Doctor Who, Series 8 - Deep Breath

Doctor Who finally returns to our screens after a lengthy wait since the Christmas regeneration special. And was it worth it? Erm, no. Sadly, I didn't like this episode at all, and I will expand on that further below. It's nice to have the show back though, and even nicer to see the addition of Doctor Who Extra - a bonus ten minutes of content, online, in a replacement for the much-missed DW Confidential.

My feelings about this first episode of the eighth series of New Doctor Who can, and should, be split into two distinct factions - thoughts on the Doctor himself, and then on his introductory story.

New Doctor Who

I was right there with some of the first people suggesting it was time for Matt Smith to move on. He'd done an awful lot during his time in the TARDIS, and it felt like it was the right time for a change. I was a bit skeptical when Peter Capaldi was first confirmed as the Doctor, way back in the midst of 2013, but willing to give it a shot.

He's a bit older, heaped with gravitas, and clearly a huge fan of the show.

Sadly, this first episode didn't give him the chance to deliver anything, at all. It was a regeneration episode, where he's not himself, that much we have to understand. David Tennant's first episode had him asleep in pyjamas for much of the screen time.

But with DT, there was a big lovely moment of redemption. The Doctor took control, had an epic sword fight and generally won the day. This time, our new Doctor sort of won the day (did he fall or was he pushed?) but it was done sitting down having a cup of tea. After spending a lot of time being dazed, confused and oh-so-ridiculously needy. Maybe this is the new style of Doctor, less sword-fighting, more negotiating. We'll have to wait and see.

I was also a bit disappointed at the lack of real character on display. Ecclestone had that wide-eyed naivety, Tennant that good-looking intensity and Smith that quirky energy. What I got from Capaldi was that he's... Scottish. Hopefully there'll be more to come from this because it wasn't a great start.

Take a deep breath

Many of these problems can be attributed to the episode rather than Capaldi himself, though. I just didn't find this one at all interesting, and even muted it halfway through to record a sixty second podcast instead. The story felt recycled (even though the Doctor spent much of his time admitting that and wracking his brains to figure out why), the characters jumpy and the snippy one-liners felt tired.

Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax were there, but not really integral to the plot - aside from that rather excellent descent into the fight towards the end. The restaurant scene was well-written and acted, a tough one to have such a long dialogue between actors getting to know each other - but it still didn't really move us forward at all.

The Doctor's need to have Clara like him was so prevalent and whinging at the start, when he was still under the effects of the regeneration, but then when we were supposed to get emotional with him at the end - I didn't buy it. I also thought it was a mistake to have Matt Smith's appearance there. A great cameo and a well-kept secret, but it made me miss what we had and want that back.

I'm disappointed with this opening episode of the new series, and the new era, but not despondent. It wouldn't be fair to judge Capaldi on this episode alone but if things don't pick up in the next one (Daleks!), I might give this series a miss.

From Heartbreak High to Captain America

While we were watching the Captain America sequel recently, there was one face that I felt like I recognised but couldn't quite place. Don't you just hate it when that happens? So distracting. This time, it was one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. henchmen, in it every so often but not exactly a big part. I'm not even sure it was a speaking part.

It turns out this is Callan Mulvey, who used to be Drazic in Heartbreak High. Drazic! In Captain America!

I can't quite believe this is what Drazic grew up to be. Mr C has never even heard of Heartbreak High, but oh the nostalgia. I used to love that show.

Also, this Mr Mulvey has turned out very much like a certain French racing driver that I admire.

Life is weird.

Discovering the joy of cooking

I enjoy cooking a lot, but it’s something I’ve never really managed to get fully into. I had that brief interlude with baking and impressed myself with a couple of dishes, but even that ended up petering out before it really got going.

The trouble I have is that I don’t really have the fundamental basic knowledge to start experimenting and learning and making great things. Without boring details about the meals I have been making up to now, I will say that the famous rut of cycling through a handful of recipes over and over has definitely been reached.

Step forward HelloFresh. They’re a company that, essentially, do all the hard work for you when it comes to choosing recipes, picking ingredients and doing the shopping. All you have to do is cook. I signed up as soon as I heard about them, and was superbly excited to get my first delivery.

After the first week, I have to say, I am totally bowled over.

