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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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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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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 7

BBCdoctor who series 7

13 episodes + specials

My rating: 5 of 5

*SPOILER ALERT*

The Doctor has left Amy and Rory to their own devices for too long, as is rapidly clear to him when the three of them are kidnapped by the Daleks to clean up a mess the Daleks made for themselves–and unsurprisingly, the Doctor is as worried about “fixing” Amy and Rory’s marriage as he is about surviving this mess. Obviously, he succeeds on both counts . . . with a little help from a mysterious souffle-making girl by the name of Oswin Oswald. The Ponds are naturally swept up into the wonder of traveling with the Doctor again, while still trying to balance their normal life as well, which isn’t the easiest of tasks. But seriously, how could they choose one or the other? Years later (well, it’s hard to tell, with a bunch of time travelers), the Doctor is on his own again (vowing never again to get involved or care) when he once again encounters Miss Oswald–living a completely different life with no knowledge of their former encounter (nor of the fact that she had died then). Tragically, Clara Oswald dies this time also, but the Doctor is left with the niggling feeling that something impossible and wonderful is going on, a feeling that is remarkably confirmed when he receives a phone call on the TARDIS line–from Clara Oswald, living in the present day with once again no knowledge of their former encounters. Well of course the Doctor has to get her to travel with him then, doesn’t he?

I enjoyed the 7th series of Doctor Who so much! Although it really felt like 2 series kind of smooshed together. The first 5 episodes with Amy and Rory (and River, some) are fantastic, very much tying in with the former series involving this wonderful family. I really love the vibe between them all, the way they really are family; it’s different from any other Doctor/companion relationship I’ve seen, and it’s wonderful. I think the way Moffat tied up the Amy/Rory arc of the story was very well done, especially in how true it was to the character of all the individuals involved. There was an inevitability about it, and a rightness as well, that made the ending of their story satisfying, even though I was very sad to see them go. They might be my favorite group in Doctor Who to date; maybe even one of my favorite character groups period. The special episode between the two parts of the series, “The Snowmen”, is one that you really need to watch to get a full appreciation for the story as it goes ahead from there, even though seeing the Doctor (especially Matt Smith’s Doctor who always seems impossibly chipper) being depressed and lonely is pretty depressing to watch. Which is probably why perky, demanding Clara Oswald is a welcome new companion. It’s hard to understand exactly how she and the Doctor relate to each other, possibly because she’s sort of a chameleon, changing to suit the occasion a bit. Whatever the case, the dynamic between Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith works really well. The story writing for this part is mostly episodic, although there is an overarching plot. The scripts are interesting (including a fantastic episode written by Neil Gaiman!), and they highlight the characters effectively; I don’t think there was one episode this series that I didn’t enjoy.

Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, & Donald Wilson/Head Writer & Executive Producer Steven Moffat/Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Jenna-Louise Coleman, & Alex Kingston

 

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Doctor Who, Series 6

BBCdoctor who series 6

Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, & Donald Wilson/Head Writer & Executive Producer Steven Moffat/Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, & Arthur Darvill

14 episodes

My rating: 5 of 5

*SPOILER ALERT*

Newlyweds Amy and Rory find themselves waiting at home, settling into normal life for a bit–but it’s not as though the Doctor’s keeping quiet. No, he’s plastering himself throughout history like a big, flashing “look at me” sign. Then they get an invitation to meet up in Utah of all places, where they encounter not only the Doctor but also River Song who had apparently also been invited. But in the middle of a nice picnic reunion by Lake Silencio, they are interrupted by (of all the absurd things) someone in a spacesuit rising up from the lake and killing the Doctor. Devastated, the three friends return to town . . . only to run into the Doctor, alive and well! Also significantly younger and completely unaware of what’s just taken place. So it’s off on adventures again, but with Amy, Rory, and River very concerned about the Doctor’s future–when they have time to worry about anything besides the creepy, unmemorable invasion that’s overtaking the earth and the fact that Amy may or may not be pregnant(?).

I really enjoyed the sixth series of Doctor Who. I think it’s a solid follow-up of series five, keeping the same characters and deepening their relationships in a very enjoyable (sometimes quite suspenseful) way. Overall, I think the suspense level was higher in this series than perhaps any other series I’ve seen so far–it worked really well that way. There’s a lot of overarching storyline this time, which is fun. I really love how the whole thing with River Song, which has been previously intriguing but maddeningly mysterious, is gradually unfolded over the course of the series. She really is a most enjoyable, fascinating character–plus she brings out all sorts of interesting sides to the Doctor that you’d never see otherwise. The growth of Amy and Rory both as individuals and as a couple is really neat to see too, especially as they go through all the craziness with the baby together. And even though there is definitely a huge overarching plotline to this series, there’s a nice variety of episodes presented as well (bonus points for a Neil Gaiman episode!). I’d definitely recommend Doctor Who, series 6, to anyone who has enjoyed the previous series–but I’d certainly recommend watching at least series five before trying this series or you might be a bit lost.

