The Angels Take Manhattan

“I always rip out the last page of a book. Because I hate endings.”

Doctor Who

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE AND INTEND TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

I feel this is going to be an angry post. I may rant a little. I apologise in advance.

Well, the title of this episode is pretty cool. “The Angels Take Manhattan”. Anything with Manhattan in it is pretty cool. I went to Manhattan a couple of years ago, and now my favourite telly-watching game is the “I’ve been there!” game. So, a random guy goes to Battery Park: “I’ve been there!” The Statue of Liberty comes to life: “I’ve been there!” The Doctor ends up in Central Park: “I’ve been – ” Oh, wait, I haven’t. Weirdly, the school tour did not see fit to include Central Park in its itinerary.

Sorry, I’m digressing. Second cool thing about this episode: the Stone Angels. Oh, the Stone Angels. They are definitely my favourite Doctor Who monsters. And, possibly, my favourite monsters ever, anywhere. (Oh, but Terry Pratchett’s elves are good, as well.) They play on a deep, primal fear: fear of the dark, and of the unknown, fear of what you can’t see and what you can’t know. They move only when you can’t see them (because of quantum, apparently) and they are fast. You have to watch them all the time, or they catch you. That is their terror and their power.

That’s why I get annoyed when Stephen Moffatt messes with them. I once saw an interview with Stephen Moffatt in which he said something like “I created the Angels, they are mine, I can do whatever I want with them.” Odious little man. Anyway, the point is, Stephen Moffatt clearly thinks it’s OK to change the rules on the basis that he made them.

No, that’s not how it works. Without consistency a story is worthless. So, the first question is, why do the Angels exist at all? Last time we saw them the last survivors of their race fell into a time rift which erased them from all past and future existence. So, a) they shouldn’t be in Manhattan at all, and b) the Doctor shouldn’t remember them. That’s not all. As I said before, the terror and the power of the Angels comes from the fact that you have to keep your eyes on them. The first episode in which they appear was called “Blink!” As in “Don’t blink!” There is a lot of blinking in this episode. (SPOILER) A very big scary angel is coming to eat Rory. Cue close-ups on Amy and Rory’s faces, plus many long speeches. “Together, or not at all.” And you can clearly see them blinking, not to mention looking into each other’s eyes, i.e. not at Big Scary Liberty Angel. “What the hell are you doing?” shouts the Doctor. (Tut, tut, such language. I don’t remember the Doctor ever saying “hell”, as an oath, before.) I know! They’re not exactly being cautious, are they, despite the fact that the fate of Manhattan rides upon their not being eaten. Anyway, something drastic (and, in a way, rather triumphant) happens: Amy and Rory jump off a rooftop in order to Save the World. The Doctor screams, “Amy!” Not, I notice, “Rory!” But, then, the Doctor was never as fond of Rory as he was of Amy. Quite unfairly, in my opinion; Rory is a lovely character who, for some reason, keeps dying. “He’s dead.” What, again? In case you’re interested, there’s a list of “Five Memorable Rory Deaths” here.

Talking of Rory’s deaths, I’ve just spotted another plot hole. Ever since the Big Bang II (in which, if you remember, the TARDIS exploded and all the stars went out) Rory has been made of plastic. He waited 2000 years for Amy and is practically immortal. (SPOILER) So how can he die of old age? Wouldn’t he have to be exploded or something? No mention of that.

Which leads me on to the point of this episode: the departure of the Ponds, which is much more sudden and violent than the usual departures of companions. Consider: Rose went home; Martha went home; and Donna – yes, she went home. Whereas the Ponds disappear into the past, never to be seen again. And, for once, the Doctor can’t save them.

(Another thing that doesn’t fit: the Doctor manages to fix a broken wrist using what appear to be special magical powers, aka “regeneration energy”. Since when did the Doctor have Harry Potter magic?)

This could have been a brilliant episode, about love and self-sacrifice and, by the way, how does time really work? But endless plot holes and inconsistencies have turned it into a soppy, cliche-ridden story for children. Please, Russell T Davies, come back and write us some more Vashter Nerata! (Did I spell that right?)

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Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow

“You’d buy a book if it says “it’s a pageturner” on the back. For me, that’s the basic requirement.”

