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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 7: Nightmare in Silver (Spoilers)

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In every series of Doctor Who, there comes a time when an old enemy must be revisited. Though the second half of Series 7 would seem to have fulfilled this requirement with “Cold War,” the episode focused on the Ice Warrior Skaldak, it was decided that Neil Gaiman‘s episode would be about the classic Cybermen. This had me worried for several reasons. In almost every episode of New Who that has featured these baddies, their stories have been near carbon copies of one another. They have been characterized by a lack of imagination in terms of plotting, and little to no evolution of the Cybermen themselves. Which is why “Nightmare in Silver was, hands down, the best Cyberman episode that we have had in a long, long time (as well as one of the best episodes of Who overall).

Doctor Who - Series 7BNeil Gaiman has said that the Cybermen had always been one of the scariest Who villains of his childhood. For this episode, he was tasked with restoring them to their former creepy glory, and succeeded admirably. These new Cybermen have lost the clanking, steampunk nature inherent in their previous iterations, and have become creatures of evolution. Reminiscent of the quickly-evolving tech industry of today, they adapt almost instantaneously to new weapons and obstacles and send out updates to every single soldier with the “patch.”

Hedgewicks-TicketThe episode takes place on a theme park planet called Hedgewick’s World of Wonders that was destroyed while humans battled Cybermen thousands of years prior. The Cybermen were vanquished, at the cost of the galaxy that they had inhabited. The entire galaxy that the Cybermen took over was obliterated. Scientific improbability aside, this is a new reaction to the Cyber threat – the futuristic version of total war. It shows ruthlessness – and a certain selflessness – present in the future human race that we have not seen often in Who.

486731_531756970193775_438965392_nThe Doctor takes Clara, as well as Angie and Artie – the two children for whom Clara is nanny – to the theme park, not expecting the devastation they find. A few soldiers remain on the planet to guard against a potential resurgence of their old foe. They also encounter a chess master with dwarfism named Porridge (played by Warwick Davis), who operates a seemingly defunct Cyberman to frighten people. The group readies to leave, but the Doctor decides last-minute to investigate the strange metal bugs infesting the place. These turn out to be Cybermites – tinier versions of the classic Cybermats – and partially convert Angie and Artie into walking coma patients, to be used to build more Cybermen later. And then the ‘mites find the Doctor.

Doctor-Who-713This is when Matt Smith shines as an actor. He is partially converted into the leader of the Cybermen, or the Cyberplanner, because of his extraordinary mind. However, the Doctor is strong, and a battle for supremacy over his body and brain ensues. The marvelous interior of the Doctor’s consciousness – where Doctor and Cyberplanner threaten and snarl at each other – is split between golden Gallifreyan lettering (on the Doctor’s side) and electric blue energy (on the Cyberplanner’s side). Finally, the two agree to play a game of chess for control over the Doctor’s body. Throughout this scene, Smith switches back and forth between Doctor and Cyberplanner (who has christened himself Mr. Clever), a seemingly endless dance of two incredibly intelligent foes. The two are simultaneously polar opposites and completely indistinguishable from one another, which was a frightening choice on Smith’s part and only emphasized his incredible acting prowess.

Mr. Clever is temporarily incapacitated when the Doctor slaps a golden ticket onto the circuitry on his face, because apparently the Cybermen still haven’t fixed that annoying weakness to gold and cleaning fluids. Meanwhile, Clara has taken charge of the soldiers – who turn out to be a nearly incompetent punishment platoon – as Cybermen reawaken from beneath the surface of the world. She and her motley army station themselves in a castle surrounded by a moat, and take stock of Clara_cyber_guntheir resources: one gigantic anti-Cyber gun; five hand pulsers which, when placed on the back of a Cyberman’s head, render them inert; and a bomb that has the capacity to blow up the planet. The Doctor joins Clara shortly with Angie and Artie in tow (still comatose yet able to walk). Clara ties him to a chair so that he can finish his chess game with Mr. Clever, then goes off to muster her troops. Continue reading

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Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane Signing Event at Symphony Space NYC

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Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

I met Neil Gaiman at a signing event for The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Symphony Space in New York City last night. He talked with Erin Morgenstern about the process of writing his first adult novel in years, and how his own childhood had informed much of the book. “It’s all lies,” he said (referring to Ocean), “and it’s all true.”

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Here, Neil Gaiman is signing my copy of The Sandman.

Gaiman proved yet again that he is a master of anticipation, for he seemed to know exactly what the audience wanted and when the audience wanted it. (Of course there were surprises thrown in. It wouldn’t have been as fun if we knew exactly what was going to happen next.) He was wonderful at improvising, throwing jokes and anecdotes into the discussion. But most amazing of all was that he was completely and utterly genuine in his delivery. (Not that this is unusual for him, but there are plenty of other creators who do not stray from the confines of insincerity.) There were actually moments when he paused in his delivery, as if searching for the right word, or thought, or memory, which only further proved his 15783514candor. He did not spout hackneyed catchphrases, and there was no branding or Lockhart-ian posturing. Just Neil.

