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Doctor Who fans converged on Washington, D.C. for Awesome Con on earlier this month to see Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. The U.K. actors were interviewed by Kristen Page-Kirby, the Senior Arts Editor for the Washington Post Express. The half hour panel also featured a Q&A with the audience.
“I’m not sure how successfully Clara was able to wipe [the Doctor’s] mind,” Capaldi hinted about future episodes. He stopped mid-sentence before giving away anything else. Though Clara has left, it remains to be seen where these leftover pieces, if any, will take the Doctor. Read the rest of this entry »
Caution: This review contains spoilers.
The latest episode of Doctor Who takes the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) to the hidden streets of London, where aliens reside somewhat peacefully away from the world. Lording over them is none other than Me/Ashildr (Maisie Williams) as an enforcer. Sentencing for crimes is rather strict, resulting in a tattoo that counts down to zero. At zero, the Raven comes in for the kill.
Clara’s friend, Rigsy (Joivan Wade), has the tattoo on his neck, but he has no memory of killing a creature the day before. Clara and the Doctor seek to clear his name through their investigation. They speak with the victim’s son, who really turns out to be a girl (Naomi Ackie). The situation turns out to be a trap for the Doctor, laid by Ashildr and presently unknown enemies.
Ashildr promised her personal protection to Clara at the Doctor’s insistence. However, Clara gets Rigsy to transfer the death counter to her. It’s reminiscent of the Doctor’s willingness to take risks, like the time he took the 60 seconds on the Orient Express to figure out the mummy. However, Clara’s gamble backfires, since another one of Ashildr’s deals only extended to Rigsy.
The Doctor suffers major losses here: Clara’s death and surrendering his TARDIS key. It’s not clear who contracted Ashildr to go after the Doctor and teleport him away. The Daleks, Missy, or even the Gallifreyans could easily fit that role. If Clara’s echoes are around, there’s a chance that we’ll be seeing her again as well.
Unfortunately, season nine has been rather disappointing so far. The two-part format has been largely unnecessary with weak scripts and only a mere flicker of excitement by the end of the second part. Here, we’re back to the single episodes, but again, the stories are not particularly strong. There’s an opportunity in next week’s episode ‘Heaven Sent’ to retool things and get back on track.
One of the other larger questions for the series is the identity of the next companion. Ashildr is not a likely candidate, given that the Doctor wants her to stay out of his way. For now, River Song (Alex Kingston) is coming back for the Christmas Special, which should be interesting to see. There’s already an amusing promotional photo circulating through social media, depicting an uneasy River holding onto the Doctor’s shoulder. What trouble will they be taking on together and what sort of dynamic will their relationship have?
Caution: This review contains spoilers.
The Vikings are Coming!
It’s another multi-episode story arc for Doctor Who, as viewers are introduced to Ashildre in “The Girl Who Died.” The offbeat and “strange” Viking girl is portrayed by Maisie Williams from the hit series Game of Thrones, a casting decision that’s generated buzz for months. Williams is neither the Doctor’s granddaughter nor someone else from his past. That revelation may leave some viewers disappointed, but I regard this weekend’s chapter as a strong venture onto some new ground.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) embark on another adventure and end up getting captured by Vikings. His Sonic Shades are destroyed. The Time Lord tries to pass himself off as the god Odin, complete with yo-yo tricks. The “real” Odin appears in the sky, sending down beings in heavy armor. The creatures are identified as the Mire by the Doctor, harvesting “testosterone” from the strongest members of a species from places they visit. It’s creepy and admittedly a bit gross, but Ashildre (the “girl” in the title, if you hadn’t already guessed by now) is really the focus here.
Clara and Ashildre are taken along with the warrior Vikings, signaling that the latter young woman is not all that she seems. Her “oddness” around others and love for puppetry are qualities that attract the Doctor to her story. It also brings to mind the connection that Clara made with the belittled and frightened young Doctor in “Listen.”
Look Who’s Talking
Clara and Ashildre survive the trap in the spaceship, meeting the mastermind, fake Odin. Ashildre rashly challenges fake Odin, who accepts it and sends the two women back. The Doctor is reluctant to help with the upcoming battle despite pleas from Clara and Ashildre. The strongest voice turns out to be a crying baby, wailing that he translates for everyone: “Hold me, Mother, I am afraid. Turn your face towards me, Mother … for you are beautiful … I will sing for you.” Capaldi teases out such a lovely tone to capture both the infant’s fears and reassurances, a little speech that might otherwise have floundered.
