Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Best Book Ever Written?

That's got your attention. Now you're here, hello reader, you can stay, and read my review of  a short story that you just have to buy.

But I'm probably quite biased as to why.

The book I'm reviewing is this one, The Ever-So Heroic Adventures of Captain Square Jaw: Square Jaw and the 49-Page Adventure! It's written by Danson Thunderbolt, who is my best friend's dad. Reason one why I'm bias. The book has been written to raise money to buy supplements for my best friend's brother Luke, and you can read about why such supplements are needed (and they really are needed, so from right now I urge you all to buy the book) here. There are 38 different blogs about life with Luke and his dad, and they're all worth a read.

So that's why I'm biased - and I should probably feel obliged to say that the book is amazing. The thing is - I don't need to be obliged to say it. This book IS amazing, genuinely. And it's only 49 pages, so what more could you want? I read it in about two days, and I could've read it in much less time if I was able to sit still and read a book for long enough.

Square Jaw is the creation of Danson Thunderbolt, who is, himself, the creation of my friend's dad. He's a pirate with a, if you could believe it, square jaw, and a manly chest, currently captain of the ship 'The Manly Pose'. It's a children's book I suppose, but I'm eighteen and the humour appeals to me greatly. I read the last chapter in school and was giggling away in the library when everyone else was being quiet. It keeps you laughing up to the last word, literally.

The book is essentially 49 pages (50, including the cover) of wordplay. The normal conventions of reading a book are taken and played on; you think one sentence means something, it in fact means that and something else. It's amazingly difficult to explain - so you should buy the book and find out for yourself.

It would feel strange closely exploring the characters and the plot in a book that has the characters themselves question the presence of a plot. The characters' positions in the novel become part of their character, if that makes any sense, and the lack of depth for some characters is taken as another opportunity for humour. The book keeps up the energy that it starts with, and Chapter One (titled 'The First Chapter') is a constant run of jokes and wordplay that kept me very entertained. The humour might not be to everyone's taste, and if it isn't I suggest you go and find your childhood self again. After all, as a wise and curly haired man once said, "there's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes". The humour is clever and quick, and the unexpected jokes and wordplay happen all the way through.

Plus, despite the fears of the characters, there is a plot! I don't often make it to the very end of books, and I still get quite excited when suddenly the tension and action increase as you near completion. This excitement and tension were definitely present in Square Jaw, and the 'death' scene [not a spoiler] in the last chapter of the book manages to be both hilarious and really quite sinister. Even the surreal resolution (surreal is good, you'd expect nothing less from the story) feels real, and manages to be both intense and funny.

But at the end of the day - the book is an excellent read, and it would be silly to analyse it any further. The money goes to a good cause, and you'll have a great time reading it - so what's not to love?

Unsure if you'd like the book? That 'Sample' button on Kindle can  be incredibly tempting, I know, but don't use it. Just press 'Buy'. It's only £1.02, and 35p of that will go towards the supplements that my friend's brother really needs. So be nice, and buy it. And if you really like it (hooray!) then you can buy the full sequel (that was written first...) here. There was a stage play of that, locally, last year, and it was amazing. It's had great reviews, and they're all correct. The stories really are wonderful. I can remember my friend telling us all in Primary School that his dad had written a book. I thought it was tremendously exciting - and it still is.

(So... any chance of a sequel/second prequel/future short story? I hope so.)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Elementary | Season One

"Can you believe they're making an American Sherlock? They're going to ruin it." A paraphrase of the first words between me and fellow friend/geek Jake on the discovery that Elementary had been commissioned.

Next thing we know, the series has been made, Jake has seen the first few episodes - and he tells me it's awesome. He sees Jonny Lee Miller is great, a female Watson (which me and Jake had thought of for our own fan Sherlock series some months before) worked excellently and the whole series was one I should watch.

Except I can't get the series on my TV. At all.

So - on seeing the DVD in HMV just after Christmas, I bought it! And in just under a month I've worked through the whole of Series One (so for those of you who are miles ahead and need reminding - I know who Moriarty is, but Mycroft hasn't turned up yet).