 

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Torchwood

BBCTorchwood

Created by Russell T. Davies/Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, & Bill Pullman/Music by Ben Foster & Murray Gold

Spin-off of Doctor Who

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Police officer Gwen Cooper finds herself intrigued when she stumbles upon a small group of individuals calling themselves “Torchwood”–individuals who seems to be a special ops team above the law and who, when she first encounters them, temporarily raise the dead. Unable to let her fascination with Torchwood go, Gwen manages to get herself entangled and then recruited as their newest member. Under the leadership of Capt. Jack Harkness, she finds herself working with a brilliant but troubled team to do something she’d never imagined doing before: protect the earth from aliens! Gwen encounters impossible things and endures unimaginable challenges . . . but the hardest thing of all may be maintaining a normal relationship with her boyfriend Rhys outside of work, especially when she won’t even tell him what she’s really doing.

As much as I have enjoyed Doctor Who and the role of Capt. Jack Harkness in that story, it seemed natural to try Torchwood, Russell Davies’ spinoff series. And I did enjoy watching it, although not nearly as much as I did the original. I would say that the relationship between the two is something similar to the relationship between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The first is more innocent, more original, while the spinoff (in both instances) creeps into the realm of the adult police series (think CSI) with a paranormal tendency. Not necessarily a bad thing in either instance; just I’m personally less drawn to police sorts of shows. Also, Torchwood is definitely more adult in content–nudity, sex, language, etc. are definitely present, but it’s more than that. There’s a darkness, an existential depression to the story that can tend to make it, well, depressing. But I must say that, while the series doesn’t offer warm happiness all the time, it does inspire a feisty, determined spirit. And the choice of actors for those sorts of roles works very well, I have to admit. (Bonus points to the series for guest starring James Marsters in a very fitting role on more than one occasion.) I guess in the end, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend watching Torchwood, I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it” either, as long as you’re over 18 and mentally stable (if you struggle with depression, don’t do it to yourself, really!); it really just depends on the individual whether you would like it or not.

Note: This TV series has 4 seasons. The first two are full seasons with the original cast. The third season, Children of Earth, is more like a long (very depressing) movie that’s been split into parts, and the fourth season, Miracle Day, is similar only longer and with a distinct American influence (which I didn’t really like). I would probably recommend the first two seasons much more than the latter two.

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Doctor Who, Series 4

BBCDoctor Who Series 4

Created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, & Donald Wilson/Revived by Russell T. Davies/Starring David Tennant & Catherine Tate

14 Episodes + 5 Specials

My rating: 5 of 5

*SPOILER ALERT*

Alone yet again, The Doctor travels through time and space, doing what he can to help wherever he goes, although it’s difficult to say whether he follows trouble or trouble follows him. In any case, he rapidly proves that he’s relatively useless on his own. Meanwhile(?), spitfire secretarial temp Donna Noble has gone from regretting not accepting the Doctor’s offer to accompany him to actively seeking him . . . by getting herself involved in any sort of weird or sketchy endeavor she can find. And surprisingly, she actually runs into him as they both are investigating a suspicious diet pill corporation. Even more surprisingly, the two make an incredible pair, feeding off each other’s energy and ideas as they travel together through the ages and the stars. In fact, you might almost say they were fated to be together.

I was honestly prepared to hate the fourth series of Doctor Who. (I mean seriously, when Donna showed up in series 3, I absolutely abhorred her.) And I can’t honestly say whether she toned her harping or whether she just grew on me–she’s still certainly go a strong temperament, it goes with the red hair, maybe. But miraculously, I actually enjoyed the dynamic between Donna and the Doctor in this series. For one thing, it was nice to have a companion that is not a romantic interest–clearly stated so right from the start; they’re almost more like brother and sister or something. It’s nice. And they really do feed off of each other in a magnificent way. If anything, she brings out the Doctor’s impudence more than usual. Plus, there’s just some really good story writing in this series. I enjoyed that the main storyline this time is bigger and more involved than previous series. (It’s actually been hinted at as far back as series 1.) It’s nice to see a lot of old friends drawn back into the story here, too. But do be warned, I think this series–especially as it approaches the end, but really even in the first few episodes–is darker than previous series, touching on concepts like fate and inevitability in a way that could honestly be kind of depressing. You can definitely see the Doctor going through all sorts of emotional turmoil and conflict, especially in the specials following the main storyline. But I think it brings up valid considerations in a meaningful way, so I actually really appreciated the authors’ choice to make this part more serious. And really, the story as a whole is still largely just good fun; it’s not all down and depressing, truly. I would highly recommend the fourth series of Doctor Who, especially to those who have enjoyed the previous series of the story.

Note: I know the story seems wrapped up with the end of episode 14, “Journey’s End,” but there’s actually some extremely significant story in the specials following the technical end of this series. So be sure you watch these prior to starting series 5, or you’ll be really confused.

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