Tag Archives: BBC

Merlin (2008 TV Series)

BBC

AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson

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The Return of Doctor Mysterio

BBC

My rating: 4.5 of 5

NOTE: This TV special takes place following The Husbands of River Song” and immediately preceding series 10 of Doctor Who. It’s relatively spoiler-free, but you should still be sure to watch “The Husbands of River Song” first because you’ll miss half the feels of this episode if you don’t.

On Christmas Eve of 1992, the Doctor is in New York, trying to stabilize the mess he’s made of time there. That night, he encounters a young boy named Grant and accidentally gives the boy superpowers (don’t ask; it’s the Doctor) . . . and a strict command to never use those powers. Twenty-four years later, the Doctor returns to New York to investigate an alien invasion (surprise) only to encounter Grant–who is living a double life as both nanny to a small baby and local masked superhero “Ghost.” So much for never using those powers. . . .

At first, I was kind of exasperated with the writers for choosing a superhero story–I mean, that’s basically the only sort of movie that seems to be coming out right now! And honestly, I’m not the superhero movie type. But “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is Doctor Who, and I have to admit that it brings in the best of both worlds. You’ve got all the quirkiness and geekiness of Capaldi’s Doctor (absolutely brilliant!) and the classic Who alien invasion story. Plus you’ve got a good guy trying to protect the people he loves and live up to the ideals of the old superhero comics he read as a kid . . . all the while keeping his true identity a secret from the very clever and insightful (except as it regards him) journalist that he works for. The lightness and action of the superhero plot (and the sweet, innocent romance they work in) actually do a lot to counterbalance what may otherwise have been a very dark and angsty story (if you’ve watched “The Husbands of River Song,” you know why). On the other hand, the interactions between the Doctor and the journalist, Lucy, are humorous on the surface but serve to draw out and develop the Doctor’s inner turmoil, which is neat to see. In any case, I would definitely recommend “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to any fan of Doctor Who.

Written by Steven Moffat/Directed by Ed Bazalgette/Produced by  Peter Bennett/Music by Murray Gold/Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin, & Charity Wakefield

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The Legends of River Song

Authors:  Jenny T. Colgan, Jaqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams, & Andrew Lyonsthe-legends-of-river-song

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Professor River Song. The mysterious woman who traipses backwards through the Doctor’s life, growing younger even as he grows older. Archaeologist, psychopath, convicted murderer. Child of the TARDIS. A veritable lifetime of spoilers and secrets and untold wonders. Little surprise then that her diary is her closest and best-guarded confidante. And luck those who get to sample its contents.

The Legends of River Song is a collection of short stories set in the same universe as Doctor Who, but focusing particularly on the fabulous Professor River Song. I believe (haven’t taken the trouble to go back and check) that they’re all written as though taken from the pages of her diary; at any rate, the memorable ones were. The collection is quite a mixture of tales, but I think all will appeal to those who enjoy Doctor Who and River’s character in particular. “Suspicious Minds” by Jacqueline Rayner was probably my favorite Doctor/River story both because the story was interesting and, even more so, because she nails the characters of Eleven and River so well, particularly the unique dynamic between the two. (And it’s really interesting to have Eleven described through River’s eyes!) “Death in New Venice” by Guy Adams and “River of Time” by Andrew Lane were both excellent just River stories that flesh out her character nicely. “A Gamble of Time” by Steve Lyons is, while scientifically paradoxical, quite an interesting and exciting story as well. Personally, I found “Picnic at Asgard”  by Jenny T. Colgan to be the big disappointment of this collection (which is really tragic, since it’s the first story in the volume; don’t be discouraged, and push past it). Mostly, I felt that Colgan just missed River’s character, perhaps only by a hair, but enough for the story to feel off the entire time I was reading it. Still, overall The Legends of River Song is a nice little collection that I enjoyed and would recommend.

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Sherlock (TV series)

BBCSherlock

My rating: 5 of 5

Dr. John Watson has come home from Afghanistan due to a war injury, and he’s having trouble adapting to civilian life . . . financially and psychologically. So when an old friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes–a most interesting and unusual man who is willing to share the rent for a flat–John finds himself rapidly accepting the offer. Life with the self-proclaimed “consulting detective” soon draws Dr. Watson into a whirlwind, solving crimes and assisting Holmes in whatever capacity he can–certainly in a medical one. Perhaps even as a friend, whatever the sociopathic  Holmes may say.

