Doctor Who 50th Anniversary in Review

I apologise for how incredibly late this is (dashing to get it done before tomorrow’s Christmas special!).  I’d blame university, essays and so on but it really is, as ever, just due to my poor time management.  Working on it…

Anyhow, the landmark 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has come and gone, but did it live up to the intense hype surrounding the event?  I have to say that, up until November, I’d been very underwhelmed by efforts to commemorate the anniversary.  We had the second half of series 7 – I think* – earlier this year which, if I’m being honest, was not the best run the revived show has had.  That ended in May and since then there’s been radio silence of all things Doctor Who, apart from the passing announcement of Peter Capaldi being cast as the Twelfth Doctor.  So I was quite eager to see whether these November festivities (yes, it does count as a holiday) would be worth the wait.  Because we’ve had such a variety of audio-visual treats over the last month I’ll think I look at them separately before assessing the anniversary as a whole. (Warning: CONTAINS MULTIPLE SPOILERS)

The Night of the Doctor

This ‘minisode’ prequel certainly got the anniversary off to a dramatic start!  Who expected Paul McGann to make an appearance?  Fans have been clamouring for him to make a reappearance as the Eighth Doctor and, at last, he has returned, and we’ve finally found the answer to his regeneration.  This is a short piece, only seven minutes in length, but it covers so much in that time, racing from element to element.  It begins on a crashing spaceship where Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones) desperately calls for help.  Her computers starts havering about doctors – “Stop talking about Doctors!” she demands.  We hear a reply: “I’m a Doctor…” and, in typical Doctor Who fashion, the camera pans round for the big reveal.  “But probably not the one you expected,” says Paul McGann, in this instance speaking directly to the audience.  This brilliantly plays with the audience’s expectations and establishes so much within merely 25 seconds.

The story then follows a traditional format: the Doctor saves a young woman who wants to see the universe and is evidently perfect companion material.  However, yet again, our expectations are subverted and she ends up choosing death over trusting a Time Lord as a result of their role in the horrific Time War.  Previously in the series we’ve been introduced to countless species who lost their homes in the Time War, numerous extinctions, and even an episode partially set during it (‘The End of Time Part 2’, 2010), but I think this terror towards the Doctor is the most effectively I’ve seen the scale of suffering during the war expressed in writing.  “Who can tell the difference anymore?” she says, comparing Time Lords to Daleks.  This is absolutely chilling.

The remainder of the story takes place on Karn (last seen in ‘The Brain of Morbius’, 1976 – a nice throwback for the fans).  Somehow, it seems natural that Paul McGann’s regeneration was effectively an act of suicide, which again emphasises the severity of the war.  I think that “Physician, heal thyself…” are the greatest final words a Doctor has ever spoken.  This is a beautifully written short piece by Steven Moffat, proving once again that he writes best when handling self-contained stories rather than longer arcs.

The only real negatives I have for ‘The Night of the Doctor’ are related to its production.  Visually it’s perfect, but the general style of direction is just too restricted by its ‘minisode’ format.  This is a story which needs more time to be told; at barely under seven minutes it rushes through at breakneck speed.  It’s also choppily edited together with generic soundtrack pieces over the top, at times resembling a fan production (such as the sort of thing I’ve generally produced – ahem – ) than an official work.  I’m particularly alluding to the bombastic score playing during the final seconds as John Hurt, the ‘War Doctor’, picks up the ammunition belt.  It completely jars with the tone of the scene.

Overall, Night of the Doctor’ succeeds at everything it was intended to do but it can’t avoid coming across as such wasted potential.

8/10.

The Last Day

This is another short, eerie prequel leading up to ‘The Day of the Doctor’.  Shots taken from the perspective of a soldier, resurrected as an android to guard the city of Arcadia (referenced by the Doctor in Doomsday, 2006 – some nice continuity here!), give this a chilling tone, working effectively to bring to life just how hellish the Time War is.  Not an awful lot to say about this other than it succeeds tremendously at establishing the events surrounding the Fall of Arcadia.  Ending with a Dalek onslaught and the narrator exterminated, this leads directly into ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and promises much to come.

9/10

An Adventure in Space and Time

To me, An Adventure in Space and Time always was going to be the highlight of the anniversary festivities.  I remember watching Coronation Street do a similar origin story very successfully back in 2010, which no doubt must have helped inspire some aspects of this drama while also proving to be a hard act to follow.  Though in my opinion not the greatest writer Doctor Who has seen, I was very pleased to have Mark Gatiss writing it, this kind of thing seeming to be his area of expertise.  I went into this very excited indeed; and, generally, my expectations were met.