Let’s break it down, then. HelloFresh offer a variety of boxes – classic, veggie, or family friendly. You can get them for 2 or 4 people, and for 3 or 5 meals. A good selection of options to choose from to start with. The HF team figure out the recipes, and send you only the ingredients that you will need to make them with.

BENEFIT 1 – Far less wastage.

The goodies arrived in a box, veggies and non-fridge items stacked on top of the wrapped refrigerated produce. They have it with ice packs, wrapped in sheep’s wool insulation, so that a) it keeps cool until I get home in the evening to put it away and b) it’s recyclable. As is the cardboard box and pretty much all the packaging.

BENEFIT 2 – Good for the environment.

Opening my first box took ages, because I first had to read every little bit of paper included, and then marvel at the scope and colour of the ingredients. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a sweet potato before, how exciting! The recipes come on nice bits of card, with what the food should look like on the front, and a step by step guide on the back. I have found the instructions to be really useful, although absolute beginners may need a bit of guidance to get started.

BENEFIT 3 – Great recipes.

The first meal I made was rigatoni with cherry tomatoes, chorizo and goat’s cheese. Already, this is the fanciest meal I have ever put together. It all went perfectly, a bit of a faff occasionally because I don’t necessarily have the best tools or a fully decked out kitchen, but otherwise… amazing.

And delicious!

It’s also a step towards the adventurous for me. I hate to be someone who is picky when it comes to food, but I can get weird over textures and complicated items. That’s probably why it was so easy to slip into the recipe rut mentioned above. Here, there’s no choice but to experiment. I won’t pretend there isn’t a backup pizza standing by in case things don’t go to plan, but there’s no harm in giving each and every recipe a go!

I know there will be times when the meals won’t work out right, or they won’t be to our taste, but after just a couple of attempts, I’m addicted. There is a small capacity for meal swapping before the boxes arrive, but sadly not on the plan I have chosen. I love the fact the subscriptions are manageable, you can put your delivery on pause if you’re going on holiday or just need a break.

BENEFIT 4 – Customisable and customer-friendly subscriptions.

It’s still early days, but there are loyalty levels you can work through (after three boxes, I’ll be an apprentice chef!) and a free gift or two thrown into the boxes to tempt you to other suppliers. It just seems like a win-win situation all round. The stress of worrying about what meals to make is taken away, the ingredients come directly to my door, and I get the fun of putting it all together and receiving the compliments when it goes well.

TV talk on structure, series and sequels

I was listening to an episode of Current Geek recently, when a fascinating conversation emerged regarding the structure of television shows and their series’. Current Geek features Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt with guests, discussing pop culture topics. At the end of each episode, they have a feature where they predict what will happen in the future.

I’ll be honest, I usually skip past this section because there’s no way it can live up to the fun of the quiz before it, but this time I listened to the scenario and was intrigued. The episode is available to listen here, with the specific section at about 49 minutes in, but I’ve transcribed the bits that interested me below.

They don’t particularly come to any conclusions, and I don’t know all of the TV shows being mentioned, but I thought it was a great topic to discuss. It starts with Scott introducing this week’s subject.

Scott: US television will start playing the British model of short seasons of longer episodes of higher quality production, think Sherlock for example, where they do it in chunks of three or a series will do six in a row and then nothing for two years while they work on the next series, that sort of thing.

I’m kind of a fan of the way Britain does it, the way the UK does it in general, but I also… you know, I didn’t want LOST to be 12 total episodes, sometimes you want a big, long meaty show to go on for six or seven seasons. So, I feel like there should be a mix. In a way, haven’t we kind of met in the middle with cable shows that are highly thought of, like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, they go for like ten to thirteen episodes. Game of Thrones and so on. Isn’t that kind of a step in that direction? Without completely losing the American model of “pound it into the ground until it’s dead”?

Tom: I think what’s happening here is not so much that we will change the model of how we determine how many episodes there are, but the reason the BBC does that, as far as I can tell, and if anyone knows different please tell me, is because they are not beholden to a broadcast rating game, the way broadcasters are in the US. Because they are supported by the licence fee, right?

So they can say, this story needs to be told over this many episodes, or Sherlock, because of the production value we want, should only be three episodes per season, so we can really make them good. They can pay attention to the needs of the story they’re telling over the needs of marketing and ratings. And the reason we always had 26 episode seasons was because that spread them out over the fall and spring seasons, and if you did enough of those seasons, it made a nice number for syndication.