It is amazing. It is, fundamentally, an American crime series, and so shares many similarities with other American crime series. But it needs wonderful lead characters to make it stand out and feel different - and Elementary has those. Miller is an amazing Sherlock Holmes. He is a real person (you could argue Cumberbatch's portrayal has, unavoidably, become more of a caricature of his own character) and the huge series gives the writers, actors and audience a chance to explore and learn more about him. Admittedly, character growth is fairly limited - as you would probably expect with Holmes. The episodes take place over about ten weeks in all, I imagine. But Sherlock doesn't need to grow. He is challenged enough, and he's always portrayed amazingly by Miller.

Joan Watson is a character who goes through a lot of growth. She changes careers from sober companion to Sherlock companion - and, wisely, that isn't a decision that happens in a moment. It grows, giving a new look on the Holmes/Watson relationship, and allowing both characters and their relationships to be explored. Watson is portrayed fantastically by Lucy Lui, and to see Watson becoming more confident (and also more challenged) is great. She lives a proper life, that is intrinsically linked with Holmes'. She differs completely from Martin Freeman's Watson - which is good. Anyone who expects this to be a conventional Sherlock Holmes series, or anything like Sherlock, is wrong. And that's a good thing.

Captain Gregson and Detective Bell are also great characters - Gregson especially gets some great moments. Punching Sherlock in the stomach is definitely one of them. It's hard to explain M and the Moriarty storyline without giving everything away - and so I'll come back to it under the Spoilers heading later.

Other good things about the series: episodes flow well, referencing previous events, and often showing the impact of stories over a long period of time. Sherlock's deductions aren't always perfect, the episodes always have a twist, however minor, within them, and the characters are written consistently well. The other great moments are that the series references Holmes stories more and more as it goes along. A Milverton blackmail story and references to Thor Bridge were great thrills.

Notable episodes are: the Pilot, Child Predator [a really dark story], Lesser Evils, Dirty Laundry, M., A Giant Gun Filled With Drugs, Possibility Two and Risk Management.

I was slightly disappointed, and this is the only occasion, with the finale. For me, it felt like the revelations could never quite do justice to the story we've been following, and certain scenes ended up falling a bit flat...

SPOILERS FOLLOW

One of the scenes that falls a bit flat is the flashback to when Sherlock and The Woman meet for the first time. Sherlock's interest in her seems misplaced, and since Irene is such an important character, it feels a shame that these scenes were left to slip - and indeed, were shown at all. A mystery would be much better. To reveal Irene is still alive wasn't an overall shock, but it would have worked if the characters and the relationship was handled slightly better over the last two episodes. The revelation of who Moriarty was also a bit unsurprising, but handled well once we knew.

The series did need something more dramatic. After all this time with the Irene story, her return needed to be more punchy (though the revelation that she might be working for Moriarty was great). There needed to be a 'Reichenbach Fall' moment between Irene and Sherlock - although perhaps that wouldn't have been as intimate as the end scene ultimately was. I just expected a bit more excitement.

SPOILERS END

Overall, the series has been amazing. I look forward to eventually seeing Series Two, and Mycroft, and the further development of Holmes and Watson. They have a great pairing, well written and well acted, and it is a joy to watch them drive a series that brings so much more to Sherlock Holmes than perhaps any other series has.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Time of the Doctor | Review

I'm going to write two reviews; one written after my first watch, and one written after my second watch, and both will be on this blog entry. It'll be interesting, for me if no one else, to see how my opinion changes, if at all.

FIRST WATCH
There is more to this opinion - but basically, I was disappointed.


I spent the whole episode waiting for it to pick up, waiting for a big, dramatic moment - and nothing happened. It's a hell of a lot of story, but to me it feels like they only chose to show us the boring bits of this epic battle. We saw a few explosions later on - but explosions don't make action or excitement. Especially when they happen rapidly, in the tiny space of Christmas village. The whole setting felt too claustrophobic, too dark. The tone of the episode jumped from Star Wars to arc wrapping to the Fiftieth Anniversary Part II to oh we're regenerating Matt now to oh - he has a new cycle. There was too much happening, with all the focus on the wrong bits.