Although the drama’s intention to tell the story of Doctor Who‘s creation, it is at its core a character-driven piece.  On one hand we have the story of Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) trying to break into the television business despite coming against the institutionalised sexism of the BBC, developing alongside the tale of William Hartnell (David Bradley) searching for fulfilment in his acting career.  The focus passes from Lambert to Hartnell as the drama proceeds but they’re both told beautifully well.  Doctor Who proves to be the salvation for both.  In his writing, Gatiss really captures the love and dedication which went into creating the show.

The acting was generally absolutely spot-on.  That opening moment when David Bradley walked onto the TARDIS set, amazingly recreated, wearing the First Doctor’s outfit… It was like watching William Hartnell return from the dead, his mannerisms were so perfect.  As Hartnell himself, he nailed that fine line between crotchety old man and lovable grandfather – the scenes with his real-life granddaughter and later with the kids in the park, where he completely relished getting into the role, were joyful to watch.  Likewise, his forced exit from the show as a result of poor health was heartbreaking.  Although I had no pre-conceptions, Brian Cox and Sacha Dhawan also managed to successfully capture how I imagined co-creator Sydney Newman and director Waris Hussein.  And although I didn’t notice it at the time, seeing original actors William Russell and Carol Ann Ford in cameo roles was a very nice touch.  Although I don’t believe there was a bad actor in the production, two actors whom I felt were miscast were Jamie Glover as William Russell** and Reece Shearesmith as Patrick Troughton.  Again, nothing against their acting – it is as superficial as them simply not looking like the people they were recreating.

The direction is definitely another stand-out feature which brought Adventure to life; Terry McDonough really took us back to 1963.  It’s such a fantastic period piece.  So many shots stick out in my memory as excellent, but I think my favourite has to be the moment when the Daleks were first unveiled.  That pan above the wobbly set was such an effective introduction.  I also loved seeing how colourful some of the sets were.  A couple of colour photos do exist from the 1960s and I’m always astonished by how bright they were.   The transitions between recreating moments from the show and moments offstage were absolutely seamless, making the drama seem even more vibrant.

If I have one criticism of the whole production, I feel much of it was rushed.  I think this is a flaw in both the writing and the editing, although not one I have a solution for – there is no easy way of representing three years in the course of 90 minutes.  Although this sometimes worked to the show’s benefit, such as the repetitive photo-shoots Hartnell had to endure with an increasingly alien cast rushing past, I think the focus did sometimes lapse as a result.  Nevertheless, the sheer amount Gatiss managed to cram into the script given such constraints is impressive.

Overall, An Adventure in Time and Space was a very laudable production indeed.  I’d even go as far to say that it’s the best anniversary celebration I’ve ever seen, oozing pure love for the show.

9/10

The Day of the Doctor

The long-awaited 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who has finally passed.  I remember back when I first became a fan of the programme, noting it as being 44 years old (so this must have been 2007, my 12-year-old self at the height of his Doctor Who fandom), and looking ahead to that far-off day when my favourite show would turn 50.  How would it be celebrated, I wondered?  I’d watched previous anniversaries: The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983) and Dimensions in Time (1993), all of which featured a return of past Doctors.  This did appear to be the conventional way of celebrating the show’s anniversary.  However, I recall Steven Moffat ruling out a multi-Doctor story so it’s perhaps surprising that’s what we ended up with***.  It was quite exciting to see David Tennant announced to return (Billie Piper less so).  Then the first trailers erupted across Facebook and Twitter, showing Dalek spacecraft engaged in warfare, a return to the Time War, and answers behind the enigmatic ‘War Doctor’, played by John Hurt and introduced in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ earlier this year.  The publicity behind the special certainly made it unmissable viewing.