Those reasons are going away, syndication doesn’t mean what it used to mean. You can syndicate to Netflix, you can syndicate to Hulu, and they don’t care how many episodes are in the season. And we’re already seeing this with things like House of Cards, with things like Orange is the New Black, with HBO shows, where they will sometimes do an eight episode season out of the gate, because they’re just trying it out. Or with Rome, where they were like, we’re just doing two seasons of Rome. That’s it. Because that’s the story we want to tell.

Scott: That’s true. They did kind of end that one on their own terms, didn’t they? But then again, you’ve got a show like Deadwood, which was one of my favourite TV shows of all time, and they just yanked the rug out.

Tom: And that just shows how we haven’t quite got there yet, to where we’re totally independent of that stuff.

Eric: Deadwood’s kind of old, that’s before this whole big TV is awesome thing…

Scott: Well, they were what ’04 to ’06/7?

Tom: They were on the way up.

Eric: But still, not like it is today. Where everybody thinks the content coming from TV is fantastic.

Tom: The best and worst ever, right? Depending on what you’re talking about. You can talk about Breaking Bad, you can talk about Mad Men, you can talk about The Walking Dead and people are like oh, it’s some of the best television ever made, outside of HBO even. And then you can talk about Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty and people are like, television is the worst that it’s ever been.

Scott: It really is polarised now, isn’t it? But think about this. This is one thing that hit me the other day about what’s different about now versus say, let’s say the 80s or even the early 90s, with television. Back then, it was a death nail, except maybe in M*A*S*H’s case to take a successful movie franchise, for example, or movie, and make a TV show out of it. They always failed. We were talking about it on Twitter today, what were some of the examples?

Tom: 9 to 5.

Scott: Ferris Bueller series was terrible.

Eric: There was a Ferris Bueller series?

Scott: It lasted like five minutes, I swear, that thing was terrible. And this happened all the time. I wanna say there was a clueless series in the nineties, I mean all these weird “let’s bring movies home” thing. But lately, A&E’s Psycho series Bates Motel is really good.

Eric: What about, Hannibal?

Scott: Hannibal’s really good. Fargo is amazing. We’re in a different time. These old ideas of “that doesn’t work” is kinda… maybe video games will get to that.

Tom: They’re smarter though. Look at the difference. With M*A*S*H even, which was incredibly successful, and 9 to 5, and Ferris Bueller, they tried to take the movie and turn it into a television show. And everybody’s like, wait a minute, that’s not Matthew Broderick, those aren’t the actors, this isn’t the same story, this is weird.

Whereas what they’re doing with Fargo, what they’re doing with Psycho, is they’re figuring out how to continue the story, in a way that says the movie is still the movie, but we’re going to tell another part of the story that you never saw before.

Scott: Yea, different angle, different time or different characters altogether. Like in the Fargo case, that’s just the universe. It’s the Fargo universe with a whole other story being told and they’ll do that for season two again, a bit like American Horror Story does this.

Tom: They restart every season.

Scott: It’s interesting. There’s an old guy part of me that grew up with the A-Team and shows that I thought were amazing and were just kind of bad, and TV was bad. Now when they said they were turning Fargo into a series, I went ooooh, I don’t know man. That seems weird. But this stuff works now.

The fact that NBC is still making episodes of Hannibal blows my mind, because that is such a non-network thing to do, to make that show. That is so cable, I don’t know how they’re getting away with it, that’s a really good show. I equate TV with garbage now, broadcast TV, I don’t think of anything good on those. I know there’s stuff, but I don’t think of it as good.

Eric: It’s interesting the model we have today, look at Community that got cancelled again but now Yahoo picked them up.

Tom: By the way, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – award-winning film, turned into the sitcom Alice.

Scott: Oh, I didn’t realise that had anything to do with that. But then they made Flow and ruined it.

Tom: They’ve always got to take it to the Joey level, don’t they?

Scott: Oh they do, dude. The worst offender was The Dukes of Hazzard and the Enos spin-off.

Tom: I think AfterMASH.

Scott: AfterMASH was pretty bad.

Eric: They had Barney Miller, then they did Fish, right?