Why do I love this series so much?! I’m a huge fan of Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories–I grew up reading them. As such, I usually hate movie/TV versions of the stories since they almost always get important stuff wrong. Sherlock gets it right. Rather than trying to re-create a Victorian setting and Victorian characters while still making it interesting for a modern audience, the creators immediately scrap all that and go for a modern London setting. Instead of trying to pull details from the classic stories, they pull feelings, ideas, and inspiration. So it feels right–but also fresh and exciting. The plots are intriguing, and I really love they use of hour-and-a-half episodes to allow a full development of individual plots within the episode. Steven Moffat’s touch on the show is pretty evident, which I (as a big Doctor Who fan) really love–you’ve almost got a Doctor-Companion dynamic going between Sherlock and John, and it works beautifully. The characters and the character dynamics are spot-on perfect–very, very fun to watch. Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. But I really think Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson is the heart of the show, the one who makes you really care. And the interactions between the two . . . priceless. The other characters/cast members are brilliant as well, from those who show in nearly every episode (like Mrs. Hudson & DI Greg Lestrade) to Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty to those who only show up briefly in one episode. I loved the camera angles, the production, and the creative use of screen text to show Sherlock’s though processes. All around, Sherlock is just brilliant–highly recommended!

Created by  Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat/Written by  Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, & Stephen Thompson/Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman/Based on the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Note: Currently this series is ongoing, with three (3-episode) seasons and one special currently available.

Update 02/12/2017: I just finished watching the fourth season (which brings the series up to a whole 13 episodes. Yay! I definitely enjoyed this season and found it to be in keeping with the previous seasons in most regards. There were definitely some surprises though, and I found the almost surreal quality of the episodes to be unique and intriguing–difficult to follow sometimes though. I’ll be interested to see if a fifth season comes to be; the end of this season almost felt like a good-bye, but I haven’t heard an official announcement that the series is completed. We’ll see, I guess.

 

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Torchwood: The Lost Files

BBC Radio 4torchwood the lost files

My rating: 4 of 5

Spinoff of Torchwood

Following the dramatic conclusion of season 2 of Torchwood, Capt. Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, and Ianto Jones are still on the case protecting Earth from alien threats. Whether it’s close to home or at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, Torchwood is ready to do whatever it takes–hey, most of the time they enjoy the challenge and the adventure. They’re that sort of people.

So, The Lost Files is a BBC Radio 4 audio drama set shortly after the conclusion of season 2 (mostly) of the TV series. It stars the original cast members, which is a big plus for me (I love John Barrowman and Eve Myles’ work on this show). The audio drama consists of three separate episodes of around 40-45 minutes each. Is it strange that I actually like this better than I liked the original TV series? I think the plots are fairly similar to what you’d see in the show, but the ideas are adapted to work well in a full-cast audio drama sort of setting. The actors adapt well to being off screen, too. One of the things I liked was that, while still consistent with the original TorchwoodThe Lost Files isn’t quite as sexually oriented, or even maybe quite as cynical, although it still maintains a much darker tone than, say, Doctor Who. Speaking of, there are a number of fun Doctor Who references thrown into the stories, which is always fun. And the third episode of The Lost Files, I must say, is kind of cathartic after watching Children of Earth; that was unexpected and nice. I guess mostly I would only recommend this drama to those who have already watched and seen at least the first two episodes of Torchwood, although there aren’t a ton of spoilers, so it might be OK as long as you’re familiar with the basic setting and plot. Either way, it was interesting; I wish they’d done more than three episodes.

Directed by Kate McAll/Written by Rupert Laight, Ryan Scott, & James Goss/Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, & Kai Owen/Based on Torchwood by Russell T. Davies

 

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Neverwhere (TV series, 1996)

BBCNeverwhere TV

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Richard Mayhew had a nice, normal life with a steady job and a fiancée ready to order every aspect of his life perfectly. But one evening on the way to an important dinner that all changes as Richard stops to help Door, a young girl who is clearly injured and frightened. Following that moment of doing the right thing, he finds himself suddenly unnoticeable and unmemorable to everyone in normal London society. Thus, he is forced to seek Door and her strange companions in London Below, a strange world that he had never even been aware of previously. And somehow, Richard finds himself caught up in this huge adventure to find who murdered Door’s family and to get her safely to the Angel Islington. All poor Richard wants is his old life back, or so he thinks.