I’m going to get the negatives out of the way first, partly because it’s neater and partly because, on first viewing, I must confess that I absolutely hated ‘The Day of the Doctor’.   Structurally, the episode is divided between two plots.  On one hand you have the War Doctor (or alternatively the Ninth Doctor; perhaps even Doctor 8.5) leaving Gallifrey with The Moment, the most destructive weapon in the Universe, and on the verge of using it to wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks when the Moment’s conscience, played by Billie Piper, sends him through time to meet the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors in a bid to alter his resolve.  At the same time UNIT summons the Eleventh Doctor to investigate monsters which broke out of a painting, which later turns out to be a Zygon invasion which the Tenth Doctor first investigated upon suspecting Elizabeth I had been impersonated.  I can see the reasoning for these dual plot strands, as the Zygon invasion forms the backdrop of the War Doctor’s inner turmoil as he discover’s how his momentous decision will change him in future incarnations, but I’m afraid it fell rather flat on me.  This is essentially a story about the Time War and the Doctor’s involvement in ending it.  Obviously I’m a critic and probably don’t represent the target audience, but with this expectation in mind I didn’t really want to watch a somewhat silly romp featuring the Tenth Doctor at his most annoying.  The tonal clash between these two stories just didn’t work for me.  Also, the Zygon story has to have had the least satisfying conclusion I’ve ever come across.

Furthermore, upon first viewing I wasn’t keen on where Moffat took the Time War story.  It was absolutely brilliant initially, with those scenes of absolute hell in Arcadia followed by the War Doctor’s retreat on that desert planet being some of the finest the show’s ever produced, but I really think the horrors of that moment were betrayed when the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors joined the War Doctor in pushing the button to end it all.  This is what bothers me about Steven Moffat’s writing: although he is sometimes an undeniable genius, when he gets something wrong it not only ruins his own episodes but also destroys your opinion of what’s come before.  To me, the destruction of the Time Lords was the absolute peak of the Doctor’s loneliness, despair and desperation.  To have company at this most important moment ruined it.  Then, there came that decision to trap Gallifrey inside a bubble of time?  Forgetting the multiple logical fallacies in this (surely the Daleks didn’t send every single individual Dalek on that one assault upon Gallifrey?  Surely they wouldn’t all be killed in the crossfire?  And what do you mean, ‘I suppose we’ll never know if it worked?’  If it didn’t work the whole of time would have been ripped apart by Rassilon in ‘The End of Time’ (2009)!), it again destroys most of the drama during the 2005 series focusing around the Ninth Doctor dealing with what he did.  The logic of not remembering doesn’t even work – how does the Doctor now have memories of something he didn’t even do?  And while we’re on logic, why did the War Doctor randomly regenerate at the end of the episode, other than for convenience of showing how Christopher Eccleston became the Doctor (which is now infinitely duller than we had all imagined – thanks Moffat).  I appreciate you couldn’t show anything as dark as this in what is essentially a family show, which is why I think Moffat would have been better to have just left the Time War alone.

My final niggle is with some of the characterisation.  Principally, I really don’t like how Clara has suddenly become the doctor’s BFF and now knows everything about him, making all these comments like, “I always know [when you need time alone,” and so on.  Logically, again, it makes sense – she probably has the most intimate connection a companion has ever had to him following her entry into his timestream at the end of series 7, but emotionally it falls flat.  We have never had chance to watch their relationship develop on screen – she was there as his friend simply by virtue of being ‘the impossible girl’.  This is a flaw of the writing, to be clear – Jenna Coleman does a brilliant job with what she’s given.  I also think better use could have been made of the Tenth Doctor, who was kind of relegated to the sidelines when alongside Matt Smith and John Hurt.

With these thoughts running through my head I was almost despairing at the 50th anniversary.  But then I watched it again and did manage to pick up on some more positives.  As I mentioned, the sequences involving the Time War in the first half are beautifully written and stunningly directed.  I think the assault of Arcadia is the best battle to have ever been visualised in Doctor Who, even if it was disappointingly conventional considering the grisly imagery we’ve been previously given about the Time War.  Likewise, the sequence where the War Doctor retreats to the desert planet is fantastically written (“Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro… I serve notice on you all. Too long have I stayed my hand; no more, no more.  Today you leave me no choice: today, this war will end.  No more.  No more…”  Ooh, the shivers) and the cinematography is incredible.  I have few criticisms of Nick Hurran’s direction, who is establishing himself as one of Doctor Who’s very best.  Likewise, the ending scene where Tom Baker returns is well written, acted and directed by all.  This is perhaps one scene I can forgive for not totally making sense – it’s Tom Baker after all!