The Doctor, as we’ve seen previously (recall Stormy in “Closing Time”), is a sucker for babies and decides to stay. His attempts at training the remaining villagers with real swords ends disastrously and hilariously with the town on fire. Who needs the Mire when these fellows (the likes of Lofty, ZZ Top, Heidi, etc.) can take themselves out? Again, Lofty’s infant daughter is instrumental here, as the Doctor connects her reference to “fire in the water” with the eels in the barrels.
“I Can Do Anything”
The electricity from the eels very briefly immobilizes the Mire. Ashildre gets the honors of putting on the Mire helmet and projecting a dragon that frightens the aliens. Clara records everything on her phone, which the Doctor threatens to upload on the galactic internet of sorts. The modern blackmail is a nice touch. Overall, I would say that “The Girl Who Died” is certainly a vast improvement over last season’s “Robot of Sherwood,” another episode that combined a past century with armored enemies and a hidden spaceship. (I did enjoy that spoon fight last year, I admit.)
Ashildre dies from the effects of the helmet, prompting a passionate moment from the Time Lord. We finally get an answer about the Doctor’s face and why it looks like that of Caecilius, a Roman that he (David Tennant) rescued in “Fires of Pompeii.” The Doctor remembers that exact face and that he broke the rules to save that life: “To remind me. To hold me to the mark… I’m the Doctor and I save people!” That pronouncement doesn’t explain where John Frobisher of Torchwood fits into the mix, unless he’s a descendant of Caecilius.
“Dying is an Ability”
There’s a bit of overkill as the Doctor repeats the warning about “ripples” or bad consequences if you interfere and do things you aren’t supposed to do. He revives Ashildre with a medical kit from the Mire and leaves a second one for her to use on “whoever she wants.” It’s a repair device that gives her immortality, almost like the regenerative abilities of the Doctor. However, Ashildre has a rather dark look after countless days pass for her, bringing another “fire” with which the Doctor will have to contend.
Another issue is the fact that those Sonic Shades are gone. At this year’s Awesome Con, Alex Kingston hinted that we have yet to see the Doctor with her screwdriver. The need for a new screwdriver and the news of River Song’s return this Christmas together suggest that we’re about to see it again. For now, check back next time for Maisie Williams’ return in “The Woman Who Lived.”
Events continue at a quick pace in the final chapter of BBC series Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) returns from Venice with Strange’s message and Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) finger. Lascelles (John Heffernan) kills him, set against any potential alliance between Strange (Bertie Carvel) and Norrell (Eddie Marsan). His deception is detected by Childermass’ cards.
Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) departs for the sanatorium of Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) to reach Lady Pole, who is under a sleeping enchantment. It’s an amazing sight when Strange’s black tower relocates from Italy and descends upon Mr. Norrell’s estate in England. Strange creates a labyrinth and conjures up fire to frighten Norrell in the library. Norrell fights back feebly with rain, inadvertently breaking the tension in the chamber.
Strange requests Norrell’s help in summoning the Raven King (Niall Greig Fulton) to help them kill the Gentleman and rescue Arabella (Charlotte Riley). There’s a heartfelt moment when Norrell reveals “the most beautiful book of magic [he’s] ever read:” Jonathan’s book on the history of magic. It’s a neat role reversal as Strange becomes the teacher and reassures Norrell that it’s all right to be afraid. Meanwhile, Childermass, Segundus, and Honeyfoot are busy attempting to reattach Lady Pole’s finger to wake her, a move that Childermass determines to be a mistake. The Gentleman (Marc Warren) follows and attacks everyone, trying to induce Stephen (Ariyon Bakare) to kill Sir Walter (Samuel West).
Oddly enough, the Raven King has been mentioned ad nauseum since the beginning of the series, yet he only appears for a couple of minutes. He teleports to Vinculus’ (Paul Kaye) location, where he revives dead man. Childermass is also on the scene, astonished to find that the text on Vinculus’ body is new. Norrell and Strange try to summon the Raven King back with the promise of all of English magic held in the former’s books. They refer to him as “the nameless slave,” which is also Stephen’s name. “We channeled all of English magic into a butler?!” Norrell exclaims with dismay, after Stephen emerges from the flurry of ravens. Henry bursts in and shoots Stephen in the chest, drawing the ire of the Gentleman.
