The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

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Doctor Who: Tertiary Aliens Rapidly Devolve Interesting Story

Do you know how long I’ve waited? After a bland Christmas special (which was somewhat of a misnomer) and the promise of a new, darker, older, more Scottish Doctor, eight months sailed by in an agonising trill of teasers and Coleman. By the time last night came around, I was practically sick with excitement- here, we had the introduction of a potentially game-changing Doctor, handled by one of the most experienced and competent showrunners in the industry. This, as I declared several minutes before starting the episode, could not go wrong.

As I’m sure you can guess, it swiftly did. The episode wasn’t a complete write-off, to be fair- I chuckled at a few of the less ham-fisted jokes, and appreciated a magnificent Matt Smith cameo that only made me pine for him more- but overall, I was left, not just dissapointed, but fuming by the Doctor Who season eight opener, Deep Breath. Indulge me for a moment, would you?

Infuriation Point 1: The Plot was Sloppy

Let’s cast our eye back over some wonderful DW episodes of yesteryear- Blink, The Empty Child two-parter, The God Complex. These are all episodes that are utterly airtight. You can watch these and watch these and watch these and not find one slip-up in the writing, one loophole that the characters presumably missed. Within half an hour of Deep Breath ending, me and the Consort had successfully picked obvious holes all over the plot (for example, the title was taken from the idea that the villains were unable to sense living creatures of they were holding their breath. So the central characters just stood very, very still at a climatic moment, holding their breath and waiting for the Doctor to come through, instead of running as far away from the monsters as they could while they were under their radar, which has been established as possible earlier in the episode). The episode would have made a very passable forty-minute mid-series romp, but it flagged hugely in it’s almost eighty-minute runtime. I don’t want to pick holes in Doctor Who, but if the writing is as slapdash as this was, I have to. Moffat has written some of the hands-down best episodes of the series ever, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to oversee episodes that both a) pointlessly reuse pretty good villains from six years ago that everyone sort of forgot about or b) contain a plot with the structural integrity of a skyscraper made of trifle.

Infuriation Point 2: Strax, Vastra, Jenny

I discussed in a review for The Crimson Horror last season that Strax, Madame Vastra, and Jenny were great characters who would, in the great Doctor Who tradition, be overused until we were sick of the sight of them (see: The Ood, The Daleks, Martha, etc). And I’ve been proved right against my will here, as they twirled into a room in tight leather brandishing swords and suspended by ribbons without a hint of a tongue anywhere near a cheek. Vastra came off as kind of patronising, and the heeeeee-larious Sontarans-don’t-get-people-LOL jokes are getting pretty boring. More to the point, I would have much preferred Capaldi’s opening episode to be about him and Clara, as opposed to wasting scenes with Clara nipping at tertiary characters.

Infuriation Point 3: Capaldi

Right, let’s be clear here: I thought Peter Capaldi was EXCELLENT in this episode. He was funny, charming, and extremely likeable. And my gripe with this new Doctor might be just mine, but it’s this: he didn’t seem like the Doctor. He didn’t have that mania or that sense of two thousand years of history or that ability to make it look as if his brain was about to burst with thought even when he was saying nothing at all. Whether or not this was a stylistic choice to depict his confusion after regeneration I don’t know, but I’ll be keen to see if this changes as the series goes on. I wonder, too, if the fact that every other Doctor I’ve seen I’ve been coming to with next to no prior knowledge of, while Capaldi inhabited one of the most iconic comedy roles of the decade has something to do with my inability to see him as a timelord. I did catch myself willing him on to declare something the “FUCKING OMNISHAMBLES” more than once. 

Miscellaneous 

Ben Wheately, an indie film director who helmed this episode, managed to make it look actively sloppy a few times. I didn’t like the utterly pointless re-use of old villains, especially not when you have a brand-new Doctor to play with. The ending suggested a rehash of the dreaded River Song plot, which I am minus okay with. There was no mention of Gallifrey, despite the fact they brought it back in the 50th Anniversary Special to great fanfare. The Scottish jokes (“You all sound ENGLISH!”) were pointless and, frankly, can we keep the independence campaign out of a kid’s teatime show? 

With all that said, there was a lot to recommend to this seventy-six minutes of television. A nod to the Doctor’s moral ambiguity with a jumped/pushed question mark, a few meta nods to the fact that Peter Capaldi was in the series before, and some musing on the nature of the Doctor’s relationship with Clara (which apparently a lot of people hated but I utterly adored) that was pulled off with tenderness and subtlety. There’s enough here to go on to tempt me back, dammit, and it looks like, as Capaldi, Clara and the new improved Tardis, I’ll be back next week.

But hang on: did I spot some Daleks “done in a new way” (floating Dalek eyes???!?!??!??!?!) yet again in next week’s teaser? I’ll have you yet, Moffat. 

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Much Ado About Nascar

There are a variety of phrases that I have discovered rarely elicit a positive response: I’m a student. I enjoy poetry. I ran over your infant daughter. But these pale in comparison to the statement “I am a Nascar fan”. Reactions range from bafflement to incredulity to genuine offense. One person sighed so loudly I feared that they were going to orally expel their own lungs; another rolled their eyes so hard that the momentum left them spinning for three days. But I am here today to stand tall and proud and tell you why it’s not quite as shit as you probably think.

In the first and possibly only attempt to intellectualize the “sport” of Nascar, I’ll use a literary metaphor; let’s compare the drivers to the tale of Macbeth. First, there’s Dale Earnheardt: the master of the racing dominion, tragically killed before his time and leaving the throne for the taking: clearly Duncan. Dale Earnheardt Junior is Malcolm, the ineffectual but lovable Prince who never quite does as well as everyone hopes. Macduff is Jimmie Johnson, a self-satisfied, do-gooder twerp who everyone knows should win, but who has the personality of a damp fart. Banquo is the hilariously titled but dimly lovely Greg Biffle, while Fleance is Trevor Bayne. Despite having the name of a rejected Batman villain, he may well be the nicest man on earth; he trundles along, saying things like “Gosh darn it”, occasionally wins races, and then presumably goes off to heal the blind. Macbeth, the once-honourable but horribly misled hero, is the crashing nonentity Kurt Busch. His wife, the immensley disturbed, psychotic, manipulative and widely loathed Queen, is Kyle Busch. I think this is particularly applicable as Kyle looks like someone interrupted him halfway through a sex change and he never got round to finishing it, with his intersex drone and slightly curvaceous body.

The appeal of Nascar isn’t in the forty or so cars driving around a track for 500 miles; it’s the spectacle. This season of Nascar (beginning today with the Daytona 500, if anyone cares a jot) kicked off with live music, legions of screaming fans, frantic pre-race interviews, and more fireworks than one could comfortably shake a stick at. Every season has it’s own cast of heroes and villains that seemingly every fan buys into wholeheartedly. It’s a pantomime of an event, but it’s what America does best: noisy, glossy, speedy, slightly guttural and really quite beer-stained entertainment. Once you’ve bought into that, the whole thing becomes a thrilling fiction made up of caricatures and champions. And that’s why I spent the last two hours wearing a baseball cap, drinking beer and watching people drive round and round in a circle. I am a Nascar fan, and I am proud.