With the aforementioned characters notwithstanding, I think this episode also proved to be generally pretty strong on characterisation.  Particularly John Hurt who, despite my objections towards the impact it would have upon the canon, I want to have entire seasons of acting as the Doctor.  He played the role brilliantly, bringing an older and hardened portrayal to the character that is still essentially Doctorish at heart(s), and his exchanges with Matt Smith and David Tennant were a joy to watch. Easily the best thing in the episode. And although I wasn’t keen on her role in the story, Kate Stewart was played well by Jemma Redgrave, establishing a likeable recurring character.  It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the character of Rose, which is why I was so annoyed to have Billie Piper returning, but it must be stressed this isn’t due to her acting ability.  With Piper playing the Moment’s Conscience, merely in the form of Rose, I don’t have any criticisms at all of her role in the episode.  The Zygons I wasn’t keen on at all – the cynic in me would say they were there solely to make the merchandise officials happy – while the character of Elizabeth I was superfluous at best and irritating at worst (that said, I enjoyed the conclusion to this running gag of the Doctor’s relationship to the Queen, but it really didn’t warrant this much screen time).

Over all, I have very mixed feelings towards this episode.  I certainly wouldn’t say it was a failure – it succeeds wholeheartedly at providing a spectacular anniversary special which celebrates the past while also looking to the future – but it definitely was brought down by quite a few failings.  But, because it’s Christmas tomorrow, I think I’ll be generous.  I can’t help but like the episode now I’ve rewatched it several times, despite the furious complaints of my science-fiction mired brain.

Final rating: 7/10

The Five Doctors(ish) Reboot

Anyone that knows me could testify that comedies are my least favourite genre of television – I tend to find them so boring.  So it’s perhaps a surprise that this low-budget comedy production, sneaked into the anniversary celebrations under everyone’s noses, would prove to be my favourite offering of the entire month.  There’s little I want to say about it other than you should watch it right now.  Even if you’ve seen it before, go find it right now and watch it again!

Essentially, it makes light of the fact that Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy weren’t asked to be a part of ‘Day of the Doctor’.  It features their attempts to get involved and, when Steven Moffat refuses them (in some absolutely hilarious scenes), they try to sneak onto the set.  Oh, the entire thing is brilliant beyond description.  So many people have made cameos in it – I lost count of the amount of times I wanted to shout in joy, “How did they get hold of that person?!”  The amount of cameos goes to show just how much love there is for this TV show.   It’s brilliant in that is doesn’t take itself at all seriously – whether by portraying Colin Baker as an egomaniac that subjects his family to regular viewings of his 1980s episodes, or showing Steven Moffat to be a heartless monster who plays with action figures all day long, I think this is one of the most hilariously self-aware things I’ve ever watched.

Just, go watch it now – you should have stopped reading after the first paragraph.

Final rating: 10/10

Overall, Doctor Who fans have been truly treated by the sheer amount of content we’ve had to feast on during the anniversary celebrations.  Sure, not all of it was brilliant, but I think this is definitely without doubt the best overall anniversary the show has ever had.  Compare it to the droughts experienced in 1993 and 2003 and the show seems to be very strong indeed.  I look forward to 2023, 2024 and so on, and perhaps even the 100th anniversary in 2063 if I’m still alive! (I’d only be 68 – it’s possible!).  Here’s to many more years of this utterly fantastic program.

*Took me a moment to remember when it actually aired – that’s how little an impression it made on me.
**It must have been surreal for Russell to see someone on set playing himself!
***Less so when you remember Rule 1: The Moff lies!

The White Paper for Independence

Yesterday the Scottish government published their highly-awaited White Paper for Independence, which basically sets out to answer all questions which could reasonably expect answering about the process of moving Scotland to becoming an independent country between September 2014 and March 2016, as well as kind of acting as a manifesto for what the SNP would like to achieve if they were elected to lead an independent Scottish parliament.

I’ve read bits and pieces of it on the downloaded ebook though I’ve been too busy to take a proper look through.  I’ve ordered a physical copy from the Scottish government (I think they’re giving them out for free!) so I’ll try to go through it more in-depth later.  It’s a 670 page document, totaling about 170,000 words, therefore I’d be surprised if anyone has yet managed to make a thorough analysis of it.  I quite like MSP Joan McAlpine’s comment that the sheer length of the White Paper makes the American Declaration of Independence look like a ‘post-it note‘.

