Doctor Who – Tooth and Claw

Written by Russell T. Davies
Much better. This week’s episode was staple Who fodder, nothing more, nothing less,
but unlike New Earth (which Davies also wrote), it got to show us the rapport between Rose and the Doctor. The episode did start out with a quite rubbishy prologue, wherein an order of monks take over a large Scottish estate. For whatever reason, these Scottish monks, circa 1879, go all Shaolin on the poor servants, in a hastily shot fighting sequence that was five years too late to be cool, and had no later bearing on the plot. Couldn’t they just have been evil monks with guns?
But after that, we have the Doctor and Rose planning to send the Tardis to 1979 to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads perform. Wouldn’t most of us, if we were companions use the Tardis for this kind of historical journey? Why would I want to go see the Battle of Hastings? I’d probably get hurt. So anyway, they undershoot by a century and join Queen Victoria, who is journeying north and has to stay in the creepy, monk-overrun estate. The monks are intending to release a werewolf they both worship and carry around in a crate and hope that a bite will carry on the lycanthrope gene to the monarch. The episode features a CG wolf in the house, a few moments of scary “it’s quiet, too quiet” suspense, and the Doctor thinking on his feet. So as I said, pretty simple. The pre-werewolf man, with his solid black eyes, was actually creepier than the wolf–too bad we only saw a little bit of him.
Most enjoyable was the waggish banter between the two leads, which reminded me a bit of the “above it all” attitude of the Tom Baker years. Yet, there’s always a dose of reality around the corner to put Rose (and by extension the Doctor) in her place.
If I remember rightly, both the first and second episodes of Season One (or Season 27 for you purists) were just okay, so hopefully we’ll really be getting to the meat of the season soon enough. Next week’s episode promises a reunion with former companion Sarah Jane Smith.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes – Cornell Woolrich

1945 (rerelease 1985)
Cornell Woolrich is sometimes considered the lost voice of Noir fiction.
Whereas Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler have their place secured, Woolrich is terribly out-of-print for the most part, with his books going for high prices on Amazon, and no publisher really putting out a comprehensive re-release. Yet he wrote “The Bride Wore Black” (under the name William Irish), which had been filmed several times, wrote “Rear Window” (you may have heard of this little Hitchcock film), and most recently the Banderas-Jolie “Original Sin” film was based on one of his stories. The Believer featured a nice retrospective a few years ago, and yet, still he’s hard to find.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes was lent to me by a friend, and is my first Woolrich novel to read. It dates from the ’40s, is more a post-Depression piece than a WWII one, and features the classic noir trope of inescapable fate. The novel is in two halves. In the first, a millionaire’s daughter, saved from a suicide jump, relates how her father has become mentally enslaved to a poor psychic. The psychic foresees a plane crash and the millionaire cheats death, from then on hanging on his every word. He forecasts the stock market, and the millionaire makes more. But then the psychic foretells his death…in the jaws of a lion! At midnight! On a certain day! The once confident man now becomes unraveled–after all, the psychic has been right up to now…
The second half follows Shawn, a detective, who doesn’t believe in all this, and is determined to figure out what’s really going on (while falling in love with the once-suicidal daughter, Jean). Is it extortion? Woolrich cuts back and forth between the last night of the fate-condemned man and the detectives sent out to follow the psychic. And surely the lion is a load of hooey…except! A lion escapes from a traveling circus that night! Yeh, you heard me…
Ludicrous as it all sounds, Night takes it all seriously, and places its readers in the position of the unbelieving investigators, who reveal one fact-based clue only to be confounded with some otherworldly event. This oscillates back and forth towards the climax, which includes a desperate game of roulette, right up to a surprise conclusion literally as the clock is chiming midnight. The ending, which I won’t reveal, allows its question of fate to remain ambiguous.
Woolrich’s writing can often be overly prosaic, and I did skim a bit when he seemed to be padding. But it’s rough and mean enough, which lashings of black dread, to appeal to noir fans everywhere…if you can find a copy.
Here’s a good Cornell Woolrich site.

Doctor Who — Season Two Begins!

