (except scene four) but the Hard Problem doesn't?

    The main distinction I can see is that the ones which work as drama demonstrate their ideas by making them concrete, while the ones which don't just have people talking about them.

    So True Detective works because the discussion are set within a context which makes those ideas concrete in terms of how the world works and what the characters do; whereas in The Woman Who Lived we don't (much) see how the girl has become hardened by immortality; mostly we are just told about it by abstract arguments between her and the Doctor which never become concrete.

    Again, it's not great but it's not the drama-free zone as you define it IMHO

    It's better than a lot of current Doctor Who because, as I did mention, it actually makes some effort to have a couple of lunges towards making the issues concrete — for example, the old servant, the contrast between him and the young criminal as potential doobrey-powering deaths, etc.

    Which elevates it above, for example, the one with the Master where rather than her evil being shown by having an evil plan, treating people evilly, etc, it is simply informed by dialogue and random killing specifically to tell us that she's evil.

    So credit to Catherine Tregenna for that. It's just that, as she wrote Out of Time which is the best episode of Torchwood ever and is really good at dramatising its ideas so that they are demonstrated by what happens rather than just by character talking, it is disappointing that she was hobbled by the format of current Doctor Who being actively antithetical to drama.

  • “I think that's a false distinction: plot is what illuminates characters (if stuff happens which doesn't illuminate characters, eg, fights or car chases, that's not plot, it's business, or, depending on the budget, spectacle).”

    But that's really just you redefining what the word plot means. The plot is “the main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” By that (dictionary) definition, plot doesn't have to illuminate character; characterisation doesn't have to be plot. You may want it to mean something else, but you're going to need to invent a new word for it, since plot is already taken.

    Otherwise, I think we're slightly agreed. But what we're coming down to isn't “can a drama have scenes that are just discussions of ideas, rather than advancements of the plot?” but “what makes scenes that are just discussions of ideas rather than advancements of the plot work?”

    True Detective's socratic dialogues work, I think, because they're interesting. Woody and Matty were bog standard characters from crime dramas, which is somewhat the point of at least the first season of True Detective (the clue is in the title) – to probe cliched police characters and turn them into something deeper. But I wasn't interested in who they were after, during or before those scenes. What made those scenes interesting were purely the arguments, for me and quite a big chunk of the audience.

    So I don't buy the idea that philosophical discussions of ideas only work as characterisation or advancements of the plot, for that simple reason.

  • True

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()