Michael McIntyre

Michael McIntyre is another hilariously funny comedian. He’s funny because everything he says is so true! Like the pageturner quote, included above, taken from today’s episode. OK, I’ve probably misquoted it, because I didn’t write it down. Also, he does it in a funny voice. Delivery is everything. So it’s almost certainly not as funny here as it was on the show. Sorry.

Now, on the Comedy Roadshow, MM has four comedy guests each doing about five minutes. Presumably this is supposed to give upcoming acts publicity. “Appeared alongside Michael McIntyre!” “Wow, he must be good.”

Not so much, actually. The first guest was an American, which should tell you everything you need to know. Americans have a different sense of humour. This guy spent five minutes bellowing incomprehensibly at the audience. Eventually, I managed to catch that he was talking about a meat market…and some meat was £12.95 in Tesco’s…at which the audience started bellowing with laughter. What? What’s funny? Part of the problem was his accent, but we can’t hold that against him. And, I’m sorry, but meat is not that funny. Eventually, I gave up and read the paper. Much more interesting.

OK, so the next guest was a man with long hair. Also American. At first I thought, “Oh dear. Another one.” But, actually, he was quite funny. He was talking about health and safety and political correctness, which is, let’s be honest, comedy gold. They were practically designed for comedy. In fact, it’s the only thing they’re good for.

Moving on from the mildly funny bearded American, we come to a tall man who does weird things with his eyes. Frankly terrifying. But he was also funny, riffing on the perennial theme of Relationships. Namely, making a sandwich. “Do you want me to make you a sandwich?” “No.” (Man sits down to eat sandwich.) “Can I have some of your sandwich?” I have the same thing with my mother. “No, I don’t want a pudding.” Then, “Can I have some of your pudding?” No! Get your own.

And then, finally, an Iranian woman who said, “The other comedians call me the Box-ticker.” That was funny. She then proceeded to talk about being Iranian. Oh, and she did that annoying thing at the end: “I’ve been [insert name here].” (I can’t remember any of their names, having neglected to write them down. Sorry.) What do you mean, you’ve been [insert name here]? Are you going off to your execution? Are you about to change your name? No? Then why the past tense?

This is quite good for half an hour’s viewing. Michael McIntyre is always funny. And you never know, you might find someone else who makes you laugh.

The Revolution Will Be Televised…again

“The people should not fear the government. The government should fear the people.”

V for Vendetta

Typical, of course, that this episode of The Revolution Will Be Televised is the last. So, essentially, I saw the first episode and the last episode. Hooray!

Never mind, at least it’s not as big a mistake as the one the BBC made at the beginning of the episode. There’s a message at the beginning that reads something like this:

This world is full of corruption, greed and hypocrisy.

Someone’s got to sort it out.

Pity it had to be these two…

Except the BBC, in its infinite wisdom, had put a Twitter hashtag over the punchline. Which ruined it a bit.

But that is the BBC’s fault, not the programme’s fault. Because the programme is very funny. A couple of pranksters go round annoying what appear to be real people. Someone sets up a coffee stall for bankers and then refuses to give change, citing reasons such as “I gave it to that person over there;” “between you giving it me and my returning the change, the exchange rate fluctuated.” Basically, all the reasons bankers give us for not giving us our money back. That’s one of the things this show does. It takes things that really happen, transplants them into a new context, and shows us how unacceptable those things are.

Another thing it does: it reminds us that otherwise perfectly reasonable people can be utter bigots. One of the pranksters, in the guise of Dale Maily, right-wing anchor for a right-wing news programme, actually managed to get someone to admit that he believes all gay people will burn in hell. That could be your neighbour. Think about it.

Oh, and the interview with the BNP chairman. That was funny. It showed us how paranoid he is. A sample quote:

Guilt is one of the weapons they use.

Who are “they”, exactly? The Thought Police? Big Brother? We live in 21st century Britain, for heaven’s sake. The Left is not a shadowy, manipulative political organisation. It’s merely a manipulative political organisation. But then, so is the Right.

Anyway, The Revolution Will Be Televised, for all its silliness, is one of those deeply important cultural phenomena that keep Britain’s press free, that keep Britain’s minds free, that keep Britain free. Because while a people can laugh at its government, its government cannot laugh at them.

Midsomer Murders

“Nothing endures like the temporary.”

Midsomer Murders

Nope…there’s no way I can write myself out of this one. We’re back to the Murder Mystery. Specifically, Midsomer Murders, the archetypal murder mystery, in which, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, the murders really do happen in a room with seven people.