The hurried chain of developments here works to the detriment of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It interferes with good production decisions like strong casting and reasonably well done special effects. Norrell’s giddiness at traveling to this magical world is a standout moment for Eddie Marsan, as are his declarations on “the virtue of a good, English rain.” Strange reunites briefly with Belle, pushing her through a mirror to the safety of Flora’s (Lucinda Dryzek) rooms in Venice.
The final confrontation in the fairy kingdom receives less attention, taking away the importance of Stephen’s triumph. Restored to health by his new magic, he rises and kills the Gentleman, his longtime tormentor. Even so, Ariyon Bakare and Marc Warren have continually delivered on their scenes together as they capture that balance of fascination, curiosity, fear, and intense dislike from both sides.
In keeping with the dark tone of the series, there’s no happy ending. Friends at last, Strange and Norrell remain trapped in the black tower, ascending into the sky to some unknown realm. Belle gets Jonathan to promise that he’ll try to come back to her, leaving circumstances very open-ended for a sequel. Underused characters such as Childermass and Vinculus (who carries a new book) may be promising in a spin-off of their own, too. Whatever the case, it’s clear that matters are far from resolved in this alternate world of Napoleonic England.
This article was originally posted to Blogcritics.org as “TV Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – Series Finale.”
Following “The Black Tower,” there’s only one more episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a BBC series that depicts a Napoleonic Europe beset by magic. The penultimate installment is a jarring descent into madness. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), the older magician, is frustrated that he can’t locate Strange (Bertie Carvel), his former apprentice. He reluctantly pulls Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) out of jail to handle the search.
Strange is hiding in Venice, trying to “catch” madness, a mental state that enables one to see fairies. He meets the lovely Flora (Lucinda Dryzek), from whom he learns about an old lady that lives with cats and eats dead rodents. Yes, she’s mad. I would have preferred a less stomach-turning method for demonstrating his obsession with getting Arabella (Charlotte Riley) back. Strange succeeds and meets the Gentleman, a fairy king (Marc Warren) with a penchant for deals. His happiness fades upon realizing that Belle is alive, turning quickly to rage when he discovers the Gentleman’s involvement with Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) resurrection.
Both Bertie Carvel and Marc Warren deserve praise for the way they play the long overdue confrontation in Strange’s rooms and the fairy kingdom of Lost-Hope. When they cast aside their measured politeness, the visible tension in their stances and faces almost makes you believe that invisible waves of magic are radiating from them. The Gentleman’s antagonism drips through his conversation with the Pole family’s butler, Stephen (Ariyon Bakare). It’s beautifully shot with strong light and shadow as the fairy king stands behind Stephen, who tries to dine with the oblivious Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer).
“The Black Tower” is certainly the most entertaining and exhilarating chapter thus far. Developing plot threads are starting to converge, tied to the prophecy of the Raven King, another longtime adversary of the Gentleman. That story, as told by the street magician Vinculus (Paul Kaye), has hinted at disaster for Norrell and Strange.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell also addresses with maximum damage the question of John Segundus, an aspiring (but not practicing) magician: “Why is there no more magic done in England?” Strange and Norrell predict correctly that a revival of magic would bring about factions. It threatens to leave devastation in its wake, as shown by the Gentleman’s conjuring of a pillar of darkness around Strange.
Norrell is convinced that Strange’s “mad magic” can only lead to “catastrophe.” He’s equally at fault for employing the very dark magic that he regarded as disreputable in the first place. In addition, he succeeded at stirring the ire of Strange, culminating in a threat that the younger magician sends through the mirrors as a horde of ravens. Fluttering and pecking sounds create an eerie atmosphere before the ravens break Norrell’s mirrors, heightened by Eddie Marsan’s looks of perplexity and horror. Will the rift between Norrell and Strange continue or will they put aside their differences to take down the Gentleman together? Catch the finale on BBC America July 25 at 10 p.m. ET.
Article first published as ‘TV Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – “The Black Tower”‘ on Blogcritics.org.
Russell Howard kicked off his comedy tour in the U.S. earlier this summer, opening in Washington, DC. The British comedian from Bristol is the host of Russell Howard’s Good News, a BBC Two program in which he addresses recent news with standup routines and sketches. Expect venues like the historic synagogue Sixth & I to be packed; event organizers had to add chairs to rows in an effort to accommodate the enthusiastic attendees.
