Hello. Sorry. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Look, I promise it’s not another long polemic about Steven Moffat. Cross my heart and swear to die.

Well *coughs* it’s not really about anything at all, actually, this time. Nope, just thought I’d… check in. Absolutely nothing of significance to see here, at all, in any respect.


Well. No. That’s a lie.

A big lie, actually, because look:

Screenshot 2016-02-18 at 17.46.42

It’s alive!

The bigger, newer, fierier one, obviously. But both of them, as well. *coughs again* Come to think of it, if, y’know, you wanted to buy them both… I’m sure there’s a discounted price on them, somewhere. I don’t know. It would be if it were up to me. But since it isn’t, the least I could do, really, is to point a gentle, guiding hand here, here and here, if, theoretically, you did want to buy them. But only if.

Anyway. That’s my news as of today. Other than that… I can’t say many eventful things have happened since last time, I’m afraid. Loads of school stuff. I have a physics test coming up, and if anyone has an explanation of Kirchoff’s Circuit Laws better than the IB Physics textbook’s, I would be deeply grateful to hear it. But… other than that… nothing, really.


I will return… when I have announcements to make, or TV shows to write about.

And I will. Oh, yes, I will.



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On Sherlock



First, a couple of disclaimers.

I am aware that this blog has become quite critical, especially where TV is concerned, and I want to state from here that this is because I don’t tend to write long blog posts about the stuff I just outright adore, because eight hundred words of gushing praise is boring and, at any rate, pointless, because the excellence of a show speaks for itself. I am still recovering, for instance, from And Then There Were None, but given that I genuinely cannot find fault with it, I don’t imagine elaborating on this opinion would be of any use or interest to anyone.

Secondly, the two shows I am and have been most critical of, Doctor Who and Sherlock, are run by one man, Steven Moffat. And while I don’t feel as bad about that as I would if our positions were reversed- given that I’m a sixteen-year-old, relatively unknown novelist and he’s the showrunner of two of the most lucrative and successful television franchises in the world, so it’s not like anything I say is going to be in any way hurtful to his life or career- I am very wary of placing the burden of quality of two huge television shows on one person. Both Doctor Who and Sherlock are run by teams, there are multiple people responsible for everything that happens on them, and neither the credit nor the fault for how they turn out can be placed at Moffat’s feet alone. Arguably he has not done his utmost to reinforce this impression- I had never heard the term ‘showrunner’ before it was attached to his leadership of Doctor Who, and when I heard him speak about it at Hay a couple of years ago, he certainly made it seem as though Sherlock was something he and Mark Gatiss came up with together on a train- but that is beside the point.

I am also aware that, if the team who make Sherlock are in any way acquainted with Twitter, what they will have been saying over the past thirty-six hours in response to considerable criticism is: well, you try it then. Disparaging a show is very easy when you have not had to write, agonise over, cast, set up, fund and film a show yourself, and without having done that, you can’t really understand the process that goes into making Sherlock. To which I would say yes, that is true, but that is not the criterion that must be met in order to have an opinion about a piece of work or art; television shows especially are not made in a vacuum, they are made to produce a particular reaction in an audience, and that audience’s reaction is therefore a legitimate yardstick- not the only yardstick, but a significant one- for measuring a show’s quality. Sherlock‘s creators were proud, and they had every right to be proud, when the show was unquestioningly loved and adored, but that also means that now people are starting to criticise it, that criticism cannot simply be dismissed out of hand as ignorant.

Right. Now I’ve gotten all of that out of the way: The Abominable Bride.

I’ve established that this piece is going to be critical, but before I do: there were definitely good things about this episode, largely the humour. Molly Hooper as the world’s least convincing cross-dresser was funny; the repetition of the introduction sequence from the first episode was, initially, amusing; Watson interrogating Sherlock about his, er, feelings (‘you are a man. You must have… impulses‘) was hilarious. I suspect that more of it was meant to be funny- mostly seeing various characters in Victorian attire and circumstances- than actually was, because, and here comes the first big criticism: in bringing it back to the Victorian era, they knocked one of the legs off the premise. Sherlock is and always has been about bringing Victorian-era stories into the twenty-first century. A lot of the humour in its originates from the clever references it makes to the Conan Doyle stories- the Greenwich pips instead of the orange seeds in The Great Game, the ‘speckled blonde’, Baskerville as a military research station, et cetera. By simply making those references as they were originally imagined in the nineteenth century- Watson at one point referred to the case of the ‘hound of the Baskervilles’- the viewer gets the an uneasy impression that… these are the clever in-jokes now. These are the amusing nineteenth-century references to what are in Sherlock the ‘real’, twenty-first century stories. Conan Doyle’s universe is now assumed to be the secondary one, the fan-fiction ante-room to the- ahem- palace that is the modern update.