I could make a list including the things I didn't like.. but I won't. Personally, I just felt let down. Matt should have been given so much more. The episode had some wonderful moments as an homage to his era, and it was great that the arcs were tied up. The Five Doctors reference was arguably the best thing about the episode, and Matt blowing up the Daleks was really quite epic. But all of these good moments were surrounded by mediocre plot and a slow pace. The constant jumping back and forward to Earth felt like a poor parody of The Parting of the Ways. The Daleks had suddenly become the main bad guys for no apparent reason and the whole episode just felt all over the place. My second viewing might change that. I think the first time I was distracted by how slow the episode was going.

The arcs, when resolved, were done in quite a boring way. There was lots of sitting and talking, which wasn't enough to accompany the few stand out, touching moments. People didn't like The Rings of Akhaten because the pace was all over the place - well at least that had a properly big ending. That's what this episode needed. It attempted to emulate the ending of Akhaten (even to the song) - but Matt's speech wasn't quite enough. It didn't help that I'd heard three of his lines before he regenerated already, and that was on Twitter, not even a spoiler site.

I loved that the Time Lords were behind the cracks - that was great. But - the scary Silence Will Fall voice in Series 5 once again came to nothing. The episode so nearly picked up to good moments, only to drop every single time.

I feel disappointed for Matt. I hope he loved it, and enjoyed it, and the episode really did feel like a goodbye to Matt Smith the actor. But it didn't feel like a goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor, or any Doctor.. at all.

Lots of people have used the word 'rushed', but then changed their mind the second time. I might do that. Cos I felt the rush, the episode did change and jump far too much, an extension of the idea that there was too much story.

My Dad said that the episode ended with a 'whimper' not a 'bang'. I have to say, I agree. It was good for Matt - but not for the Doctor, and I wanted so so much more from the episode.

(I could go on to criticise the rubbish characterisation of Tasha Lem and some other things, but I better leave it there.)

Just before I go - a couple of things about the last five minutes. They were beautiful. I have watched those twice already (sorry, cheated), but Matt's speech was really touching. Capaldi's arrival was less sudden second time, and much better second time. But the first time I saw it I was so dragged down in 'oh is that it?' that it didn't have quite the necessary impact.

SECOND WATCH AND OTHER THOUGHTS

So, the second watch is done and... I have mixed feelings.

I shared those mixed feelings with Twitter as I watched, mainly treating it as my notepad so I didn't forget all the points I thought of. I'm going to use what I said to piece together my review here.

The first nine minutes are good. They're a good, standard set up for a Christmas episode and they loosely promise that some good stuff is coming up. Of course, it doesn't really. The Papal Mainframe is probably the first sign of things being a bit not good, in terms of the episode. Tasha Lem seems to be written as a replacement for River Song (she was meant to be in it, apparently) but if this is the case, then it appears barely any of the dialogue was changed from character to character. And if this wasn't the case - then that's worse, because it proves that female characters have to be flirty, if written by Steven Moffat. (Though he did make two exceptions with Kate Stewart and Osgood in the Fiftieth, which must have been written on a really good day.)

So, the Papal Mainframe turn up, just missing the Star Wars soundtrack they need to complete the space-opera-epic look they're going for. The idea of the Space Church is really good - but it feels a bit weird. It feels as if we're meant to know loads about it... and we don't. Or we've forgotten. The Silence's purpose makes a lot of sense - but then the menace that they have in their Series Six story has been lost completely. When they appeared in this episode I felt a thrill - I really quite like the Silence. But they were wasted. An episode just about them would have made a lot more sense. As I said before - who said the Daleks were suddenly the big bad guys? This Doctor's hardly faced them - and what happened to the redesigned Daleks?! It annoys me that out of all the things Moffat has listened to from fans - he chose one that's had just as much divided opinion as a lot of his era has.

A story with the Weeping Angels would have worked too, as they, although slightly overused now, are probably the closest to Matt's main bad guys.

