Friday, 25 June 2010

PODCAST: The Pandorica Opens

As promised, the Pandorica has opened and here we are again in our non-digital-representation forms. Join us as we talk about the episode, whether it's superior to what Russell would have done, who the mystery voice could be etc. Contains the sound of us excitingly typing the name of the possible Big Bad at each other so as not to say the name out loud.

Join us, won't you?

iTunes iMix

Image from Sonic Biro

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Last Minute Lodger!

What the hell was this picture all about?

Hello folks,

As I write this The Pandorica is due to open in about three hours time so getting down this review is a tactic to stop myself from just flitting about the house in an excitable haze. I say review, but it will be more like a selection of thoughts that arose during the recording of the now lost podcast episode. As you all should know by now there won't be an episode this week due to unfortunate technical problems, but I offered to write this, so that you'd at least have our general reaction to it.

Using the patented Eleventh Hour Two Tier Rating System (tm) we both decided that we liked 'The Lodger'. However, if the system were to accommodate an additional middle tier vocalized by Chris as 'fleeeeurgh', then I think we agreed that Gareth Roberts' latest effort would be fully in 'fleeeeurgh' territory.

The central plot, what the episode was really "about", as it were; was pretty effective and well done: The Doctor has to live as an actual human, uniquely apart from important people and events, for an unusually lengthy amount of time. This is the main concept, if you didn't know, lifted from Roberts' 2006 comic strip of the same name, as featured in Doctor Who Magazine. If, indeed, this episode felt most like a holdover from the Rusty era then this would be why, although both Chris and I were of the opinion that Matt Smith was more successfully weird and alien in the role than Tennant would ever have been. People have pointed out that the Doctor (especially in his third incarnation) spent a lot of time on Earth but as I pointed out he never had to sit around in someone's living room eating Murray Mints and watching Timeslip. So the Doctor getting the intricacies of human interaction just slightly wrong was mostly a joy to watch.

However, it seems the rest of the plot bolted on by old Gareth (some have forgiven him for this episode, but I still can't forget The Shakespeare Code) was somewhat less enjoyed by us at EH? Towers. In particular, the denouement seemed critically short of decent explanation. I don't mind not knowing how the ship got there or how long it was there for. But the actual details of the perception filter - and are some of us ever tired of hearing that term, seemed a bit sloppy. How could one go up non-existent stairs? How did it extend as far as the intercom? Also, did the ship have some kind of crazy self-destruct sequence that only activated when people didn't want to leave? Doesn't sound like a particularly good design feature. I also wondered how dead bodies could produce a poisonous rot, even if that rot could be cured almost instantaneously with tea, the apparent Phoenix Down of the Whoniverse. The trouble is that it forced us to make up theories to explain stuff that the writing didn't cover, which is never any fun.

Speaking of people not wanting to leave the developing romance between Craig and Sophie, although not written in a hugely original fashion, was played out quite nicely, even if Chris found James Corden rather more anonymous than most fans. True, his appearance had been hyped up quite a lot, when it wasn't a huge amount more than decent. And again, the end of this particular strand was faintly ridiculous - as mawkish as Professor Bracewell's defusing in 'Victory of the Daleks', and just as unsatisfying.

I think when recording we were a bit meaner to 'The Lodger' then we initially thought we were going to be, but in truth it was just quite an average, though mostly fun, adventure. Perhaps in Rusty times it would have been a good solid above-average episode, but in what has been quite a remarkable series it just sort of just kept things chugging along in the slightly poisoned chalice nature of episode 11 (before we got Utopia or Turn Left). It was funny, yes, but low on particularly gripping plot. But we've got next week's episode (by which I mean it's on in a few hours) for oodles of plot, and we're definitely jizzing ourselves inside-out waiting for that. Let's just hope it isn't actually Russell T. Davies inside The Pandorica, ready to take over the series again, without Moffat's knowledge. That really would be scary...

Finally, though: SURPRISE!

It's an episode! Right when we said there wouldn't be one. It's just five minutes long, introducing the voicemails we would have included in the great lost episode. For those who emailed, our apologies for not getting to you.


Kevin gives us his CRACKWATCH
MB gets confused
Ros gets excited
Tosus gets ahead of himself.

LISTEN TO "THE LODGER" (emergency voicemail only version)

We'll see you again quite soon, when the Pandorica opens.

Image from Sonic Biro

And, for what it's worth, have the one-track SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

Friday, 18 June 2010

No podcast this week

Sorry, all. We did record a podcast for THE LODGER but sadly one of our number (okay, it was Chris) managed to lose his side of the conversation and due to time considerations we have been unable to remount the production in time.

We did convene to record an "emergency podcast" live, in the same room with no editing but in the end we decided that putting out no podcast was better than putting out a deliberately inferior show. If nothing else, this does mean that our VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR episode, which we're pretty proud of, has another few days at the top of the listing (if you haven't heard it yet - please do give it a listen).