I just started reading Ocean last night, and – though only three chapters in – I can say with absolute certainty that it is one of the best books I have read in a long while. Gaiman’s use of language never fails to impress, and the memories awoken by enchanting depiction of sensory details stay alive within the mind. I look forward to what the remainder of the book holds. (If all goes according to plan, I will have a review up soon.)

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 2: The Rings of Akhaten (Spoilers)

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First of all, I’d just like to make the point that this episode has been getting way more negative reviews than it deserves. “The Rings of Akhaten” is a rollicking space-y adventure complete with Star Wars-ian alien fauna and some seriously awesome visual effects from the masters fromp017c9sc The Mill. The story structure is not revolutionary, but neither is it absurdly nonsensical like several of its predecessors. (“Fear Her,” anyone?) I believe the word here is ‘dependable’ – Moffat took a framework that has succeeded in the past and re-worked it. That said, there are several plot holes and gaps of logic – flying a space motorcycle through the void without a space suit, for one. Not to mention several occurrences of underwhelming dialogue. Before we get there, however, let’s backtrack a bit…

SUMMARY

The episode begins with the Doctor observing the meeting of Clara’s parents – a clichéd but ultimately sweet rendition of the “dramatic rescue of the damsel in distress” trope…except in this situation, Clara’s father is the damsel. Smacked in the face with a maple leaf, he decides it’s a great idea to meander into oncoming traffic flailing his arms about. His future wife pushes him out of the way in the nick of time…and true love ensues.

rings-akhaten-dave-ellie-4Cue montage of Clara growing up (come on, we haven’t had one of those in ages). We see her mother giving her the “101 Places” book we saw in “The Bells of Saint John” (and now we know the origin of the leaf that constitutes the first page). Her mother then inexplicably dies (hopefully we’ll learn more about that later, as it is a major character shaper).

Cut to present-day TARDIS, and the Doctor is asking Clara what she would like to see. There is ssssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaa_zpsc13a1018some fierce buildup as she ponders this question, and though her answer – “something awesome” – seems somewhat anticlimactic, the Doctor responds with his usual enthusiasm and begins dancing around the TARDIS console while pressing buttons and pulling levers in the standard takeoff sequence. (Interestingly enough, the order in which he does it all is actually the same episode to episode. And yes, I’ve double-checked this.)

doctor-who-rings-of-akhaten-overnights-mainThe Doctor takes Clara to the Rings of Akhaten – seven planetoids orbiting a gas giant. Their visit coincides with the Festival of Offerings, which the Doctor passes off as the alien version of Pancake Tuesday. In reality, the Festival “celebrates” the aligning of the planetoids with a live performance by the Queen of Years, the young Merry GejelhMeet_the_brand_new_Doctor_Who_aliens_from_The_Rings_of_Akhaten (played wonderfully by Emilia Jones). The Old God – christened “Grandfather” – resides in a golden pyramid on an asteroid, and the song is meant to placate him, acting as a lullaby. We see Clara in her “governess” role again as she comforts Merry and assures her that, despite her fears, she will not fail her song.

Merry is stolen away by Grandfather via tractor beam while she is singing and is taken to the pyramid. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time (riding 0aforementioned nifty space motorcycle, paid for with Clara’s mother’s ring because of its sentimental value) to convince her not toThe Rings of Akhaten sacrifice her soul. Then, just as Grandfather is about to

escape his glass cage… Continue reading

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Review: BBC Radio 4/Radio 4 Extra Adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

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The cast of Neverwhere acknowledges the show’s creator. From left to right: Benedict Cumberbatch (Islington), David Harewood (the Marquis de Carabas), Natalie Dormer (Door), Dirk Maggs (dramatizer), James McAvoy (Richard), David Schofield (Mr. Vandemar) and Anthony Head (Mr. Croup).

My interest was piqued a while back when Neil Gaiman mentioned on his blog a radio drama called Neverwhere, based on the eponymous novel. After doing some research (thank you, Wikipedia), I discovered that this was in fact the third incarnation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere saga, the first being a TV mini-series composed of six half-hour episodes. Intrigued, I decided to listen to the radio show. About a minute in, all I heard was a cacophony of noises and voices and couldn’t tell what was happening at all, never having listened to a proper radio series before. Thus I deduced that the series was meant for people who had already read the book, and set about procuring a copy at once (thank you, Amazon Kindle). Upon finishing the novel (which was fantastic, by the way) I returned to the radio series. Even as someone unused to relying purely on my sense of hearing when being told a story, it was a gratifying experience. I was glad to have read the book beforehand, because on the rare occasion that I felt overwhelmed in the wash of sound, I had a sense of what was going on nonetheless. However, this confusion only occurred only a few times, and usually lasted a maximum of twenty seconds. I do not think that the series would have been any less enjoyable had I not read the book beforehand.

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Very collected indeed.

And it most definitely was enjoyable. Hearing the voices of people I’ve seen in movies or on television shows was rather strange and quite cool, because sometimes it’s hard to believe how much voice can affect character. For example, take Anthony Head as the sadistic logophile Mr. Croup. When I first heard his voice, I most definitely would not have been able to tell it was Anthony Head’s, nor would I have connected it to the voice of the calm, collected Rupert Giles from Buffy.

Actually, many of the actors in Neverwhere have some amount of neek cred… Continue reading

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