I have written before of the overconfidence that has stalked Doctor Who, of the impression it gives that it basically reckons it’s fine now, really: it’s been going for fifty-two years (apart from the sixteen-year ‘Dark Ages’ that nobody really mentions), it’s a really big money-spinner worldwide, it’s probably not going to get cancelled, and there are enough people who watch it- whether out of real enjoyment or habit- that it doesn’t need to pick up new viewers. And I have written before that this is a bad idea. Loyalty is a good quality in a fandom, but it shouldn’t be the only reason they are attached to a show, because loyalty has its limits. I have not yet reached the point, nor will I for a while, where I would be prepared to stop watching Sherlock and Doctor Who– to give up my Whovian and Sherlockian citizenship, and emigrate- but I can definitely imagine doing so. If enough people reach that point, and I don’t think it would take that many, then both shows will be in trouble.

I’m not entirely sure at what point exactly Doctor Who pulled up its ramps and decided it didn’t need to take any more passengers, but I can identify the point Sherlock did- see, there are benefits to it having only ten episodes- and it was, probably, the point at which it decided that nobody really needed to know how its hero threw himself off the top of St Bartholemew’s hospital. I mean, not really. It was fine. It was enough to know that he did.

When The Reichenbach Fall aired, in January 2012, I was twelve years old- young enough that, two weeks earlier, when Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) had walked half-naked through a cupboard, picking a dress, my parents had decided that it was ten o’clock, we could watch the rest tomorrow like they’d said, and sent us to bed to make sure there wasn’t anything scarring enough that they’d have to have awkward conversations with my then-nine-year-old sister about where babies come from.

I had never watched Sherlock before- I had been ten when the first series had aired- and I was spellbound by all of it. By the cleverness, the humour, the graphics swift as thought, and, yes, obviously by Benedict Cumberbatch as well. I was tied, as I had been with Doctor Who, to the idea of a character with a fascinating, unfathomable mind; I was rapt. I spent hours debating with my family about how he had survived- but what about the dummy hanging in the flat? His request of Molly Hooper? His ‘note’?- and counted the months until Sherlock returned.

By the time it did, in January 2014, I had changed quite a bit. I was fourteen. I had moved house, and had more or less clawed my way out of puberty. I had chosen my GCSEs, had made and lost friends. I had written a book, and been signed for two more; I was a proper actual writer (my own, distinctly professional and mature phrase) now. I had more or less learned to live with not knowing how Sherlock had survived the fall. But I counted the days till it aired, still, and turned on the TV with my foot drumming against the floor.

By the end of the show I was shocked.

‘But they ruined it,’ I said, numbly, over my family’s continued pleas for me to really shut up now. ‘They’ve ruined it. It was perfect and they ruined it.’

They had ‘ruined it’, as I ineloquently put it two years ago, because they had drawn up the ramps.

To the untrained viewer, that episode, and all subsequent ones, would have been all but incomprehensible. More than that, it would have been not worth trying to understand, because the way they sort-of-revealed how Sherlock had survived- drawing mystery over ambiguity- looked suspiciously like they knew perfectly well their explanation was not worth a two-year waiting period.

And they had ruined it, as well, because- and it hurts me deeply to say this- they had listened to the fandom. Sherlock, after its second series, had cemented its position as a worldwide franchise, an award-winning phenomenon, well-loved enough that CBS had carefully trod the line between homage and plagiarism in order to create their equivalent, Elementary. The team knew this; they had been at the awards ceremonies, met the crowds of fans cheering in rapturous delight. They knew what the fans loved about the series: the relationship between Holmes and Watson, the cleverness, the pace, the workings of Holmes’ mind. They had- and I can’t believe this- read the Holmes/Moriarty slashfic.

They took those dark, brilliant mysteries, those seamless black boxes, and they shone a light on them, to please the fans. And in doing so, they ruined it.