In DC, local comedian Max Rosenblum opened the show. He immediately tackled the misfortune of having the same name as the Max Rosenblum who was arrested in connection with the Philip Seymour Hoffman drug raid. “Max, tell me it isn’t true!” he recounts from a phone conversation with his mother. As Rosenblum points out, it’s quite an obstacle if he ever wants to market his own brand of cologne. Speaking about dating websites, he suggested that it’d be easier to bring up the topic if sites were called “In Real Life” and “Through a Friend.” Such titles are better suited to the inevitable and oftentimes awkward question, “So how did you meet?”
It’s quite fitting that Sixth & I blasted out alternative music at intermission leading off with the catchy vibes of The Strokes. Subsequently, one’s gaze was pulled immediately to The Strokes t-shirt that Howard wore. On Good News, Russell Howard isn’t afraid to address controversy and resort to jokes that some might find objectionable. Likewise, he jumps right into his live shows with his sharp wit, peppered with a relish for improvisation.
Leave it to Howard to engage in a friendly chat with a woman about web design and connect that to his perplexity with Fifty Shades of Grey behaviors. These moments, along with a discourse about “absurd things blokes say,” did much to garner a lot of excitement. It’s great to see that he injects spur-of-the-moment material to tailor each show to his audience, even so far as to inquire about places he should visit.
However, the best aspects of Howard’s routine deal with the anecdotes about his experiences with friends and family. His mother’s advice for coping with adversity is to “think of a T-Rex making its bed.” Just try and picture that scenario if you can! At the Glastonbury Festival, an attendee high on a certain substance asked Howard’s friend, a dwarf, why he was so short. “I angered a wizard,” came the answer. Another gem is a question about Star Wars light sabers: “Why is it you never see any moths?” Yes, he even topped it off with the classic light saber gestures.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable evening out with a sibling or your friends, Russell Howard certainly delivers on that front. He concludes his North American tour tomorrow in Montreal, Canada. Let’s hope he adds another tour next year.
This article was first published as “Comedy Review: Russell Howard Opens Second U.S. Comedy Tour in Washington, D.C.” on Blogcritics.org. It’s published again here with two minor changes in the opening and final paragraphs.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” have decidedly split, as the former (Bertie Carvel) resides back at his family estate with his lovely bride Arabella (Charlotte Riley). Strange is busy working on a book and a series of etchings. He’s still a bit shaken by his harrowing experiences at Waterloo, where he used his magic to kill a hatchet-wielding Frenchman. His own weapon of choice was a giant hand that he conjured out of the mud.
Unfortunately, the Gentleman (Marc Warren) steals away Belle in the middle of the night, replacing her with a fake copy that dies the next day. Stephen (Ariyon Bakare) convincingly appeals to Belle for help with Lady Pole (Alice Englert), but instead he pulls her into the kingdom of Lost-Hope. Belle’s situation differs from Stephen and Lady Pole, because she appears to be enjoying herself at the dance.
Strange, in his grief, appeals to Norrell (Eddie Marsan) to no avail and returns to London to try to publish his book of etchings as a tribute to Belle. However, Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) reveals that Norrell is bent on stopping the book by casting Strange as in league with the machine-breakers. Childermass is an intriguing character; he appreciates that Strange treats him as a magician rather than as a mere servant (unlike Norrell) but he vows to take up the cause of the loser when the dust settles in the upcoming Strange/Norrell confrontation.
“Arabella” seemed to plod along at parts, particularly during the disappearance of Belle. Yet Bertie Carvel shines as the tortured and grieving Strange when he is finally overcome by the reality that he can’t revive his beloved wife. His next plan is to become mad so he’ll be able to see the Fairy King (aka the Gentleman). The more interesting aspects of the episode concerned the subtle changes in the dynamic between Stephen and the Gentleman. Lady Pole insults Stephen as being “poisoned” to do whatever the Gentleman bids (although both seem unable to wrest themselves out of his control). Meanwhile, Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) realize that the pattern in Lady Pole’s stories point to a fairy.
However, it’s clear that Stephen is slowly rejecting the hold of the Gentleman: refusing to engage in the pranks on Strange. Ariyon Bakare effectively captures the nuances in Stephen’s resigned but braver demeanor as he remains sympathetic to the plight of Jonathan Strange. Stephen is destined to become a king and prophecies, at least thus far, have been turning out to be true. The Gentleman is pushing Stephen to be King of England, but what if the butler’s future position lies in another realm?
Check out the “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” tonight to find out what’s next for magic in England.