It was good to see the crack in the wall back, but the revelation scenes still felt slow. The problem is that the action in the episode, however many times I watch it, will still be slow, uneventful and not quite right. I pointed out on Twitter that "in between when the Doctor leaves Dalek-Tasha Lem and leaves in the TARDIS was the perfect place for action and a plot". The action needed to happen here - and instead we cut to a scene on the TARDIS (which the episode implies is still on the planet, although we know it's on the Papal Mainframe ship). This episode is really a huge story with all the boring bits shown. "Boring" is a tad unfair, and some moments (eg The Drunk Giraffe, and the scenes with Barnable) were good first time and better second time. But opportunities for this huge battle we were meant to have were missed. The setting feels wrong for that, and for the whole arc.

It still feels, even though I'm (believe it or not) a bit more positive about the episode, as if Matt's arc and era haven't got what they deserve.

"The last 10 minutes are the best," I said on Twitter, "Just a shame the action and excitement, or indeed emotion, weren't at that level throughout." That sums it up pretty much. Matt's proper regeneration moment is stunning, if again slightly oppressed by the setting, which is too dark and too claustrophobic. Yet at the same time - it's too nice. There's no menace in this episode.

Ultimately, I don't know what I'd give the episode out of ten. It was possibly the only episode of New Who I've watched that I've felt bored through on the first watch. I completely tuned out when Handles (who I'm not as fond of as everyone else seems to be) died. The second time I made myself watch that scene - and Matt is good in it, of course, but I can't remember much about it. The episode is just a bit too all over the place and still a bit too slow.

I hope that Capaldi is written good, not lazily. I have my fingers crossed, very tightly.

The Time of the Doctor is never going to be near one of my favourites, but then The End of Time and The Parting of the Ways aren't either. People often say that opening episodes are the hardest to write - well, maybe it's the endings.

PS The episode really needed the Doctor to be young all the way through and in tweed, so it properly felt like the Eleventh Doctor was leaving.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Christmas Chill | Short Story

 I wrote this last year, and rereading it this year, I discovered that it's probably better (in my eyes) than a lot of stuff I've written recently. So here it is, a nice, depressing, cynical short story for Christmas, with a weird ending. Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a wonderful and peaceful Christmas. (Basically, the opposite of this story.)

To most humans, it was a time of celebration. Humanity went about their daily business with an added frivolity, an added sarcasm, an added smile that wasn't needed, and occasionally an added smile that was. Relatives and in-laws arrived with presents, and the presents arrived with annoyance after being taken from house to house in the same bag, and building up the hopes of all the other sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and cousins twice and thrice removed that the relatives and in-laws had visited. “Oh no!” The relatives and in-laws would joke. “These aren't for you, it's a very big family y'know!” And then follow this with a laugh that seemed patronising to the little seven year olds who had opened the more exciting and less-sock shaped present in the bag was theirs.

But they were content when they opened their socks.

This celebration was called Christmas. It had been called Christmas by the pagans, and called Christmas by the religious, and called Xmas by all those too lazy to call it Christmas, and agreed that X was a perfectly acceptable abbreviation for Christ. For weeks now, everyone had been readying themselves and trying to get into the festive spirit. Perfectly beautiful landscapes that were untouched became touched by tinsel and occasionally graffiti that coupled the word 'Christmas' with an expletive. Choirs would walk from door to door – singing as soon as the door was even a centimetre away from it's closed position, rather than asking the owner of the house if they would like to hear their singing first. The aforementioned relatives and in-laws would spend most of Christmas in their cars and with their dogs that none of the other members of the family liked, but would receive comments of “we couldn't leave him at home” as the dirtied boots of these rarely seen relatives entered the front door. When their present giving and relative-touring was done, the relatives would return home (with their dog, thankfully) and allow the canine to open their presents for them, not long after a suspiciously dad-shaped Santa had placed them underneath the tree.

On this particular Christmas, a young man was walking home. He had his coat wrapped tightly around him in the cold, and the cold had it's long talons out to scratch any exposed piece of flesh. This was currently only the young man's face, and his cheeks turned red as the talons continued circling themselves on the surface of his skin. The young man, on his walk home from the local town, had been asked by six charities to donate money, and each time he had refused. He wished to, but his pockets were empty, and his wallet had become a rescue shelter for moths, so he simply shook his head and muttered his apologies, and continued his walk towards his home.