The Empty Hearse had Sherlock talking about his feelings. It had the screening of fan theories. It had Sherlock making Watson think he was going to die in order to get him to say he loved him. It took everything that had been brilliant when unsaid and said it aloud, and in doing so, it destroyed half its own appeal. It considered itself brilliant enough to analyse and discuss at length, where the first two series had been quietly brilliant, unselfconsciously unfathomable. Series one and two were spent simply being beautiful; series three, and now The Abominable Bride, were spent staring into a mirror, examining itself. It was the equivalent of those parades of doomed and unnamed aliens who make deep and sober remarks about how the Doctor is a hero, no a legend, no a god, in their galaxies.

And then there is the show’s ‘woman problem’- an issue also very much present in Doctor Who since 2010, and which, for that reason, has frequently been blamed on Steven Moffat’s influence. This is a show which cannot get halfway to a female character as interesting and unfathomable as Sherlock himself without stripping her literally naked and parading her in front of the male protagonists- and then having him rescue her at the end, just for good measure, to make sure we knew how things stood. (I refer, of course, to Irene Adler in A Scandal in Belgravia.)

It has been four years since then, and arguably things have changed; arguably feminism wasn’t as high-profile then as it is now, arguably the horrendous ‘yeah she’s clever but anyway look at her boobs‘ attitude of A Scandal in Belgravia was worth it from the BBC’s perspective for the ratings figures, and arguably, therefore, it is excusable for Sherlock to have responded to feminist critique in The Abominable Bride with the iffy idea of portraying women as servants who will, of course, revolt if they’re not paid properly with adequate male attention- like what might happen if you fed gremlins after midnight.

This, I think, is the response of a team who have been told for years that the way they have designed their female characters is sexist, but are not entirely sure what that practically means; who think they really have been portraying strong women, realistic women, and can’t understand why the fans have been getting upset. So they set up a death cult of abused wives and had Sherlock walk through them and praise their actions- because they are women taking a stand against evil men, which is what feminism is, and Sherlock and Mycroft are therefore showing themselves to be feminist, which is what fans have been asking for.

That’s how I’m choosing to read it- as well-meaning but misguided- because the alternative is to put it down to outright malevolence. The alternative is to read it as a man walking through a row of mute women in blue Klan outfits and musing that men will really have to give in to women eventually because it is ‘a war we cannot win’, because if they do not, women will physically actually murder men they dislike. The alternative is that it was a deliberate attempt to portray feminists as one step away from a death cult and two from declaring war on men. And that is… disturbing.

But I’m choosing to read it as well-meaning, purely for the sake of my own faith in humanity and in the show, but it does not mean I can yet forgive Sherlock for how it has treated women, because I doubt anything will change. And that angers me and hurts me- because it would be so easy to do. Guys, this is Writing 101- this is what they tell you in Year 3 Literacy lessons: show not tell. Yes, you can stand all the female characters in your series in the Blue Robes of Feminism and have your male protagonist look them in the eye and tell them that what they are doing is good. But that is not what matters, in the same way that it wouldn’t have worked if you’d given Sherlock and Watson the same levels of intellect and just kept in the bits where all the other characters stand around and talk about how fearsomely clever Sherlock is. That in itself wouldn’t have made audiences believe in his intelligence.

If you tell us that Mary Watson is an assassin who can shoot a hole clean through an airborne fifty-pence piece, and then the only way it is talked about by the other characters is how it will affect the men in her life, of how she has betrayed them by lying, of how it will damage their trust in her, of their anguish and torment in the face of her past- if the culmination of their conversation about it is honest-to-God amateur psychoanalysis of her husband– then we will not believe you when you say that you consider women’s psyches as fascinating as men’s.

If you repeat that Mrs Hudson is ‘not the housekeeper’ of Sherlock and Watson, and then repeatedly use that as comic relief- if she does serve them and clean up after them, and her protests that this isn’t what she’s for are treated as merely an amusing side-note- then we will not believe you when you say you respect women.

If you bring Molly Hooper gently out of her character arc of two series- namely, unrequited and uncomplaining adoration of Sherlock- by saying that she is now over him and engaged, and then you make a joke out of the fact that she isn’t over him, really, that her fiance looks exactly like Sherlock, and then have her slap him across the face, angry that he doesn’t recognise how fantastic he is- ‘how dare you waste the beautiful gifts you were given!’- then we will not believe you when you say that your female characters are not treated as secondary and lesser than men.

Look. I love Sherlock. Not unquestioningly, not unconditionally, not uncritically, all of which are unwise kinds of love for things that cannot love back, but I love it. And I will continue to love it even if it keeps grinding its women under its heel, even if it keeps trying to push Conan Doyle out of its way, even if it suddenly becomes a period drama on an off day.