Episode One – “New Earth”
Written by Russel T. Davies
The new season of Doctor Who, with David Tennant as the Doctor, started this Saturday in the UK,
and through the help of the Internet, I was able to see it soon after. (Sorry, SciFi Channel, you took too long to get Season One screened–with commericials, too!)
The stopgap “Christmas Invasion” episode, back in Christmas, was a nice intro to the new Doctor, but I expected a bit more from this opening episode. As it was, “New Earth,” was, well, kinda…balls. In one of those desperate attempts to begin with a bang, the episode chucked all sorts of half-baked ideas into a blender and hoped excitment would result. Body shifting! Old enemies! Zombies! Cat-women nuns! Fresh fruit! Yet, as the show progressed, the plot became sillier and sillier. The Doctor and Rose land on “New Earth” (set up after the Earth dies in Season One), but don’t go explore this new society. Instead they go to a megaplex hospital and split up (of course). Turns out that major diseases are being cured (ahead of what the Doctor knows of Earth history) because the guardians of the hospital are harvesting clones that they inject with “all major diseases” and, uh, harvest the antidotes? The Doctor objects on the grounds that clones are people too and the last 1/3 of the episodes find all the disease ridden zombie-clones escaped and touching people. Ewww!
Sorry, but if I capsule any more of the episode, my brain will collapse. Suffice to say that the episode had two saving graces–seeing Tennant’s new Doctor (great except for a tendency to explode into shouty shouty anger, bad writing to blame) and Rose acting all saucy (after the body swap with someone more shameless–Billie Piper managed the personality changes well).
Season One was so great last year, some of the best television in 2005, that I hope this is just a misstep. Next week promises Queen Victoria and werewolves. Better be good, guys!


Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel
Downfall reenacts, in excrutiating and claustrophobic detail, the last days of Hitler,
hiding out in his Berlin bunker as his dreams of the Third Reich fell around him and the Russian front got closer.
Yet it’s not a solitary piece–who would want to be with Hitler for more than two hours of screen time?–so Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film follows other characters, the young and wide-eyed secretary, Frau Junge (who became the subject of “Blind Spot”, and the source for much of what happened in the final days), a doctor who has to help the wounded civilians, though the country itself is bleeding internally, black-marbled eyed loonball Joseph Goebbels (and his infanticidal wife, Magda), who will stay by his Fuhrer no matter what, and Eva Braun, glassy-eyed, still trying to live in the dream her dear Adolph has created. There’s also a host of famous and not-so famous Nazis making an appearance: Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler (beating out even Hitler for worst hair award), and Goering, who is a blink-and-you’ll-miss appearance.
But the center is Bruno Ganz’s Hitler. Hard to believe this is the same actor who plays the angel in Wings of Desire, but there you go. The worry (from some critics) about playing Hitler as a human (which he was) and not as some cartoon monster is that, like all supervillains, audiences will come to sympathize with him. But Ganz and the movie are too clearheaded, and the script objective when it needs to be, that the effect is what it should be: watching a madman in his final days come up against painful reality. Hirshbiegel saves his empathy for those caught up in the conflict, such as the Frau Junge and a young Hitler Youth who gets the sense knocked into him very quickly after surviving the Russian shelling. The real Junge, in a clip taken from “Blind Spot” that ends the film, makes sure that we don’t absolve her too much, noting that Sophie Scholl was the same age as her. “I could have found things out, if I had wanted to,” she says.
The DVD had a perfect 5.1 sound mix, which even on my cheapo “home theater” was very impressive, shocking during the above ground bombardments and scary during the underground sequences, and deep thuds fill the front and back speakers. Very cool.
Anyway, for an unnerving look at a nation falling into madness and coming completely unhinged, Downfall is highly recommended.

Back from the UKKKKK

Hi gang, I just got back from the UK after a well-earned week’s holiday. You can check the photos over at Flickr, featuring stops in Liverpool, London, and Essex.
Also, you can see two quick videos from my journey, all in low quality sound and vision. The first is TRAIN, which words better as a loop. The second is CLUBBIN, which details my trip down stairs in a club into an awaiting throng of dancing women, set to an irresistible distorted house beat.