Friday, 27 January 2017

5 ways to make Broadchurch (2013-2017) must-see TV again

Within the next few weeks Broadchurch will be back on our screens for its third and final season, before creator Chris Chibnall vworps out of the ITV offices and lands in Cardiff to start making Doctor Who Series 11. After Broadchurch Series 2 was something of a disappointment, we take a look at five ways Chibnall and co. can ensure Series 3 sees the nation’s favourite crime drama go out with a bang.

1: A new case
One of the most common complaints about Series 2 was that, in needing to deal with the fallout of Joe Miller’s murder of Danny Latimer (and the subsequent trial) as well as delving into the lingering Sandbrook case of Alec Hardy’s past, there was very little time for any of those urgent, as-it-happens set pieces we got in Series 1, where the whole thing was driven forward by the immediacy of the events. Chibnall has promised a brand-new case for Series 3 to keep things fresh, so fingers crossed that he gives the audience what we want: more along the lines of showing, in dramatic and mournful fashion, just how a single incident can tear a community apart. Arthur Darvill has already said “this series has more of the feel of the first stories”. Good stuff.

This article was originally written for CultBox.co.uk. You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

On the language of the Third Reich

Just as the twelve years of National Socialist dictatorship between 1933 and 1945 are a unique and in many ways unprecedented period in Germanic history, so too could the same be said of the National Socialists’ usage of language. The speed and efficiency with which the Nazis seized power in Germany, put the infrastructure of a murderous regime into place, and waged war against nearby nations can be seen, too, in the apparently radical overhaul of language usage in this era. The same caveats, however, apply to studying both: namely that, for all that it can be tempting to distinguish the twelve offending years in general as an isolated, bastardized form of Germany, and the Nazi Party’s prolific use of propaganda and a plethora of anti-Semitic, archaic and racially motivated terms in particular as an isolated, bastardized form of the German language, one must look beyond the confines of the specific to the broader historical narratives and to the distinctive language usage which lie in the past. Without a consideration of the ways in which German history and the German language made the actions of the National Socialists possible, we adopt the ethically bankrupt position of implying they, and their words, rose to power in a vacuum; to imply this is to falsely reassure ourselves of the fundamentally aberrant and unrepeatable nature of the 1933-45 dictatorship and of Nazi-Deutsch, as though the essence of both is impossible in another time or in another place (the common dictum “it can’t happen here”[1]). That is a position not only refuted by taking political history and, for our purposes, historical linguistics into account, but it is also a position of breath-taking - some would say dangerous - complacency.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Every episode of Sherlock (2010-2017) ranked from worst to best

So, the final problem has been solved and Moffat & Gatiss have confirmed that this could be the end for Sherlock.
We’d be very surprised if a fifth season doesn’t happen at some point, but it seems a safe bet that it’ll be a decent wait (even by Sherlock hiatus standards) until we get another trio of adventures.
In the meantime, let’s take a look back at all 13 episodes so far, ranked from worst to best…
13. The Blind Banker
The pedestrian direction and small-fry nature of the case-of-the-week don’t sink this to the bottom rung so much as its deeply frustrating Yellow Peril plot, in which Chinese People Are Evil Except For The Attractive Female Anglophile.
This article was originally written for CultBox.co.uk. You can read the rest of it here.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Is Sherlock (2010-2017) really a fantasy rather than a crime drama?

“Eh?” I hear you ask.

But I haven’t gone mad, I’m not on a trip right now, and last time I checked my walls were still vertical.

I’m deadly serious: there’s a legitimate case (ho ho) that we should talk about Sherlock as fantasy rather than as outright procedural or crime drama. Not of the swords-and-sorcery type - no Dementors or White Walkers in sight here - but nonetheless it contains key ingredients of the fantastical, which elevates it above more pedestrian crime thrillers.

One of the successes of Sherlock from the beginning has been that it clearly takes place in a much more heightened reality than our own. This has become more obvious as the show has developed: not only are we following the adventures of a super-powered consulting detective and his army-doctor-from-Afghanistan sidekick, but said army doctor was married to one of the most formidable assassins in the world, the consulting detective’s brother more or less runs the British government, and as of last week’s episode The Lying Detective, Sherlock’s secret sister seems, like his arch-enemy Moriarty, to be some kind of powerful supervillain. Let’s just say this isn’t a show about ordinary people solving or committing ordinary crimes - and the real world this is not.

This article was written for CultBox.co.uk. You can read the rest of it here.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Here Is The Full Welcome Pack You Have To Read If You Want To Be Romantically Involved With Me

This welcome pack is available in six different languages, a variety of different-sized fonts, and eight colours, but none of those trivial differences change the fact that it is essentially A List Of Reasons Not To Date Me.
The first thing you need to know is that I snore. I concede that this is not a particularly unique problem - show me a man who doesn’t! - but my mountainish heaving is not like anything you’ve heard before; it’s a whole new ballpark. When I snore, crockery has been known to quiver and shatter in the cupboards. A ripple of burglar alarms sets off further down the street. Neighbourhood dogs begin to bark, their inner Richter Scales misled by the near-earthquake they can detect. I sound like a boar with bronchitis that has a taste for Havana cigars. You can, I fear, say goodbye to sleeping well - or sleeping at all, really. If that’s the sort of sacrifice you’re prepared to make, you may keep reading.

Brief thoughts on the BBC's "Hollow Crown" Series 1 and 2 (2012; 2016)

I could never do these plays the full justice they deserve, so for the moment I've just written a brief outline of my thoughts on each instalment in the BBC's Hollow Crown saga.