But you know what I can’t really stand about Sherlock?The thing which, I think, will be its downfall in the end, and which will eventually lose it enough followers that the fans and awards which have coalesced around it will dissipate like fog?

It loves Sherlock too.


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The Hunger Games and the Rise of the Fandom

This blog post contains spoilers for anything with the word Mockingjay in the title. Consider yourself warned.

Most good films make you want to write. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2 makes you want to read. Specifically, it makes you want to go back to your bookshelf, find your copy of the book, and scrutinise the second half in search of a discrepancy. It is not a challenge I recommend you stake anything of value on. You will fail.

OK, so not entirely. They skip out a couple of things for reasons of time, and by ‘a couple’ I do literally mean ‘two’: Katniss and Johanna’s training sequence for the Star Squad, and her imprisonment during her trial in absentia. But that’s it. It took me about half an hour to realise how closely they were adhering to the script, because it’s been a while since I read Mockingjay, and two hours more to understand why: the adaptation was undertaken by only one screenwriter, and it was the series’ author, Suzanne Collins.

For context: YA films are rarely written by the authors of their books. The Divergent film series has had nine different screenwriters, one of whom is Stephen Chbosky, none of whom is Veronica Roth. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the first and only film in the Shadowhunter Chronicles to be adapted for the big screen, was done so by Jessica Pontigo, not Cassandra Clare. Perhaps understandably, nobody let Stephanie Meyer anywhere near the Twilight films; they were written instead by Melissa Rosenberg. And even JK Rowling has had co-writers on every Potter adaptation to date (including The Play That Shall Not Be Named Because I Spent What Felt Like Most of My Half Term Waiting In That Queue And Still Didn’t Get Tickets).

Letting Collins write the screenplay single-handedly is, therefore, a bold and interesting move. It is generally assumed that novelists and screenwriters are adherents to two very different disciplines, and that the two skills are not necessarily seamlessly transferable. But letting other writers, however experienced, tweak the details of much-loved series- especially SFF stories, which come with their own, exquisitely constructed worlds- has its tradeoffs. Notably: ire.

Back in the dark days of 2012, when the first Hunger Games movie was released, fandoms were not really A Thing outside of their corners of the internet. (I mean ‘our’, of course, but for the sake of appearances I will attempt to look objective and refer to Potterheads in the third person.) And even if they had been, no mainstream studio believed that a film could profit out of fandom-love alone; they had to be adapted for mass-market consumption, hence the outsider screenwriters.

But now. Oh, now.

Now- in a post-Avengers, post-Nerdfighters, post-Gamergate world- we know the power fandoms can have. We know the passion with which stories are loved and the vehemence with which they will be defended. We have seen both the dark side- rape and death-threats from behind egg accounts; Anita Sarkeesian being forced out of her home to seek shelter with friends, because she thought one of the adherents of the stories she criticised would come to her house, and hurt her as badly as they had promised to- and the brighter one- Harry Potter fans staging a wedding between Dumbledore and Gandalf, outside the headquarters of the Westboro Baptist Church, after Obergefell– of fandoms. If fandoms cannot carry a film, nothing can. And Mockingjay Part 2- the second half of a book nearly all its viewers will have read; the fourth and final film in a series which almost all its viewers will have seen- was only going to be seen by fans. That, of course, showed in its box office sales- it had the weakest opening of the series- but that opening was still $275 million worldwide.

Watching a film which is almost a verbatim transcription of a book you have read and loved is a very strange experience. You watch your favourite characters fight valiantly for their lives and know exactly when and how they will fail. You watch hoods being lowered and know the faces that lie beneath them. You see parachutes drifting slowly from a clear blue sky, and beg that they will not touch the hands stretching desperately up towards them. You know when you will cry- seeing Katniss walk slowly, gaunt-faced, into an empty kitchen, see her scream ‘She’s gone! She’s gone and she’s not coming back!’ to the blank-eyed cat on the windowsill- because that is when you cried, when you read the book.

It is the pictures in your head alive- which is, of course, what all perfect books are. And when it is over, you do not want to rewatch it, because you have already seen it hundreds of times, watched it play out in your mind.

But you know you will see it again, anyway. Because you love it. And that was a given before you walked into the cinema.

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On ‘interesting patients’.