One or both of us hope to give our thoughts on the episode on this very blog in the next few days. Until then, it only remains for us to include the picture that would would have kicked off the episode's blog update with:

You're welcome.

(Image from Sonic Biro)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

PODCAST: Vincent and the Doctor (MEGACAST)

In a one-time-only never to be repeated happenstance*, this episode of EH? runs to a little over two and a half hours long, due in large part to the masses of feedback we received about the excellent, and affecting, Vincent and the Doctor. Hopefully you'll allow us this indulgence just this once.

Also, as mentioned on the show, Joe and Chris recently appeared on the excellently fun Confessions of an Internet Addict which we fully recommend as further listening.

And finally, huge thanks again to Kerrie, the sister of the podcast, who contributed our previous update "Fear Itself (And Monsters)", about mental health and the current series of Doctor Who, taken from her own blog of the same name about living with depression. Find it HERE.


Spotify Playlist

Image from Sonic Biro

* this turned out to be a lie, but not until seven years later

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Fear Itself (And Monsters)

You may have heard us talk about Kerrie, the sister of the podcast - especially when reading her emails. Well, she writes an exceptional blog about living with depression called Fear Itself (And Monsters). The reason we mention this is that she's recently written an impressive update about the depiction of depression in Vincent and the Doctor, as well as some other moments in the series that, intentionally or otherwise, contain mental health triggers. In fact, we liked it so much that we're going to repeat it verbatim below.

Remember to visit her blog from the link above and follow for other writing on this very emotive subject.


You'll have to excuse me, regular readers. This isn't the sort of thing I'd usually post here. This is, instead, a discussion of Doctor Who's current foray into mental health issues. Two episodes have drawn upon this area recently; one very much on purpose, the other perhaps unknowingly. And the end of another episode - not the entirety, but a fleeting couple of minutes - delivered a hammerblow to me, personally.

This isn't about geekery, criticism, overwhelming praise, or calling Richard Curtis names. It won't be a regular thing. A post about it has however been brewing for a long time.

Last night the episode Vincent and the Doctor aired, in which the Doctor meets the great artist Vincent Van Gogh. It was written by Richard Curtis, a man perhaps known for cloying sentimentality in his later career. He's certainly never written for Doctor Who before, and the result was an episode that - fittingly for this blog - was less about literal monsters than the monsters that plague the mind.

The episode didn't shy away from the fact Van Gogh struggled with mental health problems his entire life. Quite the opposite - it showed the man as one of extremes, at one trying desperately, animatedly, to explain to the Doctor how he saw the world, how he in particular not just saw colour, but felt it. At the other end, it showed him unable to move with anguish, a broken, sobbing man who couldn't bear the fact that everyone left him, speaking of being "left with an empty heart and no hope". The Doctor tried to comfort him with by explaining that, in his experience, "there is surprisingly always hope".

Van Gogh's response was an angry one: "then your experience is incomplete!"

There is indeed a literal monster in the episode but it is almost entirely inconsequential. What this episode is about, for me, is ways of seeing the world and the terrible relationship between beauty and horror. There is a wonderful, breathtaking scene where Vincent, the Doctor and companion Amy are looking at the night sky, and it suddenly becomes the painting Starry Night. "I've seen many things my friend," the Doctor remarks, "but you're right, nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see."

Van Gogh knew all too well the pain life brings, the overwhelming agony you have to go through just for existing. And yet the point was made very explicitly that he knew all this but could instead turn it into something beautiful through his painting. He channelled it into some of the greatest art ever created.

The artist killed himself at the age of 37, having famously only sold one painting. In this alternative reality, the Doctor shows him the fame he would go on to achieve, taking him to the modern-day Musée d'Orsay so he can understand his legacy. Amy believes it will prevent Van Gogh's suicide, but, of course, it doesn't. The implication is that nothing could have. This point is not skirted around, it is addressed full-on, in an exchange where Amy initially laments that they couldn't make a difference to his life.

The Doctor disagrees. "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things... good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things... or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things."

Some may call that oversimplistic or, indeed, cloying as I said earlier. To me, that's just right. When depression hits you full-on, there is no amount of love, riches, adulation, or future promises that will buoy you up again. I've made that point before on this blog.

When you start to recover, it can be tempting to think you're fine again and that depression is something you get rid of forever. It's not. It leaves impressions upon you that you can live your life in spite of, but those impressions never vanish. That doesn't stop you from seeing the beauty in the world, or being so in love with it that it makes you weep one minute and hating it for the way it works the next.

The world is awful. The world is beautiful. You can see it both ways and they are not mutually exclusive. That was the part of the episode that hit me, that was the thing I took away from it. It was in many ways a bold piece of television.

As episodes featuring depression go in this series of Doctor Who goes though, this wasn't the big one for me. That was three weeks ago, the episode titled Amy's Choice. It may not seem it on the surface, but look deeper. It's there. Intentionally or not, I admit to having no idea - but it's there.