This episode is, for a wonder, a new one (read: one featuring Fake Barnaby. “It’s his brother,” they say defensively. Sure. Because you see loads of siblings following exactly the same career path.) entitled Written In The Stars. Cue a proliferation of astronomical references: “many moons ago,” a local newspaper entitled The Mercury, “the sky’s the limit.”

The episode begins in a solar eclipse. People gather on Moonstone Ridge (supposedly cursed) to watch it through telescopes. Policemen look up at the sky in funny glasses. There is an eldritch scream as the light fades…

I can’t remember who the murdered person was. Something to do with Midsomer University’s observatory. Wait, hang on a second. Midsomer has a university? Since when? And an observatory? How big is this place, exactly? A collection of small villages (with a new one each week, Ladies and Gentlemen!) in what looks like the Cotswolds or some such rural area with a population that is not exactly youth-orientated does not have much call for a university. Or, indeed, money for one. Come on, ITV Scriptwriter. Please come up with something more believable. And don’t contradict yourself! Listen to this:

“There’s hardly any members of the Astrological Society left. They’ve all been murdered.”

To clarify: this is a university Astrological Society. And precisely three people have been murdered at this point. Any university with an Astrological Society that small does not need an observatory.

But, I have to say, prize for Stupidest Quote of the Day goes to this one:

“Boost circulation or your future is going to be in the past.”

Well, wait long enough and that’ll happen anyway, surely?

Midsomer Murders isn’t as funny as New Tricks or as ingenious as Lewis. The murderer is always the one you least suspect, and, therefore, the one you most suspect. But, hey, it’s a good enough way of killing two hours when nothing else is on, right?

You guessed it…

“A lot of people end their journeys here.”

New Tricks

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Another murder mystery? Has the Black Hole triumphed?”

The answer is, Constant Reader, no. Because the UCOS team have apparently given up investigating murders and are instead identifying a body which was not murdered, an undertaking that leads them into the murky world of cyber crime…

Well, Dennis Lawson has now joined the cast fairly permanently as irrepressible Irish investigator Steve. He’s become best buddies with Gerry, played by Dennis Waterman, which makes them…the Two Dennises!

Sorry. Back to seriousness. The body was delivered to a research facility, where the supervisor realises that nobody knows who he was. Cue UCOS turning up at the hospital, where the supervisor says, “The person who brought him into this place could be the last person you’d ever expect.” Ooh, a Clue! Who’s the last person you’d expect to be the criminal? Well, of course, you’d apply that same logic to any murder mystery show, so it’s not actually that much of a Clue. Damn.

Eventually, with the help of whiz kid Xander from E-Crime, they do manage to catch the cyber criminal. But then they need to access her computer to convict her, and they only have three tries at the password…(because, of course, there has to be that thriller element) and then they get the password, and, the thing is,  it’s too easy. Probably not for an everyday person who has everyday security on their computer, but for a high-profile hacker? It’s just far too easy to guess. Hackers are not stupid. Or, at least you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But listen to this quote, from said hacker:

“We’re fighting for a government run by the people, for the people.”

So…what we’ve got now, in fact. That is the meaning of democracy. Possibly that password wasn’t so unbelievable after all…

The Power That Preserves

“When last comes to last

I have little life.

I am simply a deed:

An action done while courage holds:

A seed.”

Stephen Donaldson

The Power That Preserves, by Stephen Donaldson, marks the end of another trilogy: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever. You may remember that I recently reviewed Lord Foul’s Bane and The Illearth War, the other novels in the trilogy. Feel free to go back and look at those reviews. I’ll wait.

Done? Good. On with the show, Constant Reader!

The Power That Preserves sees Thomas Covenant, leper and misanthrope, summoned back to the fantastically originally named Land in its last need in order to stand against the evil Lord Foul. Lord Foul holds the Land in an unnatural winter, giving the whole novel a very bleak feel: unlike the previous Quests of the series, there is no relief, no islands of hope and spring, amid the danger and darkness of Covenant’s mission.

Oh, I didn’t explain what the mission was, did I? Covenant swears to destroy Foul’s Creche, Lord Foul’s oddly named stronghold (I mean, Foul isn’t a child, is he? Unless it’s a reference to the creation of his army). Then he decides it’s a bad idea, after several people have died to further this aim. That really annoyed me. Then he decides that it’s a good idea. MAKE UP YOUR MIND! Nothing annoys me more than indecision.