When I was younger my grandparents always used to spend Halloween with us. Despite their living in America, in the same small town in New Jersey where my mother grew up, where Halloweens are far more exciting affairs (during a ten-minute drive through the town this year, we saw two startlingly lifelike fake corpses hanging by the neck from front-garden trees and one fake gravestone that read “Michael Myers 1952-?”), they much prefer it in our small corner of West London- all plastic cobwebs and jewel-bright pumpkins on doorsteps. Grandma would ask us what we wanted to be months beforehand, and would bring our costumes with her across the Atlantic: seeing her draw them out of her suitcase and examining them delightedly in every detail was easily as exciting as unwrapping presents at Christmas. Grandpa would bring over special pumpkin-carving kits and we would place our hands over his as he carved it. When it was done, he would congratulate us on our good work and artistic vision.

One weekend in October 2011, just after they had arrived, Grandpa got very ill.

This is the diary entry I wrote up about it, nearly three years later, titled ‘Lessons from Hammersmith Hospital’.

  1. When an obese, type-2-diabetic American stops eating, you need to get him medical attention.
  2. When said American starts behaving in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of your other grandmother, who is ninety and has dementia- asking where his wife is when she’s sitting right next to him, not being able to navigate a five-yard walk to the bathroom and so forth- it is time to start panicking.
  3. It is never time to start panicking.
  4. No matter how annoying his commenting on everything that passes the car window might occasionally be, when he goes silent for an entire hour, you will forget all about how much it can irritate you.
  5. The walk from the Charing Cross A&E waiting room to the nearest Starbucks is remarkably short, which suggests a certain amount of cynical profiteering on Starbucks’ part.
  6. If the strength of Dad’s grip on our hands is anything to go by, you are apparently more likely to be hit by a car when a close relative is in hospital.
  7. The standard test for a stroke is to ask the patient who the current Prime Minister is. And the nurses will plough on with that test even when they know full well the patient is American.
  8. Apparently the two most important facts about a patient is their first name and date of birth. And no, it is not as good a sign as you think it is when these facts are written above the bed on a wipe-clean board.
  9. The eighth-floor ward of Charing Cross Hospital offers a beautiful view of the sunset over west London.
  10. You never want to be an ‘interesting patient’. Nor do you want anyone you love to be an ‘interesting patient’. Interest entails curiosity and curiosity entails the unknown, and neither of these are good things when said curious unknown has already hospitalised you. You want your illness to be so mind-numbingly routine that the doctors heal it one-handed whilst glaring at you for adding to the tedium.
  11. You would think it would be funny when your grandfather starts quizzing the nurses on the lunch menu lest they try to poison him. And you would be right. Do not think too hard about what that says about you.
  12. The drive to Hammersmith Hospital is paved with kebab shops and Absolute Radio tracks.
  13. Catheters are disgusting.
  14. Twelve-year-old girls are just as useless to a seriously ill patient or his doctors as you might expect. Nine-year-old girls even more so.
  15. Hammersmith Hospital does not look like a hospital. It looks like a renovated office building. This is not very comforting.
  16. The Humphreys Ward is not, it turns out, named after John Humphrys of the Today programme.
  17. Metal elevators are terrifying. On the plus side: no musak.
  18. Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two is not best enjoyed in a sterilised hospital ward on a dark winter’s evening. As it turns out, Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two is best enjoyed with the TV off.
  19. You have no expertise in medicine, but it does not take medical expertise to calculate the chances of a seventy-eight-year-old man with a disease which no one can quite identify. Do not ask your parents to confirm this: they will lie to you, and you cannot blame them.
  20. ‘Interesting patients’ are healed using far too much sheer luck for you to be entirely comfortable with.
  21. ‘Interesting patients’ can be healed.
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Start spreading the news… I’m leaving today… (I’m not. I’m coming back.)

I haven’t seen Doctor Who this week, okay? I haven’t seen it yet. I will, obviously, and as soon as I can, but I haven’t yet. I don’t know whether Maisie Williams is as brilliant as everyone’s said she is; I don’t know whether the whole Viking thing proved as risky as it looked in the trailer; I don’t know whether they’ve finally given up on this sunglasses nonsense and brought back the screwdriver like they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO- I don’t know anything. So please, don’t tell me.

Anyway- I have other news! Happy news! Well, happy for me, at least. Last week I was at Cheltenham, and everyone was lovely, including and especially Francesca Haig and Anna James, who I was honoured to be on stage with, and I met Michael Morpurgo. Sorry. When I started that sentence I didn’t mean to write that. But I met him! Actually physically met him! And he was fantastic! And when he found out I was sixteen he leaned over to my sister and said, ‘I thought she looked ridiculously young to be an author. Do you hate her as much as I do?’