Nevertheless, from various summaries I’ve checked out online the main points of interest to me appear to be:

  • A guarantee that there’d be no border controls between England and Scotland.  Despite what some unionists would tell you, this has been painfully obvious for years. If an independent Scotland required passport checks to get into England it would more or less be the only land border in Europe to require such controls.
  • As well as membership of NATO, an independent Scotland would have an army comprised of 15,000 soldiers with 5,000 in reserve.  This would actually be a much larger share of Scotland’s population than the British army currently represents of the UK population.  While I’m not sure I personally agree with having such a large army, Scotland certainly wouldn’t be open to invasion from, I don’t know, Russia – or whoever our current enemy supposedly is.
  • We’d keep the pound sterling.  I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind this, and this is one point in the White Paper I’m not utterly convinced by.  Apparently Scotland would continue to control a portion of the Bank of England, thereby giving us influence over inflation rates and such things… ?  I appreciate this is the SNP trying to avoid the issue of requiring currency exchanges to travel between Scotland and England but I’m not convinced it makes the most economic sense.  But even so, it’s important to remember this is only what the SNP would do.  In all likelihood an independent Scotland would elect a Labour government, or whatever the equivalent of Labour would be at that point, which may have much different ideas on which currency Scotland should have.
  • All residents of Scotland will automatically become Scottish citizens, while joint citizenship with the UK will be possible.  UK passports will continue to be valid until their expiration.
  • Scotland would remain a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.  Not my preference but I imagine the Scottish people would have much more say over this arrangement in the future if independent than part of the UK.
  • Scotland would develop it’s own Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), which would be funded by the Scottish portion of license fees which would otherwise go to the BBC.  I think the BBC could still be accessed in Scotland, while likewise the SBS could be accessed in the rest of the UK.  They’ve also said the SBS and the BBC would frequently collaborate; for instance, the SBS would participate in the annual Comic Relief appeal.
  • A guarantee that the minimum wage would rise with inflation with, I assume, the insurance that wages wouldn’t be allowed to fall in real terms.  There’s also a reference into looking at a Scottish living wage.
  • The Royal Mail would be renationalised in an independent Scotland.
  • The ‘Bedroom Tax’ would be abolished.
  • It’s stated that Scotland should be able to participate as an individual nation in the Olympic and Paralympic games.
  • Pensions are guaranteed to rise either by inflation, wages or 2.5%, depending upon which is highest.
  • Tuition fees would continue to be free, while a ‘Common Research Zone’ would exist across the UK so that Scottish and UK universities can continue to benefit from their important academic links.
  • A commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid with the aspiration to eventually increase this to 1%.
  • A Scottish Asylum Agency would be established with the aim of creating a much more humane approach to applications for asylum than currently exists as UK policy.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, a pledge to safeguard the environment could actually be written into an independent Scotland’s constitution.

From what I hear, the majority of the White Paper’s content is incredibly dull, laying out facts and figures of no interest to all but the most motivated bureaucrat.  This is the purpose of the White Paper – it’s aimed at showing the Scottish people that there is a detailed plan for independence beyond the nationalist promises of bagpipes* and flags.  There will be critics of the White Paper, and rightfully so – the referendum next September will be a momentous decision and the vote should not be lightly decided – but I hope this will allow the debate to move onto a level playing-field.  The Yes campaign have proved beyond measure that they have a positive vision for Scotland’s future; this is something Better Together sorely lack.  Though they carry the current polling advantage, I don’t believe it’s enough to advocate the status quo while miserably griping at every aspiration the Yes Campaign advocates.  Negative campaigning can only go so far.  So if the publication of the White Paper does anything, I hope it can push the discourse of the debate in a more constructive direction.

*I wouldn’t complain at making the playing of bagpipes a requirement for all public buildings but I accept I might be alone on that one…

Related links:

The BBC’s Impartiality (Rant)

It pains me to write this, as a long supporter of the BBC and defender against claims of impartiality – generally when it states a fact a certain group disagrees with – but I’m becoming more and more unable to take this position.

My latest reason why: this morning I sought out the Scottish First Minister’s Questions to watch on BBC Iplayer, just as something to have on while my hair dries, but couldn’t find it.  Okay, I thought, perhaps there hasn’t been any recently – I think parliament might be on some October break right now.  So I decided to go for another one.  Salmond accused of being ‘Simply Dishonest’ about oil fund looked like a relevant, perhaps entertaining clip, so I put that on.  Then Tricia Marwick, the Presiding Officer, appeared and said, “thank you, we now move to First Minister’s Questions…”

So basically, the BBC has covered up the First Minister’s Questions and entirely slanted it against Alex Salmond over one question.  I find this to be absolutely appalling.  After Prime Minister’s Questions down in Westminster, does the BBC call the recording “David Cameron attacked over cost of living crisis?” or “Cameron accused of unnecessary badger slaughter?”  No, of course not, it’s simply Prime Minister’s Questions each and every time.