Somewhere on his walk home, the young man had noticed the talons of the cold had grown longer, and now seemed to be slipping round his waist and his legs. A further chill had been brought over his body. He had been distracted from it at first, as relatives and in-laws had been coming out of a series of houses near where he lived and had insisted on making some kind of conversation with him about trivial matters. Yes it was cold tonight. He would have preferred to have been in the warm and not making small talk about it. When he was alone, and focussing on the warmth that awaited him at his parent's home (as he had lost his own flat due to a lack of money and an increase in the moth population three months earlier), he felt colder.

It didn't bother him, until the chill started to increase even more. As if someone was not just walking over his grave, but tap dancing on it to music played from large stereo speakers attacked to the gravestone. The chill vibrated inside him, as if it was alive.

If it was alive, then it shall be killed by the heat, thought the young man, as he saw the rooftop of his parent's home appear out of the darkness and the navy sky. Yet the chill did not want to be vanquished – and it increased it's grip on the young man. It felt sentient, growing up the flesh inside his shirt, spreading to him, spreading down his legs, spreading inside him. Then his muscles started to ache, and he found his throat growing colder as he took a breath. He took another breath, and his temperature decreased further.
Then it seemed to reach his heart. The young man was forced to stop walking but the temperature, he rubbed his hands together to try and warm them up, but they only seemed to grow colder. In the distance, the young man could see lights and sound and people – reality. Reality was tempting him, but it was too far away. The young man was shivering uncontrollably.

The cold finally got too much for him – and no one, no relatives, in-laws, or friends, noticed.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Capaldi #1 - The Grumpy Question

I need to say this now.

I'm not sure if I wrote a blog on my thoughts on the casting of Peter Capaldi. I know I was critical of Doctor Who Live though (although I loved the post-Day of the Doctor show, which everyone else hated).

If I'm repeating myself then I apologise - but I'm going to raise a few different points I hope too.

I worry that Capaldi's going to be a stereotypical Doctor. As in "oh we've cast an old bloke, let's make him a bit grumpier". Moffat said recently (he says a lot of stuff and most of it is irritatingly teasy) that it's time for the Doctor to "bite back" or "growl" or some equally awful cliche, and that he then needs to remind the audience that really he's not grumpy, even if he appears it.

So this implies a sterner Doctor, with the same element of fun underneath. Which is fine. But I could have written that. I could have cast any old man to be like that. I expect it.

What isn't expected (although isn't particularly different to the style of Who we've come accustomed to) is if the Doctor was lively. How wonderful would it be to see Capaldi, a "father figure" (I tell you, if they ever use that term I'm gonna go mad), jumping about? What if he was as insane as Tom Baker, as thoughtful as Davison. Yes, I agree, darker elements would be good, like McCoy's darker elements.

But there's a difference between dark and grumpy. Grumpy is what I expect them to make Capaldi. Darker is what I hope they make him, along with a good dose of, if I dare say it, Tennant and Smith. It's not different in terms of the show - but it's different to everyone's expectations of Capaldi.

Making him grumpy, shouty, angry would be boring. I mean, I fully expect Capaldi to play the Doctor, however he chooses to do so, wonderfully. I'm sure his performance, even if it is as a grumpy Doctor, would be great. But that doesn't mean that grumpy is a good route to go down.

I want a Doctor who challenges the audience - and by challenge I don't mean "oh let's make him seem a bit less nice". Everyone says Hartnell was "irrascible", but in the little I've seen of his Doctor, he's not. He mellows by the end of The Edge of Destruction. And then he's great. A grumpy Doctor is not a good, or challenging way to go.

I want Capaldi to be different, and challenging, and not stereotyped, from the word go. He's all jumpy in his regeneration scene apparently - but Moffat tells us he'll change.

We'll see if that's a good change.

So although we've only seen CAPALDI'S EYES (worthy of capital letters, naturally) - I just hope and pray that the crew, and Capaldi himself, have chosen to make his Doctor different to the grumpy old man that I think a lot of fans are expecting.

He'll give an amazing performance - but one that I can't wait to watch week after week (which we're getting for Series 8, woo!) is what I hope for.