So Cheltenham was amazing and now that is the end of my speaking engagements (God, do I have to call them that? It sounds preposterously obnoxious) for the foreseeable future, by which I mean until The Reaction comes out in February. To celebrate, I came back and got absolutely no work done, which is why there was no blog post last week. Sorry about that.

I also went- because I am a rebel- to an actual concert, but whatever Adolescence XP I earned for that I promptly lost on account of the fact that a) it was a Weird Al concert and b) I went with my mother. I mean, she really likes his music, and she bought the tickets anyway, and why am I being so defensive about this, and have you any idea how hard it is to find a current Year 12 who’s a Weird Al fan? I do. I have a very good idea. It’s very difficult, it turns out. Very very difficult.

I, on the other hand, am a huge Weird Al fan. His concert-goers generally fall into three categories: the people who have been dragged there by their partners because ‘he’s really good’ and are now considering breaking up with them; people who quite like him, or remember quite liking him in their youths, and can hum along to the Michael Jackson parodies and laugh at the lyrics to the others because they’re at least somewhat unfamiliar; and the weirdos like me who know every single word and will sing along even if it kills them and even unto the crack of doom. Which is what I did, the two blokes unfortunate enough to be sitting next to me growing more and more unnerved by the minute. But I did not care, because, as stated, I am a rebel.

Incidentally, if you ever feel the world is getting too predictable and mundane, please remember this- that on the fourth of October in the Hammersmith Apollo a band dressed as Stormtroopers stood on stage and mimed conducting an orchestra, and in response a crowd of several thousand people sang, as if they were at a football match, to the tune of American Pie:

My, my, this here Anakin guy

Maybe Vader someday later, now he’s just a small fry

He left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye

Saying, soon I’m gonna be a Jedi

Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi

and so on.

So! That’s been my last fortnight or so, and I write to you now from Weird Al’s very homeland, The Land Where They Pronounce ‘Coffee’ With A W (yes, I know he’s Californian and I’m in New York, but still). We’re here mostly to see my mom’s family, because my grandparents are for the most part not mobile enough to travel to London to see us anymore, and because my dad has to be here on business, but also because: New York! We spent two hours trapped in JFK airport because of a systems failure, and I spent the greater part of that attempting to cheer my mom up by humming the first few bars of New York, New York to her before she would tell me that she hated that song, as anyone who had heard it repeatedly over more than twenty years of living in NYC naturally would, and would I please be quiet. Which I was. For a few minutes.

I’ll be back on Saturday, at which point I will binge-watch all the TV I’ve missed- well, I’ll binge-watch Doctor Who, and then be forced to stay downstairs whilst my family watch Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey (‘Who cares about the hospital? Just make a decision and stop talking about it! This plotline is only here to distract us from the fact that Maggie Smith’s character should be dead by now!’) and report back.

Until then- don’t. Tell. Me. Anything. Please.

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Notes from the festival scene

OK, so firstly: Doctor Who. (Those of you who have been periodically and slightly wearily checking this blog in the hope that I would write about something- anything- else, please feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.) I must be honest: after the ostentatious brilliance of the first couple of episodes, I saw the trailer for Under the Lake and sighed. DW has a track record of Second Episode Syndrome- Third, for two-parters- and maybe it was the way the trail was cut together, or maybe it was my own cynical pessimism, but it seemed doubtful that this episode would match the quality of the first two.

I’m not going to say it, so I’ll let him:

It was truly fantastic. It had genuinely creepy monsters, a sharp script, actual diversity, including an incredibly badass deaf woman and two- two!- well-developed non-white characters, a sharp script, a brilliant premise (“Good,” said my dad in relief, as the opening credits rolled. “Now can we just stick with this, please? Not just… walk off, like you did with the handmines?”), a mildly amusing paragon-of-greed character (“You’re doomed,” said my sister immediately) and a terrifying cliffhanger ending. I was not prepared for that cliffhanger, by the way. And now I have to wait six whole days to find out what happened.

Anyway. Non-Whovians, you weirdos, you can tune back in now. So, I’ve spent most of the week on what some people might call ‘the road’- and by ‘some people’ I mean the Lovely and All-Conquering Becca, who looks after publicity things, I can imagine that’s the kind of thing she’d say- and it turns out it’s not really the road at all. It’s ‘some trains’. And ‘a plane’, last week. But mostly, trains.