Despite the fact I’m slightly biased in favour of the Scottish Parliament over Westminster, I really don’t think this can be considered a rant against the BBC simply because I disagree with facts.  Can anyone defend this?  It’s becoming more and more common with the independence debate; I recall they interviewed Blair McDougal after the SNP’s recent party conference, giving him virtually more airtime than the conference itself.  Do they interview the Yes Scotland campaign each time one of the pro-union party has a conference – or, really, has any noteworthy story in general?  I highly doubt it.

Please, BBC, I want to like you, but you really do need to start living up to your reputation of impartiality.  This isn’t my first issue with the BBC – the amount of coverage they gave UKIP earlier this year was ridiculous.  I don’t want this blog to become a mouthpiece of the independence movement but if this impartiality in the British and Scottish media continues I’ll feel compelled to say something, if only to even out the playing field.

10 Freshers’ Tips for University

Now that I’ve been at university for approximately 24 days, I’ve largely overcome the major stumbling blocks and issues which are likely to crop up during the first weeks and may even be close to feeling settled (though each time I say that a new challenge arises, so I’ve probably jinxed it again…).  Therefore, I feel somewhat in a position to compile some tips for the freshers of the future:

  1. Be organised during your first week.  I stay in catered accommodation and was handed a massive bundle of stuff upon arrival, which I proceeded to lump into a pile once I found my room.  As a result of this I lost the card needed to gain entrance to meals, which was a rather stressful way to start the semester! (I suppose you could argue the true moral is to not enter catered accommodation, a view I’m increasingly likely to agree with.  Food’s nice, however!).  You’ll be handed plenty of other things throughout the week too, so keeping things organised really will make life easier.
  2. This somewhat depends on how you’re travelling (I assume I’m in the minority for arriving via a 14-hour ferry), but I’d say you should only bring with you what you need.  Anything else is just more clutter, and you will be acquiring plenty of items (most useless, granted!) throughout the semester.
  3. Meet as many people as possible during Fresher’s Week.  Be it flatmates, people in halls, societies, people in your classes, etc.  You might not have anything in common with most of them but it becomes incredibly reassuring to begin recognising faces during your travels.
  4. Get involved with as much of Fresher’s week as you can.  Whether this be nightclubs or tamer events during the day, these are among the best ways to meet new people and learn about the university.  I was shocked to discover that some people didn’t go to any of the events at all during the week.  Most of the friends/acquaintances I’ve made thus far have been through societies, of which most universities will have an incredibly variety – you should be guaranteed to find something of interest.
  5. Find your way around.  Take walks along major streets and around the university, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar city.  It’s definitely easier to learn your way around the campus as early as you can, too.  Familarise yourself with maps.  This is also useful for if you’re ever walking across a city after sundown, as I’ve found myself doing frequently – walking with a sense of direction is supposedly one of the best ways to prevent unwanted attention.
  6. Do all the ‘touristy’ things during Fresher’s week.  Well, I found this useful anyway.  I’ve still yet to climb Arthur’s Seat (it calls me every morning through the window) and the Scott Monument, but now I’ve seen most of the tourist attractions I can now feel more like a resident of the city than a visitor passing through.
  7. Keep diaries and notepads, perhaps containing details like your new addresses, phone numbers, timetables, and so on.  I don’t know how I’d have managed without taking down so many notes in the first weeks.
  8. Don’t expect to settle in overnight.  Some people might have the ability to feel settled wherever they live – how I envy them if they exist – but I’m willing to bet most of us can’t.  I wouldn’t even say I feel at home now, over three weeks on, but I’m gradually getting there.  Homesickness is okay.
  9. Take as much from university as you can.  There are probably more opportunities open to you here than you’ll ever experience again during your life, so make the most of it.  Always keep your eyes open for things to participate in.
  10. Finally, I’m not yet really in a position to discuss making friends, but this BBC article is very useful on that front.  Some people are better at making friends than others, especially in this bizarre, artificial environment we students have been thrust into, and I don’t believe taking a more paced approach at getting to know people is necessarily a bad thing.