Meanwhile, Revelstone, seat of ancient learning, is under siege. And we get some strangely dictatorial quotes from that otherwise Utopian city, like this one:

When they had eaten, they found themselves ushered to a nearby hall where the Lorewardens enjoined them to sing boldly in the face of defeat.

Don’t you think that smells a bit of brainwashing? A bit Nineteen Eighty-Four, anyone? What about this one:

“Bear their bodies to the upland hills and burn them with purging fires, so that their flesh may recover its innocence in ashes.”

OK, to be fair, he’s talking about dead enemies, but still. Spanish Inquisition, without a hint of a doubt.

Which leads me on to my next point. I said very pointedly in my Illearth War review that I believed the Land was a dream because of the dreamlike hotchpotch of ideas from this world strewn through it. I would dearly love to hold to that opinion, because it makes sense. But. The crucial point is that we see things that Covenant does not. Clearly, if the Land is a dream, this is impossible, because anything that is not perceived by Covenant would not exist. So, beyond any doubt, the Land must exist. Which makes the end, although very original and satisfying in itself, a little confusing, because both Covenant and Donaldson himself seem to see it as a struggle within Covenant, instead of something real. What we have, then, is an inconsistent, third-rate fantasy novel, if you think about it. Silly names, authorial mistakes and almost-plagiarism.

This is a great pity, because it certainly doesn’t read like a third-rate fantasy novel. It has wonderful characters (Saltheart Foamfollower the Giant has to be one of my favourite), fantastical cities, high drama and personal development. Not things that are often collected all together. Also, it can be very moving in parts, and it makes you think about the nature of morality, etc. Not many fantasy novels make you think.

The Thomas Covenant books are certainly not for everyone; in fact, they seem to be a bit like Marmite in that you either LOVE them or HATE them (with the capital letters). The main character is, yes, highly irritating and unheroic. But if you want a book to take you on a journey through a magical land, if you want a book to make you think, then this is the one for you.

Small footnote on editorial policy: who thought it would be a good idea to have the first page of the glossary (yes, there is a glossary) facing the last page of the story? It is very hard not to read that last page when you’re looking something up. In fact, if you’re reading for the first time, don’t use the glossary at all. There are serious spoilers in there.

Surrogates

“We’re not meant to experience the world through machines.”

Surrogates

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN SURROGATES AND INTEND TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

OK, I may as well tell you now that Surrogates is basically third-rate science fiction. It’s set in a future (2017, which I find highly unlikely given that we haven’t even built a robot that can kick a football properly) in which people live their lives literally from their armchairs, via lifelike robots called surrogates. Like Sims but real.

Well, it started off fairly promisingly, with a vaguely Laurence Fishbourne-y voice saying something along the lines of, “When we created surrogates, we created an abomination.” (Those might not be the exact words, but you know the sort of thing.) But it went quickly downhill from there, with the arrival of Bruce Willis on the scene. Bruce Willis is never in anything good. Or maybe he is, but I just can’t hear it over the noise of all the explosions.

Sure enough, about ten minutes in, BW (I can’t even be bothered to remember his character’s name) participates in a long and very boring helicopter chase, breaks his robot and wakes up with a headache. “You’re lucky to be alive,” says the doctor. What? For half an hour you’ve been telling us that hurting a surrogate doesn’t hurt the person – that is, in fact, the central premise of the plot. You can’t fudge the plot just to make your central character a maverick, that’s called Lazy Scripwriting. Alas, it is only the first of many flaws and cliches.

If we hadn’t already worked out that the Prophet (an anti-surrogate nutter) is a liar, here’s a clip to prove his guilt. (Seriously, we’re not stupid.) The chief FBI person is corrupt (surprise). In a scene of immense destruction, we hear a crow calling. Despite the fact that it’s only robots that have been destroyed, so there’s no carrion for a crow, and, therefore, no reason for a crow to be there. And it turns out that the hero destroyed several billion dollars’ worth of technology just to get his wife back. Now that’s just silly.

Surrogates has a great premise, and a chance to be a thoughtful, serious film about humankind’s relationship with technology, in the manner of films like Gattaca and The Matrix. Instead, it’s an hour and a half of rubbish. In my mother’s words: “Why didn’t I just go to bed an hour and a half earlier?”