Last weekend I visited the lovely village of Wigtown to talk to some incredibly friendly and enthusiastic Scottish teenagers- thank you, guys, by the way, it was amazing. I also got to meet Jon Holmes and fangirled slightly, which I think might have come through in his inscription in my copy of his book:

WP_20151004_15_50_40_Pro [161569]

I mean, I may at some point have recited some of his routines from three and a half years ago back to him. And he may- may- have leaned over to his press rep and stage-whispered ‘Stalker!’ when I did this. May have done. But nobody has any proof.

I have just returned from Bath and Henley (with the lovely Taran Matharu and Cat Doyle in the first instance, and the equally lovely and brilliant Samantha Shannon in the second). This marks the second time I have been to Bath- the first being on a Classics trip in 2012, where the traffic meant we spent six hours on the coach, all told, and possibly succeeded in breaking some of our teachers’ minds. I remember them allowing us out for lunch from the square by the cathedral in small groups, looking exhausted and apprehensive. They counted us twice when we came back- although, at the three-hour mark on the journey back, trapped in a double-decker coach with a hundred hyperactive thirteen-year-olds, I doubt some of them would have minded there being fewer of us.

Anyway, this was a better trip. Taran and Cat were eloquent and wise as always, I got to go on a train and stick my head in the cathedral, and all was essentially well. Henley was also brilliant- I want to be Samantha Shannon when I grow up. We talked about the horrors of being compared to JK Rowling (“we’re not the next her! We’re not! Really! And we never said we were!”). Turns out she, I and Amanda Jennings, who moderated us, are all Ravenclaws, which obviously led to a few self-deprecating jokes about wit beyond measure.

So, yes! Back to school tomorrow, and then to Wimbledon on Tuesday and Cheltenham on Sunday. And then it’s over.

I am now going to go and have a nap.

(Oh yes- I know my readership will pale in comparison to his, but I thought I should at least try to do my bit. You’ve probably already heard of John Underwood and his blog, but nonetheless, if you’re between 16 and 30 and reasonably healthy, please have a read of this and consider trying to save a life. And if you’re not, you can donate to AN on his JustGiving page here. I mean, we’re all agreed cancer is generally bad, so I think this is a cause most of us can unite behind. Anyway. Just thought I should mention it.)

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39 Thoughts I Had While Watching Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar

In the words of the great philosopher Jeremy Scott: spoilers, duh.