So yeah, these are basically the main things I’ve learned in the last few weeks.  Maybe useful, perhaps common-sense.  To be honest, university is such an incomprehensibly vast and overwhelming experience that I could easily write new lists of tips every few weeks.  Perhaps it should be a regular feature!  Or would that become incredibly boring?  Anyhow, have another picture.

DSC00075

Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor!

Peter Capaldi has been announced as the Twelfth Doctor in the hit BBC series, Doctor Who!  I’ve posted my reaction and thoughts in the form of a vlog, which you can watch here.  However there’s a couple of things I’ve thought of since.  I wonder how the Doctor’s relationship with Clara will change?  Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have good ‘chemistry’ together, but Capaldi in the role will completely change that.  I can imagine the Doctor taking on a more fatherly, mentor role to her – but that’s largely just an assumption based on Capaldi’s age.  Also, I’m glad to see that the reaction to his casting has been mainly positive.  A few people aren’t pleased but I would definitely say the majority share my view that he will be great in the role.  I’ve seen a couple of younger people reacting negatively, which has made me wonder whether Doctor Who’s modern youth fanbase will react to an older Doctor.  I see no reason why it should be a problem and this negativity, I expect, largely stems from the fact that an older Doctor is unusual – he’s the oldest Doctor to have been cast in the new series by about 15 years of age.

Yes, I highly look forward to Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor.  Bring on 2014!

The Thief of Time (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

I randomly picked this up a shelf from the local library, impressed with the concept and what I believed were author John Boyne’s writing credentials for having written the well-performing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  The book is written as a fictional journal for Matthieu Zéla (finally, a character who shares my name!) and explores his life – all 250 years of it.  Since the late 18th century Matthieu has never aged.  This is a concept which has been explored heavily before, although this is my first personal encounter with the idea, and I was curious to see how Boyne tackled it.

Unfortunately, the novel never lived up its potential with this grand idea.  It’s structured around several different periods of his life, ranging from revolutionary France, the glamour of 1920s America, postwar Communist witch-hunts and 19th century Britain.  Each of these separate stories begin and end without a clear pattern, but the narrative returns to two stories: Matthieu’s arrival in the UK as a teenager focusing on his life with Dominique, and the present day.  I found this haphazard way of plotting irritating, I think generally because there was no progression throughout the novel.  I have no problem with fragmented storytelling, as my love of Cloud Atlas testifies, but there has to be a reason for it which The Thief of Time lacks.

My other major issue with the novel is that, all things considered, the individual stories told of Matthieu’s life are just so dull.  “Yes, back in the 19th century I was a businessman with wife X…” “1920s I moved into this industry and married wife Y…”  We get the impression that Matthieu spent his whole life either courting women and investing money, shying away from anything more dramatic.  Ocasionally he gets into fights but his chivalrous and charitable nature keeps him out of most scraps, resulting in him frequently playing the role of a concerned figure of wisdom.  Most of the time the only tension was provided by one of Matthieu’s succession of nephews, all names a variation of Thomas – referred to as ‘The Thomases’.  Each Thomas tends to be impulsive and dies an early death after impregnating a woman, thus ensuring the line continues.  Despite appearing silly at first, by the resolution this plot thread had been adequately explained and given a sensible explanation.  Oh, and often these stories included the name dropping of famous historical figures: “I happened to meet Charlie Chaplin”, “No other than Pope Pius IX himself!” etc.  This was occasionally done to great effect, as with his brief involvement with the Rosenbergs during McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 1950s, but mostly came across as unconvincing and needless.

This problem is made worse by the fact that Matthieu comes across as such a dull character.  He’s likeable enough, patient and wise, but I found him utterly boring and unrealistic as a character – particularly one with his experiences.  Nowhere in the journal does he go into detail of what it’s like to live to such a grand age.  There are passing references, such as commenting on the transience of all political movements and how he sees contemporary trivial pursuits as pointless, but this barely scratches the surface.  What of loneliness?  What of his ego?  Does he really never question it?  Sure, his life (and the book) has been too boring to give him a great deal of angst, but even so.  I can’t help comparing him to Jack Harkness from the BBC’s Torchwood, around whom the concept of immortality is far more successfully explored.  Also, passing references along the lines of: “I’d taken a couple of decades off to relax,” just seem very simplistic, even childish.  Likeable, yes, but Matthieu is a very badly crafted character.