And when he's been on, for thirty seconds or whatever, I'll give my thoughts again. And when we see his costume *squeal of fangirlish excitement* I'll give my thoughts.

I can't wait to see what he's like. I just hope it doesn't let me down.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Cultural Stuff

Inspired by The Guardian's 'On My Radar' section (you can look at one here if you're unsure), I've decided to write a brief piece on various aspects of 'culture' that I enjoy. It's more exciting than it sounds, and replaces the Advent Calendar that, as per usual, I've done nothing for.

FILM: Psycho (1960)
It has to be Psycho. I like a lot of films, and I'm starting to watch more, but Psycho definitely stands out, and it stands, for me, far above other Hitchcock films. Full of psychology, drama, character - and a good bit of horror as well.
Notable Mentions: Romeo + Juliet (1996) because it's amazing and everyone should love it.

TV: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1960s)
Yes, it's puppets, and yes, it's for kids - but this is seriously good. It goes for moments that are genuinely scary, the drama is genuinely good, and it's an amazing string of stories. Much more serious and dark, and therefore much better, than other Gerry Anderson shows.
Notable Mentions: Broadchurch (2013) because everyone loved it and quite right too. (Also, check out a 1960s series called 'Batfink'. 100x5 minute episodes that are just wacky and awesome.)

MUSIC: Villagers
I listen to a lot of artists and bands, but Villagers are probably the most different. Their songs are awesome, and although probably an acquired taste, if you're into slow and meaningful songs, then definitely take a look.
Best Album: Either, they've only released two, and both feel quite different.
Notable Mentions: Bastille, Tom Odell, Hurts.

BOOK: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) by GK Chesterton
It was between this and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Two books that are outstanding pieces, but The Man Who Was Thursday is a strange, philosophical and engaging piece, that combines completely mad ideas with an awesome story.
Notable Mentions: Obviously it's going to be The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.

APP: Minion Rush
I don't really play games on my phone as much as I used to, or indeed use Apps, but Minion Rush is just amazing. Mind you, it has Minions, so of course it is.
Notable Mentions: I find the Cineworld app quite useful as well.

RESTAURANT: Patisserie Valerie
Or "French cafe", as me and my mates call it. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I do love this place. I've only been there a few times, and only when I've gone to Holborn for History Lectures, but it is definitely a highlight.
I won't do Notable Mentions because they'll just be things like Pizza Hut and Nandos.

I'm going to leave Festivals out - because they're on my To Do list.

So - try these things!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Calendar: Day One!

For this year's Advent Calendar (I still remember failing to write last year's one) I've decided to do 25 mini-reviews of various things. Each day I'll be talking about either a book, a TV Show/Episode/Series, a Film, a Song, an Album, a Band, or anything that I think is worth mentioning. (They won't all be Christmassy and they won't all be about Doctor Who. This one is both though.)

1st DECEMBER
Name: DOCTOR WHO - RELATIVE DIMENSIONS
Category: AUDIO DRAMA
Starring: PAUL and JAKE McGANN, SHERIDAN SMITH, CAROLE ANN FORD
Written by: MARC PLATT

Relative Dimensions is one of the best Doctor Who Audio dramas out there. And it's about Christmas! It requires no past knowledge of Doctor Who on Audio, or the Eighth Doctor's previous adventures. (Past events are often alluded to, but they explain their significance and it's not difficult to catch on.) The premise is simple: the Doctor and Lucie invite the Doctor's granddaughter and great grandson over for Christmas dinner in the TARDIS. Naturally, it doesn't go that well for them. It's a great idea, and the characters and plot are handled brilliantly by Marc Platt. The characters feel realistic, and the episode doesn't divulge in Doctor Who cliche, which Audio dramas often do. It's a thoroughly enjoyable adventure - and if you like it I'd recommend Lucie Miller/To The Death, the last adventures of that series, or even some of the earlier Doctor/Lucie stories. Lucie is a great companion and Sheridan Smith gives excellent performances.

It's definitely a story to listen to some time this month, and Doctor Who Big Finish stories are often on special offer, so if not now, you might be able to get it cheaper later on.

Buy it from here!