  1. Ah, so Clara and Missy aren’t dead. I’d say ‘no prizes for guessing’ but I WANT A PRIZE.
  2. Look, I know Clara Oswald’s the Impossible Girl and all of that but there is no way she hangs upside down like that for that long without the blood going to her face. She should be actually purple right now.
  3. Where did they get that footage of Tom Baker creeping from behind a pillar like he’s in a panto? That must have taken longer than the entire rest of the episode put together.
  4. Why is this filmed in black and white? Did they run out of cameras and have to tear CCTV ones off the wall of Broadcasting House?
  5. Who’s he looking up at? There aren’t any assassins up there. Does he know there’s a camera?
  6. He did all of that in four nanoseconds? Those are astonishing reflexes for four nanoseconds. If you’re a Time Lord, do you get to be… is he Spiderman?
  7. Is she Spiderman?
  8. Look- you brought Missy back from the dead last week without any explanation at all. I don’t know why you’re bothering trying to make up some post facto reason why she and Clara aren’t dead now. No one really thought: well, that was an unceremonious ejection from the series for Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez. I hope they got good severance packages.
  9. What do you mean the Doctor always thinks he’ll win? He always thinks he’ll lose, at least until three-quarters of the way through the episode. He literally wrote his will before he went into this.
  10. Hahahahaha ‘pointy stick’… I love Michelle Gomez so much. If she isn’t nominated for a Bafta for this I will- I don’t know what I’ll do. Something unbelievably melodramatic.
  11. Duh duh duh duh. Duh duh duh duh.
  12. Look, Doctor, you’re centuries old and you’re a genius and please god just kill him you really never learn.
  13. I am convinced they’ve got one CG shot of the Daleks rising into the air over Skaro and they just keep flipping it and playing it at different speeds.
  14. In what circumstances did Davros lose his legs? We’ve established that on his homeworld their ‘mines’ just pull you into the earth, so he can’t have had them blown off. Were they amputated? Did they just… fall off?
  15. Peter Capaldi is sitting in a high chair. I don’t care that it’s a Dalek. It’s a high chair. I am now perfectly happy.
  16. Yeah, no, he’s not dead either.
  17. Clara, do not take your eyes off her. Do not look down there. Watch her hands, she’s going to push y- nope, that was your own fault.
  18. Yes, Doctor. The question of where you got a cup of tea is a very good one. Are you going to answer it…? No, I didn’t think you would.
  19. No. No. No. There is no way on any planet in any godfearing universe that anyone can fall twenty feet into a sewer and still have their hair that perfect. No. I have held onto my suspension of disbelief through thick and thin for you, Doctor Who, but here is where I draw the line. Thus far and no further.
  20. Interesting setup with the sewers. I don’t imagine that will be crucial to the plot at any later point at all.
  21. Do they have speakers in the sewers? Who for, the rotting half-corpses of Daleks? Do they play musak for them every so often, as a treat?
  22. Ah, the Mud of Doom. I have missed you.
  23. That Dalek just exploded with enough force to shake the tunnels and send a cloud of dust ten feet away. Is it… working, then, now? Can Clara just climb into it? Those are hardy things, those Daleks. Do they get MOTed?
  24. But why do you have any chairs on Skaro at all? Does Davros curl up on this one with a book and a gramophone?
  25. You know, Davros… there is a chance, a very small chance, that this might go wrong. There’s a tiny possibility that when you offer the Daleks’ greatest enemy the chance to destroy every single one of them in a second that he might take it. I hate to bring this up, but… if this plan is purely designed so that you can give a big speech about the Doctor’s flaws, then this is one of the stupidest plans I’ve ever seen on television. And I watch Downton Abbey.
  26. This entire ‘cancer of compassion’ speech might be laughable if it were in anyone’s hands but Peter Capaldi’s. In his, it’s heartbreaking and brilliant and I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about him. Including that he looks like a “drunk Glaswegian otter”.
  27. Clara, this woman has tried to kill you any number of times. When on earth are you going to learn not to follow her blindly?
  28. At the ten-second mark I thought the ‘Daleks can’t express emotion’ scene was an intriguing and though-provoking tangent in the script. Now we’re a full minute in and I am absolutely sure someone’s going to live or die off the back of this. Possibly an entire species.
  29. No, no, Doctor, please don’t talk about deep things with Davros. Dear God no. Don’t- no, please don’t feel pity or sympathy for him. Nothing good can possibly come of this. Oh, Christ, they’ve brought out the violins.
  30. And the sunrise. They’ve invoked the power of ‘the sunlight on the dying person’s face’. This. Ends. Badly. Every. Single. Time.
  31. I told you!
  32. And you, Clara, by the way! I told you as well! Why do none of you guys listen to me?
  33. Oh no, Doctor. There is no way you knew what would happen when you touched the Broadband Snake Cables of Death.
  34. Missy, I would have thought you of all people would know: if you want someone dead, you kill them yourself, and you do not let them talk. Under no circumstances at all do you let them beg for mercy.
  35. You know, if you hadn’t beaten it into us over many years that no one dies in Doctor Who without prelude, forewarning, and a heartwrenching goodbye, this could have been a truly haunting death for Missy. Chased down and cornered in an enemy base, laughing madly, brilliant and glorious and insane. But no. She’s had a ‘clever idea’. I mean, fair enough, no one wants Michelle Gomez to stay more than I do. But still.
  36. Firstly: you did the whole ‘glasses appear frivolous but are actually crucial’ thing nine years ago in Doomsday, and you bluffed it again last year in His Last Vow. Secondly: you are not getting rid of the screwdriver. I will not let you. That thing has been part of the series since 1963. No. I will protest in the streets. If Top Gear fans can drive a tank to BH to keep Jeremy Clarkson, I can drive a- well, no, I can’t drive- but I can be very angry very loudly if you try to get rid of the screwdriver.
  37. Aww, they’re walking off into the mist. You know… you do know you’re walking away from the Tardis, right? Into a warzone? A mined warzone? Where are you going?
  38. So… why was it called The Witch’s Familiar, then? I can sort of understand if the witch was Missy and Clara was her familiar, but this was an episode about sunrises and snakes and mercy and Clara being a Dalek. You had any number of amazing titles available to you, and you chose that? Ah, well, mine is not to reason why.
  39. DUH DUH DUH DUH. DUH DUH DUH DUH. Ah, who am I kidding, I will never stop loving this show. DUH DUH DUH DUH. DUH DUH DUH DUH. Oh, I’m happy.
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