As I mentioned, I found the story of Dominique and his modern day existence more engaging.  Both still felt unconvincing in places, particularly in regard to his relationship with Dominique (who is very inconsistently written), but they at least had been turning the pages and reeling with shock at the plot twists.  The character of Jack, Matthieu’s friend, seemed surprisingly developed and real.  I found this often, in fact – with the exception of the various dull businessmen, the secondary characters often seemed the most multi-dimensioned.  Still, I must have invested enough because I had a silent gasp at Dominique’s horrific fate.  The tale of Matthieu’s ownership of an independent satellite TV channel in 1999 and of his son’s life as a soap star was hardly thrilling, but progressed well.  The conclusion of this story – and, indeed, the novel – was one of its best moments.  I really like Matthieu’s realisation that his added years are those that the Thomases never lived, and the moment he ‘saved’ Tommy from his self-destructive nature he begins to age (in a wonderfully abrupt ending scene).  The fantasy elements are fully described but never quite explained in a way which shouldn’t work but does – the same result Wilde achieved with The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I was both impressed and disappointed with the novel’s portrayal of historical events.  Sometimes it covered them well, as with the 1848 revolutions in Italy and the 1950s Red Scare in the USA.  Matthieu’s opinion of these events was also fascinated; he came across as a reactionary with a not entirely closed mind, normally willing to ‘go with the flow’.  I enjoyed reading the brief note of his enthusiasm for the space program in the 1960s, for instance.  But often, I felt Boyne just didn’t get how to write historical fiction.  I admit it’s a very hard style to write and you can argue he did a good job, being aged only 29 at the time, but there are some glaring problems.  One of which is the fact none of the characters speak as you’d expect from the period.  Dominique and young Matthieu, almost street urchins, talk like well-educated young adults from today.  There’s no register between the characters, nothing in their speech to indicate rank or role in society.  This can be somewhat forgiven when you remember that it’s written as a modern journal – but then, this begs the question, why is Matthieu’s writing style so modern?  Also, take this exchange, set in 1793:

We decided on a whim to take a trip.

“Perhaps Australia?”
“I think not.”
“Africa then.  There’s a whole continent there waiting to be explored.”
“Too hot.  And too underdeveloped.”

Who in 1793 took a trip “on a whim”?  People traveled, yes, but the concept of tourism was far from what it is today.  Then the examples: Australia has a population of only a few thousand at this point and scarcely existed as a united entity.  Travel to Australia took several months there and back, often in diseased and dangerous conditions and, even considering Matthieu’s longevity, would be an almost guaranteed one-way journey.  Even if they made careful plans to return, one would hardly go to Australia on a jaunt.  Africa’s not such a problem but it’s still naive to suggest people would consider traveling there in such an off-hand way; this is many decades before the widespread colonisation of the continent. They ultimately decide to go to France despite, you know, the ‘Reign of Terror’ and the fact France and Britain were at war.  How did they even get there?  It’s just little issues like that which ruined the novel for me, which is a shame because it does come across as very well researched at times.

In conclusion, The Thief of Time was a disappointment.  Not a total failure – there is still much to like – but I found it, overall, extremely boring to read and the largest challenge to finish a book I’ve had for a while.  It’s too long, I think.  If everything which doesn’t work could be culled, changed, reduced or developed then the novel might work but, as it is now, I really wouldn’t recommend it.

Final rating: 5/10

Does Sport Count As News?

I’m sure I can’t be the only person who groans whenever watching the news and the presenter says, “Now for some sport!”  A definition of news I’ve found goes:  “Newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events.”  Can stories about a man kicking a ball into a net or a woman jumping over a high pole, as impressive as these actions are, really be considered news under that definition?  Is it noteworthy or important?  Sure, there’s room to discuss the economic and social impact of sports (overpaid footballers, cash-cow for advertisers, cause of unrest in Brazil, etc) but to actually report on the activities? It’s particularly strange when international news stations report news, like Al Jazeera.  At least when the BBC reports it you can guarantee there may be at least some people who have a vested interest.

Alright, this rant is stemming from the fact I find sport incredibly dull.  I don’t have a problem with news about recent literary events or films, so I recognise this is a partisan view I’m expressing.  Perhaps neither of them can be defined as news either but they do at least, it can be argued, actually have an influence on the world through the expression of ideas and concepts.  I’m not saying sport is a bad thing – encouraging people to strive for improvement and be healthy is great – but, ignoring the shady economics angle, does it really affect anyone besides the players themselves?

I don’t have definite answers and this is hardly a pressing issue – just something I’ve been pondering on recently.  Let me know if you disagree!