"Richard II" (2012): Good grief, this was extraordinary. Outstanding performance from Whishaw throughout, but particularly as his world crumbled around him. The contrast between "let's talk of graves, and worms, and epitaphs" and the majestic "I have been studying how I may compare" soliloquy was masterfully done, and the handing over the crown scene was electric. Richard gets some of the most incredible language in the Shakespeare canon, and so to see a performance this good, this in tune with the material, really made it fly. I liked Kinnear too; Bolingbroke is not the most challenging part, but in teasing out his respect and to some degree love for Richard, Kinnear made him a more interesting figure than a less experienced actor might've done. Brilliantly filmed and choreographed too. The words to "this sceptred isle" send a shiver down my spine now, in the wake of Brexit and the like, but I think the speech haunts us still in the sense that England - the trees, the mountains, the lakes and rivers and literature - seems too good a country now for the English. Which is more or less what Gaunt is saying in that speech, anyway.

Sublime. 10/10.

Sarah Jane Smith 2.4: Dreamland by David Bishop (April 2006)

We pick up directly where Fatal Consequences left off, with Josh Townsend having yet again committed murder to save Sarah’s life - this time twice over, with both Will Sullivan and the Keeper lying dead. It’s a grim opening, though for the rest of the hour-long runtime, this story is less high-octane and downbeat than its predecessor, and more eerily calm and quiet. Especially towards the end, it has a kind of space opera grandeur to it - and inevitably so, given this is Sarah Jane’s first trip into space since bidding the Doctor farewell in The Hand of Fear. The “previously unrecorded comet”, a new plotline Bishop introduces at the last minute: where might he have taken this in a third season? It seems to be something to do with the Mandragora Helix stuff (that whole ‘500 years since this particular comet passed near our solar system’ thing) but the link remains unconfirmed even by the story’s end. That’s no complaint, mind; it’s better that way - just another of the unresolved bits of flotsam and jetsam in Sarah’s long, amazing life, and there’s an extraordinary beauty to the image on which this series closes, shortly before Sarah returns to TV: drifting in space with her dying friend, watching blinding light come ever closer to her capsule…

Sarah Jane Smith 2.3: Fatal Consequences by David Bishop (March 2006)

The third audio in the second Sarah Jane Smith series sees the showdown between Sarah and her latest enemies, the Crimson Chapter of the Orbus Pastramo, in a strong instalment that sees David Bishop returning to the theme of biological warfare he first wrote about in Test of Nerve. It reminds me of one of the (few) smart moves made by the Sherlock episode The Hounds of Baskerville - what we fear now is not so much haunted houses on desolate moors, but off-limits government scientific research facilities. The scene in this story where Will Sullivan first comes across the experiments on human beings - a very bleak joke about “guinea pigs” - being conducted at Pangbourne Research Laboratory is appropriately chilling and upsetting, feeling almost like something out of Children of Earth, and it sets the tone for much of what follows. Emily’s death-wish to reconcile with her mother because of the blazing row they’d had the night before is simply, but effectively, played by Katherina Olsson (Shan in the I, Davros series); releasing the virus-infected test cases back out into the real world is similarly no massive plot twist, but good direction and performances sell it well.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Something Grows In Winter


Something grows in winter
Out of the dead, frost-embalmèd leaves.
I do not know its name, for there is no
Botanist can study these preternatural buds,
No encyclopaedia lays bare its Latin alias.
Spectrally it rises from icy lakes, breath-like
It billows into our hibernating lives.
Its clammy fingers scuttle inside our marrow,
Take root. Flower. Give forth fruit.

“We now are halfway out of the dark,”
We say, and clap our hands when all the world
Seems lit with candles, and fairy lights
Festoon the trees. Yet still it grows,
The spring’s sickening antecedent,
Still it burrows, like the mole, into our heads
Or out of our deadened ears and eyes.

The night retreats, and the day grows long;
We stumble in from the cold, back to the fire,
One branch fewer than this time last year.
As the sun comes up, we give thanks in the light
That we faced down death, outlived one more night.

(3 January 2017)

The Infinite-Narrative Sand-Pit: On "Mummy on the Orient Express" by Jamie Mathieson (2014)

By way of introduction, this piece was originally published in 2015 in the book Outside In: 125 Unique Perspectives on 125 New Series Doctor Who Stories by 125 Writers, from ATB Publishing, covering the new series of the show from 2005-2014. If you're interested in buying it, you can do so here. Right now it's on sale for $24.95, and includes many more fantastic essays than mine by luminaries like Kate Orman, Jon Blum, Steve Lyons, Lance Parkin, and Phil Sandifer, so why not give it a try?

You don’t forget the first time you die.
Between my fourth and fifth ribs was the carved callous barb of a fire-spear, jutting out of my stomach like an arrow in a boar. I gaped at the sharpshooter on the other side of the Redswamps. Back to my chest in bemusement. Back to my killer. Back to my chest.
They say you have only a second before the napalm catches. I squandered a slack-jawed eternity.
And then I was alight, the rivulets of flame tonguing my limbs and my face, embers burrowing into my clothes. However much I struggled, and fell upon the marsh, and clawed at my melting eyes, the foul black smoke wafted and drifted away oh so serenely, oh so mockingly. To hear the blistering of one’s own skin and the crackle of one’s own hair, to feel the flames’ greed and to smoulder under the purple twilight…
And my killer watched. The blaze in my own ears must have been music to his.
I recall one more thing from the Redswamps: after the pain, serenity; after the scorching, coolness.