Tom: I actually liked Fish.

Scott: Fish was alright. They occasionally pull it off, like Frasier is a great example. It was a really good show.

Eric: Frasier was fantastic.

Tom: One of the keys is doing it before the first show is cancelled. Because Joey with Friends and AfterMASH with M*A*S*H, they’re all like well the main show’s been cancelled but we’re trying to save a part of it. Whereas Frasier started before Cheers had ended.

Eric: Cheers was still going on but he wasn’t playing a big part of anymore.

Scott: And they tried to have another one, the spin off from Cheers that no one remembered was The Tortellis, which was Nick Tortelli, who was Rea Purlman’s ex on the show. I remember being excited about it and watching it and going, this isn’t very good. That’s a weird thing you don’t see happen as much anymore. Scrubs ends, but you don’t see Zach Braff doing his character but living at home as a dad, or something dumb like that.

Tom: Breaking Bad, on the other hand, is totally doing this. It’ll be interesting to see. Scott: It’s funny, because you find things to trust, even though it goes against the idea that you think you don’t trust. But because the right people are involved, you’re giving these guys passes. I suppose, that’s a lot of pressure on them.

Tom: They’re kind of doing the same thing as Fargo, where we’re going to live in the universe but we’re not going to try and tell the Breaking Bad story.

Scott: I’m excited for that, we don’t have an air date for that?

Tom: It got delayed. They’ve renewed it for a second season, though, and it hasn’t even been on the air yet.

Scott: Someone went in the future, saw it worked out and came back.

A visit to the opera ghost

It was an impromptu trip to the theatre, a last minute decision to snap up tickets to The Phantom of the Opera on a spare Friday night nestled in the midst of a very hectic couple of months.

I like musicals, as they have been ingrained in my life since childhood, but I haven't had as much chance to indulge recently as I'd like. Since watching We Will Rock You five times, I haven't seen much else.

The task of catching up with more musicals (West End, touring or otherwise) was added to my Life List a while back but it wasn't until I watched the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Phantom of the Opera that I really thought I should step up and get on with it. The Phantom has always resonated with me a little bit, seeing as one of the leads has the same name as me, so it seemed like a good one to start off with.

So, Friday night, last minute tickets. It wasn't the best seat, far off to the right and tucked up underneath the circle. When the Phantom clambered aboard his chandalier and started rising up in anger, he disappeared from view. When he appeared to the right of the stage at the start of the second act, it was a good few minutes before I could see him.

Aside from those small annoyances, it was a good performance. I do think I was spoiled by the 25th Anniversary. These celebrations pick out the best cast and put on fantastic performances, so that anything subsequently doesn't quite live up to the hype. It's only natural, but is slightly disappointing.

Everyone involved did a fantastic job, though, and I even managed to spare a few tears at the end of the show. It was quite fun when someone behind me was obviously a huge fan of the actress playing Christine, and started whooping almost uncontrollably during the final applause. At one point, an usher had to come over and quieten them down. I mean, she was good, but that felt a bit overboard to me!

Going to the theatre can sometimes have the same problems as going to the cinema - uncomfortable seats, other people coughing and rattling, no ability to pause when you feel like it. I've always thought the difference with the theatre is that it's just not an experience you can have at home, except with the video versions and things like the Digital Theatre maybe that's about to change too.

Not before I've completed my nine other viewings, though.

Saving the mascot

When I got back from the US, I was very enthusiastic to be a new baseball convert. Watching that game up close and personal was quite the revolutionary experience.

Except, I'll be honest, I haven't watched more than about an hour or two since I've been back. I'm never sure when it's on TV and I don't really have the same time to focus on it as you do when you're sitting in the stands.

Whilst I've missed out on the actual sport, I have been keeping an eye on the mascot. Orbit, who I mentioned before is the best mascot I've ever seen, has his own Twitter account and shares lots of fun photos and videos.

The latest, really shows what a good bunch of people surround Orbit and the game of baseball. Orbit begins by minding his own business playing with a doll of himself, Houston Astros mascot, and one of a rival Toronto Blue Jays player. Chaos ensues when the player, José Bautista, actually steps in and gets involved.

Such cuteness. Bautista, the lifesaver! Now, where can I get one of those Orbit dolls?