So, I’m pretty sure I came at the Neverwhere TV series completely backwards. I mean, the Neil Gaiman book Neverwhere is based on the TV series, but I read the book first, ages before I was even aware that there was a TV show. Having read the book first, I was expecting to be a bit disappointed in the screen version (I usually am), but I  was willing to give it a try since it was also written by Neil Gaiman. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the TV version is actually quite good. I think the actors picked for the characters are excellent. Richard and Door are absolutely perfect, as is Hunter. The Marquis was . . . well, I was expecting someone a bit more Johnny Depp, but Paterson Joseph’s portrayal of the role definitely grew on me over the course of the story. And seeing a younger Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington was fabulous (although I hardly know what to make of him without a Scottish accent and a gruff attitude). The plot is concise (there are only 6 episodes of 30 minutes each), but it feels complete; I was actually quite impressed by how much story was fit into such a brief series. I would say that comparing the book and the TV show in terms of plot, they are remarkably consistent. One of the things I loved best about this show was the wonder and magic that was expressed in such simple ways. While a modern story would likely use sparkly lights and huge special effects to express these ideas, this show uses mystery, blurred graphics, and a lot of subtle suggestion to get the idea across. There’s a dark Alice in Wonderland feel to it all that’s absolutely perfect. Basically, Neverwhere is a great show that I highly recommend to anyone who likes a good urban fantasy.

Created by Neil Gaiman & Lenny Henry/Directed by Dewi Humphreys/Music by Brian Eno/Starring  Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser, Hywel Bennett, Clive Russell, Paterson Joseph, Trevor Peacock, Elizabeth Marmur, Tanya Moodie, Peter Capaldi, & Earl Cameron

 

 

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Doctor Who, Series 8

BBCdoctor who series 8

12 episodes

My rating: 4 of 5

*SPOILER ALERT*

Is it really possible that this grumpy, gray-haired Scotsman who can’t even fly the TARDIS properly is the same Doctor that Clara has been traveling through time and space with, has regarded as her best friend? It’s hard for her to believe, even though she saw his regeneration with her own eyes–he just seems so different! With the help of some close friends of the Doctor in Victorian London (where the Doctor managed to land the TARDIS–along with a giant T-Rex), Clara does manage to find her friend again in this stranger’s eyes . . . but there’s some definite “define the relationship” moments going on in the process. But Clara, being Clara, is up for the challenge as she begins once again popping in and out of her ordinary life for ventures throughout time and space. She even sort-of manages to have a boyfriend and a real job, although the success of those ventures is precarious at best.

I’m going to be honest: for the first few episodes of the eighth series of Doctor Who I was really not happy about Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. It’s not that he does a bad job with the role. Actually, he’s perfect. But the contrast between him and Matt Smith’s happy-go-lucky Eleventh Doctor as exceedingly stark, painfully so. And you really see that contrast developed in the Doctor’s strained relationship with Clara Oswald in the first several episodes of the series. But the truth is that Capaldi’s Doctor grows on you (or at least he did on me), and even going back and watching the first few episodes again now, I’m impressed by his work in them. I guess what I’m saying is, give the eighth series a chance to convince you before you decide it’s rubbish in the first few episodes. Actually, what I found most frustrating throughout the series is Clara’s vacillation and (spoilers) her two-timing between the Doctor (who is admittedly not her boyfriend, but still) and Danny (her actual boyfriend)–lying to each about the other in a most annoying manner. Also, perhaps because of this vacillation, perhaps not, the storyline felt a bit disconnected at parts. Still, the episodes were interesting and consistent with both the Doctor Who storyline as a whole and with the individual characters. I guess you could say that this series was a strong development of both Clara’s and the new Doctor’s characters, leaving lots of room for more story development in the ninth series. In any case, I really did enjoy the eighth series of Doctor Who and found it a consistently interesting and family-friendly series involving fantastic wonders, time travel, and just enough scariness to keep it interesting.

Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, & Donald Wilson/Head Writer & Executive Producer Steven Moffat/Starring Peter Capaldi & Jenna-Louise Coleman

 

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