This episode is even more about the figurative monsters than the literal ones - in fact the literal monsters aren't the real threat at all. A character called the Dream Lord tasks the Doctor, Amy and Rory (another companion of which a lot more shortly) with figuring out which of two scenarios is a dream and which is reality. In both scenarios, which feel equally real to them, they are in mortal danger; choose to die in the dream and they wake up, fail to guess correctly and they will simply die.

However, the Dream Lord isn't real at all. As the Doctor puts it to him, "there's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do" - the Dream Lord is the manifestation of his own self-loathing. Throughout the episode he picks apart the Doctor's flaws, especially the way he treats people - repeatedly putting people he supposedly cares for in danger, leaving them behind, never seeing them again.

Once you work it out it's almost uncomfortable to watch. You realise why the Doctor has no answers for this man, and that all his faults and transgressions are being paraded out for those close to him to see as well. At the end when Amy asks him if he really thinks those things, he deflects the question. There's an embarrassment at having his darkest thoughts revealed - as anyone with that level of self-hatred can identify with. You hate yourself, but you don't want anyone else seeing it.

That isn't the only thing that set this episode down the depression route, though. The entire thing feels like a metaphor for a breakdown. Not being able to tell if you're asleep or awake? That's a big one: at my lowest points, when I was awake my emotions were too blunted to feel anything but a haze; when I was asleep I had the most vivid, torturous dreams.

Dreams in which you die, indeed? Dreams in which you're hounded, dreams where you have to watch loved ones die? In my worst year, I had those every single night.

The twist at the end, where the Doctor realises neither version is reality and instead blows up the TARDIS - because the choice was, actually, between two dreams? That's ripping it all to shreds and starting again. You have the unreality of the waking nightmare of depression, or the unreality of soldiering on against it, pretending you're alright. Or you can choose giving into it and bringing it all crashing down. Because sometimes, that is the only option available to you.

Even the way the village scenario is shot brought to mind the blank slate of a breakdown. It's meant to be a sleepy village, certainly, but it's stark, silent. Even the quality of the light invokes it - it's harsh, too bright, too revealing.

I will admit I may be reading far more into this than the writer Simon Nye ever intended, but it invoked all that in me on one viewing and a second one didn't do anything to challenge those ideas. Trapped in your own unreality with only how much you despise yourself for company, though? If that isn't a description of depression, what is?

The final part of Doctor Who that gave me pause regarding my own issues involved a character death. It happened at the end of Cold Blood, an otherwise rubbish episode that had a totally compelling final five minutes. Alas poor Rory, for I had come to be fond of his character. I don't usually get that invested in fictional television shows, I should point out - this series of Doctor Who is proving to be an exception rather than a rule - but this one was different. Rory didn't just die. Rory has never existed. Nobody except the Doctor remembers him - that aside the world has no trace of him.

The day before the episode aired I said to someone. "It's not that I want to die these days. I just wish I never existed."

And so I bawled because Rory Williams has never existed. It seemed like such a cruel thing to do, and I don't know if I bawled because it was what I wished and I saw it played out the very next day, or if it was because I saw how cruel it was and still wished for the same. Or if it simply brought it home to me that I'm not all that well at the moment, which I need to deal with. I knew all that anyway, it doesn't take telly to make me realise these things. It was just a shock to watch.

The character of the Doctor is a lot of things to millions of people. To me, he represents not losing your sense of wonder at the world. Lately, there's been some interesting other stuff happening in the programme, dealing with the darker side (although he's always had his dark, brooding side) - but overall, that's still what the Doctor is to me. A reminder that no matter how awful it gets, never lose your ability to let the world take your breath away.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

PODCAST: The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood

One post, two episodes. There are reasons, and there are reasons why the playlist for The Hungry Earth features so low down in the comments AND why a couple of the songs are oddly titled (but they're pretty famous and shouldn't keep you guessing too long and if all else fails, they're on the Spotify playlist) but those aren't important right now, let's just get on with the lizardy business:

This is the sound of EH? on disappointment. Not that The Hungry Earth was a bad episode as such, but more that it didn't really provoke much reaction from us in either direction. Still, come with us as we plumb the depths, mining the episode for all it's worth and finding out if there's anything much beneath the surface. Also - hear us attempt classic Silurian voices. It doesn't go well.

LISTEN TO "THE HUNGRY EARTH" - Hear the playlist on Spotify

COLD BLOOD aka SILURIAN SMACKDOWN 2020 (AD) Chris Chibnall offers us the chance to compare 2010 Who with 1970 Who with results that might not necessarily be deemed successful. However, at the time of recording, there was a gulf between Joe and Chris's opinion on the episode leading to the proposed auditory brawl above.
In the end, though, we find ourselves reaching a consensus by dint of how well written we thought the episode was. But hey, let's not spoil it here - listen and find out if we loved it or not.
LISTEN TO "COLD BLOOD" - Hear the playlist on Spotify

Image from Sonic Biro